Women Who Are Leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses
by Randall Watters
I don’t believe a day ever passes without my getting a distress call from either a woman whose husband is a Jehovah’s Witness and is a tyrant, or who is seeking to leave the Watchtower and her husband is threatening divorce, or worse. What could be worse, you say? Usually these situations are accompanied by either physical or emotional abuse, and often if there are children the threat of a custody suit is hung over the woman’s head.
This is not to say that it doesn’t work the other way around, either. There are many cases where the wife has just become a Witness, or who is persecuting her husband for either leaving or not becoming a Witness. But the potential for abuse is usually less in such cases. Why? Largely due to the Watchtower’s view of women.
Jehovah’s Witnesses will emphatically point out that they do not consider women to be lesser creatures, and that God created male and female equal. The Watchtower magazine often carries positive articles about give-and-take in the marital arrangement, and how husbands should respect their wives, etc. But since the Watchtower is a strong hierarchical system, run by several old men in Brooklyn who grew up long before women’s lib affected our modern society, it is not surprising that many of their attitudes towards women would be passed off to others in the organization, especially those who have a proclivity towards ill-treatment of women.
Of course, there are many loving husbands among the ranks of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is not an indictment against all. But in this article I will point out what scriptures the Witnesses like to focus on, their understanding of headship, and how their teachings differ from actual practice. Additionally, we will see how seeking position in the congregation puts extra strain on the wife.
Typically, it happens like this:
The husband runs into an old friend or work acquaintance who starts telling him about Jehovah’s Witnesses and world conditions, etc. The husband starts a study, and discovers his life can have new meaning by adopting a new cause, and that is saving the world (as well as his family). This becomes like a drug which pushes him to more activity, which in turn feeds his zealousness. The husband may feel like he is waking up from a long sleep, and that life is now more exciting and dramatic. The Watchtower tells the husband that the devil is out to dissuade him from the “truth,” and that he will use every means possible to keep him away from meetings and field service, and will especially seek to work through his wife and children. This phobia, coupled with the strong encouragement by the elders to “be the head of his household,” drives a man to be fanatical. A total personality change may occur, as what happened in the following letter, recently sent in by a reader who wishes her name not mentioned in case her husband finds out:
I really need and enjoy your newsletter. My husband was just baptized in June after studying only five months. I live, for the most part, with an absolute stranger. He’s become rude, pompous and abusive! He is like a robot. They told him to refuse his own pre-donated blood during major back surgery last year… and he did. They told him he should quit his job as a police officer… and just two weeks ago, he did! He is gone 13-14 hrs. per week at meetings and out in “service,” and is constantly reading their little books. He’s told me to convert or “get out” several times – I feel he is pushing me out, perhaps at their directive? I’ve told him only Satan wants our marriage to fail but I’m just about worn out! You certainly know this scenario by now.
What I really need help with is if you or any of your readers have any statistics on what happens to the children in divided homes like ours? I am so concerned about our two and three-year-old little girls. At this point, they have never been in a Kingdom Hall but go to church with me. However, he is starting to talk about taking them with him. I don’t know what to do. Won’t it be terribly confusing for them to attend alternate weekends at churches? And if I leave, he seems so full of hatred towards me, I could only imagine what my babies would go through in visitation. Since I have a wonderful, active church, would they just get sick of Kingdom Hall in time? I don’t want them to be robbed of Jesus and the Bible like my husband has been, not to mention their eternal lives. I can hardly believe anything so evil is growing so much. I have been truly blessed by having a great support group of ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses and others affected by them to fellowship and pray with. Please help if you can!
In Christian Love,
What causes this kind of anger and sudden personality change in the husband? It generally occurs with a husband who has not been a responsible husband in the first place, though possibly having been married for several years. He is aware of his shortcomings and failures, and so feels a measure of guilt about it. Then along comes the Witnesses, offering him a “quick fix” in terms of a new outlook and the zeal to take control of his life. Yet, in his efforts to improve his family life, he ends up driving his wife and children away. Why?
Generally because the wife and children do not see this new person as their real husband or father. He has become a monster, always being threatened by any challenge to the Watchtower’s teachings or any criticism of his new lifestyle and his spending time with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. If the wife accuses him of joining a cult or even just being a fanatic, this is persecution, and is automatically the devil speaking through his wife. (Nothing can divide a family quicker than believing your wife is being used by the devil to destroy your spirituality!) This causes, in turn, a sense of self-righteousness, as the husband seems to feel he is doing everything by the Bible and is totally in God’s will, while at the same time he perceives his wife as being closed to spiritual things, and begins to notice her supposed moral shortcomings. He is seeking God, and she is RESISTING God, which inevitably leads to arguments. When the husband attends meetings at the Kingdom Hall, he gets nothing but sympathy for his situation with his “unbelieving” wife, and gets no shortage of unofficial advice from the “brothers.”
