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“Lies Women Believe” review: 135-167

This week’s Lies Women Believe review covers the chapter I’ve been dreading– the chapter on marriage. It was as horrific as I was expecting, and re-reading the sections I’d highlighted when I was in abusive relationship with a rapist made me sick all over again. I know this for a fact: the ideas Nancy argues for in this book keep women in abusive relationships.

So, let’s dig into this miasmic pile of filth, shall we?

I HAVE TO HAVE A HUSBAND TO BE HAPPY

It’s a good thing she started this chapter off with this “lie,” because it’s the only thing she actually has any experience with. She’s been a single woman in a Christian culture obsessed with marriage, and it’s a good idea to bring this up. I’m a happily married woman, and I thank my lucky stars every day that I met him and we fell in love. But, I’ve been in abusive relationships and I dated a lot of lackluster people, and I can tell you without a shade of doubt that I’d rather be single than stuck in a marriage with some of the people I briefly considered “settling” for.

However, instead of focusing on “singleness can be fulfilling and happy,” something Nancy at least hopefully knows about, she instead concentrates on how women shouldn’t value being happy. Amidst a lecture on how marriage is about “sanctifying each other and glorifying God” (137-140), she stresses just how ridiculous it is to expect a “fallen” man to make you happy.

Personally, I sorta get this. One of my favorite lines from Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility adaptation is “there is something bewitching in the idea that all of one’s happiness can depend entirely on any particular person.” I don’t think it’s healthy to make one person the locus of all your desire, happiness, attention, interest, or activity. We are complicated individuals, with a variety of needs and wants, and it is impossible for only one person to fill all those needs. That’s why we have parents, siblings, friends, communities, peers, coworkers.

But that’s not the direction she takes this. Instead, she encourages women to focus entirely on how their unhappy relationship is supposed to make them a better person and glorify God.

IT IS MY RESPONSIBILITY TO CHANGE MY MATE

Again, agree with the general idea but not the execution. I cannot fix my husband. If my partner has flaws (which he does, he is not perfect), it’s not my responsibility to get him to see the error of his ways, to “whine, nag or preach” (141) at him until he stops having that flaw.

You can probably hear the “but” coming from a mile away.

I can reasonably expect to have my boundaries respected and for us to communicate honestly about what we need or expect from each other. For example, right away Handsome made it clear that I could ask him to do something, but I could not specify exactly how it was to be done. He would do it his way, and if I wanted it done another way, I would do it myself. This sounded reasonable to me, and I agreed. The one exception is the shower– I’m not physically capable of cleaning it every time it needs cleaned, but because I have trauma-related shower stuffs, he cleans it exactly the way I showed him.

I also have an expectation– I react extremely badly to being told that something I’m upset about is “just a ____” like “just a bad haircut” or “just a random asshole on the internet.” He doesn’t intend to belittle or dismiss my concern, but I haven’t been able to adjust to that after three years of being together. If I hear the phrase “it’s just a _____,” I feel dismissed. He respects that, and doesn’t say that particular phrase anymore.

These are the negotiations of being married, of sharing a living space with someone else. Boundaries should be respected. Concerns should be listened to. Agreements should be reached. Communication should happen.

That’s not what she advocates for. Nope. Instead we get this:

The first weapon is a godly life, which God often uses in a man’s life to create conviction and spiritual hunger. When a wife … points out the things she wishes her husband would change, she is likely to make him defensive and resistant. But when she takes her concerns to the Lord, she is appealing to a higher power … that’s a lot harder to resist than a nagging wife! (141)

I call this Passive-Aggressiveness by Way of Piety.

Me saying “hey, Handsome, please don’t do The Thing” is not nagging. I have the right to say that. And I am absolutely convinced that walking around your house, your eyes upturned to heaven, your hands gently folded, hoping that’s going to get your partner to stop doing Whatever Thing is asinine in the extreme.

MY HUSBAND IS SUPPOSED TO SERVE ME

She says “nope, you’re his helper, you help him, silly” which just … lordy does no one have a dictionary, or a concordance? Here, Nancy, you should read up on what ezer kenegdo means and how it’s used in the Bible.

Second, does no one ever bother to read Ephesians 5:21? If being a “helper” means “serve your husband” and “submission” is part of being a “helper,” then … uh, there’s a thing Nancy should probably know about:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

IF I SUBMIT TO MY HUSBAND I’ll BE MISERABLE

I was actually a little gobsmacked that Nancy baldly makes this particular argument:

The struggle with submission is not unique to women of our day. In fact, that was the essence of the issue Eve faced back in the Garden of Eden. At the heart of the Serpent’s approach to Eve was this challenge: Does God have the right to rule your life? …

He convinced Eve that if she submitted to God’s direction, she would be miserable … From that day to this, Satan has done a masterful job convincing women that submission is a narrow, negative, and confining concept. (146)

I can’t believe I have to say this: men are not God. They are full of flaws, they are imperfect, they can be selfish and cruel and mean and angry just like everyone else. Even if I believed that Eve’s problem was not submitting to God, it is a non sequitur to argue that all women must submit to men or risk “stripping God of his authority.”

