Over the course of the last month, I have written three posts exposing the dishonest rhetoric of Emerson Eggerichs “Love and Respect” principle, as introduced in his best-selling book Love and Respect. I have highlighted the ways in which he uses Scripture to disenfranchise women and keep them in abusive relationships. I have illustrated how Eggerichs intentionally undermines the importance of consent in marital sex, thus robbing women of sexual agency over their own bodies. Lastly, I discussed the ways in which Eggerichs claim to present unquestionable scientific data is entirely false, rooted in data manipulation and faulty methodology.
Through these three posts, I have – in my opinion – demonstrated fairly devastatingly that the gender essentialist thesis which Eggerichs purports, women want love/men need respect, is a dangerous teaching designed specifically to build a hierarchy placing men above women.
The reality is, Emerson Eggerichs teachings are little more than patriarchy with a bad face-lift. They have proven incredibly damaging to many persons and marriages. However, the dangers do not stop there. Eggerichs disregard for abuse extends far beyond the marital relationship and plays directly into how he addresses victims of child-sex abuse as well.
In order to demonstrate just how damaging these teachings truly are, it is necessary to tell the story of a woman who attended Trinity Church in East Lansing, Michigan during the time Eggerichs was senior pastor there. This woman, Gail, has grown to be a friend as she and I have connected through this blog, over social media, and via phone. I have found Gail to be a strong, resilient, and compassionate sister in Christ. She and her husband have been married for 29 years, have 2 daughters, and have several grandchildren whom they adore.
I tell her story with her full permission.
Before I begin, two things need to be made abundantly clear.
- This is the story of a woman who survived several physical, psychological, and sexual abuse as a child. This story may be triggering to some and reader discretion is advised beyond this point.
- As with all survivor stories and sensitive topics, comments on this post will be strictly monitored. All comments of a derogatory or abusive nature will be deleted. Anyone wishing to discuss a concern or present a critical comment may email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org however, no critical comments will be permitted in the discussion thread. Gail is a friend, she was victimized and terrorized. I believe her story and tell it with her expressed permission. She will be paid all respect and deference due to a survivor of abuse.
Gail was born in 1954 to a pharmacist and his wife. They were not a religious family, and Gail recalls only going to church a hand-full of times – Christmas and Easter with family and when neighbors invited her. Her father was a well-respected man in their community, but behind closed doors he was belligerent and abusive. Gail recalls many incidents of physical abuse. She watched in horror as her dad threw her mom down the stairs of their home. She recalls her dad, in a fit of rage, chasing her and her siblings through the house with a loaded gun. She remembers her dad calling her a “god-damn idiot” and saying “You don’t have a brain in that fucking blond head of yours.” at least once a week until she was eighteen.
But physical abuse wasn’t the full extent of her suffering. When Gail was five, there was an incident in which her father rubbed her back, buttocks and thighs. Her body responded with pleasure, and her father went into a rage, shaming her for her response and saying he would never rub her back or touch her again. After this, the only timer her father touched her was to beat her bare bottom – pants and underwear removed – with his belt. Also, when she was nine, a teenage boy next door penetrated her with his fingers while he touched himself. When he had finished, he kicked her and said “You are a filthy pig.”
By the time she turned 18, Gail had been sexually abused by five different predators, both women & men. She recalls feeling worthless, unloved and unwanted, believing her body was simply there for other people to use.
Thinking back on those times she tells me, “I really was beautiful and creative” But the beatings, the insults, the rape had destroyed any self-worth she had. She felt like nothing.
The trauma goes still deeper, however, at the age of 9, she was riding in a car with a neighborhood family to a Memorial Day parade. Her mother was in the front seat and Gail was in the back with the neighboring family’s twin boys. While riding in the back, Gail turned to notice that one of the boys was playing with a gun he had found under the front seat of the car, he thought it was a toy. The gun went off and his twin brother lay dead beside her.
Gail’s mom turned to her and said, “Gail, why didn’t you tell me he had your dad’s gun” Her mother was in shock, Gail was too young to know her dad carried a handgun. Gail unconsciously felt this boy’s death was her fault – the survivor’s guilt followed her into her late 40’s, when she was diagnosed with PTSD and received proper treatment.
Gail carried these burdens well into adulthood. At the age of 28, Gail founder herself on her living room floor with a massive hangover. She and her husband were divorcing after only two years of marriage. She had gotten pregnant two years prior and decided to marry him because she couldn’t/wouldn’t abort her baby. However, neither was ready for the commitment and the relationship quickly dissolved.
