The Domestic Violence I Saw With Jehovah’s Witnesses
One major issue that always made me doubt that Jehovah was a loving god, and that Jehovah’s Witnesses were the right religion for me, and that is the domestic violence I saw within the organization. In other posts I’ll discuss the abusive comments and statements made in the pages of the publications put out by Jehovah’s Witnesses, but in this post I want to call out the men in the organization who saw no problem with literally beating their wives, and the elders who openly condoned this practice.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in a patriarchal organization and family, meaning ruled by men. Only men are allowed positions of authority or teaching in the congregation, and men are the head of the house with absolute authority over their wives and children, who are to be obedient and submissive to him. While there are fleeting attempts made at reminding men that they are to be “loving” to their wives, abuse was very common when I was growing up, including physical abuse, verbal abuse, and mental and emotional abuse.
Along with JW men being abusive to their wives, the elders would condone this behavior by telling the wives that they were “obviously not submissive enough” to have “provoked” their husbands into hitting them, and they would then send the wives off to apologize to their husbands. In one such example I remember, a man who was an elder at the time hit his wife so that she needed to go to the hospital to get her lip stitched up. While she was there, the other elders in the congregation visited her and told her that she was obviously not submissive to him and needed to apologize to him for provoking him. While she was in the hospital. Getting her lip stitched up. In front of the doctors.
In another instance, a man who was a ministerial servant (like an elder in training) was screaming at his wife for not doing the gardening the way he wanted, and when she went in the house to use the bathroom, he became so enraged that he broke down the door and hit her while she was on the toilet. The elders handled it the same way as above, chastising her for “provoking” him and telling her to apologize.
In other words, these elders actually endorsed this practice. If your wife was not submissive, then you had every reason to hit her, even so hard that she needed a hospital visit. They made it okay to do this, and put the wife in the position of the person who had done something wrong, like a child that deserved punishment.
Along with physical abuse, verbal, mental and emotional abuse were also very common, with women being belittled, yelled at, teased, and otherwise humiliated. During one public discourse in front of an entire congregation, an elder said that if a woman who was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses had a husband who was not a JW, this was “obviously” her own fault for not being submissive and obedient enough so as to bring him into the organization. He then also shared the story that often at the end of the week, he would pull out some money to give to his wife, but if she had not been “submissive enough” that week, he would just show it to her and then put it right back in his wallet.
One elder had a conversation with me and jokingly said, with his wife standing right there, “Yeah, my wife and I always disagree on where to sit in the Kingdom Hall, but she needs to be the obedient and submissive wife and sit where I say.” He then proceeded to laugh at her, in front of me; not only was he being abusive and selfish by deciding where they would sit, but he also thought it would be fine to laugh at the fact that he was so cruel and thoughtless to her.
This abusive behavior toward women wasn’t confined just to their own homes, as women in general were openly subject to various forms of humiliating and degrading treatment. As an example, one Saturday morning I was out in their preaching work with another woman, just the two of us, and we stopped for a mid-morning break at a local fast food place where many JWs would go at that time. We had just gotten our coffee and had barely sat down when one man started walking around telling everyone it was time to leave. I kindly reminded him that we hadn’t had a chance to use the bathroom yet (there was a line; we weren’t dawdling), and he got very upset and started bellowing at me, right there in the restaurant. “Well I hope one day you learn to be more submissive when someone tells you what to do!” Keep in mind, the preaching work is voluntary, you use your own car and gas, and don’t get paid to be out. We weren’t with this man’s group but were working on our own so we weren’t delaying anyone. This man didn’t seem to care if we needed to use the restroom or that our work simply wasn’t his business; his only concern was that he was barking orders and someone wasn’t falling in line.
These are just a few examples of the domestic violence and abuse toward women I experienced with Jehovah’s Witnesses. None of these men have ever been corrected or counseled about their behavior, and none of the women were ever given apologies for this endorsement of violence toward them.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have published articles on domestic violence and abuse, and in some cases have said that it’s wrong, but as I’ll discuss in other posts, they also encourage women to stay with abusers in the hopes that he’ll see her “fine conduct” and take an interest in becoming a JW himself. Little is said about the ones who don’t live to see this big happy ending, and nothing is said about the violence and abuse that happens within their own organization.
The literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses often reminds us that “holy spirit” directs their organization. Elders pray for “guidance” all the time when in front of others, so either the religion is bereft of this holy spirit and direction, or the god they worship cares little about domestic violence and abuse. I fail to see how any religion with such a horrible track record such as theirs can claim to have this divine direction, and also fail to see how others can have any interest in a religion that endorses this type of treatment of half their members.
Please share with others. Perhaps more publicity regarding their actions might shame some Jehovah’s Witnesses into taking responsibility for this violence and abuse, and empower others to stand up to them. Thank you.