by Libby Anne cross posted from her blog Love, Joy, Feminism
Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 128-132
In this section Debi goes into more depth about just what “reverencing” one’s husband actually looks like in practice. Her focus in this section is on thought patterns—basically, she argues that women should brainwash themselves into only ever thinking good of their husbands. Debi starts by outlining what she argues is a common problem for her intended audience:
In our own strength, we women tend to have minds like old LP records that are scratched. We take our husband’s faults and replay them in our thoughts over and over again, “he’s insensitive . . . he’s insensitive . . . he’s insensitive . . . he’s insensitive . . . ” We get worked up over the smallest offense until our agitation sours into bitterness. He will forget to feed the dog three days in a row. We will look at the empty dog bowl and attribute all kinds of evil motives to him. He will leave us waiting in the car for an extra ten minutes, and we convince ourselves that his lack of consideration is just the top of the cold iceberg of his heart. Since we are “Christian” ladies, and the kids are watching, we don’t rant and rave; we just give him the stone-cold, silent treatment. He must know how much he hurts us, and the best way to retaliate is to hurt him back by depriving him of what he wants most—respect, honor, and love. We know that this will get his attention, and he will eventually have to come humbly asking what is wrong. By then, our miserable countenance should have softened him up for a good case of repentance. Boy, will we make him sorry! But we fully expect that he will try to make up for the birthday he forgot by buying the same kind of candy we told him we hate, and then we hate him all the more for not remembering that we hate that kind of candy. Practice. We are always practicing those thoughts.
The interesting thing is, I’ve seen this happen. A woman will be annoyed with her husband about something he is doing or not doing, and will think negative thoughts and expect the worst of him, and it becomes a cycle. The thing is, when I’ve seen it happen in evangelical and fundamentalist circles it’s often fueled by the fact that women don’t feel that they can talk to their husbands about what’s bothering them. Instead of having it out and talking with their husbands, they let these annoyances fester, and it just gets worse. The cure I recommend is straightforward and honest communication, compromise, and cooperation. But that’s not Debi’s cure.
Remember the 40,000 thoughts a day? Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh. How many thousands of negative thoughts are you thinking in the course of three or four hours? It is your duty before God to think differently. God tells you how to think. When the emotions will not freely allow us to think what we ought, our will can command our muscles to actions and the thoughts will follow. “Commit they works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established” (Prov. 16:3).
And here I think I have to use an example from my own life.
My husband, Sean, enjoys gaming. I, in contrast, had always seen gaming as a complete and total waste of time. After Sally arrived, I would become royally annoyed when he would game in the evening instead of helping me care for her, or when he would game even though the house was a wreck and the dishes needed doing. For a while, I let that build up, and there ended up being quite a mess of negative thoughts. Finally, though, I simply talked with him about it. I told him my frustrations, and he explained his side of things—that gaming was, for him, a way to relax and blow off steam, especially after a trying day at work. I hadn’t realized that. After talking, we came to a compromise. He committed to not gaming until Sally was in bed, and for my part I gave up seeing gaming as only ever a complete and total waste of time. I became more understanding, and he was willing to listen to me if I was frustrated and to take a break from gaming if things needed doing.
If I had followed Debi’s advice, I wouldn’t have said anything to Sean about my frustrations and would have bottled them up and covered them with attempts to force myself to think highly of Sean. Sean would never have known that his gaming was frustrating me, or that he could help the situation by not gaming while Sally was still up, etc.—he would never have known because I would not have told him. For my part, I would never have known that gaming was for him a way of blowing off steam—-I would never have known because he would never have had the opportunity to tell me that. Might I have gotten over my frustration at Sean’s gaming by shear force of will, even without discussing it with him and finding a mutually agreed upon compromise? Perhaps, but I would have done so by essentially brainwashing myself into thinking that something that bothered me didn’t actually bother me.
Debi has a weird way of saying something that is absolutely correct, and then turning around and saying something that is utterly destructive. She does this not just here but throughout this passage.
This part is good:
A good marriage is good because one or both of them have learned to overlook the other’s faults, to love the other as he or she is and to not attempt to change the other or bring him or her to repentance.
It is absolutely true that if you go into a marriage thinking you’re going to “fix” the other partner, you’re in for trouble. Being willing to overlook your partner’s faults and shortcomings—i.e. not expecting your partner to be perfect—is indeed an important part of a good marriage.
This part is problematic:
A bad marriage is not one that contains more faults between the two of them; it is a marriage where one or both of them gets worked up over issues that good marriage partners let slide and cover up with love and forgiveness.
Who decides exactly decides which issues are issues that someone should let slide? In the previous section Debi told the story of Judy, a woman who let her husband’s constant adultery slide because she believed she was ordered by God to reverence her husband. If that is something that “good marriage partners” let slide, well, that Debi has a totally different idea of what constitutes a “good” marriage.
