How to drive women away from your ministry

Greetings, and welcome back! I’m excited about getting back into blogging after this two-month hiatus. I’ve had a lot of time to think, and some important discussions with friends and family.

Today I’ll be wrapping up our foray into Training Faithful Women, and be giving some closing thoughts on the topic. Faithful women 11

Ok, I feel like I need to tread lightly here. This particular passage, on the surface, is not all that troublesome. To a certain extent, I agree with Gothard. Many Christian parents have somehow bought into the idea that children are, if not a curse, at least a horrible nuisance. It is honestly quite upsetting to go into fellowship halls, or Sunday school rooms and hear what some parents say about their children. It’s much more than someone sharing their struggles; it’s often just a kid-bashing party. Even parents who don’t have anything to complain about get in on the action, bemoaning the fate that awaits them when their ticking time bombs decide to make life a living hell.

Yes, children are bothersome. I’ve spent over an hour writing this post so far, because I’ve been interrupted so many times trying to get the two month old to calm down and stop crying. I get that kids can be difficult. But many parents are in need of a serious gut check about their own attitude towards their children.

But the issue here is that Gothard has taken a much more radical stance than “keep a positive attitude towards your children.” Gothard raises importance of the birth of children (and not just children, but large numbers of children) to an unhealthy level. In ATI world, those with large families are lauded, and held up as perfect examples to follow. Regardless of health, regardless of financial situations, regardless of housing conditions, Gothard preaches that true Christians must have lots and lots of children. We’ve already seen an example from an IBLP booklet in which a husband was lauded for ignoring the fact that his wife feared for her life and instead brow beat her into agreeing to having more children.

This is the opposite of grace. This is hard, cruel law, devoid of love, compassion or understanding. Grace understands that different people have different abilities. Some parents can raise 8, 9 or 14 children and provide the needed attention, training and love. Some women are able to give birth to many children without losing their health. Other women struggle after one or two children. Some families have children with special needs that require many times more attention than most kids. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how many children you should have. Preaching that there is places the future of many people at risk.

Faithful women 12faithful women 13

Oh my, how insulting can you be in three paragraphs?

First is the assumption that a wife can only add to the husband’s income. That’s kinda funny for my family, because my wife actually makes more money than I do (it turns out that formal education actually does make a difference, and having a master’s degree is enough to bump you up a pay grade).

Second, it’s interesting that there is no IBLP material that suggests men supplement the family income via “home crafts.” This hearkens back to issues I brought up with David Gibbs Junior, and the way he made fun of a female doctor, as though her gender prevented her from practicing medicine. Because, in IBLP world, being female means that you really are only good for certain things. You’re only good for having babies, and encouraging other women to have babies. And if all those babies put strain on your budget, you’re only real option is to knit potholders, because the 1950s really were the greatest time in the history of ever.

Well, we’ve finished the ten reason why your church should start this ministry. The rest of the booklet lays out a plan for finding the correct woman to run this ministry and training her to run it. I’m not going to take the time to go through everything as thoroughly as I have up this point, or we’ll be in this booklet forever. I’ll just take time to grab a few pieces of crazy and hold it up for us all to laugh at.

Here’s a good one; the older woman who will minister to younger women in your church “must have inward radiant beauty.” Wow. How, exactly do you determine who has this radiant beauty? I wonder if this search for inwardly beautiful woman might not tempt pastors (who, as we have been told in the past, are oh so weak in this area.)

Wow…one of items on the checklists for pastors is to “be deeply convinced by the Holy Spirit that the training of faithful women is not an option.” Is it just me, or is the impetus for the moving of the Holy Spirit placed on the wrong party?

At the end of the booklet we are given a schedule for how to train this first “faithful woman.” It’s pretty funny. At the first meeting (which you cannot arrange; your wife must call this lady and schedule the meeting. Also, your wife has to be there for every meeting, but she has no actual role in any of the meetings) you are to give this woman an assignment, such as reading a book or memorizing some Scripture. Tell her to call your wife (not you) when she’s done her homework. I can’t help but laugh at the mental image of a young pastor calling an older woman into his office and giving her homework like a 6th grade kid.

At the second meeting, you are supposed to ask her how she became a Christian, and then “ask her if she desires to be totally dedicated to God’s will.” If she answers “yes” (yea, they really put the word yes in quotation marks), then you give her…ANOTHER HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT! It’s a 4 question form that they’ve provided for you, and it’s literally the most boring type of reading comprehension questions that you encounter in 4th grade Sunday School. (Actual quote: “Whom has God chosen to teach young women? Answer: Titus 2:3-4.”)

At the third meeting, you give her more homework! This time it’s a “personal spiritual evaluation” (how convenient that such a form precludes the need to observe and test a person’s fruits!) and a form on which this poor woman can write down a bunch of goals for you to judge. There’s also a special NOTE (in all caps, just like that), telling you to be certain that you have not made any commitments to spending time with this women up to this point. I guess she’s still on trial.

Oh boy! The fourth meeting! This is the meeting in which you actually explain your purpose in meeting with her all these times!  I guess you have to be sure that she’ll put up with loads of BS before you let her in on the deep, dark secret that you want her help in the women’s ministry at your church?

