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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3. The Christianity Today interview seemed to embrace an unexamined assumption of Mr. Abedini’s trustworthiness.
The way I see it, there are some significant indicators that Mr. Abedini apparently holds to personal autonomy instead of submission to any credible authority for personal/organizational accountability. This is something that would affect his credibility and trustworthiness, and ultimately disqualify him from a role of overseer/elder in a local church. That disqualification certainly would also apply to his seeking a role of prominent national or international ministry – which seems to be what is currently happening, as he ramps up his speaking platform, launches a website, and gives interviews.
Mr. Abedini may be ordained, but that is unclear at this point. Ordination would be one potential indicator of adequate theological preparation and vetting by peers through in-person questioning to discern his doctrinal knowledge and some measure of his spiritual maturity.
Although the Wikipedia entry for Saeed Abedini states that he was ordained in 2008, it does not indicate by what church, denomination, or other certifying body. In my preliminary searches, I could find no confirmation of that date, nor mention of any organization that ordained him. There is a date of June 18, 2008 mentioned in the January 2016 American Evangelistic Association (AEA) Spotlight newsletter (see page 1) – but the wording is ambiguous as to whether Mr. Abedini was an Ordained Pastor when he came to them, or became an Ordained Pastor by them. Quote:
Pastor Saeed has been connected with the American Evangelistic Association as an Ordained Pastor since June 18, 2008, when Dr. John Reinhold, who was then President of AEA, invited Pastor Saeed into the organization.
Beyond times and dates, the deeper question here is whether Mr. Abedini meets biblical qualifications for a prominent role of public ministry, the equivalent of an elder. And there may be instances where an ordination council or its convening organization can exercise discipline if a minister they ordained later fails to meet biblical qualifications for public ministry. So, if AEA did ordain him, do they continue to have any role of responsibility over him? If he refused spiritual oversight and accountability, would they remove his ordination or other credentials with their organization?
Mr. Abedini holds licensing credentials with the American Evangelistic Association (AEA). From investigative work done by Julie Anne Smith, it appears that AEA licensed him with no particular vetting process. It also looks like AEA licensure is open to anyone who applies and pays membership fees. For details, read her article, Vetting, Accountability, Licensing, and Promoting for Pastor Saeed Abedini: Exploring What Went Wrong and How (Spiritual Sounding Board; February 2, 2016).
In my preliminary searches, I could find no evidence that Mr. Abedini has been commissioned or otherwise functioning within any kind of denomination or official network. I’ve especially checked to see if some key organizations that Mr. Abedini has associated with have any official connection in this regard.
Although news reports state that the Abedinis have attended Calvary Chapel Boise, I have not found anything about his being commissioned or officially “sent out” into ministry through them.
Mr. Abedini occasional mentions his connection with Franklin Graham, who is CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), but I have not seen any information suggesting that Mr. Graham or his organization oversees, sponsors, or commissioned Mr. Abedini.
The American Center for Law and Justice previously served as legal representation for the Abedinis when Saeed was imprisoned in Iran, but that relationship was not one of authority/oversight. Also, according to an ACLJ spokesman quoted in a Washington Post article of February 1, 2016, that formal relationship ended shortly after Saeed returned to the United States. (However, an endorsement for Saeed Abedini by ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow appears on Mr. Abedini’s Premiere Speaking page for reviews.) That Washington Post article also notes that the Abedinis are no longer working with the DeMoss Group, a PR agency whose clients include BGEA and ACLJ.
Commissioning would be an indicator of responsibility to a sending organization and accountability to an oversight body – instead of acting as a “free agent” who does whatever he decides. So, it would seem his going to Iran in 2013 was of his own accord. Also, as stated in recent reports, Mr. Abedini believes that God is telling him to leave his children and go back to Iran to minister. That may be how he senses he is being led, but is that really wise, given all factors in his situation? Unless things have changed very recently, he is a dual citizen of Iran and America, but Iran does not recognize his American citizenship. Given his past record of detainment, arrests, and imprisonment in Iran, isn’t that a situation that could use outside counsel to ensure he considers the potential consequences – including re-imprisonment?
If there is no other sending agency involved, then this likewise would seem to be his own personal decision. Or, it might perhaps be strictly under the auspices of Saeed Ministries, Inc., the non-profit organization for which he is Executive Director. But that, too, is problematic when it comes to substantive oversight and accountability.
Non-Profit Agency Governance Issues for Saeed Ministries, Inc.
