In July, 2012, Saeed Abedini, a pastor and missionary living in the United States, was visiting his family in Tehran, Iran, when he was detained by the Iranian government, placed on house arrest in his parents’ home under accusation of planting house churches and undermining Iranian national security. Abedini was then, in September, taken into the custody of the Revolutionary Guard, who moved him to the Evin prison. Abedini would quickly be tried, convicted, and sentenced to an 8-year prison term. He was eventually transferred to the Rajai Sharar prison, considered to be Iran’s deadliest prison.
During this time, Abedini was repeatedly tortured and beaten as he remained in an Iranian prison for over 3 years. Further, he was denied medical treatment and developed severe medical conditions as a result of his treatment while imprisoned. Due to the efforts of various advocacy groups, the United States government secured the release of Abedini as part of a prisoner exchange in January of 2016.
All of this is public knowledge and none of it is here being disputed. The treatment Saeed Abedini faced at the hands of the Iranian government was a grave injustice. He did not deserve to be imprisoned and I am genuinely glad he has found freedom from such a state of captivity.
However, we also must recognize this is only one facet of his story. There is an entirely different narrative that many seem determined to undermine or ignore. That is, many have attempted to minimize the fact that, even prior to his imprisonment, Saeed Abedini was a convicted domestic abuser.
In considering this second narrative, I want to take a moment to analyze three of Saeed Abedini’s public statements, and the events surrounding them.
First, it is important to note that on July 1, 2007, an argument began in the Abedini home over an online conversation with Saeed’s parents, which led Naghmeh to attempt to close the laptop. When Naghmeh did this, Saeed became physically violent, pushing her in the neck and upper chest while she was holding their then ten-month old child. Naghmeh called police and filed a criminal complaint, also stating to officers that Saeed had threatened her with further physical violence if she did not leave the room.
Saeed was taken into custody by police, arraigned via video, assigned a public defender, and released of his own recognizance that day. After several months of motions, he entered a guilty plea. This is noteworthy because, in his initial plea, Saeed pleaded not guilty to the charges through a Farsi interpreter. However, in January of 2008, as his jury trial approached, he changed his plea to guilty and was given a ninety-day suspended jail sentence placed on probation for one year, and required to take eight hours of anger management courses.
These details are important, as Saeed gave an interview to Christianity Today in May, 2016. In this interview, the following exchange took place:
[CT] Can you talk about the misdemeanor domestic assault charge in 2007? You pled guilty to that, and that suggests there was at least one instance of marital abuse.
[Saeed] I believe courts can make mistakes too. They are not God; they can make a mistake. I talked with Franklin Graham. He asked me to keep silent and not say anything about anyone. Graham encouraged me, “Let other people defend you.” I think the court made a mistake, and I didn’t know that I’d been guilty until three weeks ago. I didn’t know that I got a sentence of 90 days in court until three weeks ago. No one told me.
Here, Abedini moves to redirect the blame to others. He claims he did not understand the court proceedings and was wrongly found guilty of domestic assault. Throughout this interview, he carefully works to paint himself as a victim to be sympathized with, and not as an abuser. But one is forced to wonder a couple things:
- Precisely how does one change their plea from not guilty to guilty without realizing it?
Either his lawyer and the presiding judge were both woefully incompetent, and thus he is the victim of gross injustice, or Abedini is lying. There seem to be few other reasonable explanations.
- How is one on probation for a year without knowing?
According to the Ada County Sheriff’s Department website – the Idaho county where Saeed was tried – persons receiving probation for misdemeanor crimes are required to have regular meetings with a probation officer, including a monthly meeting for which a form must be completed. According to his case history, Abedini was sentenced to 12 months of standard probation.
Was Saeed somehow exempt from these probation proceedings? Was he not required to conduct these monthly meetings? If he was required to have these meetings, per his standard probations sentence, how then did he conduct 12 monthly meetings without understanding he had received a suspended sentence for a crime to which he had plead guilty?
- Where does Naghmeh fit into all of this?
In order for these entire proceedings to carry forward, Naghmeh had to have been involved. She was interviewed by police and prosecuting attorneys. The entire case was based on her testimony and the testimony of the arresting officers.
