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:
In March, Secretary of State John Kerry said he was “deeply concerned” about Saeed Abedini’s fate in Iran. “The best outcome for Mr. Abedini is that he be immediately released,” Kerry said.
“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.
After Saeed’s release, Franklin Graham published a statement, which was discussed
at The Wartburg Watch blog. A whole post could be made dissecting Franklin’s words, but it’s important to note: Franklin Graham put himself in the place of spokesman for the Abedini family.
He told the world where Saeed would be going, when Naghmeh and his family would join him, etc. The last we heard from Franklin Graham was this public statement. In it, he referred to himself as “a minister of the Gospel.” As a minister of the Gospel, he had responsibility. Did he do due diligence to protect this family? Or did he use them as a picture of religious persecution, compromised religious freedoms, etc., to further his own political agenda?
After Saeed left Graham territory and flew to Boise, Franklin Graham seems to have dropped the Abedinis like a hot potato.
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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?