After reading Part I and Part II, many have left comments or e-mailed me saying that they agree there are some doctrinal and/or inconsistencies in the book. But they are content to take the good and leave the bad. That's fine and we do that all the time when we read any book. But what happens when the inconsistencies and questionable doctrine have the potential to keep someone in a harmful situation? Is it enough to say, "I got what "good" I needed and move on" -- leaving others to figure out the "bad" in potentially dangerous situations? Can we in good conscience give a generic "recommmendation" on a book that in the wrong situation can lead to great harm?
This post will look at the advice Michael and Debi give to women who have been physically assaulted by their husbands.
Confusion on Domestic Violence
In the book, Michael adresses the question of "When Not to Obey." On page 261 he states,
God does not step in and divest a father of his authority when he proves to be short-tempered and neglects his children, or when he is excessive in his corporal punishment, as long as it does not cross the line that would violate the just laws of the land or slip into the category of violence against another human being. Children are still required to obey an unreasonable and surly father. Likewise, wives are to obey unreasonable and surly husbands, for they retain their headship until they cross the bright red line of criminal acts of imposing immoral behavior on the family bringing God or government to intervene. (Emphasis added.)
Michael and Debi do not provide a clear picture in the book of where the "bright red line" exactly is or what a woman is to do if that line is crossed. So I went to the Pearl's website, No Greater Joy, looking for clues and found this article about Abusive Husbands by Debi Pearl from May of 1999. Here is an excerpt from Michael's portion of her response (page 6 of the website):
If you or your children have been hit (other than the children being spanked) so as to leave discernable marks two hours later, and you genuinely fear that he will repeat his battering, you can take legal steps without divorcing your husband. In a moment when he is not angry, calmly inform him that the next time he physically assaults you or the kids, you are going to call the law and have him arrested.
You must first resolve in your heart that you are willing to prosecute him and see him go to jail. I visit prisons every week. It is a great place to mull over the consequences of one's deeds. And I have never met a prisoner that turned down a visit from anyone. Think about it, lady; it is a great time for writing love letters and sharing a three-minute romantic phone call once a week. Guys who get out of prison run straight home to their ladies and treat them wonderfully-for a while anyway.
If your abusing husband fully understands that you have the power of the law behind you, he will learn to keep his hands in his pockets. I am not suggesting you do this to be vindictive or to get even with him. It must be done in humility and love. If your husband knows that you are the weaker vessel, desperately seeking your survival and that of the kids, and that you are not trying to punish him, but
that you are going to stand by and continue to love him, that you are going to wait for him to get out of prison and then try to start over again, it may move his heart to fear if not to repentance.
You say, he cannot help himself. Does he help himself when his peers-other men his own size-make him angry? Does he fly out of control and start hitting his boss or his employees? No? Then he has self-control when he must. The law can make it a must, which will allow you to continue with him and demonstrate your womanhood and win him to yourself and then to your God.
God hates divorce-always, forever, regardless, without exception.
In his response on their website, Michael seems to take a firm stand against domestic violence and abuse. And he puts the responsibility for the violence clearly on the shoulders of the husband. The solution Michael provides is excellent. It is necessary to provide a solution to this issue in any discussion on women and submission. (Although it is unclear whether Michael believes it is OKAY for a husband to physically hit or batter his wife and/or children as long as he doesn't leave marks that are discernable after two hours. Hmmm. I sure hope he doesn't think so!)
So how does Debi address this issue in Created to Be His Help Meet?
Ahmed and Sunny
In Chapter 13, The Great Mystery, Debi tells the story of a young woman she knew who had a weakness for guys who needed her. Her name was Sunny. One day, she picked up a hitchhiker of "Arab descent" named Ahmed. They became romantically involved and married. In a very short time Sunny was pregnant and that is when the violence and beatings began. Ahmed often left her home alone for days to be with "friends" and when he returned he would vent his rage on Sunny. This continued for 7 years! Debi states on page 132,
When Sunny was pregnant with their third baby, Ahmed came home drunk and tried to kill her with a butcher knife. Every time Ahmed came home raging drunk, Sunny would leave the house with loud, railing accusations and go to her mother's house and cry out her sorrows. She would get on the phone and call all of her friends and tell them what Ahmed was doing to her but she did not leave him.
Sunny became so desperate that she confided to Debi that she was plotting her husband's murder!
If beatings and butcher knife attacks aren't crossing the "bright red line" of violence, then I don't know what is. The last time I checked, domestic violence and attempted murder were still criminal offenses requiring government intervention.
