Gloating and Slander: Michael Pearl, Nancy Ann Wilson, and Christian Fundamentalist Responses to Criticism

Femina has been lighting up like a Christmas tree since The Gospel Coalition blog post that threw Doug Wilson into the spotlight for arguing that egalitarian sexual relationships were unnatural and that if “authority and submission” aren’t honored in sex, men turn to rape to fulfill their animal urges.

Now Wilson’s wife, Nancy Ann, has joined the fray:
10 Reasons to be Glad When Your Husband is Slandered

It’s mostly fluff: reasons like “It makes you grateful” aren’t exactly “reasons.” Nonetheless, there’s something strikingly similar about this response to the response of Michael Pearl to critics after 10-year-old Lydia Schatz was beaten to death by her Pearl-following parents.

Here’s Nancy Ann:

1. It makes him look good.
Of course it does! Karen Grant said that “big lights attract big bugs” and if there are some big uglies out there around the light, well, he must be big enough to be a threat to bring out all the bugs. And the light usually sticks around longer than the bugs.

3. It’s a good sign.
It’s a danger sign, according to Scripture, when everyone only has nice things to say about you. (Luke 6:26)

4. It’s a reason for a party.
If Jesus says we are to rejoice and be exceeding glad when people spread lies about us, then that means God wants us to throw a party! (Matthew 5:11-12)

6. You are in good company!
Jesus was slandered, Paul was slandered, and most, if not all, of the prophets and apostles were slandered. What great preacher was not slandered? Your husband must be doing something right.

And here’s ‘Laughing’ by Michael Pearl:

I laugh at mycaustic critics, for our properly spanked and trained children grow to
maturity in great peace and love.

My five grown children are laughing at your foolish, uninformed criticism of
God’s method of child training, for their kids-my 17 grandkids-are
laughing . . . because that is what they do most of the time.

They laughwhen Daddy is coming home. They laugh when it is time to do more
homeschooling. They laugh when it is time to practice the violin and piano.
They laugh when they see their Big Papa coming (that’s me) because Big
Papa is laughing and they don’t care why just as long as he laughs withthem.

My granddaughters laugh with joy after giving their baby dolls a spanking
for “being naughty” because they know their dolls will grow up to be the
best mamas and daddies in the world-just like them.

Even my chickens are laughing . . . well, actually it is more like cackling,
because they just laid another organic egg for my breakfast and they know
that it was that same piece of ¼ inch plastic supply line that trained the dogs
not to eat chicken.

Several writers have called out Michael Pearl for his arrogance and insensitivity in the face of a child’s death. The condescension in Nancy Ann’s response is barely a notch less overt. In a nutshell, both responses are empty posturing. “Too bad for you, I’m right, and your criticism only makes me more right” is pretty much the sticky residue you get after you boil off the redundant parts.

Here’s the hitch:

If being slandered means being right, your own daughter just made Rachel Held Evans a saint and a prophetess.

The criticism of Doug Wilson’s words did not stray nearly so far into slanderous territory as Bekah’s criticism of Rachel did. Joe’s criticism, by far the harshest, still focused on rebutting the false claims Wilson made. Bekah’s response, by contrast, was designed to malign Rachel’s character. This is the difference between substantive (if heated) critique and slander.

But let’s go a little farther.

If being slandered means you’re right, and means that God wants to throw you a party, what does that say about the rest of the people Christian fundamentalists like to slander?

President Obama may be the most-slandered president in American history.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are some of the most-slandered groups in present-day America.

Feminism has been slandered so much that many women refuse to identify with it anymore.

Atheists are slandered as having no morals.

Progressive Christians are slandered as being not really Christian at all.

Pro-choice people are slandered when they’re called murderers.


You see, anyone can play at this game. The fact that Doug Wilson is being criticized has nothing to do with his following the example of Jesus (who, by the way, was really not a fan of religious authority) and everything to do with the fact that he wrote something at best stupid and at worst malicious. It is not persecution when people call you out for saying hurtful things. It is not martyrdom when your reputation suffers because of something you actually did.

Now, to borrow a few of the Religious Right’s favorite lines:

Doug Wilson, why don’t you take some personal responsibility for your mistake and accept the consequences? Purity Culture is Rape Culture
The Fistfight Fallacy: rape culture’s ahistorical premise
What my feminism is, and why I’m not okay with “mansplaining”
Sexism, Judgment Day and Forgetting as a Survival Skill
  • John

    Hello! I’m actually a lawyer, and I read your blog because I have a similar background, although thankfully, my parents moved away from the Christian Fundamentalist movement when I was quite young.

