Apostasy in Any Other Country

Abby Ohlheiser: Something we’re keeping an eye on: Christian Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who faces death for the crime of apostasy, could face execution any time after Wednesday should he refuse to renounce his faith a fourth time.

It’s an interesting case with a bit more to say than the familiar narrative of persecuted Christianity, partially because pastor Nadarkhani’s apostasy might not even be that, according to Iranian law. Here’s how Tom Chivers at The Telegraph sums it up:

“This is, of course, against international law, for what little that means. More surprisingly, it is also apparently against Iranian law: Pastor Nadarkhani was not, it seems, a practising Muslim before he converted to Christianity, so there is no apostasy. One Iranian court ruled that this meant he was innocent; the Supreme Court, however, decided that because he has Muslim ancestry, he remains guilty. On such utterly fatuous threads a man’s life hangs.”

The possibility that Nadarkhani was not practicing Islam before his conversion was reported by Independent Catholic News and, later, Fox News though the AFP story does not make this distinction.

But since the story isn’t really being touched by non-religious, non-conservative media outlets in the US, that part of the story isn’t important. What’s important, in the stories I’ve read is the danger of – and the case for the need to protect – Christians in countries that are perceived to be a theological or diplomatic enemy of the US. This has implications for Christian mission group as well as for politicians. Youcef Nadarkhani, whether he lives or dies, will stay within the confines of the language of Christian persecution and martyrdom, loaded narratives that seem to remain within the religious and conservative press, with audiences who share the same interpretation of the stories’ meanings.

We’ve previously considered why these stories circulate where they do, minus the usual “liberal media conspiracy” accusations. Get Religion, of course, noticed the same limited motion of the story, but has a bit of a different take on why.

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