After Dr. Valerie Hobbs and I wrote our article looking at Doug Wilson’s wedding exhortations, we were told that we were wrong in our conclusions about Wilson’s view of women. Several people, Wilson included, wrote that Wilson obviously thinks very highly of women and their abilities. Wilson’s wife, Nancy, and daughters/daughters-in-law and their books and articles were given as examples of how wrong we were in our analysis. Of course, our research was about Doug Wilson’s words not his family.
However, continuing in the research I’ve been doing, I read one of Nancy Wilson’s books, The Fruit of Her Hands. Her book is full of advice for Christian wives. In reading it, I realized that it would be worthwhile to compare Nancy’s advice to that of her husband. Would her words support the conclusions of our article? Or would they contradict them?
In what follows, I will quote short statements in bold from our article. After each statement, I will give quotes from Nancy Wilson’s book that I believe support each of our conclusions.
“At the heart of Wilson’s theology of the wife is the notion of being something belonging to her husband”
Two of the main themes that Valerie and I found in reading Doug Wilson’s exhortations were that women were encouraged to “be” not to “do” and to “respond/receive” not “initiate.”
Taking that first point, in Nancy Wilson’s book she writes that a wife is a garden that belongs to her husband and that a husband is a garden tender:
As a Christian woman begins to see herself as a garden, she can take a more eager interest in making it a lovely garden that her husband delights to spend time in. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 951-952). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
of course a husband is never trespassing in his own garden, though he can be made to feel as though he is an intruder. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 957-958). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
In fact, in many ways, the husband is the garden tender, and the wife becomes a source of great joy and delight to the husband as he spends time in the garden he faithfully tends. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 947-948). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
“Second, we learn that a wife’s role is one of passive response”
Like Doug, Nancy Wilson writes that women were created to be responsive:
Contemporary Christian women, created by God to be responsive, are vulnerable to temptations to be deceived. We must learn to think like Christians and resist the temptation to believe everything we read or hear. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 656-657). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
But how does “passive response” play out in a marriage? Nancy gives a lengthy example for what a wife should do if a husband doesn’t provide for his family. According to the example, a wife should trust in God to provide, trust her husband to lead, and not work to provide the necessary funds:
What if your husband fails to provide for you? What if you are hopelessly in debt, and he is not bringing home an adequate paycheck? … First, do not seek to protect him from the consequences of his folly. … Of course you must be a support and help and source of encouragement. But that is a completely different thing than trying to shoulder responsibilities that are not yours. When a wife tries to bear the responsibilities that her husband should be bearing, she suffers. … When the bill collector calls, hand your husband the phone. But do so respectfully, praying that God will use it to bring about a change. When there are overdue bills, look to him for his direction—whether or not he provides it. … Quit scrambling, trying to come up with funds to meet deadlines. It is his responsibility. … Are you trying to find an extra job so that you can keep the house, boat, car? Often women rush into jobs to “help out,” thinking it will only be short term. The kids are farmed out because “it’s just until we pay off the car.” But then, after the car is paid for, there is something else. And pretty soon, you are working outside the home full-time, the kids are on their own, and you are still in debt. Then it is too hard to quit—who will pay the bills? You need to get out, go home, and take care of your kids. “But,” you say, “my husband wants me to work.” I have heard this before, when, in fact, the husband wanted very much for the wife to come home, and she was the one resisting the move. … So do not think your happiness lies in how your husband is doing, or in how many possessions you have. Your happiness and joy lie in Christ alone. If you are trusting in Him, He will see you safely through. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 502-523). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
“Third, we see that, for Wilson, a wife’s function is to take whatever is given to her (for example, money) and transform it into something useful in her appointed station, the home”
In one of Doug’s exhortations, he tells the bride to take what her husband gives her and return it to him glorified. In Nancy’s book, she advises a wife to be creative in the kitchen when transforming a meager income into dinner:
Your finances are tight. You confess your anxiety to your husband and to the Lord. You resolve to trust God and pray for your husband, and you pray for patience. Meanwhile, you show a brave spirit and a joyful countenance to your family, and a creative flair in the kitchen. “I’ve found a new way to cook beans!” You hunker down and think of creative ways to respect your husband.- Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 432-434). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
“women’s role in sex is surrender”
One of Doug’s better known quotes about sex speaks of the roles of husbands and wives in terms of colonization/conquering and receiving/surrendering, respectively. Nancy affirms this teaching of sex as surrender for wives. A wife doesn’t need to “feel like it” or consult her feelings:
If a wife is not feeling “in the mood,” she simply has to apply the golden rule. Does your husband always “feel” in the mood for a heart-to-heart chat? Perhaps not. Do you want him to tell you when he is not in the mood but just talking because he loves you and knows you need it? Of course not. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 1015-1017). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
Nevertheless, your husband’s desire has probably not suffered a dip [due to pregnancy or breastfeeding hormones]. This is an obstacle, but again, it is not insurmountable. Sometimes you will have to work harder to “feel like it.” It is not always necessary to consult your feelings anyway. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 1012-1014). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
“Wilson further highlights women’s passive role in his portrayal of wives as knowing little about sex and even about their own bodies, requiring instruction from their husbands.”
