Naghmeh Abedini, Women Survivors, and the Church

"Women Survivors & the Church" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward
“Women Survivors & the Church” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

The other day, Christianity Today posted an outrageous interview with Saeed Abedini concerning his ministry, his marriage, and the allegations of abuse against him made by his wife, Naghmeh.

My primary concern as her friend is for the safety and happiness of Naghmeh.

But my other concern is the response of the church to her claims that Saeed was abusive to her.

I believe her. I believe Saeed is lying. I also believe he’s being instructed to lie and to withhold the truth. Even in the interview he clumsily reveals Franklin Graham told him to be quiet about the abuse allegations. The interview, for those who have eyes to see, is such a compromised piece of work that it simply can’t stand with any integrity. CT should be embarrassed that it published such obvious propaganda filled with Saeed’s pompous self-adulation, outrageous claims, and hollow denials.

Naghmeh and I are friends. We talk. I know her side of the story. And I believe her.

The church in this case, led by Franklin Graham, wants her silenced so that its story with Saeed at the center will prevail.

I want to get personal for a second because this has some bearing on what my argument. I’ve been here before. It began in earnest in October of 2014 with my most popular post ever, Tony Jones on Mark Driscoll: What Came First, the Thug or the Theology? All I did in that post was to allow a woman, Julie McMahon, to share her version of events. Little did I know the pain it caused me and other advocates as well as survivors. I was naive to think people that would believe a victim and that the church would rally to her support! But no. I’ve learned my lesson. Almost every single Christian leader withheld support, remained silent, or chastised the victim and her advocates. Like with Julie and Naghmeh and other women survivors, the church and its leaders want us to agree that it’s a private marital problem rather than an individual’s abusiveness. The price paid for writing that post plus not taking it down was dear. It still is! I and other advocates lost a lot of friends and important connections… people who obviously wish to align themselves more with the church, authority, leaders, and success stories, rather than victims. The destructive aftershocks of that post are still felt to this day by many people.

The other day Lisa told me that what gets me in more trouble than anything else, including LGBT issues or my more in-your-face cartoons, is advocating for women. She’s right. Nothing brings more suffering than providing a space for women to tell their stories.

It’s hard not to be jaded.

But this isn’t about me. It’s about women. Especially women and the church, and women survivors. Like Naghmeh! The church prefers success stories rather than dealing with basic and fundamental issues like the rights and safety of its members, especially women and other marginalized people. The exact opposite of the gospel’s message!

When Naghmeh and I started talking months ago I felt sad and concerned for her because I knew how this was going to go down. I predicted to her exactly what would happen, and it has. I’m no prophet. I’m just observant and remember things. She would be painted a liar, a disgruntled spouse, a complaining whiney woman, a bad Christian wife, a woman with questionable morals, a neglectful mother, an indiscreet woman who should’ve kept her marital problems private, demonized as a Jezebel undermining the gospel. She’s on her own against a huge institution with famous leaders, money, and lawyers stacked against her. And now with CT, the press.

She asked me what she could do. I was lost for words. Silenced. I said, “Keep telling your side of the story. Don’t stop talking!” But I don’t think anyone’s asked her. She might be afraid by now to say anything even if asked. It’s already cost her so much. Threats are still thrown her way. The future looks uncertain.

I want to be clear: my concern is not only for victims themselves, but how the church responds to them and their stories.

So why do we do this? In hopes that the church will change? That would be awesome. But right now, I doubt it will. I confess my waining hope. Imagine a survivor’s!

So… we do it for the survivors. Maybe it will encourage them. Right now I hope it will.

So I’m going to click “post” because what do I have to lose? And what might survivors have to gain? We’ll see.

Here’s to you Naghmeh!

(*** EDIT: The monolog in the cartoon is not a quote from Naghmeh, but a compilation of things she has said or would say.)

UPDATE: CT has made the interview available to subscribers only… a strategy to contain the heat they’re getting over this disappointing interview?

