CTBHHM: How To Be an Abused Woman

by Libby Anne

Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 54-55

***trigger warning***

Debi starts this passage by laying out what she calls “God’s Blueprint for Marriage.” She first quotes several verses:

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let wives be to their own husbands in everything (Ephesians 5: 22-24)

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord” (Colossians 3:18)

“But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” (I Corinthians 11:3)

Next, she offers a short outline:

  1. God commands wives to submit to their OWN husbands.
  2. God informs men that they are the head of the wife.
  3. God tells the wives to be subject to their husbands in everything, every decision, every move, every plan, and all everyday affairs.

(Just to be clear, every time I capitalize or bold or italicize or underline something, it’s because that’s how it is in the text.)

Quick note: Debi emphasizes that women are to be subject to their “own” husbands for a reason. I remember once I was at an evangelical summer camp, and I said something affirming of female submission that was overheard by a male instructor. He jumped in to correct me, emphasizing that women are only to submit to their own husbands, and not to men in general. He made it clear that this was a very important point, and that he felt that it was this distinction that made the command for women to submit acceptable. Debi seems to be making the same point.

With this blueprint laid out, the entire rest of this passage is a sort of abuse apologia that just seems to get worse and worse the longer it goes on.

There will be times in your marriage when it will take faith and wisdom to believe that God is good, kind, and just in his command for you to submit to your husband in everything. Note that what God commands a woman to do does not hinge on the man loving his wife as Christ loved the Church. If it did, there is not one single husband who ever lived and breathed who would be worthy of his wife’s submission or reverence. … What God says stands, regardless of the man’s goodness or the apparent lack thereof. You were given your blueprints with words like honor, submit, and reverence. This is God’s will and … it is up to us to believe and obey God.

Debi is referring here to God’s command to men that they must love their wives, which accompanies the Ephesians passage she quotes above. Evangelicals often act as though there’s nothing wrong with the command that women submit to their husbands because it’s accompanied by the command that husbands must love their wives. I’ve touched before on the absolute inequality in between “submit” and “love” – one is an action and the other a feeling – but what Debi says here brings up another problem with the equation, namely that wives are required to submit whether or not their husbands love them as they are commanded to do. In other words, sure, a husband should love his wife, but evangelicals will go on telling women they have to submit regardless of whether their husbands love them. In my book, that means that the fact that husbands are supposed to love their wives doesn’t mean a fig when it comes to examining the command that wives must submit to their husbands.

There’s more, too, more that highlights the inequality of these commands. If a woman does not submit but a husband follows his command to love her anyway, he’s simply living with a woman wants to have some say in the decisions for the family. If a husband does not love but a wife still follows her command to submit to him, she finds herself stuck obeying the every whim and command of a selfish and abusive man. These two situations are not equal. And as we are about to see, Debi’s insistence that wives must obey, honor, and reverence their husbands regardless of whether their husbands are good or kind men is nothing short of abuse apology.

But first, let’s look at the word “reverence.” Oxford defines “reverence,” when used as a verb as it is here, as “to regard or treat with deep respect.” Respect is defined as “a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.” In other words, Debi’s statement that women must reverence their husbands completely regardless of how “worthy” a husband is suggests that a wife must treat their husbands with “a feeling of deep admiration” that is “elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements” … whether or not their husbands have abilities, qualities, or achievements that elicit admiration. The reality is that it is not possible to reverence a husband who is not worthy of reverence. These words don’t work like that!

With that out of the way, let’s continue. Debi follows up her blueprint by talking about the importance of the gift of wisdom:

It has been the gift of wisdom that has helped me to understand that God is delighted in me when I want to delight and please my man. A gift is something you receive that has not been earned or merited God wants to give you the gift of wisdom. It is this precious gift of wisdom that has enabled me to see beyond the piles of dumped trash bags.

I’m starting to think that the whole trash thing was a bone of contention early in Debi’s marriage – that she expected Mike to be the one in charge of taking out the trash, but he never did, and she became angrier and angrier about it until it proved to be some sort of San Juan Hill in her marriage, when she realized that if she just stopped expecting Mike to pick up after himself or do anything she wanted him to do, and instead did those things herself, she would be happy and a truly Godly wife.

