Interview with Bishop Azad Marshall of Iran

The Church of England Newspaper. August 10

In an exclusive interview after his installation Bishop Azad Marshall spoke of his journey to faith and early years of ministry that had brought him to the situation of now being Bishop in Iran.

“My family background in Pakistan is Christian. I was a member of St Andrew’s Church in Lahore which had an evangelical ministry under Sidney Iggulden. He focused on young people. He led us to the Lord and discipled us. Members of our youth fellowship from that time are now giving leadership as General Secretary of the Pakistan Bible Society and former heads of Scripture Union and of the Pakistan Fellowship of Evangelical Students. Everyone in that group the Lord has called into ministry.

“The fellowship started a sending ministry but we were determined not to be dependent on outside help. We raised money and were the first sending organization from a Moslem country recorded in Operation World. I was the first to be sent by the group and came with a student minisrtryto Iran in 1976. Iran was the first country I ever visited outside Pakistan. I used to sell Christian books here in Tehran.

“I then went to do theological training at Romsey House Theological Training College in Cambridge and returned to St Andrew’s Lahore since they had been supporting me and I had covenanted to come back. With their blessing I started teaching and training sessions for the clergy. This led to ordination in the Church of Pakistan and appointment as the Priest of St Andrews for 6 years. It is still our family church as our daughter was married there at the beginning of this year.

In 1994, Bishop John Brown of Cyprus and the Gulf and the Moderator of the Church of Pakistan agreed that I be consecrated as Bishop in the Gulf for the Pakistan Urdu-speaking parishes.. I worked as associate bishop of the Province who then appointed me in 2004 as Episcopal Vicar-General of the Church of Iran.”

How do you see Inter-Faith Relations?

The Church needs to show that Christ is for the whole world, and therefore we serve people of all faiths. We cannot restrict Jesus to ourselves. We are there to serve. Out of our service comes relationships. There is no conflict between the desire to have inter-faith dialogue and to retain the integrity of the scripture and the Christian faith. The Christ we follow came for all as I said at the end of the service. Whatever relationships we have flow from that given.

What is the role of the Church in the Middle-East Peace Process?

The Church is often caught in the cross fire. The Church cannot be for one or for the other side. It is for Jesus, the prince of peace. So the church is to be a bridge, bringing the communities together.

Iran has often been demonized. The media often give negative representations of Iran. But Iran is no different from many other Islamic countries where human rights violations are much more blatant. There are for instance Muslim countries where women are not even allowed to drive, whereas you can see many women drivers in Tehran. Women are very visible in all walks of life and seventy per cent of the university students are female.

The media tend to pick and choose. Western vested interests play a great role. When people demonise Iran, they do not look at the wider picture. They compare Iran with countries where vested interests want to maintain good relations. So they fail to raise the very proper questions which should be asked. My hope is that the Church will play a role in balancing this picture.

We cannot always be harping on what happened almost thirty years ago. We must concentrate on the opportunity to build relationships with a population of 76 million, half of whom were born after the Revolution. We must demonstrate our great commitment and desire to build a relationship in dialogue and peace