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32 Replies to “Naghmeh Abedini, Women Survivors, and the Church”

  1. Totally appreciate that you have given voice to Naghmeh, that you are a friend in her time of need. I believe Naghmeh and I stand with her.

    I believe Julie and stand with her.

    For Naghmeh and Julie (and all survivors), I am reminded of the lyrics:

    “Even if we’re breaking down, we can find a way to break through
    Even if we can’t find heaven, I’ll walk through Hell with you
    Love, you’re not alone, ’cause I’m gonna stand by you
    Even if we can’t find heaven, I’m gonna stand by you
    Even if we can’t find heaven, I’ll walk through Hell with you
    Love, you’re not alone, ’cause I’m gonna stand by you”

  2. From a different article: ”Naghmeh filed for legal separation on January 26. “In very difficult situations sometimes you have to establish boundaries while you work toward healing,” she said at the time. ”

    Christianity Today continues to lose my respect for not understanding the need for strong boundaries in an relationship wherein one partner feels abuse.

    Boundaries are established as a means and method towards healing – not a precursor to ‘only divorce’.

    Does Christianity Today realize how many abused pastor’s wives have read their article with hope – with hope that they would NOT be forced back into silence?

    Instead, they read a man being upheld as a hero (just like their own husband), a wife being discounted, and even the Great Inheritor of the Name – Franklin Graham – telling him to be silent, and saying ‘let others defend you’.

    Hero + Submissive Obedient Wife that is Silent (no matter how she perceives her suffering).

    That is not Christianity…. though it is, very sadly, Christianity today.

  3. Hi David,
    I just want you to know that your blog provides a safe space for me, and every time you call out misogyny, I feel like someone has my back.
    Thank you.

  4. Another of the reason’s I left the church is the victim blaming that goes on in order to protect the leadership. The times I have seen it play out, a great deal of shaming the victim went on in an effort to portray them as being selfishly motivated and putting themselves ahead of the “work of the gospel”. (I say “Work of the gospel” in the most haughty, televangelist manner possible) It is ugly, it is repulsive, and it has nothing to do with Christ.

    I have been told by others that it is unfair to judge the church because of a few hypocrites. And in principle I agree. No institution should be judged by the failure of individual members. But I left the church not because individuals within it had failed, but because I came the the conclusion that it was the institution that has failed. The church itself is the great hypocrite.

    I don’t know Naghmeh or her husband. But I know very well the ways of the church that seeks to destroy and silence her.

    I too stand with Naghmeh!

  5. Thank you for giving supportive space to this issue David ~ I stand with Naghmeh ~ I stand with you too x

  6. I love that you are voicing her words in a different way (through drawings) and I really appreciate that. One quick question: I have been told CT reached out to Nagmeh in conjunction with the interview with Saeed. This does not diminish anything that you wrote about, but I do wonder if she has addressed the interview (beyond this post) and whether or not she was asked to respond in that particular publication. As someone who writes occasionally for CT I am very invested in the answer! I stand with Nagmeh and pray for true justice to be brought forth.

  7. I stand with Nagmeh!

    I was so shocked when I read the posts about her, and then about Julie. I live on the other side of the world so this did not make my news radar at the time. But as I sat with it I realised the more subtle ways that I was silenced and pushed to “forgive” my former partner for his abusiveness towards me and our daughter, by church leaders at two different churches.

    So I am calling out on this: the “church” is not simply part of the problem with domestic and family violence, it is far more complicit than that – it is showing its hand as being an active abuser; both encouraging abusers and silencing victims/survivors. Sound familiar? A bit like the response to CSA within the church? Another abuse of power mostly, but not exclusively, by men.

  8. I remember reading the ever-growing comments section of that 2014 post. And I remember following the ever-growing backlash against a woman telling her story. And nothing has changed since then 🙁

    I’m sick of a toxic institution selling its bankrupt product and not giving a damn about how many people get thrown under the bus. The show must go on! As you say, it’s the exact opposite of the gospel’s message!

