Seeking the Truth about the Saeed Abedini Story: Part 1

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Administrative note:
Michael Newnham has given me permission to cross-post his article from Phoenix Preacher blog. We have both spent countless hours investigating, talking with people, gathering source documentation, first separately, and then when we realized we were uncovering similar information, made the decision to work on this as a team.

As a personal note, I have such great respect for Michael. He led the way on social media reminding everyone each week to pray for Saeed and his family, petitioning God for Saeed’s release from Iranian prison. When news came of Saeed’s release and there were allegations of domestic violence, etc, he was quite shocked. It took quite a bit for Michael to even consider that what we had been told by ministries and leaders that perhaps all was not as presented. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with a man who has much integrity and wants the church to remain true and set apart in this dying world. ~Julie Anne


Seeking the Truth about the Saeed Abedini Story: Part 1

by Michael Newnham

1This is Part 1 of a multi part series that will explore the situation around Saeed Abedini, his imprisonment, and his actions before and after his captivity.

When Saeed Abedini was imprisoned in Iran in the summer of 2012, the church here and abroad set about to free him with one of the biggest campaigns in recent memory.

Abedini was presented to us as an innocent missionary, a man of God imprisoned for his faith in Jesus Christ.

He was held in horrible conditions we were told, tortured and beaten, often at the edge of death.

The church mobilized as rarely before as organizations like the American Center For Law and Justice, men like Franklin Graham, and hundreds of churches and individuals took up the cause.

Millions of dollars were raised, millions of words written and messages sent to free Abedini before it was too late.

The more we learn, the more we call into question the truth of the narrative we were fed.

According to an Iranian publication these pictures were taken in the prison Abedini was in from November 2013 on.

saeed-in-prison-1

saeed-in-prison-2

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When I asked Abedini about these photos, he declined to comment.

Others were told that it was a trick perpetrated by the Iranian government to make it appear that he was fine.

When I personally asked him during a phone interview whether he was beaten and tortured as we were told, he continually reiterated that it had been for the first six months.

That brings into question what was going on in the two years after that.

Many of us were astonished by the fact that Saeed Abedini looked rather fit when he arrived back in the U.S.

We were further astonished to hear that Abedini had a cell phone and was able to not only communicate with his family, but to watch movies and surf the net.

These pictures may explain how that was the case….

These same pictures appeared on Naghmeh Abedini’s wall and then disappeared.

Sources tell us that she was allegedly ordered to do so by the ACLJ.

The question before the house is this…

Were Franklin Graham, the ACLJ, and Naghmeh Abedini aware of and exaggerating the truth of Abedini’s captivity?

Two years ago, the ACLJ published this;

“Pastor Saeed is facing constant threats to his very life in the new prison.  There have been several nights where he has awoken to men standing over him with knives.  Pastor Saeed’s “cell” is only separated by a curtain from the rest of the violent prisoner ward he is forced to share, allowing dangerous prisoners – murderers and rapists – unfettered access to him 24 hours a day.

He has also been robbed at knifepoint several times, stripping him of what few necessities he has been permitted to purchase for personal hygiene.

As a result of the robberies, the utterly deplorable conditions of the prison, and the lack of doctor-prescribed medication which is being withheld by prison authorities, Pastor Saeed’s health has quickly deteriorated.

The pain in his stomach has returned and he is now experiencing increased pain in what he described to his family as his kidneys.  As a result of repeated beatings in Evin prison, Pastor Saeed suffered from internal bleeding.  After months of being refused medical care, Pastor Saeed was allowed to see a doctor and was prescribed medication earlier this year.  As a result of that medication, his physical condition had improved and his pain had subsided.  However, since being moved from Evin to Rajai Shahr last month, Iranian officials have refused to allow him this critical medication and his condition is worsening.

He is being refused medication, prescribed by Iranian doctors, for injuries he sustained from prison beatings.  This is one of the most deplorable human rights violations imaginable.