The following comes from public records at National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), which is directly linked with the Internal Revenue Service database on non-profit agencies. So, some of the public information posted there is supplied by the IRS.
Saeed Ministries, Inc., is a 501(c)(3) that was begun in 2011 (the year its Form 990 was submitted), and the IRS ruling date for its non-profit status was in 2013. The Form 990 states their mission as being: “Increase the advancement of the Christian religion through orphanages, TV broadcasting, conferences, seminars, crusades, leadership training, and Bible printing.” (See details from NCCS page at this link.)
EIN 452822205. (EIN is the Employer Identification Number assigned by the Internal Revenue Service.)
NTEE Category X-20 Christianity. (See NTEE codes at this link. NTEE stands for the National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities.)
According to the public records for the non-profit agency – Saeed Ministries, Inc. – Saeed’s wife Naghmeh and his two sisters, Zibandeh [elsewhere spelled Zeebandeh] and Elnaz, serve as members of the board of directors. The composition of the board may have changed since then, but I could find no public record of that happening.
An all-family board has inherent conflicts of interest, and would be insufficient to exercise appropriate oversight of Saeed, who is the organization’s Executive Director (although some recently articles state that he is the “Exclusive Director”). To complicate the concerns about his accountability even further, Saeed and Naghmeh are in the process of dealing with legal separation.
So, it seems that what is missing from all these potential indicators of responsible submission to authority is as significant as what is said. Consider the fact that Mr. Abedini does not seem to mention ordination, commissioning, or licensing. What does that say about his being sent out under authority of any organization, or having been evaluated and approved by peers or authoritative bodies which can also remove their credentials and/or endorsement? Or does he act as an autonomous individual, possibly just playing “the God told me …” card to silence any who question the wisdom of his decisions? If he is not submissive to any Christian mentors and authority figures, how are we to trust the truth or wisdom of other things he says?
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Some Final Thoughts
Saeed Abedini presents himself as someone worthy to be trusted, supported, and emulated. Should he be? I believe a deeper examination into Mr. Abedini’s trustworthiness is urgently needed, because he is currently attempting to reengage in public ministry through speaking and writing.
On April 21, 2016, Premiere Motivational Speakers Bureau, launched their page for Saeed Abedini. This is an international agency with one U.S. branch office (Franklin, Tennessee) and four international branch offices (Calgary/Canada, London/UK, Brisbane/Australia, and Rio de Janeiro/Brazil).
[ADDED 05/05/2016: Given the body of evidence that strongly suggests that Mr. Abedini considers himself under authority to no one by God, I have to wonder what standards Premiere Speaking uses to evaluate potential clients. I also wonder what responsibility level (if any) they take for Mr. Abedini’s ministry, as it appears they are the only formal organization now actively engaging and promoting him.]
In the last weeks of April 2016, Mr. Abedini appeared in articles or interviews with:
Christianity Today, The CT Interview: Saeed Abedini Answers Abuse Allegations, by Katelyn Beaty (April 24, 2016).
Christian Today, Saeed Abedini denies abuse allegations; ‘Satan wants me to stop preaching the gospel’, by Carey Lodge (April 26, 2016).
Charisma News, Pastor Saeed Abedini: God Called Me to Leave My Kids, by Jessilyn Justice (April 27, 2016).
Christian Post, Saeed Abedini: Americans Crave Revival but Some Pastors Only Care About Church Growth, by Stoyan Zaimov (April 29, 2016).
Christian Daily, Pastor Saeed Abedini: God is calling me to leave my children and return to ministry in Iran, by Lorraine Caballero (April 30, 2016).
On April 30, 2016, he launched the Pastor Saeed Ministries website.
The reason it is important to investigate the issues and patterns raised in this series of three posts is the same as for anyone seeking a prominent profile as a spokesperson and role-model of Christianity:
To protect members of the Body of Christ and its reputation from those who are UNqualified to serve due lack of spiritual maturity or ministry skills, and from those who are DISqualified to serve due to falling short of character and behavior standards set forth in the New Testament.
I understand that these are exceptionally uncomfortable issues to address – questions about character, credentials, transparency, responsibility, accountability. But, if we fail to validate the questions and investigate for answers, we end up commending someone we really shouldn’t, and the reputation of the Body of Christ suffers for it.
One final question for Christianity Today and other members of mainstream Christian media:
When does reporting the news and interviewing a figure who is in the midst of controversy become implicit support for his or her platform?
And what will we as readers do? I hope this series has been helpful in our beginning to answer that question as well.
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