John Piper Tells Women with Harsh Husbands–to Basically Do Nothing

by | Jun 14, 2022 | Abuse | 70 comments

John Piper Terrible Abuse Harsh Husband
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On Friday on his podcast, John Piper told a woman married to a harsh husband to just be gentle with him.

Pray more. Remember it might be his personality. Win him with kindness. Show appreciation and call out the good in him. And don’t talk to other people about it without her husband’s permission.

It was toxic advice, because any woman married to an emotionally abusive husband would describe her husband as “harsh.” So this advice was being given to women in abusive marriages (he did qualify that it wasn’t physically abusive, but we know that’s not the only kind of abuse).

He never mentions abuse. He never mentions how to draw boundaries. He never mentions the importance of getting to safety. He never mentions the effect on children of being in a family where the husband is emotionally abusive to the mother.

He just gives advice which is demonstrably bad and which would enable the abuse to continue.

I created a Fixed it For You for his article!

John Piper Bad Advice for Woman with Abusive Husband

Rebecca and I also sat down and recorded a Facebook Live where we walk through the article and discuss the problems with it. It turned out really well, and I encourage you all to watch it!

(I can’t embed Facebook videos, but seriously! Go watch it!)

One of our patrons left a lengthy critique of the article in a comment.

As you may know, we have a patreon community where people who support us for as little as $5 a month hang out on Facebook, and get access to unfiltered podcasts, live events, and even occasional merch!

Our Facebook Page is really active, and she said this:

 

John Piper. I have literally never known anyone who could use so.many.words. to say so very little.

A woman is literally asking what to do and he’s given very little actual advice on what to do, and even in that uses language such as “so that’s a possible way forward perhaps”. I can understand giving several suggestions which someone can choose from, but this is ridiculous. Just say what you suggest (and the person can choose what to do with it). Cut the flowery, over-spiritualized language and give real advice.

Also I wish that just once one of these kinds of responses would open with- “I am so sorry to hear that you husband is harsh with you, you don’t deserve to be treated like that.” Because maybe if we all started from that foundation- that people should not be treated harshly- then we could actually get somewhere with a solution!

But there is nothing like that. Nothing. It almost doesn’t even recognize that it’s an actual problem.

It’s also interesting to me that he starts off by being “well I would have a lot to say to the husband here…but that’s not what she’s asking so I won’t actually address that.”

Why not answer her question AND address the husband. That’s part of answering her question anyway! It just felt like an easy way to shove it aside and not deal with it. It’s infuriating. This is the husband’s problem in the first place, not the wife’s. Any advice to the wife should be to direct the husband to actually address his behavior.

Also, what in the world is this: “Jesus said that we should ask God that his will would be done on earth — and that would include in our marriages — as it’s done in heaven (Matthew 6:10). And that includes that his will be done the way the angels would do it. Husbands would love their wives, and wives would love their husbands, the way angels obey God — namely, joyfully and fully and without begrudging.”

What do angels have to do with anything?! We are to love our spouses the way angels obey God? Huh? It’s like he goes off into daydream land when he’s talking. Heaven…angels….love your husband like angels obey God. It’s just…I can’t.

His first piece of advice is to pray.

Ok, this is a Christian woman who listens to your podcast already, likely she is already praying.

But, look at what he says regarding praying- she should not only pray for her husband to be “softened and move toward Christ-likeness…”, but she should also pray for herself because we “know from Scripture and experience that God uses husbands and wives to bring about change in each other”. And further, “So, what God does in her will have an effect on what he does in him”.

This is some really subtle victim blaming because rather than putting the responsibility for change completely on the person who is having the bad behavior, it shifts some on to their partner because God would want to use the wife to bring about change in her husband. So…what about when your husband doesn’t change? Does that mean that it’s partly on you, since you weren’t able to be used by God to bring about this change?

This is subtle to so many people, especially those who are in healthy relationships, but this is so damaging.

Piper’s second piece of advice is to “win him with gentleness”.

Once again, subtle victim blaming- the husband isn’t fully responsible for his behavior, it’s on the wife to change her husband through *her behavior* toward him.

Of course we should not repay evil for evil- we should act appropriately regardless of how someone else is acting…but that’s really not the issue here. The issue is that a husband is treating his wife harshly. That is on him.  In my opinion this entire section could be left out as it’s irrelevant. We aren’t addressing the wife’s behavior, but the husband’s.

Also, in my understanding, the 1 Peter passage he refers to- where wives are told that their husbands may be “won over” by their conduct- this passage is referring to wives who are married to men who are not Christians (and of course this is in the context of the early days of the church where people were choosing to follow Jesus, and may have been the only person in their family following this way)- meaning, your husband may see Christ in the way you are acting toward him and may become a Christian too. This is NOT talking about husbands who are mistreating their wives.

Next we have “share the burden wisely”…which was honestly just a weird section.

In this section he said he would caution against “bad-mouthing” her husband behind his back.

Ok, that sounds like good advice on the surface- but sharing with others about how your husband is treating you is NOT “bad-mouthing” him, it’s telling the truth about how he’s acting! This same kind of idea has been used so often to keep women from sharing the truth about their situation with anyone, particularly anyone who could actually help. This happened with my mom when she filed for divorce from my narcissistic, abusive dad. The pastors at our church directed a group of ladies to talk with my mom after church one Sunday, to convince her to not get divorced. When my mom wanted to tell them what kinds of things were going on in our home which explained why she was seeking a divorce in the first place they all said “oh no, we don’t need to know that, that would be gossip”. No, it’s not gossip and you do need to know if you want to accurately understand the situation!

