Iran Forces Closure of Assembly of God
Washington, D.C. (November 3, 2009) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that on October 30, the Iranian government forced the Central Assemblies of God Church in Tehran to shut down its Friday worship services. Some fear that this episode is the beginning of a new campaign of government suppression of public Christian worship gatherings.
According to reports by Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN), Rev. Sourik, the bishop of the Assemblies of God churches in Iran, resolved to close the church on Fridays, the weekly Islamic day of prayer, after encountering acute pressure from the security network within the Ministry of Information.
Initially, Rev. Sourik resisted the government sanction. However, the Revolutionary Guard demanded that the church cease Friday public services by October 31, and threatened to shut down all services and close the church permanently. Rev. Sourik ultimately submitted to the government’s ruling out of concern for the congregation. “The announcement of the termination of the Friday services was received with shock and utter surprise and resulted in many openly weeping in the church service,” reported FCNN. The church leadership affirmed that its Sunday services will remain open.
The Assembly of God Church in Tehran is among the largest church buildings designated for public worship in Iran, a country where the majority of Christians observe their faith in underground house churches. Registered ‘above ground’ churches in Iran have been allowed relative independence to worship freely while being closely monitored by the government. However, ICC sources fear that with the closure of Friday services, a heightened trend of government coercion upon ‘above ground’ churches may commence. The targeting of registered churches discloses a regression in Iran’s policy of toleration toward Christians who choose to worship publicly. “I believe the main reason they closed those services is to send a strong signal to all Christians inside and outside Iran that they will not tolerate Christianity in Iran. Its purpose is mostly to intimidate,” stated one ICC source. Historically, it has been the underground church, not the open public churches, that have faced the brunt of government imposed oppression.
Iran issued no official statement explaining the reasons for its recent crackdown.
Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “We oppose Iran’s resolution to prevent the Christians of the Assembly of God Church in Tehran to fellowship freely on Fridays, or any other day of the week. We urge Iran to respect the rights of its Christians to practice their faith freely without government interference, or authoritarian rule.”