Saeed Abedini: Why is it so hard to accept he isn't perfect?

Saeed Abedini has said women should submit to men.Saeed Abedini

Saeed Abedini was imprisoned for his faith and brutally tortured in one of Iran's most notorious prisons. He became a poster child not only for the religious right, which used him as a stick to beat President Obama during his negotiations over Iran's nuclear capabilities, but for everyone who cares about justice and religious freedom. When he was released there was widespread and justified rejoicing.

He also turns out to have been abusing his wife Nagmeh and blaming her for his plight. Oh, and he's been addicted to pornography, too.

Abedini's hit the headlines again thanks to a Facebook post in which he asserted the headship of men over women in no uncertain terms – and not just in the home and the Church, but in secular government too: "If we don't follow this Biblical model and structure, we will see chaos." In a sign he may have embraced the complementarianism taught by theologians such as Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware, he relates submission to a particular doctrine of the Trinity, saying:

"In Trinity God Son obeys God Father but that does not mean the son is less important than his father or inferior to him but this is the rule of Trinity. Harmony and respect for each other is earned by each person of Trinity in One God."

Abedini's history has been exhaustively documented by Nate Sparks, who has collated his criminal conviction – he pleaded guilty to assault in 2007 –his subsequent attempts to minimise it, and his responses to Nagmeh's charges. He also highlights Abedini's Facebook attack on Hillary Clinton, who he says did nothing to help him while he was in prison. It confirms his belief that "I don't believe a WOMEN [sic] should be the HEAD of the Family, Church or a Country because it is not in the Bible that I read and believe."

For a while after he was released Abedini continued to make platform appearances at evangelical churches and to receive public support from figures like Franklin Graham. It's not immediately clear that this level of support continues, though his words, mainly relayed through Facebook, are regularly picked up by Christian news outlets. There are plenty of people willing to overlook his history of abusiveness because he's endured so much – and in many cases because he's so willing to attack the Democratic administration that so many conservative Christians despise.

It's a sad story – perhaps, even, a tragic one. We instinctively want to hail him as a hero. He was an effective and courageous church planter in Iran, and knew real suffering – physical, mental and emotional – during his four years of imprisonment.

At the same time, he clearly has deep flaws. It's impossible not to speculate about whether his evidently passionate commitment to the subordination of women has a psychological component. And instead of being encouraged to retreat and to receive help and healing, he is is being encouraged to become a warrior in the culture wars and a rallying-point for anti-Hillary supporters.

However, there's a deeper question here. We find it hard to accept that someone can be both a hero of the faith and a damaged, and damaging, individual. We like our idols flawless, but they all have feet of clay.

Those who abuse him for his sins are doing him less than justice. It's tempting to wonder how much of their own faith would be left after four years in Evin prison; Abedini endured. But so are those who are attempting to steady him on his pedestal and refusing to hear a word against him. No, these stories are not a Democratic plot. No, Nagmeh is not lying. And no, he shouldn't be given a platform to make public pronouncements until he's repented and been restored. That takes time, understanding and maturity – not least from the Christian community that's so keen to take sides.

Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods