One of the most damaging and unbiblical “Christian” books on marriage is Debi Pearl’s Created to Be His Helpmeet.
Debi Pearl’s view of submission teaches women to allow themselves to be abused, rather than teaches women to seek God’s will, God’s plan, and God’s glory.
Yesterday I was talking on Facebook about books that I would prefer to destroy than donate, so that others won’t be harmed, and Created To Be His Help Meet was the #1 book mentioned. I wrote about this back in 2012, and I thought it may be worth revisiting since the book still has many supporters. I don’t want to talk about the book itself as much as I want to ask us to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of what God wants from us.
Before we tackle the thorny issue of wife abuse in a Christian marriage, I want to tell you a story that illustrates what I think is dangerous theology.
When I was 16 years old I participated in a Teen Missions International summer missions team to the Philippines, where we built a kindergarten. Twenty-five or so teenagers along with six adult leaders. I had a wonderful time bonding with teammates, but I chafed at the leaders throughout all eight weeks. I just didn’t agree with their philosophy.
They were intent on making things hard for us so that we would be taught a lesson, even when there was no reason to. When we were mixing the cement, we had a delivery of two truckloads: one of rocks, and one of sand, to mix into gravel. The delivery men offered to make two different piles, but our team leader asked them to put them together, so that we would learn patience and submission by picking the rocks out of the sand. We could have been finished earlier, and spent more time witnessing or meeting the local congregation had he not done that. But he was determined that we should learn about suffering.
The theme during our Bible devotions was “The Way Up is Down”. We studied how Old Testament saints suffered in order to find favour with God. They taught that all summer, and I rebelled all summer.
If we deliberately seek out suffering just so that we can be extra holy, we miss out on opportunities to actually serve and glorify God.
And shouldn’t glorifying God be our main purpose?
And so let’s turn to something which, as a marriage blogger, I must comment on. I know some of my readers respect and revere Michael and Debi Pearl’s book, To Train Up a Child, which advocates strong use of what I would term extreme corporal punishment and even child abuse. Several children have been killed when their parents took the advice in this book to the extreme.
But Debi Pearl has also written a book called “Created to Be His Helpmeet”. She believes that women should radically submit to their husbands as the head of the house, putting up even with affairs and abuse “without words”. She recounts in her book a letter she received from a woman who was obviously being abused by her husband. This pregnant woman asks, “What should I do when he comes after me with a knife?” Mrs. Pearl replies: be submissive. “Avoid provoking him.”
In fact, in the appendix, Michael Pearl (Debi’s husband) says this:
“Has your husband reviled you and threatened you? You are exhorted to respond as Jesus did. When he was reviled and threatened, he suffered by committing himself to a higher judge who is righteous. You must commit yourself to the one who placed you under your husband’s command. Your husband will answer to God, and you must answer to God for how you respond to your husband, even when he causes you to suffer.Just as we are to obey government in every ordinance, and servants are to obey their masters, even the ones who are abusive and surly, ‘likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands’…You can freely call your husband ‘lord’ when you know that you are addressing the one who put him in charge and asked you to suffer at your husband’s hands just as our Lord suffered at the hands of unjust authorities…When you endure evil and railing without returning it, you receive a blessing, not just as a martyr, but as one who worships God.”
Hold on a second here.
Do you remember in Philippians 2, when Paul writes of Jesus:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death —
even death on a cross!
Jesus took the form of a servant. Jesus was humble. Jesus allowed others to spit on Him and revile Him. Jesus allowed others to hurt Him and walk all over Him. And thus, says those like Debi Pearl who believe women should be under men, we should, too.
What if there’s a different way to look at that passage?
The passage does not say “have the same actions as Jesus”. It says, “Have the same mindset“. It’s about your thoughts, your goals, and your attitudes. Here’s what I think was going on, and it can be summed up like this:
Jesus’ Motivation–Jesus’ Action–Jesus’ Result
What was His motivation? To do God’s will and bring people to Him.
What was His action? He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death.
And what was the result? People were reconciled to God.
Yet let’s take this same framework and look at other areas of Jesus’ life:
Motivation: To do God’s will and bring people to Him
Action: Rebuking and Yelling at the Pharisees
Result: People saw the truth of God
Or how about this one?
Motivation: To do God’s will and bring people to Him
Action: Making a Whip out of Cords and Clearing the Temple
Result: People remembered God’s Holiness
Do you see the commonalities? Jesus was always seeking to do God’s will and to bring people to Him. And Jesus’ actions always resulted in people knowing God more, trusting God more, or having more insight into God. At the cross, His actions resulted in people being reconciled to God.
But His actions were not always the same.
Sometimes He let others walk all over Him–because that is what the circumstances demanded if He was going to accomplish God’s will and if He was going to bring people to God. Other times He spoke up and rebuked people, or became angry, because that’s what the circumstances demanded. In other words, the commonality was doing God’s will and bringing people to God–the same mindset. The difference was in the actions. Jesus used different actions to accomplish the same purpose as circumstances demanded it.