This part is absolutely destructive:
Eve, today, has many sisters. We still doubt the one in authority over us and imagine that he does not intend good for us. Like Eve, we imagine that we can disobey the authority of God’s Word and of our husband’s word . . .”
Do you see the elision there between God and husband? I’m not even sure which she is referring to in her second sentence! We “doubt the one in authority over us” meaning God, or husband? The fact that I’m unsure speaks volumes!
Where men struggle with fleshly imaginations, we women give ourselves over to emotional imaginations and create a world of hurt for ourselves and those around us . . . We have been tricked into believing that our husbands have committed offenses against us . . . . It is time to get yourself under God-ordained authority. Believe God, believe the best of your husband, your neighbors, your church, your family, etc., and get on with the blessings and joy of life and marriage.
There is so much gaslighting in this sentence.
After this, Debi turns back to Judy, the letter writer who decided to reverence her cheating husband even though he did not deserve it. She stopped being constantly angry and negative toward her husband and instead began teaching her young son to see his father as the best dad in the world. Here is what Debi adds:
In the letter above, Judy got over her “Mad Wife” disease before her son became infected with it.
Mad wife disease . . . it’s like mad cow disease, get it? Ha! Ha! Nope. Not funny.
The little boy honors his dad because his mother honors him. Someday that little boy will be a man. As he grows up, he will discover that his dad has faults, and he will forgive them as his mother has done. When he is grown and can see the whole picture, he will know that his mom is one of the finest ladies on the earth. He will rise up and call her blessed. Someday her husband may grow out of his foolish, lustful stupidity, and if he does, he too will treasure her. She will have earned his love and devotion, because she reverenced him when there was little in him to honor.
Or maybe her son will grow up to wonder why in the world his mother was such a doormat rather than standing up to his father, and to feel that his mother deceived him in teaching his father was a good man when he wasn’t. And perhaps her husband will grow up and stop cheating and then realize that what he would really like is a wife with a backbone. I’m just pointing out that there is more than one possible outcome here.
No one of us honestly thinks Judy’s husband deserved her reverence, or her love for that matter. He is a first-class worm and deserves to sleep alone in an alley under a cardboard box.
Apparently Debi is allowed to speak evil of men while their own wives are not.
And then there is this absolutely bizarre section:
In my lifetime, I have known of just two husbands who were able to reverse the course of an angry, resentful wife and make their marriage into something blessed. In all of Scripture, there is no promise to men that they can save their wife and marriage by conducting themselves in a certain prescribed manner. In contrast, the Bible holds a wonderful promise to women: they have the power to win their lost husbands both to themselves and to God.
I could have sworn that Debi said something just two pages ago . . . here, this:
A good marriage is good because one or both of them have learned to overlook the other’s faults, to love the other as he or she is and to not attempt to change the other or bring him or her to repentance.
Am I the only one seeing a contradiction here? Debi explains as follows:
The Bible tells us that a woman can win her husband without the Bible. In today’s churches, many women have failed to win their husbands because they have tried to be evangelists instead of wives.
“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” (I Peter 3:1).
A woman wins her husband, just as Judy is doing it, by the manner of her “conversation” or way of living before him. Later, we will discuss how to win your lost husband.
Sorry Debi, you don’t get a pass just because you’re saying women should convert their husbands with smiles and willing bodies rather than with Scripture. You’re seriously contradicting yourself here.
And then Debi steps back into the 1950s:
Men are not the uncaring creatures they sometimes appear to be. They highly treasure their families and like for their homes to be comfort zones. They want respect and a family that gives them security and purpose. Even though home life may get dull, men greatly value their own women and children.
Men may allow the lust of the flesh to pull theme away form that which they value, but they will try to get back to that comfort zone. It is this natural need for his own family that keeps a man caring for and bearing the responsibility for his wife and children. When a woman does not provide for her husband a comfortable nest and reverent attitude, she has to rely on his goodness to “keep him” faithful. She is a fool to expect him to be a good husband when she is not being the help meet God created her to be. A man coming home to a tense and messy home, lousy meals, and a wife who is critical, might not have the “goodness” to remain faithful if a sweet young woman at work seeks to pull him away with the promise (illusion) of a more fulfilling comfort zone.
You know what? I think I actually think more highly of men than Debi does.
Counselors agree that in almost all marriage conflicts, both husband and wife share the blame almost equally. A man’s guilt is usually easy to see. A woman’s guilt is less obvious but just as destructive and evil. God ordained a woman to be a help meet. She is to provide a haven of rest and satisfaction, and to be a delight to her husband. When she fails to obey God, there is often “hell to pay” at home. When she obeys God, even if she is married to a “lost” man, she will usually reap heavenly results.
