In Which Debi Poisons the Well

by Libby Anne

Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 49-51

Dear Debi,

How can I have a merry heart when my husband treats me harshly? Do I just pretend he is a good man instead of a lazy, TV-watching, selfish jerk? Do I just let him walk on me? How can I have a merry heart when all I feel is pain?


Debi’s response is typical of what we have seen so far:

Dear Linda,

You have two choices. You can doubt God and say, “I know God does not expect me to honor this man.” Or, you can say, “God, I know your Word teaches me to be a woman who is there to help meet all my husband’s desires and dreams. Make me that woman.”

Debi does not mince words. Women exist to meet their husband’s “desires and dreams.” End of story. One thing I will say for Debi: she doesn’t spend a lot of time trying to dress up her teachings to make them more palatable.

A woman’s calling is not easy. To allow someone else to control your life is much harder than taking control of it yourself.

Interestingly, it’s not clear from context whether this sentence refers to a woman letting her husband control her life or a woman letting God control her life, and that very fact is revealing to how often God and husband get all intermingled and coagulated in Debi’s writing and instructions.

It doesn’t take a good man, or even a saved man, for a woman to have a heavenly marriage, but it does take a woman willing to honor God by being the kind of wife God intended. It takes one woman willing to be a help meet — a suitable helper. If you look at your husband and can’t find any reason to want to help him — and I know some of you are married to men like that — then look to Christ and know that it is He who made you to be a help meet. You serve Christ by serving your husband, whether your husband deserves it or not.

The more I read of Debi the more clear it is that she really is suggesting that women can create perfect marriages by themselves. Debi says that women can have a “heavenly marriage” even with a man who doesn’t want to cooperate in creating such a marriage. And finally, she says once again that women obey God when they obey their husbands, and, too, that they must “serve” their husbands whether they feel their husbands deserve it, and even whether their husbands have any redeeming qualities at all.

Women exist to serve men. Check. Women can make their marriages perfect on their own. Check. Obedience to your husband is obedience to God. Check. A wife must serve her husband whether he has any good in him or not. Check. Sadly, this is all typical Debi and really shouldn’t come as a surprise if you’ve been reading my reviews over the past couple of months.

What I want to focus on here is something slightly different: Debi’s use of a fallacy called poisoning the well.


Description: To commit a pre-emptive ad hominem attack against an opponent.  That is, to prime the audience with adverse information about the opponent from the start, in an attempt to make your claim more acceptable, or discount the credibility of your opponent’s claim.

Logical Form:

Adverse information (be it true or false) about person 1 is presented.

Therefore, the claim(s) of person 1 will be false.

Example #1:

Tim: Boss, you heard my side of the story why I think Bill should be fired and not me.  Now, I am sure Bill is going to come to you with some pathetic attempt to weasel out of this lie that he has created.

Explanation: Tim is poisoning the well by priming his boss by attacking Bill’s character, and setting up any defense Bill might present as “pathetic”.  Tim is committing the fallacy here, but if the boss were to accept Tim’s advice about Bill, she, too, would be committing the fallacy.

Example #2:

I hope I presented my argument clearly.  Now, my opponent will attempt to refute my argument by his own fallacious, incoherent, illogical version of history.

Explanation: Not a very nice setup for the opponent.  As an audience member, if you allow any of this “poison” to affect how you evaluate the opponent’s argument, you are guilty of fallacious reasoning.

Exception: Remember that if a person states facts relevant to the argument, it is not an ad hominem attack.  In the first example, if the other “poison” were left out, no fallacy would be committed.

Tim: Boss, you heard my side of the story why I think Bill should be fired and not me.  Now, I am sure Bill is going to come to you with his side of the story, but please keep in mind that we have two witnesses to the event who both agree that Bill was the one who told the client that she had ugly children.

Now that you have a basic understanding of the “poisoning the well” fallacy, let’s return to Debi. Remember that Debi has just finished telling reader Linda that it is her duty to obediently serve her husband whether she likes him or not.

Women who have difficulties in their marriages usually follow their feelings and just react. But you must stop trusting your hurt responses or the advice you receive from the world, for today’s media communicates a worldview that is skewed at best.

Here Debi tells women that they can’t trust their feelings and they shouldn’t trust the advice they receive from the world. Your friend tells you your husband is abusive? You can’t trust that! A counselor tells you you’re codependent? That’s just the world talking! Ignore it! Sadly, this sort of thing is all too common in fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism, and it allows pastors and people like Debi to keep their followers from looking beyond their insular world for information by creating and fostering inherent distrust of any other information.

And on the next page, Debi does it again:

Now, before we go any further, we must first consider a pertinent matter. You must come to terms with the fact that the biblical well from which I would have you drink this living water has already been put off limits in your mind by timid Bible teachers who have themselves never tasted the gift of a heavenly marriage.

There are many books written by men, “scholars,” that undermine the beauty of a woman’s help meet position. They do so by casting doubt on the Bible itself. They talk in elaborate and “learned” terms about “the original languages” and the “cultural settings” in which the words of scripture were written. … [They would] block [the] way to the well of water that produces heavenly marriages.

Debi is warning her readers that there are Christians out there, including Biblical scholars who use big fancy words, who will argue that the Bible says something different about women’s roles. Debi is preemptively informing her readers that those scholars are wrong, and that they are out to mislead women and keep them from obtaining “heavenly marriages.”

