Biblical Counseling, Christian Counseling, Nouthetic Counseling, Heath Lambert, Albert Mohler, Dr. Eric Johnson, SBTS
Hurricanes, natural disasters, Kirk Cameron, Jim Bakker, Kat Kerr, spiritual abuse
The Qualifications Case of Pastor Saeed Abedini, and the Roles of Pastor Bob Caldwell, Franklin Graham, Jay Sekulow, and the American Evangelistic Association
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
1 Timothy 3:3-7 (ESV/English Standard Version, via Bible Gateway)
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Regardless of which New Testament translation we use, we can’t get away from the essential mandate in 1 Timothy 3:3-7 — that those who want to be in public roles for the Church automatically subject themselves to ongoing “background checks” about their character and actions. ~ brad/futuristguy
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The Saeed and Naghmeh Abedini story is complicated. That doesn’t mean it is unfathomable, but it has many layers and interconnections involving these two individuals with other people and organizations. This post explores some of those key connections to see how they influenced the unfolding storylines, and to see what we can learn about how to do things better in the future.
The world watched as Pastor Saeed Abedini was elevated to hero status. Our hearts collectively ached for Naghmeh and her young children as we heard of his mistreatment in Iranian prison. After 3-1/2 yrs in prison, Saeed was released, and instead of joyous reunions, we heard of troubling details that were not part of Naghmeh’s original storyline.
Most readers have probably heard by now about Pastor Saeed Abedini’s 2007 domestic assault conviction. Where has this news been all of this time? Would Saeed had been the face of American prisoners in Iran if we had known this? Saeed represented religious freedom, the cause of Christ, and the persecuted Church. I suspect his image would not have looked too good with a previous domestic assault conviction.
The Pastor Saeed Abedini Story: I believe influential leaders failed to take responsibility for those entrusted in their care, and thus, Christ’s name has become a mockery to the world. I find many aspects of this story troubling, but two in particular are disturbing:
- Leaders failed to do due diligence with the Abedini family regarding Saeed’s long-time pornography and abuse issues. Saeed Abedini was unfit to be pastor according to biblical requirements. What was done in this situation? Why was he allowed to continue ministry work? Why was he allowed to obtain and retain the pastor title?
- The Abedini family was used by opportunistic individuals and organizations as a pawn to promote political agendas or personal gain.
Let’s take a look at key people involved in this story. There are four key people/groups involved, as I see it, and I believe these four are responsible for not doing due diligence with this family, or for using them for their personal gain and promoting personal or political agendas:
- Pastor Bob Caldwell, Calvary Chapel Boise – This is the home church of the Abedinis in Boise, Idaho.
- Franklin Graham.
- Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).
- American Evangelistic Association (AEA) – This is the organization from which Saeed Abedini obtained his pastoral license.
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Pastor Bob Caldwell
Pastor Bob Caldwell has known Naghmeh since before she married Saeed. He visited Iran when they were married in June of 2004:
Meanwhile, in the U.S., a young woman named Naghmeh from that same country had accepted Christ and was attending Calvary Chapel Boise, ID. Feeling prompted to return to her homeland to share the Gospel with her family, she was sent out as a missionary by CC Boise in 2001. After sharing the Gospel with her family there for two years, she met Saeed. They immediately recognized God’s hand in bringing them together and their mutual calling to share the Gospel with Muslims. During a visit from Pastor Bob Caldwell of CC Boise, Saeed and Naghmeh were married in June of 2004; the couple continued to share Christ in the Islam-governed country. (Source)
Pastor Caldwell and his church were very involved in supporting the Abedini family before, during, and now, after Saeed’s release. In a different article about Saeed’s release from prison, Pastor Caldwell shares more about their relationship and acknowledges the political work Naghmeh has done to help free her husband:
“It’s beyond description really,” said Calwell. “I’ve known him pretty well and have been with him in Iran when he was doing stuff there, starting churches. So I love him a lot and to have him come back is just amazing.”
Caldwell said he’s proud of Naghmeh Abedini’s efforts to free her husband. During Abedini’s husband’s captivity she testified at the United Nations and before Congress. She also met with President Obama last year.
