Listen to the Podcast:
Naghmeh Abedini Panahi continues her story. After she went public with her husband’s porn addiction, and physical, verbal, and emotional abuse, the Christian community blew up and turned against her. One nationally known leader of a large evangelical organization asked if she had been having an affair. Comments were made that Naghmeh had taken down the Christian community’s “hero.” Naghmeh’s story reveals that some put celebrity status – looking good – over holiness and truth.
This isn’t far from our church of today that may look good on the outside yet ignores the sexual sin it’s corrupt with.
This program is sponsored by Blazing Grace Ministries.
This radio program is PG13. Parents strongly cautioned – some material may be inappropriate for children under the age of 13.
Jesus’s mission was to comfort those who mourn, bind up the broken-hearted, proclaim liberty to captives, and open prison doors for those who are bound. For those who want more than status quo Christianity has to offer, Blazing Grace Radio begins now. And here is your host, Mike Genung.
MIKE GENUNG, HOST, BLAZING GRACE RADIO:
Hey, Mike Genung here. Welcome back to Blazing Grace Radio. Thank you for joining us.
This is our second week talking to Naghmeh Panahi. She made national news when she publicly advocated for the release of her then-husband, Saeed Abedini, who was in prison Iran for his Christian faith. And through Saeed’s imprisonment, Naghmeh was able to bring worldwide attention to the plight of persecuted Christians. And she was able to proclaim the Gospel to millions across the globe by speaking at human rights groups, major news outlets, the United Nations at Geneva, European Parliament Congress, and she had personal meetings with both Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump. When it came to light in 2015 that Naghmeh had been abused throughout her marriage by her husband, the Christian community suddenly turned on her.
And so we’re picking up this conversation from last week. And Naghmeh, welcome back to the program.
NAGHMEH ABEDINI PANAHI, GUEST:
So let’s pick your story up from where you left off.
Yeah, so I… through my advocacy for my husband, God was setting me free. He was building my confidence. And Saeed had gotten a phone, from inside of the prison… and, about a year before he got out, and he was calling me names, I didn’t know at that time why. Later I realized he’d seen my… that I was not the girl that I… that he had, I guess, was able to control. I was becoming more confident. I was becoming more outspoken. And he didn’t like that. And so, he was calling me all sorts of names like Jezebel like, “You’re not submitting to me fully anymore, you’re a Jezebel who wants to have pull over men,” and so… and I was very… and he would say that, because, you know how Israel, the Israelites disobeyed God, that was spiritual adultery, which was worse than human sexual adultery. He would say, “you are committing – because you’re not fully submitting to me – you’re committing spiritual adultery.” So he would call me a whore and just all sorts of names. And I couldn’t understand it why he was attacking me so much when I was trying so hard to get him out. So finally I broke down. I had a meltdown.
I told… I was invited to get a mega church in North Carolina whose pastor was Pastor… Doctor David Chadwick, and after the Sunday service, and after we had a prayer meeting for the person in the church, after that I… we were out in a restaurant and I finally told this pastor and his wife everything, including Saeed’s messages from prison. And this pastor looked at me and he said, “Naghmeh, you know that I’m not just a pastor. I have a doctorate degree in psychology,” and I was shocked that God would have me confess all of this to a pastor who was an expert in this. Just God’s perfect timing and provision. And so he said, from what I understand, he said, “I can’t wrap my mind around it because Saeed is my hero.” But he said, “you are an abused wife,”
And… the pastor was so confused. He just, he’s like, “I got radio tomorrow. I got stuff tomorrow. I’m just going to drop you off at your hotel – we’re going to drop you off at your hotel.” And, you know, “I have an early radio program,” and I had an early flight. So they dropped me off and I Googled abuse, and everything that Saeed had done with the isolation, with… even the silent treatment, with everything, the financial, the emotional, the physical, all of it. It was like someone had looked into my marriage and had written a book. So I was shocked that all the symptoms in my marriage, it was not just a hard marriage. It was actually… abuse. And that’s when I realized, like, “This is not something… that this is like cancer, this can’t be dressed with like Tylenol, this, this needs chemo. This is, like, serious stuff.” And that’s when I stopped all advocacy.
