First, to the reader: the intent of this post is to help – not destroy or confuse. I have attempted to make personal contact with Saeed Abedini multiple times in private to gain clarification on some very serious issues that have surfaced since his release in January from Iran. My straightforwardness is not to discredit the legitimacy and seriousness of his situation or the plight of the suffering followers of Christ in forgotten places. It is intended to express ongoing earnest attention upon this. This is a longer post than normal, the weight of the issue requires the length.
To the reader, who may be angry at me for what will appear to sound like unfair judgment or casting of stones, I am not trying to dig into another man’s personal affairs. I do understand the private boundary. I’m not requesting details of any private matters. In my call to churches, Christian universities and Christian media outlets to not give Saeed Abedini a platform to speak until he gives clarity of his church affiliation, questions around his ordination, phone activity while in prison, humbly submitting to the authority of his local church in regards to his marriage and alleged abusive behavior. I don’t make these demands, it’s simply a call for accountability. I respect that I have no authority or responsibility for any other church but the one I pastor. I’m not trying to usurp another churches autonomy or pastor’s duty.
It is of interest: some of my private attempts to communicate with “Christian” media outlets who have been airing interviews with Saeed have been met with silence. I don’t demand from any person, church or institution that they agree with my concern. It is an expression of concern not a demand to agree.
- I do think it odd that not only have I heard nothing in reply from my attempted communication with Erick Stakelbeck with TBN, but even further to have my public questions on their public comments forums deleted without explanation, that is not the behavior of responsible reporting to the Lord’s church. I would further warn anyone watching TBN, and Erick Stakelbeck in particular, that honesty among the Lord’s people is a characteristic of God we embrace; at a minimum – give explanation for why you appear to not be interested in answering questions.
- I did get reply from Baptist Press after expressing my concern to them about articles they were publishing that were more quoting from Facebook posts and causing confusion for readers as to what is going on. It was a kind reply and I was thankful for the quick reply.
- I have had personal conversations with Intermountain Christian News. The conversation is ongoing.
I’m not concerned with secular media. They are not bound to responsibly report to the church. Their base is more secular, however, I have found their interviews to be more honest and even bold enough to ask questions regarding the public difficulties. One thing I have learned in my travels of life is that media is media. I will give a Christian media outlet the benefit of the doubt until they show themselves more interested in financial gain than responsibly reporting to Christians helpful information. (Christian media, if publishing a reworked report from the Associated Press is as good as you can do, please report nothing.)
To the reader, I have posted this letter to Saeed Abedini not to incite, accuse, or disparage. I want Saeed’s story told, but not while these unclear and unanswered questions linger. That is not my intent. I will tell of how the church in America came together to pray for Saeed and Naghmeh and their children during his days of imprisonment. I will tell of how my church prayed faithfully for the plight of suffering saints everywhere. This was an expression of joy in the Lord to be reminded that when a member of the body of Christ suffers, the body suffers. It was good to be faced with reality during these God ordained days that the hardship Saeed faced, and worse, is the normal experience of believers in many places around the world. And good to be reminded today that the suffering of this kind is a blessing when it is without cause. But when it is because of personal actions, it is wrong to interpret that as the same thing. It is of a different kind.
- Reader, I have made attempts to communicate with Saeed in private, all three attempts met with silence from February, March and April. It is not necessary or required that anyone I write must respond or agree with me. I’m accountable for my words and spirit of my correspondence. I’m willing to be judged by the reader and scrutinized about my intent, motive and spirit of communication.
- Reader, we’ve been conditioned by fear of men, in the name of love, to not hold fellow Christians accountable. We’re told it is unfair, unloving, and even rude to judge. Will we hear the mandate of an uninformed reader of Scripture force us to adopt a secular philosophy that loving someone means we don’t hold them accountable or discern how words and actions are not equal? We must be careful. We want others to be graceful to us, we too should speak with a graceful motive. I am willing to being scrutinized in the same manner. Where it is true, we have a history of being unfair, unloving and even rude, it should not be so when we do exercise discernment. For too long we’ve been told that boldness is rude. Let’s not let the fear of being labeled rude keep us from being bold, and let’s not let the duty of being bold give reason for rudeness.
- Reader, while doing so, we must use extreme caution. Does the bible instruct us in how to do this at all? It does. When we probe for clarity we give consideration. When we inquire with concern we should do so as gentle as a dove and with discernment of a serpent. We are not easily offended if the one we are speaking with does not see things as we perceive them – we give room that we may be wrong in our inquiry, and if we are we are quick to humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness.
- Reader, you need to work out in your mind how you will discern the matters and determine how you are going to speak about this when in conversation. We are better prepared to act Christ-like when we practice being Christ-like. Be careful, be extremely careful that we not misuse Scripture. It is equally true that you are an informed ambassador of Christ that you are able to discern when someone is using Scripture wrongly to make their point to defend their actions.