Also, she immediately compares grown women to toddlers and likens not being submissive to your husband to running out into the street and being hit by a truck. Women have access to the same amount of life experience as men, to the same wisdom and decision-making abilities, and regardless of how much Nancy tries to insist that women are “not inferior to their husbands” (147), she is arguing that here, and she’s already made that argument when she said women are more easily deceived than men and that’s why the Serpent targeted Eve.

The next bit … I threw the book down and went and cleaned something.

However, even in such a case [physical abuse], a woman can– and must–maintain an attitude of reverence for her husband’s position; her goal is not to belittle or resist him as her husband, but, ultimately, to see God restore him to obedience. If she provokes or worsens the situation [again: PHYSICAL ABUSE] through her attitudes, words, or behavior, she will interfere with what God wants to do in her husband’s life and will not be free to claim God’s protection and intervention on her behalf. (149)

[screaming]

FUCK THAT WITH A CHEESE GRATER, A CHAINSAW, AND A CACTUS.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss has clearly argued here that if a woman “does not revere her physically abusive husband’s position” she has no right to “claim God’s protection.”

And I’m crying.

Related: in the section on “sometimes divorce is a better option that staying in a bad marriage” she heavily emphasizes how marriage is a permanent covenant and makes no exceptions for abuse. The resources she offers on “Domestic Abuse” in the back of the book (270) are two books, both of which argue that there are no exceptions for divorce, not even abuse.

This is catastrophically dangerous and unimaginably evil. An abuse victim must be able to divorce their abusive partner for the simple reason that marriage gives an abuser extremely dangerous privileges and rights that must be removed from them. Period. End of story. Encouraging any other attitude is recklessly irresponsible.

I will shout this into the heavens with my dying breath: complementarianism destroys lives. Complementarianism is abusive. Complementarianism kills.

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  • “FUCK THAT WITH A CHEESE GRATER, A CHAINSAW, AND A CACTUS.”
    HELL YES! I wish I could type that larger. This needs to be said, and it needs to be said from within the church as well as from outside. And women need to vote with their feet, and walk right out of any church that advocates staying in an abusive situation.

  • To utter and everlasting shame, I once believed such shit. I remember writing to an internet friend of a friend as a 19 or 20 year old, telling her that as hard it was to believe, God didn’t allow for divorce in the case of abuse. I wish so very desperately that I could recontact her and tell her how absolutely dead wrong I was.

  • Helena Osborne

    You know, it sounds like something my high school students would say. When the Ray Rice assault happened, one girl said, “Well, she shouldn’t stay if he really abused her.” I think, best case scenario, her voice is coming from a dangerous place of naivety about the harm abuse does to people. Has she even listened to any abuse victims? It’s dishearteningly easy to read the stories of women who were abused and who were trapped in abusive relationships by crap like this; has she never felt enough concern to do so? Or did she just assume that their experiences weren’t valid? You’ll know the quality of an argument by its fruits, and her advice leads to spouses and children with PTSD and permanent scars, and that’s not fruit anyone should want to claim.

    • Even scarier is that my father says this, and he runs a company and has a lot of influence in his particular city. Grrrrr. (Just read this for the first time; sorry for the late comment!)

  • But really, let’s continue to believe that only Christians hold the keys to upright, moral behavior, and it’s only those darn atheists who act like impulsive wild beasts, beating and raping their women. True Christians would never do that, and would be immediately thrown out of church if they did for their poor witness, amirite???

    • Helena Osborne

      Don’t be silly… The blood of Christ covers all. The male pastor and deacon would pray over them and absolve the husband of sin and force the wife to stay with him and welcome him back into the fold as soon as he repented (i.e. she found better foundation).

  • Jesus seemed to make it pretty clear that at the very least divorce could be justified in situations of adultery (Matthew 19). Saying divorce is never allowed is directly contradicting Jesus at least on that one scenario. Beyond that, I don’t think we need to read that in a literalistic way that it is the one and only reason a divorce is ok. He makes clear the spirit of the idea of marriage: two people have joined together and we shouldn’t take that joining lightly, but sometimes something happens that destroys that mutuality and it is better to walk away instead of pretending everything’s fine and causing more harm. Adultery was the direct question posed to Jesus, but it definitely seems fair to me to conclude that there are other covenant-breaking harmful scenarios, with abuse at the top of that list.

    • Sheila Warner

      Benjamin Corey wrote an interesting piece on this. Apparently there were two prominent rabbis at the time. One advocated divorce only if the wife “displeased” her husband over something serious, like adultery. The other rabbi believed divorce was okay in for any reason the husband was displeased. Jesus’ disciples asked him about the second rabbi–is it okay to divorce a woman for any reason at all? Jesus confirmed that he was “on the side with” the first rabbi. It was a treatise on divorce, not marriage. Adultery just happened to be the example given. Jesus did not say “only” adultery, and expanded his view that ideally, marriage was forever. A pretty decent review of the passage. Benjamin was using this to counter Huckabee’s stance that Jesus defined marriage as between a man and a woman only. But the passage can be applied to more than just SSM.

