Samantha Field blogs at Defeating the Dragons, and she was recently featured in a Christianity Today story entitled, “Finding Faith After Spiritual Indoctrination.” This piece was originally published on her own blog, and is reprinted with her permission. Also by Samantha on HA: “We Had To Be So Much More Amazing” and “The Supposed Myth of Teenaged Adolescence.”
So, a friend of mine sent me this post by Michael and Debi Pearl the other day. I encourage you to go read it, just so that you have some context for the following rant and can follow along. There’s a bunch of stuff that’s wrong with this article, and I’m just going to unload both barrels here. Also, in case I get something wrong, because that is totally possible. I’m ranting, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want clarity or cogency or accuracy. If you think that I’ve blown something out of proportion, and you would like to point out a subtlety or nuance, feel free. Or, you can get up here on my soapbox and rant with me. That’s cool, too.
Every family emits its own light. After viewing a family for just five seconds, I know so much about them. After being introduced to each member of the family, they are an open book.
This is from Michael, and all I have to say is No. Just — no. Five seconds? Really? Everyone is just an open book to you? I shouldn’t be shocked anymore at the unbelievable arrogance and condescension Michael Pearl emits, but somehow, every time, it’s like someone slapped me in the face with a fish. Yes, some people are perceptive, and are capable of accurate first impressions– but this claim goes right along with Micheal’s exalted view of himself as a self-proclaimed “prophet.”
The man was about fifty, certainly not a looker.
Now we’re in one of Debi’s sections, and all this does is remind me of Debi’s rather extensive story about the “one ugly hillbilly” woman in Created to be his Help Meet. This observation has absolutely no bearing on the story she’s about to relate — except as possibly to judge the “Old Dude” (what a demeaning way to refer to someone) for not conforming to her physical standards, and to judge the young woman who appears later for having an emotional connection with someone who isn’t a “looker.” There’s no logical explanation for this — it’s just more of Debi’s self-righteous judgment spilling out of her. Both Michael and Debi have demonstrated, throughout the sum total of their careers, an astonishing lack of compassion and simple human empathy.
Right here, at our church, among all these righteous families! I stood amazed at the audacity of the human race.
In other words, how dare people with actual real-life problems dare show themselves in our church! How dare someone who doesn’t conform to our little universe of perfection! How dare you come in here, and violate our incomprehensibly narrow view of the world!
I tried to ask the girl questions to ascertain the cause of this odd arrangement, but he answered as if the questions were directed to him, and the young lady deferred to him as if he were her voice of conscience. I thought that unless her father had truly been abusive, she should return to her family, but I was making no progress engaging her to consider her options.
Back to Michael. This is where I agree with him — this interaction shows that something about their relationship is off. The married man (I refuse to refer to him as “Old Dude”) is forbidding this young woman to even speak, and that seems to be something that is the standard for them. Either because of the married man in this situation, or because of her abusive home, she’s been silenced. She’s literally voiceless here. But this is the only time anyone even mentions this. It stands out to them as a little odd, but not that odd. Because women are expected to let men “lead.” If you’re going to be a “good Christian woman,” silence is expressly demanded by people like the Pearls. So it’s only a little weird, instead of the gigantic flaming red flag it should have been.
And this is one of the places where Michael builds on a long-standing understanding in these types of circles, and you can see it in the words “truly abusive.” This is so incredibly loaded. Because, to Michael, who endorses extreme physical punishment that borders on the sociopathic, “true abuse” would have to be on the level of breaking bones before he was convinced. Emotional and psychological trauma– don’t even exist. Because the ramifications of emotional abuse are just “bitterness” and “un-forgiveness” to the Pearls. Michael would voluntarily send an adult woman back into an abusive situation in order for her to be “under her father’s protection” than ever admit that a “Christian father” is capable of abusing his children. Psychological trauma– just spiritual and heart issues. And her “options”? This girl doesn’t have options. She’s not even allowed to speak for herself– which could indicate that she’s being manipulated into believing she doesn’t have options. When a woman can’t even talk how can she make an actual decision?
At this point in the story, Debi has burst in with an unexplained prophecy, declaring that she’d heard from God, and was speaking with his authority. She gives no context, and disappears as quickly as she came. Then, she sits down the woman for a talk. She does seem to give the married couple and the abused woman some benefit of the doubt– at first.
Undoubtedly his relationship with his wife was already barren before the girl came along, but the old wife had now become the second woman.
What the. Crap on a cracker. Debi– seriously?! You hear this from God, too? A voice come booming out of heaven to tell you that their marriage was “undoubtedly barren”? Which, if you’ve read Debi’s book is without exception always the woman’s fault. If this married man is developing a emotionally intimate connection, it’s obviously because his wife doesn’t smile enough, or doesn’t know how to put her makeup on. Clearly.
I had to try to help Little Miss see the error of her ways.
To most young brides the husband appears clumsy and unfeeling. But as the wife continues to obey and reverence her young husband, he will grow in appreciation for her soul, and in time learn to care for her emotional and spiritual needs.