- Reader, I do not submit this letter to Saeed as example of how we should handle every situation that comes along. Not every situation requires an ‘open letter’. It is my practice that the overwhelming majority of my open letters are letters that express appreciation. The reason I submit an open letter of this magnitude is an expression of a reason that this should be done rarely.
- Reader, if public comments are made on this post, don’t feel the urge to defend the author of the letter. Really, exercise restraint and leave reply’s to the author. It helps the conversation remain civil if disagreement is present. It is my experience that when this begins to happen confusion follows quickly. I have thick skin and can endure harsh words spoken about me. I will give answer to any questions. I am willing to be corrected. I will only delete comments that have inappropriate links to other sites and will edit any comment using vulgar language.
The following is an attempt to gain clarity and attempting to act in a spirit of love for the gospel of the LORD Jesus Christ and a professing brother. This letter has been written, rewritten, slept over, deleted and written again. I submit it with an expectation to be judged in the same manner. Words are important, my words should be scrutinized for clarity and weighed against logic in the spirit of Christ, described by Scripture not secular philosophy.
It has been a pleasure over these past several years to pray and encourage others to pray for you to boldly speak the gospel. I will do it a hundred times, no a thousand times, again. And I continue to do so even now.
I get that your return to the US has been more difficult than anything you experienced in prison; it’s a different kind of difficult, I agree with you that it is more difficult. I get the pain you are experiencing. It is hard to do what you are doing especially when so few Christians in America understand it and don’t know how to navigate a re-entry to ‘normal’ life because many of us have forgotten that the normal Christian life includes suffering for the cause of the Gospel.
What I don’t get… and the reason I’ve attempted other private messages and some questions on your Facebook wall is why you are unwilling to give clarity of your church affiliation and clarity to your ordination as a pastor. There are some things that I request answers to understand where you’re coming from.
- Are you an Assembly of God pastor or a Calvary Chapel pastor? Where do you pastor, shepherd?
- Is your ordination from a church, denomination or an internet source unrelated to a local church? As a director of a not-for-profit, none denominational, Christian ministry who are you accountable to?
- It is reported that you spent many hours through many days watching movies on a phone while in prison; if so, how do you reconcile the reporting to the churches praying for you that you were spending your days in prayer, reading Scripture and witnessing to other inmates? (This is not to mean I don’t think the long days were difficult or that you didn’t pray, read the Bible, suffered beatings, and witness to others.)
- Is the public record of abuse in your true or false?
- When you talk about revival, what do you mean?
These are not questions of your integrity or validity of ministry. I don’t believe that one has to be a pastor to suffer for the work of Christ, I don’t think only ordained ministers are allowed to give testimony of the work of God, I’m not requiring that all ministers are without sin and hardship in marriages. These are questions that came to us, we didn’t go looking for these things about you, it is not out of order for discerning people to ask for answers. God’s people are full of grace and patient with each other, but we are not called to follow blindly.
The issue of your marriage is complicated for the public. The marriage of elders in the church is an illustration of the Gospel. Marriage preaches the Gospel every time that marriage is mentioned or considered. Marriage is used as a word picture of grace. It is a representation to everyone everywhere of our Redeemer. It is and may be far more important for the church in America to see you give attention to this than anything you can tell us about revival and those God ordained days of your suffering.
Where it may not be the ideal way you envisioned returning home, you and Naghmeh have made public comments about your marriage. Where it is not required of you to live under the scrutiny of others, you don’t get to choose what parts the public scrutinizes. If you serve as a pastor, you live as a pastor. Still, there are graceful boundaries we give; however, from what you and Naghmeh have publicly said, there are only a few possible true answers and only one certain truth.
One of three options
- you are telling the truth and Naghmeh is lying,
- you are lying and Naghmeh is telling the truth,
- you are both lying.
The only thing that is certain; it is not possible that both of you are telling the truth.
Every time you defend yourself by saying these things are “lies and false accusations”, as you are doing, you are publicly calling Naghmeh, your wife, a liar. This is a conclusion you may not be intending, I’m willing to be corrected.
You are a public figure to the American church. This being so, it is appropriate for your actions and words to be scrutinized. This is what it’s like to be a pastor. Words are weighed in the balance of logic.
Your words mean something. The words you are currently using are communicating that you are publicly being mistreated by some while you publicly call your wife a liar. You are not judging fairly yourself. You are making public judgment of your wife while not wanting to be held publicly accountable yourself.
This is not acceptable behavior of a man of God.
With respect, I do have a responsibility to the Lord’s people I pastor to give them shepherding direction as they navigate through the landscape of our day. It’s a beautiful thing to trust the Lord’s people to make biblical judgment with kindness and compassion. The Lord’s people are this way. We know the kind of grace it took to save us and we enjoy giving that kind of grace to others.
To your wife and children. You have a gospel mandated duty. The wife of your youth has a word for the church in America too, be reconciled, make amends, humble yourself, and go forth, together, with the gospel. The church wants to hear from both of you.
Please give consideration.
edited for spelling and grammar corrections