ONE OF THE THINGS WE’RE PASSIONATE ABOUT ON THIS BLOG IS MAKING SURE THE ADVICE THAT IS GIVEN ABOUT MARRIAGE AND SEX IN THE EVANGELICAL WORLD IS HEALTHY.
Over the last few years, our team has surveyed over 32,000 people, measuring how certain teachings common in the evangelical world about marriage and sex affect marital and sexual satisfaction.
And the results have not been pretty.
We’re asking the church to stop spreading harmful messages, and make sure that what is said is actually healthy. Because it is actually possible to write books that do not harm!
We’ve also published a series of downloadable one-sheets on evangelical books that still sell well, but have been shown to contain harmful messages.
This is our most recent entry–Lies Women Believe.
In this post, with a download option, I’d like to explain why it’s harmful.
This post is the text from our download, so it’s short, in bullet point form, and right to the point.
Lies Women Believe (And the Truth That Sets Them Free) Updated Edition by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth
Healing from habitual sin, complex trauma, depression, and more comes from changing what we believe.
Summary of Issues
- Shows no understanding that habitual unwanted behaviors are caused by a myriad of complex factors, including trauma; unhealthy coping mechanisms; and shame, not merely problematic beliefs.
- Equates sinning and being sinned against throughout the book, providing the same solution to both problems.
- Fails to give any route to relationship change, such as drawing boundaries, but rather insists that women’s suffering and silence brings wanted change.
IGNORES BREADTH OF SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE OF TRAUMA AND BEHAVIORAL CHANGE
- Fails to understand that trauma is held in the body, not caused by “believing a lie” (40). Implies that childhood sexual abuse (137), emotional abuse (67), or sexual assault (137) can be healed by changing beliefs and thinking the trauma away.
- Asserts that habitual sin is caused by believing lies, so changing one’s beliefs will bring an end to compulsive masturbation (40); same sex attraction (106); and can even lead to a 65 pound weight loss (58).
- Dismisses symptoms of postpartum depression (238); rebukes those who seek medical help first for depression: “It’s easier to rely on a doctor, a therapist or antidepressants than to ask God how He might want to use our pain to sanctify us” (248).
SHOWS A PROBLEMATIC MISUNDERSTANDING OF FEMALE SEXUALITY
- Implies that a woman can overcome sexual dissatisfaction and dysfunction simply by “training her body to respond”, and suggesting women talk to a godly female mentor about this. Never mentions talking to your husband, even though evangelical couples experience a 47-point orgasm gap, with the biggest reason being lack of foreplay (138). Implies women can think themselves to pleasure, rather than noting that husbands have a responsibility to bring their wives pleasure.
- Chastises a woman who wants to experience sexual pleasure with her husband as “being caught in a snare” because she believed the lie that she “needs an outlet for sexual desire.” Advises her to work on her friendship with her husband instead of learning techniques to experience arousal (153).
- Excludes rape from a list of nine ways we can sin sexually, but includes “[losing] one’s virginity”, implying that a rape victim has committed a sin and has become impure (148).
IGNORES ABUSE DYNAMICS
- Equates a childhood abuse victim now yearning for human connection with a woman obsessing over social media. In both cases, women are in “personal and spiritual bondage” because they “believe and act on lies” (67-68).
- In her section on why women embrace shame, includes both “my stepfather forced himself on me sexually at least once a week from the time I was five until I was eleven” and “I’m looking at porn” (133) as if the route to healing is identical. Lists both sexual abuse and a husband’s porn use as examples of a woman’s “sexual sins, challenges, shortcomings” (133).
- States repeatedly that one cannot be a victim. “I used to believe that I was chronically depressed due to being a victim. When I began to realize that much of my depression was caused by my choice to be angry, I began to take responsibility for my sin and found freedom” (102).
- While giving a caveat that abusive marriages should not be tolerated, repeatedly gives contradicting anecdotes, including a woman who prayed for 40 years for her marriage to be restored, though godly conselors told her to leave (263). Presents all the following beliefs as lies: “I’d be better off getting a divorce” (186); “he doesn’t care that he hurt me (186); “I can’t continue in this marriage” (266), or believing that most problems in marriage are his fault (187).
- Fails to name clergy abuse, portraying a relationship between a pastor and a woman in the congregation as consensual (22).