In the same article, Caldwell discusses Naghmeh’s disclosure of abuse by Saeed:
Caldwell said this public revelation – which Naghmeh says she regrets and blames on emotional distress – was a shock to some people in his church who supported Saeed through the years.
“It’s hard for a lot of people because you can turn a person into a hero you know, like a superhero,” said Caldwell. “And that’s kind of dangerous because people don’t want their heroes to be normal.” (Source)
Caldwell, unfortunately minimizes the abuse when he uses the word normal. Why was the word abusive not used? Is it because it is difficult to identify someone you have mentored and supported as an abuser? Most victims understand the importance of correct terminology. To minimize is to dismiss.
Blogger Michael Newnham addresses what Pastor Caldwell knew in his recent article:
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.
In the comments section, Michael continues:
I do know that Bob Caldwell exercised authority over him in the matter of his pornography issues.
We read nothing but respect and admiration of Pastor Caldwell from the Abedinis. However, outsiders want answers because they feel they were deceived. Did Caldwell believe Saeed was fit for ministry, knowing his abuse/pornography issues? And did he do anything to prevent him from going overseas and doing ministry work?
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So – what about Franklin Graham? What role did he play in this? Franklin took Saeed and Naghmeh on as his project. The Abedini family was the perfect poster family for religious freedom, and he put his money and his name with both Naghmeh and Saeed over the last 3-1/2 yrs.
You can see how political this situation became and how Naghmeh was used in the process:
“It is not enough,” Naghmeh Abedini said today. “We need to see action to back our rhetoric, in the living, breathing form of Saeed Abedini… having been released.”
“Even if our president can’t see the reality, the rest of the world can,” she said. “I hope and I pray our government… will realize how far we’ve fallen.” (Source)
In the screenshot below, Graham speaks out politically, even naming imprisoned Pastor Saeed Abedini as his friend. The other prisoners are not named. Did you know the other prisoners’ names? I sure didn’t. Someone sure did a good PR job, huh?
A side note about the PR job I mentioned earlier. The DeMoss public relations firm coincidentally represents Franklin Graham, American Evangelistic Association, and Jay Sekulow. Maybe it is not coincidental after all when you look at their political leanings.
Back to Franklin Graham. Graham seemed to be spreading the bulk of news upon Saeed’s release: photos, videos, and statements. We were told that Naghmeh would join Franklin and they would fly together by private plane to Germany to meet Saeed. Naghmeh didn’t go to Germany. Instead, Saeed landed on US soil near Franklin Graham’s place.
These were the first pictures that came out after Saeed returned to the US – pictures with Franklin Graham and his private plane behind them:
We were told Saeed was to rest at Graham’s facility, and Naghmeh and their kids would join him. That, too, did not happen. Instead, Saeed flew to Boise to see his kids. (I read no reports of Saeed seeing Naghmeh – I could have missed something.) Did Naghmeh have a voice in these plans?
What prompted Franklin Graham to be so actively involved in this case? What did he know and when? Did Graham have knowledge of Saeed’s conviction in 2007? Per Naghmeh, he did know about the abuse a few months ago. Naghmeh posted this comment on her Facebook page: “Franklin was giving [sic] letters by religious leaders months ago confirming my allegations of abuse. He knows.”
Franklin Graham frequently mentioned Saeed’s name as he made political speeches about terrorists and the US. Saeed’s name was so well known by now, people didn’t have to know his last name. #FreeSaeed was displayed on social media. People knew who he was, and that he had a beautiful family waiting for him at home. This was great marketing.
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Jay Sekulow, American Center for Law and Justice
Here is Mr. Sekulow’s bio:
“Jay Sekulow is an attorney with a passion for protecting religious liberty – freedom – democracy. For nearly a quarter of a century, he’s been on the front lines – working to protect religious and constitutional freedoms in the courts, in Congress, and in the public arena.” (Source)
I’m not going to get into much from Sekulow except to say that Saeed was once again the poster boy for the kind of causes that Jay Sekulow fights for. Saeed and Naghmeh were used to further his own political agenda.
Check out this article and very short video. The video is basically an infomercial for ACLJ. Take note of the music in the background.