  9. I stand by your decision to illuminate the poisonous secretive cover-up of abuse, then the subsequent ridicule and shaming of women when they blow the whistle on spousal abuse. Been there, been called a liar and crazy. But to have leaders of a supposed faith organization collude to minimize/cover-up/blame this woman is sickening. Nothing to do with higher principles, in fact, the opposite of respect, love, trust, faith, good works, humility, truth, honesty.

  10. DL. They reached out to me months ago. They never reached out to me in regard to this article and wanting a statement or response from me. At the time they reached out to me, Saeed was just released and I was hoping for reconciliation and healing in our marriage and did not want to add fire to the fuel and so I had decided not to do any interviews.

  11. Naghmeh: In my opinion, you are a good soldier. You knew the mission was (back then) to free your husband. Thank you for doing your mission so well. Thank you for suffering in silence, and carrying your wounds quietly during that particular battle.

    And now, it seems to me, that your mission has wisely changed to one of reconciliation. You have placed a good strong boundary by the separation, and also by encouraging your husband to seek professional (PhD or LCSW) counseling.

    Boundaries are necessary for reconciliation between two parties. It sounds odd, at first. But reconciliation cannot begin with ‘submission’… or, quite literally, the husband will never change.

    Reconciliation begins by equaling the playing field, and by showing your strength and willingness to negotiate as equals. It continues by admission of wrongs. It moves forward with restitution showing that the changes are in place and will continue (which can take a dozen forms). It concludes by offering that it is time to dare to trust once again.

    In my opinion, the Book of Nehemiah is very much about establishing strong boundaries between parties, when the situation has ‘broken down the walls’, and the walls and gateways need to be rebuilt. Too many Christian women try to use the ‘submission’ paradigm after their ‘city’ is in ruins… this paradigm is for when the city is flourishing.

    You have my respect for your Biblical approach to your situation.

  12. I have seen a lot of lack of discernment regarding Saeed, especially on his Facebook page. Furthermore, he blocks anyone who questions him. He asked for prayer for a supposed friend (I believe it is his girlfriend) and when I asked why they were on the same balcony in the pictures he kept deleting the posts. Most people would have just answered.

  13. I just want to say that when I read the CT interview, I thought he came across as defensive and scared and even petulant. I completely understand that as someone who has not gone through marital abuse, I wouldn’t see it as someone who has and I agree that CT could have done a lot better in contextualizing the piece, rather than simply running it as a straight interview. I don’t know how CT thought the article would play, but I just wanted to say that it didn’t make me doubt Naghmeh’s account. I continue to stand in solidarity with her.

  14. I don’t think Christianity Today is the best vehicle for Naghmeh if/when she wishes to speak publicly.
    Two words.
    Graham family.

    There are other quality outlets who respect women if or when the time comes for Naghmeh to use media.(not media using her)

    In defense of the CT piece – as a former journalist I call it a ‘give someone enough rope to hang themselves’ piece. Every journalist interviews someone who they may not agree with or like – and I don’t think Ms. Beatty completely softballed it – she let him talk. And sometimes that is the best thing to do.
    That said, I hope CT is feeling the heat.

    Ms. Beatty is a managing editor, which basically means she handles staffing, assignments, meetings, deadlines and deciding on controversial content.
    Interesting that one of the bosses did this assignment. I wonder – Graham family again?

    CT messed up was not reaching out to Naghmeh. So they did months ago. Pfft. They could have extended Naghmeh the courtesy and respect of reaching out for this piece and giving her the opportunity to say no again.

    The reality is Saeed has his supporters who uncritically hang on to his every word, and this interview isn’t going to change anything for them.

    You can read the CT piece by going to CT, grabbing the headline, pasting it into your URL bar and accessing it through Google news.

