Recently the country has been focused on two major news stories. The first news story surrounds the fiscal policies of the people in government and the debate over taxes, spending and the ability to cover our own debts. The second news story of the last few weeks is the terribly heartbreaking story of a woman accused of killing her child and the trial and aftermath of that trial’s verdict. We as Americans have been consumed with these news stories, they have permeated every level of our daily discussions and many are quick to raise these topics in conversation in order to “gauge everyone’s opinion” on these matters.
But I want to tell you another story. A story that is not as contentious as a debt negotiation and not as passionate about a woman on trial for murder. I want to tell you the story of Yousef Nadarkhani. While people were talking about debt ceilings and not guilty verdicts they may have missed the news out of Iran that a popular Christian pastor in Iran was arrested, tried for “apostasy” and sentenced to death. Yesterday, Iran’s Supreme Court upheld the death sentence, saying that the pastor’s only recourse was to recant his faith or face death. Yousef chose death. He was arrested in 2009 while trying to register his evangelical house church, which has hundreds of regular worshipers. He was tried for evangelizing Muslims and “turning his back” on his Islamic faith. Even his lawyer (a Middle-Eastern human rights attorney) was arrested and sentenced to nine years of prison and a ten-year revocation of his law license for defending the pastor and “furthering dissent.”
This is not a new story. Pastors and lay Christians (and certainly people of other faiths) alike are the targets of brutally ideological regimes all around the world. Churches across the globe are persecuted, disbanded, and burned down. Christian aid workers are murdered and their humanitarian efforts are depicted as “evangelical efforts” – as if their attempts to change people’s religious views justified the wholesale slaughter of people who are religiously different.
This week, like many others across this country, I have been transfixed on the “major news” of the day. I have watched the back-and-forth about Casey Anthony and the press conferences held by our political leaders. I have been disgusted by both stories but I was watching nonetheless. Until I heard about Yousef. You see, we all get so caught up in the stories that make little difference to our lives. While the debt ceiling is a huge debate in Washington and the ramifications for our country are deep – we should begin each of those debt debates by thanking God that we breathe free. That being a Muslim, Christian, Jew, Atheist, or whatever you choose will not get you killed. We as people of faith in the United States have often little in common with our worldwide brothers and sisters – because many of us don’t know what it is like to be hauled off to jail for our religious beliefs and then forced to recant or die.
I don’t even necessarily feel like I should give the other story another moment in my day. In truth, I have been so disappointed in the reaction to Casey Anthony. Whether she killed her child or not, what is that to us? The legal system in this country did its job (for good or ill) and this woman will live with what she did (or didn’t) do and that is that. Why are people sending her money? Why are people sending her death threats? Why are we still paying any attention to this!?! I remember having the news on one night and my wonderful wife put it best – why would you stand out in front of a courthouse and protest when you could be putting that energy to use helping all the children in this country who are abused, rejected and alone? I really do ask that, America. Why? Why give this woman even a moment’s notice more in the media?
Pastor Yousef is about to die. By hanging. From. His. Neck. Casey who?
This may come off sounding a little more diatribe than I had hoped for, but I think the reality is staggering. We have become obsessed with this reality-T.V. like culture that we have given value to people, places and situations that are really unproductive and meaningless. People are dying across the world for their faith. Children are dying around this country for lack of people who care (can you imagine if all the people who were protesting online and in person in Orlando would channel that energy into helping kids – what wonderful world could we create?).
Today we need more than to just turn our hearts, we need to turn our minds and our lives. We need to start telling the stories that need telling. We can talk about the news in Washington so that we can stay up to date on the management of our nation. How about we also spend some of that time on all those 24-hour news networks talking a little less about Casey Anthony and debt debates and instead share some of that time telling the stories that need to be told. Stories about people like Yousef – a man who is about to die for nothing more than what he believes about God. Let’s get riled up about that. Let’s get angry about that. Let’s try to do something about that. Let’s start giving voices to more people like this and less to those who frankly, don’t deserve it.