June 21, 2022 Wayne Northey

How Franklin Graham pushed a domestic abuse victim to return to her husband

He asked whether she was cheating on her husband. “It was a good question to ask,” Graham said. “I would’ve asked it again.”

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June 20, 2022

image above: Naghmeh Panahi is pictured outside of her house in Boise. (Kyle Green for The Washington Post)

WN: The story highlighted below is tragic: and so typical of churches and institutions privileging male domination. At the very end of the article, we read this:

“God cares about the one who’s being oppressed,” she said. “He didn’t come to save the institution of marriage.”

We also read:

“Back then, I probably would’ve said work it out in the church,” Naghmeh Panahi said. “Now I would say get somewhere safe. Write everything down and gather evidence. Don’t go through the church. Go to authorities.”

In light of the work Esther and I do with men and women impacted by abuse, in Mennonite Central Committee’s British Columbia’s. . .

End Abuse Programs, I can only add a resounding Amen!!!

Please see more on this website about Franklin Graham. It does not make for happy reading. . .

Please also see my. . .

If authors Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence are right that (white evangelical) American zealous nationalism is “the biblical and cultural counterpart of the Islamic term jihad”; if author Douglas Frank is right that (slightly changed) “In White American Evangelicals’ very protests of trust in the Lord, they find occasion for their deepest self-deceits.,” then perhaps those Regent profs, and a vast array of (white) North American evangelicals, in light of the book reviewed and the other two cited, should be enjoined to think again—just a little bit harder. Indeed, perhaps think again—for the very first time . . .

Which just might lead to Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. . .

For the PDF of the above review, click on: Jesus and John Wayne.

Please see as well:

We read in my commentary:

The U.S. has become increasingly unhinged–thanks in significant part to White Christian Nationalism. I have a close Canadian relative who tragically is in lockstep with such. His favourite website is Gab, about which you can read below. So distressing! He’s so far down the Rabid Hole, I can only pray that some day, as title of my post four years ago indicates, he can . . .

The adjacent book, Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States, is a good place to gain an understanding of this menacing phenomenon. Of it, we read:

Why do so many conservative Christians continue to support Donald Trump despite his many overt moral failings? Why do many Americans advocate so vehemently for xenophobic policies, such as a border wall with Mexico? Why do many Americans seem so unwilling to acknowledge the injustices that ethnic and racial minorities experience in the United States? Why do a sizeable proportion of Americans continue to oppose women’s equality in the workplace and in the home?

To answer these questions, Taking America Back for God points to the phenomenon of “Christian nationalism,” the belief that the United States is-and should be-a Christian nation. Christian ideals and symbols have long played an important role in American public life, but Christian nationalism is about far more than whether the phrase “under God” belongs in the pledge of allegiance. At its heart, Christian nationalism demands that we must preserve a particular kind of social order, an order in which everyone–Christians and non-Christians, native-born and immigrants, whites and minorities, men and women recognizes their “proper” place in society. The first comprehensive empirical analysis of Christian nationalism in the United States, Taking America Back for God, illustrates the influence of Christian nationalism on today’s most contentious social and political issues.

 

excerpts:

But the unlikely friendship between Graham and an Iranian immigrant came to an abrupt halt — and since last fall, on social media and at a handful of churches and conferences across the country, Panahi has been more widely sharing why. Her then-imprisoned husband, Saeed Abedini, had abused her physically and emotionally for most of their 13-year marriage, she said, and when Graham first heard, he called her in November 2015.

“Naghmeh, are you cheating on him?” he asked. Panahi replied strongly that she was not.

Graham, son of the evangelical titan Billy Graham, confirmed in a phone interview with The Post that he asked the question, saying he suspected an affair because Panahi had been advocating so fervently for her husband’s release only to “go cold on him.”

“It was a good question to ask,” Graham said, “and I would have asked it again.”

“God cares about the one who’s being oppressed,” she said. “He didn’t come to save the institution of marriage.”

In the weeks that followed that phone call, Panahi said, Graham kept pushing her to stop talking about the abuse and reunite with Abedini, whom a family court judge later called “a habitual perpetrator of domestic violence.” (In a 2020 interview, Abedini denied all abuse allegations. He did not respond to a recent request for comment.)

In May, at a conference on abuse in churches, Panahi shared her story about how Graham had treated her. Two days later, the Southern Baptist Convention released the results of a third-party investigation into a years-long coverup of sexual abuse. The shocking report reignited outrage over the mishandling of abuse claims by evangelical leaders that included the 2018 backlash to Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson’s attempt to persuade an abused woman to go back to her husband, fueling a #ChurchToo movement. (Patterson did not respond to a recent request for comment.)

Panahi’s experience with Graham offers another rare glimpse into how a towering figure in American religious life reacted to an abuse claim.

“Many women in America, and some men, are not in prison in Iran, but they’re in prison in the four walls of their own home,” Panahi said in an interview. “They’re not being believed by the church.”

Abedini continued in ministry and, shortly before he became a U.S. citizen, decided to go back to Iran to help set up an orphanage. In 2012, he was taken into custody by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and sentenced to eight years in prison for allegedly compromising Iran’s national security by leading illegal house churches.

Panahi said she threw herself into advocacy for her husband’s release despite his alleged abuse because of her evangelical commitment to religious freedom. Her beliefs also made it difficult at the time, she said, for her to see her marital experience as abuse.

“I would pray, ‘God, do you want me to submit [to my husband] more?’” Panahi said. “Jesus rescued me and showed me that’s not what he wants.”

By October 2015, Panahi stopped speaking to Abedini, she said, as she debated dropping a deal to write a memoir about her family’s ordeal.