That day, as Gail laid in the grip of extreme shame and a massive hangover and the overwhelming loneliness consumed her, she cried out to God. She wondered if he even existed, begging him – if he was real – to do something, anything. This is the moment Gail describes as meeting Jesus. She didn’t have some ecstatic experience or vision, but in that moment, as she cried on her floor, she felt a comforting presence. She knew God was there, she knew he cared, and she knew this was the God she had heard about while visiting a friends church many years ago. She describes the experience as being “enveloped in the love of God.”
Gail immediately began looking for a church and soon began attending a local Assemblies of God congregation. While there, she was encouraged to reconcile with her ex-husband and multiple women “prophesied” to her that her marriage would be restored. After attending for five years, Gail found that the version of Christianity they were teaching her felt spiritually bankrupt. Gail wasn’t healed, Jesus didn’t enrich her bank account and emotionally she was struggling. Further, her ex -husband had told her he wanted nothing to do with her whacked out church and she should move on.
It was during her time at this church, in 1987, that she met and married her current husband. After leaving the Assemblies of God, and several unsuccessful church hops, they began attending Trinity Church in East Lansing, Michigan – where Emerson Eggerichs eventually became the senior pastor.
During this time, Gail struggled with deep depression and anxiety because of the severe physical, emotional, and sexual trauma she had suffered as a child. In addition to seeing an independent biblical counselor, she would also sit down with Eggerichs himself on occasion to seek his spiritual advice. During these sessions, Gail would confess her feelings of anxiety, guilt and the haunting feeling that she was worthless. A few years into her story she admitted to Emerson that she might be angry at God for the trauma she had suffered. She struggled greatly with the loving God she had encountered at age 28 and the God she heard Eggerichs often preach about, a God who ordained suffering for his own glory. She recalls Eggerichs tell her that this anger was a sin. He even went so far as to say, “Woe to those who strive with their maker.” She tried to reason with him, insisting that God knew what was going on inside of her and the feelings of anger within her couldn’t be hidden from the Lord. Emerson refused to listen and told her that her anger was rooted in a lack of faith; she needed to pray more.
Further, Gail recalls that, during a sermon by Eggerichs on God’s purposes for suffering, she suffered a debilitating panic attack. She was taken to the emergency room and prescribed medication to help with her depression and anxiety. The following Sunday, she returned to Trinity, only to hear Eggerichs state in his sermon that those who take medications to treat depression and other mental health issues are being unfaithful to the “sufficiency of Christ and the Scriptures.” Gail returned to her doctor in tears. Thankfully, her doctor, also a Christian, reassured her by explaining that, just as there is no sin in a diabetic using insulin, there should be no shame in taking her taking Zoloft for depression and anxiety.
Eventually, in 1996, Gail was invited to join Trinity Church’s lay counseling team by her current therapist. Later that year, Gail applied for training with another sexual abuse ministry and needed a recommendation from Emerson. In his recommendation letter, Eggerichs specifically stated that Gail had repented over her sinful reaction (anger at God) to her abuse.
While serving on the Trinity Church counseling team, led by Eggerichs and several Christian counselors and therapists, Gail recalls that the lay counselors in training were told to discourage their counselees from seeing “secular” psychiatrists* and psychologists and to encourage them to rely on the efficacy of Scripture and prayer in helping them overcome their trauma. Despite these instructions Gail often broke these rules, referring many people who came to see her to professional psychologists and therapists for treatment.
Eventually, Gail hit her breaking point. During a training session for the lay ministry team, Eggerichs instructed the lay counselors that their goal was to bring the traumatized person to the point where they would thank God for being abused. He was careful to state that this could not and should not be rushed, but none-the-less stated explicitly that this was the goal of counseling.
Gail walked away from this meeting and began to search the Bible for anything resembling Eggerichs’ teaching. When she could find nothing, she decided to meet with him in order to discuss this teaching. However, when she confronted him in the meeting, Eggerichs became defensive and insisted dogmatically that God ordains abuse and that those who are abused need to thank him because this abuse took place so that he could be glorified. Abuse, according to Eggerichs, was a gift from God to be used to further his kingdom.
When Gail continued to push back, Eggerichs became further agitated, pointed his finger at her, and demanded “learn to submit to those God has placed in authority over you.”
Despite this clear spiritual abuse, Gail chose to attend services at Trinity the following Sunday. During this service, Eggerichs again demanded that those who had been abused thank God for the gift he had given them.
