Tag Archives: God

The Courageous and Wise Naghmeh Abedini

Abedini_Statesman_Jones

“I have come that they may have life and that they may have it more abundantly.” – Jesus

Emotional abuse systematically degrades, diminishes, and can eventually destroy the personhood of the abused.  Most people describe emotional abuse as being far more painful and traumatic than physical abuse.  One only has to read reports of prisoners of war to begin to understand the traumatic effects of psychological warfare using emotionally abusive tactics–and this is when the behavior is perpetrated by one’s enemy.  When the abusive behavior is perpetrated by someone who promises to love and cherish you, it is even more devastating and destructive.

Leslie Vernick, “The Emotionally Destructive Marriage”

Naghmeh Abedini, wife of Saeed Abedini, campaigned vigorously for three and a half years for the release of her husband from an Iranian prison.  She has always displayed tremendous grace and a brave, beautiful spirit.  Saeed’s imprisonment was unjust, cruel and horrifying, and thousands were praying and advocating for him.  Iran finally released Saeed on January 16th and early this week he was back home in Idaho and has been reunited with his parents and children.

But not Naghmeh.

In November, Naghmeh wrote a personal email to prayer partners explaining that she would be halting her advocacy of Saeed on grounds of emotional and sexual abuse and his addiction to pornography.  Her confidential message was leaked to the press and suddenly their marriage has been put under the glare of public scrutiny.  I have been following this story all along and have seen support and love expressed to Naghmeh on her personal Facebook page, and also disgusting, cruel comments on articles from unsympathetic Christians who are disappointed that Saeed’s reputation has been tarnished.  Even ugly speculations that she has fabricated this story so that she could move on to another romantic relationship.

I am so proud of Naghmeh.

It is not easy for a victim of abuse to speak up.  I can only imagine that she has brought her abuse to the attention of others from time to time over the years only to receive minimal or no help.  She was not trying to “out” Saeed as an abuser.  She was desperate for relief from the emotional torture.

Sadly, much of Christendom continues to operate under the oppressive system of patriarchy.  Men are given privilege and women are subjugated and the conditions become ripe for abuse.  Yesterday, Wheaton College professor Michael Mangis said, “I have stated publicly and in my classes that white patriarchy reigns virtually unchallenged in cultural evangelicalism….Patriarchy has evolved to maintain and protect the illusion, for men, that we are entitled to be obeyed and served.”

In Rachel Held Evan’s post, “Is patriarchy really God’s dream for the world?”, she says,

If scripture is not enough to convince you that patriarchy is a result of sin, you need only look at the world to observe its effects.

  • Worldwide, women ages fifteen to forty-four are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined.
  • Every 9 seconds, a woman  in the US is assaulted or beaten. Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime. I wish I could say that all complementarians categorically condemn female submission to male violence, but John Piper has said that, in order to model godly submission, a woman may need to quietly “endure verbal abuse for a season” or “getting smacked one night” before “seeking help from the church.” (He says nothing about contacting authorities). Similarly, in Created to Be His Help Meet, Debi Pearl advises a woman whose husband pulled a knife on her to “stop complaining” and focus instead on not “provoking” her husband’s anger. This is destructive advice and reveals something of an assumption that the preservation of male hierarchy is more important than preservation of a woman’s dignity.
  •  At least 3 million women and girls are enslaved in the sex trade.
  • Study after study shows that societies characterized by the subjugation of women are more violent, more impoverished, and more unjust than societies that empower women.  In their excellent book Half the Sky, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn argue that “in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality in the developing world.”  Empowering women increases economic productivity, reduces infant mortality, contributes to overall improved health and nutrition, and increases the chances of education for the next generation. Several studies from UNICEF suggest that when women are given control over the family spending, more of the money gets devoted to education, medical care, and small business endeavors than when men control the purse strings. Similarly, when women vote and hold political office, public spending on health increases and child mortality rate declines. Many counterterrorist strategists see women’s empowerment as key to quelling violence and oppression in the Middle East, and women entering the workforce in East Asia generated economic booms in Malaysia, Thailand, and China. (You can find all of these studies cited and analyzed in Half the Sky, which I highly recommend.)

There are women in your church who are victims of domestic violence.  If your church doesn’t talk about domestic violence, it is probably even more prevalent.  Is your church a safe place where victims are heard, violence is condemned, and brothers and sisters in Christ are encouraged to love and submit to each other mutually?  Would Naghmeh receive support or shame if Saeed’s abuse came to light in your faith community?

Are you being abused by your partner?  You are worthy of safety and sanity.  Please look to Naghmeh’s courage and follow her example of seeking the help that you need.  It is not on you to protect your abusive spouse from the consequences of his sin.  It is not on you to hold a marriage together that has already been broken by abuse.

