Iran has held its own cultural independence and language since ancient times. In 1979, the country embraced a theocratic Shiite government. Movements toward greater public freedom for citizens of all religions have often been attacked by those pushing for the strict observance of Islamic law.
In 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president. His promises to improve the lot of the poor and reinstate the original values of the revolution were broken. His unexpected 2009 re-election sparked massive anti-government demonstrations. The government's response was ruthless, with thousands arrested and some sentenced to death.
Iran has the largest Shia Islam population in the world. Christians comprise of less than one percent of the overall population. The Iranian attitude towards religion can seem contradictory, as the people tend to be very chaste in public but much less so in private. The courts have the right to impose the death sentence on male apostates and life imprisonment for female apostates. In effect, Iran governs by religious dictatorship where little of consequence can occur without the approval of the religious leaders, the Guardian Council of Mullahs.
The religious persecution of certain minorities intensified under Ahmadinejad. This religious intolerance is aimed at followers of the Bahai religion, Sufis (a sect of Islam) and Christians – especially believers from a Muslim background. Almost all Christian activity is illegal, particularly when it occurs in Persian languages – from evangelism and Bible training to the publishing of Scripture and Christian books. Yet the regime's harsh treatment of Christians only further fans the flames of church growth.
During the Islamic Revolution, the people of Iran were promised that circumstances within the country would improve under a more authoritarian form of Islam. After close to 40 years and no progress, however, the 80 million people of Iran have become disillusioned. They have begun to see that Islam is not the answer to their nation's problems. This realization has created an openness to the Gospel, which is being presented to Iranians through various satellite television, social media and house church outreaches.