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Book describes Christianity, violence in Iran

Jan. 28, 2010

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Jed Dean | Photo editor
Dr. Chris Van Gorder stands next to his office door Tuesday. Dr. Van Gorder's book "Christians in Persia and Muslim and non-Muslim Relations in Iran" was just published by the Lexington Press in 2009.

By James Blake Ewing
Reporter

Mehdi Dibaj, a Pentecostal pastor in Iraq, was imprisoned in 1983 for sharing his faith.

Christians from around the world sent thousands of letters to the Iranian government and even more prayers for Dibaj.

In June of 1994 he was released, but six months later, Dibaj went missing.

Two weeks later he was found dead.

At the time of Dibaj's imprisonment, Dr. Christian van Gorder, associate professor of religion, was working for a Christian human rights group named Open Doors International in Ermelo, The Netherlands.

"That year of his arrest, trial, release and untimely death was a roller-coaster of emotions for us," van Gorder said.

The story of Dibaj's suffering and imprisonment inspired van Gorder to begin a book about Iran, focusing specifically on the Christians, Jews and Baha'is and how they were treated in Iran.

In 2008, van Gorder spent a month in Iran researching for his book.

"Christianity in Persia and the Status of Non-Muslims in Iran" was released Jan. 16 by Lexington Press.

"It relates to the history to that part of the world, both historical and contemporary," William Bellinger, Jr., chair of the religion department, said.

Because of the difficulty with entering and traveling in Iran, I, van Gorder had to have a government-appointed guide with him at all times. He was able to get an Armenian guide, which allowed him better access to the Christian community in Iran.

"It was a great honor for me," van Gorder said.

He met those persecuted in Iran and said their stories had a great impact on him.

"I think Iran is a very misunderstood country," van Gorder said. "The press presents the country as a place that does not have a diverse marketplace of ideas."

Van Gorder said there are strong political movements in Iran for both women's rights and environmental issues.

Van Gorder said many Christians are unaware of the positive growth in the country that has come from Armenian communities or from the existence of Christian communities in Iran.

"I hope this book encourages Christians around the world to appreciate the great price their sisters and brothers in Iran have paid," van Gorder said.

Van Gorder dedicated the book to his son, Brendan, and said he wishes him to retell the stories of his Persian brothers in suffering.

"I'd encourage students and fellow scholars to visit Iran and learn first hand for themselves," van Gorder said. He spoke of how he heard many beautiful stories that displayed the deep faith of the Christians in Iran.

"Van Gorder is being eminently fair to all religions and creeds," Ralph Wood, university professor of theology and literature, said.