Iran Sentences Pastor to Execution for Converting to Christianity

Editor’s Note: An Iranian believer who lives in the United States passed along two links [here and here] to give us more context concerning Pastor Nadarkhani’s beliefs. Let’s pray for him not only to come to an orthodox understanding of the Trinity, if he hasn’t already, but also for the Iranian government to spare his life.

The Story: Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani faces imminent execution for charges of abandoning Islam and refusing to recant his Christian faith, the American Center for Law and Justice reports.

The 34-year-old husband and father of two, whose case was temporarily delayed in December, may now be executed at any moment without warning, according to a new—and apparently final—trial court verdict. Unfortunately, many of the details surrounding the case remain unclear.

The Background: Pastor Nadarkhani’s clash with the Iranian government began in 2006 when he was briefly imprisoned on charges of apostasy and evangelism. In 2009 he was arrested for protesting mandated Islamic instruction in his son’s school. This charge, however, was soon changed to fit his original “crimes” of apostasy and evangelism.

Nadarkhani was sentenced to death in September 2010 but proceeded to remain alive in prison. In July 2011, his lawyer received a written verdict from the Iranian Supreme Court, which upheld the death sentence yet included a provision for annulment should the pastor recant his faith. In September 2011, the Commission on International Religious Freedom and even President Obama issued statements denouncing Iran’s egregious human rights breach and demanding Nadarkhani’s immediate release.

Nadarkhani is now approaching 900 days separated from his wife, his two sons, and his church. Nevertheless, God’s sustaining grace has enabled him to endure. In a poignant, Scripture-soaked letter to his congregation dated June 2, 2010, the imprisoned pastor, echoing the apostle Peter, wrote: “[The true believer] does not need to wonder for the fiery trial that has been set on him as though it were something unusual, but it pleases him to participate in Christ’s suffering because the believer knows he will rejoice in [Christ’s] glory.”

Why It Matters: 2,000 years ago, the Lord Jesus Christ issued a series of promises to every would-be follower of his:

“You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 10:22).

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you….If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:18, 20).

“I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

“I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

If you’re a follower of King Jesus, then Youcef Nadarkhani is family. And unless the King chooses to intervene, this brother of yours will soon be hanged. If that be the case, may his tragic departure serve to glorify the One who hung in the place of everyone who would ever turn to Him in faith—persecuted pastors, Iranian executioners, and blog readers alike.

What Can I Do?

It’s certainly easy to feel helpless in a situation like this. “Can I do anything?” you may wonder. Yes, in fact, you can. Most importantly, pray for Youcef and his family. They’re not spiritual superheroes immune to doubts and fears. Just like you and me, they stand in desperate need of divine grace to fight the good fight, to finish the race, and to keep the faith (2 Tim. 4:7). Further, as Michael Avramovich observes, international pressure has continued to help keep Pastor Nadarkhani alive. So consider “Tweeting for Youcef.” You can also let Iranian officials know your views on his fate by writing a respectful note or a petition from the members of your church to the Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations at the following address:

The Honorable Mohammed Khazaee

Ambassador and Permanent Representative

Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations

622 Third Avenue

New York City, New York 10017

Fax: 1.212.867.7086


May God be pleased to magnify his name through the witness of this man of whom the world isn’t worthy.

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  • Andy

    I was just running through my little list of problems. I watched my basketball team choke a huge lead last night, there was a big line at the coffee shop, my cell keeps dropping calls and the same person that I want nothing to do with said good morning to me again! #ashamed

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  • Rob

    Let us all pray for this brother and his family, who are indeed a part of our family in Christ! May God be glorified, no matter what

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  • John2025

    I know that this post will probably be misinterpreted as hateful, disrespectful or something of the like, but I’m honestly not trying to troll since this is a very serious and morally questionable issue. Death for apostasy is a problem in Islam (or at least a problems for Muslims who accept the Sahih al-Bukhari hadith), but it was also a problem in the roots of Christianity as well (then called Judaism). Deuteronomy 13:6-11 prescribes death for apostasy, and the current Middle Eastern culture’s attitude towards apostasy is clearly a remnant of this passage (though the cultural attitude could have existed long before Deuteronomy). It’s quite easy to overlook morally questionable things like this when they’re so far removed in the past, but if your conscience doesn’t sit quite right with Allah endorsing apostates being put to death, then it also shouldn’t sit right with Yahweh endorsing death for apostasy either.

    • McFormtist

      The only difference, John2025, is that Yahweh’s endorsing of something is probably more authoritative than Allah’s. Allah is a false god, after all. Regarding Yahweh, there is absolutely nothing “questionable” the morality of a death sentence for apostasy. If He instituted it, and He defines morality, then there’s no reason or cause for questioning it (except rebellion).

