In Part III we began a discussion on how the Pearl's address domestic violence. By the variety of comments I have received, it is clear that many have come to different conclusions on where they stand. That is the problem! The Pearls do not clearly define domestic violence and how a woman can still remain faithful to her vows, reverence her husband, but not subject herself or her children to repeated abuse or battering.
In this post we will examine Michael Pearl's stand on domestic violence and consider the "Doctrine of Wrongful Suffering In Silence" that he teaches.
In Michael's portion of Chapter 23 (When NOT to Obey - Exception Clause), he compounds the confusion on domestic violence that Debi began in Chapter 13.
Michael first explains spheres of authority. All authority is God's but He has delegated some authority to other authorities -- angels, government, church, husbands, and wives. Each authority is free to use and/or abuse its power within certain limits. If that power is used properly, then all is well. But God also allows some abuse of power up to a certain limit without His interference. Once that limit is reached, however, the authority is subject to a higher power. Michael explains on page 260,
If any authority abuses its power beyond that which God has allowed, it becomes subject to a greater power - as when a husband physically assaults his wife, and becomes subject to the power of the state.He then continues with a discussion of the husband's sphere of authority and how he loses his headship by crossing the "bright red line of criminal acts or imposing immoral behavior on the family, bringing God or government to intervene" as we discussed in Part III.
The Doctrine of Wrongful Suffering in Silence
At this point, rather than explain further how a woman should handle situations where a husband crosses that "bright red line" or engages in domestic violence, Michael launches off into the doctrine of wrongful suffering in silence.
If you are not at least moderately versed in Scripture and in the will and ways of God, this doctrine of suffering abuse in silence for the glory of God will amaze you. (emphasis in the original)
Using I Peter 2 and 3 as the primary text he states on page 262,
The servant is not given the option of deciding that the master is not acting within the will of God and therefore should not be obeyed. It is acceptable with God (God's will) for the underling to suffer wrongfully and take it patiently.
You will surely wonder, "why is it the will of God for the underling to suffer at the hands of an unjust, and perverse authority?" Two reasons are obvious, one of which we have already stated. First, the chain of command must remain intact, even to the point of allowing some abuse. The other reason is introduced in verse 20 - glory.
We were created by God and placed upon this earth to express his glory (Ps. 8:5, Is 43:7, Rom 2:7, Heb. 2:7). Jesus did not live his life in ease for his own pleasure. He lived and suffered for the glory that was to follow (1Pet. 1:11). Lady, you were created to give glory to God. When God puts you in subjection to a man whom he knows is going to cause you to suffer, it is with the understanding that you are obeying God by enduring the wrongful suffering. And when you suffer wrongfully, as unto the Lord, you bring great glory to God in heaven.
I agree that the Christian life is lived to bring glory to God and that all Christians are called to a life of suffering. We will have trials and tribulations in this life -- no doubt about it.
Yet while exhorting women to endure suffering in silence, Michael has not explained when a man has gone beyond his power. He is leaving women -- especially those who are suffering physical abuse -- in a confusing quandry. On the one hand, there is a "bright red line" out there somewhere but no one is sure just where it is. On the other hand, women are encouraged to endure their suffering in silence. In addition, he seems to indicate that as the "underling" it is not even the woman's place to know or determine when the man is obeying God's will.
Michael leaves too many unanswered questions and the resulting confusion can be very harmful to some women in abusive relationships.
What is his definition of "some abuse?"
What is the definition of "bright red line of criminal acts?"
Why is so much space devoted to the doctrine of "wrongful suffering in silence" but nothing on the definition of "wrongful abuse of authority?"
How much physical violence does it take for a husband to be subject to the state?
How will the state (or anyone) know a husband has gone beyond his sphere of authority with respect to domestic violence if the wife is encouraged to endure and suffer in silence?
If "the servant is not given the option of deciding that the master is not acting within the will of God and therefore should not be obeyed," then what is the point of discussing "when not to obey?"