If the court made a mistake and kept him in the dark, would not Naghmeh – who was also involved and aware of the conviction – have then been in on the deception as well? Was this some grand conspiracy by multiple sources, including his own battered wife, to impugn him?
The stark reality is that it is common fare for abusive persons to attempt to shift a narrative to make themselves the victim. According to an article written for Psychology Today by Steven Stosny, PhD, these words represent classic abuser tactics.
Abusers tend to minimize their own actions while painting themselves as the victims of injustice or persecution. Quite often, they strive to make themselves look good while targeting the integrity of their victim. The goal for an abuser is always to control the narrative through deception. Saeed’s statement above meets all of these criteria in just a few short sentences.
Likewise, insights can be gained by considering Saeed’s response to accusations Naghmeh made through the media in November, 2015. She noted that their marriage had been marred by years of abuse. Further, she accused Saeed of using various forms of correspondence to threaten her during his imprisonment, including threatening to divorce her and take their children if she did not portray him in public statements precisely has he instructed – accusations explored in greater detail below.
Eventually, Saeed’s demands became too much, leading Naghmeh to go public with Saeed’s behavior and halt her public advocacy for her husband.
When Saeed was released from prison and returned to the U.S. in January 2016, Naghmeh filed separation papers in order to protect her children and herself from the threats her husband had made, including a restraining order against him.
Saeed responded to the court injunction, and the accompanying accusations, with the following statement:
Our marriage is under great stress and I am hoping and praying for healing and restoration.
I love my wife and want God’s will for both of our lives.
I am a sinner, saved only by the wonderful grace of God. While I am far from perfect—as a man or as a husband, I am seeking every day to submit to God as He molds me into what He wants me to be.
Much of what I have read in Naghmeh’s posts and subsequent media reports is not true. But I believe we should work on our relationship in private and not on social media or other media. Naghmeh wrote this week, “We are taking personal time to work on very serious personal issues.” I intend to do this hard work in private.
The God I serve today is the same God I served while being interrogated and beaten in some of the harshest prison conditions in the world and He is capable of restoring a marriage that has withstood unbelievable pressure. I ask for prayer for another victory.
Again, Saeed has worked hard to build a public image of himself as the innocent victim, moving from one source or persecution (Iran) to another (his wife). He is really just a godly man trying to seek God, but his wife is opposing these intentions through false public accusations. He says she makes claims to want to resolve in public, but depicts himself as the only one doing any actual work of reconciliation. And of course, he is the victorious warrior again overcome the persecutions against him. In his self-righteous fantasy, God is on his side and will give him the power to conquer his wife and her accusations and reestablish the marriage according to “God’s will.”
According to Dr. Christy Sim, all of these things indicate the Saeed is using classic abuser language to obfuscate the truth and deceive his audience into sympathizing with his supposed plight, suggesting that his motivations are dishonest, and intended to distract from the very credible claims Naghmeh has made against him.
Having analyzed these statements, it will prove enlightening to also consider Saeed’s newest statement on his Facebook page, posted on June 27, 2016 (pictured below).
In this statement, we get a further glimpse into Saeed’s attitude toward his estranged wife, as well as his strange political views.
First, it is strange how Abedini uses a passage on church governance to target Hillary Clinton as the former Secretary of State and potential future president of the U.S. This strategy is quite telling because, in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul clearly delineates between church governance and civil authority. That is, Paul states:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons – not at all meaning the immoral of this world…For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? God will judge those on the outside. (vv. 9-13)
Here, Paul clearly indicates his instructions to the Corinthian church relate to those inside the church, not outside. And in 1 Corinthians 11, which Saeed quotes, Paul again makes it specific that he is referring to church governance by references to prophesying and prayer (vv. 5, 13) and further emphasizes this by referring to the Lord’s Table in verses 17-34.
As such, Abedini is using this passage to say things that Paul himself specifically indicates it cannot say. He states that the Bible prohibits women from holding public office, yet he quotes a passage from a book specifically and intentionally addressing Church governance. Thus, even without disputing his interpretations of the passage for a home or church setting, it is already apparent that Abedini has a specific agenda and that he is willing to twist and manipulate Scripture in order to accomplish it.
