I am praying for the people of Iran. Not because I consider them my enemies and am commanded to do so by my Lord. Nor because I believe I am better than they are and feel motivated by a condescending altruism. I am praying for them for the most basic of all reasons: They stand in need of it.
Additionally, it is a clear reminder how understanding a country can never be purely limited to what a leader from that country might say in representing them. Like the numerous examples when a United States leader has expressed an opinion in opposition to my own, any culture – even ones we hardly understand and thereby make vulnerable to broad characterizations – is always more diverse and multi-layered than commonly believed.
If national leaders don’t always reflect the will of the people they govern, a more nuanced and careful approach is required. Whether the perceived problem is in Iran, North Korea, Russia, Palestine or all parts between, demonizing a whole population is an insult to our most treasured understandings of human integrity and dignity.
All people yearn for freedom for their voice to be heard, to advance their lives so their families and communities can live together in peace, all the while so their most basic needs of health, shelter and subsistence can be met.
What I wish for the Iranian people is what I might wish for myself. I am heartbroken to think they represent not only themselves, but the billions of others oppressed and threatened by leaders more concerned about protecting their power base than serving the public’s need to live life unfettered.
This quest is our quintessential American tradition of freedom, a fundamental human right never to be neglected or taken for granted, and it is so fragile our founders insisted upon its constant vigilance.
So I pray, even when it might be interpreted as simple escapism or meaningless and vain repetition serving no higher cause than making myself feel better. I pray because if one voice inspires another voice to be joined with yet another voice until the streets overflow with humanity’s need to be valued and to be free, then in time, the world will change.
Indeed, it is ironic how the very technology criticized for making us all become more stressed and isolated is also being used as the mechanism to help organize such a massive resistance.
But I am no mere idealist. I know that blood will spill and has already been shed in this cause. But isn’t the bottom-up revolution of peaceful and nonviolent protest better than any strategy of boycotts or more forceful interventions purposed by well-meaning outsiders?
I pray for the Iranian people. I ask that their resolve not diminish when the world’s attention turns away or when their own leaders seek to suppress them – for countless courageous souls are willing to suffer and die when their rights have been taken from them. It’s a lesson for their leaders and even our own to always remember.
Mark Johnson is senior minister at Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.