CTBHHM: Michael and Debi Pearl’s Whirlwind Romance

Created to Be His Help Meet, pp. 13-15

Once upon a time there was a silly young girl who grew up to learn what it means to be a help meet – God’s secret for a heavenly marriage. I start this book with the words “Once upon a time” because it really is a wonderful story come true. It should, and could, be your story too. It is God’s gift to every woman.

This is how Debi begins her introduction to her book, Created to Be His Help Meet. I’m sure a literature major could write yards about the way she frames her work here. The use of “once upon a time” gives it a fairy tale quality, and Debi makes clear that that’s not accidental. It’s a “wonderful story” about how Debi used to be “silly” and ended up realizing that her role in life is to be her husband’s helper. What I don’t think Debi realizes is that the original fairy tales were generally dark and foreboding, not the cheerful chirping birds of the Disney versions.

Also, note that Debi wants her story to be every woman’s story. This book isn’t just meant to be a few tips women can incorporate as it works for them. No. It’s meant to be a how-to instruction manual that you follow from beginning to end.

Debi begins with the story of how she met her husband Michael. It turns out that Michael was the pastor of her church, and that he sometimes asked her to come to gospel meetings to counsel the girls while he worked with the guys.

I was a single, twenty-year-old girl, and my pastor was a single, twenty-five-year-old hunk of a man. … He had been my goal since I was 13 years old. Although I thought that he occasionally cast his eyes at me, I had despaired of ever getting my trophy.

Debi does not offer any information about how Michael became a pastor or whether he spent some of the years between age 18 (which is when she first developed her crush on him) and when he was 25. The No Greater Joy webpage states that Michael has a degree from “Mid-South Bible College,” which has since been renamed “Victory University.” The webpage does not say anywhere – and trust me, I’ve looked – what that degree was in, or even whether it was a four year degree or something shorter. A quick look at the history of the institution reveals that it was founded as a fundamentalist Bible college, that the only subject it offered until 1982 was Bible, and that the programs they offered varied from one year to four years in length.* Once Michael finished his time at Mid-South Bible College, Michael presumably returned to his home church and became their pastor.**

Next, as Debi rides along with Michael to “a Bible study with a crowd of hippies,” we get a glimpse of how Michael Pearl’s ministry began.***

This was during the height of the hippie revolution an the Jesus Movement. The birth-control pill was a new and heady thing that drove the hippies into an era of non-responsibility. AIDS was not yet a factor. The theme of the 60s was, “If it feels good, do it.” young people could be seen sleeping in parks or on roadsides, switching partners as the night progressed. Drugs dulled their conscience and destroyed their dignity, but in the midst of all this sin and shame, God poured forth his Spirit, and thousands of those heartsick kids began to seek God.”

Debi goes on to describe the gospel meeting in an upstairs apartment during which Micahel preached “the gospel of Jesus Christ” to a group of “used-up druggies.” She describes the electricity in the room as everyone “in one accord” fell to their needs to pray, with young men crying out to God for mercy.

In the midst of this movement of God, I felt my pastor reach over and take my hand. Talk about electric shock! I knew there was a strange and wonderful thing happening, because he was ordinary a real prude! He wouldn’t even let the old ladies shake his hand after Sunday morning service. Now he was holding mine during a prayer meeting! I just knew my time had come!

Now this is just … weird. I’ve never heard of a pastor refusing to to shake the hands of “the old ladies … after Sunday morning service.” As any pastor knows, those old ladies are often the core of the congregation – they’re what holds it together. The general modus operendi is for the pastor to end the service with a hymn and then walk to the doors and shake everyone’s hands as they walk out, answering questions about the sermon or taking prayer requests. Standing there greeting everyone but refusing to shake the hands of any of the women, even the old ladies is just … weird.

But anyway, back to Debi’s narrative. After seven years of silently crushing on Michael, he has taken her hand during a prayer meeting. Something is clearly afoot!

He never spoke in the hour’s drive home, and I never shut up. Always given to gab, I really gab when I’m nervous, and I was really nervous. Silence was so unusual for him, I thought I knew what was on his mind. Me! Finally we pulled up to the parsonage where he lived and where my VW Bug was parked. I sat in the darkness waiting, but … nothing …. Finally, I spoke out. “You remember that boy you baptized Sunday night, the little guy who could barely see over the top of the baptistry? Well, someday I would like to give you a little boy just like that!”

