Is wife abuse Christian?

Here’s the story that raised the question: In 2012 American citizen and pastor Saeed Abedini was arrested in Iran and taken to Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.  Since then his wife Naghmeh tirelessly worked political, religious, and social connections to win his release.

Last November Naghmeh emailed supporters that she was backing out of all public appearances for a season of prayer and fasting, admitting that her pastor husband had abused her physically, emotionally, and sexually (pornography addiction).  Twelve days later she released a statement saying she regretted her admissions.  “I was under great psychological and emotional distress.”  Yet five days after Saeed’s release on January 21, Naghmeh filed for legal separation–and a restraining order to make sure her husband doesn’t try to snatch their two children.

Franklin Graham wrote, “Other than God, no one knows the details and the truth of what has happened between Saeed and Naghmeh except them.  There’s an old saying that there are at least two sides to every story. I can tell one thing for sure–not everything that has been reported in the media is true.”

Probably not.  But something fishy is going on.  Saeed admits he’s not a perfect husband (when accused of something, why do we say that?  To admit to something that’s true of everyone only makes the claimant sound less convincing), but claims, “Much of what I have read in Naghmeh’s posts and subsequent media reports is not true.”  Perhaps, but Naghmeh’s claim that the abuse started early in their marriage is buttressed by the fact that in 2007, Saeed attended eight court-ordered anger management sessions and was put on probation for a year.  The charge?  Misdemeanor domestic assault.  It’s possible something’s been made up or exaggerated, but since domestic violence is so severely under-reported, it’s likely the charges have at least some merit.

I once had a man tell me that if I teach men to lead their wives, it will lead to domestic violence.  Well, all I have to teach is God’s wisdom–I don’t have any of my own.  And God says, “…the head of the woman is man…”   Here’s the thing, what that headship looks like is sometimes poorly exemplified by Christian men.  It should look like this: For husbands, this means love our wives, just as Christ loved the church.  He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.  …husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies (Ephesians 5:25-28)

To help men understand what this kind of leadership and Jesus-like headship looks like, I often talk about being “shepherds”–not just men who are put in charge, but men who are given responsibility.  In other words, my understanding of 1 Corinthians 11:3 is that husbands will one day answer to God about how well they cared for, protected, provided for, and led, their families.  One of the false conclusions some husbands make is that leadership means making sure everyone falls into line (although that ability with children does matter for elder candidates–see 1 Timothy 3:4-5; Titus 1:6).  Not so.  Yes, God tells wives to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24, Colossians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:1), but never tells husbands to make sure their wives do.  Scripture does tell husbands about wives, …never treat them harshly (Colossians 3:19).

Pastor Abedini comes out of a Middle Eastern Islamic Persian culture–where a husband’s leadership is quite authoritarian.  Violence is permitted–implied in the Iranian Civil Code that governs marriage, and confirmed by the rare consequences for a husband who hurts or even kills his wife.  In his 2004 study of domestic violence in Iran, Dr. Ghazi Tabatabaei, concluded that 66% of all Iranian wives are assaulted in their first year of marriage–either by their husband, or an in-law.  I wonder if the US government had already alerted Naghmeh back in November that her husband’s release was imminent and she got scared.  Especially if verbal abuse was ongoing on their phone calls and Skyping.

How did Jesus treat his wife?  Beat her for not doing what he wanted?  Backhand her?  Threaten her?  Yell at her?  Demean her?  Betray her by watching unknown women undress?

Jesus died for her.  To mirror the kind of love Jesus has for His bride, a sinful Christian husband loves (an action–not just an affection) his wife and doesn’t raise a hand to his wife, mock her, shout at her, or substitute online strippers for her.  Just as the church treasures the other Partner of its covenant, so a husband treasures her.

Perhaps Pastor Abedini is innocent of everything.  Or maybe he abuses his wife but is convinced he doesn’t.  Recently my wife and I were talking about people having blind spots–not believing they are a certain kind of person, or behave a certain way.  I asked her, “So, what are my blind spots?”  Yikes.  Husband, maybe you should ask your wife?