January 19, 2021

Memes won’t do

Saeed Abedini

See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

• Matthew 10:16

• • •

Christians are naive, maybe hopelessly naive. Failing to heed Jesus’ counsel to be wise as they traverse the minefields of the world, we end up playing and looking the fool time and time again. In an age of social media and other dis-localized forms of communication and advocacy for various causes, the dangers are only multiplied.

It remains to be seen to what extent the following story will provide yet another cautionary tale, but at first glance it certainly should remind us that life is more complex than headlines and memes.

Since September 2012, American citizen and Christian pastor Saeed Abedini has been imprisoned in Iran. For the past three years his wife Naghmeh has advocated for his release and many Christians around the world have taken up the cause, using the internet as a primary forum for keeping his case visible.

Now Naghmeh Abedini says she’s done.

Bob Smietana at Christianity Today reports:

In two emails to supporters, Abedini revealed details of her troubled marriage to Saeed Abedini, an American citizen and pastor imprisoned in Iran since September 2012.

Those troubles include “physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse (through Saeed’s addiction to pornography),” she wrote. The abuse started early in their marriage and has worsened during Saeed’s imprisonment, she said. The two are able to speak by phone and Skype.

Touring the country to advocate for Saeed’s release while coping with marital conflict proved too much, she wrote. She told supporters she’s withdrawing from public life for a time of prayer and rest.

“It is very serious stuff and I cannot live a lie anymore,” she wrote. “So, I have decided to take a break from everything and seek the Lord on how to move forward.”

She cancelled plans to speak at a recent religious liberty conference in Iowa and at the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Nashville next spring. Abedini also plans to stay off social media for several months.

In an ironic turn of events, she now is asking that people will give her and her family privacy.


Life is always more complicated than we imagine, isn’t it?

These revelations don’t change the fact that Saeed’s arrest and detainment in Iran should be protested and his release still sought.

But it does burst the mantle of righteousness and saintliness that Christians have tried to foist upon someone they know very little about. And it complicates the narrative of “persecution” many try to maintain.

Pastor Saeed may well be a victim of injustice. But, surprise! he is apparently no super-hero.

Whatever all the facts are, and you can be sure there is an entire galaxy of facts that few if any of us know, this story should cause us all to remember that knowing and being known is a face-to-face process. It’s time for Christians to stop being so damn gullible and to accept the fact that there are no easy issues, no easy answers for complex matters.

Your little memes and Facebook quotes don’t cut it.


  1. Step away from “social media” as a source of information and recognize it for what it is: fantasy and entertainment. Even THIS site should be viewed with caution, as sincere and authentic as it may be. Beware when an issue is spread from mouth to mouth and becomes mainstream. That “everyone knows” almost insures that it is NOT true.

    And never lose sleep over what you see on your computer screen.

    • well, people have trusted some of the Christian blogs where the plight of this man and this family were originally written about . . . and therein may lie the problem of our ‘assuming’ the original story was properly ‘vetted’ . . .

      I’m waking up to more stories about ‘revelations’ in the news coming from Ben Carson . . . strange and unusual stories he is openly talking about, and when pushed for ‘sources’, he smiles and says ‘my advisors’ or ‘private sources’ . . .
      now HE is being accepted as a ‘truth-teller’ by the conservative Christian far-right, and any ‘attack’ on his veracity is supposed to be coming from those of us who are persecuting Christians OR worse, that those who even question him are conducting a ‘witch hunt’

      how gullible are people? do we NEED to be gullible? ’cause goodness knows, with an election coming and control of our nation’s military resources in question, we stand to lose everything if we elect someone who is bat-sh** crazy . . .

      I think there are still enough people in this country with some common sense to sort out the crazies before they get near control of our nuclear weapons . . . I’m counting on our ability as an American people to use discretion, so I hope all the candidates keep ‘talkin . . . yes, keep talking, Ben Carson, keep talking, the more unusual stories the better we should know who you are so we can figure out what you would do with the great office of POTUS

      • Christiane,

        You have taken more than one opportunity to take pot shots at Ben Carson for not telling the truth. Carson’s statements are certainly fair game. But it does seem a little hypocritical as you are (or at least you were) a supporter of Hillary Clinton.

