by Libby Anne
Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 59-63
Having threatened her readers with all manner of “cruel” consequences for not following God’s marriage plan with its emphasis on wifely submission, and having urged her readers against thinking they can be “spiritual” or hear from God on their own, Debi follows up with a cautionary tale called “The Crazy Lady.” Here is how it begins:
I’ll never forget something that happened several years ago. A middle-aged couple with several children moved into our area so they could get counseling. The woman didn’t like the counseling they had received in the church where they had met and married She thought that by moving into our community where there were so many “spiritual men,” her husband would “get some help.” She wanted my husband to “disciple him,” to be “his mentor”—something Mike considers effeminate on the level she expected.
Debi goes on to explain that the husband had been a “highly successful and prosperous businessman” before the couple married, but that the wife disapproved of participation in the business world.
She thought he should “live by faith,” which meant not working, but staying home with the ever-expanding family.
Debi goes on to say that the wife was convinced that she was especially spiritual, and that her lovable “teddy bear” of a husband was convinced of that as well. The husband therefore followed his wife’s lead, and he “relocated and modified his business as ‘God directed her.’” However, his new business ventures did not succeed and his flock of homeschooled children multiplied, leaving him financially discouraged. He grew unsure of himself, and his wife saw this as evidence that he lacked faith. As a result, “their marriage bed suffered.” They began getting marriage counseling at their church and reading the Pearls’ literature. This was their situation immediately prior to moving into the Pearls’ area and hoping the move and a new community would solve their problems.
Let me pause to offer some analysis. I’ve actually seen this before, where a person will become convinced that they have a direct line to God and manage to bring all of those around them under their spell. In the case I experienced, which happened while I was in college, it was a young woman who claimed this connection. In fact, she actually said God spoke to her. She was so genuine and devout that we all believed her, and were eager to alter our lives according to her messages from God. At some point the whole thing imploded and it turned out that the young woman in question had mental problems and needed medication. But I don’t think her sense of certainty, and our willingness to mistake certainty for trustworthiness, are all that abnormal. And honestly, it sounds like something similar happened with the couple in this story.
One thing I want to point out before we get into Debi’s analysis is that I don’t think Debi would have a problem with this scenario if the genders were reversed. In other words, the problem is not that one spouse claims to have a special connection to God and the other believes this and follows what the first says. The problem is which spouse is claiming to be especially close to God and which is acquiescing.
It didn’t take my husband and me long to see the source of their problems.
Of course it didn’t! /snark
She was not her husband’s helper; she was his conscience.
Can I say how not surprised I am by this diagnosis?
We shared God’s Word with her, telling her that her disobedience and lack of reverence to her husband were sin. She was shocked that we would think she was disobedient to her husband. She was very committed to reading and studying God’s word and loved to “share” with other women.
As I read this, I had two thoughts.
First, Debi is highly distrustful of women studying the Bible on their own and having their own independent relationships with God and independent prayer lives. It almost sounds here like Debi saw this woman, with her desire to “share” what she had learned from God’s word with the other women in their community, as a threat. And indeed, women developing their own spirituality and own connections with God is a threat to Debi’s patriarchal religious beliefs. Debi, remember, has made it very clear that she both learned what she is sharing here from her husband and that her husband read the book and approved of it before she published it. This woman, in contrast, does not properly contextualize her ability to ascertain God’s will within this patriarchal framework.
At the same time, the situation Debi is describing is clearly not healthy. Once again, I want to point out that I’ve been there. It is absolutely not healthy when one person claims to have a clear and direct line to God, to be especially “spiritual,” and to know what God wants for the individuals around her. But what Debi is missing is that this is not healthy not because of the genders of those involved but rather because any relationship that functions like this, with one party claiming access to the voice of God and the other nodding and following, is not healthy.
I’m going to go beyond this and say that any absolute certainty about God’s will isn’t healthy. What I mean is that it seems to me that it’s one thing to believe that God calls everyone to be kind to those around them, or to be ethical in their business practices, and quite another to believe that God has told you to give up your job and start a home business, or to move to Phoenix, Arizona. I remember convincing myself that God wanted me to do some very specific thing, and looking back I am amazed by how contrived it all looks.
And so the story continues. It seems that the couple had to use all of their money on the relocation, and that the wife insisted on tithing every little bit they got as time went on, “believing God would return it manyfold.”
We warned her over and over against usurping authority and dishonoring her husband.
Notice that the problem isn’t tithing every last little bit of their money and thus leaving them in dire financial straights. The problem isn’t treating God like a genie where you put dollars in and hundred dollar bills shoot out. The problem is that tithing the last bit of their money is her idea rather than her husband’s idea.
She just couldn’t believe that God would have her, a spiritual woman, stand up for and follow a “carnal” man.
Lets ignore, for a moment, the problems I have with this woman’s belief that she has a direct line to God and her spouse’s choice to assume that God is indeed speaking through her, especially about such specific things as what business he should be in and where they should live. Let’s turn it around a little. Let’s talk about competency. Recall for a moment how John Piper said that if a man and a woman are in danger, threatened by a knife-wielding stranger, for instance, “he should step in front of her and be ready to lay down his life to protect her, irrespective of competency. It is written on his soul. That is what manhood does.” I sense that same line of thinking here. The wife in the story is saying that she is especially spiritual and her husband is not, so they should follow her spirituality. It’s much like saying that one spouse is really good at mechanical things while the other isn’t, so that spouse should be the one who fixes things when they break. It’s about competency. But for Debi, it’s not about competency, it’s about gender, irrespective of competency.