- Ignores systemic marriage issues leading to women’s exhaustion—the disproportionate burden of mental load, housework, and emotional labor that women bear (116), painting the problem merely as a failure to properly prioritize.
IGNORES ABUSE DYNAMICS cont.
- Praises a woman for remaining silent and not drawing boundaries in the midst of her husband’s alcoholism (166), and implies that we should suffer to bring our husbands to repentance (189).
- Teaches an unhealthy view of submission where a woman can “graciously express her view on a matter”, but then must follow her husband (175). Scripture condemns Sapphira who followed her husband, and praises Abigail who did not.
- States that no man is actually passive, and if women step back, men will step up (179). This is not universally true, and waiting for him to step up in areas such as children’s well-being or paying bills can have destructive results.
- Insists that whether one has cancer, has lost a child, or has a difficult marriage (where a husband may be sinning against you), one can still be stable, joyous, and radiant. These things, however, are not comparable; death is random, while poor relationships can be based on someone sinning against you. Rather than aiming for mood change in the midst of a difficult marriage, as the book advocates (18), difficult marriages actually require aiming for safety and relationship change.
- In the section on why women embrace shame, includes both “my stepfather forced himself on me sexually at least once a week from the time I was five until I was eleven” and “I’m looking at porn” (133) as if the route to healing is identical. Places sexual abuse and a husband using porn in the categories of a woman’s “sexual sins, challenges, shortcomings” (133). The cure for all is to confess (136), stop embracing shame, and repent of letting this define you (134).
CONTAINS PROBLEMATIC THEOLOGICAL VIEWPOINTS
- Believes that “I have the right to decide when or whether to have a child” is a lie, arguing that it is best and most godly not to use contraception (197). Portrays as the ideal a woman with eight children (201). States that feeling “I can’t physically handle more children” or “I can’t afford more children” are lies. (203-204).
- Implies that God deliberately chooses to make some women infertile (198), or deliberately kills a parent (51). States that, if we were to know what God knows, we would choose infertility or death of a parent or child all over again (291).
- In a section discussing women’s “shrewish spirits” and “failures”, includes as examples “women whose marriages are hanging by a thread” and “women whose hearts ache for their children” (15).
- Asserts that, if one doesn’t have money for rent next month, the solution is to believe hard enough “my grace is sufficient for you” (267). This is a version of manifestation theology, that if one believes enough, one can manifest a result.
- Presents standing up for one’s rights and wanting to be treated well as antithetical to a gospel life, where “each new hurt, each new offense, is a fresh opportunity to surrender our rights and to respond in the spirit of Christ.” (77)
- Declares that not caring for one’s appearance reflects “negatively on both her husband and her heavenly Bridegroom” (81)
- Includes misogynistic tropes, like calling women “shrewish”; implying that women are responsible for bringing all sin into the world (despite the fact that Scripture lays it at Adam’s feet)
- Equates same sex attraction with “bestiality, incest, polygamy, cult prostitution” (147) and being a lesbian (harms no one) with being a murderer or adulterer (has victims) (293).
WHAT WOMEN HAVE SAID
“This book kept me spiritually hostage for years in a terrible marriage riddled with abuse and infidelty.”
“When I read it, it left me feeling like I could never be enough, like I could never fit in to church culture, like I needed to be submissive and quiet and make myself small to fit the “perfect Christian woman” mold.”
“It taught me to see my depression and anxiety as a lack of gratitude, my trauma responses as my own fault for being too bitter and not forgiving enough, and my autistic meltdowns as just a lack of self-control. It taught me that my own happiness doesn’t matter. It taught me that women are made to be homemakers and submit to their husbands and raise children—and that it’s rebellious and selfish to NOT want these things, but also I shouldn’t want them TOO MUCH or that means I’m turning them into an idol. It taught me that if I’m feeling too overwhelmed and busy, it’s because I’m not trusting God enough. I’m not being dramatic or exaggerating when I say that book did severe damage to my mental health.”
This book spear headed the steam rolling over of one woman’s explanation for why she and her spouse got fixed and stopped adding children to their family… I left that Bible study feeling really really upset and sad. I fully agreed with her.
