The Color of Persecution
The steps of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C. were speckled with orange Tuesday morning, as a handful of activists clad in orange jumpsuits gathered to pray.
The prayer vigil, organized by Patrick Mahoney, pastor of D.C.'s Church on the Hill, lasted only a few minutes, but it propelled a Twitter campaign dubbed #orangejumpsuit to raise awareness about persecuted Christians around the world.
"The orange jumpsuit campaign came out of a way for us to stand in solidarity with the persecuted church," Mahoney told RealClearReligion. "We felt the best way -- the imagery that we could draw -- would be the orange prison jumpsuit."
That orange jumpsuit may symbolize more than imprisonment. It's shown up in clips of executions by ISIS of Christians, and church congregations have taken to wearing the color orange on Sundays to honor the martyrs.
"We are looking always for creative and positive ways to draw attention to the persecuted church, to not only stand with them, but also offer opportunity for the faith community in America and anyone of good will, whether they're Christian or not, to say, 'I want to stand against the violence of people of faith. I want to stand against those who are persecuted. I want to stand against this faith-based genocide, whatever the faith tradition may be,'" Mahoney said.
For some, the campaign is personal. The name "Pastor Saeed" was ironed onto the back of each orange jumpsuit worn Tuesday.
Saeed Abedini was arrested and imprisoned in September 2012 by the Iranian government for his Christian faith. Abedini is serving an eight-year sentence for gathering with others to study the Bible, which happened 13 years prior to his imprisonment, his wife, Naghmeh Abedini, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee late Tuesday morning.
Mahoney said he chose Tuesday for the prayer vigil so that Mrs. Abedini could join the group for prayer before she addressed the House Committee regarding her husband's release.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee, chaired by U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), held a hearing 10 a.m. Tuesday entitled "Americans Detained in Iran" -- a timely subject as U.S. and the Islamic Republic attempt to reach a nuclear deal by June 30. Family members of four American citizens -- Jason Rezaian, Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati and Robert Levinson -- detained or missing in Iran addressed the committee and pleaded for the U.S. government to make no deal with the Iranian government until all American hostages are released.
Mrs. Abedini told the Committee that religious gatherings are supposedly lawful under Iranian law, but the mullahs considered her husband's peaceful gathering of religious minorities a threat to the country's national security.
"I came to [America] 30 years ago," Mrs. Abedini said. "The greatest gift this country gave me was the freedom to choose Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior."
The Committee unanimously passed a resolution drafted by Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) that calls on Iran to release all known American citizens imprisoned and provide information on American citizens who have gone missing in Iran.
"We will continue to call on Congress our positon with respect to Iran. As long as Pastor Saeed is in prison there for his faith and being brutalized for his faith, there should be no deal with Iran on their nuclear program," Mahoney said. "We fight for religious freedom across the board."
Lauren Handy, an activist, joined Mahoney's prayer vigil in an orange t-shirt that read, "Remember the persecuted. Hebrews 13:13." Handy said she's a Catholic, but that doesn't stop her from joining Mahoney -- a Presbyterian minister -- in the fight against religious persecution.
"We're all part of different denominations but coming together for the cause of our persecuted brothers and sisters," she told RealClearReligion. "As long as [Saeed]'s there [in prison], I'll be praying, and once he's out, I'll still be praying."