Let’s Talk Manifestation Theology False Marriage Teaching

by | Jul 8, 2024 | Theology of Marriage and Sex | 28 comments

Proud man with a crown because his wife stoked his ego

You can’t honor your husband into greatness, people.

Do a thought experiment with me today. 

Imagine that you had recently moved to Louisiana, and you hadn’t made a lot of friends  yet. Your kids had been playing with some kids down the street who went to a church nearby, and their parents seemed nice.

You remember with some fondness the times you went to Sunday School in the summers when you visited your grandma as a kid, and then there was that fun VBS week when you were 8. 

And you think: Maybe we should give church a try? We never really believed much, but maybe we missed something, and it would be a great way to meet friends!

So you drive to Our Savior’s Church, Opelousas.

And this is what you hear in the sermon:

If this was part of a sermon, would you EVER go back again? Would you let your kids go to a VBS at this church? Would you be more or less likely to ever try a different church again?

Seriously, when people wonder why church attendance is declining, have they ever stopped to think about how anecdotes like this go over to the general public? People aren’t staying away from church because they want to sin! They’re staying away from church because pastors say worse stuff than they would ever hear at a family dinner or a workplace.

This is so pathetic.

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I won’t go into why–we talked about that on Facebook

And I’ve talked about nagging a lot on the blog too–and how nagging is usually not the real problem. It’s a way to blame women when men aren’t fulfilling their responsibilities.  

But today, aside from the awfulness of that message, I want to address the underlying premise: that if your husband is not doing basic things around the house that he promised to do, and is being lazy and taking you for granted and not living up to his responsibilities, that you can “honor him into greatness.”

This is called manifestation theology, and it’s everywhere in marriage advice.

It’s interesting, because the people preaching it would likely be against manifestation theology in general. 

Manifestation theology is a part of the prosperity gospel, and is often called “name it and claim it” theology. 

Manifestation theology is the belief that we can bring a positive outcome into our lives simply by naming it, praying for it, and claiming we’ll get it based on God’s promises.

It’s really putting a Christian spin on ideas like laws of attraction, that if you believe you will receive something (or act like you already have it) it will become reality in your life. People like Joel Osteen or even Robert Morris (the megachurch pastor in the headlines right now for sexually abusing a child for four years starting when she was 12) have been accused of preaching a prosperity gospel. It’s the idea that God doesn’t want anything bad to happen to you and only wants to bless you, and so you can stand on his promises and these things will be added to you.

It’s very enticing, but God made it clear that there will be suffering in this life, and that our aim is to be like Jesus, not to receive earthly blessings.

But here’s the thing: So many conservative evangelicals would say that they stand against the prosperity gospel, but then they go and teach the same things about marriage!

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Here’s another example, this time from Josh Howerton, an SBC church in Texas: 

Got it? “Give him a crown, and he’ll become a king.” “Honor him into greatness.”

We hear this stuff all the time. Do you want him to be a spiritual leader? Treat him like he already is one. Step back and praise him for the things that he isn’t doing, but that you want him to do, and somehow this will magically make him become that thing you want!

No, it won’t.

This advice goes against everything we know about relationship dynamics.

It’s just simply not true.

But it’s very effective, because it DARVOs the situation (reverses victim and offender).

The husband is doing something wrong, but who is the one addressed? The wife. She is told what she should do to make him step up to the plate. So now, if he doesn’t step up the plate, who is to blame? She is, because she’s not “honoring” him enough or the crown she’s giving him isn’t big enough. 

So she has to examine herself some more, pray some more, berate herself some more, and try again.

Note that in all of these cases, the husband is the one doing the bad thing. Yet who is the one being addressed to change it? The wife.

She is basically being told to manipulate him into doing what she wants him to do. 

(And how often do we hear sermons about how manipulative women are, and how women are always trying to “control” their husbands through manipulation? They teach women to manipulate, and then they chastise them for doing so!)

Giving someone a crown does not make him act responsibly.

Giving someone a crown for no reason tells him, “you are great just the way you are, and you deserve to rule and be lauded just the way you are.” It rewards bad behavior.

As Cloud and Townsend say in their book Boundaries, this kind of behavior disrupts the law of sowing and reaping. God put the law of sowing and reaping into the world: We are supposed to reap what we sow. This is fair; this teaches us repercussions, and it can lead us to repentance.

But instead women are told that when he sows dishonor and pain, you are the one who is supposed to reap the discomfort and the extra work and the disharmony, while he reaps a wife fawning all over him and treating him like he’s done everything right. 

You reward him for bad behavior, which enables further bad behavior.

Keith and I address this a lot in our marriage book The Marriage You Want that’s coming out next spring, but research has consistently shown that addressing small things in the marriage early leads to better marital outcomes. Letting things slide when the marriage is actually quite uneven or leading to lots of frustration only makes things worse in the long run–but it can make things better in the short run.