Also, calling suffering holy and therefore we shouldn’t try to ease it or stop it. I choked on and read over that chapter trying to understand it, just about spiraled into depression from that chapter my husband had to talk me out of it, and my counselor too. We had just gone through the loss of our baby for unknown reasons in the second trimester, that was definitely not a helpful chapter to read.
I read this book as part of a women’s Bible study in my mid-thirties. I think it was just another book the reinforced what every other women’s study group, marriage conference, and program I had attended told me: if you will just be less of yourself, love your husband sacrificially without expecting anything in return, be more godly, less needy, more satisfied, then your life will be great! I didn’t realize at the time that I was in an abusive marriage. Our family was on the verge of financial ruin, my oldest daughter was self-harming and in therapy for sexual abuse, and I felt that if I had just been a better person, maybe it wouldn’t be like this. It made me think that the problem was me—nobody else seemed to have a problem with the message, so it must just be that I wasn’t good enough, spiritually mature enough, if this was the way I was supposed to feel about my life—and I clearly didn’t.
Encouraged extreme passivity and a welcoming of toxic behaviour as “God’s will”. I felt trapped and like I was being ungrateful for wanting my needs met.
I read the book years ago. Unfortunately, at the time, I was indoctrinated in Complementarian theology, and I was unable to see the damage of NLD’s words. I felt it was just another book (added to the long list of LifeWay’s and CBMW’s propaganda used to control women) that showed me how far away I was to becoming the perfect Proverbs 31 woman. Strive more…do more…speak less…smile all the time…be sexually available to my husband 24/7, give more…forget yourself…give up your rights because you gave them up when you met Jesus…feel less…don’t show emotions…submit, submit, submit…
I now see that her book heaped piles of shame and condemnation on my head and in my heart. I now believe this book is a close parallel to Debi Pearl’s “Created to be His Helpmeet.” Both left me in great bondage and further from God’s grace and acceptance of myself and the personality He gave me. It took me a long time to realize that I was the frog in the pot…
I did this as a Bible study with a delightful group of women who sincerely loved God and loved their families and wanted to mutually encourage each other.
It pains me so much how this book did opposite of what we hoped it would. We shut down from communicating on a deep level with each other. There was fear of failure. There was shame over ways we didn’t perfectly fit the script. There was an underlying view of a need to control our families to be godly.
But fear, shame and control are a spiritually deadly triad. The book produced all the very bad things in us that it promised would happen to us if we didn’t do everything her way. Even though we did it her way as much as humanly possible to the point of ridiculous.
It gave us negative promises if we deviated slightly from a narrow path that Jesus never required, and then those promises came true for many of us in devastating ways. I still believe Jesus words but in critically examining after the fact I see him recommending a much different narrow path than the large family skirt wearing, media shunning, husband fearing, morality shaming path of the author.
When Jesus spoke of a narrow way I think perhaps that is the path of spiritual mindfulness. That sense of calm that descends when we know that we know that we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God.
But immersed in fear, shame and control it separated us from one another in our times of deepest need. We drifted apart after the study.
The book taught us to fear failure, rejection and social isolation if our families didn’t measure up. She taught us to protect ourselves and our husbands and kids from outside influences. Even though we felt a strong connection, each of us had a fear of being exposed as not the perfect “godly ” families ( according to the books fear based teaching) that we were trying to be.
So we purposed to get together again and again and didn’t. We purposed to help each other. But no one wanted to recieve a visit when they were struggling because then others would know their failures. So we all offered and all of us nearly always said no to getting together or being helped by each other like we planned.
Many years afterwards we find out gradually what pain each of us has faced all alone. I think of what might have been the results if we had immersed ourselves in something more grace based instead.
We’ll never know but it matters to start now to believe that God’s love is a gift. And to stop engaging in cultural warfare of various kinds in the name of God.
SYNOPSIS OF FINDINGS
Based on an overly simplistic understanding of healing, Lies Women Believe tells women that the root of all of their problems is that they have been deceived. They can achieve healing merely by believing the right thing, ignoring all modern understanding of trauma and behavioral change. Consistently equates problems caused from sinning with problems due to being sinned against, painting abuse victims as responsible for their own trauma. This book heaps shame on women in untenable situations, and rather than giving a compassionate view of God, leaves Him out of reach.
Download this material in a onesheet format that you can email or give to someone who recommends the book. Let’s change the evangelical conversation about sex and marriage to something healthy!