        • Klasie Kraalogies says

          Well, the general evangelical public are not likely to be mindlessly enamored of Hillary bevause of her faith narrative? Christiane’s comments are quite topical…

          • And Jon’s critique is valid, too. Christiane, who’s voice and opinion I respect here, is a Christian aligning herself with someone as untruthful as the person she criticizes. It’s the hypocrisy of politics.

          • Klasie Kraalogies says

            But is she aligning herself with Hillary? Does criticizing Carson automatically place her in the Hillary box? Are those the only options?

            And is this type of thinking not exactly the problem this post is about – simplistic thinking?

          • I could be wrong, but I believe she has.

          • Actually, as I think about it, I believe she’s aligning more with Bernie Sanders these days. Apologies, Christiane. I assume Bernie has his own skeletons, though.

          • Yes you are right Klasie, but the problem of being naive or mindlessly believing questionable stories applies to more than just the general evangelical population. It can also apply to the mainline, to Catholics, to Orthodox, or to quite frankly any segment of the human population. It typically happens when the person telling the questionable story is on “our side”, whatever that side is. As Mike was speaking about the naivety of Christians, I assume mainlines and other branches are fair game as well.

      • Christiane, take great care on where you get your info. If it is the internet, well then, it needs to be taken with LESS thn a grain of salt.

        Have you heard the latest about Hillary saying that she tried enlisting in the Marines? https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2015/11/12/hillary-clintons-claim-that-she-tried-to-join-the-marines/ The only person that could confirm this scenario is now deceased. How is this any different than Carson’s stories (excepting the ludicrous pyramid theory)?

        A person will often overlook the flaws of the favored while attacking the sane flaws in one who is NOT favored.

      • Well said, Christiane.

    • “Life is always more complicated than we imagine, isn’t it?”

      Indeed it is; “attack” posts from allegedly Christian blogs [ not particularly thinking about I-monk ] should be evaluated very carefully. There is a full story, but actually only GOD truly knows what it is.
      I am, however, frequently amazed at commenters who seemingly have no self-awareness that they are themselves, profoundly bent by sin.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Step away from “social media” as a source of information and recognize it for what it is: fantasy and entertainment.

      Tell that to all the Smartphone Zombies I have to dodge every day — shuffling and/or standing on the station platforms, cars on the freeways and streets driven by screens, eating lunch in the break room without taking eyes off their screen, never ever lifting their eyes from the screen, thumbs moving as they text text text text text text text text. Each and every one pinched off behind their personal Event Horizon containing just the Meat and the Screen; nothing can possibly exist outside of Social Media (text text text text SELFIE text text text text SELFIE text text text text text…)

  2. Whatever all the facts are, and you can be sure there is an entire galaxy of facts that few if any of us know, this story should cause us all to remember that knowing and being known is a face-to-face process.

    I think this also applies to the Saints.

    • The processes by which Saints are canonized (I don’t know the equivalent Eastern Orthodox term) does not and can not have access to this face-to-face intimacy and knowing, to this galaxy of facts, and the hagiographies that gather around the Saints over time tend to make us forget that there ever were such facts, and that we do not have that face-to-face knowledge and intimacy.

    • Burro [Mule] says

      Eastern Orthodox beatification is almost a mirror image of Catholic canonization. Beatification is a ground-up process, in which signally holy Christians begin to be venerated by their local communities, the ones who knew them best. Miracles attributed to their intercessions are cataloged, and eventually the case is investigated by a synod of clergy. There can be local saints with icons. Mother Olga of Alaska is one such locally venerated saint, a midwife and a healer, who is well-advanced in the process in the OCA.

      The Catholics here can correct me if I am wrong, but I am under the impression that pressure for the canonization of Catholic saints comes mostly from the hierarchy. I hope I am wrong. I have yet to hear of Orthodox “folk-saints” corresponding to Juan Soldado, or Jesus Malverde, or the ghastly Santa Muerte.

      What beef have you got against the saints? Sure, legend-like accretions tend to attach themselves to their narratives, but if you get too positivistic about it, you might as well throw out the Resurrection too and go join Eckhard the Trolle over in Braintown. Myth and Journalism tend to blur in these precincts.

