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Iran deal called a ‘misstep’ but may help evangelism

WASHINGTON (BP) — Though the White House has secured sufficient congressional support of the Iran nuclear deal to ensure its implementation, Southern Baptist legislators continue to warn the accord could facilitate Islamic terrorism.

In a Sept. 10 procedural consideration, Senate opponents of the deal fell two votes shy of the 60 votes needed to bring it to a final vote, CNN reported. Senate Republicans were considering a revote while House leaders planned multiple votes on the deal.

Meanwhile, Southern Baptist seminary professor Ayman Ibrahim views the deal as a “misstep,” but noted God may use it nonetheless to facilitate Gospel witness in Iran.

Rep. Steve Russell, R.-Okla., told Baptist Press Iran’s “36 years of bad behavior” since the 1979 Islamic Revolution — including support for the murder of “thousands of Americans” — suggest the nation’s leaders will continue to sponsor terrorism. Money and increased nuclear capacity stemming from the deal will exacerbate the problem, he said.

Iran “will use money to fund proxy wars,” said Russell, a member of First Southern Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. He made a floor speech Sept. 8, in which he explained how the Iranian government has allegedly supported the murder of Americans over four decades.

President Obama has exceeded his constitutional authority in making the deal with Iran, Russell told BP, because Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution says “the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations explicitly rests with Congress” and not the executive branch. Congress, along with the states, should continue to enforce economic sanctions on Iran, he said.

Congress will continue to “use sanctions law” and “work in cooperation with the states through governors … and legislatures and through the attorneys general,” Russell said, echoing a point he made on the House floor.

The deal will not promote religious liberty in Iran, Russell said, but rather strengthen “the hold of the Ayatollah and the Supreme Council and their lock on the people they dictate to.”

Russell agreed with President Obama that America should not attempt to tie the release of American pastor Saeed Abedini and other American prisoners in Iran to the nuclear deal.

“You don’t want to get in a situation where people that are held hostage can be blackmailed for nuclear concessions,” Russell said, adding there must be “another path” to the release of American prisoners. Economic pressure and “world pressure” are potential ways “to take away something that they value more than the hostages.”

Obama, in an August speech at American University, called the agreement “a very good deal” that builds on America’s “tradition of strong, principled diplomacy.”

“After two years of negotiations, we have achieved a detailed arrangement that permanently prohibits Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Obama said. “It cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb. It contains the most comprehensive inspection and verification regime ever negotiated to monitor a nuclear program.

“As was true in previous treaties, it does not resolve all problems; it certainly doesn’t resolve all our problems with Iran. It does not ensure a warming between our two countries. But it achieves one of our most critical security objectives,” Obama said according to a White House transcript of his remarks.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a 2016 GOP presidential hopeful, disagrees. At a Sept. 9 rally on the U.S. Capitol lawn, he warned the proposed deal would result in “billions of dollars” funneling into Iran upon the lifting of sanctions. That money would help finance terrorism, he said. Fellow Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump appeared at the rally with Cruz.

“Let me be clear,” Cruz, a member of First Baptist Church in Houston, said according to The Washington Post. “If you vote to send billions of dollars to jihadists who pledge to murder Americans, then you bear direct responsibility for the murders carried out with the dollars you have given.”

Sen. James Lankford, R.-Okla., said the nuclear deal would give Iran several important resources for developing a nuclear weapon: time to complete their research, money, ballistic missile capability and the ability “to continue towards highly enriched uranium.”

“They have time. They have money. They have ballistic missile research. They have highly enriched uranium and the permission to work on their most advanced centrifuges and they have additional defensive capabilities,” Lankford said of the deal’s allowances in a Sept. 9 Senate floor speech.

“They are allowed to stockpile conventional weapons under this agreement and to be able to even add things like surface-to-air defense capabilities to be able to defend their military sites. So you tell me … does Iran have what if needs to be able to complete a nuclear weapon under this deal?” he said. Lankford, a member of Quail Springs Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, answered his own question: “Yes.”

Lankford spent time in Oklahoma during Congress’s August recess, and “the President’s flawed nuclear deal with Iran was the number one concern he heard,” according to a press release from the Senator’s office.

Ibrahim, an assistant professor of Islamic studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who has criticized the deal, told BP the agreement would have “various political and economic consequences” but still could be used by God to open doors for the Gospel.

“I do believe that God is sovereign and there will be good out of the deal,” Ibrahim said in written comments. “In a sense, there will be a ‘natural’ exchange with Iran, in which our Gospel-bearers will be able to access a three-decade blocked country.

“In such exchange,” he continued, “we will be also able to bring our valuable pieces of Good News to the heart of the most important Shiite land. This social and religious exchange is important to think about. With Iran being open to the international community, I believe and hope, there will be serious attempts for her to present a new image that, in a certain level, may involve tolerance in treating non-Muslims and the other minorities.”

As political leaders debate the Iran deal, they must “acknowledge and be convinced that we are not dealing only with a mere ‘secular’ country,” Ibrahim said.

“Iran is a Muslim nation. She is proud of her Shiite identity, and serious about it. Iran wants to advance and consolidate power with one eye on its flourishing and the other on its Sunni rivals in the region (like Saudi Arabia),” Ibrahim said. “For them, Islam is both religion and state. It is worship and leadership. This ideology drives their debates, negotiations and deals. While political leaders, I believe, make every effort to make sure the political deals are solid and strong, we cannot ignore this religious dimension in dealing with Iran.”

Once the deal takes effect, Ibrahim said, “we need to be cautious and practice significant testing measures to make sure we are not too late in taking serious actions to stop an ambitious Iran.”

Ibrahim hopes Iran will “prove she is serious about being integrated in an international multi-religious and multi-cultural society” by “protecting the rights of minorities” as well as releasing Abedini and other American prisoners.