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If people want, we can talk about these studies more on the podcast soon (we’ll be talking about them when the book is out), but in this post I just wanted to point out several things:

  1. The advice to treat a husband like he is already amazing when he is acting poorly in order to get the husband to step up to the plate is really common in the evangelical church. 
  2. This advice is not based on research or evidence.
  3. This advice does not work.
  4. This advice puts the onus of a husband’s bad behavior on the wife, while permitting the husband to keep acting badly with no repercussions.
  5. This advice enables a husband to be lazy and ignore what his wife is feeling.
  6. This advice makes the wife feel responsible for everything bad her husband does.

It works out really well for men who want their wives to stop expecting them to actually be responsible.

But it doesn’t work out well for marriages. 

It isn’t okay.

And it needs to stop.

And if you EVER hear a pastor saying something stupid like both of these sermon clips, stand up and walk out. We need to normalize walking out and not just accepting these kinds of messages. Because this is hurting marriage, but it’s also hurting the witness of Jesus. None of this belongs in a sermon, and if we want people to actually encounter Jesus in our services, we have to stop promoting churches that do this, and we have to hold pastors that say things like this accountable. 

If this is your church–it may be time to find another one. And I’m so sorry you had to sit through sermons like that. You didn’t deserve that.

You may also enjoy:

Want some help if your spouse is treating you badly and you want things to change? These series may help:

 

  1. Iron Sharpens Iron Series– because marriage should make you better people
  2. Direct Communication Series
  3. The 4 Step Plan to Get Out of a Sexual Rut

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

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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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28 Comments

  1. Jo R

    How many women who have never experienced an orgasm in their Christian marriages have also spent years if not DECADES praising their husbands for being great in bed? LOTS. So much for THAT manifestation becoming reality.

    I’ve long thought that way too many Christian men are actually very tall three-year-olds. Talking to a man the way this pastor demonstrates simply reinforces that observation. Hey! We found a case where manifestation theology DOES work! Treat him like a three-year-old and he’ll keep acting like a three-year-old! 🤣

    And of course, if men are to be valued mainly for their brute strength, then men need to immediately vacate all jobs that don’t require brute strength. Otherwise, aren’t those men missing out on using their obvious God-given physical strength by doing cushy office and other sitting-down jobs? (Oh, and if that trash really were so, so heavy that the wife couldn’t actually take it out herself, then who the 🤬 HAS been taking it out all this time? Is the house completely filled with days’, weeks’, months’, or years’ worth of garbage bags?)

    Reply
    • Angharad

      Yes – my first thought was “Who on earth has so much trash in their house that a grown woman is incapable of taking it outside?”

      Followed by “If she IS capable of taking it outside, then a pastor is encouraging her to tell lies to manipulate her husband.

      Can someone tell me where the Bible recommends wives to lie to their husbands?

      Reply
      • Lisa Johns

        My first thought was that he was joking — only a couple who was laughing together would seriously treat each other like this! Sadly enough, the buffoonery of his little performance was lost on him, as he was not joking. Ugh.

        Reply
    • EOF

      This hits home. I was told never to tell him “no” in bed. I was told never to say I didn’t like something he did in bed because that would hurt his ego. (Why is his ego more important that my safety?) I was told to “fake it until you make it” in bed. I was told to learn to like what he was doing in bed that I hated.

      What was the result? I am seriously traumatized and never want to have sex again. In fact, I never want to have a romantic relationship ever again! I spent years getting chewed at for not being excited enough about sex. I got chastised for not initiating enough. I was lectured about what a great lover he is. He called me rigid. I have had to listen to him brag about his 99.8% “success rate” (remember “fake it until you make it”??)

      We are divorcing and this man who thinks he’s a sex god has no hint of a clue as to what I would’ve liked sexually. I wonder if I had been able to be HONEST decades ago if that would’ve made a difference. Probably not, since all of the OTHER marriage advice we received also encouraged him to be a self-serving narcissist and demanded I give up all of my needs, personality, and soul.

      Reply
      • Jo R

        I’m so sorry. 😔 😟 🙁 😥

        Hugs if you want ’em.

        Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I’m so sorry, EOF. So very sorry.

        Reply
  2. Codec

    I genuinely don’t understand the give them a crown mentality.

    I can understand the teach a man to fish mentality because there you actually have to learn from your mistakes. You have to actually be able to catch a fish.

    Just giving someone accolades they don’t deserve sounds like a recipe for disaster. You set up Peter Principle scenarios where incompetent people are promoted which furthers their incompetency. You can get people who start to believe that their genuine efforts mean nothing as they get rewarded anyway. You can even get people who become addicted to being praised for the littlest things who lash out at any perceived slight because they think they are just that awesome.