Nancy agrees that wives should learn from their husbands regarding what might please them:
Now I am not telling you how to do this [enrapture your husband]. I am simply telling you that you must. It is your duty before God to help your husband in his obedience of this command. You are given to him by God to satisfy him, to delight him intensely, and to rejoice with him. There is an important reason why I am not telling you how. That’s because you need to ask your husband. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 992-995). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
“Wilson’s image of husband is that of ‘resident theologian'”
Doug also expects husbands to the be ones to teach their wives about theology. Nancy concurs:
We must cultivate a taste for books that will build us up in the faith—not take us to fantasy land. You might want to start with biographies of saints greatly used by God in the past. Be selective. Look to your husband for suggestions. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 171-175). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
If you miss church, request a tape. Take sermon notes, jot down questions, and afterwards ask your husband questions. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 176-177). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
Because women are prone to deception, we must have our guard up. Everything we hear must be weighed in light of Scripture. So what does a wise woman do who needs spiritual help? … Go to your husband first. He is your head and he is responsible before God to shepherd and pastor his home, starting with you. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 206-210). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
“Wilson’s husbands are created for and called to work, and wives are created for and called to support their husbands in that work. Put simply, his calling becomes her calling”
Here again, Nancy’s advice is consistent with what Doug has written about husbands and wives and their respective callings. A wife is “God’s appointed helper” for the “special work” God created her husband to do:
He is one of a kind, and God has prepared special work for him to do. You have the privilege of being God’s appointed helper for him. … Your husband will appreciate your obedience and be set free to live up to all God has called him to be. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 97-100). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
“A wife does not have her own calling separate from serving her husband’s.”
Since Nancy’s ministry in writing books to women was given as the example for what Doug really believes about women and their abilities, it’s interesting to read Nancy’s thoughts on how to evaluate women in ministry. She asks if there are any limits to the ministry women can have to other women. First she explains how to judge if a woman’s ministry is valid:
The first question to ask and answer is, “Who is this woman’s husband?” Next we must ask many subsidiary questions. Is she fulfilling her ministry to him? Is he her priority? Is she helping him? Is her house in order? Is he leading her in this ministry? Is her identity as a Christian woman centered, under Christ, around her relationship to her husband? … But if the answer to any of the earlier questions is “no,” then her ministry is likely independent of her husband, much like a separate career. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 111-115). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
She goes on to say that a woman’s ministry should be connected to her husband’s headship over her:
In contrast, because Scripture teaches that the husband is the head of the wife, a Christian woman in ministry should be seen as under her husband’s visible headship. In other words, her ministry should be visibly connected to him. This can be a real help to him, for her teaching can be a complement to his work. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 116-118). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
Nancy explains how these ideas work in her own ministry. Her work is not a separate work, but “visibly connected” to Doug’s work:
When people listen to or read her teaching, it is organically connected to the head God has placed over her. This is obviously difficult if her husband is always across the country, or if his name is merely listed in the book with the other “credits” in the fine print. This is why I rarely travel to speak at women’s conferences, but rather teach where my husband is speaking. Not only does this keep us together, working as a team, but he is then available to continue to lead me and protect me in ministry settings. My teaching role is a support and complement to his, not the other way around. This way my ministry is visibly connected to my husband’s and is not seen as a separate work. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 120-125). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
“For Wilson, a happy wife is one who accepts the confines of the housework and childbearing she was made for”
Here too Nancy’s writing is consistent with our conclusions. Modern women, according to Nancy, have been deceived into abandoning their responsibilities of home and children:
The modern woman has been deceived, like Eve, and led away by her own lusts from her God-given domain and he God-ordained responsibilities. Loaded down with sin—discontent and envy—she is promised freedom and happiness if she will just forsake her domain—the home—and neglect her responsibilities—husband and children. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 33-35). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
Women don’t need to leave home to do good works for the Lord. The home is the “center of her activities”:
Notice the order of these good deeds. Our children are first. Next is hospitality. Then comes relieving the afflicted. The wife does not have to go outside her domain to “do good.” The home is the center of her activities, and these activities can be and should be pleasing to God. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 384-386). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
Nancy also writes about realizing that God wanted her to do the dishes and be happy about it:
Immediately I realized what [God] wanted me to do. He wanted me to do the dishes. But I still wondered if there was something else He wanted me to do. And I realized that, yes, there was something else. He wanted me to do them cheerfully. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 786-787). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
“She exists to serve and glorify him.”
