Saeed was released on January 16th this year. A victory, indeed.
On January 26th, Naghmeh filed for legal separation from her husband.
Naghmeh describes being physically and emotionally abused by Saeed, allegations which date back to at least 2007, at which time he plead guilty to domestic assault. In the months since their separation, so much of the focus has been on Saeed. Many have focused on his denial of Naghmeh's claims (including denials regarding the 2007 charges).
Saeed has said, "...people are confused. People now have two different Saeeds. One of them is a hero of their faith; one of them is an abuser..." Indeed, people want to know the truth. And we expect the truth to be cut-and-dried. Saeed was a symbol of the persecuted church. We want to celebrate his freedom, his steadfastness of faith. What does it mean if we prayed and petitioned for an abusive husband to be freed? We want to believe this isn't true. But for Saeed to truthfully deny these claims, Naghmeh must be a liar. It would be more comfortable for us if Naghmeh was lying. We want Saeed to tell us what we want to hear, and he is. We ask how Naghmeh's story could be true. Why would she support and advocate for her husband if he'd been abusive? We should not be surprised at the answer. The answer is grace.
As an abused spouse, when Naghmeh could have sought revenge, or seen Saeed's imprisonment as her own vindication, she humbly sought God's justice and mercy for Saeed instead. Micah 6:8 says, "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Regardless of Saeed's actions towards her, his imprisonment was unjust, and Naghmeh's reaction was to humbly and mercifully petition both God and the legal system for his release.
Naghmeh met with President Obama. She prayed and fasted for her husband's release, interceding on Saeed's behalf, despite his abusive actions. The grace we see here reminds me of Ananias praying for Saul, of Jesus asking for forgiveness for those who crucified Him. It is completely unmerited. It is someone who has been hurt and has cause to hurt back choosing to help instead. It is the grace the Bible teaches us to show.
I would like to point out also that Naghmeh has consistently made use of legal resources. She pressed charges (to which Saeed plead guilty) in 2007. She has filed for legal separation now. Her advocacy, attitudes, and Christlike behavior do not require that she ignore or deny the abuse she has faced. Neither her intercession nor grace prohibit legal action against her abuser. And for Saeed, forgiveness of sin does not spare material, temporal consequence for action. The Christlike response to abuse is not simply to be silent and "turn the other cheek." Naghmeh's desire to protect herself and remove herself from this situation is part of a healthy Christian response.
Which brings me to two main points:
1. Naghmeh's story reminds us that abusive people do not always manifest as evil individuals through-and-through. Sometimes they appear as "heroes of the faith." Life is far more complicated than we're comfortable with. And situations are rarely black-and-white; people are rarely all good or all bad. The depth of our sin points to the depth of God's love and forgiveness. While Christians should act differently and be "good people," our goodness is not a requirement of grace; instead, it's God's goodness that makes grace happen.
2. Naghmeh's story is proof that a Godly reaction to abuse can include both measures to protect oneself and pursue legal action, in addition to taking advantage of opportunities to show God's grace and further His Kingdom.
If you are experiencing abuse*, God wants you to be safe. He wants your physical and emotional well-being. He hurts for the pain you are experiencing. You are not to blame for the abuse you are facing. Leaving your abusive situation or taking legal action is not sinful. It is possible to prayerfully move through your situation and secure your safety while keeping a right attitude and a pure heart. It is possible to move through and away from abuse without being bitter, but with grace and compassion.
Naghmeh gives us an example of a balanced approach to abuse in a Christian context. Acknowledging and addressing abuse (or other sin) in the church--and wrestling with the muddy grey areas that arise--does not diminish the church's effectiveness. Being a Christian is supposed to be about admitting our shameful misdeeds and accepting forgiveness that we do not deserve. We cannot point others to God's forgiveness and grace if we refuse to admit that we have problems and are in need of His grace ourselves. It is in this spirit that Christians, as a community, must confront the issue of abuse and refuse to hide it or ignore it any longer. We must choose to stand with victims as they seek safety and healing, and to stand with perpetrators as they seek forgiveness and face the consequences of their actions.
We want Saeed to be that hero of the faith we were expecting. And for standing firm in persecution, maybe he is a hero of the faith, although not as we'd have him. But for her example of grace for her oppressor, mimicking our own Lord, we need to consider that the true hero of faith in this story might be Naghmeh.
*If you are experiencing abuse, there is support for you. Among other organizations, the National Coalition against Domestic Violence has some great resources.