I actually wrote a letter to a group of supporters about what was going on, and it got leaked to media. And by the time I actually landed in Boise, all the media wanted to talk to me because it was leaked that I had written to supporters that Saeed was an abusive husband, and including porn addiction, all of that. So yeah, it became very… a frenzy, media frenzy, and the Christian world went after me. They said I had done it for the fame and the money, which is interesting because when I advocated for Saeed, I had no idea it was going to become such a big story. And, of course, my one of my first phone calls was with Franklin Graham, who… he actually recently confirmed it in a Washington Post report that he, as soon as I picked up the phone, he called, he said, “Are you cheating on Saeed?” Because that’s the only thing he could think of of why I was throwing Saeed under the bus. Although I didn’t ever want it, want this information about Saeed to come out publicly.
So, I just got attacked by everyone including big names, like Franklin Graham, calling me basically an adulterer and just questioning my motive of why I would even call Saeed an abuser. Because at that time Saeed has had become a Christian hero. So the trauma is just the trauma of having realized I had been in an 8 year abusive marriage and I’d known this man at that time for much longer than eight years. More than 10 years. And realizing that, in addition to the response of the Church of shutting me down, and all my followers, everyone, millions and millions of people who have supported me, either stayed silent, or they attacked me and called me all sorts of… questioned my motives of even advocating for Saeed or why I was coming out about the abuse. Basically saying I was cheating on my husband, that’s why I was coming out about the abuse. So that was also pretty devastating.
And this all blew up a year before he was released?
A few months. Which I didn’t know when he would be released. So a lot of people think Saeed got out of prison and then I came out with the information, which would make sense, even though it was like people trying to make up the story of he came out and then I said the information because I was with someone. That’s there in their mind, that’s their story. But no, this information came out a few months before Saeed got out of prison, which I actually didn’t expect Saeed to come out of prison a few months later.
But I have – I had stopped playing the game where… I realized the phone that Saeed had had inside the prison was highly… like even though it was a smuggled phone, it had internet. Like, the Iranian government was using it to get me all riled up. And they would, like, beat up Saeed and I would go to the media, “he got beaten up.” Because Saeed would then call me, “I do – I just came out of solitary consignment. They just hurt me,” and then I would go to the media. And then, in a way, Iran was upping the price for the… for their hostages, including my husband.
And, so, once I stopped playing that game, once I the abuse stuff came out, my really my connection with Saeed was completely cut, I was no longer going to media. I stopped all advocacy in the hopes that our family would come from that world of fame and we would just… hopefully, if we went back to normal. And it was, our family could heal, because a lot of Saeed’s insanity had come from him thinking he was so famous, he’d gotten way worse in prison, and he was all about fame and money now. And, so, I stopped all advocacy and shut everything down. And at that time, Barack Obama was President, and I was promised by Trump and Ben Carson and every… pretty much every candidate that was running for the GOP, I was promised, “If we become president…” like Ted Cruz, all of them told me, like, “we’ll get your husband out.”
So my thinking was end of 20- like end of 2016 – or actually 2017 – when the new president was sworn, it was when maybe Saeed would be released, because that had happened in the Iran hostage crisis in the 70s, is when a new President became… when there was a new President, that’s when they released the American hostages. So I thought he would be released a year later, but he was released a couple months after the abuse stuff came out… like 3 months later, yeah.
So you had intense years, long sexual abuse and physical abuse with your husband, and then you had this incredible weight of what I’m going to define as “spiritual abuse” from the Church community. And how… how did all that affect you?
I think it was like the Peter moment, like, “I’m done, but I can’t be done with Christ, because I have nowhere else to go.” I was saved out of Islam since I was 9 and even though God’s word was so twisted, abused me, by both my husband, and, as you said, by the Christian leaders, I knew I had nowhere else to go by Jesus. And so I clung to God, His word and God gave me Josiah 2:14-16 says, where he talks about setting Israel free, and through His word I discovered that abuse was not okay with him. Submitting to abuse or corruption was not okay with him. That, the putting institution of marriage over the well-being of a person, was not okay with God. That… you know, the same way the religious leaders of Christ’s time cared more about Sabbath than the person wasting away in Sabbath, the religious leaders of our time care more about keeping the marriage statistics thing. “We don’t have as much divorce,” than actually helping the woman and children that are wasting away. They’d rather not touch marriage where, or be part of having to fall away fall apart.
So, either they stayed away from trying to help me, or they forced – like Franklin Graham – tried to force my reconciliation. And so I reading through God the world, I realized that’s not who God is. God cares about my well-being. Not the physical, but when I was under so much abuse, like my mental, I was a dead person. I couldn’t even think for myself. I was… my body was going through a lot of trauma. I developed an autoimmune disease. I just… all this stuff. And through His word I realized that’s not who God is. What my husband has portrayed Him to be or what the church leaders have portrayed Him to be is not Christ himself, and actually my relationship with God grew closer and closer.
