Pastors and Secretaries: Enemies of a Gothard Marriage

Pastors and Secretaries: Enemies of a Gothard Marriage October 6, 2014

I’ve been under a lot of stress lately and I’m really tired. But I try to put up a post each day to keep things active and maintain the community here, so today you get more from the Bill Gothard textbook I got my hands on. He’s just so out there that blogging against his teachings is easier than many other topics, somehow. It’s also familiar, in a way. So today you get to find out how pastors and secretaries can be enemies to good, godly marriages.

Both of these passages are from the chapter titled “How To Build the Spirit of a Marriage” in Gothard’s Advanced Seminar Textbook. First, Gothard discusses some of the things wives can do wrong. I want to address one specific one.

When She Resists His Leadership

Most men are very fragile when it comes to being the spiritual leaders of their families. One criticism or sarcastic remark can cause a husband to give up his God-given spiritual responsibilities.

I really don’t think these people know what “leadership” is. People who are leaders do not simply “give up” in the face of criticism.

For this reason, it is essential that the wife look for ways to reassure her husband in this area. When a wife is aware that she has wounded her husband’s spirit in this area, she must quickly ask his forgiveness and assure him that she wants him to take the spiritual leadership of the family.

So, if you criticize something your husband does and he gets sulky about it, your response should be to apologize and ask his forgiveness. Look, if a person responds to criticism by sulking, they’re not demonstrating their ability to be a leader.

Many wives unknowingly discourage their husbands in spiritual leadership by looking to other spiritual leaders for counsel. The following testimony illustrates the importance of wives working through their husbands to find Scriptural answers.

So, I have a question. If Gothard doesn’t think wives should look to other spiritual leaders for counsel, why the blazes is he giving them counsel? Isn’t that a bit hypocritical?

And now Gothard offers a story:

How a pastor avoided a spiritual casualty by having a wife ask her husband a question

Three years ago I received a phone call that was to change the emphasis of my ministry and the lives of those in my church. The phone call was from the wife of one of my elders. She didn’t understand a difficult section of scripture.

Until then, I had always tried to answer any question any person asked me about the Bible. I believed that this was one of my responsibilities as a pastor, but that day, God prompted me not to answer her question. Here is the reason why.

I believe that a husband is to assume the leadership of his family, and a wife is to be submissive to that leadership. No husband can be a leader unless he has a follower. It is not a matter of abilities, it is a matter of leadership. The wife who has more ability should work to make her husband more successful. I have preached this message from the pulpit, and I have counseled couples to do this, but God showed me that my practice was not consistent with my belief.

So I didn’t explain the passage of Scripture to her. Instead, I asked her, “Have you asked your husband about this?” She replied, “No. He wouldn’t understand it either.”

Okay, wait. A pastor (presumably) spends his life studying scripture and theology so that he can answer his parishioner’s questions. And now this pastor decides he will only answer male parishioners’ theological questions? He will, point blank, refuse to answer theological questions from married women? Can I tell you how wrong this rubs me?

I told her that I had been meditating on I Timothy 2. I explained how her question was a special opportunity for her. She could use it to illustrate to her husband a genuine humility and a learner’s spirit.

She hesitated, so I gave her the wording. “Honey, I’m having a difficult time understanding this section of Scripture. Would you help me with it?” I waited as she gave serious thought to this new idea. Eventually she asked, “What if he says no?”

I told her what to do if that happened. I reminded her that her husband’s “no” would be another opportunity for her to demonstrate confidence in God and in her husband. She was to say, “If you aren’t sure of the answer, would you ask someone else for me? I really do want help, and it would mean a lot to me if you explained the answer to me.”

Again there was silence at the other end of the phone. Then she said, “I’ve never thought about asking my husband to help me understand Scripture, but it makes sense. I’ll go to him for help and trust God for the outcome.”

So let’s take this idea to its natural conclusion. In essence, a wife is to follow and believe her husband in theological matters, and no other—not even herself. I am reminded of something my mother told me when I was unmarried and forming my own beliefs as a young adult: “If you have a theological question, you are to ask your father and then accept what he says.” Brain? What brain? Just close your eyes and follow your spiritual authority. Because that could never go wrong, oh no!

Before she hung up, I explained five things she would accomplish by doing this.

1. She would be looking to her husband and not to the pastor for primary spiritual guidance.

2. She would encourage other women to do the same as they saw that her husband was her spiritual leader.

3. She would motivate her husband to be her spiritual leader. She would help him gain the confidence to become what God intended him to be by saying, “I’m counting on you and no one else for my spiritual leadership.”

