In the day of heroes, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and John Paul II all had a voice in defying Communism as President Reagan issued the challenge: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” This trio of Western leaders labored for years, conspiring in the cause of freedom and inserting their agenda of liberty into every crack as Soviet Communism crumbled owing to corruption, demoralization and economic decay. When Reagan drove the cleaving spike into that hideous barrier between the two Germanies, symbolic of both separation and domination, he did so with great confidence. Not only did he call on the timeless truths of capitalism and self-determination, he spoke with the voice of authority earned by the stalwart soldiers of the Solidarity movement in Poland.
While it is Lech Walesa who is best known for uniting workers behind the Polish Solidarity movement, one of history’s most courageous freedom activists, Father Jerzy Popieluszko, prepared the way. The priest united thousands in the cause of freedom and was an unwavering source of inspiration for dissidents. Tortured by Communist thugs for his efforts, his perseverance fanned the revolution against the Soviets in Poland and ultimately fueled the many revolts that broke up the Soviet Bloc.
Much like Walesa and Popieluszko, today Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani faces execution for refusing to recant his Christian faith. He and his attorney have steadfastly rejected every opportunity to save themselves. For their refusal to bow to the threats of death and reprisal, all of us in the West owe them more than just the passing interest of a three-minute news spot. For those of us who said we regretted the weak Western support mustered for the Green Revolution in Iran, we cannot squander this opportunity to support a hero of conscience in that struggle.
American president and leader of the free world Barack Obama finally uttered a late and obligatory statement “condemning the conviction of the pastor” and offering the platitude that faith is a universal human right. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has started a petition and Speaker of the House John Boehner is reportedly “distressed” by reports of Youcef’s death sentence. In all, American leaders are pathetically short on passion and conviction at a time when there is opportunity to save a life and weigh in on the side of freedom fighters in Iran. In fact, beyond Iran, the insurgents in Syria would benefit from a display of concrete American support for defiance of a brutal Islamist regime.
The religious community also falls far short with weak and perfunctory complaints. Pastor Rick Warren has gone to Twitter to ask his followers to protest Nadarkhani's possible execution and Southern Baptist leader Richard Land has called the verdict "a clear violation of the universal human right of religious freedom.” These generic statements of dismay could easily apply to anything from concern about prayers on school grounds to the defacement of a church. Nothing about them reflects the urgency desperately needed from the free world’s spiritual leaders in defense of religious freedom and in response to an opportunity to spotlight the plight of persecuted Christians.
Where is the summons to concrete action? How many Christian or Jewish leaders are urging rolling fasts, marches and/or prayer vigils? What Western organizations are leading the charge to demand the pastor’s release, as they did for American reporter Roxana Saberi? And how many around the world resolved to make the life of young Iranian woman Neda Soltan count when she was gunned down in the streets of Tehran while marching for freedom?
This is the time for the citizens of the free world to fill the void left by Reagan, Thatcher and John Paul II. We may not have the visionary leadership we once did, but we still have the same sustaining belief in inalienable rights and religious freedom.
Consider what the life of one like Popieluszko can mean to an entire nation – and then what that nation’s example of stubborn resistance can mean to the destruction of an entire evil empire. This is time for more than banal statements complaining of violations of universal religious human rights.
There is no certainty that Youcef is still alive, but the charges against him have been shifted to the “crime” of being a Zionist, with rape thrown in for good measure. The American Center for Law and Justice has been most reliable in pressing for accurate updates and bringing the account of Youcef’s persecution to concerned Americans.
We can do more than wring our hands, sign petitions and issue pathetic platitudes. We need to call on our churches and pastors to organize a coordinated campaign of solid support for this pastor who stands for us all in demanding freedom to declare his faith.