      • I’m not an expert, Mule, but I believe that the process of canonization in EO and RC churches has some similarities. In both cases the impetus comes from the people and is then confirmed by the hierarchy. A few years ago Indiana’s first saint was canonized (Mother Theodore Guerin). Local people, and the order she left behind, admired and venerated her, then began a process to seek her recognition from the Pope. The difference, as I understand it, is that in the RC sainthood is conferred formally from above, rather than simply confirmed. There are advantages to both ways of doing it. I appreciate the investigation that is part of the RC canonization process as a means of alerting me to fraud and craziness, for example; I’m sure the EO has its own means of dealing with that.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        “”” Sure, legend-like accretions tend to attach themselves to their narratives, but if you get too positivistic about it,”””


        “””Myth and Journalism tend to blur in these precincts.”””

        Particularly since most Saints are long dead and lived in very different contexts.

        Personally, I always found Sainthood a mildly offensive concept. Until I grew to realize that every community chooses Saints, even if they refuse to call them that. Just as every community creates Icons. We as narrative creatures cannot resist that impulse; it is healthier to stop trying. Better it be formalized and have someone consciously looking in on the process than not; and, yes, that process will work better/more-fairly/with-more-or-less-discernment at different times.

      • pressure to canonize can and does often come from the people . . . when Pope John Paul II died, at his funeral, the crowd yelled ‘santo subio’ again and again . . . it translates from the Italian into ‘sainthood soon’

        saints aren’t ‘perfect’ . . . sometimes I think they are the only ones who know that 🙂 but something else is going on with some among us that we pick up on as genuine authentic holiness, yes . . .

        my husband, who by his own account is not ‘spiritual’, took lessons to become Catholic from Father Alvin, a Franciscan priest at our parish in New Jersey, and my husband said something very interesting: that Father Alvin had a ‘presence’ that was very noticeable . . . when I asked my husband what he meant by that, he said he couldn’t describe it because he didn’t know how to, but that he felt a sense of peace and calm around Father Alvin that was recognizable as something special . . .

        people ‘know’ when they are around someone who ‘channels’ the peace of Christ to others, just by their presence, yes . . . this ‘recognition’ or maybe it is a ‘resonance’ is a bit of a mystery, but I don’t doubt it exists and that sometimes, it plays a part in the Church’s formal recognition of such people

      • Burro [Mule] says

        I stand self-corrected about Orthodox folk-saints. A little casual Googling cleared it up. Apparently there are well-organized campaigns under way to beatify Ivan the Terrible and Rasputin. They have a lot of support from nationalistic, virulently anti-Semitic sectors of the Orthodox population in Russia. The prayer services written to them contain a lot of references to their struggles against Jews and apostate clergy.

        Oh well. Welcome to Christianity. I take back my remarks about Catholic folk-saints.

        • this reminds me of an obscure episode of “Malcom in the Middle,” in which the mom went back to visit her own mother. While there, she attended a festival at a their unnamed but vaguely Balkan/Trans-Caucasian/definitely-not-Lutheran church, where they were celebrating a saint who had courageously “burned down all of the enemies’ churches.”

        • Juan Soldado, Santa Muerte etc. are part of Mexican folk religion, but Catholic? Not so much, although there is a degree of syncretism there. I think you have to take into account the fact that Mexican religions were not wiped out by the Spanis – far from it.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Not so much “pressure from the hierarchy” as lobbying from Orders. It’s why priests, monks, and nuns who were members of Orders loom disproportionately large on the lists of canonized Saints. Their Order (organization) goes to bat for them.

      • I will do my best, Mule, not to get “too positivistic”; I will try to stay at just the right degree of positivism.

  3. Adam Tauno Williams says

    “””stop being so damn gullible and to accept the fact that there are no easy issues”””

    Certainly true. While Christians certainly demonstrate an over-large propensity to this I believe it is as much a [current] American illness. As a culture we jones for clear two-sided simplicity like a junkie for a fix; otherwise really intelligent people will pitch reason and consideration overboard to get them some, they will throw in with obviously cruel and despicable people in exchange for a pinch of Clarity. “Damn it, we need our villains, and we need them dark!” Then they’ll be screaming at you before you even finish stating a question.