4. She would strengthen her marriage rather than weaken it.

5. She would prevent herself from becoming spiritually proud of her own Bible knowledge.

Because a wife having too much of her own “Bible knowledge” is a dangerous thing.

I didn’t hear from her again, but a few weeks later I saw her husband. He told me the following:

“You will never known how much your advice to my wife has changed my relationship with her. She didn’t know it, but I was within an inch of giving up the Christian life.

“My work is very demanding. I don’t have large slots of time when I can study the Bible and memorize Scripture. At least, I don’t have as much time as my wife does. Our children are gone now. My wife can spend the entire day reading the Bible, leading a prayer group, or attending Bible study. I resented her knowing more about the Bible than I did. She was so far ahead of me that I knew I could never catch up with her.

“I didn’t want to be an elder in the church anymore. I didn’t want to hear another sermon about being the spiritual leader. I had decided that the competition was too great. I was going to give up and let my wife be the spiritual leader in our family. I thought she wanted it to be that way anyway.

“I couldn’t believe the difference in her after she talked to you. I was absolutely amazed! For the first time, I sensed my wife wanted me to help her understand the Bible. She didn’t want to be my teacher anymore.

“God used her question and her submissive spirit to put the right kind of pressure on me. Now it’s a pressure that motivates me rather than defeats me. My wife still knows more about the Bible than I do, but I’m learning fast. I’m concentrating on those passages which will help me be a better leader. I’m very happy. My wife needs me now in a way that she has never needed me before.”

This experience has given me, as a pastor, a new appreciation for the teaching of I Corinthians 14:35—that if a woman has a question in church, she should go home and ask her husband for the answer.

Okay, I call bullshit. The man was an elder. And besides, “I was within an inch of giving up the Christian life” is totally different from “I was going to give up and let my wife be the spiritual leader in our family.”

Maybe if they could jettison the idea that the husband is supposed to be the spiritual leader, this couple could have done the divide and conquer thing in a way that worked out well for them both. The husband could focus on work, the wife could do all sorts of Bible study and, I don’t know, maybe get a wild hair and study ancient cultures and various understandings of different passages, and then she could share this with her husband. I guess I’m just struck by how threatened the husband was by his wife’s knowledge of the Bible. It’s okay for someone else to know more about something than you do. It happens. That’s life.

But I suppose I’m most disturbed by this idea that a pastor’s de facto response to a married woman asking a question should be to say “Go ask your husband.” And then, of course, there’s the idea that the wife should never get ahead of her husband in her knowledge of scripture and theology. It’s as though she shouldn’t have a brain here—or rather, should simply turn her brain over to her husband for programming. But in this case, why should women go to church at all? Why not just have men sit through the pastor’s sermon and then head home to their wives to instruct them privately?

Gothard’s textbook is full of instructions for wives. They should do this, but not that—act like this, but not like that—and so on. If a wife is to look to her husband as her spiritual leader, isn’t Gothard’s interest in instructive wives (including in matters of theology) hypocritical? For example, in another passage he goes through when couples should and should not have sex, and instructs wives in how to go about showing their husband their right of these prohibitions. Isn’t that contrary to what Gothard says above about not having other spiritual leaders, and instead simply asking your husband?

Now that we’ve seen how pastors can threaten marriages, let’s turn to secretaries!

Special Steps in Selecting a Secretary

One of the greatest dangers to the spirit of a marriage is the unwise selection of a secretary or an improper working relationship with her. The factors involved in the decision to hire a secretary are of such importance that special time and attention must be given to them.

Each of the following guidelines has been confirmed by both husbands and wives as being vitally important in selecting and working with a secretary.

Are you ready? Let’s get started!

1. Make sure that the secretary you hire is not likely to look to you to meet her emotional needs. 

Attempting to meet the emotional needs of a secretary is sure to produce insecurity in your wife, if not jealousy and resentment. A secretary’s basic emotional needs must be met by her parents if she is single, by her husband if she is married, and by God if she is widowed.

I’m not exactly sure how you ascertain this in the interview process. “Next question. How well are your emotional needs being met?” That doesn’t strike me as an appropriate interview question! Notice too Gothard’s assumption about where women are to have their emotional needs met. Boyfriends (or girlfriends) and close friends don’t make the cut.

This all said, I agree that employees should not look to their boss to fill their emotional needs. Nor should bosses look to their employees to fill their emotional needs. This can create all sorts of problems for both parties.