Jay Sekulow: ACLJ leader Jay Sekulow says the fight against Christian persecution is not over just because Saeed was released. Sekulow echoes what each individual involved has stated publicly: Christians must continue to pray and fight for an end to persecution. (Source) http://aclj.org/
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American Evangelistic Association (AEA)
Saeed Abedini received his pastor’s license through this organization. A summary of the historical background of AEA:
To compensate for the highly political hierarchy in a major denomination and the limitations of their overseer systems for organizing and controlling grass roots pastors, in 1954, Dr. [John] Douglas led a group of several dozen pastors in becoming become independent pastors and formed the American Evangelistic Association (“AEA“). (Source)
Did you interpret that the same way I did? I read this as an ideal place to get a pastor’s license if you don’t want to be under someone’s authority. Boom!
American Evangelistic Association recognizes credentials for Pastoral Ordination, Pastoral Licensing, Elder recognition, Deacon/ Deaconess recognition, Church Planting leadership, and missionary. AEA believes the Scripture teaches that both male and female are eligible to serve in all capacities of ministry leadership. (Source)
OK, here’s the important part (bolded by moi):
Background checks are made on all candidates therefore thumb prints are required on the application. (Source)
So – inquiring minds want to know – did they do a background check on Saeed before administering a pastor’s license to him? Here is where it gets confusing. On January 16, 2016, president of AEA, Kerry Fink, sent out two nearly identical statements announcing Saeed’s release from prison. In those statements, there are two different dates indicating when Saeed joined AEA:
This one states early 2010:
And this statement lists June 18, 2008 as the date Saeed joined up with AEA.
Here is the AEA application section where Saeed should have filled out his criminal record:
As we have come to find out from the official Idaho court record on Saeed’s domestic assault guilty plea, the violation date on the case is July 1, 2007, it was filed the next day, and the disposition was on January 25, 2008.
If AEA did their background check as they said they do, and if Saeed was forthcoming with information on his application that he was indicted and convicted of domestic assault, and AEA did invite Saeed into their fold in 2008, then why was he issued a pastor’s license? This blogger wants to know.
In case any of you wanted to become a pastor (male or female, btw), here is what it will cost you, and a brief explanation about the required “contributions.” I never knew that contributions were a requirement!
Since the association is totally dependent on contributions we require all of our members to make a monthly financial commitment to their association. (Source)
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It is my opinion that Saeed Abedini should never have been licensed as a pastor or serving in that role, based on the 2007 case and conviction, and ongoing pornography and abuse issues. Church leaders and the AEA could have done a better job of preventing him from getting into ministries and alerting others to his ongoing problems if he sought out ministry anyway.
It is my opinion that Naghmeh has been a victim of her husband’s abuse, and she was used as a puppet to further the political agendas of Jay Sekulow and Franklin Graham. These two men saw an opportunity for funds, prestige, and power right in front of them and they seized it. However, once the abuse allegations became public, they wiped their hands clean of the mess and I have yet to see anything from them showing real support for Naghmeh now.
Is it any wonder why the world laughs at Christians?
Patriarchy, Purity Pledge, Hymen, “Let’s Make Jesus Famous” Virginity, Abstinence
Tullian Tchividjian has a new pastor, Kevin Labby at Willow Creek Church, and a new job there as Director of Ministry Development only weeks after stripped of minister credentials
Tullian Tchividjian has a new job at Willow Creek Church. While some are applauding this new development, many are not. Here is his new job listing at Willow Creek website:
Pastor David McGee of The Bridge Church publicly excommunicated or disfellowshipped four members via his Facebook page.
On Thursday, Pastor David McGee of The Bridge Fellowship in Kernersville, North Carolina, posted a comment on his Facebook account publicly naming and “disfollowshipping” four church members. I repeat – this was done PUBLICLY on Facebook, not in the context of a church meeting among church members.
David continued with his comment by quoting about 30 – thirty, not 3, verses justifying his actions. Some of the verses were quoted in different translations and guess which verse was included? Of course Hebrews 13:17 (“Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account.”), but take a look at the last verse quoted. Why do you supposed he ended with this verse?