Fourth bit of advice from Piper- distinguish sin from personality.

Right off the bat- no. Sorry, if your “personality” is to treat other people harshly then you need to change your personality. You are hurting people and mistreating them.

Piper says that some people have “a deeply ingrained personality trait with no ill will”- but when are we going to recognize that our *impact* matters more than our intent? We may not have meant ill will, but if what we are doing is impacting people harmfully then we need to change so our impact matches our intent.

Lastly we have “approach him with hope” and he explains some tips for this:

“Create a context of encouragement”. Ok, this is just a normal thing in any relationship.

“Model humility and vulnerability”. Once again, it’s on the wife to influence her husband to change through her behavior.’

Also, I understand the concept of modeling behavior…but that’s what I do with my kids who are still learning and are not fully mature yet and still needing guidance on how to treat others and respond in different situations. A husband is not a child and should already be mature. So this advice just feels really out of place to me.

“Try not to globalize” when talking about his behavior. This would be great in a context of how she could actually discuss this with her husband (like maybe scripting a conversation for her to feel confident using), but that doesn’t really seem to be the focus of his advice.

“Keep pursuing change.” Oh my gosh, this is exactly what she is asking for help with! HOW does she go about pursuing this change? How can she address this with her husband? He hasn’t really even given her a good starting point, how can she keep pursing it?

All of this goes back to direct communication! It reminded me of that series that Sheila wrote about direct communication which included Piper’s example of a woman having to give directions to a man in an indirect/impersonal way. He does not suggest direct communication in this situation BECAUSE he does not think that women should speak to men in that way!

So the best a wife can hope for is that her husband will understand when she gives the concrete examples and that he will open to talking about it more so that she can actually tell him how she feels. But, if he’s not open to that, then really there is no way forward for her, is there? She has to submit to him in all things and can’t even really directly communicate about this issue (unless he is open to it). It’s the gender hierarchy/complementarian theology underlying everything and causing so much harm!

She should have been advised to directly communicate with her husband about this issue, that’s so simple to say and easy to explain…yet it’s nowhere in the article. Because it can’t be.

He ends with this:

“And then, finally, I would say that if he indicates a sense of openness to talk about this, then you can explain your feelings more fully, you can ask for what you long for and maybe explain why it would be so happy for the relationship if he would be less harsh in these several ways. And if you both feel stuck after a while, it is perfectly biblical and right to seek help from close friends, or even, if it comes to that, from a wise Christian counselor.”

Notice how he says that IF the husband indicates a “sense of openness to talk about this” then you can explain your feelings more fully…but what about if he DOESN’T have a sense of openness to discuss these things? Then what?

Can you imagine how that would come off to a wife who believes (since Piper has taught this) that she must submit to her husband in everything? If he’s open to talking about it you can…but if he’s not then, I guess you simply don’t. Because he’s in charge and you submit to him. Full stop. That’s it. You can’t do anything else. I really feel this is the absolute worst part of his advice.

I am just so enraged at this advice!

The answer for this woman is so simple (not easy, simple): your husband is mistreating you and you do not deserve that. First, you can discuss this with him (and preferably she would be given direction on how to do that, what to say, etc.) and if he takes responsibility for his behavior and is willing to change that is wonderful. If not, then you need to seek a licensed counselor for yourself who can support you as you figure out how to address this. Why is this so hard for evangelicals to say?!

One of our patrons

In our Patreon Community

I thought that was excellent and summarized the problems well.

We need to stop looking up to teachers who are fundamentally unsafe–and Piper is one of them. We need to instead call them out. Think of how many women he has hurt! How many men have remained abusive because he enabled them! It’s mind boggling. It’s infuriating.

If you’ve been in this type of theology your whole life, and you want to make a new start, we also have parenting help for you next week!

I’m hosting a FREE webinar with Wendy of Fresh Start Families to look at how to implement positive discipline in your home, rather than a punishment-control based approach. Let’s break the cycle!

What if you don't need to control your kids and punish your kids to raise great kids?

Let’s look at evidence-based parenting methods that WORK that bring life, rather than break our kids’ spirits. Plus they’re easier on you!

Join us for a FREE webinar June 21 with Wendy Snyder from Fresh Start Families. Start your new parenting journey!

Keep calling this stuff out! Keep sharing. Remember when I talked about the woman who wrote into Emerson Eggerichs crying in the shower–and that woman actually found me? When we share this stuff, people in abusive situations can find it, and the fog can finally lift!

(And tune in on Thursday to part 2 of Alyssa’s story on the podcast as well!). 

People are breaking free. And that’s a good thing!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

Related Posts

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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70 Comments

  1. Laura

    Well said by the person in the patreon community! Why do these pastors have to complicate things? Most people would just use direct communication, but according to these pastors and some of the women’s Bible studies I’ve been to, “It’s not the Christian way to use direct communication with your husband. That’s nagging.” Yet, it’s okay for husbands to tell their wives they need to lose weight, because according to Eggerichs, he’s telling you [the wife] because he cares about your health. Ha! I say “Bull!” This same man (Eggerichs) demands that wives should not confront their husbands about their drinking and porn use. So infuriating and the more I hear this stuff in church circles, the more grateful I am to be single.