2. Make sure that your wife meets, interviews, and approves of the secretary before you hire her. 

Technically, a secretary is working for your wife, since she is doing things to assist you that your wife is not able to do.

Um. No. I would be out of that interview so fast. I mean, seriously? “For the next part of the interview, I’m going to bring my wife in to ask you some questions.” And what is this about a man’s secretary actually working for his wife?

There are all sorts of assumptions going on here. Like, that secretaries are all female. Sure, statistically speaking most are, but I’ve actually worked at places with male secretaries on a number of occasions. Another assumption, of course, is that the husband will have a secretary at all, and that the wife won’t. True, a Gothard-following wife isn’t likely to work outside of the home, but women do have secretaries.

3. Keep your relationship with your secretary on a business level at all times. 

Do not become involved in the personal life of your secretary. If she has serious problems, refer her to her husband, her parents, her minister, or other sources of help.

Again, this mostly makes sense. Boss/employee entanglements can lead to problems. That said, I think the rules are different when it comes to coworkers. It’s not uncommon for people to make good friends at work, and to become involved in each other’s lives. The problem is more the power relations created by a boss/employee relationship.

4. Make sure that your wife can call you without going through your secretary. 

If you do not have a private phone, instruct the secretary to always put your wife through without asking questions. If you are busy, have her tell your wife what you are doing and let your wife make the decision of whether or not to disturb you.

I suspect cell phones have made this irrelevant, but okay.

5. Make sure that you never ask your secretary to meet your personal needs or perform special tasks your wife normally does. 

Do not ask a secretary to sew a button on your coat or bake you a special pie. Do not allow her to bake a cake to celebrate your birthday.

I’m not sure bringing in a cake or cupcakes for an office birthday is such a problem, but I would think that sewing on a button or baking a “special pie” is probably beyond most secretaries’ job descriptions. Not taking advantage of your secretary by asking her to “meet your personal needs” rather than simply assisting you in your professional function sounds like generally good advice.

6. Make sure that your secretary is committed to the success of your marriage.

Your secretary must help you make your wife and home your priority by shielding you from unnecessary interruptions, helping you keep appointments with your wife, and guarding you from temptations of moral impurity.

Wait. Whatever happened to that whole “do not become involved in the personal life of your secretary” thing? Does that only go one way—you shouldn’t get involved in your secretary’s personal life, but she should get involved in yours? I’m sorry, but it is not a secretary’s job to protect your marriage or “guard you from temptations of moral impurity.” It is a secretary’s job to maintain your schedule and take messages and fulfill whatever other professional responsibilities are in the job description, and I’m pretty sure you won’t find “must be committed to the success of the employer’s marriage” in that job description.

7. Make sure you praise your wife to your secretary and never discuss problems in your marriage to her. 

Appreciate your secretary’s abilities without praising her to your wife, especially if your wife does not have equal abilities in that area.

Again, some of this goes under ordinary professional conduct and appropriate boundaries workplace relationships. The power differential present between boss and employee makes that working relationship different from that between coworkers. Yes, this probably means discussing marriage problems with your employee (or your boss) is unwise, but I don’t see how it necessitates praising your spouse to your employee (or your boss). As for your wife—I’d like to think she’d be glad you have a competent secretary. And isn’t hiding things from your wife a bad idea?

It’s not that this section is wholly bad, but Gothard’s suggestion that a wife interview her husband’s secretary candidates and that a man’s secretary is actually employed by a wife both wander far away from what is usually considered appropriate. You know what is at issue here? Fundamentalist Christians like Gothard sexualize everything, and I do mean everything. Gothard is viewing the selection of a man’s secretary as a huge deal because of the chance that a man will become romantically or sexually involved with his secretary. Frankly, I’m surprised he didn’t put “Make sure the secretary you hire is homely and not at all sexually attractive” on his list.

Wait. Wait wait wait. My mind is suddenly drawn to Gothard’s own secretaries. Gothard generally selected teenage girls to be his personal secretaries, often girls only 16 or 17 years old and with no training in secretarial work. He selected them primarily based on looks, and had a specific “type.” He then groomed them and sexually harassed them, playing footsie with them, spending large amount of times alone with them, holding their hands, rubbing his hands along their thighs, hips, and hair. He became deeply involved in their personal lives, serving as confidant and counselor. He made them emotionally dependent on him. Of course, Gothard never married. Perhaps he felt that gave him license not to follow his own teachings with regard to selecting and interacting with secretaries?

I can’t even say how hypocritical this all is. And disgusting. I think I need to be done now, and go find some pictures of kittens.

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