How Bad Advice from Untrained Pastors’ Wives Made Abuse Worse

by | Aug 8, 2023 | Abuse | 4 comments

Bad advice from pastors wives
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Sometimes it’s women who hold other women in bondage.

Last night I shared this Fixed It For You on my social media channels. It’s a simple one, and it doesn’t really need much explanation. 

The author of the original quote, Rachel Jankovic, is Doug Wilson’s daughter, the pastor from Idaho famous for defending pedophiles, telling women to submit to abuse, writing novels about sex dolls, and defending slavery. 

Fixed It for You from Pastors Wives

Most women that I talk to that have been hurt by churches primarily mention other women as the perpetrators. Even though it may be mostly men who write the books, or male pastors who set the agenda, it is often women who teach the Bible study groups; who do the counseling; who are the first person that a wife in turmoil goes to.

Much research has been done on why women often push other women into harmful relationships, or fail to defend women, but when we grow up surrounded by toxicity, often it’s all we know. And often the only way to be accepted in such a community is to be the one who pushes the party line the loudest and the hardest.

(While I was on vacation, this post prematurely went live for a few days, but I want to run it again properly today! So if you already read this rest of this–that’s why!). 

I know so many awesome pastors’ wives.

I’ve had so much fun on the Pastors’ Wives Tell All podcast, and they are a great bunch of women! And in my personal friend group, I love so many pastors’ wives (and pastors!).

But sadly, when pastors and their spouses are not trained in abuse and trauma, they can make a terrible situation worse.

Pastors are often the first person that a desperate woman (or man) will go to when their marriage has deteriorated and when they are being abused. 

And yet, too often, rather than get these people connected with qualified, trained, evidence-based therapists, the pastors and their spouses take it on themselves to counsel, often with horrendous results (think John MacArthur and his elders excommunicating Eileen Gray for separating from her child-abusing husband). 

I want to give two examples of toxic, damaging counsel given by pastors’ wives.

This post is going to be heavy, but I want this documented because I get sent so many of these emails. I want women to understand that if they get terrible advice from their pastors or their pastors’ spouses, that doesn’t mean that advice has to be followed. It may be a sign that your church is truly a dangerous place for you, and you need to get help elsewhere.

Passion 4 Dancing

Both of the women who received these letters had shared about the abuse in their marriages, including marital rape. The pastors’ wives knew what was going on. They knew these women were in danger. They knew these women were going through incredible trauma. 

And they told these women that they were the ones at fault. 

Letter 1: You have to keep having sex no matter what. 

I shared this one in a recent podcast, but here is a pastor’s wife saying that consent really doesn’t matter.

1 – 1 Corinthians 7:2-3 makes it plain that physical sexual intimacy is the means whereby the husband and wife are mutually protected from violations of God’s law with respect to sexual desire because it provides the proper context for the expression of these desires and the satisfaction and fulfillment that God intends that we derive from them…

2 – v. 4-5 indicates that the wife and husband both are to make themselves available to the other partner physically – to refuse to do so is defrauding the other and making them more vulnerable to the attacks of Satan, particularly in the area of sexuality.

These are clear commands of Scripture and, like all commands, are to be willingly obeyed.

However, there is no abdication of choice here. The picture is that of the giving of a gift, a gift that you have agreed and covenanted together to make available to one another. There is no right granted to the other partner to take what has been promised against the will of the other person. The Bible does not condone this type of sexual abuse within a marriage as though a husband may take from the wife or the wife from her husband. This is to be a loving act of self-sacrifice for the sake of the other.

This, too, is a two-way street and I, for one, do not think that it is reasonable to suggest that a woman who is still recovering physically from the birth of her child has to offer her body to her husband, at least not for vaginal penetration. 

The sexual relationship is designed to both reflect and build intimacy. It is difficult to be physically intimate when there is distance or unresolved issues in the marriage but to refuse to do so categorically is to neglect one way that the Bible says serves to build it. The issues that your husband has, however complex and sinful they are, are never going to be rebuilt neurologically until new proper sexual habits are established with you. You are asking him to change but denying him the means by which the Scripture indicates that such sin is avoided. You will have to decide if you are willing to make that sacrifice. 