What agenda is so important to Saeed Abedini that he would be willing to blatantly abuse and manipulate the very Scriptures he claims to strictly adhere to in order to accomplish it?
Further, it is very odd that Saeed is so antagonistic toward Hillary Clinton, since the vast majority of Saeed’s imprisonment did not take place during her term as Secretary of State. Saeed was imprisoned in July of 2012. By February of 2013, Clinton had already resigned as Secretary of State. That means, whatever Hillary Clinton’s initial response was to Saeed’s plea to the U.S. government, she was the official representative of the State Department for approximately 7 months of his imprisonment.
This is particularly odd given his insistence that having men in leadership would have avoided the “chaos” of his situation. He fails to note is that in February 2013, John Kerry – a man – was sworn in as Clinton’s successor for Secretary of State. In July 2014, while delivering a report detailing the U.S.’s work to promote religious freedom around the world in 2013, Kerry noted that part of that agenda had been to try to secure Saeed’s release from Iran. This means that for nearly 3 years – from February, 2013 to January, 2016 – Secretary Kerry tried and failed to secure Saeed’s release.
Likewise, in January of 2015, President Obama himself met with Naghmeh and her two children to discuss Saeed’s imprisonment. During this time, he promised her that he would bring Saeed home. However, a mere six months later Saeed’s own US based lawyers criticized Obama and his foreign relations with Iran, claiming the administration had betrayed the Abedini family and broken this promise.
All of this happened well after Secretary Clinton had resigned.
Why, precisely, has Saeed chosen to specifically target the woman who held public office for 7 months of his imprisonment, instead of the men who continued to preside for three years after her resignation? If he is going to speak of the entire government abandoning him, why scapegoat a single female now, when his public representatives had previously placed the blame on broken promises from men? Is this in any way related to his recent endorsement of Donald Trump?
The answer to the questions above seems to be found in the closing paragraphs of his statement. In the second to last paragraph, Abedini begins by stating:
God created women (sic) to be a supporter and counselor for men, NOT HAVE AUTHORITY OVER MEN and when they try to take these positons [as head of Family, Church, or Country], they will create chaos as we have seen in the last 10 months of my life as a simple example.
This is a dramatic shift in focus. Previously, Saeed had honed in as Hillary Clinton for the cause of all his problems while imprisoned in Iran. However, Clinton did not hold any public office during the past 10 months whatsoever.
If his intention is truly to show how the election of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State is a sign of the crumbling of “biblical” gender roles, would it not make more sense for him to have said “the last 4 years of my life” instead of “the last 10 months?”
Whatever his political motivations for targeting Hilary Clinton, it seems that, here, Saeed has tipped his hand to an ulterior motive. This will become apparent by analyzing the major events reported in the news over the last ten months regarding Abedini’s imprisonment and release. This time frame places us at August, 2015.
- On August 17, 2015, a Human Rights watch group in Iran reported that Saeed had been subjected to an “aggressive raid” in his prison cell. This same group reported his condition as worrisome.
- On September 30, 2015, Nagmeh provided an update on Saeed’s condition. His parents in Iran had been allowed to visit him in his cell and reported that he was in poor physical health and suffering a great deal of pain. They also noted that there was talk of additional charges being filed against him.
- In November, 2015, Naghmeh Abedini ceased all public advocacy for her husband, citing “physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse (through Saeed’s addiction to pornography)” abuse. She stated that, in addition to the physical abuse which occurred regularly in their marriage prior to his imprisonment, there was verbal abuse that continued throughout his time in prison.
In fact, Naghmeh stated – and other sources have corroborated – that after six months in prison Saeed was able to use his cell phone to contact her. During these conversations Saeed would threaten and berate her. Also, due to having use of his phone, Saeed would use his wife’s Amazon account to purchase and watch pornographic videos – and addiction which Naghmeh claims has been a problem throughout their marriage.