Yesterday, Naghmeh released this statement that is both gracious and honest:

Dearest Friends,

Saeed landed in Boise yesterday and had a wonderful reunion with the children. They will be spending more and more time together in the coming days. I am so happy for this long waited reunion and for the joy that I see in my children and in Saeed. Nothing can make me happier than seeing those whom I love be happy and free from the pain that they had been under for the last 3.5 years.

I am so thankful for the thousands of people who have responded to my pleas… and helped work toward Saeed’s release. His imprisonment was unjust, and was an extremely difficult ordeal for him and all of us who sought for his release. I worked tirelessly night and day toward that end for three-and-a-half years. Nothing has made me happier than seeing Saeed freed from his chains and in American soil. Thank you for all of you who stood with us and made this happen.

Tragically, the opposite has occurred. Three months ago Saeed told me things he demanded I must do to promote him in the eyes of the public that I simply could not do any longer. He threatened that if I did not the results would be the end of our marriage and the resulting pain this would bring to our children.

I long more than anyone for reconciliation for our family and to be united as a family. Since Saeed’s freedom I have wanted nothing more than to run to him and welcome him home It is something I dreamed about the last 3.5 years. But unfortunately things did not work out that way and our family has to work through reconciliation. I want our reconciliation to be strictly based on God’s Word. I want us to go through counseling, which must first deal with the abuse. Then we can deal with the changes my husband and I must both make moving forward in the process of healing our marriage.

In very difficult situations sometimes you have to establish boundaries while you work toward healing. I have taken temporary legal action to make sure our children will stay in Idaho until this situation has been resolved. I love my husband, but as some might understand, there are times when love must stop enabling something that has become a growing cancer. We cannot go on the way it has been. I hope and pray our marriage can be healed. I believe in a God who freed Saeed from the worst prisons can hear our plea and bring spiritual freedom.

I love you all. God will see us through. Thank you for your prayers and support. We need them more than ever.

Love

Naghmeh

Please pray for Naghmeh as she walks this difficult path to healing and freedom.  Jesus came that we might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).  As Saeed has broken free from the chains of an Iranian prison cell, may Naghmeh break free from the chains of emotional abuse and move forward into living an abundant life with Christ.

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If your marriage is emotionally destructive and you need “to establish boundaries as you work toward healing,” here are some resources:

Immediate Help:
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233.  Crisis help or to develop a safety plan.
Family Renewal Shelter: 1-253-475-9010 (24-hour crisis line) or 1-888-550-3915 (toll free).  A Christian resource for crisis help and assistance developing a safety plan.
American Association of Christian Counselors

Support Resources:
Document the Abuse: Assists women who fear for their safety in developing an Evidentiary Abuse Affidavit.
Women’s Law: Provides state-specific legal information and resources.
VINE (Victim Information and Notification Everyday): Allows crime victims to obtain timely and reliable information about criminal cases and the custody status of offenders.
Lighthouse Network: 1-877-562-2565.  Assists individuals and their loved ones in finding effective treatment for drug, alcohol, psychological or emotional struggles, 24/7.

Books:
The Emotionally Destructive Marriage: How to Find Your Voice and Reclaim Your Hope – Leslie Vernick
Why Does He Do That?  Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men – Lundy Bancroft

Other:
The Emotionally Destructive Marriage:  Free resource page
Self Centered Spouse:  Series of blogs by Brad Hambrick
A Cry for Justice: A blog addressing the needs of the evangelical church to recognize and validate the reality of abuse in the Christian home.
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The Ragamuffin Gospel: Chapter 1 – Something is Radically Wrong

As I promised on our Facebook page, we will blog ragamuffin gospelalong with our small group discussions of Brennan Manning’s book, “The Ragamuffin Gospel,” Amazon’s number one best-seller under the category of Christian Discipleship.  Now is the perfect time to pick up a copy – it is on sale!  Last April, I blogged about listening to Brennan Manning’s sermons during Lent and how I was impacted by his message of God’s unconditional love.  You can read that post here.  Our group is meeting the first and third Fridays of the month, slowly discussing “The Ragamuffin Gospel” chapter by chapter.  So April 3rd we talked about chapter 1, “Something is Radically Wrong.”

This chapter in a nutshell is talking about American Christianity’s tendency to talk grace but walk works.  We preach a Gospel of grace – “the total sufficiency of the redeeming work of Jesus Christ on Calvary” (pg. 15) – but our lives tell a different story.  We have “twisted the gospel of grace into religious bondage and distorted the image of God into an eternal, small-minded bookkeeper” (pg. 16).  We are all striving, striving, striving for approval from God and from our faith communities, emphasizing personal effort over grace.  There are different classes of Christians, where some are given special status because of their works and charisma while others are ignored altogether for their ordinariness.  We hide our darker side from each other and live in a constant state of “existential guilt…[and] Sooner or later we are confronted with the painful truth of our inadequacy and insufficiency.  Our security is shattered and our bootstraps are cut” (pg. 17).

