Pastor Saeed Abedini, #FreeSaeed, Released from Prison, Domestic Violence, Naghmeh
It has been reported by the wife of Pastor Saeed Abedini and in many news sources that Pastor Saeed has been released from Iranian prison. Many Christians have been faithfully praying for Pastor Saeed’s release, some even changing their Facebook profile pictures on Wednesdays to bring awareness to the plight of this pastor, and to solicit prayer and support for Saeed and his family.
Pastor Saeed had visited Iran in 2012 to visit his family and work on an orphanage, but was arrested for compromising national security. He is serving an 8-yr sentence which could extend to a life sentence if more charges are brought forward. (Source)
A couple of months ago, Christianity Today published an article, “Pastor Saeed Abedini’s Wife Halts Public Advocacy, Citing Marital Woes and Abuse.” From the article:
In two emails to supporters, Abedini revealed details of her troubled marriage to Saeed Abedini, an American citizen and pastor imprisoned in Iran since September 2012.
Those troubles include “physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse (through Saeed’s addiction to pornography),” she wrote. The abuse started early in their marriage and has worsened during Saeed’s imprisonment, she said. The two are able to speak by phone and Skype.
This sent shock waves in Christendom. Pastor Saeed, who represented true Christian persecution, a hero, was now being publicly charged with domestic violence by his wife, Naghmeh? How could that be?
It’s important to note that the e-mails that were publicized were meant to remain private. Naghmeh Abedini sent the e-mail to a select group of supporters – ones she trusted could keep her confidence and pray for her. Sadly, one person betrayed that confidence and the rest is history.
Yet, also sadly, some people came out loudly against Naghmeh for publicizing this negative information. But keep in mind that she didn’t publicize it; it was released without her permission. Some questioned the timing of it, many doubted her story and said she was looking for attention. Even some people I network with on abuse issues were stumped by this disclosure and had similar thoughts: “We need more information before we can believe her.”
I sighed heavily each time I read such a response. I know what that feels like to be heard and not believed. For a victim, it is like a stab in the chest. People who study patterns of behavior of domestic violence victims know that it takes a survivor a L.O.N.G. time before they can get the courage to reveal they are being abused. One out of four women are victims of domestic violence in their lifetime. The Iranian culture is one of inequality for women. Yet the common question was, “Could her words be true?”
It’s very conflicting to see “persecuted for Christ” and “abused his wife” in the same sentence, isn’t it?
Just because one is a Christian pastor and held prisoner in Iran does not remove the possibility that one can also be an abuser. Yet the thought of that scenario is too messy. The story of Saeed is like a modern-day “Voice of the Martyrs” story. The suffering Saeed has faced has been real and horrific. But for some reason, we elevate these martyrs to hero status and don’t want to think about or discuss the possibility that this seemingly godly man could also have done harm to his beautiful wife.
Perhaps the real Saeed story is that Saeed represents many in Christendom who claim Christ, who witness and evangelize, yet privately, also abuse their spouse.
I believe this is why domestic violence remains an overlooked sin in the church, and women remain in harm’s way. When women eventually speak up and use their voices, they are saying all is not well in their “godly” marriage. They are saying that their marriage doesn’t represent Christ and His church. They are perhaps saying their marriage is a fraud. Oh boy, I am really painting an ugly picture, aren’t I?
Sadly, while only some speak out and use their voices, many others remain silent in their domestic violence prisons. They continue to put on a good face when they go to church, when they evangelize, mingle with Christians. Husbands are still respected among the church leaders and men, and no one knows a thing or would dare to think of such a thing.
Naghmeh posted on her Facebook page that she would step away from social media for a time:
Although Naghmeh never intended for her story to go public, I’m glad that it did. It means that the church will have to wrestle with this important issue. Hopefully it means that Saeed will get the support he needs to confront his sin, and Naghmeh will get the support she needs, separately.
Some people have dismissed Naghmeh’s words angrily by demanding, “why now?” Some have said if she has been suffering for all of these years, why didn’t she come forward earlier? Here’s one such comment:
When you are in an abusive situation, you are struggling to stay alive physically, emotionally, and spiritually. You don’t have much spare time to think because you are recovering from the last episode and spending time/energy in trying to create normalcy for your family. Remember, a domestic violence survivor has to try to stay somewhat sane to protect her children. Think of the amount of mental and physical energy required to do this.
When a survivor is physically away from the abuser, she finally has time to breathe, relax, and perhaps see what normal is. This is often when many survivors come to the reality of what they have been living. They now see the contrast between life with abuser and life separate from the abuser. It can be a shocking revelation.
