This week saw the release of the December 2018 Study Edition of The Watchtower magazine. On page 10 is an article which will be studied by the Jehovah’s Witnesses at their meeting during the weeks 11-17 February 2019. Why am I singling out this article you may ask? This article is designed to show the Jehovah’s Witness position on the sanctity of marriage. What may seem to be a rather innocuous subject matter has, however, a very sinister and dangerous message within that could literally cost the lives of some Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The article entitled “Honor ‘What God Has Yoked Together'” is a study article discussing what Watchtower teaches is an “honorable marriage”. It is very disturbing to then read later in the article that what they consider to be honourable is actually dangerously life threatening.
The article defines marriage in the following way:
“The standard set in that Edenic marriage was monogamy, “the two” being joined together in a lasting union.”[1a]
Then it explains that Paul in Romans 7:1-3 shows that death ends the marriage contract and the surviving mate is free to remarry.[1b]
However, the description of marriage and wives then takes a disturbing turn. The article continues on to explain that God allowed changes to the rules surrounding marriage in the Mosaic Law given to Israel in which polygamy was allowed.
However, polygamy was regulated, prohibiting abuses. For example, if an Israelite married a slave and later took a second wife, he could not diminish his first wife’s food, clothing, and marital due. God required that he protect and care for her. (Ex. 21:9, 10) We are not under the Law, but we can still see from it Jehovah’s interest in marriage. Does that not help you to esteem marriage?[1c]
In this quote the Watchtower is attempting to make the point that, even when the rules surrounding marriage were changed to allow polygamy, the husband had to care for all his wives. The problem with this quote is that it is referring to slavery. This quote is not referring to ordinary, everyday marriage, but a contract entered into whereby the woman is the concubine of her slave master. If we look at the verses from Exodus and the context we see a very disturbing and disgusting view being expressed by the Watchtower:
“If a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not go free the same way that a slave man does. If her master is not pleased with her and he does not designate her as a concubine but causes her to be purchased by someone else, he will not be entitled to sell her to foreigners, for he has betrayed her. If he selects her for his son, he is to grant her the rights of a daughter. If he takes another wife for himself, the sustenance, the clothing, and the marriage due of the first wife are not to be diminished. If he will not render these three things to her, then she is to go free without paying any money.” Exodus 21:7-11 (New World Translation).
In this lovely little passage we see a woman being sold by her father as a slave. We see the master assigning her as a concubine because he’s “pleased” with her. We see the possibility of him giving her to his son. Please don’t be mislead by statement that she would be given the rights of a daughter, we are not talking about a woman who has chosen to join the household, but a slave. Whereas the Watchtower interprets this verse to mean that the slave/concubine is cared for and protected, the verse actually states that the husband’s responsibilities are to provide food, clothing and sex. This doesn’t sound like any sort of honourable marriage to me. Rather it seems like rules surrounding the correct treatment of a slave owner’s property.
Under the Mosaic law a wife could not divorce her husband. A divorce could only be granted by the husband, once again rendering the wife powerless.
What of divorce under the Law? God maintained his high regard for marriage; yet, as a concession he did allow divorce.(Read Deuteronomy 24:1.) An Israelite man could divorce his wife if “he found something indecent about her.” The Law did not describe what was meant by “indecent.” It must have been something shameful or serious, not some petty offense. (Deut. 23:14)[1d]
But apparently the wife didn’t have the option to divorce her husband if she found something “indecent about” him. So far all of the quotes that the Watchtower have used show their view of women as the property of a man, either her father or her husband. I fail to see how any of this shows a biblical marriage to be honourable.
Here the article explains that, according to Jesus, the only grounds for a “scriptural” divorce is adultery. They use the Bible verses Mark 10:11,12 and Luke 16:18 for this. Then they discuss how, even if a husband commits adultery and a wife would scripturally allowed to divorce him, perhaps she might consider not doing so because:
Realistically, if she got a divorce but did not remarry, she would face challenges.
