A three-part series of opinion and research/resource articles by “brad/futuristguy” on the recent Christianity Today interview with Saeed Abedini:
- Part 1: Introduction, and He Gave No “Answer” to the Allegations.
- Part 2: He Raised Unchallenged Accusations About His 2007 Domestic Assault Case.
- Part 3: Apparent Assumption of Trustworthiness Left Unexamined, and Final Thoughts.
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This post was originally designed as an open letter to Christianity Today (CT) about their April 24, 2016, online posting of an interview, “Saeed Abedini Answers Abuse Allegations,” by CT editor Katelyn Beaty. I read this, along with her Editor’s Note entitled, “Responsible Freedom,” and found them unsettling. Because I am a survivor of spiritual abuse, and those issues are intertwined with the Abedinis’ situation, I felt the need to go deeper to explore those feelings. Eventually, I changed my plan and developed this resource article as a complement to a resource bibliography. More on that shortly. But first, here is an excerpt from the “Responsible Freedom” Editor’s Note, and then an excerpt from the draft version of my open letter.
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Excerpt from Editor’s Note, “Responsible Freedom”
We want to equip our readers to live responsibly and freely under the lordship of Christ. Sometimes this will mean setting clear boundaries of theology and ethics. But many times it will mean presenting readers with the facts, then letting them discern.
Complicated is also a fitting word for the story of Saeed Abedini, the Iranian American pastor whom we interview on page 38. Abedini was jailed for three-plus years in Iran and released this January, but not before facing abuse allegations from his greatest campaigner: his wife. Some readers won’t like that we question Saeed’s conduct. Other readers won’t like that we spoke to him at all. As the Abedinis’ story continues to unfold, we offer a clear-eyed conversation with Saeed—and trust our readers to draw their own careful conclusions.
Such a “hands-off” approach doesn’t mean we editors don’t have strong beliefs about abuse, or charismatic excesses, or any number of pressing issues. For example, our editorial (p. 23) draws a solid line in the sand on presidents’ leadership styles. And we pick topics we think are important, such as eviction (p. 53) and apologetic tools (p. 44). That said, we want our readers to own their own discernment and development as they read every issue of CT. We hope this one is a fruitful exercise in responsible freedom.
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Excerpt from Draft of Open Letter
I read your May edition online interview article with Saeed Abedini, as well as your Editor’s Note on “Responsible Freedom.”
I am having a difficult time understanding what you meant in your Editor’s Note by CT offering “a clear-eyed conversation with Saeed—and trust our readers to draw their own careful conclusions,” and that you want your readers “to own their own discernment and development as they read every issue of CT. We hope this one is a fruitful exercise in responsible freedom.” Yes, I agree with you that the Abedinis’ situation of abuse allegations is a complicated one. However, I’m not sure the interview offered enough clear context or current developments for readers to draw “careful conclusions” without some significant additional research, for which you didn’t give many leads or links.
For instance, I believe we need to grapple with some key issues in evaluating Mr. Abedini’s trustworthiness; this is a primary issue, since he has basically responded to accusations of abuse and problems with pornography with one-word and one-sentence denials, and categorized the 2007 court proceedings as judicial “mistakes.” But is his word trustable? Or is his denial merely dismissive deflection?
In my opinion, basing your interview on the “‘hands-off’ approach,” as you explained in your Editor’s Note, meant it did not address substantive questions readers need to grapple with whether Mr. Abedini is currently disqualified for a prominent role in public ministry. […] This is not to deny the valor of Mr. Abedini’s spiritual perseverance during imprisonment and persecution, but to value the consideration of all aspects of his character and behavior relevant to his qualifications for being a spokesperson and role model of Christlikeness.
By overlooking such concerns, I believe you have presented Mr. Abedini’s word as being trustworthy at face value. When so many allegations against him remain unresolved, I find such a stance disturbing.
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Due Diligence in Dealing with Reactions
In sorting through my reactions, I decided to do more research into events of the past six months to see if I could figure out why I had such a negative response to what CT presented. I spent several days absorbing reports from news agencies, articles by spiritual abuse survivors, and articles from mainstream Christian media. I also spent several days writing this series (I tend to process thoughts and feelings via writing).
This helped me confirm my gut feelings, and to boil down my concerns about the Christianity Today interview to three issues:
- This interview did not really answer or clear up allegations. Mr. Abedini merely dismissed them and the people making them.
- The interview created new issues that now must be addressed, with Mr. Abedini apparently accusing his wife of fraudulent actions in the 2007 charges of his domestic assault, failures on the part of the Idaho court in relation to his conviction, and malpractice by his lawyer.
- I felt that, underneath these issues, there was an unsettling and perhaps unexamined assumption that Mr. Abedini was trustworthy to serve at this level of public recognition.
Others who have been critical of the interview have already weighed in, such as in the threads of CT’s April 26th tweets about the posting of the article here and here. So, I thought I would take a different approach and offer what I hope are some constructive tools for people to do their own due-diligence research.
