Yesterday, the Idaho Statesman reported that evangelical star Saeed Abedini was arrested on Sunday for violating a no-contact order obtained by his ex-wife, Nagmeh Panahi. Saeed, a naturalized American citizen living in Idaho, spent several years in prison in Iran after being detained on a visit to family there. Upon his release in January 2016, his wife, Nagmeh, filed for legal separation.
The evangelical response to Nagmeh’s allegations of abuse threw into stark relief the dangerous way evangelicals approach domestic violence. After reading the statements Saeed made about Nagmeh after their separation—which place the blame on Nagmeh for refusing to reconcile—I am not surprised that he violated the no-contact order. According to the Idaho Statesman, Saeed violated the order “by sending derogatory, name-calling text messages to Naghmeh.”
But in reading the article in the Idaho Statesman, one line struck me in particular:
Abedini told Magistrate Judge Thomas Watkins he left Boise nine months ago, moving to Lynchburg, Virginia, where he continues to work as a minister.
Despite Nagmeh’s allegations, Saeed is still working as a pastor.
When a pastor’s wife accuses her husband of abuse and files for separation, these allegations should be taken very, very seriously. The Bible says that a pastor must be above reproach, but even more than that, a minister frequently acts as a counselor, and holds a position of authority over his parishioners. This is a situation where one’s personal actions at home—whether one is abusive to one’s spouse or children—intimately affects how one carries out one’s job.
In 2007, Saeed plead guilty of domestic violence against Nagmeh. This ought to give Nagmeh’s allegations an extra heavy helping of credibility. After all, Saeed has admitted to physically and verbally abusing her in the past. Nagmeh herself has written about the Christian teachings that kept her in that marriage even after hear assault, that kept her believing that she was the problem, that if only she could be a better wife, more obedient, more submissive, his abuse would end.
And yet, Saeed is still working as a pastor. That means someone was willing to hire him, despite Nagmeh’s allegations, and despite his past conviction for domestic violence. What does that say about the state of the evangelical church today?
I May 2016, four months after Nagmeh’s allegations and her separation from him, Saeed spoke at Liberty University’s convocation. Now, that’s not quite the same thing as hiring him to work as pastor, a job that, as I mentioned, entails counseling and puts one in a position of authority. After all, Saeed did spend three years in prison in Iran, and many people are probably curious to hear about that. Still, it does amount to giving an alleged abuser a continued platform.
Toward the end of his talk, Saeed addressed Nagmeh’s allegations.
The last part of my story was the hardest. Still I got free from prison, but to be honest with you, still I couldn’t feel my freedom yet because of the new battle I went through. I had a different imagination when I was going to be free, how it was going to be, but now I’m just seeing that the things that are in my life, it’s not in a good position actually, especially my marriage. But I believe God’s in it.
That’s all he said about it. What he left out was confusing enough to the students present that when the senior class president was called to come up and pray over Saeed, he addressed Saeed’s family situation like this:
I thank you for his family. I pray for Nagmeh, I pray for Jacob, I pray for Rebekka, I pray that you would continue to be with them, continue to strengthen them, just to continue to let them know that you’re there. I ray that you just take this time and just help them right back on the start where they were before. I pray that they’re just stronger than ever.
Make things like they were before, the senior class president said, as though the problem was the long separation, and not years of abuse, years that went back to 2007 and before. But then, that’s how Saeed made it sound—as though the problem was the separation, as though he was surprised to find that Nagmeh was no longer willing to put up with his abusive behavior.
Saeed has always contended that the allegations are false, and has even alleged that Satan is behind them.
And so here we are, in a world where Saeed Abedini still has a job as a pastor, counseling people and ministering to them, despite his wife’s allegations, despite the fact that she has left him and divorced him, despite the fact that he was convicted in 2007 of domestic violence. Now, he has been arrested again, this time for violating his wife’s no-contact order.
Will this arrest make a difference? Likely not. After all, this isn’t Saeed’s first offense. He pled guilty a year ago to violating Nagmeh’s a restraining order—there were three violations, all of which occurred within a month of Saeed’s talk at Liberty University’s May 2016 convocation.
If those violations didn’t prevent Saeed from finding work as a pastor, it is unlikely that this one will either.