So it’s your perspective that what happened was the Christian community made Saeed out to be a hero, and then he got knocked off of that pedestal when the truth came out, and then people were taking that out on you?
Yeah, and you know, they still do that. I think… when, like, when I say about what Franklin Graham did to me, a lot of people get upset and the big thing is, well, “this person is a hero.
This person has done so much good for the Kingdom of God.” Well, people focus on the good and that they have done, but they don’t actually realize that the Bible… God doesn’t actually care about the great good we do. It’s obedience to His word, which is how we love others. How we love him and how we love others. So someone can do amazing good work for Christ but abuse his flock or abuse his wife. That, for God, that’s not the priority, is the great work.
But, yeah. The Christian community just attacked me because Saeed had become a hero in their eyes. And, you know, and I was told by Franklin Graham that if if this stuff about my marriage came out, that cause of Christ would be damaged. And that’s what everyone kept saying. If the secrets come out, then you’re damaging the cause of Christ, you’re embarrassing Christianity and all of that. So that’s was… that, that was a way that I was… I guess people try to silence me, saying, “You’re damaging the cause of Christ.”
Well, what we see is that 70 to 80% of Christian men are viewing pornography and involved in other forms of sexual sin, and abuse is a part of a lot of those marriages. And 1/3 of women are falling into the trap of porn, too. And –
– unfortunately, a lot of churches dodge these issues, which is keeping people in bondage and keeping people in marriages that are being destroyed. And so this is… what you’re talking about, is a wide-ranging problem. That we hide. We pretend that we got it all together, and we don’t.
Yeah, the Church is very sick. Because we’ve had a structure of celebrity pastors and preachers with little… shepherding of the flock. Because we’ve become so big, wolves come in. We’ve moved, the Church moved from the house church structure where everyone knew each other and you can catch someone’s bad behavior, to big buildings where all sorts of people walk in and abuse the flock, and it’s become an epidemic of abuse. It’s like you said, it’s not… it’s not just clergy abusing the flock, sexually and other ways, but also majority of the Church having porn addictions.
It’s we’re… we’re at a church age where the Church is so sick, and so… I would say bedridden. We’ve lost our effectiveness in society. We’re very sick. And that grieves my heart. That breaks my heart because I am – I have been and I still am – I still work with the underground church in Iran and Afghanistan and… and they are how – it’s looking at that and how the Church in Iran is in one of the darkest places in the world. And then looking at that American Church, how we’re strangled up with so much pornography and abuse and it… it really breaks my heart. And I think it’s time for reformation, for change in the way we’ve been doing church.
Well, as you’ve been speaking, Ravi Zacharias comes to mind, where it came out right after his death, where he was manipulating women into giving him massages and even having sex with him. And this was really close to the time he died, this was going on. And then first people getting mad and saying, “why is this coming out now?” But then as more, as the evidence came out, I mean, the guy had more brain power on his pinky than most of us have in our whole body, but it is not about the theology or the doctrine. It’s about, “where’s your heart?”
Exactly. I know I met Lori Ann Thompson, which was the first woman that came out actually, before Robbie died, and he shut her down. He had her sign an NDA. She became very suicidal, the way he shut her down, and tried to prevent her from speaking out, the way he went after her family. And then when he died, I guess some of these women watched his funeral, that he had been sexually abusing, and realized there was another woman named Lori Anne Thompson had come out about it, and they started coming out about it and they realized it was an epidemic. But when he was alive, Robbie was able to silence this victim, and the whole Christian community turned on her. And again, why? Because Robbie did some quote and unquote “amazing work for Christ”.
But he was abusing the flock. But, you know, that people don’t care about that. I think our focus has been so much on you know, Robbie has done so much work for God, and Franklin Graham, and we focus on the great work which God is actually doesn’t. In the last, these men will say to Jesus, like I did these miracles in your name, I did prophesize prophesied me in your name.
I cast out demons like and Jesus says, “Get away from me. I never knew you.”
It’s not about those great work that is, we’re so focused on, it’s about obedience to God’s word. And as you said, it’s how are we treating the flock? How are we loving each other? And if that’s not there, then you don’t… “Get away from me. If you you are abusing my sheep, I don’t care how theologically amazing you are, and you’re able to like, talk to Imola or whoever like that means nothing to me. You’re abusing my sheep. You’re using your position of power to abuse my sheep.”
