On Friday on his podcast, John Piper told a woman married to a harsh husband to just be gentle with him.
Pray more. Remember it might be his personality. Win him with kindness. Show appreciation and call out the good in him. And don’t talk to other people about it without her husband’s permission.
It was toxic advice, because any woman married to an emotionally abusive husband would describe her husband as “harsh.” So this advice was being given to women in abusive marriages (he did qualify that it wasn’t physically abusive, but we know that’s not the only kind of abuse).
He never mentions abuse. He never mentions how to draw boundaries. He never mentions the importance of getting to safety. He never mentions the effect on children of being in a family where the husband is emotionally abusive to the mother.
He just gives advice which is demonstrably bad and which would enable the abuse to continue.
I created a Fixed it For You for his article!
Rebecca and I also sat down and recorded a Facebook Live where we walk through the article and discuss the problems with it. It turned out really well, and I encourage you all to watch it!
(I can’t embed Facebook videos, but seriously! Go watch it!)
One of our patrons left a lengthy critique of the article in a comment.
As you may know, we have a patreon community where people who support us for as little as $5 a month hang out on Facebook, and get access to unfiltered podcasts, live events, and even occasional merch!
Our Facebook Page is really active, and she said this:
John Piper. I have literally never known anyone who could use so.many.words. to say so very little.
A woman is literally asking what to do and he’s given very little actual advice on what to do, and even in that uses language such as “so that’s a possible way forward perhaps”. I can understand giving several suggestions which someone can choose from, but this is ridiculous. Just say what you suggest (and the person can choose what to do with it). Cut the flowery, over-spiritualized language and give real advice.
Also I wish that just once one of these kinds of responses would open with- “I am so sorry to hear that you husband is harsh with you, you don’t deserve to be treated like that.” Because maybe if we all started from that foundation- that people should not be treated harshly- then we could actually get somewhere with a solution!
But there is nothing like that. Nothing. It almost doesn’t even recognize that it’s an actual problem.
It’s also interesting to me that he starts off by being “well I would have a lot to say to the husband here…but that’s not what she’s asking so I won’t actually address that.”
Why not answer her question AND address the husband. That’s part of answering her question anyway! It just felt like an easy way to shove it aside and not deal with it. It’s infuriating. This is the husband’s problem in the first place, not the wife’s. Any advice to the wife should be to direct the husband to actually address his behavior.
Also, what in the world is this: “Jesus said that we should ask God that his will would be done on earth — and that would include in our marriages — as it’s done in heaven (Matthew 6:10). And that includes that his will be done the way the angels would do it. Husbands would love their wives, and wives would love their husbands, the way angels obey God — namely, joyfully and fully and without begrudging.”
What do angels have to do with anything?! We are to love our spouses the way angels obey God? Huh? It’s like he goes off into daydream land when he’s talking. Heaven…angels….love your husband like angels obey God. It’s just…I can’t.
His first piece of advice is to pray.
Ok, this is a Christian woman who listens to your podcast already, likely she is already praying.
But, look at what he says regarding praying- she should not only pray for her husband to be “softened and move toward Christ-likeness…”, but she should also pray for herself because we “know from Scripture and experience that God uses husbands and wives to bring about change in each other”. And further, “So, what God does in her will have an effect on what he does in him”.
This is some really subtle victim blaming because rather than putting the responsibility for change completely on the person who is having the bad behavior, it shifts some on to their partner because God would want to use the wife to bring about change in her husband. So…what about when your husband doesn’t change? Does that mean that it’s partly on you, since you weren’t able to be used by God to bring about this change?
This is subtle to so many people, especially those who are in healthy relationships, but this is so damaging.
Piper’s second piece of advice is to “win him with gentleness”.
Once again, subtle victim blaming- the husband isn’t fully responsible for his behavior, it’s on the wife to change her husband through *her behavior* toward him.
Of course we should not repay evil for evil- we should act appropriately regardless of how someone else is acting…but that’s really not the issue here. The issue is that a husband is treating his wife harshly. That is on him. In my opinion this entire section could be left out as it’s irrelevant. We aren’t addressing the wife’s behavior, but the husband’s.
Also, in my understanding, the 1 Peter passage he refers to- where wives are told that their husbands may be “won over” by their conduct- this passage is referring to wives who are married to men who are not Christians (and of course this is in the context of the early days of the church where people were choosing to follow Jesus, and may have been the only person in their family following this way)- meaning, your husband may see Christ in the way you are acting toward him and may become a Christian too. This is NOT talking about husbands who are mistreating their wives.
Next we have “share the burden wisely”…which was honestly just a weird section.
In this section he said he would caution against “bad-mouthing” her husband behind his back.
