CTBHHM: Earning Your Abuser’s Trust

by Libby Anne cross posted from her blog Love Joy Feminism

***trigger warning for domestic violence***

This section is called “Earning His Trust,” and calling it that is messed up on about three million levels, as we shall see. It is the story of a young woman named Sunny.

Years ago I knew a sweet young girl who was really dumb. She had a very tender heart (which she thought was GOd’s love and compassion in her), and she always showed a weakness for guys who “needed” her. Her name was Sunny, and she was as fair and lovely as the Sunshine she was named for. Sunny always picked up hitchhikers to witness to, even thought he older folks told her this practice was not wise. One day she picked up a young man of Arab descent, who looked and talked very romantic. To make a long story short, Sunny married him.

We can’t really know whether this story Debi is telling is actually true or a figment of her imagination. I’ve had my suspicions about some of her stories and letters in the past, and I suppose there is no way to know for sure. But seriously? Making the man who as we shall see is about to turn out to be an abuser Arabic? It’s not that this doesn’t happen, it’s just that Debi’s use of the stereotype of the violent Arab makes me feel that the story is likely more fiction than fact.

She was soon pregnant with their first child, and in a manner of weeks, the violence began. Over the next seven years, Sunny was regularly subjected to his alcoholic rages and beatings, and she endured his flaunted unfaithfulness. She and the children were alone for days at a time, even weeks, as her husband stayed away with “friends.” He returned home to vent his rage and take the few dollars she earned to support their growing family. When Sunny was pregnant with their third baby, Ahmed came home drunk and tried to kill her with a butcher knife. Only the miraculous intervention of Almighty God spared her life.

Okay, so bear this in mind as we go through the rest of Debi’s story: Sunny’s husband flies into rages and beats her, is serially unfaithful to her, and at one point actually literally attempted to kill her.

Every time Ahmed came home raging drunk, Sunny would leave the house with loud, railing accusations and go to her mother’s home and cry out her sorrows. She would get on the phone and call all of her friends and tell them what Ahmed was doing to her. But she did not leave him.

Warning: This is where Debi is setting it up to turn the tables and blame the whole thing on Sunny. Oh yes. Just watch.

One day, I saw her at a church meeting—a huddled, sodden mass of tears and exhaustion. Sunny confessed to plotting her husband’s murder. She said she couldn’t tolerate life any more than it was, but her children needed her. She had decided to kill Ahmed instead. Her murder plan was well thought out and could have succeeded if God had not stopped her.

That Sunny got this far is evidence of just how much Sunny needed to get out.

I spent hours in prayer and counseling with Sunny that evening. I asked her to make a decision, either to leave Ahmed once and for all and put the pieces of her life back together, or to stay with him and begin a campaign of winning his heart and saving their life together. I fully expected her to leave him that night, but I discovered something amazing about her: Sunny really wanted God’s will in her life. She had grasped an eternal vision about life, and she now believed God could save her man.

Note that Debi did not tell Sunny flat out that she needed to leave, in spite of the fact that Sunny’s husband had tried to kill her. She did however hold out leaving as an option, which rather surprises me. But then, it was probably stated like this: “You could leave and live in a dumpy duplex and get a job and leave your children with babysitters who would have their boyfriends over for sex, and become a worn down unloved old hag that even your children would despise, or you could stay and start acting like a proper wife and in time Ahmed will start treating you like a princess. Which will it be, then?” In other words, I doubt it was presented as much of a choice. Indeed, notice that at the end of the paragraph Debi tips her hand—she may claim she gave Sunny a choice, but she clearly believed that God’s will was for Sunny to stay with her abusive and dangerous husband in an effort to win his soul, and there’s no doubt that she made that clear to Sunny.