    It is madness.

    Reply
    • Laura

      This stuff here mentioned in these pathetic sermons is definitely prosperity gospel garbage. I used to attend a charismatic church and heard some stuff similar to this. One woman I knew there was married to an abusive alcoholic. She stayed with him praying and prophesying that he would become a better man. She believed if she just prayed enough and used the right words in her prayers that God would change him. I don’t know if this man ever changed. He recently passed away and I cannot help but feel relief for her. She’s now free from his abuse.

      Yes, I believe people can change but for crying out loud, don’t be propping up immature, abusive men and proclaiming they are changed for the better when they don’t do anything to improve. If someone is in an unsafe situation, get out and stop expecting the abuser to change.

      Reply
    • G.G.

      These are the same people who call others snowflakes and rage against participation trophies.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It really is!

      Reply
    • Nessie

      “You can even get people who become addicted to being praised for the littlest things who lash out at any perceived slight because they think they are just that awesome.” Exactly. I have a couple sisters-in-law that lash out because they expect praise for their “perfection” when they both actually just need a lot of therapy. And how often do you hear the recipients of false praise actuallly praise others for anything?

      Reply
      • Codec

        Exactly.

        They get accolades without having to put in the work.

        This kind of mentality breeds narcissistic traits.

        I hope they get the therapy they need.

        What us more praying for people or to deal with a bad situation is honorable. It shows respect for God. However when you try and make God your gumball machine by saying he has to reward you you are being an ingrate and you are throwing away opportunities to use your God given talent to help yourself and others.

        Reply
  3. Nessie

    “They teach women to manipulate, and then they chastise them for doing so!” The cognitive dissonance! I often wonder if I hadn’t been raised by an intentionally manipulative mom if I might have noticed how wrong these teachings were in the church… As it was,the bad teachings were comfortable in their familiarity. I

    I can’t fully disagree with JH’s statement that speaking truth over you husband leads to a husband who becomes who God has called him to be… unfortunately, that does NOT look like what JH preaches! It looks like holding him accountable when he has cheated. It looks like consequences for bad choices like moving out with your kids when there has been abuse. It looks like divorce if he will not listen and earnestly try to change. How these guys learned to conflate ‘truth’ with ‘manipulaion and lies’ is beyond me but it certainly is not of God.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Well said!

      Reply
  4. Kay

    Did Pastor Eugene tell men how to honor their wives in a similar way?

    Did he give an example of honoring your boss, the mean neighbor, or your know it all teenager?

    Did JH give examples of how men can encourage their wives to be queens? How to inspire them to greatness?

    My guess is no.

    I’m all for encouraging people where/when it’s due. Being kind to one another. And treating others the way you want to be treated, but when someone’s laziness, lack of control, harshness, anger— sin— gets in the way, they need to remember the “nagging” is really just what you/ the Bible says, reaping what you sow.

    When you’re dishonest, you don’t become trustworthy no matter how many times *I* pray or speak it.

    Manifestation theology messes with you when things don’t turn out. We forget God isn’t a genie in a bottle. There’s another human being with free will in the mix, and it’s not until hearts are changed & open to Gods love that brings about changed lives.

    Reply
  5. Marina

    This is why I will forever encourage people to learn theology for themselves from multiple sources. Is it a guarenteed against this kind of thinking? No. But I think that it at least gets people used to throughly thinking through beliefs and their consequences. No “they said the keywords, so it must be true”. It won’t stop the manipulators and entitled from twisting things to their benefit, but it might help people at least recognize what is going on.
    Sometimes I also feel like the average layperson gives these teachers too much benefit of the doubt. “Sure, it *sounded* like this, but surely they didn’t mean that.” It brings to mind the phrase “believe people when they tell you who they are.”.

    Reply
  6. Brittany

    Oh gosh… The “manifestation theology” brings me back… Name it, claim it, receive it… And if you didn’t get *exactly* what you prayed for, YOU weren’t specific enough to God. Yep, it was YOUR fault.
    So glad this (false) teaching is being called out.

    Reply
  7. SherriLen

    Giving him a crown is not in scripture.
    Please give us an “fixed it for you” because we HAVE heard this all our lives at church!

    Reply
  8. Anonymous

    Funny, I remember something more along the lines of ‘don’t throw pearls to swine’ from the Bible more than ‘give him a crown and he’ll act like a king!

    Reply
    • Taylor

      Yep.

      Reply
  9. Nethwen

    Relatedly, I heard this same sort of nonsense in secular leadership training. Have an underperforming employee? Praise them for what they do well.

    Sounds good, but in reality, it means that you’re trying to figure out how to praise the employee for responding when a customer spoke to them, but say it without sounding condescending. When someone is this far gone, praise doesn’t help, but training after training insisted that it would miraculously turn the employee into your most devoted, highest-performing staff member and the only other option was for you to be a horrible human who bulldozed over your staff.

