The clerics of Iran are not of one mind on the recent Iranian election and voter fraud. In fact they are deeply divided. The New York Times reported that in the religiously important town of Qum there is a group of clergy called the Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qum who issued a statement defying Ayatolla Ali Khamenei and his candidate Ahmadinejad.
“This crack in the clerical establishment, and the fact they are siding with the people and Moussavi, in my view is the most historic crack in the 30 years of the Islamic republic,” said Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University. “Remember, they are going against an election verified and sanctified by Khamenei.”
This is good news for all of us who support the democratic process in Iran. It is also good for those who question whether or not religious leaders of any type should exert influence in politics.
Those who argue for a religious absence from politics come from two camps: one religious and one political. The first is the religious people who contend that politics are too icky for the purity of the religious endeavor and that the two spheres of life – the religious and the political – should not touch lest the religious part be sullied. This partition of life is not realistic. Any authentic religious practice involves more than the just the personal realm, it also is concerned with the social and how humans relate to one another (the love your neighbor is half of fhe two great commandments given by Jesus, the other half being love God.) Keeping our religion free of politics leaves one with a small and self involved religious practice indeed.
The second objection comes from those in politics who lament that religious people desire to say something in the public square that stems out of their particular religious convictions. This irks purely secular politicos because they are not sure that this is fair pool. They don’t know how to respond to someone who is making a religious claim in the public square. But these objections are a historical – religious people have always made claims upon how we want our politics to work – the civil rights movement is one obvious example. Religious people will make claims upon the political space – and that is a good thing.
The only exception to the positive blending of politics and religion is when the political and the religion become so intertwined as to be indistingushable one from another and where political and religious debate is curtailed. This is called a theocracy and it is bad for both politics and religion – and until recently that was the situation in Iran. Theocracies are hard to criticize or oppose because anyone who dares to do so is not only questioning the state, they are also said to be questioning God.
The reality in Iran now is that dissenting voices from the clergy have seriously weakened the theocracy of Iran. Let us pray that the clergy will be bold and that by displaying disagreement among religious people that the Iranian theocracy will fall and in its place will rise an Iranian democracy that welcomes poltical and religious participation from all its people.