reprint of the Mar/Apr 1993 Free Minds Journal

Should I Divorce My Jehovah's Witness Mate?

by Randall Watters

One of the more difficult issues facing a divided household where one of the marriage partners is a Jehovah's Witness is the subject of divorce. Child custody issues often follow. Even the Watchtower acknowledges the increase in court appearances on family issues involving a non-Witness mate. The Awake! of 9/22/92, p. 11 says,

One court to which some of Jehovah's Witnesses have increasingly been delivered is the family court. In Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Norway, the United States and other countries, a small group of opposers have tried to make religion the key issue in determining child custody issues when faithful Witnesses of Jehovah are divorced by unbelieving mates. Just because they were Jehovah's Witnesses, Witness parents have lost custody of their children.

The truth of the matter is that religion really IS the key issue in most of these divorce and custody cases. Why so? The reasons a non-Witness mate of a JW seeks divorce are:

(1) The children are being forced to go to the Kingdom Hall and/or out in the door-to-door work,

(2) The children are taught that mommy/daddy is going to be destroyed at Armageddon for their lack of love for God,

(3) The Witness spouse is emotionally/physically unresponsive to the non-JW mate, even going so far as to say they are "spiritual enemies" (very common),

(4) Both partners are JWs and then one leaves the organization, often because they discover it is a cult. The other views them as an "apostate," unworthy of respect and attention.

While there are other reasons, these appear to be the most common. It is easy for us to practice armchair counseling when it comes to these matters, giving pat answers to those who have been suffering over this issue for perhaps years already. It would be better to empathize with the person, feeling their struggle, before attempting to give advice in the matter. Let's look at these reasons listed above one by one.

(1) Typically, the husband is the JW and insists on the kids going to the Hall, while the wife is home or goes to church. Sometimes the wife gets equal time in taking the kids to church, though this arrangement usually doesn't last long. Since the weekly messages given at the Kingdom Hall are quite antagonistic towards churches, the kids get confused and resist going to any religious services or side with the "rebel" cause (the Watchtower) against the established churches. Siding with dad may have more advantages than siding with mom, as well. Mom begins to wonder if divorce and obtaining custody of the children is the lesser of two evils, at least to prevent the children from losing out on life, if not for her own sanity.

(2) What can be worse for mommy (or daddy) than her own children drawing away from her, because she is evil? Children are generally not capable of understanding the subtleties of such a complex situation, and tend to see things as black and white. The Witness father promotes such a view as well, implying the mother is morally corrupt. The emotional pressure on the mother becomes too great to bear, and she must make a choice.

(3) I know of a couple who have been married for over 20 years where the husband is a Christian and the wife is a JW, and they manage to get along. Yet, the wife has plainly stated that her husband is her "spiritual enemy." How many people can be expected to live for years under such circumstances? Could you? What if the JW cut off their affections, sexual interest and attention from the non-Witness mate? Could you survive?

(4) When one mate leaves the JWs and the other doesn't can be the most difficult situation of all, since the WT attacks such ones as apostates and fighters against God. There is no "honorable" way out of the WT in their eyes, so such a one is automatically evil for "leaving Jehovah." If you viewed your mate as "evil," how normal would your relationship with him/her be? So whether the Watchtower likes it or not, the issue is indeed a religious one in most cases. Due to their extreme position regarding outsiders, divorce is often unavoidable.

Should you divorce your JW mate? Only you can make such a difficult decision. If the situation is tolerable to you, and you love your mate, the words of Paul may apply, "For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?" 1 Cor. 7:16.

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