“Lies Women Believe” review: 11-25

If you’re not familiar with Nancy Leigh DeMoss, one of the most common criticisms I’ve seen of her work is that she is umarried, although she is getting married in November this year. Since she’s spent so many years giving people advice on their marriages (sixty pages of Lies Women Believe are dedicated to it), it does seem relevant to point out that she’s talking about something she’s never experienced.

In a different way, Nancy also feels that her not-being-married situation is relevant. On her “Acknowledgements” page, she says this:

Dr. Bruce Ware — your love for the Truth is infectious. I am grateful for the spiritual covering and protection the Lord provided through your careful, theological review and your enormously helpful input. (11)

Women in Nancy’s position use the term “spiritual covering” as a superficial rationalization of what they do for a living. As a well-known speaker, Nancy inhabits a complicated space where other complementarians want famous women to come to their platforms and pulpits, but don’t want to admit that there’s a flaw in their ecclesiology. The “solution” is to say that women like Nancy aren’t technicallyusurping a man’s authority” because they have the spiritual covering of a man. It’s interesting to me that she felt the need for this even though the book is addressed to women– usually complementarians don’t have a problem with this as long as the intended audience is women.

Moving on to the foreword, which was written by Elisabeth Elliot. Obviously I’m not a fan of Elisabeth’s– Passion and Purity is awful, and she’s known for saying shit like “women should be grateful that God made them doormats for men.” That’s a paraphrase, but grateful and doormat were the words she used. So it was unsurprising that this was the first paragraph:

Nancy … has had the courage to plumb the depths of women’s illusions and delusions, of their hopes, fears, failures, and sorrows, so much of which might have been avoided were it not for lies propagated thirty or more years ago– such as “You can have it all,” “Don’t get caught in the compassion trap,” “Anything men can do we can do better,” etc. (13)

Huh. I wonder what could possibly have happened thirty years before 2001? Elisabeth seems unconcerned with facts, since “having it all” didn’t appear in the American vernacular until the 80s and comes with the baggage of Reaganomics and a reductionist and invalid criticism of second-wave feminism; I couldn’t find “compassion trap” in that order anywhere except in this book; and “anything men can do we can do better” is a reference to an Irving Berlin song from Annie Get your Gun, a musical written in 1946.

Yeah, those are all totally lies propagated by second-wave feminists in the 70s. Sure. This passage is important because it highlights what is going to be one of Nancy’s obsessions: how women have been damaged and dragged into “bondage” and “soul-sickness” by feminism (16). I’ve written on how she connects feminism with “soul sickness” before. She goes one step further in this book, accusing “feminist” lies of being the spawn of Satan (accompanied by the typical “Angel of Light” spiel, 19).

But, moving on to her Introduction. She spends some time regurgitating typical evangelical constructs about Eve (she’s ultimately to blame, and Adam went along with it to appease her), but it doesn’t take her long to jump straight into victim-blaming territory:

Many are in bondage to their past. Whether the result of their own failures or the failures of others, their pasts hang like huge weights around their necks. (17)

Most likely, you know other women who are living in bondage, though they claim to have a relationship with Christ. (18)

Bondage is another loaded term that many Christians use; it takes up a similar place as other words like bitterness and unforgiveness. Nancy doesn’t need to define it here, because when she says “bondage” her readers are picturing what she wants: a person who’s still affected by their past in a “negative” way. That I’m still affected by past trauma– that I still have triggers and panic attacks — means that I’m in “bondage.” According to her, that means I’m only claming to have a relationship with Christ. Considering most conservative Christians use “relationship with Christ” as synonymous with “salvation,” Nancy is calling my salvation into question.

I also really hate this equivocation between “our own failures and the failures of others,” especially in the context of “bondage” (which, honestly, is frequently use as a fill-in for rape trauma).

