As brought out in other posts under the Domestic Violence category, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not have a good reputation when it comes to abuse in the home. While in the religion, I personally saw women being abused by JW husbands and then get blamed for it by the elders, and along with physical abuse, all forms of verbal and mental abuse of women were common.
Jehovah’s Witnesses often claim that they abhor violence against women, and will say that women are honored in their own homes. However, a closer look at their literature tells a different tale.
Encouragement to Stay
The April 2013 Awake magazine had a cover article on domestic violence, and an experience inside told the story of “Troy” and “Valerie.” Over the years, starting from before they were married, Troy beat Valerie, pistol-whipped her, and even held a knife to the throat of their son while threatening her.
It’s not said how long this went on, but it’s related that Valerie began studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses when their daughter was six, so it had to be at least several years. Valerie’s study made Troy even more violent, until he finally accepted his own study, and apparently this is what helped him to change.
Valerie is quoted as saying:
“Do not be quick to compare your situation with that of anyone else or to follow advice from people who think they know what is best for you. Although not everyone will have the same outcome, I am glad that I did not throw my marriage away, because we have been blessed with a good relationship now.”
Think about these words for a moment. Would you really call a relationship marked by life-threatening violence and child abuse a “marriage”? If Valerie had left that marriage for her own safety, or for the sake of her children, would that really be “throwing it away”?
Valerie admitted that not everyone will have the same outcome, and she is absolutely right. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, almost one-third of female homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner. In 70%-80% of these cases, the man physically abused the woman before the homicide. According to the American Psychological Association, some 3 women are killed by an intimate partner in the U.S. every day.
Chances are, Valerie meant that not everyone will have their husbands join them as Jehovah’s Witnesses, but it’s also safe to say that not every woman would even survive that long.
Blaming the Woman
One of the most disturbing accounts I’ve read in JW literature regarding domestic violence is found in the February 15, 2012, Watchtower. There, it related the story of Selma, who was married to a man who was not a JW:
Selma observes: “Even before I got the truth, living with Steve was like walking on eggshells. He was hot-tempered. When I started studying the Bible, this characteristic intensified.” … “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.
Let’s stop for a moment. Selma just told the JW studying with her that she had been physically assaulted the night before, and the woman’s response was not to ask about her well-being. The JW instead tells her to read the scripture noted above, which says, “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous. It does not brag, does not get puffed up, does not behave indecently, does not look for its own interests, does not become provoked. It does not keep account of the injury. It does not rejoice over unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
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?’
Oh, well, of course. What a woman who has just been hit by her husband needs is a lecture about her behavior, and whether or not she’s being loving to the man who’s beating her.
That’s exactly what they do at crisis centers; they immediately try to determine how you, the victim, are failing. It’s what trained psychiatrists, PTSD counselors, and other experts do; they tell you how you could be doing so much more to love the person who’s beating you. That’s the message they make sure to send, “Shame on you for not loving him more.”
No, wait, come to think of it, these ones do the exact opposite.
As a matter of fact, one problem that is common with women who stay in abusive relationships is self-blame. The man will try to justify his abuse by saying that the woman does this-or-that, and the woman will believe it, saying that she needs to try harder to keep the kids quiet, or that she “should have known” not to talk to him when he needs space, etc. This attitude of self-blame is common in abused women, and one that experts need years to undo, if they can ever undo this thinking at all.
And then along comes one of Jehovah’s Witnesses who simply reinforces that message, that you, as the woman, the one who is being abused, need to be nicer and more loving, and more concerned about your own efforts.
Realizing that I needed to adjust my thinking …
Why would Selma need to adjust her thinking? She’s not the one who hit someone, she’s not the one who is described as being “hot-tempered,” and who made others walk around on eggshells. Why does the victim of a crime need to change, and not the criminal?
I prayed to Jehovah to help me be more loving toward Steve. Slowly, things started to change.”After 17 years, Steve accepted the truth.
Seventeen years? Seventeen years? This woman continued to endure abuse for 17 more years, hoping he would change? What if he didn’t; would she have been one of those statistics mentioned above?
Seventeen years is enough time to give birth to a child and see it get old enough to drive; think about all those years, and imagine being physically and emotionally abused every day. Interesting, too, is that when Steve “accepted the truth,” this doesn’t guarantee that the abuse stopped. As said, domestic violence is far too common in JW homes, so it may very well have continued, at least to some extent, even after Steve became a Witness.
Encouraging Them to Stay
In all fairness, Jehovah’s Witnesses have said that a woman may leave a home if there is absolute endangerment to life and limb, and the book, “Shepherd the Flock of God,” the handbook for elders, says that it’s not up to them (elders) to tell someone that they cannot leave. Adultery, however, is the only grounds for divorce and remarriage, so if a woman does separate, she cannot simply marry another; also, while the “Shepherd” book says one thing, there are many personal experiences I know of elders outright telling women that they don’t have “scriptural grounds” to leave (my own mother included). It’s also noteworthy that the “Shepherd” book is not available to all members of the religion, including women; it is to be kept secret from them, for the eyes of the elders only.
It’s also worth considering the message anyone would reasonably take away from these examples. Not only will you never read of Jehovah’s Witnesses encouraging women to get out of abusive situations, but here you have ones who are lauded for putting up with a lifetime of abuse, in the hopes that their husbands will eventually come around to being Jehovah’s Witnesses. Interesting that the Awake magazine above had a cover about the end of domestic violence, but inside, rather than encouraging women to get out and protect themselves, they subtly encourage them to stay. Some religions run shelters for abused women, but JWs do just the opposite, and talk consistently about the potential rosy outcome of staying and taking your beatings, hoping the husband will one day become a Witness himself.
If the goal is to have these men become Jehovah’s Witnesses, why not just knock on their door and preach to them every few months, the way they do everyone else? Would Jehovah’s Witnesses send a man to the home of a physically violent person in order to study the bible with him, and tolerate being hit every time, in the hopes that the bible student would one day come around? Would they do this for seventeen years? Would they bring their own children and allow a knife to be held to their throat, and allow them to see this type of abuse?
If that type of scenario is so difficult to imagine, why then are Jehovah’s Witnesses expecting women to risk their lives by staying in that same situation? If the men of the organization wouldn’t dream of putting themselves at risk, week in and week out, why is this expected of the women?
Additionally, why was this woman chastised and lectured when it was someone else doing the abusing? No words of consolation or encouragement, no sympathy, no thought of even asking about her well-being, but a lecture.
Why should I, as a woman, be part of an organization that treats women with so little regard and respect, and that puts such little value on our health, safety, emotional well-being, and even our very lives? Is this really how Jehovah sees women, especially those who have been hit and assaulted and mistreated physically and emotionally? Is he really disappointed in them for how they’re not applying scripture and being loving to the person smacking them around?
Really, why should I worship this god? If this is Jehovah, why should I worship him?
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