    As I’ve mentioned here, I was in an abusive marriage over 20 years ago and I learned not to go to a counselor at church for marital advice. I was afraid they would say to continue to stick it out because “God hates divorce.” Yet, I could have been jumping to conclusions. However, years later, I realize I probably wasn’t because of all the horrible advice pastors, Christian authors, and women’s Bible study leaders give on marriage. I have witnessed it when a pastor’s wife told a woman to keep obeying her husband because “God would reward her for her obedience.” For crying out loud, this woman’s husband would not let her use the car to drive to church or Bible study unless he felt like taking her. So, she had to ask other people for rides. Her husband was drinking so he was not in any condition to drive. Makes me so mad even though this happened years ago.

    And for the overspiritualizing that Piper pans out as good advice: ridiculous!

    Reply
    • Jo R

      It’s particularly hilarious when a man who looks like he’s permanently six months pregnant berates women who have actually gone through pregnancy for not regaining completely their pre-pregnancy bodies.

      She’s grown a new human being or five in her body. What’s his excuse?

      Reply
  2. Nessie

    I went into a bookstore yesterday maybe first time in a couple years and realized I am now disgusted walking through the Christian book section,
    Seeing all these big-name authors that abuse women with scripture, enabling- encouraging- husbands to take that abuse into their homes. It just makes me really sad. How did God’s love letter to us, the Bible, become misunderstood, misused, abused, and weaponized so thoroughly?

    I can imagine Jesus weeping over this abusiveness.

    Only thing I would change in your “Fixed It” would be instead to say: “…in this effort to love her harsh husband BY drawing boundaries…” Enabling bad, unChristlike behavior is not loving, but encouraging them to become more Christlike by holding them accountable is.

    Reply
    • Amy

      I hear you. I went into my local Christian bookstore a few weeks ago and was just disgusted by the book selection. My reading habits have changed so much. I used to read all that stuff by the big name authors and now I can’t hardly stand being in the store where they sell it.

      Reply
    • Marie

      I can’t go to Christian bookstores anymore.
      And I’m tired of feeling frustrated by these people.
      Every time there’s another scandal or horribly wrong theological take, I scour my bookshelves and throw the books by the “scandal du jour author” away. I will not donate them where someone else can read them, just straight into the recycling.

      It’s actually quite a good feeling to see those books where they belong and has (sadly) been helpful in decluttering my library.

      It has also made clear how many bad takes I absorbed over the years, as space opens up on the shelves. I’ve scanned a couple before throwing them out and would like to go back to my younger self and suggest better books!

      Reply
      • Nessie

        Marie- I agree, I won’t donate any of these books either. If you have interest in keeping any to use as research of what NOT to say, this blog sells warning stickers to place on these books! Pretty great idea as well as potential conversation starter. https://sheilawraygregoire.com/shop/square-stickers/

        “Hey, why does that book have that warning on it?”
        “Oh, it has a lot of toxic, unbiblical info in there. You should use caution when reading anything by him. I keep it around so I can show people just how bad the advice really is!”

        That kind of thing. 🙂 But I enjoy banishing toxicity from my home.

        Reply
  3. Amy

    I just need to say this somewhere. The music minister at my church has a son who’s middle name is Piper, named after, you guessed it, John Piper. *insert vomit emoji* The more I learn about John Piper, the more disturbed I get. He has a big platform and obviously a faithful following if people name their children after him. That’s the risk of naming your children after celebrities.

    Reply
  4. Jane Eyre

    Oh (bleep), the Evangelical Two Step.

    Step 1: You are a horrible person if you consider divorce.

    Person contemplating divorce explains incredibly valid reasons.

    Step 2: You are a horrible person for speaking badly about your spouse.

    That which is not falsifiable is usually invalid. If there are not circumstances under which you would support someone for having enough problems in their marriage to contemplate leaving, you actually need to be upfront about that and remove yourself from any such discussion, citing your blindness.

    Reply
  5. Jo R

    See? Husbands can do no wrong, and it’s always the wives that have to do all the adapting and changing, else it’s the wives who are sinning.

    (Where is the line, or does it not even exist, where husbands can sin against their wives? And where is the line, or does it likewise not even exist, where wives are not sinning against their husbands?)

    Reply
    • Tim

      I’ve listened to the podcast and I agree there are a tonne of problems with it, but Piper does make it clear about 3 times that a husband who’s being harsh to his wife is sinning.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes, but the point is that she’s given absolutely no reasonably way to deal with it other than “just be nicer.”

        Reply
        • Laura

          Piper’s advice to “just be nicer” to a harsh husband does NOT work. When I was in an abusive marriage (mostly verbal), I tried to “just be nicer” and the abuse continued. I also tried to call him out on his bad behavior, but he informed me I was the reason for his behavior.

          Now, if a person behaves harshly very rarely, then they acknowledge their behavior, apologize, and resolve to do better. I get the impression that the woman who wrote to Piper for advice has a husband who is normally harsh and does not seem to want to change.

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Exactly! What the person needs is boundaries and to be told, “that will not be tolerated.”

      • Jo R

        And while Piper does admit the harsh husband is sinning, you’ll notice 99 percent of the “advice” is given not to the sinner, but to the one being sinned against.

        Where is all the teaching that tells men, who are supposedly Christians, how to, I dunno, behave like Christ? Who, as I recall, did not spend His life ordering anybody around…even women.

