CTBHHM: (Misplaced) Hope for an Abused Woman

Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 232—236

Remember that we are in the chapter on wives being “obedient” to their husbands. This section is titled “How to Win Your Lost Husband,” and begins by quoting a letter she received.

Dear Pearls, 

My husband is lost. He is full of anger. I feel hopeless of ever having a heavenly marriage. Has anyone ever emerged from the gloom and doom I am now in and achieved a heavenly marriage? Does God in his grace and mercy have a plan and promise on how to win my godless husband to saving grace? How long? How long? I want to believe there is hope. I want to trust and obey God, whether my husband ever gets saved or not, but I would love to have a little hope and direction on how I could win my husband to Christ. I have prayed and cried out to God. I have been faithful to Bible study and church. I have given tithes and offerings, and I have seen nothing in the way of repentance from my husband. I do not want to leave him. I want to love him, but it is hard. Is there any hope left?

Amy

Within the evangelical or fundamentalist viewpoint, divorce is not an option. Far too often, communicating with your spouse is not an option either. This leaves those in unhappy marriages only one option: persevering and hoping that maybe, somehow, things will change.

Now on to Debi’s response.

God Gives Us Hope and a Plan in I Peter 3

Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. (I Peter 3:1-6)

In those six verses, God reveals his plan for a wife to win her lost husband to faith in Christ. The following true story, a part of my own experience, illustrates a woman applying this passage and winning her husband by her chaste conversation—without preaching the Bible to him.

Just FYI, “conversation” is KJV speak for behavior or conduct.

My Friend, the Queen

When I was a young wife, my best friend had an unsaved husband. She always reminded me of a queen. She had a certain presence about her, in addition to her beauty, poise, and intelligence. She was a pastor’s daughter, raised very religiously and with high standards. But when she was seventeen, she crossed paths with a young man of charm, the first guy to ever show interest in her. She “fell in love” at first sight, and they ran away and married. She soon learned that her husband was hardworking, when he worked. But, he had several bad habits which included use of tobacco in various forms, cursing, screaming at her when he was mad and pornography. By the time I met her, she had come to repentance and was trying to make a go of this unequal marriage. Through God’s grace and her growing fear of the Lord, she was able to live out the “love” chapter of I Corinthians 13.

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. (I Cor. 13:4-7)

When he was rude or insensitive, she did not get puffed up with righteous indignation. When he was mean and cussed at her, she was kind and suffered long. She bore with his sloppiness and believed he would bring home the paycheck instead of spending it on the way home. Most of the time, she was able to endure all things with cheer and thanksgiving.

Somehow I don’t think this is what I Corinthians 13 means. Or maybe it is, and I’ve just never read it that way. Either way, Debi is turning it into a call for rolling over and playing dead. Endure, endure, endure, and say nothing. That isn’t what I would call loving. Loving someone sometimes entails calling them out on problems, pushing them to do better, or even leaving.

When she came to me for advice, I hid my sick feelings and told her what the Bible said, (not what I felt) which was, “To honor God, you must honor your husband.” Every day I felt as though I were watching a heavenly battle, and God was winning. Other than his use of pornography, the vice that repelled her the most was his physical uncleanness. He often required “things” of her that were repulsive because he had not bathed. I felt truly ill when I thought of her in this situation. Yet she submitted and responded to him. Of course, she would tell him how happy she would be and how happy she would be, if he would bathe.

In case it’s not obvious, “things” is a reference to sexual acts. Out of this entire book, this story is the one that that really made me feel ill.

Part of the reason evangelicals and fundamentalists don’t tend to write much about marital rape is that their theology results in a situation where women don’t feel that saying “no” is an option. In this environment, drawing a line between consensual sex and marital rape can be very tricky, if not well nigh impossible. In this case, Debi’s friend did not want to have sex with her husband, and was in fact repelled with disgust by the sexual acts he “required” of her. But as a result of her theology, she nevertheless would not merely “submit” to his acts but actually “respond” to them. Can I say how messed up this is?

Anyway, moving on.

She believed in I Peter 3:1-2,

Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.

It wasn’t going to church or having a quiet time with God each day that won him. She won him by responding to him with honor and affection. It never occurred to her to shame him or impress him with her “religion,” which was real. And she did not honor her husband because she was raised to honor him. It was a day-to-day miracle for her. Witnessing her experience built faith in me like nothing ever had before. I had seen thousands of people saved during the “Jesus movement” of the sixties. I had seen devils cast out, and I had watched people get healed of terrible diseases, but to see an eighteen-year-old pregnant girl walk before God in pure obedience to him was truly a miracle of miracles.

Can I reiterate how bad I feel for this poor girl? I just . . . I don’t even.

Her husband worked all night at a factory. All his fellow workers were drunks and whoremongers. One early morning near closing time, some of the men started complaining about their wives, telling each other how lazy, no account, dishonest, disloyal, cheap, sorry, fat, and ugly their wives were. My friend’s husband, Jim, said nothing. Finally, one of the men asked Jim about his wife. It was the first time he had ever really thought about his wife in comparison to the other men’s wives, and he was suddenly deeply thankful. “Oh, I am not going to tell you about my wife, because it would make you all mad.” The men insisted, so he told them, “She’s beautiful, with long, pretty blond hair. She is always so sweet; she will do anything for me. She thinks I am one hot-dog.” They all were highly irritated and thought he must be telling a lie. He told them, “When I go home this morning, she will be prettied-up and cooking my breakfast, and, she will meat me at the door with a very sexy kiss.” Since all the men had already given descriptions of their wives sleeping in and never fixing their breakfast, they simply would not believe Jim. After a heated conversation with a great deal of cursing and swearing, Jim boasted, “I bet I could take all you guys home for breakfast and she would cheerfully fix you the best breakfast you ever ate—-and all with a smile.” “No way,” they said. After more bragging, he ended up taking five of them home with him that morning, without calling to warn his wife.