You keep talking about, “until he is safe, or things change.” What does this actually look like and mean?  How will you know when it happens? What steps are you willing to take as his wife to support him in this process?  Do you believe that what you are doing now in the relationship is helping or hurting the very thing you want to see?

You may not like to hear this, but the vast majority of what you have written is entirely focused on yourself. It is entirely understandable and perhaps even justifiable from a human perspective, but are you confident that this is how God has called you to respond to the hurt and abuse that has occurred in your life? No arsenal of self-soothing strategies is any match for the peace that Christ offered that is only available by obedience to Him.  

I am praying for you.  I love you.

Note how the ending–that she’s praying for her and that she loves her–makes it sound like what she has said is caring. It is anything but. 

This isn’t okay. This pastor’s wife may genuinely think she’s helping, but she has no understanding of abuse dynamics, or she simply doesn’t care. To insinuate that it doesn’t matter that the wife doesn’t feel safe is terrible. And to say that God created sex to be the means by which men are healed of abusive tendencies? Wow.

Letter 2: I can’t help you with divorce for abuse

Here a woman is asking for help as she navigates a divorce after years of trying to make her abusive marriage work. This is the response that she got:

I’ve asked and prayed how to respond to your request and how to best come alongside you in love. I feel deeply for the pain you’ve been experiencing in your marriage. For months I have listened intently to the story of your journey, the one that has led you now to seek divorce. And I know you see your divorce as a powerful and loving choice. Like I said I respect your choice and am prepared to walk beside you through the mess.

But I do not see or hear from God that this choice is coming from Him. I also don’t see it as stemming from your true identity, the one Christ has given you. Rather it appears to be stemming from old lies that are hanging on, refusing to go, making a last ditch effort to keep you from living out your true destiny in helping your family and others toward destiny and health (among other callings upon your life).

If you know your value now, why would you need to exert control to enforce it? Control is the opposite of power. Your value comes from God, so your husband (and everybody else) may or may not always see it but it remains true anyways. That’s their problem.

Same with your freedom. It’s all already yours and there is nothing your husband can do to prevent you from full realization of Christ’s creative life and healing love flowing through you. His choices, slowness, obstinance, lack of humility, emotional abuse, abandonment, and unwillingness to do the work can not take you out nor your marriage, nor your commitments. He does not get to determine your free choice any more than you get to determine his. You are fully responsible to do your work. Yes, you have grown exponentially, so so much. You now know you’re loved! The next thing is… you get to love. And love is essentially about the beloved, it is sacrificial (and all the things listed in 1 Cor  13). So now that you know your immense value, you get to share it regardless of whether others get it or not. Yet it seems you’ve now swung to believing that because you’re so valuable to Father God, He won’t call you to suffer… We know that’s not true because of Jesus….

I think He grew you so much that He trusts you more, knows you can handle more, knows you are ready to experience more of Him, become more like Him, including becoming deeply intimate with His very real suffering.

I have asked you what God is telling you to do, if He’s telling you to get a divorce. You said you asked for peace and He gave it, so you took that as a divorce being something He’s on board with. It seems to me that the peace you feel is the sense of great relief at no longer carrying your husband’s load etc, which of course feels like God giving you His love and maybe His blessing. It feels good!

While feelings are to be honored, respected and cared for, they are not to be relied upon.

Yet I believe you are allowing your feelings to guide you here, not the Lord. It’s totally understandable, I just don’t see it as God’s peace.

Jeremiah 8:11 “They have healed the wound of my people lightly,

saying, ‘Peace, peace,’

when there is no peace.”