        Piper doesn’t offer even remedial teaching to husbands about how to not be harsh. Not even a definition of what being harsh is. There are lists galore about 98 ways women sin against their husbands and about how women may serve their churches in these ways but not those. Where are the lists to men and husbands?

        Why is the emphasis, the cornerstone of this teaching, that men are in absolute charge, when Jesus Himself made it quite clear that Christians are NOT to be lording it over others…even women?

        Men seem to get a complete pass on being decent human beings, let alone being disciples of Jesus, while at the same time they’re told the world revolves around them and, after men marry, around their penises.

        🤮🤮🤮

        Reply
        • Tim

          Yeah, I agree with most of that. Being clear that the husband’s behaviour is sin is one of the few things I thought Piper got right. Fwiw, also good that he encouraged counselling and for the wife to share specific situations with her husband where he was being harsh – but just about everything else was either marginally on topic, unhelpful, or outright harmful.

          Not disputing that he’s done more harm than good here. I just think there’s plenty to criticise in what he’s said/left unsaid and no need to make stuff up.

          Reply
  6. Monica

    What do I do when my husband agrees with John Piper’s advise here?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      If your husband thinks this is okay, then you’re likely in an abusive marriage. I know that’s hard to hear, and I’m so sorry. It sounds like your husband is trying to control you. Please know that you are allowed to tell other people what is happening in your marriage. That is not gossip. That is asking for help.

      Please see a licensed counselor, if you can afford it, to help you get through the fog. Read books by Leslie Vernick or Natalie Hoffman. Find Sarah McDugal on Facebook, or Natalie or Leslie. You’ll need people speaking into your life outside of the fog.

      And then the biggest thing you’ll have to do is learn how to draw boundaries. Learn what you are worth. Learn that Jesus loves you and values you and wants you safe. That matters to Him. I hope those resources help!

      Reply
      • Monica

        I am a licensed counselor (EMDR and IFS therapist here! & love all of your work btw) and so is he (recently became a therapist). I really don’t think that he is abusive, though he has been in the past. I’m finding it really difficult to reconcile being with someone who can’t see the problems in John Piper and others’ messages.

        Reply
        • Andrea

          I’m worried about a therapist who endorses Piper’s teachings, I can see how if he did marital counseling he would not be a safe therapist for an abused wife. You referred to yourself as a licensed counselor, but him as a therapist. What kind of therapy degree did he get?

          Reply
          • Monica

            It worries me too a bit, but I know that he is under good supervision – I used to work with his current supervisor. He’s a licensed clinical social worker, which in our state and in most, means you can practice as a therapist.

    • Jo R

      If your church also supports Piper’s ideas, it’s inflicting spiritual abuse.

      It will be very hard to break away, especially because the abusive teaching is couched in terms of wives sinning against God Himself if they disagree with what the “church” is teaching. The book “Paul and Gender” by Cynthia Long Westfall lays out an excellent case for male and female equality in the NT church, right from the earliest days. But it will be a major uphill slog to get the men in charge to even give it a hearing, let alone have their minds challenged (changed minds might be flat-out impossible).

      Know that you are not alone, though you’re likely going to feel very lonely for some time to come. Hugs to you.

      Reply
  7. EOF

    I’m so glad you’re continuing to call out this abuse of power. And I’m even gladder that people are listening.

    I was highly discouraged (to put it mildly) when my church had a series on gender roles. At first, I was encouraged that they had made improvements on what they used to teach (“Husbands, you need to make your wives submit”) to now allowing women to lead worship and even speak to the church without a man standing next to her. But then the whole thing ended with a Bible quote, a quote by Piper, and a quote by someone else I can’t remember. I was floored by the Piper quote! Piper!

    BUT what encouraged me was the number of people speaking out after. More change is afoot, and I can’t wait to see it. Piper and his quotes have no place in any church.

    On a side note, I’m also in a homeschooling group for the Christian curriculum I use, which includes a Rick Warren book for the older students. A bunch of parents were in a fit because of that book and decided one of Piper’s books was much more Biblically sound. I let my child read the Warren book but I also ordered the Piper book to see what was in it. The book got lost in the mail! Is that God sending a message or what???

    Reply
    • Laura

      Rick Warren is a much better shepherd over his flock than Piper ever will be. He cares more about people than power. Warren and his wife advocate for better mental health in the church. Celebrate Recovery, an awesome 12-step Christ-centered program, started at Warren’s church over 30 years ago.

      Reply
      • EOF

        I’m glad to hear that! My child was really inspired by Warren’s book and found it faith building.

        Reply
  8. C

    Great post.
    Was reading a small scale marriage blogger who stated women are sinning if they refuse sex when their husbands have been jerks. So toxic.

    Reply
  9. Jes

    I would love to slam Piper with first Corinthians chapter 7, verses 15 and 16. If the unbeliever leaves, let them leave. For how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? Or how do you know, wife, whether God wants you specifically to save your husband? God has called us to live in peace.
    John Piper in my opinion has no right to be a counselor, Pastor, teacher, or anything of the sort and should not be teaching scripture at all.