    I tried it and all it did was give me anxiety, make me feel like a failure, and create a miserable work environment for everyone who wasn’t besties with the poorly performing employee. Holding people accountable for their actions, including firing them, worked much better, even if they were uncomfortable, challenging conversations. That last part was made even harder because we didn’t get training on how to humanely hold people accountable and provide reasonable consequences for actions, so I was left figuring things out on my own.

    Thankfully, I realized fairly quickly in my marriage that “praise to greatness” didn’t work and dropped that expectation of myself. Directly stating what was wrong and putting up boundaries to limit the impact on me from what was wrong has been working much better.

    Reply
  10. Lisa Johns

    I gave the guy a “crown” after reading Debbie Pearl’s venomous little book. He lit up from the inside out — that should have sent me running, but I kept trying for 20 more years. He griped about everything that I did, while I was constantly silenced in my very valid concerns about our marriage. He also griped about how I “never said anything good about him,” which was untrue — I looked for good things to say and I said them — but I wasn’t going to overexaggerate (i.e. LIE) about things that weren’t really all that great. He wanted to be seen/known as the greatest without ever putting in the work to BE the greatest. It makes me absolutely sick that I married him in the first place — had I paid attention to those red flags I could have avoided so much pain!

    Reply
  11. Taylor

    I tried honoring my then-husband into greatness for about a decade. Didn’t work. What I got was betrayal, isolation, abuse … The last four years single-parenting have been very difficult. But I have way more peace and freedom then I ever had with him.

    I wonder if things would have turned out differently if I’d been encouraged and supported to stand up to crap, and not be bothered if he was uncomfortable with being called out.

    Reply
  12. JoB

    Ah, yes, the “stand up comedian for God.” 🙄

    What’s disturbing about these little routines that “funny” pastors like to enact is that they distort truth by taking one aspect of truth and blowing it up to be the only truth. Yes, it’s true that sometimes using humor or a lighthearted tone may be more effective than a serious tone. It’s good to emphasize the positive as much as possible. It’s generally good to try to give others the benefit of the doubt, or seek clarification, when their motives are unknown. It’s good to give grace. BUT these cannot be the ONLY wise or necessary ways of relating or communicating. Vitamin C is vital- but you can’t eat a Vitamin C only diet!

    So little wisdom and discernment is taught in churches. What if we did a study of how Jesus communicated with people? It certainly wasn’t always soft and sugarcoated, even with his own disciples and with desperate people who came to him for help. And he responded to the same question differently depending on who asked, and their motives. Who is teaching discernment about people and their motives? Instead we are just taught to identify a “role” and follow the applicable rules blindly.

    Reply
    • Nessie

      Had my teen watch the clip (I gave little context) and he asked, “So…is that supposed to be a comedian or a preacher?” These kinds of preachers have no clue they are desperately seeking attention by these antics.

      I would disagree a smidge on your point about wisdom not being taught in churches… as the first clip shared, “a *wise* woman….” Wisdom is being “taught” but very incorrectly. Here’s a thought- since wisdom is portrayed as feminine in the Bible, perhaps wisdom should be preached and taught about- by a woman.

      Reply
  13. Learning to be beloved

    Like others have commented, this did NOT improve my marriage to my narcissistic spouse. But this wasn’t the biggest problem that teaching gave me! The biggest problem, which fed into the marriage context, was that I could never believe compliments, encouragement, praise, ANY good thing anyone ever said to me; instead, I believed they were trying to “manifest” these things in me. So I heard all this BUILDING UP language as TEARING DOWN language, because I “knew” they didn’t mean those good things.

    This self-esteem, self-value killing teaching set me up for the awful marriage. At least my spouse was “honest” when telling me I was failing, didn’t measure up, wasn’t good enough. If I had actually believed the truth that so many people were telling me, I would never have accepted the garbage my spouse offered constantly and abundantly.

    If the “church” hadn’t poisoned me to God’s love for me, I wouldn’t have ended up with PTSD. After all, I couldn’t believe the good things God said in scripture for me either, since it was just manipulation to get me to try to please Him.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s an excellent point! It does teach you not to believe what people say.

      Reply
    • Lisa Johns

      That reminds of the “hero sandwich” a very manipulative employer offered me one time when she was wanting to criticize something I was doing. In case you haven’t heard of that, it’s the “if you have something bad you want to say, you need to give a compliment leading into it, and follow it up with another compliment” advice. Which she dutifully did, and it was just SO heavy handed and awkward, and didn’t have at all the effect she probably wanted. It did make me not believe much of anything she said after that — I just couldn’t take her seriously at all!

      Reply

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