Now, what Debi is doing here with the word “wisdom” is, I think, important. Wisdom usually means things like “the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgement” and “good sense.” When someone calls a woman wise, that generally means she is capable of making good decisions and calling out bullshit. One would think that wisdom is what would enable a woman to see through Debi’s words. But what Debi is doing here is claiming the word wisdom, and claiming that rather than being something you do, it’s something God just spontaneously hands you, and finally claiming that wisdom is something she already has. In other words, she’s trying to short circuit the possibility that a woman might take her words and use her better judgement to question and reject them. Debi is using wisdom as a proof text, something she can just slap onto her beliefs about women’s role and then hand over to women as a package deal.

What follows is, I think, the worst passage I have found in Debi’s work so far:

Your life will be full of dumped-trash-bag situations. Your husband will be selfish. He will be unkind. He will not respect your rights. He will be foolish. He may be cruel, and that son of Adam may actually walk in sin. But he cannot victimize you unless you react outside of the wisdom of God. You can decide to be in a constant state of anger and bitterness, or you can ask God for the wisdom to live each day in a state of honoring your man for God’s sake.

I’m sort of used to Debi by now, so it’s not often I have to close the book and walk away for my own sanity, but I had to here. And yes, Debi really does have that sentence in bold.

I’d like to think that Debi doesn’t know what she’s doing here, but given how often she assures her readers that she’s not ignorant of the sinful world around her, I really don’t think we can give her the benefit of the doubt. Debi knows that there are abused women out there. She knows that there are women who live in fear of their lives. She knows there are women out there who are threatened and beaten. In fact, she writes as much in that very paragraph! Selfish … unkind … foolish … cruel. And still she writes this, and without qualification.

What Debi is doing here is so toxic I’m having trouble finding words to make sense of it. Debi is literally telling women that, so long as they keep obeying their husbands, they can’t be victims. I’ve never been an abused woman, but I can try to imagine what that would do to my psyche if I were, and it ain’t pretty. She is telling victimized women that no matter how much they are abused, rather than seeking help they need to just keep on obeying, honoring, and reverencing their husbands. No matter what.

You need the precious gift of wisdom to be able to hold your tongue and be thankful when your flesh would strike in anger.

Because your anger – your feelings and your needs – are never, ever valid.

You need wisdom to see how feeling sorry for yourself is far from the heart of God.

Because it’s feeling sorry for yourself that makes you a victim being abused or mistreated.

You need this gift of wisdom as a constant reminder of the limitations of your female understanding.

Because when you start to realize that maybe you should just get out, it’s important to remember that that’s just your ignorant ladybrainz talking.

The gift of wisdom will remind you that God’s rules are not there to put you in bondage, but to help you make a man want to cherish, protect, and love you.

Because if you let your husband abuse you long enough, he’ll eventually come to cherish and love you.

Most of all, the gift of wisdom will enable you to serve and honor your husband because you are serving and honoring God.

Because your husband’s commands are from the mouth of God.

You will find fulfillment in your nature as a woman.

Because it is your nature to roll over and let your husband walk all over you.

You know what, Debi? What you are doing here is unspeakably vile. What you have written is nothing short of a manual for perpetuating abuse, and you do it gleefully. If I could snap my fingers and have all of your books burned, I would. You claim to believe in a God of love, mercy, and justice, but there is nothing loving, merciful, or just about any of this. What you are doing is utterly despicable. There is anger burning in my bones, anger at the suffering and injustice your writing encourages, and I’m having trouble containing it.

Fortunately, the very end of this passage gives me a tiny flash of hope:

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men [and women] liberally…” (James 1: 5)

Let us hope that Debi’s insistence that God gives women wisdom may backfire and help some women realize, if nothing else, that if they themselves can obtain wisdom individually, they needn’t be relying on Debi for it.

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


Patheos Atheist LogoLike No Longer Quivering and Patheos Atheist on Facebook!

Quoting Quiverfull: Part 2 - So Does This Punishment Fit The Crime?
"Lies Women Believe" Review 167 - 192
What Churches and Time Shares Have in Common - Toxic Manipulation
Quoting Quiverfull: Why All the Hormone-Blaming?
About Suzanne Calulu
  • Kristen Rosser

    The only mitigating factor I would add regarding Debi Pearl’s blatant endorsement of enabling/submitting to abuse, is that it seems fairly clear she is an abused wife herself, and this is the way she has chosen to cope with it– by entering a state of determined denial that she herself is a victim of continuing abuse, and using the Bible to support her position. Thus she can’t see the evil that she’s counseling, or that she’s the last person who should ever write a book on marriage.

