Rethinking Saeed Abedini’s Plight
First it was Youcef Nadarkhani and now it is Saeed Abedini. For over two years now, certain media elements, Fox News in particular, have been on an unrelenting binge of feeding the United States public news of two Christian pastors jailed in Iran. As my wife and I have been in the process of support raising, questions about this situation have periodically arisen. What do we think about the risks of working with a Muslim people? Isn’t it terrible what they want to do to this man? The questions have been genuine and I do appreciate them because I believe it comes form a sincere curiosity. As such, I am hoping to address some context surrounding the questions and how we should view these situations as Christians.
The first issue that needs to be probed here is why one can read a deluge of stories about these two men on Fox News (often on the front page). Why does an unbelieving media outlet (I speak from an organizational standpoint, not in terms of individual personalities) find it so necessary to publicize the jailing of a Christian pastor in Iran? Surely there are countless other Christians and pastors that find themselves sitting in jail today within the 10/40 window without a sniff of publicity. This should be our first clue that something is amiss in the coverage.
It would appear to me that Fox News is touching on something of a Christian nationalism. What I mean by this is that it is no coincidence that the stories about pastors being jailed and tortured happens to be in the very country in which the United States is currently engaging in a game of high stakes wartime rhetoric with. It is being done, I believe, in an effort to galvanize “conservative” animosity toward the country of Iran.
And now the truth needs to be told. The truth is that Fox News has no substantive interest in seeing Abedini’s release from a biblical perspective. There may be some interest to see him set free in the sense that they hate to see an American being tortured by a country they perceive to be the enemy (whether real or imagined). But to be sure, these two Christian men are being used as pawn’s to further a particular political agenda. The manner in which Fox News is capitalizing on the situation is a whole system of complex and dynamic moving parts. In essence, they are touching on the nerve of their Christian readership by portraying one of their own in such a harrowing light. But we Christians might be the greater fools here. For we are the ones seeing our spiritual brother in such a situation and rather then inciting a response within the church toward mission, toward prayer and toward suffering, it is creating a reaction of nationalistic hostility. The church is getting smoked like a cheap cigar by those creating the headlines.
As Christians, we ought to look past the mask and see the charade going on here. Would Fox News be reporting on a Rabbi in the same situation? Highly unlikely. The reason is because Fox News and neo-conservatism possess a substantial Christian constituency that is entangled in a very destructive one-kingdom mindset when it comes to faith and country. Without getting too deep into the weeds, here we see another place where a two-kingdom framework can be helpful. Iran may be my country’s enemy (though I don’t even believe that) but they are never in any case whatsoever the church’s militant enemy.
The other day my wife (whose thoughts were the inspiration for this article) and I were reading through Philippians 2 together and came across this passage where Paul speaks of his possible martyrdom:
Even if I am to be poured our as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith. I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. -Philippians 2:17-18
One may not like my interpretation of what Fox News is doing but a Christian may not disagree with God’s holy word when it comes to martyrdom. One of the commands is to be glad and rejoice. Those of us who are being martyred ought to follow the example of Paul through the grace of God. And those of us who have close friends and family ought to rejoice and be glad in a similar manner. This may sound masochistic to some but throughout Philippians Paul gives us plenty of reason to approach martyrdom with such an attitude. Paul tells us that dying is gain (Phil. 1:21) for it is far better to be with Christ (Phil. 1:23). Indeed, for the apostle Paul, suffering, even suffering unto death, was the fertile ground upon which joy could flourish. This truth has been lived out in the person of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:2) and the saints of yesteryear.
It is now our joyful duty as a Christian armed with these truths to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, allowing the Bible to dictate our understanding of these situations, not the reports from an unbelieving media. Let us consider these things the next time we hear of Saeed Abedini’s plight.