And once again, this is something common in fundamentalist and conservative evangelical circles. As an evangelical child, for example, I was taught that “liberal Christians” were clueless dupes at best and cunning villains out to destroy God’s truth at worst. In this way, fundamentalist and conservative evangelical pastors work to make sure their followers view the words and arguments of progressive Christians and Bible scholars as treacherous songs of a siren to be avoided at all costs. In other words, they work to ensure that their followers will not even listen to, much less consider,the arguments of progressive Christians and Bible scholars.

See, Debi knows that the ideas that she is putting forward compete with other ideas, and that her voice is only one among many, both in society at large and also within Christianity. In order to make sure that her readers listen to her and not to these other voices, she poisons the well. Her goal is to make sure that when her readers hear other ideas and opinions they will say “we were warned against you, and taught to see you as the false prophet you are.” In other words, Debi is not simply stating that she knows there are other arguments and she thinks they are wrong. Rather, she is laying the groundwork to ensure that her readers will not even be willing to listen to those other arguments. And in this way, she is seeking to create a captive audience, an audience willing to listen only to her, an audience that will immediately reject any counter-arguments without even offering them a hearing.

Comments open below

Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Libby Anne blogs at Love, Joy, Feminism
The Beautiful Girlhood Doll by Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the religious right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving fundamentalist and evangelical religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the problems with the “purity culture,” the intricacies of conservative and religious right politics, and the importance of feminism. Her blog is Love, Joy, Feminism

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce


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  • texcee

    I once asked my husband (in gest, actually) if he would prefer that I be the perfect “Biblical” wife — quit my job, stay home, be submissive, allow him to control everything in our lives, etc. His answer was: “Are you f****ing kidding me?!!” He was horrified that I’d put that kind of burden on him.

  • D’Ma

    Reading this article both made me nauseated and proud of myself at the same time.

    I’m nauseated that I let this kind of teaching permeate my life for nearly 20 years. Nauseated because I bought it. Nauseated because I let “god”, and thereby my husband, control my life. Nauseated because even when he spoke down to me, belittled me, put his hands on me, I continued to buy into this lie. Nauseated because I wouldn’t even give ear to any other thoughts or opinions because I just knew I was pleasing the Lord by choosing to let another walk all over me like a doormat.

    I’m proud of myself that even after all of that I finally had a moment of clarity. Proud that I had “aha” moment. Proud that the light bulb finally came on in my head. Proud that I finally did give ear to other opinions. Proud that I let it sink in and didn’t dismiss it. Proud that I finally saw this kind of teaching for the bullshit it actually is. Proud that I finally trusted my gut feelings and listened to the other voices. Proud that I was able to walk away from it and start over.

    Thankful. So very thankful that those voices were out there. Thankful that they got through to me.

    Poisoning the well? You got that right! Many fundamentalist Christian teachers use that tactic to get women like me to dismiss those pesky false prophets out there who might actually want you to be safe and truly happy – not just working your butt off to manufacture happiness..

  • Retha

    “A woman’s calling is not easy. To allow someone else to control your life is much harder than taking control of it yourself.” – Debi Pearl

    Now why does the verse: “The fruit of the spirit is … self-control” come up in my head?

  • RenadaJoy

    My mom could have written “Linda”s letter, and certainly followed Debi Pearl’s advice, for twenty-seven years of marriage that never became anything remotely close to heavenly and produced two daughters with very different, but equally damaging, dysfunctional attitudes toward men. This teaching is beyond irresponsible — it literally destroys lives.

  • Nightshade

    The system isn’t good for anyone, even the men at the top of the patriarchal ladder-total, complete responsibility for everything that happens in a family is too heavy a weight for any one person to have to bear.

  • Kimberly

    My mom also could have written “Linda’s letter.” She did everything Debi encourages, was a beautiful doting wife and was physically and emotionally abused. Debi’s advice does ruin lives and is cruel , perhaps lethal. Anyone woman married to an alcoholic or an abusive man should seek out groups, such as Al-Anon to get the right kind of advice and support. Being a doormat makes a woman a victim and causes her to lose her sense of self worth. What Debi “preaches” is not in the scripture I read!

  • Persephone

    The more of these articles I read, the more I believe that Debi makes up most, if not all, of the letters.

  • Ian

    I agree with you. These letters are kind of like Rush Limbaugh’s callers. Amazingly, his callers always bring up a point he is just about to make

    Unfortunately, my wife has a copy of this book. Her bible study group went through it, but I am not sure what ever happened with it. I think she wants to believe this book, since her mom ground these horrid ideas into her head. On the other hand, I have never expected her to be my helpmeet (read slave), so by the time she bought the book, the seeds of doubt had been planted.

    My experience with the “Proverbs 31″ women has shown me the hypocrisy. The first is the kind who will defer to the man in public, but they turn into real cats at home. Some of the nastiest fights I have seen or heard about have been from Proverbs 31 women. Because they have no outlet, it just explodes when the pressure builds up. The second is the kind who actually runs the house, kind of like the quote in My Big, Fat Greek Wedding, “the man is the head, but the woman is the neck and turns the head where she wants it.” Both kinds are lies and do a disservice to girls looking for role models.

  • madame

    you make some really good points:
    - wives trying to be perfect in the patriarchal world end up building up a lot of pressure. Depending on their personality, this tension will come out in different ways.
    - Many supposedly “submissive wives” are not “submissive” at all, they are manipulative and cunning to the core. Debi teaches them to be manipulative doormats.

    I hope your wife threw away the book and all the women in the churd did the same. I’m sure the pages would make good kindling!

  • Laura

    Debi poisons the well because she is a cult leader. Cult leaders must do that for their followers to believe in their superior knowledge.