To make matters worse, the prison conditions and lack of basic hygiene have led to his body being covered head to toe in lice.  Because of the lice and increased pain, Pastor Saeed has been having trouble sleeping.  He is also experiencing symptoms of recurring urinary tract infections.  There is no medication to stop the infections.  He is now also experiencing significant joint pain.

His family reports that Pastor Saeed has also noticeably lost weight in the new prison from lack of proper nutrition.

The conditions he faces are unfathomable.  He faces direct threats to his life on an almost daily basis.

…The time is now to pressure Iran for his release.  Each day could be his last.”

Were the conditions of his captivity continually exaggerated to keep attention on his plight?

Some sources say yes… and that Naghmeh Abedini was allegedly instructed by others to lie about them when she had questions herself..

We received this statement from Mrs Abedini’s representative;

“During her husband’s imprisonment, Mrs. Abedini’s driving concern was always the safety of her husband and she followed the advice of the counsellors that were helping her achieve that end. Her information regarding Saeed’s prison experience came directly from him and those who visited him, and when they were able to be in contact, he actively directed her in what he expected her to do.

Now that Saeed has been released, she is praying for the restoration of her family”

Let me be clear…any imprisonment is painful and difficult.

However, the public would have interceded without any embellishment of the facts.

It is purported that Abedini’s situation was a cash cow for both Graham and the ACLJ, as well as a political tool for those hoping to stop the Iranian nuclear deal proposed by President Obama.

Framing his captivity in the direst possible way would have enabled the donations to keep flowing and kept the story on the front burner of American media.

Thus, the public in general (and the church in particular) were possibly subject to, if not outright fraud, gross misinformation.

Today, Saeed Abedini will speak at your gathering…for a reported 7500.00…using the old narrative.

If this narrative is a mixture of fact and fiction, it was mainly propagated by Naghmeh Abedini who tirelessly traveled the world to advocate for her husbands release.

While I believe she is complicit in whatever untruths were spread, I also believe that she was quite possibly a victim of powerful men, especially her husband.

It was that abuse that she said caused her to cease her advocacy and that we will examine more closely in the second part of this series.

phoenixpreacher@gmail.com

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Vetting, Accountability, Licensing, and Promoting for Pastor Saeed Abedini: Exploring What Went Wrong and How

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. 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.

 

saeed

 

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:

  1. Pastor Bob Caldwell, Calvary Chapel Boise  – This is the home church of the Abedinis in Boise, Idaho.
  2. Franklin Graham.
  3. Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).
  4. 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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Franklin Graham

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.”

saeed1

 

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!

aea4

Source

 

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.

aea2

Source

 

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.

2007 Saeed Abedinigalangashi Case History 2

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?

 

Pastor Saeed Abedini Releases a Public Statement Denying Abuse Allegations Against His Wife

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Emerson Eggerichs Says Wives Respect Husbands Unconditionally

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Should women respect their husbands unconditionally?      Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, author of Love and Respect, says so.

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Emerson Eggerichs, love and respect

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I follow the Love and Respect guy, Dr. Emerson Eggerichs in my Facebook news feed.  (I’m issuing a trigger warning for one of our own who went to his church.)  He now has an entire ministry/business based on the Love and Respect theme, including conferences, books, store, podcast, blog, etc.

Here is part of Eggerichs’ bio:

Dr. Emerson Eggerichs is an internationally known public speaker on the topic of male-female relationships.  Based on over three decades of counseling as well as scientific and biblical research, Dr. Eggerichs and his wife Sarah developed the Love and Respect Conference which they present to live audiences around the country.

This dynamic and life-changing conference is impacting the world, resulting in the healing and restoration of countless relationships.  Dr. Eggerichs has authored several books, including the national bestseller Love & Respect, which is a Platinum and Book of the Year award winner, selling over 1.6 million copies.