Now, his unsuspecting young wife at home new nothing of their argumentative conversation and had no idea that her husband’s integrity was at stake. The Bible says, “A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: but she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones” (Proverbs 12:4). This young woman was about to become either a crown to her husband or rottenness. Unworthy though he was, he knew her and trusted her. She had earned his trust.

I don’t think this is what “earning someone’s trust” means.

At 6:30 in the morning, she met him at the door with a radiant face of love, her hair freshly brushed, and a pretty dress on. But instead of one smelly tobacco-chewing man, there were six—five of them looking rather embarrassed and apprehensive. Although surprised, she responded with delight, “Oh sweetheart, I see you brought your friends home.” In front of these men, this statement in itself was a great victory and an honor to Jim. He ushered his co-workers into his home and in a gruff manner said to his wife, “Fix breakfast for my friends.” This was asking a lot, since those men would eat all the food she had bought for the next week’s breakfasts. Jim made a poor-man’s wage, and he was not careful with his money. What was left was hers to make do. She went into the kitchen and prayed quietly, “Lord, you know I have to feed six men this morning. Please help me.” She cooked all the bacon, every egg, friend all the potatoes, and baked a huge pan of biscuits, plus, she made “country milk gravy.” Her whole week’s worth of breakfast supplies she graciously served on a snowy white tablecloth. The dirty men sat in strained, embarrassed silence as she served him.

This is reminding me of the 19th century Victorian ideal of women as a taming force, civilizing men.

It was Jim’s crowning moment. All the men knew instinctively that nothing between them would ever be the same. Jim’s wife did treat him with honor. He was different from them. The men ate, then got up and filed out. They must have noted that Jim never thanked his smiling wife.

Oh gosh. Okay, here it is. This sounds like something straight out of To Train Up A Child. The parent, in that book, trains the child just so so that when in public, the child performs perfectly, and all the other parents watch in awe. The parent is then held in high esteem, and is differentiated from other parents whose children are whining squalling brats. This is the same exact pattern.

He would never again be just one of the guys. They would always feel that he was a little smarter; he wasn’t the jerk they thought him to be.

Except that he was the jerk they thought him to be. His wife’s behavior allowed him to hide that he was a jerk. Remember how this has come up before? Debi wrote that women with husbands who were lazy, or bad fathers, or bad husbands should be “good” to their husbands by covering up for their shortcomings such that everyone else would think that they were in fact hardworking, good fathers, and good husbands. This is not only deceptive, it is also enabling. It allows men to hide and continue their faults rather than addressing them.

The next night at work, the men were still subdued. She had honored him when it meant the most—in front of the guys. She honored him because she believed God and chose to obey God by honoring a man who did not deserve her honor. She put down her feelings of revulsion, hurt, and of being used, and put on a chaste conversation. She was a crown to her husband.

And this is why people like me talk about evangelicalism and fundamentalism being a problem when it comes to abused women.

Can you see how her chaste conversation would win her husband—any husband?

No, actually. I can see plenty of husbands taking advantage of such a situation to walk all over their wives. What was to stop Debi’s friend’s husband from concluding that he really was something, and that he must be doing something right in how he was “handling” his wife?

Gradually, over the years, he came to treat her with respect. Her queenly manner made him see himself in a different light. The other guys were married to a bunch of dirty, clamorous, partying, base women, but his wife had class. He came to think of Christians as a more worthy class of people—kind, longsuffering, respectful, giving, honest, and frugal. What a testimony she had to the world! The rough and repulsive things fell away one by one, changing to loving kindness, not because she demanded it, but because she won him to herself by her chaste conversation. Even as an unsaved man, he came to honor her because she was so gracious. When he looked into her eyes, he saw a man better than what he knew himself to be. Love made him want to be worthy of her belief in him. The moral of this story is that I Peter 3 is true. By treating her husband like a king, she became a queen whom God used to win him to Jesus Christ. The “goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance”; so does the goodness of a good wife.

Years later, he finally came to true repentance and made Jesus the Lord of his life. When we went back to visit them recently, their children were grown, and he was praising the Lord and rejoicing in God’s goodness to his family.

Note that Debi does not hide how long it took for her friend’s husband to change. She admits it took years, and that the change was gradual. Even after she served breakfast for her husband, Debi’s friend still had to live with him requiring her to take part in sexual acts she found physically repulsive, yelling at her, and treating her like crap.

Debi’s analysis has some huge huge problems.

First, as we’ve already discussed, there was nothing actually forcing Debi’s friend’s husband to change, and no reason he couldn’t have simply concluded that he could abuse and push her around with impunity. There was nothing to stop him from concluding that Christians were all a bunch of sissies undeserving of any respect whatsoever. There was nothing to stop him from coming to despise his wife for her lack of backbone. There was utterly no guarantee that he would change or eventually come to respect her.

Second, Debi acts as though the only way that her friend’s husband could change or come to respect her friend was if her friend honored and submitted to him completely, but this is untrue. If Debi’s friend had stood up to her husband rather than rolling over—if her friend had told her husband that it was not okay for him to treat her like that, and that if he continued his behavior she would leave him—her husband might have had the impetus he needed to change much sooner than he ultimately did. Further, her doing so might have actually led her husband to gain more respect for her as someone who stood up for herself and had a strong sense of right and wrong.

Debi’s view of the situation is very one-dimensional, and it is one-dimensional in a way that traps women and shuts them off from other options or other forms of aid. This section of Debi’s book offers abused women hope that if they just submit enough, if they just honor enough, someday their husbands will treat them right and come to know Jesus. And that hope becomes yet one more rope tying them down.

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.


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