    Reply
  10. A2bbethany

    On the comment on never saying anything negative about your spouse: grew up hearing that and thought it made sense…..once again, until I got married myself. Now I flat out refuse to do that. While I understand that some details of our relationship are private, that should actually be a small area.
    Because refusing to keep secrets, is a great protector against abuses.
    I think it’s healthy to talk about all of marriage and not pretend perfection. Because we’re all human.
    On that note though, I’ve heard that disagreeing in front of children is supposed to be a BIG no no. The argument is that if they see you fighting, they’ll freak out about you getting a divorce. I’m not sure what I think about it yet, but I don’t like it.
    You should model how to healthily disagree(or “fight”) and still be loving and caring towards each other. (Moot point for us though, we never talk when upset….we text each other. It’s the style of communication for both of us when we have an issue.)

    Reply
  11. Mara R

    As I mentioned on on comment on the last post here, Piper’s piping isn’t far off from Warren Jeff’s preaching:

    “Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey”

    This is your ONLY option. Piper gives wives no other options in the face of abuse.

    Now we can’t accuse Piper of the great sins that Warren Jeff committed against women and children. BUT WE CAN POINT OUT HOW SIMILAR THEIR SURFACE MESSAGES ARE. Their messages disempowers women and puts them in harms way and brings them into bondage rather than setting them free.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbhNxmwh_qc

    Reply
    • Andrea

      We can’t accuse Piper of Warren’s sins, no, he didn’t marry a gaggle of underage girls, but his kind of churches, the ones rigid on gender roles, are the ones that protect child molesters. So while the two may seem so different, Warren just took it to the extreme.

      I was recently reading about the child sex abuse in Amish communities and the article explained that the Amish see male sexuality as uncontrollable. I knew our mainstream evangelical leaders did – I mean, some of them will brag about how pervy they are! – but I thought the Amish, come on, aren’t they pacifist? So another way of saying, there is a lot of overlap between the mainstream and the fringe.

      Reply
  12. Sara

    Ms. Gregoire has made this point in other contexts (e.g., the importance of women’s sexual pleasure), but it bears repeating: the world should not give better advice than the church on abuse! In our culture, the world says, “You deserve better. Get help and get out, if necessary.”

    Reply
  13. Jo R

    You know, this advice really isn’t SO awful.

    The first time it happens. Or the tenth. Maybe even the fiftieth.

    But at some point, the guy has to man up and own up that there is an issue and that it’s entirely on him to resolve it. At some point, he can’t simply say “I didn’t mean to” or “It was an accident” or “I forgot” or “But I meant well.”

    At some point, he has to take responsibility. After all, how long would his boss accept that stream of excuses, of meaning well, of forgetting, of just meaning well, as opposed to actually DOING well? At some point, and it’ll be a lot sooner than the fiftieth time, the man’s boss is gonna fire his sorry butt.

    If it’s the man’s job to be a good husband, to be conformed to, say, Jesus, then the man can’t just have good intentions. He has to make the necessary changes. And yeah, it’ll take effort. Probably a lot of work. Over a long period of time. Maybe a lifetime. Tough patooties. Man up and own it already, dude.

    Reply
  14. Helen

    I really struggle with John Piper saying things like this because it’s only recently that I’ve discovered what his views on women really are (thanks to this website). I had no idea about the council for biblical manhood and womanhood, being from outside the US, and I think I first discovered his website through a google search. Because so many of his teachings on subjects (other than women) are often really insightful, I saw him as a trustworthy source of information and nearly got sucked in to his way of thinking. I remember reading one of his articles on homeschooling and thought it seemed odd but because he was so well-respected in other areas I thought that he must be right on this too and that I was the one in the wrong.

    There are so many people in my church – and it’s very much an egalitarian church – who also really respect him and don’t know what he really believes about women. That worries me a lot because when you respect and trust someone like John Piper then you become vulnerable to his dangerous teachings on women. I need to start telling people in my church about what he really believes.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, please do! I find it helps if you say, “did you know that John Piper doesn’t think women can be police officers?” Or “did you know that John Piper says that if a man asks a woman for directions, she must give those directions in an indirect, nonpersonal way, or else she’s overstepping her bounds?” Like tell them the stuff that’s so easy to see it’s wrong, and that helps a lot.

      Reply
      • Andrea

        I’ve done this before and his supporters actually get embarrassed (“Man, I don’t know why that guy says the things he says…”). They’ll defend Tim Keller, but Piper actually embarrasses decent people. The problem I have with these decent people is that they are chuckling at abuse, they are too decent to call these bad guys out. Being embarrassed about it is not enough, it’s complicity. I know what you mean about an egalitarian church endorsing these guys, it’s so frustrating.

        Reply
      • Helen

        O wow! Thank you. I’ve got my small group tonight and will pray for an opportunity to bring it up there.

        Reply
  15. Angharad

    “a deeply ingrained personality trait with no ill will”

    Hmmm, I wonder how Piper would respond if I bopped him on the nose and then claimed it was due to ‘a deeply ingrained personality trait with no ill will’?

    ‘Hi, Mr Piper’ [punch] ‘Sorry, I hope that didn’t hurt’ [punch]. ‘I don’t feel any ill will toward you’ [punch] ‘I just have this deeply ingrained personality trait that makes me punch people on the nose’ [punch].

    I bet he’d change his mind about ‘deeply ingrained personality traits’ real fast then!!!

    Maybe Piper should start reading his Bible. The Bible talks about things like anger and impatience as being SINS, not ‘personality traits’.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly! Interestingly, in his report to his church in 2010 after he came off of his 8 month leave which he had to take because of his pride issues, he talks about his marriage, and he talks there about how they learned that some personality issues are just genetic. So I wonder if he’s excusing himself in this article?

