This time last year, I began my exit from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. My fade towards inactivity did not go unnoticed.
A few fellow believers and friends approached me with a strong warning: “Be careful. Satan is working through your husband to discourage you from serving Jehovah.”
Why would they jump to such a harsh conclusion? Was he a violent man, physically prohibiting me from attending meetings? Did he yell at me with a raised voice discouraging me from preaching? Did he berate me over my faith, pushing apostate ideas instead of Bible truths?
The answer to all such questions is a resounding “no!” He was the same kind, loving, hard-working, honest moral man I had married. The only thing that had changed was that he, one year prior, had left the religion of his youth, without any wrongdoing, discipline or explanation.
His exit triggered a change in how fellow believers viewed our relationship. For one year, I was constantly reminded of the danger of having a willful unbeliever as a spouse.
As most did, I believed Jehovah’s people respected the family arrangement, including the marital union, even if one was an unbeliever. Yet, this was not my personal experience. While I sought to find a balance in my new role, I received great pressure to give up and leave my husband.
This left me with questions: Do Jehovah’s Witnesses break up families? Do they allow for separation on grounds other than adultery? Finally, why would fellow members insist that Satan was making a personal attack against me via my spouse?
To help make sense of what was happening, I engaged in personal research and reflection.
In October 2014, JW.org posed this very question: Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Break Up Families or Build Them Up?
This was their answer…
As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we work to build up families, both our own and those of our neighbors. … In the Bible, [Jehovah] teaches principles that have helped people around the world to have marriages that are strong and happy.
The article continues by giving experiences showing how mixed-belief families were better off because one mate became a Jehovah’s Witness. The newly converted mate could apply Bible principles to settle conflicts and strengthen the marriage bond.
However, the article goes on to admit that conversion could bring about conflict.
Admittedly, sometimes it does. For example, a 1998 report by the research company Sofres found that 1 out of 20 marriages in which only one mate was a Witness had serious problems when that one converted.
Jesus foretold that those who follow his teachings would at times suffer family strife. (Matthew 10:32-36)
As I read the last paragraph, it felt untruthful; an outright conflict of the behavior and teachings of ones inside the organization (bold is mine).
However, the Witnesses do not encourage their members to separate from a marriage mate who is not a Witness. The Bible says: “If any brother has an unbelieving wife and she is agreeable to staying with him, let him not leave her; and if a woman has an unbelieving husband and he is agreeable to staying with her, let her not leave her husband.” (1 Corinthians 7:12, 13) Jehovah’s Witnesses abide by this command.
Perhaps, if I had never been a witness and my husband had remained an unbeliever, congregation members would have provided me support and treated me differently. But, alas, no. Because my husband became an unbeliever, willingly and by choice, I received no such support.
Rather, I had to beg the elders for a shepherding call. At the time, I was desperate for some guidance and help. It was the strangest experience.
Quickly, the tone of the meeting turned. The elders tried to pressure me to reveal private details about my mate’s exit from the organization. I refused. They warned me that Satan would try to “shipwreck” my faith through the actions of, and interactions with, my husband.
I needed encouragement and spiritual counsel. To this end, they provided me with a print out from the September 2006 Watchtower entitled, “When a Loved One Leaves Jehovah.” It described my personal, perceived situation with such descriptive words as deep anguish, devastating, heartbroken and difficult.
The elders tried to confirm this fear by sharing the following excerpt:
So it is not surprising that humans would grieve over the spiritual loss of a beloved relative.
Indeed, the spiritual loss of a loved one is among the most difficult of trials that come upon true worshipers. (Acts 14:22) Jesus said that accepting his message would cause division in some families. (Matthew 10:34-38) This is not because the Bible message of itself causes family division. Rather, unbelieving or unfaithful family members cause a rift by rejecting, abandoning, or even opposing the way of Christianity.
I left that meeting a wreck, and the badgering from congregation members continued. Within weeks of him no longer attending meetings or preaching, members of the congregation, including pioneers, elders, and elder’s wives, began to remind me that my marriage was second to my life and dedication to God. Without asking how things were at home, they began to assume my spouse was interfering with spiritual things.
Over and over again, congregation members offered unsolicited advice: “God comes first, so be prepared to separate.” Further, some even offered to help me pack up my belongings.
Not once did I tell anyone he was preventing me from attending meetings, preaching, or living a Christian lifestyle. In fact, he was still in good standing and had not committed any wrongdoing in the eyes of the congregation.
Now, divorce is only allowed if one of the mates commits adultery. But three extreme circumstances allow for separation. As explained in the book, “Keep Yourselves in God’s Love” Appendix:
- Willful Nonsupport
- Extreme Physical Abuse
- Absolute Endangerment of Spiritual Life
Absolute endangerment of spiritual life. A spouse may constantly try to make it impossible for the mate to pursue true worship or may even try to force that mate to break God’s commands in some way. In such a case, the threatened mate would have to decide whether the only way to “obey God as ruler rather than men” is to obtain a legal separation.—Acts 5:29.
Yet, this was NOT so in my case. Why would they try so hard to push me away from my mate? Truly, I believe it was out of fear that I would begin to awaken and leave off serving Jehovah.
My friends were constantly reminding me that my spiritual life was endangered and the only solution was to separate from my husband.
Sadly, I understood the fear that motivated them. For most of my life, I was told marriage could only succeed if Jehovah was a part of it.
“Threefold cord” is a figurative expression. (Eccl. 4:12) When applied to marriage, it includes the husband and wife, two strands, who are intertwined with the central strand, God. Being united with God gives a couple the spiritual strength to cope with problems and to achieve happiness.—w08 9/15, page 16.
Truthfully, the fault lies with those issuing instructions and enforcing the teachings while disguising these as helpful advice.
I am glad I listened to my heart and common sense. I am grateful I fought to preserve my marriage in the face of conflict and change. We spent time together each day, usually walking in the evenings. This helped to bring us closer.
Honestly, it wasn’t until my husband left that we began to have real, honest conversations. This helped me open my eyes to the truth about this harmful organization. I am no longer a blind drone obeying without thought or consequence.
Is my marriage built up? Am I happier now that I can communicate without fear? Do we have more time to spend together, which in turn strengthens our marriage bond?
Yes! My only regret?
That we did not leave sooner.