      “if your conscience doesn’t sit quite right with Allah endorsing apostates being put to death, then it also shouldn’t sit right with Yahweh endorsing death for apostasy either.”

      My conscience isn’t bound to the will of Allah but to Yahweh. So this does not follow. What you’re advocating seems to be a relativistic view of truth. Christians of course, in accordance with the Bible, reject that.

      • John2025

        That answer justifies death for apostasy from a Christian perspective within the context of Christianity just as well as it justifies death for apostasy from a Muslim perspective within the context of Islam. I’m actually advocating exactly the opposite of relativistic truth. Saying, “I believe that X god is real, therefore it can perform any action and be justified, but false gods who perform the same actions are immoral” is too relative for me. I understand that this is a Christian board, but from an objective perspective you must first show which god is the true one and why morality is based on it, and this whole issue of death for apostasy certainly doesn’t help the Christian case.

  • Stan McCullars

    It appears the “pastor” in question may not be a Christian but rather the leader of a cult.

    Pray for his salvation and his freedom. If he is freed and not converted pray that God would shut his mouth.

    Please read article.

    • Matt Smethurst


      Thank you for commenting, brother. I didn’t come across these allegations in my initial research, so I sincerely appreciate you pointing them out. Even if they turn out to be true, though, I think we’re still right to lament Nadarkhani’s execution based on the conviction that religious freedom doesn’t belong only to the orthodox. Once again, thanks for helping us to maintain journalistic integrity by highlighting this (hopefully untrue!) information.


      • Mark Foster

        Matt, I agree entirely about the need to lament this mans execution. However, these reports have been circulating for weeks. Is it right to keep the original story with the original headline given there are serious doubts about Youcef Nadarkhani’s orthodoxy? How many people will read this article without looking at the comments section and therefore potentially leave with the wrong impression? Given the good name and popularity of the Gospel Coalition website I feel this matter needs investigating further and appropriate changes made to the above posting.

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  • Luma

    Hi Matt, I wrote a post this morning titled, “The Persecution Of Christians In The Land Of My Heritage” which I actually tried to submit to TGC editors.

    In response to those concerned about this man’s orthodoxy:

    I want to say a couple of things regarding the accusation of being in a “cult” which in actuality turns out to be the Pentecostal church. I have heard from distant family members and friends that the social, political, and religious landscape of the entire region is such that the Pentecostal Church as a whole is making major inroads. I am going to say this honestly: every Arab Christian I know (and I know many) is grateful to God for this. They are praising God for ANY and ALL evangelistic efforts being made in those nations. Now, I say this as a Reformed to-the-bone Trinitarian woman. Would I love to see the Reformed Evangelical churches making such great strides in reaching Middle Eastern Christians AND Muslims? Yes, indeed!

    Please consider, there are many complex issues that need to be teased out in this situation. One being Islamic regions can care less about theological orthodoxy. As much as my Reformed American brothers and sisters rightly want to defend the purity of the faith, this is not even on the radar in Arab countries. Heterodoxy has plagued Arab Christians for centuries. One has to understand the context and culture of that region. The best metaphor I can think of right now is this: Try picturing a heroin addict who also smokes cigarettes, this man is asking a counselor to help him get clean and break his addiction. Oh and by the way, he also has a broken leg and he needs to be taken to the hospital to get it fixed. To which the counselor replies: “You know, smoking can kill you, you need to stop smoking.” I realize my analogy is probably lacking, but that’s the best I can do at this time.

    In “Showing The Spirit” Carson says: “The charismatic movement has been aggressively evangelistic…But the reasons for their more rapid growth are complex. The growth is not because they have been endued with the Spirit and very few others have been, as charismatics seem to think. I suspect it is more connected with the fact that charismatics are, in general, quicker to talk about their experiences with God, their faith, the way God has worked in their lives. Effective evangelism depends on many people gossiping the gospel.

    “It is wholly inadequate to complain that the gospel preached by many charismatics is too self-oriented, or too individualistic, or too unbalanced, or too anything else for that matter, if the critics can in turn be charged with a gospel that is too cerebral, too restrictively theoretical, insufficiently evangelistic, and so forth…. Noncharismatics would be better served by recognizing that an open enthusiasm for Christ, a frank willingness to talk about the Lord anywhere, is the matrix out of which effective evangelism is born.” – D. A. Caron, “Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14″

    I understand wholly and completely the primacy and import of the Trinity. I would suggest that instead of shrinking back lest this man is “unorthodox” we lean further in and further up in the love of Christ with the true gospel. Pray! Pray hard for the Arab nations that are afflicted with Islam as well as Heterodoxy.

    Your sister in Christ,
    Luma Simms

  • Luma

    Here’s the post if anyone is interested:
    “The Persecution Of Christians In The Land Of My Heritage”

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