Oh, this is rich. They don’t actually tell you when to use this form, but there’s actually an evaluation form that you are supposed to fill out. This will help you decide if this woman is perfect enough to invest time in.

Pre-training evaluation

Honestly, what self-respecting woman would allow her pastor to treat her like this?

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On respecting your spouse

Two life changing dates are approaching for my wife and I. The first is November 23rd. That date will mark a year since we lost Sojourner, our son who was only 16 weeks along. The second date…well, we’re not sure when the second date is, because we’re expecting a little girl sometime around December 10th. It’s really hard to describe the heart-rending sorrow and the soaring excitement that we’re both feeling right now.

IBLP put out a series of booklets about health some years ago, called Basic CARE. CARE, of course, was an acronym, but I don’t know what for. (What is with IBLP and acronyms?) They printed one about miscarriage, and I had thought about reading through it and responding to it, but it quickly became clear that I’m not ready for that just yet. Maybe sometime in the future I’ll look at it. So instead I read the booklet on morning sickness.

The morning sickness booklet was interesting in that they managed to spend a lot of words to say so very little. The booklet boiled down to We don’t know why you have morning sickness. Maybe you can try fasting. Maybe you are experiencing guilt. Maybe you should eat crackers between meals. Here’s a few random testimonies and pictures of babies. NO MATTER HOW BAD YOUR MORNING SICKNESS, DON’T EVER CONSIDER GETTING YOUR TUBES TIED!!!!

I was intrigued to see how they managed to make the booklet be about the same things they always talk about. There were guilt trips, advice to fast and lots of words about the blessing of children. The guilt trips were not surprising considering the source (and honestly not nearly as heavy handed as in many other IBLP resources). The advice about fasting was fairly well balanced; there were cautions about over fasting and advice to speak to a doctor before committing to fasting. They even wrote at length about the importance of getting medical attention if you become dehydrated. And even though I’m somewhat suspicious about fasting to fix morning sickness, there is some evidence that fasting can be good for you. 

What I want to focus on today is this talk about children as a blessing. Before I go any further, I want to state very clearly that all children are a blessing from the Lord. Losing our son last year, and now looking forward to the birth of our baby girl has impressed on my how incredibly precious every life is, and how each child is worthy of love and respect. But what happens in this booklet is very legalistic. God’s word tells us that children are a blessing, and Gothard takes this as a command to have children.

I know Mark Driscoll has fallen into his own very serious scandal recently, but he said something a few years ago that I think is quite true. When speaking about Proverbs, he talked about how legalists take blessings and turn them into commands. This is exactly what Gothard does with verses about children.

Let’s look at the booklet now.

facts are bad

This really disturbs me, because the essence of what they are telling us is facts are bad if they don’t support our interpretation of Scripture. “…such statements only serve only to make couples more vulnerable to unwise counsel and destructive procedures…”

No, no, no. Such statements serve to inform couples of the facts. The facts are that we don’t know what causes morning sickness. The fact is that you cannot know before you get pregnant if you are going to experience mild or extreme morning sickness. The medical profession has no business giving “hope to mothers,” their business is to fully inform people of the facts.

This is not a small, minor deal. It would seem that whoever wrote this booklet would prefer that doctors not inform their patients of the facts. It would seem that having lots of children is a more important and higher goal than informed consent. This is a big problem.

husband morning sickness 1

husband morning sickness 2

This poor mother is so sick she fears that she is going to die. Having never been in a situation like that, I can’t say that I’m able to understand what that must be like. But I imagine it must be terrifying. I imagine looking at my children, my spouse and other loved ones and wondering how they will handle my passing. I would feel great sorrow when I thought about not seeing my children grow into adults and following their own dreams. I’m sure this mother felt scared and vulnerable.

What would you do if your wife told you she thought she might die? What if she said this was the last child she wanted to carry (assuming she lived)? It’s hard to imagine, but I think I know what I would do. I would hold my wife in my arms and I would cry. I would tell her how much I love her, and how important she was to me. I would pray desperately that God would let her stay with me. And I would tell her that whatever her decision, I would respect and support her in that decision.

This husband? He thought about the people who were watching. Hearing that his wife thought she might die, he thought about how that would make him look. It’s hard to find words to describe how truly horrible that is. Then, having given due consideration to his reputation, this husband used fear tactics to brow beat his wife to repent of fearing for her life.

I was just thinking about how I would tell my wife I would respect her decision if we were in the same circumstances, and it occurs to me that I’ve actually already done that. Before we even got married we talked about birth control methods and how we would use them. Over the past few years we’ve continued to dialogue about children and birth control and our family. And I don’t think we’re an unusual couple; anyone with any decent amount of respect for their spouse will talk to them about these things, and will show respect for their wishes. Both partners should agree that they want to have a child, rather than one partner brow beating the other when she’s already sick and exhausted and scared.

When looking at these two ways of responding, it’s very important to be aware that one is healthy and the other is abusive. And it’s pretty scary to see IBLP holding up this abusive husband as an example to other couples.