My opinions of the New York Times best-selling book Love and Respect are well known. A few months ago, I wrote a four-part review of the book, and its author Emerson Eggerichs. In that series, I offered four theses.
- The biblical hermeneutic of Emerson Eggerichs is based not in sound scholarship, but in the desire to reinforce male privilege by disenfranchising women.
- Eggerichs’ teachings on marriage promote physical and sexual abuse by undermining consent and denying women agency over their bodies in marriage.
- Eggerichs’ views of gender and the science he uses to support them are harmful, outdated, inaccurate, and an intentional misrepresentation of data.
- Eggerichs is a spiritual abuser, and thus entirely disqualified from ministry.
In the end, I found the principles of Love and Respect as Eggerichs teaches them to be nothing but repackaged patriarchy and abuse apology. His books, seminars, and ministry are based upon blatant deceptions perpetrated by Eggerichs in order to promote a system of male privilege.
After discovering all of these things, I was fairly convinced that little coming out of the Love and Respect camp could still surprise me. Then came a recent article from their website entitled “How to be Truthful Without Being Hurtful.”
I first became aware of this article through the Love and Respect Twitter account, where they promoted it with the tagline “How to answer the age-old question, ‘Does this red dress make me look fat?’” Knowing L&R’s history of making disturbing comments on gender issues, I knew I was in for more. But, to be honest, I was not prepared for just how vile this post was.
Telling the Truth
The post begins with a rather odd assertion: “Some questions from one spouse to another are nearly impossible to answer without causing heartache.” This assertion is the preface to the apparently damning “red dress” question.
Emerson Eggerichs says that answering, “No, the red dress does not make you look fat.” is a lie. As such, the assumption of this article is that the only possible truthful answer to my wife asking me if an outfit “makes her look fat” is “Yes.” But of course, such an answer is unloving and hurtful, and thus the solution is to find an answer that says “Yes, dear, that dress makes you look fat.” without hurting her feelings.
Here’s the issue, in Eggerichs’ assessment. A husband must love his wife unconditionally, but he must also be a Christian committed to the truth. As he sees it, then, there are times in a man’s life when he will need to figure out how to “tell the truth” without compromising that love.
Emerson Eggerichs believes he has struck just such a balance. That is, he believes he knows the best way to lovingly tell a woman she looks fat. He offers as a template the following statement: “Because of the extra baby weight you still carry, which you’ll get off soon enough, the black is more becoming right now than the red dress. But I love you no matter what so give me a hug.”
It occurs to me as I read the above template, that Eggerichs presents this template in three steps:
Actually call her fat, but be sure to explain exactly why she is fat.
Assure her that you expect her to lose that weight, because it wouldn’t be loving to just love her as she is.
Provide her a specially chosen “non-fat” dress, and be sure to tell her that even though you see her as fat, you still love her because love is unconditional.
Sadly, at the heart of all of this are two very problematic assumptions.
Truth vs. Love
First, it seems strange to me to that, as a person seeking to follow a distinctly Christian ethic, Eggerichs implies a tension between the notions of Truth and Love.
In Matthew 20, we are told that a person who embraces the way of Christ cannot assert their self as a master over another. They must be persons of humility, operating as servant of those around them in the example of the cross. In John 13 we are reminded that people will know those who follow Christ by the ways in which they embody Love for one another. According to Matthew 22, this Love is an expression and extension of the Love we share with God in the beautiful dance (perichoresis) that is Trinity.
In Philippians 2 we are told that a love rooted in the example of Christ is a love which eschews personal status and privilege in order to uplift other persons. In verse 3 we are told we cannot practice love by advancing our own selfish purposes.
This brings me to the famous “Love Chapter” of 1 Corinthians. In Chapter 13, the follower of Christ is given an important reminder: Any act performed by one claiming to follow Christ is nothing but emptiness if it is not rooted in Love. That is, persons who claim to follow Christ cannot make any claim to truth, if their actions are unloving.
And further Romans 13 emphatically states that we cannot claim to love another person if our actions directly contribute to their harm.
And the reality is, body shaming is a harmful practice. Why, then, is Eggerichs – a Christian pastor – advising husbands to body shame their wives?
In a 2015 study researches noted that body shame bears a direct correlation with poor physical heath. Further studies seems to indicate that fat-shaming fuels weight gain, not weight loss, and can cause a person to resign them self to obesity, which of course also leads to adverse health effects as well. These studies have led researchers to assert that shaming someone for their body-type or weight is only, ever, a harmful practice and has a strong likelihood of being detrimental to their health.
Concepts of beauty are societally conditioned, and in no way consistent across cultures. If our only concept of beauty is a stereotype in a magazine, then we inherently do damage to the very real people around us. People are not photo-shopped objects used to sell products, they are human beings. And when we exalt artificial conceptions of beauty to the forefront of attraction, we reduce people to one-dimensional objects. Any mindset which equates outward beauty with attraction inherently leads to bullying and denigration of those persons who fall outside the so called category of “beautiful.”
This is dangerous, as studies suggest that the perception of being “overweight,” regardless of any actual physical reality, can be directly linked to issues of depression and suicide. Body shaming is a recognized cause of eating disorders. Also, persons who feel rejected or shamed because of their body, have an increased likelihood of suffering from other mental illnesses.
As such,Eggerichs fails to understand that a woman with a positive body image, even with those “extra 20 pounds of baby weight,” is going to be decidedly more healthy mentally and physically than a woman who develops a negative body image while attempting to conform to her husband’s demanding weight standards.
Is it not the height of selfishness to assume that a husband’s arbitrary standard of “fat-ness” ought to trump his wife’s actual health?
Despite Eggerichs’ offensive rhetoric, a woman gaining weight after birth is perfectly normal and healthy. In fact, many women work out and maintain healthy lifestyles, but never lose the weight fully. Yet studies show healthy eating habits and exercise are a larger contributor to overall physical and mental well-being than actual weight on a scale. In fact, because the medical definition of overweight is a Body Mass Index of 25, it is entirely possible for a person to be healthier at an “overweight” BMI than a person who is considered “normal” but invests nothing in their fitness.
Further damning for Eggerichs assumptions is a study which shows that our concepts of “beauty” in strangers has no actual bearing on our concept of attractiveness in persons we know well. Often, a failure to find one’s spouse attractive is actually less related to their physical appearance, and more connected to some other major relational disconnect which impedes a sense of closeness and safety in the relationship.
There is absolutely nothing healthy, normal, or loving about a husband calling his wife fat, no matter how he chooses to package it. Instead, body-shaming is always and only a form of abuse. For a husband to shame his wife over her body is to devalue her health and wellness. Such behavior is a disregard for her as a person, and instead views her as an object for one’s own personal means.
Disregard for the well-being of any person in promotion of a personal and selfish agenda is a textbook definition of abuse. And I would hope it goes beyond saying that creating an abusive dynamic within a relationship is fundamental failure to love one’s partner.
With these things in mind, then, I remind the reader once again that Emerson Eggerichs is not an expert on gender or marriage. His work is rife with unexamined bias and the promotion of personal privilege. His theology is utterly bankrupt. And most importantly, he encourages husbands to abuse their wives in order to preserve a patriarchal relational dynamic.
As with his book, his advice here is utterly worthless and entrenched in domineering patriarchalist attitudes, indicative of the foundational corruption inherent to Evangelical theology.