I explained to Little Miss that having even a small part of this “mysterious relationship” with another woman’s husband, especially in her own home, in front of her, is exceedingly cruel and evil.
Already touching her spirit, I knew what the answer would be, but I wanted the girl to understand she was indeed not innocent.
If there was ever going to be any change to this situation then she had to understand the full ugliness of her actions, so I drove homehow depraved and self-centered she was to do such a thing as to interfere with the sacredness of marriage.
Being cloistered might have been bad for her, but now she was partyto damaging the sacred.
Girlie, it will come to you soon enough, and you will need a place to flee.Don’t come here. The invitation for a place to stay is closed. I would not trust a ‘regret’ girl around this ministry.”This should speak for itself.
Debi doesn’t care about the abuse this woman has experienced. It doesn’t even matter– it only enters as a “but” statement. The fact that the married man in this situation talks about being “highly skilled in the art of caressing souls” straight to Micheal’s face doesn’t matter. They’re not even capable of picking up on the GIGANTIC BILLBOARD-SIZED RED FLAGS that should tell them that the man in this situation is taking advantage of a tender, fragile, desperate and abused young woman.
Because it’s the wife’s fault for not reverencing her husband, or not fulfilling him, or not having sex with him enough, or not keeping herself pretty enough. And then it’s the abused woman’s fault. Her fragility, the fact that this married man deliberately chose a woman sheltered enough to not understand exactly how he was going to “caress her soul.” He’s vulnerable because of his wife, and the abused woman is preying on his vulnerability. No, he’s not emotionally manipulative, or taking advantage of this situation at all. It’s all the woman’s fault, because being abused by her parents and then manipulated by another man (which she’s probably been taught since infancy is a legitimate authority over her, simply because he’s a man) doesn’t make a lick of difference.
And then comes the hammer. Debi tells her that she will absolutely not help an abused woman when this woman eventually realizes that she traded the frying pan for the fire. Because she’s responsible for the married man manipulating her. She’s cruel, evil, depraved, and self-centered. She’s not hurting, she’s not lost, she’s not desperate for someone to realize that she’s a person, and that she needs help.
Michael and Debi Pearl– YOU are cruel, evil, depraved, and self-centered. You’ve been blinded by the power you’ve wrested from innocent people by being false prophets. You are completely and desperately lacking of any form of common sense or sound judgment.
The article goes on (with Michael inserting an insignificant caveat about how holy and righteous he was, and how men should stay away from women, because, well, women will seduce them away from God), but the story is over. They switch into analysis mode, and I just . . . can’t.
If you are a young woman in a cloistered situation, beware of jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Staying in the frying pan is much to be preferred, for you can always jump when a clean alternative shows itself.
Samantha hits her head on her desk repeatedly at the sheer idiocy and ignorance.
Do they never even stop and listen to themselves? Are they so blind to reality that they’re incapable of understanding how ridiculous a statement like this is? When you’ve grown up in a “cloistered” home– by their definition, a family so sheltered they can’t tell “right from wrong,” how the hell do you think an infantalized woman (or man, for that matter) is capable of being aware of the difference between “clean” and supposedly “unclean” alternatives? They’ve been purposely and deliberately shielded from having that kind of power.
Micheal and Debi Pearl are dangerous.
People listen to them, people respect them, people make excuses for them when their teachings are responsible for the slaughter of innocent children. Their loyal followers say that reactions like mine are exaggerated, that I’m just not giving the benefit of the doubt. If I’d really read all of their books, if I’d actually paid attention to what they advocate, I’d be fine with them. I’m just not understanding their true message, which is obviously of love and directly from God.
I have read their books– I’ve read every single last one of their books multiple times. I idolized them as a child. They were just so brazenly honest, so overwhelmingly clear– how could Michael be anything but a prophet sent from God to teach the fundamentalists how to raise their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?
But as I got older, I started realizing, with a mounting horror, just how clearly evil their teachings are. What they advocate fosters and nurtures abusive homes. They explicitly encourage women to stay with physically abusive husbands and utterly dismiss the existence of marital rape and don’t even acknowledge that men emotionally and verbally abuse their wives.
Debi repeatedly tells women that if their husbands are abusing them, it’s clearly their fault. They’re just not reverencing their husbands enough. Reverence your husband, and he won’t yell. Reverence your husband, and he won’t beat you. Reverence your husband, and ignore the fact that he’s raping you when you don’t want to have sex– because you’re not even allowed to say no. If you say no, he’ll just go sleep with someone else.
And Michael– spank your child until he obeys. Spank your child with an ever-increasing-in-size pipe until he instantaneously submits to your every uttered command. Spank your children until they are cowed. Spank your children until they would never even think of disobeying you. Because that’s what’s going to teach them about how to obey God.
The only language the Pearls are capable of speaking is a language of violence and abuse.
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Samantha grew up in the homeschool, patriarchy, quiverfull, and fundamentalist movements, and experienced first-hand the terror and manipulation of spiritual abuse. She is now married to an amazing, gentle man who doesn’t really get what happened to her but loves her anyway. With him by her side and the strength of God’s promises, she is slowly healing.
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