reprinted from the Mar/Apr 1990 Bethel Ministries Newsletter

Families Broken Apart by Jehovah's Witnesses: Can They Be Restored?

by Randall Watters

Jim and Cathy were happily married for 14 years. They have three children, Beth (12), Andrew (11) and Toni (9). Jim did not object when Cathy started having "Bible studies" in their home with the Jehovah's Witnesses. He thought they were just another Christian denomination. Three years later, she was divorcing him and seeking custody of the children. Cathy had become a Jehovah's Witness, and was determined that her children would be brought up in what she referred to as the "discipline and mental regulating of Jehovah," but her husband called it mind control.

Across the nation and rapidly increasing in other countries, families are being broken up by one partner's involvement in the Jehovah's Witnesses. In some cases the non-Witness seeks the divorce, in many others the Witness is encouraged to divorce after the non-Witness mate begins to attack her faith and criticizes what the Witness calls "God's organization."

Why does one's husband or wife suddenly decide to become a Jehovah's Witness? Why does their personality change so quickly and ominously? What can the other mate do to hold the marriage together, and to help get their mate out of this religion? Let's examine a few helpful hints.

The Initial Contact

People become Jehovah's Witnesses for a number of reasons. For those who have a legitimate hunger for God, the Witnesses appear to resemble what many think Christianity should be: members do not smoke, they dress modestly, they attend religious services several times a week, they share their faith with others. Furthermore, they shun "worldly" activities and parties (supposedly). They read the Bible and study religious subjects almost daily, they do not go to war, and they talk about a world where there will be no more pain and suffering. For this reason alone the Witnesses are appealing to many.

Others may have not-so-noble reasons for getting involved. Loneliness, resentment towards one's church or family (yes, some get involved out of rebellion to their upbringing!), and even a desire for power and authority over others can be strong factors in one's getting involved. Cults often enable one to be somebody in a world where they have been a "nobody," due to their socio-economic status, their personality weaknesses or their lack of opportunity.

Housewives often invite the Witnesses in because they may be lonely, they crave spiritual things and/or have been spiritually unfulfilled. Perhaps they no longer feel loved by their husbands and they need something to help them cope with life. In many cases, the sudden conversion of a family member or friend may be all it takes to start a person on the "road to paradise," a road that may very well destroy their lives and the lives of their family and relatives over the next few years.

The Family Reacts

"What could be the harm in studying the Bible?" asks the housewife, as her husband is beginning to lose his temper. Cathy had been away from church for years, angry over the hypocrisy she noticed in her last church that she had attended for five years. Since she had been away from Christianity, she found it hard to cope with raising three children and with a husband that worked 60 hours a week to feed them. The Witness ladies who came by were so pleasant, so interested in her welfare! She could always back out if she didn't like it, and they said there was no obligation. Soon Jim didn't see it that way, however, and he was determined (by forceful persuasion) to stop Cathy from even talking to the Witnesses. "They'll brainwash you!" Jim roared. Cathy laughed nervously, afraid of saying too much. She didn't want to tell him that she was even going to meetings every other week, and would be going door-to-door soon! Jim would go through the roof if he knew. She had better be cool.

Jim's reaction was typical. Many people have heard that Jehovah's Witnesses are a cult, but they cannot seem to tell others why. All have heard stories of Jehovah's Witnesses' stand on blood transfusions, not voting or defending their country, and their believing in the end of the world any day, even predicting the year for Armageddon a few times. Though the person who starts studying with the JWs usually cannot appreciate it, this is the most natural reaction of family members to one's involvement with a cult. Being taught that this is the first sign of "persecution for Jehovah's sake," however, the Witness does not seem to grasp the obvious, and begins to either withdraw or to lash out against their mate.

Few of the mates of the one who begins involvement with the Witnesses will handle the situation with tact and care. Not knowing the methods of mind control cults and how to circumvent them, they react with strong emotions, often alienating their mate at the most critical time. Only later (out of desperation) do they talk to an expert in mind control methods. That's why the need for education in this field is critical.

Why Some Divorce

"I'm getting a divorce!" said Cathy as she stormed out of the house, on her way to pick up the kids from school. Jim refused to let her take the kids to the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses, saying that he "would rather they become atheists!" than to become Jehovah's Witnesses. Jim was over-reacting; he was brought up in a Methodist Church, and really did believe in the God of the Bible. He was getting increasingly frustrated, though. The local minister had been no help, and Jim was getting angry with God for allowing this "cult" to split up his family after several years of what he considered a happy marriage. He felt like blowing up the Kingdom Hall! (which, by the way, has happened before).