    I can remember those days for myself. The irony is that scandalous complexity is much more relaxing, is demonstrably more productive, funnier, and – best of all – makes it much easier to make friends I otherwise would never have imagined I would ever have.

    Simplicity is the demon of this age – there you go, now you have a monster.

    • Burro [Mule] says

      My wife has a particularly acute case of this. I am constantly telling her trying to explain either history or current events “There are no good guys in this fight. There may not even be less-bad guys.” The Eastern Front in WWII, the Syrian Civil War, and the Republican primaries jump to mind as examples.

      • This isn’t something we are explained well growing up, either. We have our hero villain stories, no room for moral grey. It’s probably completely polarized now after the Bush Administration and our actions overseas; we are the bad guys to a whole generation who grew up under attack from us when only a splinter group of fellow nationals hit us first.

        There are no good guys. Just people and things doing good and bad.

  4. Is there really an issue of gullibility here, or of social media promulgating a “meme”? My understanding is that the pastor is being held in Iran on charges entirely unrelated to the scandal that has emerged, and that, as such, perfectly normal people — evangelical or otherwise — have been demanding his release in the name of religious freedom for the past three years.

    Now we learn that his marriage was a troubled one. I don’t see how gullibility figures in. Isn’t the real question the status _we_ have accorded the pastor (i.e., a hero) vs. his very real status as a victim of religious intolerance? We’ve only been “duped” if by that we mean we’re disappointed he’s not the hero we insisted that he should be.

    I’m quite critical of social media’s ability to manipulate (I’m neither immune nor innocent) but the social media dimension in this case also seems like a red herring. Thirty years ago it would have been mass-mailings by various religious organizations that drummed up the issue. Now it’s Facebook.

    • “Isn’t the real question the status _we_ have accorded the pastor (i.e., a hero) vs. his very real status as a victim of religious intolerance?”

      I think that’s exactly what I said, Trevis. Do you think Christians would have come out so strongly for Saeed if they had known from the beginning that he was an abuser? Not a chance. We seem so desperate for a hero narrative and one which sets the righteous against the unrighteous, that we jump at the chance to rally behind those we perceive as the saints. Social media is not the problem. It exacerbates the problem.

      • It doesn’t fit the narrative. Slactivist is doing a great series on this at the moment too.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        We seem so desperate for a hero narrative and one which sets the righteous against the unrighteous, that we jump at the chance to rally behind those we perceive as the saints.

        Ever heard of “Comrade Ogilvy”?

      • Not only a hero narrtive, but one featuring Iranian Muslims as the bad guys.


      • Chaplain Mike, When did the “easy thing” become part of the Christian mindset? When did the trite, pat sayings become our “meat”? I’ve turned my back on this in the past several years and wonder how and when it got such a foothold in Christian circles. Why do we seem to need to reject the complexity of life and “keep it simple make it fun”?

  5. “…remember that knowing and being known is a face-to-face process.” Reminds me of 1John 3:2 “Beloved, now are we the children of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” And again, now we see in a mirror dimly but then face to face. Then we will know fully as we have been fully known. This is sort of off topic but your words caught my eye because I have been thinking about this lately. Simply seeing face to face is to know, in the heavenly economy that is. Jesus exemplified that for us as he looked upon people and knew their intent, amongst other things. In heaven all is light, even intention. That is the big hidden on this plane. We see action but not intention. Imagine if all intention was planely evident.

  6. What’s now coming to light in this case reminds me of the Bowe Bergdahl situation, where there was a pretty large social media frenzy to get the soldier released, only for everyone to later discover he’d perhaps deserted his unit and that’s how he was captured.

    How much does a person’s perceived “worthiness” influence our push for their release? Should it?

    A part of me wishes that in “Saving Private Ryan,” when Hanks’ squad finally finds him, Private Ryan would’ve been an absolute a-hole dick. Hanks and company would’ve had that moment of, “We risked our lives for THIS guy?” I think that might’ve been brilliant.