What of her material and sexual needs? What about loneliness? Are there children
to consider? Would a divorce make it harder to raise them in the truth? (1 Cor. 7:14) Clearly, the divorced innocent one would face serious issues.[1e]
With the Watchtower’s archaic view of women and marriage it seems inconceivable that the wife might be quite capable of surviving without a man. There is no doubt that divorce is difficult and when a household that has been financially united is divided into separate parts there is hardship. This is especially true when there are children involved. I speak from personal experience in this regard. But the Watchtower makes no mention of a man forgiving a wife and staying married. The Watchtower makes no mention of the difficulties for the husband. The inference is clear, that a woman is too weak and vulnerable to possibly be able to live without a man, so perhaps she would be better off staying with an unfaithful partner, because he may be a cheat but at least he feeds you and the kids. Unsurprisingly, there is no mention of the fact that a large percentage of women who are also parents are often already working and earning money to support the family.
Separation for reasons other than adultery
At this point the magazine makes it clear that some who are married may need to separate for reasons other than adultery. However, the article stresses that “if sexual immorality is not involved, the goal should be reconciliation.”[1f] We are now straying into dangerous, life threatening territory as we shall soon see.
The article gives Jehovah’s Witness wives who are married to an “unbeliever” the instruction that she should still remain with her husband even though he is not a Jehovah’s Witness. Here they then talk about the possibility of such a husband being “extremely physically abusive, even to the point that she feels her health or life is in danger.” I would like to point out that the article frames this issue as if it is one mainly experienced by those whose partners are not Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is misleading and patently untrue. There is no shortage of abusive spouses within the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I cannot state that there is a higher or lower percentage of abuse that takes place within the organisation because these statistics do not exist. However, a Jehovah’s Witness husband, who views his wife as subservient to him as per the Watchtower’s teachings, is no less likely to be abusive than someone who isn’t a Jehovah’s Witness. Both my mother and my maternal aunt who were married to Jehovah’s Witnesses experienced abusive marriages and I am aware of many examples of others too.
Admittedly, there have been instances where an “unbelieving husband” seems to prove that he is not “agreeable to staying with her.” He might be extremely physically abusive, even to the point that she feels that her health or life is in danger. He might refuse to support her and the family or severely endanger her spirituality. In such cases, some Christians have personally decided that, despite what he might say, the mate is not “agreeable to staying” together and that a separation is necessary. But other Christians in comparably difficult situations have not; they have endured and tried to work at improving matters. Why?[1g]
In such a separation, the two are still marriage mates. If they lived apart, each one would face challenges, as mentioned earlier. The apostle Paul gave another reason for staying united. He wrote: “The unbelieving husband is sanctified in relation to his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in relation to the brother; otherwise, your children would be unclean, but now they are holy.” (1 Cor. 7:14) Many loyal Christians have remained with an unbelieving mate under very trying circumstances. They can testify that doing so was worthwhile in a special sense when their mate became a true worshipper.—Read 1 Corinthians 7:16; 1 Pet. 3:1, 2.[1h]
The magazine clearly states that:
- If a spouse leaves, even if their life is in danger, the children would be unclean.
- That loyal Christians have remained.
This is life-threatening, dangerous advice. An abused spouse should never be told that it is better to stay with the abuser. Then to say that the children are unclean because of such a decision is heinous. In these few words the Watchtower has put additional guilt and stress on a wife in an already precarious position. Every day women are killed by their partners due to domestic violence.
It is incumbent upon me at this point to state that domestic violence affects both men and women. Although statistically women are more likely to be victims of domestic abuse.  The reason why my article is specifically highlighting the problem faced by women is because of the doctrine of the Watchtower organisation and it’s attitude specifically towards women who are viewed as subservient to men and, therefore, in a much more vulnerable position.
An example of this is found in an article entitled Happiness Is Possible in a Divided Household from the February 2012 Study edition of The Watchtower. Here the experience of a woman named Selma is used.
Selma recalls a lesson she learned from the Witness who studied with her. “On one particular day,” says Selma, “I didn’t want to have a Bible study. The night before, Steve had hit me as I had tried to prove a point, and I was feeling sad and sorry for myself. After I told the sister what had happened and how I felt, she asked me to read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. As I did, I began to reason, ‘Steve never does any of these loving things for me.’ But the sister made me think differently by asking, ‘How many of those acts of love do you show toward your husband?’ My answer was, ‘None, for he is so difficult to live with.’ The sister softly said, ‘Selma, who is trying to be a Christian here? You or Steve?’ Realizing that I needed to adjust my thinking, I prayed to Jehovah to help me be more loving toward Steve. Slowly, things started to change.” After 17 years, Steve accepted the truth.