Michael doesnt' say. Somehow in all the letters and counseling experiences that they have had, they could not provide one example of how to apply any of this advice with respect to domestic violence. The closest we come is Sunny and Ahmed in Chapter 13 -- the poorest choice of an example if there ever was one, as we noted in Part III.
To underscore the depth of confusion the Pearl's are creating, the section titled "Practical Examples" on page 266 starts with,
You may still be confused as to when you are to obey and when not.
No kidding! The "practical examples" address the topics of sodomy, cross-dressing, thievery, tax evasion, and church attendance. In two instances, thievery and sodomy, Michael does encourage a woman to bring in the police. He inexplicably ignores the subject of domestic violence.
Why is this? The Pearl's provide a clear answer on their website of how a woman can bring the authority of the state in for her (and the children's) protection and still reverence her husband without divorce. It should also be clearly stated in the book to avoid any confusion on the part of a woman who may be in that situation. Why is it missing?
One answer might be found in this stunning paragraph (The Bottom Line) on page 270, where Michael manages to further confuse, and perhaps contradict, the very clear advice he gives on their website. He writes,
If a wife has an attitude of rebellion, she can find a thousand different exceptions to obedience. But if a woman is really seeking God and asking for wisdom from on high, she will be able to discern the difference between her own controlling spirit and those rare instances that a husband may command outside his sphere of authority - requiring legal intervention. Women who threaten to "report them to the law," or women who refuse to answer the phone any way other than, "He is here, but will not talk," are rebellious. They will never make it to the hall of fame found in Hebrews 11, where Sara was listed, nor will they make it into a heavenly marriage here on earth. (emphasis in bold in original, emphasis in red is added.)
I agree a rebellious spirit is never good.
But now the Pearl's are heaping one more weight on an abused woman -- not only is her husband allowed some abuse of his power, not only does she not know where the "bright red line" of criminal acts is, not only is she supposed to endure "some abuse" in silence, not only is she supposed to withhold judgement as to when her husband has exceeded his authority -- she now must also check her motives before even thinking to call the police. And since she is well versed in the notion that she is by nature rebellious to her husband...well, on second thought, maybe she should just continue in silence and endure with a smile.
On the Pearl's website, Michael says that women can use the authority of the state as an effective deterrent to abuse or repeated battering. He even says that the wife is to inform her husband that she will go to the law. Michael indicated that a man can have control when he must and that the state can make it a must! Where's all that strong languague now?
On the website, Michael advocates using the law as an effective means of winning an abusive husband. But in the book he fails to even mention turning to the law for help in abusive situations for those women who do want to stick by their men. On page 270 Michael writes,
To those of you who are enduring verbal and physical abuse, we realize that statistically, you are likely to remain with your husband. It is therefore important that you understand how to speak and conduct yourself in a way that will maintain your physical and emotional safety and ultimately win your husband.
The focus is all on how a woman should conduct herself, but there is no mention of the authority of the state. Michael had the perfect opportunity right there to define the line of abuse clearly and provide a biblical solution that would exhort women to honor the Lord, their husbands, provide for their protection and that of any children, and properly appeal to the authority of the state.
This confusing message can be devastating to abused women who are looking to the Pearl's for their wisdom and guidance. The Pearl's are such direct people. They plainly speak their mind. Why are they so vague on this issue? Is a man allowed to hit his wife or not? And what is the wife to do in the face of domestic violence? Any book on submission must provide clear teaching on what is physical abuse and how to respond to it - Created to be His Help Meet does not.
Many have indicated that they have benefitted from Debi's book. That is wonderful. But this is not just about you and me. While we may put into practice a merry heart, other women may be risking their lives and those of their children while practicing the "doctrine of wrongful suffering in silence." Someone needs to give those women back their voices.
That won't happen as long as books like this are being printed, promoted, and sold.
Read Debi Pearl re-visited.