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Iran: 10 years since forced closure of the nation’s largest Persian-speaking church

There are roughly 300,000 Christians in Iran. Most of them are members of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Other Christians in Iran are members of the Assyrian Church of the East, the Chaldean Catholic Church, and the Roman Catholic Church; there is also a growing number of Pentecostals, Evangelicals, and other Protestants. 

For previous ChristianPersecution.com coverage of Iran, see here.

“10 years since forced closure of Iran’s largest Persian-speaking church,” Article 18, May 19, 2023:

This Sunday will be the 10th anniversary of the forced closure of the largest Persian-speaking church in Iran, the Central Assemblies of God Church in Tehran.

The once-thriving church, built in the 1970s and officially registered as a church in 1974, was one of dozens of Persian-language churches forced to close over the past three decades, as the Iranian authorities have sought to clamp down on a sharp rise in converts to Christianity.

There were once 43 Protestant churches in Iran – many of which offered services in the national language, Persian, and attracted Iranians of all ethnicities. 

Today, just 16 remain, only four of which are permitted to preach in Persian – Anglican churches in the major cities of Tehran, Isfahan and Shiraz – and only to those who can prove they were Christians before the inception of the Islamic Republic in 1979. 

Even these four churches have not been permitted to reopen since the Covid-19 pandemic, so in reality there are now only 12 Protestant churches operating in Iran – 10 in the capital, Tehran, and one each in the north-western cities of Tabriz and Urmia – and these churches can only offer services in the ethnic-minority languages of Armenian or Assyrian.

Half of the 12 functioning churches are Presbyterian, while there are three Assemblies of God churches, and one each from the Assyrian Pentecostal, Brethren, and Adventist denominations.

But out of all of the denominations, it is the Assemblies of God Church that has been hit the hardest, losing 13 of its 16 churches in cities across Iran – Arak, Ahvaz, Rasht, Gorgan, Mashhad, Tehran, Isfahan, Shahin Shahr, Kermanshah, Shiraz, Bushehr, and Nowshahr – while the popular AoG retreat centre in Karaj has also been confiscated.

Several other Protestant-owned properties have been confiscated since 1979, including schools, hospitalscemeteries, and even churches like the Assyrian Presbyterian Church of Tabriz and St Peter’s and Emmanuel Evangelical churches in Tehran.

The first Assemblies of God Church forced to close was that of Pastor Hossein Soodmand, hosted in his home in the conservative city of Mashhad, for which the pastor was sentenced to death and in 1990 hanged for his “apostasy”.

But the real tipping point, according to Article18’s director, Mansour Borji, came in 2009 with the forced closure of the Assyrian Pentecostal church in Shahrara, Tehran, pastored by Victor Bet-Tamraz.

“This was when the authorities renewed their long-standing demand to all the Persian-speaking churches that they must ‘cooperate’: meaning to cease all their services in Persian and disallow non-Christians from attending their services,” Mr Borji explained, “and then the first action that showed the teeth of the intelligence service during that new phase was the closure of Pastor Victor’s church.”

The Central Assemblies of God Church once attracted around 500 people to its services: predominantly converts from Muslim backgrounds….

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