Here is Debi's advice to Sunny,
I spent hours in prayer and counseling with Sunny that evening. I asked her to make a decision, either leave Ahmed once and for all and put the pieces of her life back together, or to stay with him and begin a campaign of winning his heart and saving their life together. I fully expected her to leave him that night, but I discovered something amazing about her, Sunny really wanted God's will in her life. She had grasped an eternal vision about life, and she now believed God could save her man.(snip)
I knew of Sunny's weakness to blab everything, she couldn't keep a secret to save her life. I also knew her husband was a very private man, and that her blabbling about his sins kept him in a rage. I explained to Sunny that in order to win her husband's heart she needed to reverence him...She was not to speak ill of him again. Her conversation with others as well as with him, would be only praise and appreciation.
It is good that a woman not blab to everyone about her husbands short-comings or sins. No one likes that. And it is well that a woman obey and reverence her husband.
But Debi's advice appears to contradict Michael's adivce on their website and leaves too many troubling questions that could be very dangerous to a woman in an abusive relationship.
1. Does Debi recognize that the "bright red line" of violence has been crossed? If yes, then why did she not offer Sunny the wise counsel of Michael? Wasn't this a clear case of multiple criminal acts over many years? Shouldn't legal prosecution without encouraging divorce at least be considered in this case? Debi's counsel boils down to "leave forever" (divorce?) or "stay, shut up, and endure it with reverence."
2. On the one hand, Michael states that a man can have self-control over his anger or rage. But Debi seems to indicate that Sunny's blabbing is what is keeping Ahmed in a rage. We agree her blabbing doesn't help. But Michael and Debi seem to differ over who controls Ahmed's rage. Let's be clear, it is Ahmed who is responsible for his own rage. Sunny is not.
3. Debi says that Sunny should only speak that which is "praise and appreciation" for Ahmed. Does this mean Sunny should not ever report him to the authorities if the situation warrants such action (which it appears it already does anyway)? Michael's view in 1999 was that the wife demonstrates her womanhood by bringing the full force of the law to establish her protection from future abuse. Keeping it to herself does not appear to be Michael's advice.
Debi concludes the story with Sunny taking her advice. And in just a week, drunken, mad Ahmed begins to change. The story reads like a fairy tale ending with Sunny dreaming big dreams for her man. Ahmed even get's saved. We all love a happy ending. That is great.
I am glad Sunny is no longer suffering. Or is she? I am not convinced that just because a man claims Christ and attends church that he is not beating his wife. But no one will ever know for sure because Sunny is committed to a prison of silence never to speak against her husband. If she is asked about it can she answer truthfully?
Don't let the outcome trick you. Debi did not know the outcome when she counseled Sunny. She placed Sunny, her children, and her husband all at great risk of future abuse or even death.
Debi has also moved beyond her sphere of authortiy. In the book Michael states on page 260,
If any authority abuses its power beyond that which God has allowed, it becomes
subject to a higher power - as when a husband physically assaults his wife and
becomes subject to the power of the state.
Ahmed physically assaulted his wife repeatedly over 7 years. According to Michael, Ahmed is now subject to the power of the state as ordained by God. Debi does not mention that to Sunny and leaves her and the reader with the impression that there were no other options.
Debi has turned Michael's "bright red line" of criminal acts into a murky gray area. She contradicts what Michael teaches with respect to domestic violence in the home.
Domestic violence and abuse is a serious issue. It should be clearly spoken of in a way that leaves no question in the mind of the reader that there are legal options that should be considered.
In Created to Be His Help Meet, Debi does mention legal intervention, but never puts forth a clear strategy of when a woman should bring in the law. Any book on submission should clearly tell how a woman how she can still reverence her husband while pursuing legal options. The Pearls have the material on their website! Why did they leave it out of the book? Instead this issue is blurred by contradictory stories and the advice Debi gives with nary a mention of the law.
The choice of the Sunny and Ahmed story in this book is a potential powder keg. If a woman chooses to stay with an abusive man, then Debi's advice basically boils down to reverently suffer in silence with a smile on your face.
How many women in violent and abusive relationships are going to read this book -- women who Debi says have a "propensity to develop a self-absorbing spiritual intimacy with spiritual leaders" and who look up to Debi Pearl -- and will walk away from it believing it is their duty to continue suffering in silence because that's what Debi Pearl says to do? After all, it worked just fine for Sunny and Ahmed. If it's not working for me, then I must be doing something wrong and I'll just keep enduring the abuse and will try harder.
This is just a prelude. As we shall see in the next post, Michael also contradicts the advice he gave on their website and now puts forth a new and dangerous teaching called the "Doctrine of Wrongful Suffering in Silence."
Read Part 4.
There's lots more in the comments section even though it might say zero.