Here we are given an example of Selma being hit by her husband. Selma has it explained to her that it’s basically her fault for not being a good enough wife and that she’s the one who needs to “adjust” her thinking. This is wrong, dangerous and puts lives at risk. Abused wives are not to blame for being abused, it is the abusers fault.
Ironically, the Watchtower has at other times extolled the value of holding life as precious. The following is used as an example as to why taking part in extreme sports is wrong, because they are dangerous and risk life:
On the other hand, if the bull was known to be dangerous and the owner had been warned but did not keep the bull properly guarded, then if the bull gored someone, the owner of the bull would be considered bloodguilty and could be put to death. (Exodus 21:28, 29) Since life is precious to Jehovah, his Law reflected a high regard for the preservation and protection of life.
So life is precious and shouldn’t be knowingly put at risk unless you are a wife. Then, aparently, you should continue to put your life at risk because the honourable nature of marriage is more important than life itself.
In the elders’ manual Shepherd the Flock of God Chapter 4 – page 53, there are two references regarding a spouse separating from their partner for reasons other than adultery.
- The first reference is in the Keep Yourselves in God’s Love. Here, although it shows that it is possible for an abused wife to leave her husband, it quite clearly states that the elders should not instruct her to do so and the most troubling sentence for me was when the publication clearly says that at times women may exaggerate or scheme in order to get out of a marriage.
- The second reference is a 1st November 1988 Watchtower article entitled When Marital Peace is Threatened. Once again it states that separation is allowed in cases of extreme physical abuse, however, immediately points out that perhaps the victim can stop the abuse by prayer and a change in their attitude.
The Watchtower’s attitude towards domestic violence and its victims is entrenched in a weird twilight zone somewhere between the Mosaic Law’s treatment of slave/concubines, Paul’s sexist view of women, and a composite dependent Stepford Wives caricature. It is reprehensible that they are still clinging to these dangerous ideas especially since attitudes, and best practice towards victims of domestic abuse, have changed dramatically in recent years as recognition of the unique risks faced by those in abusive relationships.
Of course in all of their publications they denounce domestic violence as wrong, but this is always with the caveat that, although women could leave, they should really askthemselves if they should leave. Or, should they really change their behaviour in order to prevent being abused. This is reckless and frankly dangerous.
The Watchtower is often keen to state that “life is a precious gift from Jehovah”, but they are less keen on allowing women to take the appropriate steps to preserve their lives.
Roberto of JW Analyze kindly translated my article into Italian. It can be read here:
 Honor “What God Has Yoked Together” The Watchtower—Study Edition | December 2018 – pages 10-14
[1a] paragraph 4
[1b] paragraph 5
[1c] paragraph 6
[1d] paragraph 7
[1e] paragraph 11
[1f] paragraph 15
[1g] paragraph 17
[1h] paragraph 18
 Ex-JW Sisters
 “Women are more likely than men to be murdered by an intimate partner. Of those killed by an intimate partner, about three quarters are female and about a quarter are male. In 1999 in the United States, 1,218 women and 424 men were killed by an intimate partner, and 1,181 females and 329 males were killed by their intimate partners in 2005. In 2007, 2,340 deaths were caused by intimate partner violence—making up 14% of all homicides. 70% of these deaths were females and 30% were males.” – Wikipedia – Domestic violence in the United States – Statistics – Murder
 “The majority of victims of domestic homicides recorded between April 2013 and March 2016 were females (70%).” – Office for National Statistics – Statistical bulletin:Domestic abuse in England and Wales: year ending March 2017
 Happiness Is Possible in a Divided Household – The Watchtower—Study Edition | February 2012
 “Of course, a Christian wife would not be honoring God or the marriage arrangement if she exaggerated the seriousness of her domestic problems just to live separately from her husband, or vice versa. Jehovah is aware of any scheming behind a separation, no matter how one may try to hide it.” – The Bible’s View on Divorce and Separation – Keep Yourselves In God’s Love – p221
 “Through prayer and by displaying the fruitage of Jehovah’s spirit, the believer may be able to prevent such outbursts and make the situation endurable. ” – When Marital Peace is Threatened – The Watchtower, November 1, 1988
 Treasure the Real Life – The Watchtower – January 15, 1995 – pages 4 &5