"For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same" (Romans 13:3 KJV).
Several years ago in an online discussion list about political activism for Christians, Romans 13 was cited. It invariably comes up any time Christians talk about their role in politics, often as a method used by some to cut conversation short. The standard interpretation of this passage runs along the lines of saying that disciples of Jesus should stay out of politics entirely, and especially should never oppose those in power. In the discussion I mentioned above, this strategy for stifling useful thought failed. Someone mentioned that this passage was obviously a profoundly "tongue-in-cheek" statement on the part of the apostle Paul. It is readily obvious that the government and authorities of his day were profoundly corrupt and did not truly uphold justice. if anything, this is an indictment of fallen government, and a mandate for responsible and just government. It took me a while to see the point, but it's right.
The "Good News" that the Christian faith proclaimed originally, before the gnostics came along with their individualized, private faith, and before Constantine's family made the church the State's pet, was that the crucified and resurrected Jesus of Nazareth is the true Messiah of Israel and the Lord of the nations. As such, he and his reign were far superior to any earthly reign. He is to be obeyed now, and earthly authorities are called not to create theocracies, but to practice and encourage justice.
"Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing [that is] not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man" (Hebrews 2:8-9).
It's been nearly 2000 years since this message began to be proclaimed, and I see only pockets of God's peace and justice on earth. Recently I've read books by and about people who, though not espousing any particular faith, are working to build schools and libraries around the world so that hundreds of thousands of children will have the opportunity to learn and rise out of the difficult circumstances into which they were born. The work of these people is truly admirable, as is the work done by people of faith -- Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and others -- to feed the hungry, cloth the naked and give shelter to the homeless. These efforts are vitally necessary to the well-being of people around the world and also terribly unequal to the task.
Governments are systems created by humans, and according to the Christian understanding of our species, we are fallen. This means that we have fallen short, individually and collectively, of the high calling we received as image-bearers of God. That we are sinful can be seen in far-off wars and in the domestic disputes in our own homes. Children are abused, the rights of minorities are trampled on and supposedly democratic governments engage in torture under the guise of defending freedom. We are sick.
Iran recently held elections for the office of prime minister. This is a farce. That nation is truly governed by a Shia Muslim theocracy combined with much of the trappings of a republic. The prime minster, for all intents and purposes, is a mere figurehead of authority. The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is the true decision maker, together with a body of Islamic clergy that backs him.
Peaceful protests in Iran have come to violence as the government, clearly unsettled by the threat to its power, has acted to suppress peaceful protesters. Although I have no idea who really won the election, and it's entirely possible that there were some protesters who were less than peaceful, the violence, terror and bloodshed unleashed on the people of Iran is unacceptable.
Disciples of Jesus have the assurance of resurrection to give us support and courage as we face non-violently, the corrupt powers and authorities of this world.
"Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Hebrews 2:14-15).
The heart of the Christian faith beats with a strongly subversive message of justice, one that drives those who have ears to hear and eyes to see to speak truth to power. I don't know what comparable resources Shia Muslims and others of minority faiths in Iran might have to draw on, but all who believe that human rights are more than a fiction we've created for convenience sake must hope, pray and act for the free choice of Iranians in how they'll be governed. If the form of government is to be in some way religious in nature...so be it. Let that decision be made peacefully through the polls, and let the outcome not be to the detriment or restriction of freedoms of dissenters. Freedom for Iran doesn't mean that it must abandon its culture, traditions and long-held beliefs in favor of Western-style secular government. What it would mean would be the dream of good people everywhere: a land abiding in peace and living in accordance with the precepts of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
"Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it" (Colossians 2:13-14).
Jesus, through his cross, exposed the weakness of fallen human government. The last, greatest weapon of the tyrant is death. The powers that were did their worst, succeeding only in exposing their own shame. The death of protesters like Neda have a similar impact, demonstrating the fragility and failure of oppressive regimes.
For the freedom of Iran, and all nations.