I was raised from the age of five years old as a Jehovah’s Witness. I was baptized at age 15 because I really wanted my parents to be proud of me. They had gone through so much with my older brother and I was the middle child – the people-pleaser.
My dad married me off at 18 years of age (and 16 days) to someone four years my elder. Thinking back, I was dating a 20-year-old when I was 16! What was wrong with my parents? Needless to say, since we were only allowed to speak for 15 minutes once a day, we were not prepared for marriage and it did not last. Three years later, I cheated on him and was disfellowshipped (and pregnant). I met someone two years later who was “worldly” and got remarried nine months later. I knew if I didn’t get married I would never be reinstated. Right around that time, the movie Titanic came out. I was so worried that my children would die at Armageddon that I got reinstated right away and became The Perfect Witness.
My new husband started to beat and terrorize me regularly. Women who are raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses are not taught to recognize the signs of abuse or to stand up for themselves. They are taught to win over their husbands by being extra good wives. After all, no man would treat his wife abusively if she didn’t egg him on, right? With a non-Witness husband it was even trickier. Jehovah’s name was in play and how women react to their abusive non-Witness husbands could make Him look bad. Also, we are told that if we are not meek and submissive then our husbands might never listen to “the message” and would die at Armageddon.
After 10 years married the abuse was taking a toll on me and my three children. I poured over the JW literature trying to find an article that gave me the freedom to leave. I spoke with several elders. I prayed, and prayed, and prayed. What I found instead was experience after experience of women within the organization who were beaten and abused who stayed and were “blessed” for staying. Those blessings ranged from “after 20 years he quit beating her after every meeting and just let her attend” to “after 50 years he decided to study the bible too”. Wow what a blessing!! Never any talk about the emotional and physical toll it took to be “faithful” to Jehovah and stay in a violent marriage. And worse yet, no reprieve for the weary soul of that poor woman – for me.
According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses you can only separate for three reasons:
- not providing materially for your family (e.g. if he is just unemployed you can’t leave, however if he refuses to work you can leave);
- causes you grave spiritual harm (e.g. he won’t let you go to the meetings, or he practices spiritism in the home).
None of those things applied to me at the time so I was stuck! I was the perfect Witness after all and did not want to displease Jehovah.
Then one day I posed this dilemma to my baby brother – an elder – and he responded “yes, but there are no articles glorifying a sister who stays when her children are abused”. He gave me my ticket out.
My husband was arrested two weeks later for trying to kill me and threatening the children too. Mainly, he was arrested and now I had my ticket in hand. I would not be killed at Armageddon for calling the police! Low and behold, the blessings started pouring in. He decided in jail that he should have listened to me and to study the bible. My eyes could not have rolled back in my head any farther when I found out. After eight months of no-contact separation with him studying with the Witnesses and attending all the meetings and after much nudging from the elders we reconciled. I knew within two weeks that he wasn’t sincere. Once he was baptized though he found a new tool to terrify me- the submission rule! Thus began the long ten-year journey to the end of my rope and sad to say, part of my sanity!
In a future blog I will discuss more how the elders played a huge roll in keeping me submissive and my husband in absolute abusive power over those ten years.