The local elders in the Kingdom Hall sympathized with Cathy. They had faced this before on numerous occasions. Many husbands, upon finding out about their wives studying with the Witnesses, become infuriated. The elders knew just what to say to Cathy (he is persecuting you for Jehovah's sake; he doesn't love the truth), as well as how to keep her from being swayed by others (you should be at all the meetings and go door-to-door; don't listen to the enemy when he puts doubts in your mind!). Other housewives who had lost their husbands years before were available at the Hall to console Cathy and to encourage her to "put Jehovah above all else."

Yes, Cathy did have doubts. All persons studying with the Witnesses start out with doubts. What if it IS a cult? Is it worth it to lose my family? For my children to lose their father? Does God really want me to join this organization? What if they are well-meaning but deceived? For Cathy, the pressure from both sides had become tremendous: common sense on one hand telling her something was wrong, but the fear of God destroying her at Armageddon on the other hand prevented her from entertaining nagging doubts. Sooner or later she had to resolve the "dissonance" in her soul. She had to make a choice, and she apparently just did. She was leaving Jim and taking the kids with her, even if it killed her. She was tired of his unreasonable nature and his anger that drove her to tears. Besides, how could she serve Jehovah married to an unbeliever? Even the elders in the Kingdom Hall understood, and said they would be willing to keep the kids when necessary. Jim could do whatever he wanted, but their blood would not be on her hands at Armageddon!

Child Custody

Many Witness kids do not remain Witnesses by the time they reach their late teens. Growing up in the Watchtower has been likened by some to "growing up in a small Western town, miles from nowhere, with nothing to do. All you see is sagebrush and cactus, and anything fun to do is always bad." Many of these kids manage to escape, but not always to a more wholesome environment! Plagued by guilt and the fear of dying at Armageddon, they stumble through life like lost children until someone is able to help them understand what it means to be a victim of a mind control cult. If they do find such a person, they are indeed lucky! It is not likely they will find such a person in the average church. They are few and far between.

Knowing this, it seems ironic that many mates seeking divorce would want to raise their children as Witnesses! But, alas, they have not heard such stories. They hear only good things in the Kingdom Hall. "Apostates," those who leave the Watchtower for any reason, are off limits!

Due to the increase of child custody cases in recent years, the Watchtower has prepared a booklet, Preparing For Child Custody Cases, that trains their children what to say in such proceedings. The booklet cannot be purchased at the Kingdom Hall, but is only available to those who ask the Society for it who are undergoing such court cases.

"Theocratic tact" (the deceptive way the Witnesses present themselves to outsiders) is used in court to sway the judge. Witness children are presented as models of good behavior, with a wide variety of interests in the arts and school activities, as well as desiring a good education. This is all a lie of course, since Witness children are instructed that competitive sports are bad, seeking any kind of popularity through school or community activities is bad, college is off limits, and hobbies should be kept to a minimum, since the door-to-door sales activities are the most important thing in life! One cannot survive Armageddon or even be counted as a Jehovah's Witness unless one regularly spends time selling Watchtower literature (or as they call it, "placing" literature). Children are to attend all meetings, and have to sit with the adults. They cannot move, chew gum, color pictures, or talk. Even going to the restroom is strongly discouraged! None of this information may reach the judge's ears, however. "Worldly people just do not understand us," the Witness would say in defense of using their "theocratic tact."

Counseling Important

Few of the mates of those getting involved with the Witnesses are willing to lose their marriage over it. Many of those who end up in divorce just didn't know what to do; they felt helpless and hopeless. Though some say every person has a free will and we shouldn't force our view on them, it should be recognized that those getting caught up in the JWs are victims of specific mind control tactics, and do not actually operate under a "free will." If they were able to see the situation a little more objectively and weigh all sides of the issue, they would almost always reject the Watchtower! This seldom occurs, however, due to (1) an inability to get them to think objectively, and (2) the lack of good information about the JWs. While the latter can be dealt with rather easily (see our publications list!), the former requires someone to talk to and/or work with who knows how to open up the minds of those in cults.

A good place to start is in your own church or community. Ask around for those who deal with cults. I don't mean just those who print or distribute information about cults (they are plentiful), but those who have a successful record of dealing with members of cults directly. Ask them how many active members of cults they have rescued. If no one is available locally, a call to a ministry such as this one will be helpful. (Along with this issue we are printing a list of ministries to JWs in the U.S.) If one wants to go all the way, one can hire an exit-counselor who specializes in getting people out of cults.

One should also not neglect seeing a marriage counselor, especially if they have had experience with couples who have religious differences. (Many divorces over "religion" are really not about religion at all. Their relationship simply came to a head, and the religious issue was convenient.) Seek marriage counseling, preferably from a Christian perspective if at all possible. Often a good counselor will help each person to see the other more objectively and with a little more love and understanding.

What to Do, What NOT to Do

Here are a few guidelines to remember: