Last year, I looked at some rather alarming clips from some sermons Emerson Eggerichs–the author of Love & Respect–gave where he essentially gaslighted emotional abuse victims.
I was prepared to let it go–I’ve talked about it, and let’s move on.
But in the last week he put a copyright infringement on our video where on YouTube where we provided clips of the sermon with commentary, and on my Twitter thread where we talked about it. I believe those uses were Fair Use, but I decided not to contest it, and instead to revisit it in a more comprehensive way. This is actually quite serious, and if I don’t deal with it again, then I give the impression that if you bully me to be silent, I’ll be silent.
In that original post and the original video I only looked at a few clips. Today I asked Connor to look at the totality of the two sermons, and dissect them for me, and he has. I’m going to turn this over to him in a moment, but I want to point something out.
A sermon or book about marriage can deal with abuse in one of three ways:
- HEALTHY: It can warn people what abuse looks like, and advise people to take proper precautions to protect themselves
- NEUTRAL: It can ignore abuse altogether and only talk about how to build a healthy marriage
- UNHEALTHY AND DANGEROUS: It can give caveats about abuse (or fail to give any caveats at all), but then show in anecdotes that people are blowing abuse out of proportion, and prime the church leaders and the congregation to disregard any abuse allegations that are brought forward.
Obviously, #3 is awful. and that’s what we contend is being done here. I’ll hand it over to Connor to explain:
On October 6, 2019, Emerson Eggerichs preached two sermons at Houston’s First Baptist Church, where he talked about abuse in an unhealthy way.
(We’ll be showing clips of the sermons below, but we invite you to watch the whole thing using the links above if you would like even more context.)
Now, the reason I say “readdress” is because Sheila has actually talked about these videos before. Well, not ‘talked’ so much as ‘put out a video on Youtube’ where she showed several clips from his presentation and provided some text commentary laid over the clip, and some text screens between the clips. Yes, it was very cinematic. But honestly, she just wasn’t planning to make a big thing out of it. She saw the videos, and it seemed as though parts of Eggerichs’ presentation talking about female trolls may have been in response to statements she had been making about the book at that time. The videos themselves provided some examples of the problematic ideas Sheila was concerned with, so she figured she would respond in a video.
Some people liked her points, and some people complained that he was being taken out of context, and that we had not watched the entire video. That’s all fine and normal, but then just last week, Sheila’s video received a copyright claim for using parts of Eggerichs’ video in hers, demanding we take down the video.
Now, for those of you who are not in the know about copyright law, video used for the purpose of critique or commentary is protected under fair use (note, that I am not a lawyer, nor should this be considered expert legal advice). So I look at this situation and naturally I conclude: “They don’t think we provided enough critique or commentary. I suppose they must be asking for more, and I am more than happy to oblige.” So with that, I watched both videos through several times to arm myself with commentary and context. Here we go.
While I have read Emerson’s book, Love and Respect, I will be solely discussing and referencing the aforementioned videos. This is partly in the interest of time, and partly because I want to make it as easy as possible for you to access the full context of what I discuss, so you can watch the full videos and look at the clips and timestamps I include to form your own opinions on whether information is being misrepresented.
They are set to play at specific timestamps, though the clips sometimes load wrong and start in the wrong place, so below each video will be the timestamp for the clip I am talking about.
But largely, I am only addressing these videos because the larger context of his many blog posts, other speeches, even his book, doesn’t matter. Most people aren’t going to hear everything Eggerichs has to say, so if he says something somewhere that is harmless as long as it’s in the context of a blog he wrote two years ago, or an appearance he made in someone else’s podcast, that’s not good enough. Not even close. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it clarify Eggerichs’ stance on abuse?
I also have no interest in making claims about Eggerichs’ intentions, motivations, or thoughts, as the claims would be uninformed, unfounded, and I do not wish to cause any harm to Eggerichs personally.
Likewise, I am not interested in speculating about his family, his marriage, or his private life, and will only be addressing the information he provides in his presentation. I do not know his family or any of their dynamics, and again do not wish to cause harm to anyone involved.
My critique is only of the message and its presentation.
Now let’s get into the sermons. When Sheila originally uploaded her video, it was titled “Emerson Eggerichs Gaslights Emotional Abuse.” Her point was that the way Emerson talks in these videos tends to downplay the existence and prevalence of very real concerns in marriage, while encouraging people to stay in abusive, toxic, and harmful situations. Of course, many jumped to Emerson’s defence, saying that he doesn’t condone abuse and actively tells people to get out of harmful situations. So my first order of business is of course… to do my best to back them up.
I combed through both videos looking for anything that could be perceived as a disclaimer, caveat, or statement of any kind that acknowledges that abuse exists and should be dealt with differently.
And guess what? He had several.