Debi’s writing here is making me think of MRA insistence that male-on-female domestic violence is just as much the woman’s fault because why would a man lash out physically against his partner unless she provoked him? Indeed, domestic violence is likely what Debi is referring to when she says that a “man’s guilt” is generally easy to see—right before she plants the blame for it equally on the shoulders of its victims.
So, to sum up this section: Women are to stifle any negative thoughts of their husbands and let all of their husbands’ faults slide; realize that they have been “tricked” into thinking that their husbands have “committed offenses” against them when they haven’t; only ever think good of their husbands; and seek to win their husbands to God through submission and reverence rather than through word or argument. Oh, and men need their homes to be “comfort zones” complete with a delicious dinner on the table and a 1950s foot rub or else they’ll start looking lustily at their secretaries. Lovely. Debi finishes with a teaser for the next section:
The next story is about a young wife who also discovered how to win her man through reverence.
Tune in next week for Debi’s domestic-violence-and-reverence combo.
Comments open below
CTBHHM: The (Proxy) Bride of (an Abusive) Christ
by Libby Anne cross posted from her blog Love Joy Feminism
Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 124-127
A wise woman understands that her husband’s need to be honored is not based on his performance, but on his nature and his God-ordained position. She learns quickly to defer to his ideas or plans with enthusaism. She looks for ways to reverence him. She knows this is God’s will for her life.
A while back I wrote about the pernicious problems with the Christian theological idea that the relationship between husband and wife was to be a sort of mirror of the relationship between Christ and the Church, and some readers responded by saying that I’d misunderstood, that that idea was only a metaphor and not to be taken literally. I don’t believe I got into how that idea ought to be understood, though. My point was that the way that it is understood in evangelical and fundamentalist culture is toxic, and in this section Debi makes that clear. Make sure you’re prepared before delving into this post—writing this one made me more angry with Debi than I have been since my post on her Command Man section.
Debi starts by quoting from Ephesians: “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church . . . and the wife see that she reverence her husband.” Debi then goes on as follows:
Jesus wants us for a friend. He wants a companion, someone wth whom to discuss ideas. He wants a playmate, someone with whom to laugh and enjoy life. He wants a buddy with wfhom to spend time. He wants a lover, someone to care about and someone to care about him. He wants a help meet, someone to share in his work of creation management. He wants to be a groom and he wants the Church to be his bride. This is the great mystery. He seeks to create in me and my relationship to my husband a working scale model of his relationship to the Church throughout eternity.
Debi, you see, takes this metaphor literally—and very seriously.
Amazing as it sounds, marriage between a man and a woman is what God chose as the closest example of Christ’s relationship to his bride, the Church. You are part of eternity when you submit to your husband. Submission, reverence, and honor are preparing you for your marriage to Christ. You may say, “But it would be easy being married to Christ.” Then you don’t know your Bible. What if your husband required you to offer your son upon an alter as a burnt sacrifice? That is what God required of Abraham. What if your husband killed you for lying? That is what God did to Sapphira.
I don’t. I don’t even.
To start with the most obvious, in the examples Debi uses to argue that being married to Christ is no picnic, she leaves herself open for readers to come away believing that they would be bound to murder their children should their husbands command it, or to allow themselves to be killed by their husbands should their husbands so decide. After all, Debi has said both that such submission unto death is required of the Church and that wives are to submit to their husbands as the Church is to submit to Christ. If Debi offers women exceptions to this rule, she doesn’t do it here, and leaving this passage without a discussion of exceptions—of the differences between the Christ and the Church relationship and the husband and wife relationship, differences Debi doesn’t given any suggestion she actually thinks exist—seems to me both dangerous and highly irresponsible.
But there’s more here than just that, and it’s only worse. Debi describes the relationship between Christ and the Church as the ideal every married couple is to strive for, and then makes it clear that the relationship between Christ and the Church is abusive. In other words, the relationship Debi says women are to strive for is an abusive relationship. And after reading this passage, an abused wife can tell herself every time her husband asks something horrific of her that at least he isn’t asking her to kill one of her children, as Christ asked of the Church (and asked perfectly appropriately and rightly, too, within Debi’s frame of reasoning). All throughout her book, Debi normalizes and promotes relationship patterns that are textbook examples of abuse, but here she perhaps goes the very furthest. And immediately after this, she perhaps goes the farthest she has yet gone in warning women against doing anything to stand up to potential abuse:
For a woman to usurp authority over a man is an affront to God Almighty, like treason in the camp. It would be like a man taking authority over Christ, or like the Church becoming jealous of Jesus’ leadership and taking authority unto itself. It would be doing just what Lucifer did when he said in Isaiah 14:13-14, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north . . . I will be like the most High.”