      Reply
  16. David

    12 years ago Pastor John had to go on sabbatical to deal with several species of pride in his soul. These included “selfishness, self-pity, anger, blaming, and sullenness” withdrawal, being critical and rock-like. He’d been failing to tend the precious garden of his home while churning out book after book, and running off to conference after conference. Whether this qualified as “harsh” is not for me to say. But if he was, I’m sure his wife tried to win him with winsomeness for decades, but eventually had to give him a come-to-Jesus moment using words. Probably some of them to other people.

    Reply
    • Jes

      What’s the deal with all these pastors going from church to conference, church to conference? Where is their home life? I don’t need to judge anybody, but conferences should be the last thing these preachers want to do, especially when they’re married. Their wives should go with them. God can do without all these conferences, and just comes back to what I always say. It is better to be single and serve the Lord fully and with a whole heart, then be married and have to divide your time. If these guys want to go to conferences and then church, that’s fine, but they need to remain single at all costs and not even entertain the thought of getting married.

      Reply
  17. Jenny

    I’m still trying to figure out where the verse is that says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy deceitful – unless of course, you’re married. In which case the wounds of your best friend (or wife) calling you out for your horrible behavior towards your wife are evil, but covering for your friend’s horrible behavior towards his wife or your husband’s horrible behavior towards you is holy.”

    Because I haven’t found that verse.

    Treating other people badly isn’t Christlike. Treating your spouse badly isn’t Christlike. Why on earth is it so dang taboo to call out bad behavior between husband and wife? People muddy this whole thing by bringing in “the marriage clauses” with submission and whatnot, but I’ve yet to see the verse where anyone says you shouldn’t call out decidedly un-Christlike behavior. Where is that verse? Because I want to see it.

    There’s bad-mouthing and gossiping and there’s telling the truth and seeking counsel. There’s being a busybody poking your nose into someone else’s business and there’s there’s calling out blatantly ungodly behavior. I’m so done with Christians failure to follow basic principles of Christianity and decency when it comes to marriage. I’m done with Christians acting like they don’t have to behave like Christians in their marriages. You’re a Christian first and foremost. The end. That means you need to strive to act Christlike in everything you do, including your marriage. Especially your marriage.

    Reply
    • Jo R

      Proverbs 27:6, JSV (Jenny Standard Version):

      “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy deceitful – unless of course, you’re married. In which case the wounds of your best friend (or wife) calling you out for your horrible behavior towards your wife are evil, but covering for your friend’s horrible behavior towards his wife or your husband’s horrible behavior towards you is holy.”

      Reply
  18. TP

    Thank you, Sheila, for being a light for Christian women everywhere. I am saddened by this because I was married to an abusive “Christian” husband for 27 years. I did everything John Piper recommended all this years and prayed earnestly every day for things to change. Not only did I not share about my husband’s abuse with anyone, I was commanded by husband not to. So, after all these years (and dealing with watching him mistreat our kids as well), we are separated because living with the stress of his abuse and the abuse of our kids, has taken a heavy toll on my physical and mental health. My daughter was suicidal so I had to move out with her for her mental health and physical safety. Ladies, don’t listen to this. If you are living with abuse (or even just an angry and/or controlling husband), research Chris Moles and his material. He is amazing and a beacon of hope for women. Also, please let your pastor know. My husband didn’t want me going to our pastor either, but I had to get help and intervention.

    Reply
  19. TP

    By the way….. All those years of “being gentle with him”, “encouraging him”, and “bringing out the good in him”, etc. did nothing but enable his sin, make him worse and worse and cause him to become more entitled.

    Reply
    • Laura

      I know this as well. I was in an abusive marriage for 2.5 years and I tried to be a good, submissive wife. It just enabled my ex to continue verbally abusing me and eventually sexually assaulting me while I was asleep. The sexual abuse was what prompted me to leave. I had a gut feeling if I stuck it out longer, the abuse would escalate to much worse. He was already smacking my dog around, so I took her with me. When we left, our lives improved. Unfortunately, after being divorced for 20 years, I am still dealing with some of the trauma.

      I am glad to hear that you and your children left.

      Reply
  20. Zeek

    All good stuff that y’all pointed out and thought provoking. I am grateful this kind of dialogue. I would like to offer this thought. We were never told what the husband was doing to be harsh. Seems like everyone assumes that harsh equals emotional abuse and that certainly can be the case. But I think a clear definition and example of what harsh is would have been helpful for Piper to answer more completely. Piper just assumed that the harshness was not abuse and many commentators assumed it was abuse. As an avid reader of this blog and podcast listener and reader of Sheila’s books I am totally disgusted by how men have treated women. I just preached a sermon calling out some these things based on John 4 and the book Worthy. Please do not take my comment as dismissive. Rather I just felt that most people jumped on the same conclusion when it didn’t seem warranted since we didn’t have more information. Piper is very good at giving loads of advice that is not necessarily…..practical or accessible.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      The problem, Zeek, is that any woman in an emotionally abusive relationship would describe her husband as “harsh.” So whether this particular woman’s husband was abusive (and chronically harsh is actually abusive), or whether Piper thought he was abusive, is not really the point. The point is that women in abusive marriages will read this advice thinking it pertains to them. That’s what Piper should have realized!

