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Christianity said growing in Iran.

Christian churches are certainly growing in the Islamic Republic. The American missionary research group Operation World listed Iran as having a 19.6 percent annual rise in its Christian population, which it labeled the fastest rate of any country in the world. Open Doors USA, a group that supports Christians it says are being persecuted, has concluded that in the last 20 years more Iranians became Christians than in the previous 13 centuries.

Todd Nettleton with The Voice of the Martyrs USA, another Christian group, has called Ayatollah Khomeini "the greatest [Christian] evangelist we've had in Iran."

Since there is no central statistical registry on Christians in Iran, it is impossible to verify any statistics being bruited about. But it is clear that a significant number of Iranians have been looking at Christianity, partly in anger against a regime that says it governs by the rules of Islam.

Open Doors USA noted that when Khomeini created the Islamic Republic in 1979, all Christian missionaries were booted out, Bibles in Persian were banned and in succeeding years some Christian ministers were killed.

"Many feared the small Iranian church would soon wither away and die," the group said. "But the exact opposite has happened." It was speaking about the Christian churches linked to the West, rather than the Eastern

Christian churches that involve ethnic minorities, chiefly the Armenians.

Open Doors USA cited two factors as boosting the growth of Christian churches in the Islamic Republic. "First, violence in the name of Islam has caused widespread disillusionment with the regime and led many Iranians to question their beliefs. Second, many Iranian Christians have continued to boldly and faithfully tell others about Christ, in the face of persecution."

Others have said they think part of the appeal of Christianity is simply to rebel against a government that says it is Islamic. There has also been a growth of interest in Zoroastrianism among people rejecting the Islamic Republic. And there has been a huge surge of interest in Sufism, where Iranians remain Muslims but shift away from the officially sponsored mosques. In fact, many think the greatest religious shift in Iran has been toward Sufism.

But, again, there are no real statistics.

Open Doors USA, however, said, "In 1979, there were an estimated 500 Christians from a Muslim background in Iran. Today, there are hundreds of thousands--some say more than one million."

Many, however, think that if the numbers were anywhere near that large, the regime would see Christianity as a huge threat and would be far more repressive of Christianity than it is, ta

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Title Annotation:Faith: Religion and the world
Publication:Iran Times International (Washington, DC)
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:May 5, 2017
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