Abuse and the Wilsonian Theology: A Survivor’s Story
[August 3, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]
The following post is written by one of our readers who has told her story on this blog previously. After we learned that she had been “counseled” by the father of Douglas Wilson, we asked her if she would tell of that experience here. As you will see, just about every misapplication of Scripture to a case of abuse is illustrated right here by a man who was a pastor.
Jim Wilson is, in a way, a front-runner of Biblical or Nouthetic counseling. Jim (now in his 80s) and wife, Bessie, birthed Doug Wilson, the hyper-controversial theologian, pastor and writer of many books, most notably, books on marriage. Doug is also a master debater. His wife writes books on homemaking….
I first met Jim when I was three. He led my father and my grandfather to Christ. This post is a difficult post because Jim had a tremendous impact on my life and family. There are things I learned from him that I carry around to this day. There are also things I learned from him that haunt me and make me sick to think about.
I first called him when I tried to leave my abusive marriage for the first time. I had been married for nine years. Because of Jim (and a few others – but mostly Jim) I stayed in my marriage two more agonizing years as things disintegrated badly. Jim was well aware of what my ex-husband was doing to me. The first thing I remember about Jim is that he assumed I was the problem immediately. I believe it took 6 – 8 months (and a lot of my husband “leaking” his abuse to Jim) for Jim to realize that Dan was “not a nice man”. But, even then, he convinced me to repent of my bitterness….or anger….or whatever sin of which I was guilty – and threw me back in. This probably happened two dozen times.
I think the most striking, over-arching memory I have of Mr. Wilson, is a pure lack of compassion. I remember crying into the phone (sobbing, rather) and saying, “Dan doesn’t love me. He doesn’t even know how.” To which Mr. Wilson replied, “Well, you don’t have to make it hard for him.” Other times, he would say that I must respect my husband. And, if I didn’t, I was in sin. Considering the fact that my husband was abusive, neglectful and a pornographer, I had a difficult time respecting him. This was held over my head time and time again. It was ALWAYS MY bitterness or MY anger or MY hurt and I was made to feel selfish….I don’t know how many times 1 Peter chapter 3 was read to me….along with other Scriptures about how we are not to divorce. My husband would corner me, beat me down emotionally for hours, or physically abuse me. Three out of four times, I was “godly” – meaning, I would take it. I would not respond. That fourth time, I would break down, or cry, or yell back (never a good decision; only made things worse). Whenever that fourth time happened, I was condemned by both my husband and Jim. I have NEVER had any sort of darkness, confusion or break-downs since I left my ex-husband over a year ago.
To his credit, Mr. Wilson eventually saw that Dan was abusive. He then decided that Dan was not saved and he led him to the Lord six times (no exaggeration here – literally, Dan “got saved” six times). Each time, Dan would be sweet for a few days but then could not keep up the façade. My hope was dashed over and over as I tried to pick up and move forward again.
There were two horrible times where I would go into a very dark emotional coma….where I was paralyzed with hopelessness and a complete misunderstanding of God’s will for my life. Dan was abusive and confusing and I simply could not press on anymore. According to Jim, this was my lot. With no parents or family who loved me, I was destined to be an unloved abused woman for the rest of my life. And God was good with this (so I thought). During these “comas”, Jim would encourage me to confess my sin….after all, it was my sin that put me in those very dark places.
I spent hours searching the blogs of the Wilson family….I looked at a blog called “Femina” – Doug’s wife, Nancy wrote it. I asked for her help. I saw that other women did, too. So, Nancy wrote a blog called “A Respectful Wife”. It was there that I began to recognize the merciless philosophy of this family. Nancy wrote these words regarding women who simply cannot respect their husbands. And I quote: “Now some women will say, ‘I refuse to do that. My husband is not worthy of such treatment.’ Then why did you marry him?” It doesn’t work like that, Nancy. Abusive men are manipulators. Where, oh where, is a heart of compassion?
Here is a sample of a note Jim Wilson sent me after I left my husband. I tried with Jim….I really did. I thought he was helping me….thought he COULD help me…. Here is his note and my response:
Dear _______ ,
I was awake in the middle of the night thinking about you and praying for you. You know that for years I have been on Dan’s case weekly and sometimes daily. I am well aware of how he has treated you and how you have responded to this treatment. You have been very vocal about it. “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” You have been telling everyone of what is in your heart. You have been more conscious of what has been done to you than you have been conscious of what you have been doing to yourself. You do not seem to be aware that you are telling people more about yourself than you think. I think you have a sensitive conscience. You must be very unhappy. Here are a few pieces of Scripture as I think of them.
Love is not easily angered: “It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered” (1 Corinthians 13:5).
Love does not keep a record of wrongs: “It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
“’In your anger do not sin’, Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-7).
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31).
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times’….This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:21-22,35).
Forgiveness is not related to the other person repenting. “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15).
We have talked about 1 Peter 3. It is really about 1 Peter 2:21, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” It is being like Jesus. It is not by keeping quiet, but having a “meek and quiet spirit.” For all I know, you may have kept quiet. But, since I have known you, you have not had a meek and quiet spirit. You have shared your spirit with me many times. You have wanted me to speak to Dan many times and it may be having an effect through the Spirit of God. Your joy has to do with you, not with Dan.
You know I love you and the kids. I would love to see you.
With Love in Christ,
Your Substitute Grandfather
Dear Jim, I have ascertained that a true grandfather-like figure would have sought my protection and made moves for the kids’ and my safety. I went to you first. I was looking for help, wisdom, protection and comfort. I could not find that with you. You kept me with Dan, despite how you knew he was treating me. Since you insist on pursuing me to bring me back to oppression, I have determined that your voice is no longer valid and I desire that you leave me alone. I am uncomfortable with your pursuits. Please do not contact the kids or me again. Thank you, _________
Indeed, Jim Wilson has not been a gentleman – he has not left me alone. I have moved four times in the past year (out of financial duress) and he has found my address every time. He still sends me letters, books, sermons. I cannot seem to get away from the man. I believe that, at the end, Jim Wilson would have taken the kids and me in….but he would have insisted on reconciliation with a monster of a man….and NEVER would have allowed for divorce or any child custody hearings.
If I could sum up the Wilson philosophy in one sentence, it would be: “Thorough Wilsonian theology; zero mercy and zero compassion.” This is not how Christ was. This is not how Christ is. Praising Him that, despite my lack of discernment when it came to counsel, God still found a way to rescue the children and me. Because He is, after all, the greatest Deliverer we could ever know.
[August 3, 2022: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to August 3, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to August 3, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to August 3, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (August 3, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]