We concluded from Doug’s wedding exhortations that, for Doug, wives exist to serve and glorify their husbands. In Nancy’s book, she tells wives that their jog is to be willing servants:
Your job is to be a humble and willing servant, recognizing that God is at work, and He will bring to pass His will, using His appointed means. This should encourage you to pray for your husband, rather than nag him. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, thank God that you have a husband. Thank Him that He is at work to do as He pleases. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 489-491). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
Nancy goes on to explain how a wife can honor, glorify, and serve her husband. The wife should cater to her husbands preferences and defer to him in practical ways:
This can mean following through when your husband requests something, instead of putting it at the end of the to-do list. It can include everything from when dinner is scheduled, to what kind of greeting your husband gets, to making him a cup of coffee. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 451-453). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
Respect is a demeanor that should characterize wives in all their conduct toward their husbands and in all their communication to or about their husbands—this means courtesy in the home, where the husband is treated with honor. Remnants of this honor from a previous era are our traditions of Dad seated at the head of the table, Dad carving the turkey, [the American custom of] Dad having his own big chair, Dad leading the family in thanks at meals, and Dad doing the driving on the family trips. These are things that we assume culturally, but they come from the time when everyone knew and understood that Dad was the head of the house. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 445-450). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
“For Wilson, the wife has no self and, it seems, no voice.”
When Valerie and I wrote our article, we were told that it was ridiculous that we would say that women have no voice in Wilson’s teaching. After all, his wife and daughters write and give seminars. And it’s certainly true that women can have a voice, as long as what they say is consistent with Doug teaches. However, what if a wife disagrees with her husband? What would Nancy say she should do? Pray for strength and silence:
When you are tempted to criticize your husband (and you will be), when you want very much to “let him have it,” pray for love—“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins” (Prov. 10:12). Turn to the Lord for comfort, strength, silence! – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 495-497). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
But what about if a husband is in unrepentant sin? Then what should a wife do? According to Nancy, she might need to go to the elders, but she should be committed to winning her husband “without a word”:
If you have a husband like the ones described above, you must not make the mistake of trying to undertake to deal with his sins; you must deal with your own. If, however, he is a Christian man who is engaged in viewing pornography, you may need to go to the elders in your church so he can be disciplined. But if he is simply not spending enough time with you (from your perspective), or is not meeting your needs in some other way, you must realize that God is the only One who can bring about change. The Scripture is clear that you may be a potent instrument in God’s hand, if you are committed to being the woman described in 1 Peter 3 who wins him without a word. – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 1050-1054). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
And if a problem isn’t big enough to get the elders involved, then a wife shouldn’t talk about it with anyone. Apparently it can be hard to know whether or not to go to the elders. In this quote Nancy seems to advocate erring on the side of silence:
If it is not big enough to share with the elders of the church (or the police), so that they may step in to deal with your husband, then it is not big enough to share with anyone. And even if you are unnecessarily silent in a situation, you probably need the practice (Prov. 31: 11). – Wilson, Nancy (2011-03-04). The Fruit of Her Hands (Kindle Locations 217-219). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.
In the end, I believe that Nancy Wilson’s words confirm our conclusions from the original article. Yes, it’s true that Nancy and her daughters write, but what do they write, and how do they view their work? Nancy clearly views her writing as an extension of Doug, and her message is consistent with what Doug has written.
Nancy’s message is the same as Doug’s. Wives are to be passive responders and receivers. They are to take what their husbands give them and glorify it. They are to surrender sexually to their husbands. Wives are to learn from their husbands in all things. They are to accept their calling as helpers. They are to serve and defer to their husbands. They are not to have separate careers. They are to keep silent.
Wives should do the dishes and do them cheerfully.