I knew of Sunny’s weakness to blab everything; she couldn’t keep a secret to save her life. I also knew her husband was a very private man, and that her blabbing his sins kept him in a rage, as it would most lost men. I explained to Sunny that in order to win her husband’s heart, she needed to reverence him. This did not mean she had to see some goodness or worth in him that was not really there, but that she needed to show him esteem for the sake of her children and herself. Sunny already did everything else right. She was obedient, faithful, cheerful, a keeper at home, and a help meet. I encouraged her to go one step further and look for an opportunity to reverence her husband. She was not to speak ill of him again. Her conversations with others, as well as with him, would be only praise and appreciation.

O_o

Every so often I come to a paragraph of Debi’s that is so outrageous that it takes me time to actually find the words to refute it. This is one of those moments.

Debi says of Sunny that “her blabbing of his sins kept him in a rage”—this is, pure and simple, absolutely outrageous victim blaming. Debi already said that Ahmed would get drunk and get in a rage and beat Sunny—we’re seriously supposed to see this as Sunny’s fault for telling others about his abuse of her? This is utterly and completely ludicrous. It’s no one but Ahmed’s fault for beating Sunny, cheating on her, and almost murdering her with a butcher knife. Ahmed’s fault. Not Sunny’s.

Next, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it is never a good idea to respond to an abusive husband by reverencing him. Actually, no limb, I’m on solid ground here. For all her supposed understanding of relationships, Debi doesn’t seem to understand how abusers work. Because I’m pretty sure that if you reverence an abuser, his response will be something along the lines of “Hey, look at this, I can get away with murder and she still does whatever I say and doesn’t say a word against me! Sweet!” Not, as Debi seems to suggest, “What could have possessed me to treat this beautiful flower so badly?!”

Finally, in telling her that she must never speak ill of her husband again but must instead only speak good of him no matter what he does, Debi is robbing her of Sunny one way to cry for help. She’s silencing Sunny. She’s dictating Sunny’s words just as she dictated women’s thoughts in the previous section. What if Sunny were to follow this advice and then end up dead six months later, leaving relatives scratching her head and wondering what went wrong when Sunny had clearly told them everything was perfect?

Sunny had a learner’s heart. She took my advice, and the change in her husband was obvious in just one week. It is amazing how vulnerable a man is when a woman treats him with honor. He stopped going off with his drunken friends and got a job so he could help support the family. He came to church occasionally and seemed amazed at the comments people made. “Sunny says you play the saxophone like a genius.” “Sunny told us you were a handsome man.” “We’ve been looking forward to meeting you; Sunny has told us . . . .” Ahmed was shocked, and Sunny continued on her mission. A week or so later, she got an encouraging boost in the form of a dream.

Debi is essentially promising women here that if they reverence their husbands, their husbands will drop bad habits, end any abuse, and get stable jobs. This doesn’t make any sense, it doesn’t add up, and besides that, it’s downright wrong. It’s simply another way to victim blame and to goad women into trying to be perfect submissive doormats in pursuit of the elusive hope that if they can just be good enough, their husbands will stop abusing them. It’s also rather demeaning to men, if you ask me, because it suggests that any man is likely to become abusive if his wife doesn’t properly honor and respect him. I personally think better of men than that. Anyway, on to the dream:

She dreamed that a top government official came to the office building where her husband worked on a cleaning crew. The official had a meeting with the manager of the business and told him, “I need to hire a man for a managerial position in my department. The qualifications required are faithfulness, hardworking, honesty, punctuality, and intelligence . . . no special education needed. We can always teach him what he doesn’t know, but we can’t give him work ethics. So do you have anybody who has a good work ethic like that?” The manager answered, “I have one guy who fits that profile, but he is just the clean-up man.” In Sunny’s dream, the government official said, “I don’t care if the guy can’t read or write, if he is a faithful, hardworking guy that I can trust and depend on, then I’ll hire him and double his wages.” In Sunny’s dream, her husband was hired by the government official to fill a managerial position.