    I have an especial interest in First Amendment law, with, interestingly enough, a focus on Slander and Libel. Strictly from a legal viewpoint, this isn’t slander. It is opinion. For which there is an exception in nearly every state. Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co., 497 U.S. 1 (1990). These people styling themselves ‘Christians’, really don’t have a leg to stand on. I’m grateful to you all at this site, for pointing that out.

    Keep up the good work.


  • Bix

    I also enjoyed that they accused Rachel Held Evans of making an ad hominem attack against their father, then replied by making one massive ad hominem (or ad feminam) attack against her, while stating that their father had schooled them in formal logic. I guess that means they don’t have real arguments then, if they had to resort to demeaning her intelligence. If there’s anything funny about this, it’s the irony.

    • Christine

      They’re schooled in what their dad SAYS is formal logic. To quote Inigo Montoya, “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

  • Michelle

    I think that somehow, they actually don’t understand what they are saying. I’m not excusing that or them at all. It’s just something I’m trying to figure out, being around a lot of complementarians who, through actions and words, contradict themselves all of the time without blinking. And honestly? The way God made me? I might have more respect for them if they actually were patriarchal, as in, didn’t allow women to work outside the home, etc., because at least their views would display more logical consistency.

    Do you think that at some point they have been thinking this way for so long they cease to be able to see the logical inconsistencies?

    Also, an aside: I do not like “prophetess” or “deaconess” any more than I like “authoress”. I don’t believe there was (in scripture) a feminine version for for the word we transliterate “deacon”, and I’m not sure about the word we understand to mean prophet. But the feminine is nearly always diminutive in the English language, and so by definition, if you’re a female doing the some job as a male, the job is somehow “less”. So I’d say Evans has been made into a saint and a prophet. ;)

  • smrnda

    It seems like these people operate in an unfalsifiable belief system – there is absolutely no possibility they could be wrong, so any evidence that their methods of child-rearing are harmful must be irrelevant. Anybody offended by a vision of marriage as oppression and domination just doesn’t get the ‘beauty’ of the design. There’s no place for any suggestion that the ideas might be wrong or dangerous.

    Also, just because you beat your kids and they turn out alright doesn’t mean that beating your kids is good policy. (I refuse to use ‘spanking’ and I should use ‘assault your kids.’ if i hit a person on the subway the same way the Pearl’s advocate hitting kids, i might be doing 10 years in jail.) To determine if something is a good idea you have to get a feel for the typical results, and you also have to consider how bad the results might be.

    I mean, imagine a medical treatment that worked great 20% of the time, was no better than a placebo 60% of the time, and killed people 20% of the time. I wouldn’t call that a successful of safe product. Give how easily baby-beating or male ‘headship’ can go wrong, they are just bad ways to live.

  • ScottInOH

    I’ve been reading a lot about this controversy, including venturing much further into the world of TGC and the Wilsons than I’ve done before. I’ve noticed 5 things, some of which have already been pointed out:

    1) They believe actual rape and rape fantasies are wrong. In fact, they frequently seem to see no difference between the two.

    2) They believe that the failure of some men to be sufficiently dominant and/or the failure of some women to be sufficiently submissive causes some women and men to have rape fantasies (which, in turn, causes 50 Shades to be popular).

    3) They also believe that those failures cause actual rape, either because (I’m not sure which) those failures cause some men to snap and become rapists or because those failures make God angry, so he causes rape as a punishment for humanity.

    4) They believe that platitudes about “serving and protecting” or “not devouring” should assuage the concerns of any readers that “complementarianism” might be a fig leaf for terribly destructive relationships.

    5) Unfortunately, both Jared and Doug Wilson appear to be smarter than I had hoped. I see why they have large followings. That makes them even more dangerous.

    Am I understanding them correctly?

    • Sierra

      Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.

    • Bix

      I also suspect they think of rape in older terms–it’s a violation against the honor of the woman’s husband or father, rather than an act of violence against the woman, as an individual in her own right. They might not blatantly say as much, but I feel like it comes with their overall belief system. Do you think that’s true?