What kind of advice? Most Jehovah’s Witness men and especially the elders are hesitant to recommend divorce unless the wife is actually fighting against the “truth,” but then that is left open to interpretation. When his wife is emphatic against his taking the kids to the Kingdom Hall, or in going out in service instead of spending time with the family, he may very well see this as her “fighting against the truth” and give her an ultimatum, either join and/or drop your objections, or LEAVE. Often it becomes a good excuse to get out of a marriage that was considered undesirable for some time, but previously the husband had no justifiable reason for divorce. Now he can get a divorce and feel self-righteous about it as well! This opportunity is too much for some men to pass up.
If the husband is appointed as an elder or ministerial servant, this becomes an added pressure to “get his family together.” These are coveted positions involving power over others, and the man’s desire to obtain this may overpower any other feelings of love or devotion to his household (as in the letter just printed). The wife, in turn, may resent his new position because of the drastic change it has brought about in her husband, and the husband may interpret this as her efforts to impede or destroy his progress, thus resulting in anger and argumentation.
What Can A Woman Do?
For many women whose husbands are zealous Witnesses, whether the wife is one or not, the options seem very narrow: Put up with him or divorce him. However, there are a few other things that can be done to buy out time and hope for change. Prayer and the support of other Christian friends is helpful. Activities within the local church and special classes on marriage may be of help. Professional counseling so as to understand one’s options is often very helpful, and I recommend it. These activities can help clear the emotional cobwebs that prevent the wife from making an intelligent decision as to what to ultimately do with regards to her marriage and her children. Note the following suggestions:
* Get the advice of others who are wise and have experience in these matters. They may be in your local church, in ministries to Jehovah’s Witnesses near you, or in professional counseling.
* Getting involved in church or other activities (as well as prayer meetings) can help balance out one’s life and keep one from getting despondent as often, but should not be used as a way to ignore the situation, either.
* Write or call the women who have submitted their letters in this issue and gain courage and wisdom from them. If their name or address is not listed, send your letter inside another envelope to us, and we will forward your letter to the anonymous person. Many women who have felt like they are going crazy and who feel all alone have been helped dramatically by talking to others who have been through the same thing.
* Divorce is not the end of the world, nor will God despise you for it. If you feel you just cannot take the abuse any longer, don’t be afraid to believe that God’s understands your situation and loves you!
How the Watchtower Keeps Women in their Place
To the woman he said: “I shall greatly increase the pain of your pregnancy, in birth pangs you will bring forth children, and your craving will be for your husband, and he will dominate you.” (New World Translation)
1 Timothy 2:11-15
Let a woman learn in silence with full submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach, or to exercise authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. Also, Adam was not deceived, but the woman was thoroughly deceived and came to be in transgression. However, she will be kept safe through childbearing, providing they continue in faith and love and sanctification along with soundness of mind. (NWT)
These two passages are the most commonly used by the Watchtower (more often verbally than in print) to keep women in their place. The Watchtower comments on these passages:
Eve should have carefully consulted with her husband regarding any important decision to be made. And especially should she have been alert to inquire of him when being tempted to eat of the forbidden fruit, since the serpent’s enticement was to disobey God’s previous command, given through her husband Adam, not to eat of the forbidden fruit. Recognizing her husband’s headship in this way would have been a protection and a safeguard for her. Submission to his headship by consulting and cooperating with him would have greatly assisted her in obediently rendering proper worship to God…. [Commenting on Gen. 3:16]: It does not appear that Jehovah God directly brought these conditions into existence as a punishment on Eve and, by inheritance, on all her daughter descendants. Rather, by cutting off the woman as well as the man from divine favor, Jehovah was pointing to the consequences and abuses that would result. Childbearing would be very difficult under imperfect conditions. Jehovah foreknew that within the marriage arrangement now, imperfections would often lead to frustration, anxiety and turmoil. It would be a natural desire for a woman to crave a husband, not just for sexual satisfaction, but because of desiring a home and children, security and companionship. These desires would be very strong in a woman even though the fulfilling of them would mean domination by an imperfect husband. (WT, 3/1/76, pp. 159-160)
First of all, the Watchtower still sees the curse of Gen. 3:16 as applying to woman, in that she would inordinately be craving a husband and be driven to seek family and security. For many years women were considered undesirable at Watchtower headquarters (Bethel) because they would draw away the volunteer workers and marry them. They were also rarely used for any intelligent tasks at Bethel. Though this has changed, the mentality remains among many Witnesses both at Bethel and in the congregations. Secondly, women were encouraged not to have children in the forties and fifties due to the “closeness of the end of the system,” and the desires for family life were seen as selfish in view of the greater work of preaching the Watchtower’s message. Many Witness women therefore forfeited having children until it was too late, and many are still bitter as a result.
Women are also seen as more easily swayed and deceived, based on Gen 3 as well as 1 Tim. 2:11-15. They are not as readily trusted as men, and in matters of personal conflict among Jehovah’s Witness couples, the men are almost always favored over the women. Much physical and emotional abuse is excused on the basis of Paul’s words.
Reprint of the Mar/Apr 1992 Bethel Ministries Newsletter