Churches and the Iran Nuclear Deal

A team of international inspectors at Iran’s Natanz enrichment plant in January 2014. (Kazem Ghane/European Pressphoto Agency)
A team of international inspectors at Iran’s Natanz enrichment plant in January 2014. (Kazem Ghane/European Pressphoto Agency)

Most church groups and prominent religious voices speaking to the Iran nuclear deal are supportive. Most notable among them is the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops.

In April, Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, who leads the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, wrote members of Congress to hail the accord as an “important step in advancing a peaceful resolution.” He quoted Pope Francis, who prayed that, “the framework…may be a definitive step toward a more secure and fraternal world.”

Cantu cited the “unacceptable prospect of Iran developing nuclear weapons,” and he noted “Iran’s statements and actions have threatened its neighbors, especially Israel, and contributed to instability in the region.” But he warned against congressional interference, concerned that the “alternative to an agreement leads toward armed conflict, an outcome of profound concern to the Church.”

In July, Bishop Cantú again wrote Congress to commend the “remarkable step with Iran in reaching this agreement” and urging Congress to “support these efforts to build bridges that foster peace and greater understanding.”

Liberal Evangelical activist Jim Wallis of Sojourners similarly hailed the accord for pursuing options that will “prevent further war with more dangerous weapons,” which is the “right course of action in a highly imperfect world.” He warned that “those who oppose deals like this often proclaim a binary world of simple good and evil, which we don’t have — and believing so is a dangerous illusion.”

For good measure, Wallis recalled the “democratically elected prime minister of Iran who was overthrown by the CIA in 1953′” and “subsequent United States-imposed brutal dictatorship of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who became the Shah of Iran.” Unlike Bishop Cantú, Wallis at least did warn there should be “no illusion that Iran will instantly change its destructive and disruptive behavior because of this agreement.”  And he urged the U.S. to “insist that Iran cease funding armed groups throughout the Middle East, improve its human rights record, and end its hostility toward Israel, through “focused diplomatic and economic pressure.” He concluded:  “Giving serious diplomacy and international pressure a chance before contemplating military action is both a better strategic option and a more Christian one.”

In April, Wallis organized 50 Christian leaders to endorse the Iran nuclear deal, a list that was mostly liberal Mainline Protestants plus a few Evangelicals like Florida pastor Joel Hunter, a spiritual counselor to President Obama. Their statement warned that, “military strikes would be, at best, premature, as well as highly unpredictable and morally irresponsible in creating yet another U.S. war with a Muslim country.”

A similar statement from the National Council of Churches declared the “agreement with Iran offers us an opportunity to make a change for the better.” It asked: “Should we therefore not trust in ourselves, and in the power of our ideals, and instead of perpetuating enmity, “pursue what makes for peace and mutual up-building” (Romans 14:19) with the hope that, led by its young and vibrant society, Iran will change? We would still retain the ability to verify compliance by the Iranian regime, and the obvious threat of economic isolation and superior firepower should it not work out. But still, isn’t a vision of a better world worth the chance?”

One of the more unique religious affirmations of the Iran nuke deal came from Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, former archbishop of Washington, D.C. Having himself visited Iran several times, he credited Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s Fatwah pronouncing nuclear weapons as incompatible with Islam, which McCarrick hailed as a “teaching not dissimilar to the Catholic position that the world must rid itself of these indiscriminate weapons.” The prelate sees the Iran deal as a step towards a “world without nuclear weapons, a world totally free from these weapons of mass destruction.”

Dissenting from the religious chorus for the Iran accord, the National Religious Broadcasters is urging Congress to oppose it in solidarity with Israel, explaining,

“Israel shares a special relationship with the United States. Both nations are firmly committed to freedom and to democratic governance. Both seek to respect the rule of law and the rights of minorities. The same cannot be said of Iran.”

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SOURCE: The Weekly Standard
Mark Tooley

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