  7. Let’s create memes that make fun of memes. Can “meme” be a verb? “I am meming on Facebook.” “Meming?” “Memeing?”

  8. While I agree that Facebook quotes and memes are not “enough” it may still be a good place to start. If I see a headline, pic, or call to action on Facebook that keeps being repeated and reposted then I know what topics to research. Facebook tells me what the general public is talking about and gives me a chance to decide how to respond. The first time I saw the Starbucks red cup foolishness I tried to ignore it and hoped it would go away. When it did not I wrote a blog post. I use FB (as does Chaplain Mike) to draw attention to my blog and legitimate causes that deserve attention or point others to the Gospel. It’s not enough but also not without value.

  9. Jazziscoolithink says

    I’m confused…is she saying that his addiction to pornography is tantamount to sexually abusing her? Because, if so, I have friends and family members who have actually been sexually abused and who would be hugely offended by the comparison.

    • I had the same thought. Call him unfaithful, but that is not the same thing as an abuser.

      • She also mentioned verbal and physical abuse. As I said, there’s a lot we don’t know.

        • I was just speaking of the charge of sexual abuse. I went back and read the article and honestly it was a little confusing. I think the best we can do is to continue to advocate for his release from what is an unjust imprisonment and not be too quick to assume what kind of person he is whether good or bad.

          • Jazziscoolithink says

            Agreed. And I may be reacting from the baggage of my evangelical past, but I’m interpreting her words as meaning porn addiction=sexual abuse (and maybe some of the other categories of abuse, too). That’s similar to what I remember hearing in church, in which shades of grey had no place: if you’re addicted to porn, you might as well be abiding your wife…

          • Jazziscoolithink says

            Abusing** not abiding.

          • Jazz, i understand her statement as partly referring to sexual acts that he had sern in porn and wanted to engage in with her. But exactly what thst means… i have no idea, and do not want details!

            It sounds, though, like he certainly was verbally and emotionally abusive, and i tend to believe what she says about both physical and sexual abuse as well, regardless of whether his porn-watching had anything to do with it or not. But then, i think M. Driscoll was vety much involved in (supposedly) “sanctifying” a number of things that are common in porn, but that most women don’t want to engage in.

            If i were in Naghmeh’s shoes, i would not want to be out thete on the Profesdional Chtidtian circuut, let alone be givrn awards and all of that. Juet… gah. It all turns my stomach, and is reminiscent of the whole “Kony 2012” debacle.

        • Patrick Kyle says

          I would caution to not jump on Nahgmeh’s band wagon against her husband. Jury is still out. Some facts seem skewed. So we are to believe that prisoners in Iranian prisons charged with espionage get to Skype their loved ones and peruse porn in their free time? Maybe we should all shut up and see how things pan out.

    • That is how it’s worded and implied, yes.

      That’s utter bullcrap, though.

      • If anything, she’s implies correlation and causation. He uses porn, which is what led him to being physical or verbally abusive, whatever that means in this context. Still bullcrap.

        • With respect, Stuart, i bet she has been through vetbal and emotional abuse, and maybe more. I don’t like the wording, but i bet she’s telling the truth.

    • And it has worsened in prison? So, he is addicted to porn in an Iranian prison and taking it out on his wife over Skype?

      • I read the article seems to me that his wife is plain tired of being the poster child for Christian persecution. The revelations about Saeed’s personal issue came earlier and does not seem to be connected to her backing off.

  10. I think it is easy to think in extremes: to see a false candy-world view that many Christians have (where everything is black and white) or to see everything with skepticism, to always see the dark and twisted truths that exist in our lives. I have spent years as the skeptic, my heart was full of bitterness and barely hanging on to faith, hating myself, the world, and God. I think the truth is not either-or but both, in Saeed’s case he has done many things wrong to his wife, he has abused her and done unspeakable things, he is sinful and vile like the rest of us. Yet he is someone imprisoned for his faith, he risked his life to start hospitals to take care of needy people, he went to his home country for God risking his very life and the future of his children. He is a vile sinner and a glowing saint at the same time.

    I don’t think a nuanced view of life should leave us jaded, goodness still exists, it is still what ultimately motivates us, if it was extinguished or simply an illusion then there would be no reason to live. We tend the risk of betraying our faith if we let this root of bitterness swallow our hearts.