Remember your leaders who first taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and trust the Lord as they do. NLT
You can read more about this story, including video here: Couple says they were banned from Kernersville church by pastor on social media
I like to dig a little bit when I read words. Do you see the contradiction in the following two comments by Pastor McGee? Take special note of the tithing references. The 2nd comment was posted 16 hours after the first comment.
There were other comments claiming this was not really about tithing, but if it wasn’t about tithing, then why is it mentioned at all?
Here you can see some pushback and then a member defends her pastor. I noticed the word “covenant” in this comment, but did not see a membership covenant at the church website.
When people publicly speak out against a pastor, they are frequently labeled as the enemy.The pastor is on the right side and anyone who questions him, is labeled as divisive, disobedient to God and His Word:
I found another contradiction. Here McGee says he won’t defend himself publicly:
But wait . . .now he is going to the media to share:
This little note is revealing. And 31 people liked it! Yea, it’s really important that your pastor has lots and lots of friends . . because that makes him right and reputable and all Christiany.
Of course we do not know all of the details of this case and can only make conclusions based on what we see publicly. But what I see publicly is troubling.
I have heard of stories where church members have been abusive to pastors. We often talk only about abusive leaders, but that is not always the case. Even if members are abusive, we need to ask how does a shepherd appropriately handle members who are divisive? If Pastor McGee is correct in saying that these folks have been divisive, how should a pastor respond? Do you see godly fruit in the behavior?
Gold Creek Community Church, Pastor Dan Kellogg, Mark Driscoll and church rap and twerk video
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Mark Dever, 9Marks, and other pastors using language to control and coerce members to not engage in outside activities without church endorsement
There are various ways Christians respond to Halloween. What is a balanced response?
Loura Lawrence shares her personal story of infant loss and spiritual abuse through Word of Faith occult-like teachings
Christian leaders put their spiritual spin on sexual abuse and premarital sex and devalue young women in the process.
Alan Maricle aka @Rhology defends and imitates J.D. Hall’s (aka @pulpitandpen) bad behavior on Twitter.
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Are Desiring God & John Piper shifting to “Biblical Patriarchy” over complementarianism, following Gregg Harris’, Bill Gothard’s, Scott Brown’s, Doug Phillips’ and Doug Wilson’s courtship model?
Yesterday I did an interview with Doug Bursch from Seattle’s KGNW radio station. Doug describes himself in his bio as “a speaker, writer, pastor, teacher and evangelist.” We spoke about spiritual abuse, healthy and unhealthy churches. I’ve done quite a few interviews since the lawsuit, but this one is my new favorite. If you know of someone who might have gone through spiritual abuse or wants to understand what it means, what it looks like, this would be a good interview to listen to because Doug really gets it.
Here’s a little excerpt I transcribed because I wanted you to get a glimpse into this guy’s heart. His compassion made me tear up. This is the kind of heart we want to see from a pastor:
Julie Anne, not to be sentimental, but I want to apologize, as a pastor. I know that it doesn’t necessarily help with the harm that has been done to you or the people you’ve had to walk through with tears and weeping as they’ve dealt with hurts, but at least I’d like say that I apologize for any pastor or person who has misused their power to harm you or harm your family. My prayer is that we can facilitate a dialogue where there is healing and there’s love. I think there’ll be more leaders rising up and there’ll be more safe places and I think that’s the ultimate goal.
I encourage you to listen beyond the interview as Doug discusses how not only did Jesus die for sinners, but He identifies with those who were sinned against. He knew what it was like to be unjustly treated. He understands our pain.
During the first few minutes, Doug introduces the program by talking about what’s coming up in the show and tells the story about someone who experienced spiritual abuse. The actual interview is right around the 42:25 mark. You can listen to the interview here.
Christiandom seems to be making a mess out of something beautiful God intended for married couples to enjoy. Sex is only for procreation? Orgasms are demonic?
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As Doug Phillips and his Vision Forum ministry is sinking, stories of abuse among Christian Patriarchy are surfacing: domestic violence, wife spanking, etc, among other well-known circles such as RC Sproul Jr., etc.
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Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll to partner with Corban University and Western Seminary and host university classes at the Mars Hill Bellevue church campus.
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