  15. Thank you so much for your support of Naghmeh and for giving her voice. I believe her and support her.
    I grew up in the church and was homeschooled in ATIA. I saw too much abuse, victim blaming, and hero worship in the churches and ATIA. Many dear friends now are fighting to have a voice for abuse done against them by Christian leaders. It breaks my heart, and I feel a passionate anger for all the harm done in the name of “Christ”.

  16. I stand with Naghmeh. I stood with her through her arduous battle to bring Saeed back. I trust and believe in her, I have confidence in her story. I feel sorry Saeed yielded to fear and now has to keep deceiving. He should have confessed in the beginning once the story came out. Of course, I feel it was completely irresponsible for any Christian source to print it. The wisdom of keeping it under the radar in the first place should have governed. Because it got leaked it created a stumbling block for Saeed, and a whole lot of anguish for Naghmeh and her family. I thought of Walid Shoebat who is a famous preacher now, having converted from Islam, and bold about his testimony that Islam had been the reason he had treated his wife so badly. When I hear his testimony of redemption I give God praise. I would have done the same thing in the case of Saeed. But, now this situation is like a bad tooth infection that hasn’t been healed and just won’t go away. Truth always brings light and healing. Come on Saeed. Banish all fear and doubt. Speak the truth in love, Naghmeh honored you, so now honor her back. Walk in the light as He is in the light. Praying for God to vindicate Naghmeh and bring beautiful restoration for her whole family.

  17. Hi Naghmeh. I would agree with Caryn. When I was first married, the counselor teaching the marriage class asked the very question: Does submission to the husband require submission to his foolishness? That is a VERY important question to consider. And I argue that the answer is No. So when Caryn talks about Nehemiah, and boundaries, I am in full agreement. Submission does NOT require you to submit to foolishness from Saeed. And I wish that Christianity Today (and other organizations) were able to take a more circumspect view. It does not help a wounded relationship to talk about submission. And it does not help a wounded relationship to talk about it in public! I’m sorry Naghmeh that you are going through this. Please count me as one more person upholding you in respect, and in loving care.

  18. Thanks everyone for your support of Naghmeh. Just as a side note: One of the things I learned through the Tony Jones narrative was that he was allowed to publish and promote his story online, but she was advised not to. Why? Because she was the one who was threatened to be sued for liable, etc. The victim must be silenced or they may suffer further abuse. However, the abuser chooses to be silent, I noticed, because they hope, as I think Franklin Graham does, that it will eventually go away. This has happened to Julie. No one talks about it anymore, and nothing has changed for her. No, not true. Things have gotten worse for her. And nobody seems to care.

  19. That’s the thing that makes me so disgusted about these type of situations (my own included) – people act abusively and then blame, shame, silence the victim whilst parading themselves around as such wonderful christians. No wonder there’s such an exodus from the religious institution they call ‘church’!

  20. David – Is it possible to remake this tribute with Naghmeh’s actual words? I know you added an edit note, but it doesn’t seem right to put words in her mouth. Even helpful words or potential words. It might better serve her to use her actual words. People who don’t read the edit note won’t catch that, as I didn’t at first, and I posted the tribute with the understanding that she had offered the words to you.

  21. Amy: Naghmeh and I have talked a lot. She endorses these words because she has said them. I know the cartoon may resemble Naghmeh but it is intended to be “every woman” rather than just her. I made the words so that many women could say them.

  22. David, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your courage and commitment to giving women like Julie and Naghmeh a voice, despite the negative that comes with it. I support Naghmeh and Julie both. I can’t say I was ever abused by the church, but I had experienced church harassment by their family counselors at one time involving a domestic issue. I’ve held Julie in my heart ever since I read the 2014 post, and now Naghmeh is there too.

  23. This whole thing had just broken my heart. Why does the church try to hide these things? The Gospel is good news for people like Saeed! When a beloved one falls, we should desire their complete confession and point to Jesus, who forgives every sin. “Perfect” Christians don’t help the church’s witness; humble, broken, redeemed ones do. I stand with Naghmeh, and I am so sad that the church is failing women in this way.

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