As a first step, I compiled a Resource Bibliography on the Saeed and Naghmeh Abedini Situation. It overviews the main sources for the bibliography, links to a basic timeline, offers a set of articles that capture most of the main issues of contention, links to news reports and Christian blog/media articles from November 2015 through April 2016, and gives research procedures for finding the 2007 domestic assault court case and 2011-2012 State Department travel warnings.
Then I detailed my three main issues with the CT interview and Editor’s Note.
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1. There was no “answer” to the allegations.
The way I see it, Mr. Abedini appears to employ a consistent personal behavior pattern of dismissing any allegations (abusive behavior and use of pornography, plus the recently raised allegation that he plagiarized someone else’s material on revival), giving vague reasons and/or refusing to give specifics, and labeling any critics or accusers as “liars.”
Abuse and Pornography Use
Accusation stated by Naghmeh Abedini, in Christianity Today, Pastor Saeed Abedini’s Wife Halts Public Advocacy, Citing Marital Woes and Abuse, by Bob Smietana (November 12, 2015). Quote:
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.
Touring the country to advocate for Saeed’s release while coping with marital conflict proved too much, she wrote. She told supporters she’s withdrawing from public life for a time of prayer and rest.
“It is very serious stuff and I cannot live a lie anymore,” she wrote. “So, I have decided to take a break from everything and seek the Lord on how to move forward.”
Abedini hinted at her family’s struggles in a recent op-ed for The Washington Post.
Background evidence through Calvary Chapel Boise, noted in Phoenix Preacher, “Things I Think,” by Michael Newnham (February 1, 2016). Quote:
1. In the strange, sad, case of the Abedini’s, facts are in short supply.
Before we attempt to discern the things unknown, I think it would be wise to mark out what we do know.
We do know that Saeed Abedini was convicted of domestic abuse in a court of law.
We know that as far back as 2007, his spousal abuse and addiction to pornography was known to the pastor he worked under, Bob Caldwell of Calvary Chapel Boise.
We know from sources that Caldwell briefly put Abedini under discipline for this, a time our sources put at 3 1/2 to 4 months.
Therefore, what we know is that Saeed Abedini had no business being in the position he was in after that.
Response by Saeed Abedini, in Christianity Today, “Saeed Abedini Answers Abuse Allegations,” April 24, 2016. Quote:
[CT] So you felt more support when you were in jail than when you were out of jail?
[Saeed Abedini] Yeah. Because people are confused. People now have two different Saeeds. One of them is a hero of their faith; one of them is an abuser, an addicter [sic]. When I talk with some people, I can see the confusion. I don’t believe this confusion is coming from God. This is completely coming from Satan, who wants me to stop preaching the gospel and wants people to stop rejoicing for my release, because it was a big victory for the Christian world. Now with these false accusations, trying to make the churches all around the world confused—it’s clear to me that Satan is behind this.
[CT] You said “false accusations.” Does that mean you are saying that Naghmeh’s accusations are false?
[Saeed Abedini] Yes.
The allegation of plagiarism emerged April 19, about a week before the interview was posted. Understandably, the interview might not have been able to address this, due to necessary lag time between the actual interview and posting it. But since this is an emerging concern, I will include it here.
Breaking News. Phoenix Preacher, Abedini Responds To Plagiarism Allegations, by Michael Newnham (April 19, 2016). Here is the overview of the situation, and there are screenshots in the post. Quote:
On April 13, Pastor Mike Sasso of Calvary Chapel Eagle posted this summary on the subject of revival on his Facebook page.
On April 15, the Christian Post published this article by Saeed Abedini...which looks a lot like Mike Sasso’s outline.
[…] I reached out to both Abedini and Sasso for comment. […]
Additional Information. Phoenix Preacher, “He Plagiarized My Dad,” by Michael Newnham (April 27, 2016). This post includes a screenshot from Tracy Sasso Cruzado’s Facebook page, and notes the following. Quote:
“He Plagiarized My Dad.”
“So says Tracy Sasso Cruzado about Saeed Abedini on my Facebook page. Her father is Pastor Mike Sasso who made plagiarism allegations against Abedini last week.”
If the Sasso’s are telling the truth, Abedini lifted an entire teaching which turned into a series of posts on his Facebook page.
He then lied about where he got the teachings and tried to smear Sasso’s character.
Abedini claims that all of the allegations against him are lies and that he is a target of Satan who does not want his ministry to prosper.
What are Your Conclusions?
After reading these excerpts and perhaps their originating context, consider these questions:
- What is your tentative conclusion about how adequate or inadequate Mr. Abedini’s response was, to various allegations?
- Is there enough evidence to suggest/confirm a probable pattern of deflecting the questions and accusing the questioners of lies?
- Is there evidence and/or documentation elsewhere that backs up his counterclaims?
- What questions would need to be answered to clear Mr. Abedini of the claims against him?
- What questions would need to be answered to confirm or deny his accusers’s claims?