GUILTragamuffin guilt 1

This was the word that we danced around the most in our conversation, and I have been keenly aware of its presence in conversations with others over the past week.  Guilt is a huge issue for men and women alike, but from a woman’s perspective, I see how guilt has become a perpetual state of being for many of us.  Yet our feeling of guilt–that we are not doing enough as Christians, as parents, as spouses, as family members, as employees, as citizens of the world–is a blatant rejection of the gospel of grace.  The solution is to admit our “shadow side” and accept that there is nothing we can earn by works.  All is a gift.  We must find our identity in our acceptance and love from God and not in how we perform.  Manning expresses this beautifully in this quote from page 25:

When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes.  I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty.  I am trusting and suspicious.  I am honest and I still play games.  Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.

To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark.  In admitting my shadow side, I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.  As Thomas Merton put it, “A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.”

The gospel of grace nullifies our adulation of televangelists, charismatic superstars, and local church heroes.  It obliterates the two-class citizenship theory operative in many American churches.  For grace proclaims the awesome truth that all is gift.  All that is good is ours, not by right, but by the sheer bounty of a gracious God.  While there is much we may have earned–our degree, our salary, our home and garden, a Miller Lite, and a good night’s sleep–all this is possible only because we have been given so much: life itself, eyes to see and hands to touch, a mind to shape ideas, and a heart to beat with love.  We have been given God in our souls and Christ in our flesh.  We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt.  This and so much more is sheer gift; it is not reward for our faithfulness, our generous disposition, or our heroic life of prayer.  Even our fidelity is a gift.  “If we but turn to God,” said St. Augustine, “that itself is a gift of God.”  My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.

ragamuffin guilt 2

Let me leave this post with a few more quotes:

“Justification by grace through faith” is the theologian’s learned phrase for what Chesterton once called “the furious love of God.”  He is not moody or capricious; He knows no seasons of change.  He has a single relentless stance toward us: He loves us.  He is the only God man has ever heard of who loves sinners.  False gods–the gods of human manufacturing–despise sinners, but the Father of Jesus loves all, no matter what they do” (pg. 20).

The kingdom is not an exclusive, well-trimmed suburb with snobbish rules about who can live there.  No, it is for a larger, homelier, less self-conscious caste of people who understand they are sinners because they have experienced the yaw and pitch of moral struggle (pg. 23).

As a sinner who has been redeemed, I can acknowledge that I am often unloving, irritable, angry, and resentful with those closest to me.  When I go to church I can leave my white hat at home and admit I have failed.  God not only loves me as I am, but also knows me as I am.  Because of this I don’t need to apply spiritual cosmetics to make myself presentable to Him.  I can accept ownership of my poverty and powerlessness and neediness (pg. 23).

Never confuse your perception of yourself with the mystery that you really are accepted (pg. 28).

Often I have been asked, “Brennan, how is it possible that you became an alcoholic after you got saved?”  It is possible because I got battered and bruised by loneliness and failure; because I got discouraged, uncertain, guilt-ridden, and took my eyes off Jesus.  Because the Christ-encounter did not transfigure me into an angel.  Because  justification by grace through faith means I have been set in right relationship with God, not made the equivalent of a patient etherized on a table” (pgs. 30-31).

Book Review: A God I’d Like to Meet by Bob Edwards

I am excited to share a review of Bob Edward’s book, A God I’d Like to Meet, especially today as Amazon has dropped it’s Kindle price to $1.99 for the week.  You only have a few days to take advantage of this deal, and I HIGHLY recommend that you purchase this one!  Also, check out Edwards’ amazing blogs, God is Love, and Biblical Equality for Women and Men in the Christian Faith.  I first found Edwards through his blogs, and have been truly blessed by his knowledge and scholarly writing on the roots of Christian patriarchy and complementarianism (the ideology that God has ordained male-dominated authority over the Church and Christian homes).

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THIS WEEK ONLY!

Let me share the “About” blurb from one of his blogs:

Bob Edwards lives with his wife and two children in Ontario, Canada. He holds degrees in Religious Education, Social Development Studies and Social Work. In 2013, he received the Delta Epsilon Chi award for intellectual achievement, Christian character and leadership ability, from the Association for Biblical Higher Education. Bob has been a Social Worker since 1996, providing psychotherapy in a variety of settings. He was the Director of Counseling Studies at a multi-denominational Bible College, teaching courses in Psychology, Sociology and Counseling. His hope is to share a vision of God’s impartial love towards women and men everywhere.

