After being released by the Islamic Republic or Iran along with three other American citizens Saturday in a prisoner swap for seven Iranians, Pastor Saeed Abedni’s wife and Christian leaders have expressed a multitude of feelings concerning the move.
Abedini, who began his flight home Sunday after a stop in Switzerland, along with Washington Post Reporter Jason Rezaian and former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati — the fourth released citizen Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari also reportedly left —was held in an Iranian prison for three years, often enduring torture for his Christian faith.
He converted to Christianity in Iran before moving to the United States in 2005 and become a citizen in 2010, but was arrested in 2012 while visiting Iran to help build a nonsectarian orphanage. Iranian officials said he was a national security threat because of his faith in Jesus Christ and sentenced him to eight years in jail.
Abedni’s wife, Naghmeh Abedini, was jubilant after learning about her husband’s long-awaited release from Iranian prison.
“This has been an answer to prayer,” she stated after hearing the news that her husband was returning home. “This is a critical time for me and my family. We look forward to Saeed’s return and want to thank the millions of people who have stood with us in prayer during this most difficult time.”
Naghmeh was pleased with President Barack Obama for his role in securing the release of her husband, but stressed that he must do more to challenge the persecution of Christians abroad.
"But he needs to talk about it more and bring more awareness to the issue," she told Newsmax. "There has been a policy of trying not to upset Muslims. I was quiet for six months [after Saeed was arrested in 2012], but advocacy is speaking out as well.”
Saeed’s wife spoke about exposing the atrocity that is taking place against Christians on a wide scale in and around her native country.
"There is also an attempt to get rid of Christians in the Middle East and it is genocide,” Naghmeh continued in her interview with Newsmax. “We should call it what it is. It's very scary. You're arrested, you're imprisoned, and you're always afraid of this. It isn't easy to be a Christian in the Middle East. There should be action."
She said Obama needs to start taking a leadership role and rally other nations to fight attacks on Christians.
"He's got to get more countries to get involved," Naghmeh stressed. "I don't think there has been a huge focus on the plight of persecuted Christians. There's a lot more resources and attention that can go to that."
The devoted Christian wife then urged nations doing business with Iran and other jihadist Middle Eastern countries to have persecuted Christians in mind before moving forward with transactions.
"They've lifted up sanctions but there are ways to keep companies from pouring money into countries that deal in the Middle East," Naghmeh expressed to Newsmax. "Germany is a huge trading partner with Iran. I called on German business leaders to say to countries that persecute Christians: ‘We don't like this. This is going to affect business. This is going to affect money coming into your country.' Money talks, and companies that do business in countries [where Christians are persecuted] can make a demand that ‘we need to see this stopped, or we might pull out, or pull back in our investments.' Money and power can keep these countries accountable."
Christian leaders speak out
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins also had mixed emotions about the Pastor Saeed’s release, which fittingly fell on Religious Freedom Day in America (Jan. 16).
“Today is a day for rejoicing, and we pray it will prompt the administration to make the promotion of religious freedom a greater priority, and do so by designating ISIS’s attempts to exterminate minority religious groups — including Christians — as genocide,” Perkins proclaimed. “The reality is that there are Christians and religious minorities throughout the Middle East and around the world who look toward America, hoping they are not forgotten and that someone will speak out on their behalf.”
The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore also expressed his gratefulness for Abedni’s release.
“The prayers of the Body of Christ all over the world have been answered,” the Baptist leader declared. “This day of celebration should remind us to pray and work all the more for the multitudes still persecuted for their faith all over the world, including in Iran. We hope and long for the day when Iran — and nations like it — are free from those who wish to enslave the conscience at the point of a sword.”
A reaction of similar sentiments was given by Concerned Women for America President and CEO Penny Nance.
"It is always a great day when Americans are freed and reunited with their loved ones,” Nance stated in a press release after the news broke. “We praise God for His protection of these men while they were held by the Iranians. We are rejoicing in the safe return of these men and our answered prayers. “
However, the leader of America’s largest public policy women’s organization stressed that Washington still has a long way to go in dealing with nations hostile to Christians.
“But our work is far from done,” Nance added. “Concerned Women for America was at the front of the fight opposing the deal with Iran last summer and petitioned for the release of our American hostages. Our Yellow Ribbon Rally was held in front of the White House and was attended by Ted Cruz and other leaders who joined our fight. Our rally made national news and our voices were heard. We thank our members who wore yellow ribbons to remind them and others to pray for the release of these men.”
Despite Obama’s commendation of himself and his administration for executing “smart” diplomacy in negotiating the release deal with Iran, Nance pointed out the White House’s failure in dealing with a number of other hostages and prisoners.
"There are still more American hostages being held: ex-FBI Agent Robert Levinson and two others,” the Christian leader asserted. “We also have great concern about the $150 billion and the prisoners being released to the hands of some of our greatest enemies. Make no mistake, the Iranians are not our friends, and our fight is not over.”
She reminded Americans of Obama’s refusal over his last two terms to make a concerted effort to protect U.S. citizens from jihadists and other threats to the security of America’s 320 million people — inciting them to vote for a new president who will champion their safety.
"Concerned Women for America and our half-a-million members will not easily forget the choices our current administration has made, and we will work to educate the public to see an administration in place in our country who will put the safety of Americans first," Nance concluded.