      • Yes, I saw the same one yesterday. I’ve also read and heard about the two schools of thought Jesus was weighing in on elsewhere – it seems to be pretty open knowledge easy to find for anybody who actually studies the passage instead of just trying to grab a prooftext.

  • Sheila Warner

    OMG, I remember that brain washing while I attended a conservative, independent Baptist church. ANYTHING that was “wrong” with the husband was always the wife’s fault. FUCK THAT!

  • notleia

    [mashes Spock button]

  • Beroli

    I’m struck by her lack of respect for the entire concept of respect, going in either direction. “Don’t ask your husband to change, it’ll just annoy him, since of course he doesn’t care what you want. Instead, invoke God like a genie to change him forcibly!”

  • After wondering how many women have been maimed or even killed following this woman’s advice, I, too would like to wish she would pleasure herself with a cheese grater. As for ezer kegegdo, the word has been poorly translated into the English language (deliberately, in my opinion) by patriarchal men who rendered women helping as helpmeets but when the same word is used to characterize God, it is rendered might help. or mighty to save.

  • Yes. It’s important to emphasize that complementarianism, as a movement that suggests that this is “the biblical way” or “God’s way” (ie, I’m not talking about specific individual marriages here, but the generalized concept of “this is how God meant marriage to be)… turns it into a movement used over and over to force women into miserable, unhappy, or dangerous marriages that can lead to mental or physical distress or damage or even death.

    I’m sure you’ll receive at least one #notallcomplementarians but they’re missing the point. The movement that prescribes “woman submit, man lead” as “The Biblical Model For Marriage” is the movement that excuses abuse and puts men on a pedestal above women. You cannot really separate the two.

    This is a dangerous book, and i cannot imagine the damage it has done to thousands of women who needed help, not to be told to suck it up and pray harder.

  • Stefanie Musser

    I have to say that even when I was still a conservative who agreed with most of what she said. The line about making abuse worse with you r attitudes gave me pause. Even then I didn’t believe that women should be blamed for the abuse they experience. Makes me sick

  • Melody

    I once had a horrible discussion with my father about this subject (last paragraph) as a teen. He said that since Jesus says that only adultery is a ligitimate reason for divorce spousal abuse wasn’t. I kept on arguing, becoming quite upset, asking questions like, what if he hits the children as well? What if all their lives are at stake? Anyway, I began to cry at some point, so frustrated by the discussion and his stubborness, and he got upset about me being upset…. I just imagined myself in a situation like that with my father not even fighting my corner. I’m not sure if if that would actually be the case he would argue the same, I think not, but can’t be sure.. For him, the Bible trumps everything. Everything… and so it doesn’t matter what I think about these things because the Bible will always win. More modern or progressive interpretations are discredited by him as well.

    So not too long ago, I called Paul a misogynist and he became quite angry at that: I was attacking the Bible. It wasn’t Paul’s views I was attacking but God’s… I guess nothing much has changed yet…

    • B.E. Miller

      Hugs.

      • Melody

        Thanks. It’s a bit of a frustrating subject sometimes. I try not to get into it with him too often anymore, biting my tongue instead. There really isn’t any point to it, since we’ll both won’t budge anyway.

  • Chuck Geer

    Hello Samantha, I just stumbled upon your blog, largely because of your coverage of Nancy Leigh DeMoss and “Lies Women Believe.” So far, I wholeheartedly agree with your analysis of this book to this point. DeMoss is one VERY dangerous woman to say the least! Fact of the matter is, she (among others) are a major reason why I am no longer a Conservative Evangelical. I was first exposed to her with the book “Seeking Him: Experiencing the Joy of Personal Revival.” At one point, she basically blackmails a minister into publically confessing his viewing pornography. She seemed to encourage exhibitionism in this case; at other places, she states that “confession of sin” should never go beyond “the circle of offense.” A couple of other people who have reviewed this book from a more conservative perspective have come to similar conclusions as you. One such example is this: http://cryingoutforjustice.com/2013/01/07/nancy-leigh-demoss-says-women-victims-must-reverence-their-abuser/

  • Jackalope

    As I read through this I’m thinking of the book Boundaries, which for me was a life-changing read. It talks about a lot of the issues you responded to here, both the idea that it’s okay to set boundaries, and that it’s healthy to enforce them (which with the right person could be as simple as saying, “I find it hurtful when you [insert hurtful behavior]; could you please not?”, or could be along the lines of, “I will take the kids and myself to [a safe location] until you stop drinking/hitting us/etc.” (I’m aware that in a severely abusive relationship you just need to leave period, and do not mean to imply that relationships like that can generally be saved.) It has made a WORLD of difference in my relationships with others, including a lot of relationships that were good before but now are much better, as well as relationships that were hurtful and now the hurt is contained (I.e., family that I choose not to drop.) I’m still dumbfounded that she could not recognize how boundaries are a HEALTHY thing.

    And I am still chuckling over the cheese grater/chainsaw/cactus, because… what a mental image.

  • Ysolde

    Oh this is just horrifying. Excuse me while I go vomit….