Bob is also the author of the best-selling book entitled, “Let My People Go: A Call to End the Oppression of Women in the Church, Revised and Expanded.”

“A God I’d Like to Meet” is an example of what Edwards does best: a scholarly dissection of Calvinist theology, demonstrating its roots in Plato’s philosophy, and the damaging effects that have resulted from reading the Bible from a worldly perspective.

Here is the description of the book from the dust jacket:

Throughout history, prominent theologians and church leaders have made sense of the Bible through the interpretive lenses of ancient Greek philosophy.

As a result, our traditional beliefs often portray God as an all-controlling deity that frowns on emotion and subjects women to male authority.

Throughout this book, the author explores the origins of these theological traditions, and seeks to restore a vision of God as depicted in the New Testament — a vision of God as love.

Calvinism is a prominent strain of Evangelical Christianity today, as noted in this New York Times article from January of this year. Notable Calvinists include Mark Driscoll, John Piper, and Tim Keller.  Calvin’s “Institutes” was required reading in my seminary Intro to Theology class.  Edwards’ insights were very eye-opening to me personally.  In answer to the question, What is Calvinism? Edwards writes,

Simply put, it is an interpretive framework that tells people what to look for in the Bible, where to look, and how they should make sense of what they find.  This interpretive framework consists of what Calvin referred to as “the principal matters” of “Christian philosophy” (p. 16)

A valuable aspect of Edwards’ writing is his background as a counselor.  He explains many psychological processes that impact the lens through which people understand their world.  In Chapter 1: Bad Religion, Bob says,

I’ve been a Social Worker and Psychotherapist for nearly twenty years now.  During this time, I’ve provided individual, family and group counseling to thousands of people.  Many of them have told me that they have difficulty believing in God.  Most of them have experienced horrific forms of abuse: physical, sexual, psychological, emotional and spiritual.  Many of them were told, at one time or another–often by well-meaning Christians–that the terrible things done to them or to their loved ones were either allowed or caused by the “Sovereign Will of God” (p. 6).

Edwards wraps up chapter one, where he has described how Christians have explained the problem of pain, with this paragraph:

We now have a picture of a God that is allegedly in control of everything, causes evil to befall humans because they (in their vileness) deserve it, or because we are expendable in the accomplishment of “the greater good.”  Of his servants, this God requires the death of self, and the rejection of what it means to be human.  In particular, human beings must apparently deny that they are sexual.  Historically this has led male leaders in the church to project blame for their vilified sexuality onto women.  This projection has led to the subjection of all women to male control.  I submit that this is a portrait of a God who is controlling, abusive, unethical, unloving and sexist.  Simply put, in the minds of many, this is not a God they would like to meet (p. 10).

This book is not a long, cumbersome read.  I couldn’t put it down once I started, and finished the book in two hours.  He explains how, in setting up “the principal matters of Christian philosophy” as an interpretive lens for the Bible, Calvin was facilitating “top-down processing,” and how “Rather than seeing new information objectively, human beings are strongly inclined to perceive and interpret the world around them in ways that confirm what they already believe” (a “psychological phenomenon known as ‘belief perseverance'”, p. 18).  A very brief explanation of the lens through which Calvin made sense of the Bible is through his high opinion of St. Augustine, who made sense of the Bible through his reading of the Greek philosopher, Plato.  in his 8th book of Confessions, Augustine wrote:

Simplicianus congratulated me that I had not fallen upon the writings of other philosophers, which were full of fallacies and deceit, “after the beggarly elements of this world,” whereas in the Platonists, at every turn, the pathway led to belief in God and his Word” (p. 21).

The rest of the book unpacks how this Platonic philosophy impacted St. Augustine’s and Calvin’s interpretation of Scripture, and thus how Calvinism “impacts the way some Christian leaders today understand, preach and practice Christianity” (p. 24).  Specifically, how Calvinism makes God responsible for evil (chapter 3), how Calvinism confuses emotion with sin (chapter 4), and how Calvinism leads to the subjugation of women (chapter 5).

Edwards leaves off with the redeeming message that “the distorting lens of Platonic philosophy can be removed from our perception of God.  When we remove this lens, I believe that we have an opportunity to see God in the way the biblical authors intended.  We are able to perceive that God is love” (p. 98).

If you are an Evangelical Christian, there is a good probability that you have come across Calvinist theology at some point, if not regularly in your faith community.  I emphatically encourage you to pick up this book for the low price of $1.99 and consider the implications of Edwards’ research into the roots of Calvinism.


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