      Reply
      • Zeek

        Shelia. Point taken, I agreee. You should share your feedback with him and have him on the podcast.

        Reply
    • Jo R

      If she’s in the kind of hierarchical, “the husband is the boss” marriage and church that is so common, she would feel tremendous trepidation at using a word as strong as “harsh.” She would much rather use a gentler word or phrase, like “inconsiderate” or “not as attuned as I would like.”

      The fact that she used so strong a word could well mean he’s way beyond what many people would think of as “harsh.”

      Reply
    • Nessie

      Zeek, I hear you- I too would have loved to see a description of “harshness.” There are a lot of ways to be harsh besides physical, e.g. my mom stopped slapping me when I got big enough to retaliate so she changed tactics and began calling me ugly, gave me silent treatment, gaslit me, etc. For me, the psychological “harshness” has been harder to overcome than the physical.

      I think so many women here, myself included, go to the abusive conclusion for a few reasons.
      1. We have been treated harshly ourselves and can often read the hurt in other women’s pleas for help because it’s how we would word it, too.
      2. It often has to get pretty rough (read: abusive) before many women reach outside for help because we are told it is on us to fix things. We are told not to complain about our husbands or speak badly about them. We’ve followed the advice we’ve read/heard given out (like piper’s) for years because we are told to be patience, to “give it over to God,”, to “trust in His timing,” to “pray more,” etc. And it doesn’t work that simply while at the same time it solidifies those bad behaviors in husbands by repetition and enforcing those synapses over years.

      On the flip side, if the word “harsh” had been clearly defined using specific examples, many of us would have discredited our circumstances because they wouldn’t be “as bad” as those listed. I complain here about my husband’s treatment of me, then I read someone else’s story and think I just need to shut up and push through because it isn’t as harsh as someone else’s life or it must not be abusive because it is common. But just last week, he finally admitted to sexually and psychologically abusing me for 20 years of marriage. Advice like piper’s really did hurt me AND hurt my husband because he now has sooo much more work to do to change himself and then try to regain my trust.

      That’s my story and many others’ as well, but I totally get that you are just trying to be fair with what info was plainly given.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Oh, Nessie, I’m so glad your husband finally admitted that! I hope he’s willing to do the hard work of change now.

        I wish instead of defining “harsh” people would just consistently spell out what abuse looks like. That would be really helpful. It’s abusive to control people. It’s abusive to pressure someone to do something so that something bad doesn’t happen. Let’s just show people what coercive control looks like. (which reminds me–I should likely write another post on that soon!)

        Reply
        • Nessie

          Yes, I’m very thankful! Took two years of therapy and reading some of Andrew Bauman’s new book, How Not to Be an *ss but he got to that point. So glad you have shared him as a resource as well as your materials.

          I think that would be a very beneficial post! When things are “common,” especially in certain spheres, it doesn’t seem abusive because it’s the “norm.” So unhealthy.

          Doesn’t seem any of these authors want to define what is abusive (looking at you, Eggerichs, not calling out your dad strangling your mom). Sadly, I think it may be because they would find themselves convicted by the Holy Spirit if they truly listened and discerned. By not defining it, they can plead ignorance and not have to work at changing themselves.

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            I also wonder if it’s because if church members learned to recognize abuse, they might realize that many of their churches are abusive and leave! (not all churches are abusive; but ones that preach what Piper does likely are).

          • Zeek

            Sheila, what exactly does Piper preach that leads you conclude that his church and others are likely abusive? I have been around your work for a while, it has saved my marriage from prolonged problems. I was able to diagnose my issues and change my view in sex. Thanks! At the same time as a lay pastor I take offense to you characterizing me as in a likely abusive church because we do teach much of what Piper does. That does not mean we agree with all of his advice, but I think a clarification of what teaching you believe is making a church abusive is warranted. I agree that we need to train our members to recognize abuse and grooming behaviors. Something that I am tasked with. I know it all too well as my son was molested by a “pillar” in the church.

          • Jo R

            “If it’s not requiring her to sin but simply hurting her, then I think she endures verbal abuse for a season, and she endures perhaps being smacked one night, and then she seeks help from the church.”

            How would smacking his wife for one night be loving her the way Christ loved the church? How would it be the husband loving his neighbor, even if said neighbor is just his wife, as himself? Which spiritual gift (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) does smacking one’s wife represent?

            Presumably, since Piper is speaking in his role as a pastor, HIS church would be a shelter a smacked wife could go to. If she does, how is Piper then going to say that the husband was wrong to smack the wife? Piper was the one who in the first place gave the husband permission to smack his wife. If the husband is wrong to follow Piper’s advice, which is presumably why Piper tells the wife to go to the church of she’s smacked, why is Piper giving the husband this permission in the first place?

          • Jo R

            Sorry, FRUIT of the Spirit.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Have you read all the horror stories coming out of Bethlehem Baptist about spiritual abuse and women being excommunicated for leaving abusive marriages? They’re all over. It’s horrific. Just Google it!

      • Zeek

        Nessie, I am glad you are safe and healing. Piper’s advice was given based on his unshared definition of harsh. We all have imposed our definition of harsh on the question that was asked. If by harsh questioner meant abuse then his answer was not helpful. If by harsh she meant his tone of voice and word choice was short of abuse but problematic then part of his advice was helpful. I absolutely think that we need to educate the church and ourselves on recognizing and responding to abuse of all kinds. The SBC had a curriculum I am reviewing for our church called “church cares” and I hope it is useful.