Finally, after seven years of crushing in silence, she actually tells him she’s into him! She does so in a rather odd way, but hey, who can blame her after seven years of pining after him? So, let’s see how he responds, shall we?

You would think a man might take a hint, but he was out of the car and running within two seconds. I got out and headed for my car, figuring I might have spoken a little too boldly. I saw him as he came around his house the first time and watched as he disappeared around it again. He made three full laps around the large parsonage before he finally made up his mind. He rushed toward me, picked me up, and threw me into the air. At that point I was beginning to doubt my wisdom and his sanity. Then he said in a loud, confident voice, “Let’s get married.”

That’s not … normal.

And, so we did. Eight days later, on a Sunday night, I made my way to the front of the church building, carefully stepping around the newly-saved ex-hipppies sitting on the floor of the crowded aisle, to take the hand of my pastor-husband in holy matrimony. Thus we began our journey.

And, um, that’s not, well, normal either.

To be fair, since they had “occasionally” been doing these gospel meetings together, and since Debi attended the church Michael pastored, and since Debi had at least known of Michael’s existence for seven years, it’s not like they had just met. But getting engaged thirty seconds after learning that you both like each other back, and getting married eight days after getting engaged, that’s just not healthy. It takes time to build a relationship, and there’s loads more to a relationship than the ability to lead gospel meetings together.

And as we’ll see later, it didn’t take either Michael or Debi long to realize this.

———

* As is quickly evident, Mid-South Bible College followed the classic trajectory of the fundamentalist Bible college. During the first half of the twentieth century, fundamentalists founded literally hundreds of Bible colleges. Distrustful of academic learning at actual accredited institutions, fundamentalists often sent their children for a year or two of study at these Bible colleges, safe in the knowledge that their children would be attending chapel, studying the literal Bible, and, of course, carefully chaperoned. Bear in mind that at these institutions studying the Bible meant, well, studying only the Bible. Things like cultural context or textual criticism were seen as heretical and damaging to one’s faith. A person would graduate from one of these institutions not with a scholarly understanding of the Bible, the languages in which it was written, the way it was created, and the cultural contexts in which it was written, but rather with a thorough knowledge of Bible stories and having memorized a great deal of scripture. Mid-South Bible College was one of these schools.

As college attendance grew, however, and as having a college degree became more necessary and sought after, these Bible colleges had a problem. An increasing number of fundamentalist parents began sending their children to actual accredited universities that taught things like nursing or accounting. Bible college attendance began to drop. These institutions, however, were not going to roll over without a fight, and Mid-South Bible College followed the common trajectory. In 1982 it adopted a myriad of new majors and began the process of seeking accreditation. In 1987 it changed its name to “Victory University,” dropping the obvious marker of the Bible college and adopting the more prestigious title of “university.” According to the school’s website, it, like many others, transitioned “from a Bible college to a Christian liberal arts college.” But of course, all of this was long after Michael’s time there. When Michael studied at Mid-South Bible College, whether it was for one year or for four, it was a fundamentalist Bible college that only taught the Bible, and the literal and inerrant Bible at that.

** This explanation makes most sense given that Debi began crushing on him when she was 13 and he was 18, and now attends the church where he pastors. Another possibility is that she met him somewhere unrelated and then tracked down the church he began to pastor and began attending there herself. And who knows, perhaps the idea of “stalker Debi” is consistent with the fact that she’s been crushing on Michael for seven years and yet hasn’t said a single word about it to him.

*** Debi says this story begins 34 years ago, and the book was published in 2004, so presumably the event she is describing happened in 1970. It’s unclear whether Debi is describing the “Jesus Movement” or simply a revival meeting of young hippies. During the 1960s, there was an awful lot of “seeking” going on as young people disillusioned by the black and white life of the 1950s and the constant threat of nuclear war sought to find something more. This was one reason that eastern religions and the smattering cults that arose at the time became so popular, along with communes. Some of these seekers eventually came to Christianity, often drawn by the “hippie Jesus” image of the Jesus Movement. It’s unclear, like I said, whether Michael preached this “hippie Jesus” message or, as is probably more likely, a more “fire and brimstone” sermon. Regardless, what Debi describes rings true, and it is apparently here that Michael got his start in ministry.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://louisebroadbentfiction.wordpress.com Louise Broadbent

    I’ve been with my boyfriend for 6 years and I’d known him for 2-3 years before we became a couple. And I’m still not sure about getting married. I’m a bit of an extreme case because I’ve never wanted to get married, anyway, and I’m not sure it’s a good idea, ever, but it’s not just that – I’m also not sure that we would make a marriage work. So how the f*** are you supposed to know before you have a relationship at all? Completely baffles me, I’ve got to say. Am I missing something, here?