Ok, that sounds like good advice on the surface- but sharing with others about how your husband is treating you is NOT “bad-mouthing” him, it’s telling the truth about how he’s acting! This same kind of idea has been used so often to keep women from sharing the truth about their situation with anyone, particularly anyone who could actually help. This happened with my mom when she filed for divorce from my narcissistic, abusive dad. The pastors at our church directed a group of ladies to talk with my mom after church one Sunday, to convince her to not get divorced. When my mom wanted to tell them what kinds of things were going on in our home which explained why she was seeking a divorce in the first place they all said “oh no, we don’t need to know that, that would be gossip”. No, it’s not gossip and you do need to know if you want to accurately understand the situation!
Fourth bit of advice from Piper- distinguish sin from personality.
Right off the bat- no. Sorry, if your “personality” is to treat other people harshly then you need to change your personality. You are hurting people and mistreating them.
Piper says that some people have “a deeply ingrained personality trait with no ill will”- but when are we going to recognize that our *impact* matters more than our intent? We may not have meant ill will, but if what we are doing is impacting people harmfully then we need to change so our impact matches our intent.
Lastly we have “approach him with hope” and he explains some tips for this:
“Create a context of encouragement”. Ok, this is just a normal thing in any relationship.
“Model humility and vulnerability”. Once again, it’s on the wife to influence her husband to change through her behavior.’
Also, I understand the concept of modeling behavior…but that’s what I do with my kids who are still learning and are not fully mature yet and still needing guidance on how to treat others and respond in different situations. A husband is not a child and should already be mature. So this advice just feels really out of place to me.
“Try not to globalize” when talking about his behavior. This would be great in a context of how she could actually discuss this with her husband (like maybe scripting a conversation for her to feel confident using), but that doesn’t really seem to be the focus of his advice.
“Keep pursuing change.” Oh my gosh, this is exactly what she is asking for help with! HOW does she go about pursuing this change? How can she address this with her husband? He hasn’t really even given her a good starting point, how can she keep pursing it?
All of this goes back to direct communication! It reminded me of that series that Sheila wrote about direct communication which included Piper’s example of a woman having to give directions to a man in an indirect/impersonal way. He does not suggest direct communication in this situation BECAUSE he does not think that women should speak to men in that way!
So the best a wife can hope for is that her husband will understand when she gives the concrete examples and that he will open to talking about it more so that she can actually tell him how she feels. But, if he’s not open to that, then really there is no way forward for her, is there? She has to submit to him in all things and can’t even really directly communicate about this issue (unless he is open to it). It’s the gender hierarchy/complementarian theology underlying everything and causing so much harm!
She should have been advised to directly communicate with her husband about this issue, that’s so simple to say and easy to explain…yet it’s nowhere in the article. Because it can’t be.
He ends with this:
“And then, finally, I would say that if he indicates a sense of openness to talk about this, then you can explain your feelings more fully, you can ask for what you long for and maybe explain why it would be so happy for the relationship if he would be less harsh in these several ways. And if you both feel stuck after a while, it is perfectly biblical and right to seek help from close friends, or even, if it comes to that, from a wise Christian counselor.”
Notice how he says that IF the husband indicates a “sense of openness to talk about this” then you can explain your feelings more fully…but what about if he DOESN’T have a sense of openness to discuss these things? Then what?
Can you imagine how that would come off to a wife who believes (since Piper has taught this) that she must submit to her husband in everything? If he’s open to talking about it you can…but if he’s not then, I guess you simply don’t. Because he’s in charge and you submit to him. Full stop. That’s it. You can’t do anything else. I really feel this is the absolute worst part of his advice.
I am just so enraged at this advice!
The answer for this woman is so simple (not easy, simple): your husband is mistreating you and you do not deserve that. First, you can discuss this with him (and preferably she would be given direction on how to do that, what to say, etc.) and if he takes responsibility for his behavior and is willing to change that is wonderful. If not, then you need to seek a licensed counselor for yourself who can support you as you figure out how to address this. Why is this so hard for evangelicals to say?!
I thought that was excellent and summarized the problems well.
We need to stop looking up to teachers who are fundamentally unsafe–and Piper is one of them. We need to instead call them out. Think of how many women he has hurt! How many men have remained abusive because he enabled them! It’s mind boggling. It’s infuriating.
If you’ve been in this type of theology your whole life, and you want to make a new start, we also have parenting help for you next week!
I’m hosting a FREE webinar with Wendy of Fresh Start Families to look at how to implement positive discipline in your home, rather than a punishment-control based approach. Let’s break the cycle!
What if you don't need to control your kids and punish your kids to raise great kids?
Let's look at evidence-based parenting methods that WORK that bring life, rather than break our kids' spirits. Plus they're easier on you!
Join us for a FREE webinar June 21 with Wendy Snyder from Fresh Start Families. Start your new parenting journey!
Keep calling this stuff out! Keep sharing. Remember when I talked about the woman who wrote into Emerson Eggerichs crying in the shower–and that woman actually found me? When we share this stuff, people in abusive situations can find it, and the fog can finally lift!
(And tune in on Thursday to part 2 of Alyssa’s story on the podcast as well!).
People are breaking free. And that’s a good thing!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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