My husband and I saw the Love & Respect video a former church offered. I liked some of it, but it seemed very black and white to me. If husbands really loved their wives and wives really respected their husbands, everything would be hunky dory.

I watched this before understanding the dynamics of abuse in a marriage. This was in the days I was taught that women should submit to husbands in all things and that if  husbands did something wrong, we were to quietly pray for them and ask God to change their hearts. Women were to put up with any bad behavior so we could “win” them over by our behavior. If we didn’t win them over, we were told we were suffering for righteousness sake.

Eggerich has a series on wives’ unconditional respect of their husbands. The following two points jumped out at me and I thought we could use it for discussion:

3. Unconditional respect has nothing to do with a husband earning and deserving respect.

A wife’s respectful behavior is displayed independent of her husband. This is about who God calls the wife to be regardless of her husband. Her respect is not conditioned on her husband’s behavior. She will behave respectfully no matter how her husband behaves. She is a woman of dignity.

God calls a wife to conduct herself respectfully by focusing on the spirit of her husband, not his flesh–looking more deeply into that part of her husband where he longs to do what God calls him to do.

Yes, God is grieved by his sinful behavior. However God does not show contempt toward the spirit of her husband because that is not who God is, any more than He shows disdain toward her when she sins.

4. Unconditional respect can prompt a sense of conviction and win the heart of a disobedient husband.

Notice what happened in the story I shared yesterday. This wife’s husband surfaced his sin on the heels of her showing him respect.

Is this a Biblical teaching? Do you think this advice is wise to follow? Why is the onus on the wife to help change her husband’s behavior?

CBMW and Owen Strachan Tweets that the Church is Better at Handling Domestic Violence Than our Secular Culture

Owen Strachan and the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) thinks the church handles domestic violence against women better than secular culture.

owen strachan, council for biblical manhood and womanhood, cbmw, domestic violence, abuse, women

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Encouraging Shift from Bethlehem Baptist Church Regarding Domestic Abuse and Care for Abused Women

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Pastor Jason Meyer of Bethlehem Baptist Church Preaches on Domestic Abuse and Care for Abused Women, Marking a Change in Direction from John Piper’s Teachings

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Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 7.49.07 AM

Screenshot of the sermon Pastor Jason Meyer preached at Bethlehem Baptist Church, April 26, 2015

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Yesterday, I received an e-mail from reader, Ben, about a sermon preached at Bethlehem Baptist Church last Sunday concerning domestic violence. This is significant coming from John Piper’s former church and how he handled domestic violence:

“If it’s not requiring her to sin but simply hurting her, then I think she endures verbal abuse for a season, and she endures perhaps being smacked one night, and then she seeks help from the church.” ~John Piper (See: Video and  Clarifying Statement)

To read the following summary, knowing where Bethlehem Baptist formerly stood on these issues, it’s encouraging to see a positive change. I don’t think we’re going to see a church go from A to Z overnight. But it’s clear that there has been thoughtful response to a growing problem that has been swept under the carpet for far too long.

I’m grateful to Ben who wrote this summary and shared his personal observations and commentary.


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by Ben

On Sunday April 26, as part of an ongoing series on 2 Corinthians, Pastor Jason Meyer (John Piper’s successor) of Bethlehem Baptist Church of Minneapolis preached a sermon and gave a call to action on rooting out domestic abuse in the church. Calling this a “draw-a-line-in-the-sand kind of moment,” Meyer said the elders have recently been working through this issue and implementing structure that will identify abuse, discipline abusers, and care for victims.

The sermon manuscript is here (see especially “Application” and following):  Fooled by False Leadership

Now granted: Bethlehem still unwaveringly teaches complementarianism. (Domestic abuse was labelled “hyper-headship” — a distortion of what the Bible teaches, just as they believe egalitarianism is.) And as far as I know, no one at Bethlehem has backed off their support for CJ Mahaney and other leaders at Spvereogm Grace Ministries (SGM) that did exactly the opposite of what they’re calling Bethlehem to do.

Nevertheless, there were several positive things in this sermon (and other events this weekend) that I think should be commended. If we want churches to stand firmly against abuse, I think they should be encouraged when they take positive steps, even when they haven’t yet gone as far as they should.

 

1. The elders at Bethlehem are emotionally invested in this issue.

Manuscript:

“This was not a stand-up-and-shout sermon for me to prepare. It was a break-down-and-weep sermon.”

From Meyer’s tone and expression (see the video) and advance notice that this was going to be a sober weekend, I am convinced they are treating this seriously.

2. They are confessing that abuse at Bethlehem has not always been handled as it should have been.

Manuscript:

“We have become aware some domestic abuse cases throughout Bethlehem, and we have learned that we have not always handled them well.”

3. They are also acknowledging that they had a lot they needed to learn, and sought outside help.

Manuscript:

“We brought a biblical counselor, John Henderson, to train the elders in better detecting and dealing with domestic abuse.”

4. They called out Doug Phillips and Vision Forum by name.

Manuscript:

“One example is Doug Philips’ ministry, called Vision Forum. A recent sex scandal that caused Doug Philips to step down has also raised even more questions about Vision Forum’s credibility. We do not want to leave people vulnerable to false teaching by failing to speak out against hyper-headship.”

5. They are taking a clear stand against victim-blaming.

Manuscript:

“In these situations, the conflict is not treated as normal marriage issues in which each spouse can look at what he or she is contributing. This is a predator/prey or abuser/abused situation. The prey needs to be protected from the predator. The abuser needs to be held accountable, and the abused needs to be shepherded to safety. Working on communication and having the couple go on dates is not the way to address abusive sinfulness. Telling the woman to submit better—and making her feel like she is to blame in some way—is the worse [sic] thing someone could say in that situation. If there is continual destructive abuse, you should never to ask [sic] the abused what they did to bring the abuse on. One of our counselors shared an analogy that stuck with me. It would be a little bit like the police on a 911 call coming into a crime scene where the wife has been shot and asking her what she did to bring on the bullets. The goal is to care for her and make sure she is safe and the shooter is arrested.”

6. They are also calling for abuse victims to be believed.

Manuscript:

“Abusers can be so charming around other people—that is part of the deception. Do you think they will really show their true colors in public? Don’t judge by appearances and discount what a woman says with flippant incredulity. Think about how much she is risking by saying anything at all. Take it seriously. Tell her that you believe her, that God hates abuse, and that you are committed to help her.”

7. Women were involved in creating the new structure and process to encourage abuse victims to come forward and make sure they’re cared for.

(The cringe-worthy language reveals their complementarian bent, but at least the men didn’t decide they knew everything they needed to handle this themselves.)

Manuscript:

“Woe to us as a church if our women get the impression that we don’t value their input or contributions. We have sought to involve more input from the wives of pastors and elders, telling them that we not only want their input but that we need it because we have blind spots. An ethos that does not value women can lead to an environment where sick things slip under the radar.”

(It’s not in the manuscript, but would be on the video: Meyer specifically said women helped create the new structure and process. At the end of the sermon, several women “first responders” came to the front in readiness to talk to anyone who needed it.)

8. They are encouraging abuse victims to give the new process a chance.

Elders Statement: “If you are a woman experiencing domestic abuse and would like counsel from a female ‘first responder’ who is a member at Bethlehem, please contact …”

Manuscript:

“Please let us help. God hates abuse, and so do we. We are committed to help. If you have come to us for help before and have been disappointed, please give us another chance. We believe that the tide of awareness has risen on all three campuses and that positive changes are happening.”