    • http://equalsuf.wordpress.com Jayn

      Normally I’d say that ‘too fast’ is dependent on the couple (My relationship is about as old as yours, and I’ve been married five years now) but this just smacks of a girlhood crush that an older man took advantage of.

      • Elise

        And what an older man! His eyes are just so hard. He looks dangerous!

      • http://salami-orchids.blogspot.com PlumJo

        Given his particular brand of child-rearing (and, I imagine, wife-rearing), I’d say “dangerous” is an understatement.

  • Christine

    Libby, is this a case of “there’s no such thing as compatibility” that you mentioned? Where any woman and man can have a good relationship? Presumably this is partly because the woman’s style for money, interest in sex, desire for children, etc doesn’t matter, because the man will make all the decisions. (I still don’t understand why the men wouldn’t want someone who they know will follow their rules.)

    Or is this crazy beyond even that?

  • Red

    What I find so strange….and yet somehow, so NOT surprising….about Debi Pearl is that she goes against a very large portion of fundamentalist women’s ministry in how she describes her desire for Michael. Most women (at least since the 90s, when I was a youth group kid) are guilted into not wanting a guy “too much” because you’re in danger of replacing Jesus with that guy in your heart.

    It just seems strange to me to run across an uber-conservative woman admitting that a human person had been her “goal.” Most of these women would go on to add some caveat about how God had to teach them to want him first and cleanse their heart of idolatry, etc. etc., before they got their man.

    Yet in another way, it’s not surprising. The outworkings of hard-core patriarchy do in fact make women put their husbands on Pedestal #1, above everything else, even though they SAY such a thing would be idolatrous.

    Maybe Debi is just more honest than most fundamentalists about what’s really going on.

    • bitwise

      I also found that interesting. I noticed, too, that she was the one who told him how she felt, instead of meekly waiting for him to say something. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I wonder if, at this point in the Fundamentalist movement, the rules on how courtship is supposed to progress weren’t so codified? Maybe it was books like this one that established all the rigid how-to’s?

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        Courtship was not even a thing at this point. Debi’s generation – and my mother’s generation – dated. My understanding is that courtship is a brand new invention, not older than twenty or thirty years. It’s a response to modern culture, not something that has been preserved since the 1800s. Good point!

      • Alice

        Ok, that makes sense. Also, I was really thrown off when Debi called him a “trophy.” Talk about fundamentalist gender reversal. LOL.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Good points! What I think you’ll find over and over in Debi’s writing is that she sees women as man-directed, and men as God-directed.

      I see this as a major conflict within evangelicalism and fundamentalism in general. They teach that everyone is to have a personal relationship with God, but then they also adhere to patriarchal or complementarian (which is the same thing, really) structures. Evangelical women who buck the patriarchal aspects claim the personal relationship with God aspect as their reasons for doing so. In some sense, evangelicalism has a strong tradition of equality and individualism, and this tradition conflicts with modern evangelicalism’s embrace of patriarchy (don’t be fooled – evangelicals have not always embraced patriarchy – there was actually a time that they challenged patriarchy to the extent that they were seen as culturally subversive for that).

      • Pauline

        Wow, thank you for this even-handed and historically detailed honesty about evangelicals!

        Seriously… I no longer necessarily self-identify as an evangelical but I know a lot of them and I so frequently see them viciously stereotyped online without any attention to nuance or even reality, and it really bothers me… This is a breath of fresh air and makes me want to read your blog more.

      • Liz

        “(don’t be fooled – evangelicals have not always embraced patriarchy – there was actually a time that they challenged patriarchy to the extent that they were seen as culturally subversive for that).”

        I know this comment is old, but I’m really interested in hearing more about this!