    • This post is not so much about Saeed himself as much as it is about our need for “Righteous Saeed,” faithful pastor and godly family man. This is what I have seen so often on FB and other sources of Christian advocacy. It is not enough to stand for religious freedom, we must make the narrative about the wicked persecuting the blameless Christian.

  11. Conventional wisdom, mostly unspoken, prohibits the discussion of politics or religion at gatherings outside of those for those purposes or bigger than just close friends. Usually works out to be a good idea. If there was ever to be an iMonk banquet and convention at the Indianapolis Marriott, I think it obvious that the invitation should read, “Political discussion absolutely forbidden.” Whether religion could be discussed face to face without the police being called is still open to question.

    • The iMonk convention is an annual event held in Saint Sadie, Maryland. If you didn’t receive an invitation you will have to buy a ticket.

      • Sounds like a bash. Are there videos available of participants being led away in handcuffs? Can’t come, I’ve got old doggies to take care of, don’t ordinarily travel more than 25-30 miles. But Cheers!

  12. I don’t do ANY social media, period. Yesterday, I heard on the news that some “Christians” are protesting Starbucks because this year their holiday cups are only red without any symbols on them, is reindeers, etc. Their beef is that this is an attack on Christmas! Petitions are being passed around to harass Starbucks. Really? The truth is that without social media no one would know about this. The bottom line is that the internet makes unknown people famous and any cause a big deal. There was a time when a story was the issue, and not the juicy issues of personal lives. This pastor being held in Iran is a disgrace and should not be minimalized but what does his marriage status have to do with it? I don’t recall the marriages of the Iranian hostages in 1980 being dragged in the media. The needed to be freed, period. Why does everyone become a celebrity regardless of who they are? Our whole world is wack.

    • Some of the truth about the Starbucks cup.”controversy” is that no one actually knows any Christians who are actually objecting to it. One guy posted a snarky video about giving his name as Merry Christmas, but he might be a Starbucks PR guy trying to get social media abuzz.

      • It’s a pretty snazzy cup design, and i am totally baffled as to how anyone could turn it into a controverdial thing.

        Seriously, people need to quit obsessing over trivial things.

      • I once knew of a woman at a former church named Mary Christmas.

        • I used to work for someone whose surname was Christmas. In the Caribbean and in England, there are folks with the surname Pentecost. And there’s a writer on Buddhism named Christmas Humphreys.

  13. Two bands I love are in Paris playing this week, U2 and Eagles of Death Metal. Thankfully they are both safe, but not everyone in Paris is. My prayers for the people of Paris tonight and in the coming weeks.

    • Burro [Mule] says

      Marine Le Pen was tracking 28% before the attacks.

      Any bets as to how much of a surge she’s gonna have?

      • Fascism is just below the surface of European social and political reality; terrorist attacks like this one open up fissures into the abyss of Blood and Soil

    • Amen.

      As these terror attacks in Europe and the US become more and more frequent, as seems inevitable, I hope that it does not bring out the worst in us, though I fear it will.

    • Everyone cancelled because of the terror attacks. I guess global warming and climate change can be bumped off the stage by REAL issues.

      • Come on, oscar. The urgency of the one has no bearing on the seriousness of the other. Paris is on lock down; there really is no choice but to cancel many events at this time.

  14. I’m obviously out in the furthest fringes of American Christianity, but I have only vague memories of hearing about a Christian pastor being held in Iran. I must not keep up with enough religion blogs.

    I have a question that must have a super obvious answer, but I’m just ignorant of the facts.

    If he is in prison, how is he able to be physically abusing her? Ditto for sexual abuse. If they are only talking over the phone, it seems like those two are completely impossible. Emotional and verbal abuse can certainly happen over the phone, but sexual and physical?

    Anyone care to clear up my confusion?

    • I wondered about the same things, Dan Santos. Since the sexual abuse is said to be in the form of Saeed’s addiction to pornography, and it seems incredible to think that pornography would be readily available in an Iranian prison, I wonder how that could have “worsened” during his imprisonment, along with the physical abuse. Is she allowed to have private visits with him?

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