- In January, 2016 Saeed was released from prison as part of a prisoner exchange. However, due to the abuse she had suffered and because she wanted to protect her family while attempting to reconcile with him, Naghmeh filed for legal separation and a restraining order, as mentioned above.
- In February, 2016, Saeed began to release public statements regarding these allegations, as noted above.
- On March 15, 2016, the Christian Post reported that Naghmeh is attending therapy to deal with the abuse she suffered, but that Saeed continues to refuse to see a counselor for his problem with perpetrating abuse against his wife. Naghmeh specifically stated that, until Saeed received individual counseling for these issues, there was no room for them to begin to try to repair their marriage through couple’s counseling.
- On May 13, 2016, Naghmeh updated her Facebook page, stating there has been no progress since March and that she currently prays for her marriage, but noted that things were not promising.
- On June 9, 2016, Naghmeh indicated that Saeed has told her he is filing for divorce and told their children he plans to start a new family.
- On June 19 , 2016, Saeed implied on his Facebook page that he intends to leave Boise, Idaho for good.
This leads us to the present, and the statement above by Saeed Abedini. Given the events described above, it is impossible for him to claim that his “10 months” reference is in relation to Hillary Clinton’s term as Secretary of State. Again, whatever role she played in the initial negotiations to free him, she had been out of office for over 2 years when this apparent “10 months” began. The only major news regarding a woman in his life in these last ten months has been the accusations of his wife that Saeed is a serial domestic abuser.
As such, certain questions must be asked:
Are Saeed’s comments directly aimed at Naghmeh? Is he meaning to say that the abuse he perpetrated against his wife is not cause for her to separate from him? Is he claiming that she is the one at fault, that he is innocent and thus bears no responsibility for the course their marriage has taken?
The answers to these questions, in my opinion, all seem to be “Yes.” Abedini appears to be using his considerable public platform to passive aggressively attack his wife, claiming she is violating her “god-ordained” role as his subservient. He seems to, once again, be painting himself as the victim and her as an ungodly “Jezebel” out to persecute God’s prophet.
In other words, even now, Abedini continues to use his privilege and platform to try to control his wife. He is attempting to guilt her into returning to him, trying to force her to recant her story by creating public pressure against her from his supporters. He is trying to dominate her and assert his narrative, colonizing her abuse by trying to make himself the “actual victim.” Again, these are the actions of an abuser.
I want to be clear, recognizing that Saeed is an abuser does not mean that anyone thinks he deserved his imprisonment in Iran. It is possible, and necessary, to recognize that his freedom from religious persecution is a good thing, while pushing him to be accountable for his ungodly and abusive actions against his wife. His nearly 4 years of abuse in an Iranian prison do not give him license to abuse other persons.
In light of this information, it is important that we recognize that false reporting of abuse is rare. Further, abusers are often serial offenders. Saeed’s own dishonesty regarding his prior conviction is a clear indicator he has taken no moral responsibility for those actions. Also, his continued public statements which openly blame Naghmeh indicate his contempt for her and desire to conquer her.
However, as Scripture tells us, a love for another person based in Christ does not seek to conquer that person (1 Cor 13), but pursues their good above one’s own (Phil 2:1-11). Likewise, 1 John 4 indicates that those who follow Christ will exemplify the same love he demonstrated on the cross. In addition, John 13 tells us that Christ’s followers will be clearly identified by how they love others.
By these standards, Saeed Abedini has failed the basic command of Ephesians 5 to love his wife as Christ loved the church in his death on the cross. This leads me to assert that the glaring lack of love demonstrated by Saeed indicates his motives toward Naghmeh are not rooted in his Christian faith or Christ-centered love, but in his abusive personality and a desire for privilege and control.
It is an indictment on the state of the church that so many influential Christian Institutions and leaders have refused to hold him accountable while granting him the platform from which he continues to abuse his wife.
It is for this reason that I urge all Christians to hold Saeed accountable for these actions, to urge him to abdicate his platform and seek counseling, and to boldly declare, “I believe Naghmeh.”
**Cover image from http://images.huffingtonpost.com/2016-04-21-1461254309-5853960-abuse.jpg**