Paul did the same thing. Sometimes he lay down and let people insult him. Other times he stood up for his rights, appealing all the way to Caesar. He didn’t just “lie there and take it”; he demanded his right to speak the gospel, because that is what circumstances demanded if God’s will to see the gospel spread and people come to know Him was to be accomplished.
Writers like Debi Pearl, and missions organizations like the one I was involved in, love talking about how we are refined through suffering.
But there is nothing magical about lying down and being abused.
There is nothing inherently beautiful about being walked all over or treated horribly. Yes, Jesus was treated horribly, but He was treated horribly for a purpose. You cannot take one without the other. Does God ask us to submit? Yes. (although I don’t think that word means what we often think it does.) Does God ask us to be abused, used, and discarded? No. There may be times when we have to be treated that way–I think of the believers in some parts of the world who are truly persecuted, for instance. But there is nothing inherently righteous about being treated awfully. In fact, this can become a stumbling block just like any other.
If you think that by being treated miserably you earn brownie points with God, then you are more likely to put up with injustice.
You are more likely to see your children hurt. You are more likely to stunt your own purpose and your own gifts. And you are less likely to see the will of God done through your abuser/husband.
Did you catch that last one?
Sometimes by lying down and taking it, by putting up with abuse, by allowing marital rape or extreme verbal abuse we actually do the exact opposite of what Jesus tried to do.
We don’t point people to God; we point people away from Him.
What is God’s primary vehicle for pointing people to Him? He made it quite clear in Galatians 6:
Do not be deceived; God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.
The theology that says that we are to submit to our husbands no matter what actually puts a stumbling block for God working in your husband’s life–because it removes the natural consequences for his actions.
If your husband is engaged in serious sin, and you don’t speak up as we are instructed to do in Matthew 18 (or don’t call the authorities when you need them), then your husband will end up growing further and further away from God. He’s getting rewarded for bad behaviour! If you are in danger, and you do not call the authorities, you aren’t furthering God’s kingdom either.
This does not mean that God cannot occasionally work in these situations. I can just hear the replies now–“but I put up with my husband’s drinking and my husband’s affairs for 15 years, and one day God got a hold of my husband and completely turned him around!” Yes, God can do that.
But I believe that God did that DESPITE you submitting to abuse or mistreatment, not BECAUSE you submitted to abuse or mistreatment.
And I share in 9 Thoughts that Can Change Your Marriage how often we get the focus wrong in marriage. We think it’s about appeasing our husband and keeping him happy, rather than doing God’s will by pursuing both justice and mercy. And we end up hurting our marriage, ourselves, and even our spouses.
Are you GOOD or are you NICE?
The whole philosophy that tells women to put up with wife abuse to glorify God also has a perverse incentive: it relieves women of the responsibility of making choices. We only have to “take it and let God”. We don’t have to wrestle with what we should do. We don’t have the hard questions. We have an easy blueprint for life–squash your own feelings and let others take advantage–and we’re set. And what if God has gifted you as a teacher? Or as an administrator? What if God has great plans for you? Doesn’t matter. You’re supposed to commit yourself totally to your husband, even if that means that he hurts you and drags you down. That doesn’t sound like a God of love to me.
When Paul thought someone was in error, he told him. He went right up to Peter’s face and told him that he was being hypocritical in regards to how Peter was treating Gentiles.
I am not saying that we should make ourselves annoying, or that we should harp on our husband’s every fault. But there is still a stream in Christian thinking that says, “you are holier when you suffer.” I don’t believe it. I believe that God is with those who suffer, and that God uses suffering. But there is nothing inherently holy about suffering. What is holy is when we pray, submit ourselves to God, and discern what His will is.
When we ask God what we should do, and what His purposes are for this situation, and we align ourselves with His purposes, then God works best.
Please, please, ladies, don’t allow false teaching to tell you that it’s okay if a man beats you, or runs at you with a kitchen knife, or hurts your children. Don’t allow someone else to tell you that you just need to work on being “better”, on being “more Christian”, so that you can win your husband without words. Wife abuse never belongs in a marriage, let alone a Christian marriage. Ask yourself this question instead,
And if you can’t honestly answer that you’re honouring God, then reconsider your actions. Your purpose should always be to follow God’s will, bring Him glory, and bring others closer to Him. How that works out in our everyday lives will differ from situation to situation. But there is nothing inherently holy about wife abuse, and none of us should think we get special badges for putting up with it.
You may also enjoy–about abuse:
- Are you a spouse or an enabler?
- A letter to the woman with a controlling husband
- How do I admit to myself that I’m being abused?
- 10 Truths of Emotionally Destructive Marriage
- 10 Signs You’re Respecting Your Husband Too Much
You may also enjoy–about real submission:
- How God made me a Warrior Wife
- Women: Your husband is not Jesus. Follow Jesus!
- Our Submission Series
What do you think? Do we make suffering seem too “holy”? Does this distort the submission message? Have you read Created To Be His Help Meet? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of Bare Marriage
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