Yes, that’s right, if a woman stands up to her husband—even if he is abusive—she is committing treason against God—she is being like Satan. Some may wonder why I am focusing so much on abusive husbands. After all, most of Debi’s followers are likely married to men who are not abusive. The problem, though, is that Debi’s teachings are absolutely toxic when read by women whose husbands are abusive, or who have the potential to become abuse, and set up such an unequal relationships that they in fact, I would argue, serve to foster the development of abuse. In other words, I would argue that Debi’s suggestions have the potential to make bad relationships worse, and turn good relationships sour.
Knowing that my role as a wife typifies the Church’s relationship to Christ has molded my life. As I reverence my husband, I am creating a picture of how we, the Church, should reverence Christ. You have wondered why God would tell us to do such a think as to reverence our husbands. Now you know.
Yes, you read that right. The reason women are to submit to their husbands is that the husband wife relationship is a type of the relationship between Christ and the Church, and the Church is to submit to Christ. How that makes any sense at all I have no idea.
Reverence: to revere, to be in awe; fear mingled with respect and esteem.
Fear. Yes, fear. Debi tells women that they must fear their husbands—that fearing their husbands is right and good. How Debi’s books got to be so very popular in fundamentalist and Christian homeschooling circles I have absolutely no idea.
1. Obedience is doing what you know the other person wants you to do.
2. Submission is your heart giving over to the other person’s will.
3. Reverence is more than just doing what a man expects or demands. It is an act of the woman’s will to treat him with a high degree of regard and awe.
Do you know what is really baffling? That Debi can say that women are to obey, submit to, and reference their husbands and define the terms like this and then claim that she is not telling women to be doormats. Again and again she assures women that she is no mousy pushover! And then she says—well, this. There is no way a woman can do what Debi is laying out here without being a doormat. I mean, this is sort of the definition of doormat.
Obedience, submission, and reverence are all acts of the will and are not based on feelings. Showing deference toward one’s husband is an act of reverence toward the God who placed you in that role.
One of Debi’s common lines is that by serving their husbands they are serving God, and she is merely repeating that again here by saying that showing reverence to your husband is showing reverence to God. Interestingly, we see this slippage again in the letter Debi quotes in total immediately following this. I’m not going to quote the full letter for you, but it is signed like this:
It is very common for evangelicals or fundamentalists to sign letters or emails or what have you with things like “In Christ” or “With Christ’s Love,” but that’s not what’s going on in this letter. The context makes it very clear that she is talking about loving her husband, not about loving Christ.
In brief, Judy’s letter—which may or may not have actually been written by someone named Judy rather than by Debi herself—outlines the story of a young wife who learns that her husband is regularly going to strip clubs and seeing prostitutes, and yet decides against all odds to stay with him rather than to divorce him, and focuses on showing him love rather than disappointment and on teaching her son to love his father and see him as the best man in the world. In her response, Debi offers this:
She is reverencing God by reverencing her husband, not because her husband is a fit representative of Christ, and not because he is a worthy substitute, but because God placed her in subjection to her husband. . . . This woman is obeying and reverencing God, and no one else. THat creep of a husband is the fortunate recipient of honor being given to God.
Remember when Debi insisted that women are not “under” men? I’m not sure just what Debi thinks “in subjection to” actually means . . . Also, again, I want to point out well all this works out for the men in the equation: How convenient for them that God has decreed that women are to serve and honor God by serving and honoring men!
If her faithfulness is never rewarded with a new-birth change in her husband, her commitment will not be wasted, for the grace that God is working in her heart is making her supremely fitted to be the bride of Christ. It is an eternal work taking place in her soul.
And here is where I have a question: Aren’t men, too, supposed to be the bride of Christ? The bride of Christ is supposed to be the Church, comprised of a multitude of individuals of both genders. But here Debi suggests that Judy’s submission to her husband is making her especially fit to be the bride of Christ. What of the men? If wives learn by submitting how to be a good future bride of Christ, well, don’t husbands need to learn that too? If both men and women are preparing in this world to be the bride of Christ in the world to come, shouldn’t they be practicing mutual submission? Otherwise, aren’t we going to end up with lots of women in the Church ready to be the bride of Christ and lots of men in the Church thinking that they are to be Christ? But of course, Debi never answers this question—she doens’t even ask it.
When someone tells me in the future that I got that bride of Christ thing wrong—that Christians only believe it’s a metaphor, not that it should at all be taken literally or actually applied to husband wife relationships—I’m going to send them here. Are there Christians who do only see this as a metaphor and don’t ever try to take it further? Almost certainly. But that there are multitudes of evangelicals and fundamentalists who do take this idea literally and seek to apply it in very real ways is something that cannot be denied—or ignored.
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