Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Naghmeh Abedini and Responding to Marital Abuse

Naghmeh Abedini
Picture Credit

Dear friends,

Though I haven't blogged at Watch the Shepherd in nearly three months, I have been keeping a pulse on one of my major themes here: abusive relationships in families and Christian movements. 

The big one in the headlines is that Idaho pastor Saeed Abedini, who had been imprisoned and tortured in Iran for a few years because of his ministry there, was released last month in a prisoner swap. His wife Naghmeh worked tirelessly for his release, making countless media appearances and appeals to US government authorities, including President Obama, who intervened on their behalf.

Unfortunately, that was the happy part of the story. The disturbing part came when his wife Naghmeh revealed a several year history of marital abuse, which included physical abuse (for which he plead guilty several years ago), as well as verbal/emotional abuse and porn use. The latter two did not stop during his imprisonment. She has filed for legal separation to protect herself and the children and she has sought out individual professional counseling for handling her delicate situation. 

The Christian world has gone crazy. Many point their fingers at Naghmeh: How dare she do this to Saeed after what he has been through? Aren't there two sides to every story? Maybe she's lying, or at least exaggerating? What about his feelings? Why won't she reconcile with Saeed? Why won't she agree to couples counseling? Why won't she play nice and be a good wife? Or is she hiding something? Maybe she's greedy and wants to keep all the money she raised while she was trying to get him released? Or maybe she is covering up an affair? The insinuations have gotten pretty vile. Personally, I am particularly irritated at Franklin Graham for his public statements which are making things even more difficult for her.

Others, like me, choose to stand with Naghmeh. We know too much for our own comfort about marital abuse and its aftermath. We will not stay silent.

Every time a new article about the Abedini family has popped up in my blog reader or on my Facebook feed, I have linked it on my Facebook wall. So I have quite a collection, most of which I will now share with you.

Saeed Abedini and Franklin Graham Promote “Couples Counseling” to Reconcile the Abedinis. Because of Saeed’s Abuse, is This Counterproductive? from Spiritual Sounding Board

Naghmeh Abedini, Franklin Graham, and the Silencing of Evangelical Abuse Victims by Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism

Three Nasty Things (Some) Woman are Saying About Naghmeh and Deliver Us from Evil by Natalie Klejwa at Visionary Womanhood

For the Continuing Naghmeh Doubters: Yes, Saeed Really Did Plead Guilty and Saeed Abedini's Wife Files Legal Papers in the Wake of Her Husband's Release by Wartburg Watch

Welcome Home, Saeed Abedini. We're Sorry, But There Won't Be a Parade and Follow-Up from the Saeed Abedini Blog Post by Chad Estes

Pastor Saeed and the Double Standards of Abuse by Ashley Easter

Saeed Abedini Rejects Wife's Claims About Marriage Problems, but Calls Her His Hero (news report from Christian Post)

The Heroic Abuser? Christian Media Headlines about Saeed and Naghmeh Abedini at Lydia Center (statistical analysis of news coverage)

That was quite an education, wasn't it?

What is my point in sharing all of this?

Naghmeh has found her voice, not only to advocate for her husband all these years, but now to advocate for herself and her two children. Is she selfish to do this? Not at all! Victims have every right to speak up and be heard. In doing so, Naghmeh also advocates for countless other women who find themselves in similar situations. They are everywhere. You may think you don't know any of them, but I'll bet you do. It's just that not all of them are in a position to say anything publicly. It's a matter of safety for themselves and their children, it's embarrassing, and their family finances may depend on the husband's reputation. Some of them do drop hints, intentionally or not. Some of them also ask for help privately. Tragically, many will be treated like Naghmeh by self-righteous or merely naive people who don't have much of a clue about the dynamics of abuse.

I have had so many domestic violence victims tell me that their pastors and Christian friends have shamed them for telling their stories. They are ordered to "Stop being so bitter. Just forgive and move on!" Sometimes, they seriously just need to disentangle from their abuser and move on. A wife is under absolutely no obligation to return to or submit to an abusive husband. Separation and even divorce are her right. So many just do not understand this.

This victim shaming has to stop. NOW! Maybe the media coverage and pushback from Naghmeh's will bring this to light even more. 

As for me, I intend to stand with Naghmeh and with other victims of family and spiritual abuse wherever I find them.

And now I'd like to share links for articles I have written about domestic abuse and the church's response.

There is such a sadness that comes over me when I write about the topic of abuse. My heart cinches up inside. Yet I am glad this affects me. It should. It is a sad thing. 

I am thankful for people like my own pastor, Mike Tilley, who has preached that wives are not to submit to abuse and that husbands must not be domineering. I am thankful for bloggers around the world who have spoken out. I am thankful for women and men who have quietly ministered to domestic violence victims with kind words, protection, shelter, financial support, child care, and other help. I am thankful for my women's Bible study group where I am reminded of God's love for all of us, even in the trials of life. I am thankful for Naghmeh for putting herself on the line for truth and justice and compassion.

To Naghmeh and other survivors: If you ever read this, my love and prayers and support are with you. I would love to hear from you.

Here is a song to bring you a little more courage than the astounding fortitude you already have.

With love,

Virginia Knowles

P.S. If this post has helped you, would you be so kind as to forward it along or link it in your blog post or Facebook wall?


  1. Love the fact that there are people sticking up for Nagmeh. I am a preachers daughter and I can relate to her pain. I was in an abusive marriage for seven years. My husband at that time went to jail, for a business move gone wrong, I was left on the streets alone with an 8 month old baby. Our home owners gave me 4 hours to move and my parents didn't want me home. I found a place in an orphanage for me and my baby and my baby's nanny and worked two 8 hr shifts to make money and bail him out. In a period of three years I bailed him out three more times from jail for fraud. What I did for him didn't matter. When he came out it was back to square one. Adultery, pornography, and alcohol plus the emotional and verbal they came right back. I didn't leave the marriage coz I didn't think as a Christian it was right for me to do so. I expected him to change. One day he raped me and that was my son, he left when he found out I was two weeks pregnant, when he came back my baby son was three months old. I tried to work it out with him but it only got worse. So one day I walked out of my marital home, 9 years ago and I have been single and happy and have raised two amazing kids this far. My family and the Christian community I am a part of now think I did the right thing. But when I did it everyone thought I was wrong. So having said that. I understand her trying to bail him out so the kids will have a father and somewhere the hope that he would change would have been the driving force. But seeing the situation change, and she coming out of the closet is perfectly right. I pray that people will look at both sides of the story before they open their mouth, and think of the parable before they cast stones.

  2. How did he continue porn use while in an Iranian jail?

  3. I too, thank you for standing for Nagmeh. People who have not experienced abuse don't understand how deceptive abusers are, nor how believable they can act when they want something. The church has also not taught how to watch for it, and how to stand up for the brokenhearted as Jesus did. I had to leave my husband over 20 years ago and go no-contact because to this day he will start in on me the moment he gets a chance. The children, family, friends have all been duped by his charm and fake sincerity. They blame me for being proud and disrespectful when he, with innuendos and smiles, makes me look the fool to them and I can't do anything about it. Like Joseph, I wait for God's timing to work it out for good somehow. I just see in Saeed so clearly how he is abusing her right in public, but those who don't wish to see will not see it. Every day I feel so broken for people like this and wish I could help.

  4. Thank you for speaking out on this difficult topic.