This next section is very evocative of Debi’s views about both women’s spirituality and egalitarian Christians’ views of the Bible:
The foremost drive of her life was her own “deep” spirituality. She felt that the “Spirit” was her guide and that what God said about and to women concerning their position in the chain of command was not relevant to her; she was the exception. Furthermore, she had read books and pamphlets and heard sermons that explained away the passages that seem to limit a woman’s role in the family and the church. They stated something like, “The original Greek word says . . . . What that really means is . . . . You see, Paul was speaking to cultural issues peculiar to that time . . . . Surely God wouldn’t command a woman to . . . . In Christ there is no male or female . . . . Weren’t there women prophets?”
She was totally deceived into thinking that her female intuition, sensitivity and passions were spirituality. She had no idea that she was a woman in total rebellion against God.
Stop the train! I figured it out! I know what Debi is doing here!
Debi is eliding equality with female domination. In other words, Debi is telling women that if they think they can hear from God like men, the result is going to be marriages where the woman leads and the man is completely cowed. The idea that a man and a woman could actually be equal in a relationship, that you could actually have a cooperative partnership without one partner dominating the other, is completely foreign to Debi, and she’s working on making sure that it’s foreign to her readers as well. You think you can be equal? Well then, is what your husband will look like if you continue down that path. A cowed woman.
And then there’s this:
When a woman attempts to live for God contrary to his Word, her “spirituality” is equal to witchcraft, because she is attempting to “divine” the will of God in total disregard of his clear written words.
Witchraft is about the worst thing you can be accused of in fundamentalist or conservative evangelical circles, and Debi is telling women that if they try to think for themselves about religious matters, well, that’s witchcraft. Because the Bible is obvious and clear, and if you think too long about it, witchcraft. If you ask questions? Witchcraft. Biblical criticism, looking at the Greek, learning more about the cultural context in which the Bible was written? Witchcraft.
It certainly was clear to my husband and I; her sin would be her destruction.
Once again, her sin, according to Debi, is being her husband’s conscience instead of his help meet. And beyond that, her sin is thinking she can be spiritual. Because she’s a woman.
It had already reduced her once strong, resourceful husband into a fearful, pitiful man.
You got that? It’s either be your husband’s submissive help meet or cow him into being a shell of a man. Equality? Cooperation? A union of two equals? Impossible, at least in Debi’s world. It’s be a submissive wife, or a have cowed, womanly husband.
But it’s what’s coming that makes this story so strange.
Over the years, the poisonous bile of her soul had been affecting her mind. One night, immediately after an especially powerful church service, while everyone was fellowshipping, I saw her approach my husband rather overly excited, so I began to make my way to him in case he needed me. Just as I got close, I saw her begin to swing her arms in wide jerky movements and heard her yell out loudly that her husband was in an adulterus affair with Marilyn Monroe (dead then for 50 years or so). She said she had a vision from God, which explained all their troubles. About the time I got to her side, she began to name several of the young mothers with new babies in the church as her husband’s sex partners, claiming the babies were his.
Debi’s explanation of this?
God had visited her with madness. He does “fearful” things like that. He didn’t just allow it to happen, he was there to push her over the edge. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. She had no fear of God. She should have.
I don’t think I like Debi’s God.
And then Debi confirms something I was saying earlier:
This lady believed she could force her husband to submit because she was “spiritually anointed.”
Like I said before, Debi is using this story to demonstrate to her readers that there are two options: Either submit, or force your husband to submit. If you try to lead and your husband submits to your leadership, God will drive you mad. If, in contrast, you submit and let your husband lead, God will give you props. And once again, the idea that a married couple could actually form a partnership of equals is foreign to her.
How does this story finish? Like this:
God was not mocked. The whole family still reaps what she sowed to this day. A wife without genuine fear of God can drift so far from reality that she needs sedatives to maintain an appearance of sanity.
And here I think I’m getting an idea of Debi’s conception of mental illness.
Debi goes on to make this specific example more general.
By the time many women are entering their fortieth year, they are teetering on the edge of mental instability.
Why? Because they have spent their lives “practicing bitterness,” especially against their husbands, rather than “practicing being thankful and merry.” And, as Debi insists, practice makes perfect.
In the course of time, her edginess and moodiness grow, she realizes that she can no longer control her nervousness. One day her “nerves” snap and she loses control, screaming like a crazy woman and calling loved ones terrible names. She will say it was “just a bad hormone day,” but the family will wonder. The family learns to tolerate her occasional blow-ups, and she keeps practicing. After a visit to the doctor, she is calmer . . . “more her old self.” The doctor changed her medication.
Be thankful and merry, Debi says, or God will drive you mad.
Here is a photo of what comes next, the last page in this section:
So yes, Debi is literally threatening women with madness if they refuse to follow her marriage advice, telling them that if they refuse to submit to their husbands, they will go mad. And she’s also telling them that if they think they can approach their spirituality independently, or interpret and study the Bible for themselves, they are practicing witchcraft and God will punish them by rendering them insane. Don’t think, Debi is telling these women. Don’t read or pray or reason on your own. Just obey your husband and God will be happy with you. Oh, and smile!
Comments open below
Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Libby Anne blogs at Love, Joy, Feminism
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