Pastor Saeed and the Double Standards of Abuse
As you may have heard Pastor and U.S. citizen Saeed Abendini was recently freed from His nearly four year Iranian imprisonment for living out his Christian faith.
Naghmeh, Saeed’s wife, spent his imprisonment tirelessly advocating for his release, speaking to thousands on his behalf, including President Obama who arranged for his release.
This past November Naghmeh made a written announcement that she would be taking a rest from her speaking engagement on the premise that her husband had been and continued to be abusive towards her. Though she did not go into great detail, she described his actions towards her as being physically, emotionally, psychologically, and sexually abusive.
According to The Idaho Statesman, in 2007, “[Saeed] plead guilty to misdemeanor domestic assault in Ada County Magistrate Court. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail, which was suspended, and placed on probation for a year according to online Idaho court records.”
After Saeed arrived safely in the U.S., Naghmeh shared in this Facebook update saying, she is “happy for this long waited reunion”, she “sincerely had hoped that this horrible situation Saeed has had to go through would bring about the spiritual change needed” but that “Tragically, the opposite has occurred.” Naghmah expressed her desire for reconciliation but has wisely enforced boundaries, including legal ones to protect herself and her children.
When I read through the comments on Naghmeh’s statement I was appalled by many of the insensitive and down right cruel remarks made by confessing Christians. A large number of commenters engaged in doubting, victim blaming, guilting and shaming; they even expressed their desire for her silence.
This is a small sampling of the many horrid comments (unedited):
“…Whatever happen to prayer and fasting and wait to hear from the Lord before we go to friends or in this case the world wide web? Oh well, I guess "Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
“None of us know what Saeed has said and done except Naghmeh. If we are engaged in accusing a man wrongly, we are guilty. I hope that Naghmeh is telling the truth, because the alternative is horrible beyond words. The way this has come to light does not reflect the care that God shows us in dealing with our sins. We are to go one to another before going to an appropriate authority (pastors, counselors, trust worthy friends, courts) before we malign each other publicly.”
“…Matthew 18:15 demands that you keep it silent until you have had a chance to work out your grievances with the other party, Naghmeh Abedini. -- Even tho Brother Saeed Abedini Saeed Abedini no doubt inflicted emotional abuse, you must realize that his motives were probably for good - even if he went overboard and went too far in excess…”
“I don't know anything about this, but I do know it's not good to talk about such personal issues on Facebook when the world can insert its own story around it. The only one who will benefit from that show is the devil. Added public pressure on a marriage is never good. Go have private counsel and resist the urge to make the details public. All we need to know is that Saeed is free. Praise God! You're life will have other struggles that need prayer as we all need prayer.”
The responses in these comments are unfortunately common reactions (1) in the Church. Victims are often met with doubting, blaming, guilting, shaming, silencing, judging and general nitpicking. As I have written about before, this re-victimizing reaction is often devastating to the victims (2), causing feelings of isolations and hopelessness.
Sadly, for many Christians, protecting the reputation of a male spiritual leader is more important than rallying around the woman he abuses. We would rather pray and publicly advocate for a man being abused by a government for his faith than for a devout Christian woman being abused by her spouse.
Naghmeh has every right to share her story publicly and to be met with the same concern and prayer her husband received during his abuse. Abuse doesn’t stop unless it is made to stop. Abuse mushrooms in silence. Abuse is rarely, if ever, an isolated incident. She did a brave thing in speaking up.
It’s time for us to stop pointing fingers at the way Naghmeh chose to speak out about her pain and start embracing her and her children with the abundant love and support they deserve.
Advocating for the global Church (3) is essential but sometimes we forget that ministering to persecuted Christians is often as simple as reaching out to the women and children in the pews beside us.
Notes and Sources:
(1) Here are just a few of the many stories of victim blaming and silencing in the Church and Christian organizations: Natalie Greenfield’s blog has an abundance of posts detailing both her abuse and consequent treatment by Christ Church in Moscow. You can follow the continuing story of Christian ministry founder Bill Gothard, his sexual assault of over 35 women and continued denial here. You can find Julie Anne’s story involving an abusive church, the lawsuit the church placed against her for speaking out and her experience in winning the case here.
(2) When victims find the courage to speak up about their abuse an all too common response from family, friends and professionals (secular and religious) is to blame, shame and silence the victim. This is called "secondary victimization" and often causes significant emotional pain and feelings of isolation. It may additionally cause a loss of self confidence and trust towards the should-be supporters and organizations.
For a comprehensive look at the effects of negative responses to abuse disclosure see, “Being Silenced: The Impact of Negative Social Reactions On The Disclosure Of Rape”. Department of Psychology, California State University, Courtney E. Ahrens
(3) This is in no way intended to diminish the abusive treatment Saeed endured, rather it is to draw attention to the double standard regarding the abuse and persecution of women right here, in our own churches.