*** w75 6/15 pp. 382-384 Questions From Readers ***
Questions From Readers
? If a Christian unilaterally breaks his (or her) engagement to marry, what effect would this have on such a one’s being used in an exemplary way in the congregation?Both the making and the breaking of an engagement to marry are serious steps, not to be taken lightly. Both, however, are basically private matters. There is no need for congregational elders to inquire into such matters unless a complaint is lodged with them by one of the parties or there is evidence that a number in the congregation are disturbed, with corresponding lack of respect for the one thus breaking the engagement. In some cases it may be that the ones who are disturbed need to have a clearer understanding of the principles involved.
We may note that, under the Israelite arrangement, engaged women were viewed as bound by that engagement, and if they became guilty of any infidelity, the Mosaic law provided that they should be dealt with as a married woman would be. (Deut. 22:23, 24) The Israelite man had greater freedom and could break the engagement, as Joseph of Nazareth planned to do. Matthew 1:19 relates that, after learning of Mary’s pregnancy, "being a man of principle, and at the same time wanting to save her from exposure, Joseph desired to have the marriage contract set aside quietly." (NewEnglishBible; compare Deuteronomy 24:1.) Christians, however, are not under the Law covenant, and in large areas today an engaged woman is not viewed as bound to the same extent as was the case then.
At Matthew 5:37 Jesus said: "Just let your word Yes mean Yes, your No, No; for what is in excess of these is from the wicked one." The context shows he was here counseling against the practice many had of frequently accompanying statements by an oath, regularly swearing by heaven or Jerusalem or something else. But by this warning against such excess, Jesus did not say that, when an individual realizes he or she has made a serious mistake, it is wrong to make an effort toward correcting it. Proverbs 6:1-5 speaks of the one who goes surety for another and has "been ensnared by the sayings" of his mouth, "caught" by them, and counsels that such a one should take action to deliver himself, saying: "Go humble yourself and storm your fellowman with importunities." A person who is engaged to marry may also come to realize that he or she has made an unwise step. It is a fact that during courtship prior to engagement a man or woman generally presents his or her ‘best face,’ puts his or her ‘best foot forward.’ Following the announced engagement, however, an individual may begin to let more of the real self show through. One of the two may now see serious problems that were not evident before.
In those special cases where elders do find it necessary to inquire into the matter of a broken engagement, they should be concerned with ascertaining whether the reasons for it were valid. What might be a "valid" reason? In a "Question from Readers" published in TheWatchtower of October 1, 1968, two examples were given. Consider here a few other examples. During the engagement period the woman might begin to reveal a very "bossy" attitude, not showing real respect for headship, thus giving strong evidence of being the type of person described at Proverbs 19:13; 21:9; 27:15, 16. Or, during that period, the man might participate in some serious wrongdoing, perhaps becoming drunk, engaging in some immorality or seriously dishonest act. Or one of the two might see some other definite spiritual weakness, perhaps a very strong materialistic attitude, in the other party and might conscientiously feel that to carry out the marriage could impose a serious burden on his or her spiritual strength, perhaps more than he or she feels able to carry without harm. This does not mean, however, that in every case the other person will be viewed as deficient or inferior. One may feel that the other person is a very fine individual but simply may come to realize that there are very strong differences in personality or outlook that would make the marital relationship a very difficult one for both of them. These, then, are some, but by no means all, of the serious reasons that might cause one, after careful thought and prayer, to decide for termination of the engagement. Of course, mutual agreement to break the engagement would be far preferable to a unilateral action. But it may be that the other party does not see, or even prefers to ignore, the problem that is there.
All of this emphasizes the value of not rushing into an engagement to marry but rather seeking first to get to know the other party well. Love of neighbor should prevent anyone from taking a light attitude toward becoming engaged, realizing the emotional hurt that it can bring if the engagement is broken.
In cases where an individual has lost a mate, through death or through infidelity (and Scriptural divorce), his or her emotional state may be such that there is a keen feeling of need for companionship to combat loneliness. There may be an inclination to enter into an engagement more quickly than if under other circumstances. On gaining emotional balance, the person may realize that the engagement was unwise. In the case of an elder, this might or might not reflect on his stability. The circumstances would have to be considered.
In the case, then, of one who is in an exemplary position, such as an elder or a ministerial servant, a member of a Bethel family, or other person in full-time service, the body of elders should look at the wholepicture of what the person is and not solely at the one act of terminating unilaterally an engagement. If the person’s past course shows an inclination or pattern of taking such matters lightly, then the elders might find it advisable to recommend removal from any exemplary position. They may find that the reason for the breaking of the engagement is simply that the person has allowed someone else to get his attention and interest, a course showing fickleness. If a considerable portion of the congregation gives evidence of having lost respect for such a one, this will also be given due consideration. Local attitudes and circumstances must be taken into account, since some countries or regions of the world take a much stricter view as regards such arrangements than do others.
However, if these negative factors are not present and the person has shown himself or herself to be serious, conscientious and considerate of others, the decision to end an engagement unilaterally would not necessarily call for removal from an exemplary position or a restriction of congregational privileges. Whether there are valid reasons or not for terminating the engagement will always be a determining factor.