        Reply
        • Nessie

          I wrote something else but it didn’t go through, so trying to add this.
          “If by harsh questioner meant abuse then his answer was not helpful.”
          If we are debating the word choice of harsh, then let’s be accurate here, too. It was harmful. I believe that is one of the major points this blog is trying to illuminate because it keeps women in abuse.

          “If by harsh she meant his tone of voice and word choice was short of abuse but problematic then part of his advice was helpful.”‘
          We were in that place for a time, where it was “short of abuse but problematic.” I followed advice like piper’s and it enabled my husband to BECOME an abuser- and he did. To me, that is not helpful, even in part. Same is true for many, many others.

          It is a slippery slope for a husband to go from a few problematic behaviors into fully abusive. Much of the advice given was like a bucket of water with a few pieces of grit and gravel added in. She can toss the bucket contents on that muddy slope thinking she’s helping by giving him traction from the bits of rock, but does it really matter if the water just makes that slope far muddier?

          I would humbly ask you to look at the SBC curriculum, “church cares,” and ALSO look at other sources of abuse recognition and care. If the advice is pretty much the same, then great. If there are some discrepancies, ask yourself what and why. Abuse victims deserve our due diligence.

          Lastly, I am so sorry that your son, and your family, went through that. That is so horrible and should never have happened.

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Exactly. If someone is behaving badly, even if it’s not to the level of abuse, the answer is not to enable it to continue or to give it positive reinforcement (which is what Piper’s advice does).

    • Tim

      I agree there’s not a lot of information for Piper (or us) to go on, and that it’s not helpful to jump to conclusions either way on whether or not this particular husband’s harshness qualifies as abuse. (I’m assuming here that there is a difference between harshness and abusiveness but haven’t thought too deeply about that). We do know there’s no physical abuse as the woman stated that in her question.

      What I thought was really concerning though is that Piper’s podcast never (as far as I remember) even addresses the possibility that emotional/verbal/other abuse might be occurring. That seems outright irresponsible to me.

      Reply
  21. BL

    Thank you for your writing exposing the harmful teaching of John Piper, Sheila. I grew up in his church and agree with what you have said about him. Unfortunately, it took me years to realize just how toxic the teaching was. A lot of this is because he is an eloquent speaker and makes statements qualifying what he says to make it harder to identify how harmful it is. For many years I thought I just didn’t agree with it. It’s only in the last couple years that my eyes have been opened.

    My mother essentially walked away from her faith over a decade ago because of how she was treated at his church. She didn’t have the skills to communicate the whole story to me at the time and I probably wouldn’t have listened anyways. She passed away three years ago and would have been so thankful to see the trauma caused by John Piper(and those like him) acknowledged.

    Reply
  22. Georgie

    My husband and I have been married for forty years and are considered senior citizens (we are both over age 60). We live as room mates, have slept in separate bedrooms for years, and we are both depressed and withdrawn from each other. He used to speak harshly to me but now that he is disabled he has become withdrawn. I take care of him each day but we have no real marriage between us. It feels more like an unhappy existence. I know we do not please God living this way but I do not know how to talk to him anymore because he tends to shove problems under the rug and not talk about them. I tend to want to talk things out so this creates a real conflict and we don’t effectively communicate. Georgie

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Georgie, I’m so sorry. It sounds like you are in a really difficult position, and so much time has gone by. What I’d just say to you is as much as possible, build a life outside of your husband that gives you joy. If you can, volunteer, join some groups, get out and take some exercise classes. Anything that gives you a different social circle and makes your life bigger. It sounds like you have no real connection with your husband, and you do need connection.

      Reply
  23. Seti B

    I feel like there are two main types of women who would ask the kind of question posed: women in abusive situations, and women whose husbands communicate in a way that comes across as harsh but aren’t intending to be so. Piper seems to assume the second; as was mentioned by another commenter elsewhere, this blog assumes the first.

    The problem is that Piper’s advice isn’t helpful for either group. As many other people have more eloquently stated here, Piper’s advice further binds the abuse survivor to the abusive environment and provides no practical tools to determine the threat level of the situation, learn how to be safe and begin healing from the abuse, or even begin setting boundaries with the abusive spouse (if safe to do so).

    At the same time, Piper’s advice isn’t helpful for women with unintentionally harsh husbands either. Since he doesn’t intend to be harsh, an open and honest conversation about the effects of his words and/or actions and dialogue about practical steps to change those modes of relating is going to solve the problem a lot better.

    After reading Piper’s transcript, I realized that Piper’s advice is really only applicable for women who (for whatever reason) cannot leave an abusive situation and just need to figure out on how to survive it. In circumstances like that, his advice sounds a lot like “keep your head down and beg Jesus for help.” It’s advice that may help someone get by (it’s what I did) but it doesn’t promote either health or goodness.

    (Also, just as a side note, the woman’s comment of “he’s not physically violent, praise God” is concerning to me. If someone asks me how I’m doing, I don’t respond with “Nobody murdered me today, praise God”—the “praise God” makes it sound like I expected to get murdered and was relieved that it didn’t happen. I get wanting to clarify that he’s not physically violent, but the “praise God” part makes me think she has some concerns that he might become so. And *that* concerns me.)

    Reply

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