9. They are calling men in particular to speak up and take a stand: To do nothing is to support the abusers.

Manuscript:

“At first glance, it looks like there are three possible doors the men of this church can take. Door 1: side with the abusers, Door 2: take no side, or Door 3: side with the abused and stand up to the abusers. If you are tempted to open Door 2, please know that it is a slide just takes you [sic] to the same place as Door 1. Doing nothing is doing something: it is looking the other way so the abusers can do their thing without worrying who is watching.”

10. Finally, at an all-church meeting Sunday night, a member of the church was excommunicated after pleading guilty to sexual assault of minors.

Given that he confessed, and still claims to be a Christian, one person made the argument that he should remain a member of the church and be part of a discipline and restoration process, as in Matthew 18. But Meyer and the elders said (based on 1 Corinthians 5) that some sins bring such reproach on the name of “Christian” that they merit immediate expulsion, with the hope that someday later there may be evidence of repentance, and restoration of fellowship.

You can see the above is very focused on spousal abuse. I wish more had been said about the abuse of children, but it was mentioned (see manuscript), and Bethlehem already has a very careful process to deter abuse at the church (background checks, screening, and training of child care workers, two-person rules, etc.). I also wish more had been said about police involvement.

But again, there is a danger of making the perfect the enemy of the good. I was very encouraged by the direction; hopefully as time goes on, they will go farther. I do not believe these elders would hush up abuse, tell wives to return to their abusers, force children to meet with and forgive their adult abusers, etc. — the things that make SGM’s history so disgusting.


Julie Anne responding now.

There were a couple of notable paragraphs that I want to draw your attention to:

An ethos that does not value women can lead to an environment where sick things slip under the radar. I have heard this statement before—warning, if you want to see me get visibly upset, just say what I am about to say in my presence: “If wives would just submit better and become more meek and quiet, then husbands would not get so angry.” These thoughts must be taken captive, or else we can create a climate in which domestic abuse can take root and grow.

Hyper-headship is a satanic distortion of male leadership, but it can fly under the radar of discernment because it is disguised as strong male leadership. Make no mistake—it is harsh, oppressive, and controlling. In other words, hyper-headship becomes a breeding ground for domestic abuse.

I’ve seen some complementarian marriages work beautifully. But there is a very fine line that can be crossed when a husband decides “my wife is not being submissive” and ventures into what they refer as “hyper-headship.”

I was looking specifically for the words spiritual abuse mentioned and there was only one paragraph. For those wives who have been living with a husband who uses God, the Bible,  the husband’s assumed position of “hyper-headship” over the wife, living with such a person is horrific. Here is where spiritual abuse is mentioned:

We could add that spiritual abuse would be doing any of these things in the name of Jesus and using the Bible to defend them. Abusive leadership uses physical, psychological, and emotional (and spiritual) means to be lord over others. Servant leadership uses physical, psychological, and emotional (and spiritual) means to serve others.

I am greatly encouraged that this topic was discussed with great humility before the whole congregation, that the full transcript was posted, as well as the sermon on video. They clearly want to set the record straight that they plan on dealing with domestic violence and that it won’t be dismissed anymore.

What’s missing, however, are specifics, that hopefully will be addressed at some time. For example, how are abused wives (and their children) going to be assisted? Is there a plan in place? Are there safe houses? Will the church help these families financially? Will the husband/abuser be able to continue going to church? Will they allow a woman to divorce to her abusive husband or try to get the couple to reconcile?

It was mentioned that they “brought a biblical counselor, John Henderson, to train the elders in better detecting and dealing with domestic abuse.” I’m unclear what “dealing with domestic abuse means.” That raises some red flags for me after looking up John Henderson, who is part of Biblical Counseling Coalition. You can read Henderson’s bio here:

John Henderson received a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from Texas A&M University and both Master’s and Doctoral degrees from the University of North Texas in Counseling Psychology. Since that time the Lord has dramatically shifted and transformed his view of many things, especially counseling.