When Sunny awoke, she excitedly told her husband the dream. She was sure it was a sign he was destined for greatness. Remember what we learned when we studied Mr. Visionary, how greatness is a state of the soul, not certain accomplishments or the lack of them? Previously, when Sunny called her friends to “tell” them what a creep her husband was, she was reinforcing to him the belief that she thought he was a loser. She publicly shamed him, and he continued to be shameful. Her opinion became his frame of reference. Now Sunny began to publicly exalt him, with miraculous results.

Ahmed thought her dream was silly, but he held his head a little higher when he went to his regular job the next day—on time! Sunny went to her mother’s house and got on the phone. She called all of her friends and told them her dream. This time, Ahmed didn’t mind her blabbing!

This thing about dreams: Debi Pearls’ daughter Rebekah believes her dreams are prophetic, and for a while she kept a blog of them. She took the site down, but it’s been indexed and you can read her dreams and interpretations here. The point is that even as Debi in the next paragraph says she doesn’t think this particular dream was prophetic, Sunny’s belief that it was is not really that off the wall for this community.

To my knowledge, Ahmed is still on a cleaning crew, and Sunny’s dream was just that—a dream. But it expressed her heart toward her husband, and her opinion of him was far more important to him than any job he could ever get. When she dreamed he was a winner and told it around, Ahmed tried to live up to that image. Ahmed found such pleasure and life in his wife’s praise that he became interested in her God. In time, he trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ. The last time I saw Ahmed and Sunny, they were growing in the Lord together. As the Scripture says, she won him “without the word” (Bible) but her “conversation” (I Peter 3:1). God’s way works. Who would have ever believed it? Sunny did—but then she didn’t have the disadvantage of “culture studies” and modern Greek “scholars.”

Debi tells this tale as a success story to prove what she has been saying—that women need to stop thinking ill of their husbands, stop speaking bad of their husbands, stop nagging their husbands abut their faults, and instead focus on reverencing their husbands. Reverence, Debi has said previously, “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.” Note that with this story Debi makes a case that God requires women to treat their husbands “with a high degree of regard and awe” even if their husbands are abusers who beat them, cheat on them, and even threaten their very lives.

It should be noted that Debi seems to be constantly ignoring that there are children in the picture here. Even if a woman chooses to risk her own life and happiness by staying with an abusive husband, her children have no choice. (Yes, I’m aware that often times abused women’s choices are limited, but they’re still less limited than those of their children.) Debi has previously indicated that the children of abused women who respond by submitting and obeying their husbands will grow up to honor their mother for that sacrifice, but the reality is that many of these children will wish their mothers had had the backbone to stand up to abuse or leave, and that many others of those children will grow up to repeat the same unhealthy relationship patterns they saw modeled by their parents. Note that Debi’s concern is not for Sunny’s wellbeing or for the wellbeing of her children, but rather for the salvation of Ahmed’s soul. If she’d actually been concerned for the safety of Sunny and her children, she would have told Sunny that she should take the children and leave.

Additionally, Debi claims to be giving Sunny advice on how to change Ahmed. The thing is, like I pointed out later, complete submission to his every demand and repaying every unkindness with welcoming smiles is actually a very bad way to change an abuser. If a woman is actually interested in changing her abusive husband, leaving him is probably the best thing she can do. In other words, if Debi was really interested in changing Ahmed, she should have told Sunny to make it clear that she would not put up with abuse, to leave Ahmed, and to tell him that if he wants her back there has to be actual evidence that he has changed and truly so. She should tell Sunny to stop letting Ahmed get away with his terrible treatment and to instead require that he treat her well or else lose her, not to bow under his horrific abuse and take it with a smile. That’s not called fixing someone, it’s called being an enabler.

Let me finish by bringing us back to where we started—Debi titled this story about Sunny “Earning His Trust.” And that’s just three million kinds of wrong. In this story, it’s not Sunny who needs to earn Ahmed’s trust, it’s Ahmed who needs to earn Sunny’s trust. Also, earning someone’s trust is not synonymous with reverencing them regardless of their actual qualities and behaviors. Debi, Debi, Debi.

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Read everything by Libby Anne!

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

 

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