The ex-wife of a well-known Iranian American pastor alleges in a new Washington Post story that evangelist Franklin Graham encouraged her to undergo counseling and return to her husband after being told that her husband abused her.
The woman, Naghmeh Panahi, was at the center of an international religious freedom case a decade ago when her then-husband, Saeed Abedini, was arrested and imprisoned by the Iranian government on false charges of threatening national security. At the time, Abedini and Panahi were working on an orphanage in the country.
He was freed from the Iranian prison in 2016. At one point, Nagmeh even met with President Obama to discuss the issue of religious liberty and persecution. Obama mentioned the pastor’s case during a National Prayer Breakfast speech. But soon thereafter her allegations of abuse became public.
They are now divorced.
Panahi told The Post in a June 20 article that Graham was one of her biggest advocates in getting Abedini released. But she also alleges Graham encouraged her to reconcile after being told of the physical abuse. She says she was abused for most of the 13 years they were married. (Abedini was arrested in 2018 for violating a no-contact order with her. He is now living in the Middle East.)
Panahi says Graham asked her in 2015 after hearing of the abuse allegations, “Naghmeh, are you cheating on him?” he asked. Panahi said she was not.
Graham last fall confirmed to The Post he asked the question, saying he was puzzled by Panahi’s sudden public change in attitude about her then-husband.
“It was a good question to ask,” Graham said, “and I would have asked it again.”
Last fall, Religion News Service reported on a 2016 conversation between Graham and Panahi, where she told Graham about the physical abuse. The conversation was recorded.
“There is nothing the two of you face, Naghmeh, that God can’t fix, if the two of you want it,” Graham said, according to RNS, urging them to go to counseling. (She says her ex-husband refused to attend counseling.)
Meanwhile, Graham told The Post he is “greatly concerned” by a Southern Baptist Convention report showing sexual abuse was covered up by some SBC churches and pastors. Last week at the SBC Annual Meeting, messengers approved recommendations presented by the Sexual Abuse Task Force, which was tasked with investigating sexual abuse within the convention.
“Our hearts go out to those who have suffered abuse. We must protect and care for everyone in our churches, especially women and children,” Graham said.
Boz Tchividjian, a nephew of Franklin Graham and an attorney who represents sex abuse survivors, expressed concern over Panahi’s story.
“He had a loud megaphone, he spun a particular narrative,” Tchividjian told The Post, referencing his uncle. “Her voice is comparatively like a whisper. That adds to the trauma that someone like her and many other women struggle with.”
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Alexey M
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.