Henderson has written a “biblical counseling curriculum for training in the local church.” Additionally, there are a couple of names I recognize as part of the Biblical Counseling Coalition group that leaves me concerned about their counseling. Will they try to keep the counseling in-house only for abuse cases? Hyper-headship is just a softer word for abuse. Someone who has a need to control and uses that control over others has serious mental health issues and the church is ill-equipped to handle such cases. The abuser should be put out of church so that the church is a haven of rest for the survivor and her family.

When the church encounters abuse, they must first report it to authorities, and then it is time to refer abuse victims over to those able to handle such cases, to outside trained mental health professionals, not in-house “trained” biblical counselors. The church’s responsibility should be on the abused woman and caring for her and her family. Abuse survivors can have a range of mental health issues caused by abuse and the church should not be handling PTSD, dissociative disorders, etc.

I agree with Ben, that when we see churches taking positive steps to help the abused, it’s important to acknowledge it. This is a positive step that I am publicly acknowledging . . . with caution  . . as outlined above.

 


Introducing Kathi, Spiritual Abuse Survey, and Free Domestic Violence Book for Ministry Groups/Organizations

 

Participants Needed for Research Work on Spiritual Abuse

I received an e-mail from Kathryn Keller Lamar with whom I have corresponded with and networked in spiritual abuse and survivor communities. She is finishing up her doctoral dissertation to complete her studies and I told her I’d be happy to pass along the information. Spiritual abuse continues to be largely misunderstood in the world of psychology and counseling and the more credible research we have on this subject, the better equipped mental health providers will be able to assist the growing number of people hurt by church leaders who spiritually abuse. If you have experienced spiritual abuse, please consider taking this survey. Here is the note Kathryn is sending out:

 Hi!

If you are interested in supporting academic research on spiritual abuse, you are invited to complete the following survey for a doctoral dissertation on spiritual abuse. Feel free to contact the researcher, Kathryn Keller Lamar, for any questions about the study or for general conversation about the topic of spiritual abuse. The academic literature seems to be lagging behind popular culture’s discussion on spiritual abuse (via blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), so please help us “catch up” so we can better understand it. Kathryn is a psychology student at Texas Woman’s University and intends to use this study to enhance clinical work as well as further research. The following link will direct you to the survey. It takes less than 30 minutes. Thank you!
https://www.psychdata.com/s.asp?SID=164705

 


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Can you help get Barbara Robert’s book, “Not Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery, and Desertion” in the hands of ministries, shelters, abuse programs, and organizations?

Not Under Bondage, Barbara Roberts, Domestic Violence, Divorce, Christian Marriage

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One of SSB’s regular readers/commenters, Brenda R., contacted me about a project she took on and I want to pass it along to you. I think it’s a great project and hope that my readers can help get this important book in places where survivors of domestic violence can get better understanding about divorce when there is abuse.  This is one area I think the church has failed women and their children in a horrific way. ~ja

Last fall, I took on a project to search out ministries, shelters, safe houses, abuse programs of all kinds both Christian and secular for the purpose of distributing books. Barbara Roberts and her dad have graciously sent a large number of her book, “Not Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery and Desertion” to the U.S.

Barbara spent 3 years in research in order to write this book and it is excellent. Barb’s book is one of the reasons that I live free from abuse today. During this time, I have run up against a few stumbling blocks: the internet’s information is not updated, shelters no longer exist or have moved (10 years ago). I was even told by a Christian based organization that they could not hand out Christian materials because of their grant funding. Go Figure. Out of 96 letters sent to CA at the end of December about a third of them were returned with no forwarding address, however with the responses that I have had I have been able to promise 102 books. So all is not lost and all of the remaining books will find happy homes in God’s timing.

