5 facts about Iran

January 10, 2020

Over the past two weeks, tensions between the United States and Iran have escalated to the point of warfare between the two nations. President Trump accused the Iranian government of orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on New Year’s Eve. This led to the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3 by a U.S. airstrike, and a counter-response that included Iranian airstrikes against American bases in Iraq.

Here are five facts you should know about the United State’s foremost geopolitical nemesis in the Middle East region:

  1. Iran is the modern name for the nation that Westerners have historically referred to as Persia. (In 1935, the Iranian government requested those countries which it had diplomatic relations refer to the country as Iran.) As one of the world's oldest continuous major civilizations, the land, empire, and rulers of Persia are frequently mentioned in the Old Testament. The first mention appears in the book of Esther when a Jewish girl becomes the queen to Xerxes I, the “king of the Persians and the Medes.” Cyrus II of Persia (known as Cyrus the Great) is mentioned both in 2 Chronicles and Ezra, and another king, Artaxerxes I of Persia, plays a significant role in the book of Nehemiah. Persian people and rulers are also mentioned in the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekial, and Daniel.
  2. Because of its location, Iran has maintained a geopolitical significance within the Middle East for thousands of years. The country has one of the longest land borders of any country in western Asia, covering 3,662 miles in length—almost twice the perimeter of Texas. Seven countries share a land border with Iran: Iraq, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Additionally, Iran is directly across the Perisan Gulf from Kuwait, Saudia Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, and across the Gulf of Oman from the nation of Oman. At the narrowest point in the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz, Iran is only 35 miles from the United Arab Emirates. Because the Persian Gulf and its coastal areas are the world’s largest single source of crude oil, Iran has been a major focus of strategic consideration for almost every country on the planet.
  3. According to the Acts of the Apostles, the people from Iran (Persians, Parthians and Medes) were among the very first new Christian converts at Pentecost (Acts 2:9). However, despite the early presence in the region, Christianity has remained a minority religion relative to the majority state religions—Zoroastrianism before the Islamic conquest, Sunni Islam in the Middle Ages, and Shia Islam in modern times. Currently, currently around 90–95% of Iranians associate themselves with the Shia branch of Islam, and 5–10% with the Sunni and Sufi branches of Islam. But over the last 20 years, more Iranians have become Christians than in the previous 13 centuries combined since Islam came to Iran. As Mark Howard notes, in 1979, there were an estimated 500 Christians from a Muslim background in Iran, while today there are hundreds of thousands.
  4. From 1925 until 1979, Iran was ruled by the Pahlavi dynasty, a royal family consisting of the father, Reza Pahlavi, and his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Reza Pahlavi, a general in Iran's military force, successfully overthrew the government and declared himself king (shah). During his reign, Reza attempted to modernize the country and develop it into an industrial, urbanized nation. Mohammad Reza continued his father’s reforms, including implementing land reform, extending voting rights to women, and eliminating illiteracy. These actions, while lauded by the West, sparked civil unrest within Iran because of the brutal efforts at implementation. The Shah also drew the ire of Muslim religious leaders who opposed his attempts at secularization. His unpopularity within Iran lead to the collapse of his government in the Iranian Revolution of 1978 and 1979.
  5. In the last days of March 1979, a nationwide referendum resulted in the establishment of an Islamic Republic within Iran. A formerly exiled Muslic cleric who had led the Iranian Revolution, Ruhollah Khomeini, proclaimed April 1, 1979, as the "first day of God's government.” Khomeini adopted the title of "Imam" and soon after became Supreme Leader, making him both the highest-ranking political and religious authority in the nation. (The Supreme Leader ranks above the President of Iran and personally appoints the heads of the military, the government, and the judiciary.) In October 1979, the United States allowed the deposed Shah into the country for cancer treatment. The Carter administration snubbed Khomeini and leftist groups demands that the Shah be returned to Iran for trial and execution. A few days later, a group of Iranian college students—with Khomeini’s blessing—took control of the American Embassy in Tehran, holding 52 embassy staff hostage for 444 days. When Khomeini died in 1989, he was succeeded as Supreme Leader by Ali Khamenei.

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24