  • http://suburbintwasteland.blogspot.com/ Suburbint

    As I said recently in a blog post about verbal and emotional abuse, this kind of teaching tells women that if they subject themselves to further humiliation and mistreatment, the narcissistic tyrant that has been making their lives hell will suddenly begin treating them with loving kindness.

    Part of wisdom is recognizing when your husband is doing something unwise and fighting for what’s best for your family. When my husband lost his job a few years back, he decided that it was a perfect time to take the LSAT and go to law school. In order to support our family, he would work nights. Nevermind the fact that we were already carrying quite a lot of debt, had two children, and were living with my mother. As a loving wife, I argued strenuously against this idea, and because he recognizes me as an equal and respects my opinions, he listened to what I had to say and even though he was bummed about it, he finally agreed that he needed to get a job* and we needed to pay off the debt that we already had before accruing any more.

    If I had behaved as Debi Pearl would have me behave, I would most likely be living in a Section 8 two-bedroom apartment, relying on food stamps and school breakfasts/lunches to feed my children, with a husband that we hardly ever saw due to the demands of law school and maybe a part-time job. We would be dependent on the whims of the state’s medical assistance program for medical care, creditors would be calling daily, and life would be beyond stressful.

  • Madame

    Considering that Michael recommends allowing some abuse for the sake of keeping the chain of command intact, I’m not surprised at all that Debi wrote this.
    Reading it was hard. I have come to hate the Complementarian view of marriage because it made me feel helpless and always in need of someone to rescue me from situations that I should be able to walk out of myself.

    I got myself a backbone and Noah’s Ark II left my landlord’s field behind the house. I kept exercising that backbone, and my husband finally got a job (we have three young children). Now I’m applying for part-time jobs to help us through.

    I tried cultivating that deep respect and all that stuff, and it didn’t work.

  • ssohara

    I appreciate so much your posts. You are so smart and analytical. Up to this post, however, I wasn’t anti-Debi. This chapter, though, changed that. The thing is – if your husband is basically a good guy who loves you but occasionally screws up – then, yeah, the advice to forgive, and so on, makes sense. But if he’s an abuser – nope. That’s incredibly scary. What are the boundaries? Debi doesn’t give any.

    I remember years ago reading James Dobson’s Love Must be Tough, and HIS advice to an abused woman is very different. He advises women to LEAVE. He tells women whose husbands continuously cheat on them to LEAVE. To me, that is much much better advice. Then again, Dobson actually has an M.D. And some common sense. He does tell women to try to reconcile with their husband, but it’s conditional – the husband has to show he is willing to change. I think husbands who have to learn to control their tempers, etc., become better human beings.

    It’s one thing to tell a woman to forgive, be cheerful, etc., when her husband forgets to throw his dirty socks in the laundry hamper or buys her an unromantic gift, etc. It’s another thing to tell her to do that when he HITS her or their kids or their pet, or when he cheats on her, or regularly puts her down in public. Jesus said we are to love our neighbor as ourselves – well, how do you love anyone if you don’t love yourself? If you love someone, would you let them get beat up? Well, shouldn’t you love yourself that much, too?

  • ssohara

    what a load of crock! I used to respect Elizabeth Eliot… yech.

  • graceie

    Debi obviously does allow her husband to abuse the children in ways that go far beyond what many consider spanking, and she does allow him to mistreat animals (kicking a cat in TTUAC). I don’t know if she’s ever been hit by her husband, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. If these people want to live out a Christian version of a BDSM master-slave relationship, they should at least be honest and call it what it is, and leave their own children and other people’s families out of it. I know this is wrong & I’m not a violent person but I will confess after my own family abused their young children for years following the recommendations of these sick creeps I will rejoice on the day that either/both of them no longer walk this earth. I just hope their brainwashed children don’t continue to perpetuate the sickness, but knowing how much they earn from this “ministry” and the affiliated herb businesses, I doubt they will ever be willing to stop.