    • Sarah

      I would imagine that this is a case of psychological justification. She probably knows, subconsciously, that this relationship has been harmful for her and- given that she has clearly been led to believe all relationship problems are the woman’s fault- has to reaffirm for herself that this relationship is what she wanted. If her perspective when looking back is that she was wildly infatuated, perhaps to a “sinful” degree, it is (in her mind) her own fault if there are any current problems or she is currently unhappy, and this is an idea he could very easily have perpetuated in order to force her to stay with him out of guilt if she ever expressed doubt. Assuming she would view this fixation on him as shameful, like most fundies, it’s also a pretty clear demonstration of a brainwashing symptom called “self betrayal”; you view your “old self” and anything that created that “old self” as bad/wrong/etc, and adopt a “new self” which is disconnected from it in order to distance yourself from those feelings of guilt and shame.

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    The part that bothers me the most is “It is God’s gift to every woman” and even the title “Created to be his help meet”. In other words, because I am a woman, the only purpose in my life is to be a wife. So if I’m single, my life is meaningless.

    I actually legitimately worried about this in the past- “what if my life is meaningless because I don’t have a guy?”- before I realized that within Christianity, there is a whole spectrum of opinions about relationships/dating/marriage, and this kind of thinking is very far to the extreme end.

  • Carol

    “During the 1960s, there was an awful lot of “seeking” going on as young people disillusioned by the black and white life of the 1950s and the constant threat of nuclear war sought to find something more.”

    Also the Vietnam war and the draft was in full swing at this time. Fortunately for Michael he seems to have managed not to get drafted or and apparently he didn’t enlist either.

  • Terri Anne

    Debi’s words show the caustic contempt she has for people. The young people that her husband preached to are “used up druggies”. The older women in his congregation are “old ladies” not even worthy of a handshake. Young girls who have any ambition other than to get married are “silly”. I would not be surprised if Debi and her husband go home after church and criticize the people in their congregation severely.

  • Adele

    Let me preface by saying “no, this is not normal or healthy”, but I honestly don’t find Debi’s story all that outrageous. They had known each other for seven years. No, they hadn’t been in a relationship but they had obviously spent a lot of time together. I am picturing a lot of drives to and from gospel meetings and all the conversations that would have happened. You can get to know a person really well that way. I was actually reminded of Laura Ingalls Wilder and the story of her courtship with Almanzo. They spent years going on weekly buggy rides and then actually got married pretty quickly after getting engaged. I do agree that Michael is a jerk and a predator taking total advantage of a young girl who is a member of his congregation, but I can sort of get how Debi sees it. I’m sure to her it is extremely romantic and she is intentionally presenting herself as young and silly and a little wild.

    • CLDG

      I agree with this – it’s only in light of knowing who they are that it sounds creepy and abnormal. Otherwise, it would be like somebody’s grandparents’ romantic story, not unlike that of my own grandparents, who married within a few months of meeting each other. And my parents, in the same era as the Pearls, were similar (this all strikes me now as very much of its era): never was a proposal or ring, just “knowing” that they were supposed to be married, married fairly quickly. And they went on to become PF/Gothardites in the 90′s, which I’m betting will turn out to have a very strong generational/cultural component of having been young Christians in the 70′s. [/digression]

      Once again, I find myself responding to Debi Pearl with, “That’s nice – for YOU.” What is this pathological need to turn everything personal into the mandate for all good and righteous people?

      • Judy L.

        The pathological need to turn everything personal into the mandate for all good and righteous people is based in religious belief and/or supreme arrogance coupled with insecurity. All religions require of their believers that they pass on those beliefs either to their own children or to prosthelytize and convert other people. I think it’s simply the need to feel secure and confident in the righteousness of your own beliefs or choices or behaviours, and this need is satisfied by convincing others of your righteousness when simply forcing them to believe like you believe or live like you live isn’t feasible or achievable.

  • smrnda

    How do you get to know someone as an individual when all of your interactions are mediated by some church you’re attending? I don’t feel like I *know* people until I’ve seen them separated from whatever group they hang with long enough to get a feel for what they’re like.

    She’s obviously incapable of writing about anyone (except her husband) in a flattering light, and she takes things her husband does which could be seen as rude (like not shaking people’s hands) and somehow turns it into a positive. Seems like a pretty skewed vision of life and a ‘my man is always right because that’s what a good wife says.’

    Plus, when she wants to yammer on about irresponsible sex, you use the pill so you can have sex and be responsible. I’ve also known people who used drugs recreationally who were quite successful and had not given up their dignity.

