The collapse of the Shah’s government in Iran has revealed, among other things, extensive failures in the awareness by outsiders of the amount of unrest within that country. It is sobering to recall that at the end of 1977, President Carter on a visit to Tehran toasted the Shah, praising his “great leadership” that had made Iran “an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world.” Moreover Carter noted “the respect and admiration and love” that the people had for their Shah. In so speaking the President was reaffirming the traditional American relationship with Iran, or rather with Iran’s government, that his predecessors had established.

The fall of the Shah illustrates the widespread failure to distinguish adequately between peoples and their governments. Within a society there are many functioning institutions of which government is only one. It is usually an important one, but the government is rarely as significant as its functionaries, high or low, think.

Christians, as a result of our Lord’s great commission, are to be concerned about every country, specifically about the people of every country. As a general principle, Christians should support policies of their own governments that enhance communication with peoples of other countries. To want to have contact with other peoples is not to endorse the governments which they choose or which are imposed upon them. Moreover, we advise Christians (and this is our advice to governments as well) to avoid too close an identification with whatever faction or regime happens to hold political power in another country at a given time.

In the case of Iran, the role of religion in the overthrow of the Shah and the perhaps temporary rise of Ruhollah Khomeini is ...

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