U.S. Christians Visit Iran's Top Leaders to Defuse Tension

U.S. Christian leaders are visiting Iran’s top political and religious leaders this week in hope of relieving tension between the United States and Iran.

A delegation of 13 Christian leaders from the Mennonite, Quaker, Episcopal, Catholic and United Methodist churches as well as representatives from the National Council of Churches, Pax Christi and Sojourners/Call to Renewal are visiting Iran from Feb. 17-25.

The group will dialogue with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, former president Mohammad Khatami, women serving in the Iranian parliament as well as Iran’s Muslim and Christian leaders.

“Our primary goal is to engage in dialogue with a variety of Iranians,” said Ron Flaming, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) international program director, in a statement.

The delegation will spend most of its time with religious leaders in Tehran, Qom and Isfahan. Delegates will meet with Iranian Evangelical Protestant leaders, the Archbishop of the Armenian Orthodox Church in Iran, and Muslim religious leaders in the religious city of Qom.

Tension is escalating between the United States and the Iranian government over issues such as the country’s nuclear plans, its denial of the holocaust, and its human rights violations.

Currently, the two countries are not communicating directly with one another.

“We are making this trip hoping it will encourage both governments to step back from a course that will lead to conflict and suffering,” said Mary Ellen McNish of American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), an international social justice organization, in a statement.

The delegation is organized by AFSC and the Mennonite Central Committee.

Some of this week’s delegation members had previously dialogued with Ahmadinejad in New York last September. The religious leaders who met with the Iranian president last year had met with Congressional members afterwards to share important points in the discussion. Congressional staff members had encouraged them in their effort and visit Iran if possible.

Delegation members will again meet with the U.S. Congress to inform them of what the leaders in Iran said and suggest ways to decrease tension between the two countries.

“We are hopeful,” said Flaming. “As Christians we are called to talk with those we are in conflict with and move toward forgiveness and reconciliation. We pray this will open doors to diplomacy.”