The next month, during a visit to speak at a church in North Carolina, she confided in a pastor about her husband’s behavior, which had begun to gnaw at her. The pastor, who had educational training in psychology, told her she was being abused. On the flight home, Panahi wrote an email about her abuse to a few hundred supporters who were helping organize Abedini’s release efforts.

After she emailed her followers about her abuse, [Jay Sekulow, then her and Abedini’s attorney and later President Donald Trump’s] recommended she explain her allegations of abuse by suggesting she was under stress and on medication, she said. Sekulow denied having any conversations with Panahi about her husband’s abuse.

She disappeared from public life, paying her publisher nearly $80,000 to end her book deal.

“I would pray, ‘God, do you want me to submit [to my husband] more?’” Panahi said. “Jesus rescued me and showed me that’s not what he wants.”

Abedini, along with Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian and four other Americans, was released in a prisoner exchange in January 2016. He was given a hero’s welcome, meeting with Republican leaders Panahi had worked with, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). Panahi said Cruz never acknowledged her abuse allegations; a Cruz spokesman said his office was not “made aware of the details of Naghmeh’s marriage” before his advocacy.

Emails from Graham, meanwhile, show the allegations had not diminished his view of Abedini as “a hero” who “suffered greatly for his faith.”

“I’m not saying that Saeed is not guilty of abuse,” Graham wrote to Panahi on Jan. 23, 2016, the week after Abedini’s release. “I am sure he is guilty of much more. The problem is you exposed him publicly to the whole world and embarrassed him. You did this while he was still in prison, a place where he could not defend himself or to speak about these issues.”

He insisted the couple reunite at his retreat center outside Asheville, N.C. Panahi initially agreed, until she spoke with Graham’s sister, the prominent Bible teacher Anne Graham Lotz who said in 2020 she believed Panahi that she was being abused.

“I believe it was not a marriage-counseling situation, it’s not like you know ‘he leaves the top off the toothpaste,’” Lotz recounted. “I would not want them back together where he could hurt her or the children.” Lotz declined to comment on her brother’s response.

Within a week of the failed reunion, Panahi said, Graham flew Abedini to Boise on a private jet, a trip she learned about only that day when a reporter called her. She rushed to a courthouse and was granted a protection order. When Abedini arrived, she and her mother met him with the couple’s two children, who had not seen their father in three years.

In May, at a conference on abuse in churches, Panahi shared her story about how Graham had treated her. Two days later, the Southern Baptist Convention released the results of a third-party investigation into a years-long coverup of sexual abuse. The shocking report reignited outrage over the mishandling of abuse claims by evangelical leaders that included the 2018 backlash to Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson’s attempt to persuade an abused woman to go back to her husband, fueling a #ChurchToo movement.

According to the recording, Graham said the marriage could “be fixed easily,” and he seemed to dismiss the severity of her abuse. “I’m not here to defend him calling you bad names, yelling at you, whatever,” he said.

“Beating me,” Panahi interjected.

Graham told her that abuse is a “gray area,” that an abusive husband was someone who “comes home and he takes a six-pack of beer and he jumps off the chair because the kids are making noise and beats his wife and beats the kids and that’s something that goes on almost every day.”

And that was not her situation, Graham told her, because he felt an abusive husband was someone who “stomped” on his wife every night.

“I was beaten,” she replied.

Graham again urged her to speak with Abedini, complaining that they hadn’t met for lunch or dinner. But he dismissed the idea of abuse counselors. “You could get some godless psychiatrist,” he said.

That was the last time Panahi and Graham spoke.

“Back then, I probably would’ve said work it out in the church,” Panahi said. “Now I would say get somewhere safe. Write everything down and gather evidence. Don’t go through the church. Go to authorities.”

Boz Tchividjian — a grandson of the Rev. Billy Graham,1 a nephew of Franklin Graham and a lawyer who represents sex abuse survivors — said there is a pattern in parts of conservative evangelicalism that emphasizes the authority of men and fosters skepticism among leaders toward abuse allegations.2

“He had a loud megaphone, he spun a particular narrative,” Tchividjian said of his uncle. “Her voice is comparatively like a whisper. That adds to the trauma that someone like her and many other women struggle with.”

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Footnotes
  1. There is much about Billy in my novel, Chrysalis Crucible. That regarding Billy does not make for happy reading either.[]
  2. We read of the organization he founded to address sexual abuse:

    GRACE was founded in 2003 after a reporter called Boz Tchividjian about a case of sexual abuse mishandled by a pastor.[1] He became convinced that Evangelical institutions were not properly addressing incidents of sexual abuse, incidents that he believed would eventually lead to scandals similar to those that had damaged the Catholic Church. In Tchividjian’s view, the authoritarian culture of some Protestant organizations was particularly susceptible to what he called “spiritual abuse”—the attempt of religious leaders to silence victims or convince them that they deserved their abuse.[1] Tchividjian has stated that “When it comes to child sexual abuse, too many churches and Christian organizations prefer to sacrifice individuals in order to protect themselves. We end up living out the very antithesis of the Gospel that we preach. The consequences are devastating.”[2]

    Tchividjian first contacted Victor Vieth, who previously headed the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center, and Diane Langberg, a psychologist from Pennsylvania who specialized in trauma; these three invited a number of legal, therapeutic and clerical professionals to form a board that created GRACE,[1] an organization dedicated to educating churches and parachurch
    organizations about preventing, detecting, and dealing with sexual abuse.[1]

    The organization was officially founded in 2004 by Tchividjian in order to help churches to fight against sexual abuse in Christian organizations.[3]Wikipedia[]

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.

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