The Washington Post has shared a lengthy report about Naghmeh Panahi, an Iranian immigrant who became a minor Christian celebrity during her advocacy for her (now) ex-husband’s release from prison in Iran. Between 2013 and 2015, the campaign to free pastor Saeed Abedini became a major story in a broader battle for religious liberty around the globe, and Panahi developed a close friendship with evangelist Franklin Graham, who helped support the cause. Abedini was eventually one of five people freed during a prisoner exchange in 2016.
But behind the scenes, another story developed. Panahi grew more vocal about Abedini’s years of physical and emotional abuse and about how he became, as one family court would put it, “a habitual perpetrator of domestic violence.” Panahi began speaking out about her experiences as a victim of Abedini’s abuses, but says she found many of her former fellow advocates were no longer supportive. That included Graham who, according to her, first asked if Panahi was cheating on Abedini, and then later urged her to go back to her abusive husband.
In a recorded meeting, Graham dismisses the severity of Panahi’s abuse, saying their marriage “could be fixed easily” and calling abuse “a gray area.” He also discouraged her from seeking counseling, telling her that she might “get some godless psychologist.”
There is a good deal more to the story. Panahi is now living in Idaho while her ex-husband has returned to the Middle East. She is upset by Graham’s dismissal of her cries for help and hopes that sharing her story will encourage others in abuse situations who find that their churches are not being helpful. “God cares about the one who’s being oppressed,” she told the Post. “He didn’t come to save the institution of marriage.”
You can read the full story here.