I tried to talk to my last pastor about his tendency to do this, because it is not at all ok to place “abuse victim” and “abuser” in the same sentence like this. That I and my partner were repeatedly ignored (or outright dismissed because “real attenders would understand what he was trying to say” even though my partner had been attending and serving on the sound team for two fucking years … digression) is one of the most significant reasons why I no longer attend his church. Connecting these two and then assigning blame to the victim for “carrying the huge weights” for their abuse is extremely unhelpful and damaging.

But oh, it gets worse:

I witnessed the power of Truth in another situation as I talked to a woman who had become emotionally involved with one of the pastors of her church. When I became aware of the situation, I called her at work because I did not know how much her husband knew. Since she was a receptionist for her company, I knew we might not have long to talk. After telling her who I was, I got right to the point ….

“I have to tell you that you are in a burning house, you are in grave danger. Because this is a desperate situation, I’m not going to worry about what you think of me or about hurting your feelings.” (22)

She called a complete stranger at work and had the gall to say “I don’t care about hurting your feelings.” It’s mind-boggling how she seems so utterly unaware of how inappropriate that is. But, I guess I shouldn’t expect anything different, since it’s a common relationship approach with Christians. It’s also reflective of Nancy’s beliefs:

Some of what I have to say will ruffle feathers. I have made not attempt to be “politically correct” or to merely write some nice thoughts that everyone will agree with. It is my belief that only radical surgery … will get to the root of our diseased hearts and make us whole. Sometimes the Truth hurts; it is rarely popular. But I would not be loving or kind if I failed to share with you the Truth that can set you free. (20)

Aside from the problems with equating actual love and I Need to Tell you Why I’m Right, what she’s done here is interesting in light of the reaction so many people had to her book. In the reviews I read, many people associated how bludgeon-y her writing is and how right she is. Apparently, this is an idea she gave them.

Aish. This does not bode well for the rest of this review.

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  • Yup, this seems like a completely different book since the first time I read it many years ago, when much of what you said went straight over my head.

    Interesting how she “knew” about this “emotional involvement” that woman had with her pastor. If she was a stranger to Nancy, then clearly they weren’t friends, meaning Nancy must have found this out from gossip? Aaaand that woman’s response to the phone call is notably absent from the text. Oy vey.

    Will you touch Passion and Purity at all for review, by any chance?

    • I didn’t notice that, but you’re right. She says that later “God turned the light on in her heart,” and that she “took one difficult step after another,” but nothing about what her initial reaction was to being called at work by an utter stranger.

  • Eric Boersma

    Aside from the problems with equating actual love and I Need to Tell you Why I’m Right

    I really liked JD Kirk’s take on this recently, here: http://www.jrdkirk.com/2015/07/27/healthy-theology-loving-neighbor/

    The money quote was this:

    If someone has to agree with your theological system in order to agree that what you are doing is “love,” then you are not loving your neighbor as yourself.

    It’s funny how seeing this put into words, all the sudden it seems applicable to everything that touches religion in so many ways.

  • I read this book and did the workbook with a group of women in college. I found it recently and read through my answers. It was sobering. I wanted to go back in time and give College Me a hug. 🙁

  • Bethany

    Oh, I remember a particularly harrowing part of the book (I only glanced through it in a bookstore, years ago). She says something about how depression is selfish. I’ll be keeping an eye out when you review that part! I bet there was a lot of other really questionable stuff in that same part.

  • HypercubeVillain

    That “spiritual covering” stuff is such a tenuous excuse. Thanks for the JuniaProject link.

    And great deconstruction of the “lies propagated thirty or more years ago” part! I never would’ve guessed just how baseless her random cloud of quotes really is; they love to keep their statements vague and cloudy when trying to make their audience dislike/fear anything secular, only for said statements to fall apart under basic scrutiny.

  • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

    I am really curious about the Elizabeth Elliot quote about being a doormat. I tried googling it, but couldn’t find it. Does anyone know which book it is in?

    • Not a book. She said it during a keynote speech given at a woman’s conference a while back.

      • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

        I find EE’s comment very telling. She and Jim Elliot have been lauded by the evangelical community, and their ‘love’ story has been practically canonized, but I think he treated her like heck. He paid enough attention to her to keep her on the hook, all while explaining that he couldn’t marry because he was called to dangerous missions work. I don’t buy it – if he couldn’t have a relationship b/c of his calling, he should have left her alone, which he absolutely didn’t do. They had long talks, walks, built a driftwood fire on the beach and stared at each other chastely. Jim Elliot’s mother, of all people, told Elisabeth that the Elliot men are committment-phobes and she shouldn’t put up with it. I think mom was onto something, but Elisabeth was convinced this was all about God, not just Jim acting like his dad. (Hint: Jim was acting like his dad.) After 5 years of this, Jim finally proposes, and he makes the proposal conditional. I mean, could you be a more classic controlling personality? Then, a year and a half later, he gets killed, pretty much deliberately. He didn’t concern himself with how his wife would feel about him contacting an isolated tribe known for murdering anyone who attempted contact – she described him as ‘boyishly exuberant’ about it. I bet he was. He was a big kid who was used to getting everything on his own terms. In one of his letters right before their wedding he said something about how she should forget about all the unkind things he had said about her not being that attractive – another tactic of the controlling personality, chipping away at the person’s self worth. This was not a healthy relationship, but it gets held up as a model because it meets these evangelical benchmarks. Elisabeth idealized him, and she needs to excuse his behavior – hence idiocy like “Women are lucky they get to be used as doormats by men!” I remember thinking as I read P&P that if Elisabeth had refused to play by Jim’s rules at any point he would not have married her. I think she still sees her marriage to him as a great accomplishment, and thinks all the hoops he made her jump through were worth it – and I think she absolutely knows if she had set boundaries he would have dropped her. This is a long way of saying that I think the whole argument of P&P is that if a woman wants to get married to an awesome Christian guy she needs to go along with whatever he requires of her.

        • Thank you for bringing up their letters– I haven’t read any of them since my PCC days, but this has shown me they’ll be valuable research for my book.

      • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

        Thank you for that link – great first hand story. One of the commenters said that women who teach this hard line female submission line tend to be hard characters is absolutely right. The commenter also said that she didn’t think EE was all that submissive in actual life, and I suspect this is the case, judging simply by EE life choices. Women who really take on submission don’t become forgein missionaries in isolated tribes in the jungle, working and living alone. Women who truly take on this world view get too broken down and self distrustful to do the sorts of things that EE did.
        Which brings me to something else. When I was 14, I did a summer long missions trip to India with a group called Teen Missions. During our 2 week training, I learned just how female dominated the Third World missions is. We had missionaries with decades of experience as teachers – dynamic people who had traveled to isolated places like New Guinea, and translated the New Testament into languages only spoken by small tribal groups. Most of the missionaries out in the Third World field were women, whether they were doing language work, or medical care. I’ve realized only lately where all the strong female leaders and dynamic personalities from the American church went – they went to the 3rd world. No one raised an eyebrow at a woman converting a stone age tribe to Christianity – but that same woman back in the US would not have been tolerated leading a church. Not to be snarky, but a white woman could be a leader of a bunch of people with bones through their noses, but lead a group that included white guys? Another story.) Anyway, my point, and I do have one, is that Mary Pride and her cohort were anti forgein missions. It never made sense to me, until I put it together that the reality of the mission field is strong female leaders. Once the girls hear about the adventures of a woman missionary in the Amazin basin, its hard to keep them in sewing class.
        EE knows the score. She was one of those tough as nails female missionaries herself. But she wants to have her missionary adventure cake and the acceptance of the evangelicals at home too.

  • Ysolde

    Hope you don;t mind extra comments I have time today and am reading some past articles.

    Oh gee yet another person who doesn’t seem to understand that “political correctness” is really just a new term for “don’t be an a$$ to other people”