Why do most Iranian Christians worship in house-churches?

Why do most Iranian Christians worship in house-churches?

“Christians have 380 churches,” Iranian-Armenian MP Ara Shaverdian told the UN Human Rights Committee in October 2023.

What the MP did not explain, however, is that not everybody is permitted to attend these churches, nor are they permitted to preach in the national language of Persian.

The churches that once offered such services have been forcibly closed over the past 15 years, and those that remain are only for Iranians of Armenian or Assyrian descent – ethnic minorities considered “Christian” by the authorities.

Those Christians who want to worship in the national language of Persian therefore have no place to worship.

As a result, following a huge rise in conversions to Christianity – with the number of converts now estimated to be 10 times the number of ethnic Armenian and Assyrian Christians – informal churches have sprung up across the country, meeting together in private homes in what have become known as “house-churches”.

But these gatherings, although no different in practice from any other regular church around the world, have been labelled “enemy groups” of a “Zionist cult” by the president, Ebrahim Raisi, and hundreds of members and leaders have been arrested and charged with “acting against national security”.

Members have faced prison sentences of up to five years, and leaders up to 10 years, under Articles 498 and 499 of the penal code, relating to organisation and membership, respectively, of “anti-state groups”.

It is also increasingly common for house-church members to be charged under the amended Article 500, which criminalises “educating in a deviant way contrary to the holy religion of Islam”.