Gail recalls that during this sermon Eggerichs explicitly stated, “Some of you will refuse to thank God, this is possibly why you’re not healed from your abuse.” He then spit on the pulpit before continuing, “When you do this, you are essentially spitting on the authority of Scripture.”
That was the last service Gail ever attended at Trinity Church. Following that service, she tendered her resignation from the counseling team. Even in this letter (picture below) Gail says that she thanked God for the worthlessness and trauma she suffered, seeing it as God’s way of using the abuse to help her to understand and serve others, but could not thank him for being raped – statements she now realizes were part and parcel of the spiritually abusive conditioning of Eggerichs’ teachings on abuse.
After leaving Trinity, Gail entered what she called the “Dark night of my soul.” Her husband had been diagnosed with a congenital illness before they were married, and began to show symptoms in their 7th year of marriage. As his illness progressed, his health began to decline and she was often his primary caregiver as he suffered the effects of his illness. In the midst of her husband’s illness and the spiritual abuse she suffered at the hands of Emerson Eggerichs, Gail walked away from her faith.
As she puts it, “I met Jesus at 28, lying on my carpet with a massive hangover. There are not words to describe Him, it was like being wrapped in a blanket of cashmere love. I never once found the Jesus I experienced that night within the walls of the Church.”
In 2008, her husband had a surgery to halt the progression of his disease and she cared for him as he recovered. She began to use the internet as an outlet, often finding herself engaging in discussions on blog forums. It was in 2010 that she discovered the blogs Wartburg Watch and Spiritual Sounding Board and began to discover that she was not alone. The Church is filled with “dones,” people who strive to maintain their Christian faith, but due to trauma experienced at the hands of the institutional Church cannot set foot within a formal house of worship. In dialogue with so many abused persons, Gail realized that there was a place for her in the body of Christ and began to restore her faith.
As with so many abuse survivors, Gail found only further abuse within the Church, and has found freedom only beyond its formally established borders. She has found the body of Christ not in Sunday meetings or weekly Bible Studies, but in solidarity and love of her online community.
Love, Respect, and the Church
The reality is, the church has a serious problem with how it addresses abuse that has occurred both within, and without, its walls. Like Gail, so many find only hurt and re-victimization within the church. Because of rhetoric like that described above, and in my previous posts, the church has come to place the good of the “institution” as hierarchically superior to the good of the individual.
Victims and Survivors are considered acceptable collateral damage, offerings on the altar of God’s apparently insatiable ego.
This is nothing short of abuse. As I outlined in my previous posts, Eggerichs belief system is built on a system of privilege and power. It disenfranchises the weak and exalts the already powerful. It gives abusive husbands carte blanche, telling wives they need to be dignified and silent, always showing respect “as unto Jesus” regardless of any actions of their husbands. He robs wives of agency, depriving them of the crucial “No” necessary for any sexual encounter to be consensual. Lastly, he sells them all of this via a series of careful manipulations, abusing his position of trust by blatantly misquoting scientific research to make it appear to support his thesis, when in fact it does not.
All of these things are rooted in Eggerichs’ words to Gail: “submit to those whom God has placed in authority over you.”
Eggerichs has decided he is God’s chosen prophet, and “Love and Respect” is the secret biblical marriage code entrusted to him. He defends his elite status and power by claiming to possess the absolute truth of Scripture – using grooming tactics to ensure those under him are entirely too scared to question his teachings or authority.
As such, it is important to be clear. Emerson Eggerichs is a spiritual abuser. Both his treatment of Gail above and the rhetoric described in my previous posts are antithetical to the Gospel freedom Paul describes in passages like Romans 8 or Galatians 3. There is none of the humility required of a follower of Christ, as described in Ephesians 4 or Philippians 2. Instead, Eggerichs behaves as the Gentile overlords of Matthew 20:25, terrorizing those under him in order to establish his own power. It is notable, then, that the followers of Jesus are admonished:
[W]hoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Matt 20:26-28)
Christ tells us in Matthew 25, his place is among the “least.” He has come to establish solidarity with the captive, the marginalized, and the abused. And as he tells us in Luke 4, his ministry is to declare them all free in the Lord.
It is for this reason that I insist that the ministry and teaching of Emerson Eggerichs are not rooted in the cross of Christ, and thus present a counter-claim to the Gospel. One cannot claim the cross of Christ while working to keep others in positions of vulnerability, abuse, and disenfranchisement. Abuse and the Gospel cannot be mingled, for anywhere the cross is made manifest the abused must be uplifted and freed from their abuser.