This is all between you and God. And I will love you with my whole heart divorce or no divorce. I know you’re committed to it, that you’ve decided. So I could have just said that I don’t feel capable of mediating. Likely you’d have preferred I had done that. However I am trying to give you all my best discernment as my love offering. I may not be accurate, of course, but I don’t agree that your choice of divorce is from the Lord. None of it is consistent with the God I’ve known for over 40 years. So I can’t assist you in mediating it.

Note how in this letter she is essentially DARVOing the wife who has been abused. The abused wife has grown–but why is she holding on to her old identity of being abused? Why not just understand that God now trusts you with more?

She Deserves Better!

Because we all deserve a big faith.

Your daughter deserves better than what you likely grew up with in church.

What would it look like to prepare the next generation without toxic teachings about modesty, sex, or consent, and instead set her up for a big faith?

Peace, peace when there is no peace

I actually love the fact that the second letter writer quoted Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 8:11 “They have healed the wound of my people lightly,

saying, ‘Peace, peace,’

when there is no peace.”

In context, Jeremiah is calling out the religious leaders who are telling people, “everything’s great, everything’s fine” when there’s still a gaping wound.

This is the perfect Scripture for what is so often being done to abused women in church.

I wanted to share these letters, even though they’re horrendous and painful, because I know so many who read these blog get these letters. 

And you start to wonder if you’re the crazy one.

I talked with such a woman on a podcast recently, about how her church excommunicated her for divorcing her abusive husband, and it’s worth listening to as well.

But please know–this type of advice isn’t of Jesus and it isn’t okay.

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Yes, God wants to rescue marriages.

But more importantly, he wants you safe and well. And sometimes that can’t happen in your marriage.

Woe to those who value the shell of a marriage over the well-being of the people in it.

Bad Marriage Advice from Pastors Wives

Have you ever had really bad counsel from a pastor or a pastor’s wife? How did it make you feel? Did you ever try to get help from the church for a destructive relationship and were made to feel it was your problem? Let’s talk in the comments!

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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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  1. Laura

    It is very true that many pastors and pastors’ wives are not trauma-informed and should not be dishing out this type of advice by over spiritualizing it. Long after I got divorced due to sexual abuse, I talked about it in a women’s Bible study. The pastor’s wife told me that if my husband and I sought “godly” counseling, our marriage could have worked out. I was like, “HELLO? Didn’t I just tell you that he sexually assaulted me throughout the last year of our marriage?” I so wanted to say that out loud but I never did. This pastor’s wife was the same woman who obeyed her husband’s requests not to wear jeans, to keep her hair long, and never wear red lipstick. She just did not understand abuse and had even counseled women in the Bible study who had verbally abusive and controlling husbands to “continue submitting to them because their submission to their husbands was submission to God.”

    I am so thankful that I did not go to that church while I was married and I am glad that I got out of an abusive situation before it could get worse. That was 21 years ago.

  2. Lisa Johns

    I am in the beginnings of a divorce from an emotionally abusive husband as we speak, and already being shushed when I try to talk, and offered counsel and advice from people who have no idea what I have lived with for the last thirty years. I can’t hate them for it, as even I didn’t know what to call it for many, many years. But it’s frustrating all the same, and I find myself wanting to shake people sometimes!

  3. Nessie

    The parting questions- YES! SUCH bad advice. The second letter written was actually a bit triggering. DARVO was used on me and others, even from the pulpit/stage, and similar arguments were used. The difference was that not all of it was thrown in one punch, so maybe it was harder to see because it was in pieces.

    It made me confused, and made me busy trying to figure out what I was getting wrong. I was so distracted by trying to see where I was failing my husband, God, and others that I didn’t have time/energy to see where I was being failed. Great magician’s trick actually, misdirection with a heavy side of guilt. (Even writing, “where I was being failed,” feels incredibly selfish now… I’m working on it.)

    And from the second letter: “to keep you from living out your true destiny in helping your family and others toward destiny and health,” What is up with the destiny bit? How is that biblical?

  4. Lacey

    That 2nd letter was so similar to what was said to me. It sounded like the same person. So very sad, but also a good reminder that I am not the crazy one. Thank you for sharing.


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