Of the men who
have phoned or written me after their wives converted to the Jehovah’s
Witnesses, many have stated that they are seeking a divorce, that they are now
living apart, or that they fear a separation is imminent. Can a marriage be
saved, when one member becomes a JW? Or, if the bond is that between a parent
and a grown child, between close relatives, or simply between friends, does the
fact that one party hasjoined the
Witnesses automatically spell doom for the relationship? Our discussion in this
chapter will focus primarily on the situation of a married couple, but the
suggestions offered can be beneficially applied to save other friendships as
Close communication and intimate sharing of thoughts and
feelings enrich a marriage, drawing a couple together. But this rapport is
difficult to achieve when the worldview of one mate is a world apart from that
of the other. A religious split between husband and wife can be truly painful.
Scripture speaks of a married couple as “one flesh” (Matt. 19:5, 6 kjv). What closer relationship could
there be than that? A husband is counseled to love his wife as his own body
(Eph. ). So when mates start to
go each their separate way religiously, it is like a person’s left leg going in
one direction while the right leg tries to go off in another direction—very
Religiously mixed marriages are often successful where
both parties are adherents of mainstream religious bodies. But exclusivist
groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses inject extra tension into the
relationship. In part this is due to the hostility with which the sect regards
outsiders and the hostility with which outsiders respond to the sect. Also at
issue are some of the JWs’ more extreme positions, especially as they relate to
children of the marriage. Added to that, there is the busy schedule of
activities that the Witness must maintain without the mate.
There is certainly plenty of potential for marriage
problems, but the first factor that needs to be examined honestly is the
motives of the parties involved. All too often the new religion is simply an
excuse used by a mate who had already wanted to end the marriage and who has
finally found a “respectable” reason for doing so. It may be that the one who
has joined the Witnesses has done so knowing this will be the last straw that
will convince the spouse to depart—or perhaps sensing that the Kingdom Hall
will provide a supportive atmosphere for leaving an unbeliever. Then again, it
may be the non-Witness who feels that friends will understand his leaving a
wife who has now joined a cult, whereas they might not sympathize were he to
admit that he has simply lost interest in the marriage.
So, the new religion sometimes becomes a scapegoat for
the party on either side who really wants to get a divorce anyway—for other
reasons. If this is the case, nothing that can be said or done about Jehovah’s
Witnesses will have any effect on the situation. The religious issue is just a
smokescreen hiding the genuine problem. If you perceive that this describes
either you or your mate, the best step to take would be to seek professional
help—preferably a secular marriage counselor acceptable to both parties—and to
work at resolving the real obstacles, rather than allow either party to excuse
himself and deceive others with the religious scapegoat.
But now suppose that it really is the religious
difference that is at issue and that imperils the marriage. It should be noted
that Christians, who believe in the Bible rather than The Watchtower,
find no divine injunction to divorce a mate who joins a false religion. To the
contrary, Scripture encourages the Christian to remain married: “ … If any
brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him,
he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and
he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him” (1 Cor. , 13 niv).
Unfortunately, immature Christians sometimes see matters differently and
actually encourage separation from a JW mate.
Of course problems can be expected. The wife may feel
obligated to preach Watchtower doctrine to her husband, whether he wants to
hear it or not. Likewise he may harangue his wife with strident lectures about
the organization’s false teachings and harmful practices. In either case, if
the listener responds in kind, the resulting argument tends to escalate in
loudness and in bitterness. This, in turn, leads to such frustration on both
sides that they stop speaking to each other on that subject—if not ceasing
But, if you are a Christian who realizes that God “hates
divorce” (Mal. 2:16 niv), there
are ways that you can make your marriage work, even though your mate has become
a Jehovah’s Witness and seems determined to remain one.
First of all, before we look at methods for obtaining
cooperation from your spouse, you would do well to look at yourself and how you
fit into the picture. If you see self-pity or belligerence in the mirror, it is
important to work at eliminating it, since it can be as destructive of the
marriage as anything your mate could do. Ask yourself if self-pity is truly
justified. Don’t marriage partners pledge faithfulness “for better or for
worse, in sickness and in health”? Aren’t there many who find themselves with a
mate who has become “worse” in areas far more distressing than a difference of
religion? Moreover, isn’t it true that “it takes two to tango” in most marital
Unless your spouse is absolutely determined to end the
marriage, you can do a lot on your part to make it work and to keep it
peaceful. The Proverbs tell us that, “Without wood a fire goes out” (Prov.
26:20 niv). If you avoid adding
fuel to the fire, arguments over religion may not flare up as often. If it
becomes apparent that your mate does not want to listen to anything you have to
say on religious subjects, you need not feel an obligation to keep pushing the
issue. This would not constitute surrender or defeat on your part, but would
simply show that you accept the wisdom of the apostle Peter’s counsel, where he
wrote, “Likewise you wives, be submissive to your husbands, so that some,
though they do not obey the word, may be won without a word by the behavior of
their wives, when they see your reverent and chaste behavior” (1 Peter 3:1, 2 rsv). Peter wrote that advice to
Christian women who were married to non-Christians in ancient Pontus,
Cappodocia, Asia, and Bithynia.
Their husbands may have been Jews hostile to Christianity, or they may have
been pagan idolaters or Roman emperor-worshipers. And, yet, Peter recommended
good behavior, rather than argumentative discussions, as the way to win them
over. Likewise in your marriage to a Jehovah’s Witness: if she does not want to
listen to your words on religion, preach to her “without a word” by your loving
conduct and tender affection.
But there are certain things about the organization’s
teachings on marriage that it will be helpful for you to know. Believe it or
not, the Watchtower teaches basically the same approach outlined by Peter in
the Bible—except it is the Witness who views you as the “unbelieving mate.” You
can help eliminate religious arguments by pointing out Peter’s counsel to your
mate, and asking if she agrees with it. (She will have to say Yes. Then
she is obliged to try to win you over without a word of argument.) But be sure
to do this without pointing the finger at her, making her feel that the problem
has been all her fault. Accept at least some of the blame yourself.
While local JW elders sometimes take it upon themselves
to encourage separation from an unbelieving mate, the official policy from Brooklyn
headquarters is to do everything possible to keep the marriage together.
Divorce with remarriage is allowed only if the non-Witness engages in sexual
immorality with another person, although it is often assumed that a non-JW who
spends nights away from home is doing this. A permanent separation is also permitted
if the unbelieving mate moves out of the home or becomes abusive to the point
of endangering the Witness’s life, health or well-being.
Notice that religious difference alone is not listed
among the acceptable grounds for separation. However, JW elders may interpret
preventing your wife from getting to Kingdom Hall meetings or attempting to
persuade her to leave the religion as endangering her spiritual well-being. In
such a case they may advise her to leave you.
Ultimately, though, it will come down to the two of you.
Do you both really want to stay together? Then you can make it work. Many
others have done so. How? Basically by applying the biblical principles
outlined above for a good marriage—principles which Christians and Jehovah’s
Witnesses generally agree upon, and which form the basis of most marriage
Sometimes it is said that marriage is a fifty-fifty
proposition. But a person determined to carry out his or her marriage vows will
find that there are times when it is necessary to give 100 percent, expecting
nothing in return. The result, though, from 100 percent giving is usually a
better return than when one insists upon giving no more than 50 percent and
demands 50 percent in return.
What if there are children involved? Is there any
alternative to divorce court and a bitter custody battle? This is one of the
points that will be considered in our next chapter.