“Unless it’s an evil” 20:01 – 20:13
Emerson advocates against just seeing arguments in the black and white terms of one spouse being wrong and the other being right, but rather as different, “unless it’s an evil. Unless your husband is saying, ‘Hey I’ve been thinking about selling the kids for our coke habit.‘”
That’s not bad advice, though it’s a pretty low bar to set. So let’s see if he later clarifies what is or is not unacceptable, evil, or abusive.
“I’m not talking about being nice” 33:14 – 34:22
So Eggerichs is saying contrary to what some people take away from the book, you are not just supposed to just nicely and meekly go along with whatever your husband says because as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, if you follow your husband into sin or evil, you are still accountable.
It starts off sounding helpful when he is saying that rather than just being nice and permissive, you should “courageously and respectfully speak the truth.” But when he elaborates, he ties it to not following your husband down a sinful path, rather than informing women how to protect themselves when their husbands are sinning against them. Should they still just speak the truth courageously and respectfully while enduring? When is a woman justified in doing more? It’s still unclear. Let’s keep looking.
“There’s not moral issues here” 27:04 – 27:37
“It’s just common issues. There’s not moral issues here. If there are then that’s not my frame of reference. ‘He’s betraying you, he’s beating the ki-‘ we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about these day-in day-out tensions between people of good will“
So here we have a defence that Eggerichs and others will commonly make about his teaching. His advice is only for people of good will. In fact, he uses the phrase “good will” quite a bit throughout these two videos. That’s fine. It’s okay to put your focus on giving advice to healthy couples, as long as the advice would not do harm if applied in the wrong marriages, or at least clear boundaries are laid out to establish where the advice is or is not appropriate.
“Not talking about being in harm’s way, you get out of harm’s way” 41:46 – 42:08
This is the fourth and final disclaimer I was able to find in the videos. “You get out of harm’s way.” That’s a good caveat. That’s an important caveat.
Eggerichs’ Caveats about Abuse
- Not talking about going along with evil (like if your husband wants to sell the kids to support a coke habit)
- You don’t follow your husband into sin (like Ananias and Sapphira)
- It only applies to people of goodwill
- You should get out of harm’s way.
With this, and the other disclaimers Emerson gives, it becomes easy to see for anyone watching, whether in a healthy marriage or a toxic marriage, whether his advice is applicable to their circumstances, right?
Now Let the True Critique of how Eggerichs Handles Abuse Begin
We have looked at all of the times he acknowledges toxicity, evil, etc. as a real problem (he doesn’t acknowledge abuse). Now let’s look at how he actually handles abuse.
He laughs at–and encourages the congregation to mock–women who claim that they are married to narcissists or that his advice enables abuse.
Now observe as he puts on a mocking female voice to bring up some women’s concerns about husbands who may be narcissistic, controlling, or emotionally abusive.
Pause for laughter.
Mocking women who say, “I’m not going to submit myself to emotional abuse”, 13:46 – 15:59
Keep watching the clip and you’ll see he goes on to say these women (women who are trying to guard themselves from narcissistic, controlling, or emotionally abusive men) are going to victimize your ‘honorable’ sons, and slander them on social media and talk shows. And then he talks about how social media is filled with trolling women.
He doesn’t directly say ‘if a woman complains about these things, she is just a troll,’ but can you honestly say you can’t see how vulnerable women watching this would easily connect those dots? I am not saying this is Eggerichs’ intent. I don’t care whether his wording is intentional or ignorant. What matters to me is the impact on people watching. And as we will see, these are not the only dots that Emerson will put right beside each other without quite explicitly connecting them.
Now before we move on, I want to again point out that he does not name or denounce abuse in any of his disclaimers. He only brings it up in the previous clip where he mocked women who were skeptical that his teaching would promote their safety, and this next one where he again tries to garner sympathy for ‘your sons’ because he argues that honorable male conduct has been relabeled as abusive.
(Note: I am referring to a later portion of this clip, but have include the earlier part to give context to my next point.)
“Your sons will be called abusive.” 25:56 – 27:21
So between the two videos, Emerson only brings up abuse as a term used for man-bashing. He doesn’t explicitly say abuse doesn’t exist, but he only mentions abuse in the context of women unfairly using the term and thus harming good, honorable men.
In general, according to Emerson’s video, when women talk about abuse, men are the victims.
What is the takeaway from these clips? Women should think twice before speaking up about abuse, because usually they are wrong, and are unfairly hurting someone’s son for doing the right thing.
But there is a lot more here to unpack. Recall that last clip and then take a look at these two.
Men in warrior mode (ie a fight with their wife) withdraw out of honor, 24:33 – 25:32
Why should men apologize when they withdraw rather than raising a fist? 27:33 – 28:10
That’s right, he talks a LOT about how when you get into a conflict with your husband “his heartbeats are in warrior mode,” and “He’s felt dishonoured and he has to CALM DOWN. So he walks away out of honour,” and how men have to walk away because “men know physiologically that can lose it.”
And then in all three clips he’ll switch over to talking about that same dynamic happening between male buddies, and he’ll talk about how men know to walk away from each other in a heated dispute so they don’t escalate. In all three cases he raises a clenched trembling fist and feigns barely suppressed rage. In the last clip he says, “You don’t say you’re sorry, in the man’s world, for doing the honourable thing! when you wanna… *shakes his fist and clenches his jaw* just really go after your best buddy.“
What are we to think when Eggerichs says that men withdraw out of honor, but then gestures that they do it so that they don’t punch someone?
I don’t think it is fair to assume or imply that it is a calculated move on his part to switch over to talking about disputes between men before using violently suggestive body language all three times to carefully avoid directly implying normal, good, honourable men will get violent with their wives if they don’t walk away. I can’t and won’t speak to his intentions. But again, the question is “what is the message?” What’s the takeaway?
Some people coming away from Emerson’s presentation are going to think:
When things get heated, my husband has two choices. He can walk away, or he can get violent. And if he walks away because that’s the only way he thinks he can avoid getting violent, he is actually a normal, good, and honourable man. And, knowing this, if I chase after him or try to get him to stay and talk, frankly, it will be my fault when he hits me because he is an honourable man who I wouldn’t allow to the honourable thing.
That’s horrible. And watching his presentation, I just kept feeling like the way Emerson normalizes this behaviour and elevates it as honourable seems so similar to the way some people used to talk about porn use in teenage boys like it’s just a sign that they are a normal, healthy, red-blooded man.
Is it true? Probably not.
Do we want it to be true? PROBABLY NOT!
I know there are some who defend old marriage teaching by saying that the ‘feminists’ and ‘trolling women’ are just man-bashing and want men to be ashamed of what they are.
But as a guy, I can tell you that watching these videos is what makes me ashamed.
To men and women both, I want to say that Eggerichs does not speak for me.
I have never been in a heated situation with ANYONE that has made me need to walk away lest I do something I’ll regret. I can confidently say the same about pretty much all of my male friends, my father, my father in-law, etc.
Withdrawing so you don’t “lose it” is not normal, and it is not universally male.
I’m not saying men never stonewall or sometimes feel the need to walk away. I myself have requested and taken time to be alone and go for a walk a couple of times in the earlier years of marriage… but only after we had resolved our conflict, and never for long. I was glad we resolved the situation, I would just feel a little emotionally exhausted and take some time of listening to music and stretching my legs to process and move into a happier head space so I could come back, cuddle up with Rebecca, and watch a show or something.
So if Eggerichs is saying his advice is not for people who are in harm’s way, but is instead meant for those in marriages with good will, why isn’t it relevant to me or anyone I know?
And why, on the other hand, could someone who regularly finds themselves on the verge of physically or emotionally abusing their wife come away from that sermon feeling like a strong, noble knight? Why does this presentation make light of the term ‘abuse,’ and then normalize dangerous dynamics while saying things like “It’s not that there’s anybody who’s mean spirited. Everybody’s sincere.” (Part-1 11:05)
But wait, there is still more!
In this next clip Emerson Recounts a story of domestic abuse and attempted murder in his own family.
He does not provide detail or describe it as abuse, but I want to give you a heads up anyway. If this is something that might trigger you, you can skip to the end of the grey section for my closing thoughts.
“My father attempted to strangle my mother”, example of the Crazy Cycle, 24:57 – 25:48
First, let’s be fair and give the context preceding this clip.
Eggerichs is in the middle of explaining the ‘crazy cycle,’ a term he has coined that refers to how men react unlovingly when they feel disrespected and women react disrespectfully when they feel unloved. So the crazy cycle is a form of a vicious cycle where a perceived slight from one spouse causes a back and forth chain reaction of not meeting each other’s needs because they each feel wounded. I will not deny that vicious cycles do occur, even in healthy marriages. In fact Eggerichs drives home how normal it is to find yourself on the crazy cycle, explaining several times across the presentation that it happens in his own marriage, generally 3-4 times a month. It happens.
Rebecca and I spend all day every day in the same house and we get into something similar maybe 3-4 times a year (though it’s not because I feel disrespected or she feels unloved).
Now, given the context that he is introducing and explaining the crazy cycle, he provides an example, explaining that when he was younger, his father got angry in a heated dispute and tried to strangle his (Emerson’s) mother. Then he says his mother shut down because he had wounded her emotionally. They separated, for 5 years, came to Christ, and then reunited.
He says all of this, without mentioning abuse, violence, or crime.
He doesn’t tie this behaviour into any of the caveats I pointed out. He doesn’t condemn his father’s behaviour except to say he had wounded her, and he sums the situation up as family issues.