One observation I’ve noted is Naghmeh’s consistent response of love and grace towards her husband. While she has been honest about the abuse issues, she also has been consistent in the efforts for his release, her love and care for him personally. She has shown the love of Christ towards Saeed publicly in her responses about him.
Naghmeh posted another note on her Facebook page in December. You tell me if this is a vindictive woman, trying to ruin the reputation of her husband and draw attention to herself.
To my dearest friends,
After a month of resting and healing and sitting at the feet of Jesus, today I felt led to share.
Three years ago, when Saeed was put in the Iranian prison for his faith, the Lord called me to get up and not only advocate for Saeed, but also to share the Gospel message and to advocate for the persecuted church. I was freed from so much fear and it was a step of faith for me to get up and move. When I did obey, I could see that I could DO ALL THINGS THROUGH CHRIST WHO STRENGTHENS ME (Philippians 4:13) That by Grace of God I could get on airplanes. That by God’s Grace I could speak in front of heads of governments, parliaments, the congress, thousands of people and our own president and I was able to open my mouth through the Grace of God and represent Christ and to share Christ with so many. It was overwhelming seeing how Jesus had become my STRENGTH through my utter WEAKNESS.
A month ago, the Lord asked me to stop and sit. It took another step of faith to stop everything and just sit at the feet of Jesus and to hear from Him. It was freeing to see that by Grace of God none of the fame and attention or praises of men had gotten to me and that I could drop everything the moment my Savior told me to drop it and to go back to being a single mom in Boise, Idaho. It was freeing to let go of the FALSE SENSE of SECURITY that money was bringing into my life (through speaking engagements) and to know that the only thing that all I desperately needed was Jesus. That my true security rests in Jesus. That Jesus is my day to day provider.
I had to turn off every voice including my own and only care about what Jesus was saying to me. It was hard. With the news that came out recently (an email I had sent to prayer partners was leaked to media), stones were being thrown at me left and right and many religious leaders who saw me wounded and bleeding passed on by afraid to touch me or this whole mess/situation. It was hard, but Jesus kept telling me to be silent and to look to Him.
The truth is that I still love my husband more than ever and my advocacy for him has taken a new form of interceding on my knees. The truth is I can not deny Saeed’s love and passion for Jesus and that he continues to suffer in the Iranian prison because of his genuine love for Jesus and his refusal to deny Him. I can not deny the amazing dad he has been to our kids and the spiritual truths he poured into their life until the moment he was arrested. But at the same time I can not deny the very dark parts of our marriage and serious issues Saeed continues to struggle with.
So I open myself up once again and become real and raw in asking you to join me in praying for Saeed. This time not only for his physical chains, but the spiritual chains that have bound him for so many years. Those chains that have stuck to him from the culture he was raised in (Middle East) and from his former religion (Islam). I believe that God will use Saeed’s imprisonment to break Saeed of these chains and to refine him and use him as a vessel for the work that He has prepared for him.
I am not sure how often I will be providing updates, but I will share as the Lord leads. Starting January 5, I am going to start another 21 days of prayer and fasting. It will be a time of drawing closer to the Lord and sharing what He lays on my heart. I hope they will be a source of blessing and encouragement to you as well.
I praise God for all of the ups and downs, excitements and disappointments, and for the many pains and tears. They have been good for me. They are a great tool to refine us and keep our eyes on Jesus.
With much Love in Jesus
In the comments, another domestic abuse survivor, Diane, asked her a difficult question. I think what we read in Naghmeh’s response is a woman who has had time to come to grips with the reality of the state of her relationship with Saeed, and what must change. I’m grateful that Naghmeh has had the time to process what has occurred and make reasonable and appropriate boundaries:
Naghmeh, I’m an ex wife of an abusive ‘Christian’ man. I loved him 30 years. It was a fail. Are you positive God wants this? (December 7, 2015 at 12:06pm)
Thanks Diane. I am not sure what the future holds. I just know I have to pray on my knees. At the same time, when Saeed comes back, I am not going to break the boundries that I have set for my protection. If Saeed is changed, it will have to be seen by me and my pastor and others before any steps are taken or boundaries are changed. Thank you for your message and concern.
Friends, this is going to be a very challenging time for the Abedini family as Saeed recovers from his time in Iranian prison, meets his family after being gone for years, and for Naghmeh as she makes and maintains safe boundaries for her protection. Let’s pray for this family as they navigate these difficult waters, that Christ will indeed be close to the broken-hearted and will be their strength.
Let us also pray that the church will take a close look at abuse in their ranks and give real help to those in harm’s way.
Update: A reader sent me this video Skype interview with Naghmeh in which she discusses what lies ahead.
Update #2: Previous version incorrectly stated that after abuse became public, Naghmeh stepped away from social media. This has been corrected 1/29/16.