Rather than continue with sending letters to programs that no longer exist, I have begun asking for help from people on my favorite blog sites who live in the U.S. and Canada who might possibly direct me to programs that exist in their little part of the globe. Yesterday, I put out a similar request at another site and have promised over 100 books since then. I am ready to do some singin’ and shoutin’, but have a long ways to go before this project is complete. The reason that I say that books are being promised is they took a slow boat from Australia, where Barbara is from. I am told they should be arriving in the U.S. today (happy dance here) and then have to make their journey to the person’s home who is going to do the physical shipping of the books. There was much red tape to get through to make this happen, but we seem to be about through all of that.

If anyone knows of any of the types of organizations, ministries or programs that I spoke of that are operational in their area, I would so very much like to hear from you. If even one person reads this book and is saved from the ultimate sacrifice of abuse, it will be worth it. Oh, one last thing. This is a gift. There is absolutely no cost to those that respond and can use the books.

If you are interested in helping to get this book in places where survivors of domestic violence can access to it, please contact Brenda at bjrobbins123@att.net.

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Kathi’s Bio

And last, but certainly not least, I think it’s high time that we hear from Kathi. As most of you know, last Spring, I started back at college full-time. This has obviously made an impact on the blog in that I do not have the same amount of time to produce the kinds of articles I was producing, or with the same frequency. Kathi has been helping to feed and moderate the SSB Facebook page and has assisted in moderation on the blog. She’s contributed blog articles, and also for the last few weeks, has put together the SSB Sunday Gathering posts. This has really been a big help to me.

So, with Kathi’s more prominent presence at SSB these days, I think it’s important for you to meet Kathi. She’s been a long-time reader since the lawsuit days. We actually lived in the same town when I was going to BGBC, but didn’t realize it until after we moved. I wish we would have known each other back then as I know we would have had fun getting together and knitting.  We met for coffee on one of my trips to Portland and then last summer, Kathi invited herself to come visit me. I loved that spontaneous visit. We had a great time getting to know each other and especially enjoyed our picnic lunch in kayaks going down the Columbia River.

What I appreciate about Kathi is her heart for those who have been marginalized in the church. She can easily see through nonsense talk from church leaders and calls it what it is. She has spunk and compassion – I love that. I asked Kathi if she’d write a bio to share and she has done that below:

My church experience has spanned from Roman Catholicism to conservative non-denominational evangelical Christian to now considering myself a none/done who still has faith in Jesus.

I attended a non-denominational Christian college and earned an urban ministry degree and now live in the suburbs of Portland (another story for another time). Even though the college I attended was very supportive of women in ministry, while taking homiletics I realized how unsupportive the local church (even in Southern California) was in regard to women in ministry. I have always hoped that I would see a change in the church in regard to women in ministry during my lifetime. I am still waiting.

I ended up in a social work program and during college found myself in placements that worked with children who were abused. My passion for working with and advocating for those who are abused developed during this time.

After the birth of our second child, we decided that financially it made sense for me to stay home. I can honestly tell you that if I would have known in college that I would be staying home and raising children I would have laughed. That was not what I had thought I would do with my life, but it was how life was presenting itself. Also, if I would have known in college that I would also spend 10 years homeschooling said children I would have laughed even harder. Again, life was presenting itself this way and I followed along. While I started out homeschooling with all intent to lead my children in a Biblical understanding of the world, I found that our church experiences were leading me farther from focusing on the Bible to making sure that my children were well-rounded academically and socially.

Our recent church experiences have included a pastor that aspired to become a megachurch pastor. A pastor who strong-armed his way into the pastoral position who later proclaimed that we were not to question God’s anointed. And a house church pastor’s kid who bullied one of ours. When the pastor made light of the situation we decided that we were done with church. We had had enough experiences and had lost enough friendships along the way because we decided not to tow the party line.

Several years ago I found myself reading survivor blogs such as SSB. There were few during that time, but I found it refreshing. I truly believe that one can find genuine community among an online forum. That is what I hope SSB will be for many. Please know that you will always find a listening ear from me. I believe that everyone deserves to tell their story and to have it listened to.

Kathi