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.)
- And as I noted on Tuesday, surveys show that couples who describe their marriage as “egalitarian” are more likely to classify it as a happy one than those who describe their marriage as “traditional.” In some cases, the differences are significant. (Dennis J. Preato presented a paper summarizing several of these studies at the 2004 Evangelical Theological Society Meeting, which you can read here.)
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:
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.
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.
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.
If your marriage is emotionally destructive and you need “to establish boundaries as you work toward healing,” here are some resources:
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
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.
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
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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