    People like the Pearls seem to never encounter normal non-believers, just people whose lives are a mess who are desperately searching for anything that sounds like an answer. It’d be like me saying that everyone from Pakistan must be really smart, since all the Pakistanis I met were in graduate school or were professors.

    • http://noadi.etsy.com Noadi

      Confirmation bias at it’s finest, plus an assumption that everyone they meet who is a good person must be a Christian.

  • wanderer

    if I told some dude that I wanted to bear his child when I had never mentioned being interested before, and then he took off running around the house multiple times…… we’d both need to be locked up with no sharp objects.

    • http://noadi.etsy.com Noadi

      If he just took off running and didn’t come back THAT would be a normal reaction.

  • http://politicsproseotherthings.blogspot.com/ Nathaniel

    “Once upon a time there was a silly young girl who grew up to learn what it means to be a help meet – God’s secret for a heavenly marriage. ”

    Holy crap these people are incapable of knowing how others will hear them.

  • wanderer

    What must it do to a man’s psyche to believe that another human being EXISTS just to help him?

  • Judy L.

    Libby Anne: I need to tell you that your use of ‘not normal’ to critique the Pearl’s relationship is problematic. ‘Normal’ assumes an establishment of a standard and anything that falls outside that standard is deemed ‘abnormal’, with all the negative cultural connotations that word has accrued. When you use these terms to evaluate people’s behaviour, you’re passing judgment on their failure to conform to a standard, and as we all know, when human beings establish standards of behaviour for other humans, the end result is always tyranny. Weird is a much better word, I think, and your description of Pastor Michael’s refusal to shake hands with his congregation as such hit just the right note.

    I wouldn’t criticize the Pearl’s ‘courtship’ as not being normal. It just sounds downright creepy: a romanticized fantasy scenario where an infatuted and probably high-strung adolescent girl wins the heart of the sociopathic object of her affection. Of course, I don’t think the manner of their ‘courtship’ would really matter to any of us if their relationship had turned out differently and if they didn’t make it their life’s work to tell everybody else how to conduct their intimate relationships or how to get the greatest amount of joy by abusing children according to their standards.

    • KarenH

      I agree that “not normal” is the best choice to describe it, but I also got the feeling that it was a kinder, gentler placeholder for “that’s all kinds of f’ed up.”

      • Judy L.

        :) I much prefer ‘that’s all kinds of f’ed up’. Abnormal is a term that people who conform to the mainstreams of life, either by default or because they feel they have to, use to demonize and dismiss those who don’t conform. I usually hear it when someone is expressing homophobia, where “That’s not normal” is a statement of disgust and disapproval rather than simply a statement that heterosexuality is the typical sexuality for the majority of people in the world and gay and bisexual people fall outside that mainstream.

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  • Brian Lynch

    Carroll Spinney apparently proposed to his wife on the first date. But he was an accomplished cartoonist, puppeteer, and army veteran who had great life experience and went on to be Big Bird, not a kid fresh from Bible School with no idea of the world who went on to be a child abuse tutor. So I guess it’s a different story.

  • http://northfacewinterboots.yolasite.com/ North Face Winter Boots

    His cake is four times as big as mine.It’s going too far.I am a football fan.The secret was spread among the crowd.she has been cranky all day.I go to school by bike every day.I go to school by bike every day.No way!A wet road is usually slippery.How did the game turn out?

  • http://EvaLindaHays@facebook.com Not “Normal”!!!

    Being a “victuim” of Love myself, the more I learn, the more I learn that I know very little.
    I read the book in question only because a friend of mine told me she knew the author personally.
    Far be it from me to put anyone down!
    Being a happily married (almost forty years), mother of nine (of the best in the world) children, I could write stories of our adventures; but I would NOT call myself an “expert” or judge others.
    My review of the book is that she encourages young women who know no better to be idolatrous. Men need women to keep them in line! That is why God gave me five daughters!
    I do not recommend the book even though it has some good in it. It has deadly poison mixed with the good.
    Jesus set us free from the curse of the law! God wants His children, male or female, free to serve Him!!!!
    Follow Jesus! Don’t follow the Pearls!

  • Alice

    I really should have known the story of how those two crazies got married would be interesting, but DAMN! That gives “short courtship” a whole new meaning.

  • Richter_DL

    Oh great, so America has Medrassas. Indespensable for a fundamentalist parallel culture.


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