Then he says what he saw there, in the situation where he had a father who nearly murdered his mother, was the previously mentioned and normalized ‘crazy cycles.’ He then goes straight from describing an attempted strangling as a crazy cycle to saying the husband in a crazy cycle should ask himself if his wife was really trying to diss him or if she is a good-willed woman who was acting out of hurt, and the wife should ask herself “Is he really unloving? or did I say or do something earlier that was disrespectful?”
Let me play that out again for you:
- Crazy cycles are a normal issue in regular marriages, because as Eggerichs tries to make clear, he is not talking about harmful or evil situations–>
- He provides an example of a crazy cycle from his own life–>
- His father tried to strangle his mother–>
- Women in a crazy cycle need to ask themselves if their husband is really being unloving or if she made the mistake of disrespecting him.
Is that a simplification, yes. But is it also clear to see how someone could have a very dangerous takeaway from this message? Especially a woman who is stuck in an abusive marriage, who sees this sermon and now has a way to rationalize her husband’s behaviour and make excuses for him, because she is trying her best to be an unconditionally respectful ‘Love and Respect’ wife?
Again, I am not implying Emerson Eggerichs set out to create, foster, or rationalize abuse.
And there are places where he addresses abuse and lays out a stance. For example, the article he wrote on his site entitled “On Abuse in Marriage.” If what he said in that article was included in the presentation, and maybe some things in the presentation were reworded or removed, Sheila would not have made her original video, nor would I have written this post. But that is not how things happened, and so there is this video which communicates a message to some that, if taken in isolation, is dangerous, and if taken with his other works, muddies the waters of what is ok.
“Get out of harm’s way.”
If your husband needs to walk away to stop himself from getting violent, you are in harm’s way. If your husband strangles you for any reason (including his feeling disrespected by you), you are in harm’s way.
This is the problem:
Good teaching shouldn’t convince you, intentionally or otherwise, that a harmful situation is actually normally and healthy.
A lot of antiquated teachings about gender will say “there is a bar, and men who make it over the bar are a shining example of God’s design,” and then they gently and self-reverently place the bar on the ground. And when we say maybe we should raise the bar, the response is that we are trying to make men out to be disgusting pigs who can’t make it over the bar.
That’s certainly not what I am saying. I am saying when you set the bar on the ground, don’t be surprised when people just step over it. I think I actually have a far higher regard for men than a lot of evangelical marriage teachers, because I think we can raise the bar a lot higher and a lot of men will still clear it. Sure, maybe some men will have to jump higher than they were before, but isn’t that a good thing for the world?
Caveats mean nothing if the anecdotes in your presentation prime people to ignore abuse.
These sermons made fun of women who called their husbands abusive, and invited the congregation to laugh at such women. Eggerichs said in these sermons that ALL MEN will be called abusive, thus priming people to think that if a woman says her husband is abusive, that her husband is no different than any other husband. And he used very violent examples and violent body language to say, “this is just normal in marriage.”
That is dangerous.
I hope people can see this.
I called and emailed Houston’s First Baptist Church after these sermons went online, because I was contacted by people who were in those sermons and who were concerned. Houston’s First Baptist has, to date, never returned my calls or emails, and these sermons are still up on their YouTube channel and their church’s website.
How You Can Help
Please share this post on social media, and tell people about it.
The old video that they put a copyright infringement on had had 3,600 views at the point of the DCMA take down order. In the last 18 hours, my posts about this on social media have been seen by 82,000, with 15,700 people engaging. The more people who see this, the more authors and speakers like this will understand that if they try to silence or threaten me, it will turn out badly. So please help get the word out for my sake, but more importantly, so that we can change the conversation in the evangelical church. This should never be acceptable anymore.
What do you think about the sermon clips (or the whole thing if you watched it)? Did anything stand out to you? Let’s talk in the comments!
Other Posts in our Love and Respect Series:
- THE MUST READ: An Open Letter to Focus on the Family about Love & Respect and Emerson Eggerichs
- A Review of Love and Respect: How the Book Gets Sex Horribly Wrong
- Love and Respect: Why Unconditional Respect Can’t Work
- The Ultimate Flaw in the Book Love and Respect: Jesus Isn’t at the Center
- Dissecting a Sermon Series where Emerson Eggerichs Gaslights Abuse Victims
- Is It Okay if Christian Marriage Books are Just a Little Bit Harmful?
- PODCAST: Why Unconditional Respect Isn't a Thing (and how the verse the book is based on, and the survey data the book is based on, don't hold water).
- PODCAST: An Example from Eggerichs' blog of Eggerichs Gaslighting Women (we work through line by line)
- PODCAST: Dissecting Eggerichs' Love & Respect Sermons at Houston's First Baptist Church, with His Dismissal of Abuse
- PODCAST: Our Love & Respect Wrap Up
- I’m Passing the Torch on Love & Respect. 10 Ways You Can Pick it Up