And, so, but we – I think as the Church we’re so used to celebrity pastors, and so used to focusing on great work that, you know, we attack the victim because we don’t want the work to be… you know, damaged because the victims coming out. We were trying to protect an institution with… whether it was the Robbie Zacharias institution, whether it’s the Billy Graham institution, whether it’s the Church institution. We care more of – whether it’s the marriage institution – we care more about saving the institution that seems to be doing some good than actually saving the person that’s wasting away in it.
Well, in First Corinthians 5, first two verses, Paul basically rips the Corinthian church over the sexual sin of one man. And then he says the reason that you don’t do this is because you’re arrogant and you don’t mourn. And I mean, do we really sob over sin anymore? But how can you sob over sin when you won’t even touch it?
Mmm. Exactly. I don’t think we sob over sin anymore. We’ve minimized even porn addiction. Jesus said – I was reading in my devotional space – if your eyes cause sin, gouge it out. Like, God is very serious about even… like, pornography, watching something, and he says take drastic steps. But we don’t really grieve over that. We don’t grieve, because I think we’ve lost sight of the holiness of God. We’re just living. We’re playing Christianity without understanding what a mighty holy God we serve.
Well, and part of what WE do is we have a… as big as an emphasis on helping the wife heal as we do the husband recover. And the wives get left out of this equation a lot, even when the porn epidemic in the Church is mentioned. And the wife is, as you’ve experienced, her heart is shredded, torn apart, it’s very traumatic. And then, I mean, for your husband – or ex-husband – to say it was Godly to watch porn, I mean that’s… a combination of sexual and spiritual abuse right there.
So speak to the wife who is hurting right now.
[sighs] Yeah, for me, the healing came from… I think Josiah 2:14-16 was really big. Where God has, like, called you into the wilderness. There’s a time where you’re you set free from a bondage, whether you stay in the marriage or not, you’re shattered. And the marriage, as you’ve known it, has been shattered. And you are walking into an unknown wilderness that you don’t know where you’re going to get your water, your food, your protection, anything from. But God is calling you to that wilderness, because he wants to be your everything.
And for me, that’s what it was. He became my husband, He became my provider. He became my everything, emotional provider, helping me raise the kids. But I clung to God and I just, my message is “God will not abandon you.” God sees. He’s on your side. And it might seem like the wilderness, but in the wilderness is when you’re going to discover an intimacy with God that is going to carry you through to the Promised Land. So… just keep going. You’re going to have to depend on Him for food, and water, and protection, and guidance, and fire, and cloud, and where to go, the next step, how long to stay, when to move. But He’s – He wants you in that place where He is you’re everything, and He’s the one that’s guiding your life. And He will make something beautiful out of it.
Whether you stay in the marriage or not, that’s, you know, God will guide you of steps that are – that you will take. But I think my message is this “cling to Jesus.” He will get you through. He will bring you out whole. He is our healing. He is our law. And that was, that was my… that’s what when I felt lost and my marriage was falling apart. The marriage, I tried so hard to please, I sought to get my husband out of prison, thinking it’s going to heal our marriage, he’s going to appreciate me. And when it fell to pieces and my husband divorced me and moved on with another woman, I was shattered, because… but through Christ, He’s made me whole. He restored things in my life that I would have never imagined.
Naghmeh, I really appreciate your honesty and all that you’ve shared, and we got a minute left. Anything you want to say?
I guess. How… I don’t know. I don’t think… I think the wilderness is just… and clinging to Jesus. We have Him, no one else does. I minister to Muslim women and they don’t have that relationship. We have it, but sometimes we forget we have that relationship, and we don’t go to God in prayer. We don’t cling to His word. We don’t cling to Him. And I just, my encouragement is we have that we have the King of Kings, President of all Presidents, that we can access anytime we want to. And my encouragement is to do that, for us to spend more time accessing, and just focusing on that relationship that is… that will restore.
Mmm. I want to thank you for coming on board with us and sharing your story. And I just want to encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing, because the truth does need to come out. So…
Amen! And thank you for what you’re doing. God bless.
Thanks! And thank you for joining us. And we’ll talk to you next time.
Blazing Grace is a nonprofit international ministry for the sexually broken and the spouse. Please visit us at blazinggrace.org for information on Mike Genung’s books, groups, counseling, or to have Mike speak at your organization. You can e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our office in Chandler, AZ at (719) 888-5144. Again, visit us at blazinggrace.org, e-mail us at email@example.com, or call the office at (719) 888-5144.
This program was sponsored by Blazing Grace Ministries.