*** w99 8/15 pp. 30-31 Questions From Readers ***
Questions From Readers
How seriously should Christians view an engagement to marry?An engagement to marry is a cause for happiness, but it is also a serious matter. No mature Christian should take an engagement lightly, feeling that he at any time can end it on a whim. The period of engagement is also a time for the couple to get better acquainted before marriage.
In discussing this topic, we need to realize that social customs involving marriage, and the steps leading to it, vary greatly in different places and times. The Bible illustrates this.
Lot’s two daughters, who had "never had intercourse with a man," were in some way engaged to two local men. Lot’s ‘sons-in-law were to take his daughters,’ yet the Bible does not tell us why or how the engagements came about. Were the daughters adults? Did they have a key voice in choosing whom to marry? Did they become engaged by taking some public step? We do not know. (Genesis 19:8-14) We do know that Jacob made his own agreement with Rachel’s father to marry Rachel after he worked seven years for him. Though Jacob spoke of Rachel as "my wife," they had no sexual relations during those years. (Genesis 29:18-21) As another example, before he could marry Saul’s daughter, David had to gain a victory over the Philistines. Upon meeting Saul’s demand, David could marry the daughter, Michal. (1 Samuel 18:20-28) Those "engagements" differed from one another and from what is common in many lands today.
The Mosaic Law had regulations about marriage and engagement. For example, a man could have more than one wife; he could obtain a divorce on various grounds, though apparently a wife could not. (Exodus 22:16, 17; Deuteronomy 24:1-4) A man who seduced an unengaged virgin had to marry her if her father agreed, and he could never divorce her. (Deuteronomy 22:28, 29) Other laws applied in marriage, such as when sexual relations were to be avoided. (Leviticus 12:2, 5; 15:24; 18:19) What regulations dealt with engagement?
An engaged Israelite woman had a different legal standing from that of an unengaged woman; in some respects she was considered to be married. (Deuteronomy 22:23-29; Matthew 1:18, 19) Israelites could not get engaged to or marry certain relatives. Usually these were blood relatives, but some engagements and marriages were prohibited because of inheritance rights. (Leviticus 18:6-20; see TheWatchtower of March 15, 1978, pages 25-8.) It is plain that servants of God were not to view engagement lightly.
Israelites were under all such regulations of the Law, but Christians are not under that Law, including its regulations about engagement or marriage. (Romans 7:4, 6; Ephesians 2:15; Hebrews 8:6, 13) In fact, Jesus taught that the Christian norm relating to marriage differed from that of the Law. (Matthew 19:3-9) Still, he did not minimize the seriousness of marriage, nor that of engagement. So, what of the topic under consideration, engagement among Christians?
In many lands individuals make their own choice as to whom they will marry. Once a man and woman promise to marry each other, they are considered engaged. Usually, no added formal step is required to establish the engagement. Granted, in some places it is common for the man to give his wife-to-be a ring to signify their engagement. Or it is customary to announce the engagement to relatives and friends, such as at a family meal or other small gathering. These are personal choices, not Scriptural requirements. What makes the engagement is the agreement by the two.
A Christian should not rush into courtship, engagement, or marriage. We publish Bible-based material that can help single individuals to decide whether it is wise to commence a courtship or to take steps toward engagement or marriage. A key element of the counsel is that a Christian marriage is permanent.—Genesis 2:24; Mark 10:6-9.
Two Christians ought to know each other quite well before they begin thinking of engagement. Each can ask, ‘Am I really sure of the other’s spirituality and devotion to God? Can I envision serving God with that one for a lifetime? Have we been adequately exposed to each other’s personality traits? Am I confident that we will be lastingly compatible? Do we know enough about the past actions and present circumstances of each other?’
Once two Christians are betrothed, it is right for them andforothers to expect that marriage will follow. Jesus admonished: "Let your word Yes mean Yes, your No, No." (Matthew 5:37) Christians who get engaged should mean it. In a rare case, however, an engaged Christian may learn that something serious was not mentioned or was concealed before the betrothal. It might be a significant fact about the other’s past, even criminal or immoral acts. The Christian coming to know of this must decide what to do. Perhaps the two will discuss the matter thoroughly and agree to continue their engagement. Or they may mutually decide to end the engagement. Though doing so may be a private matter—not something that others should intrude into, try to second-guess, or judge—it is a very weighty decision. On the other hand, the one learning of the serious issue may personally feel compelled to end the engagement, even if the other person wants it to continue.—See "Questions From Readers" in TheWatchtower of June 15, 1975.
There is good reason for resolving such issues before entering a marriage. Jesus said that the only Scriptural basis for divorce that frees one to remarry is por·nei´a, gross sexual immorality on the part of the other marriage mate. (Matthew 5:32; 19:9) He did not say that a legal marriage can be ended by divorce if one learns of a grave problem or wrongdoing that preceded the wedding.
For example, in Jesus’ day contracting leprosy was distinctly possible. If a Jewish husband learned that his mate was (knowingly or unknowingly) leprous when she married him, would he have a basis for divorce? A Jew under the Law might thus divorce, but Jesus did not say that this was fitting for his followers. Consider some modern-day situations. A man infected with syphilis, genital herpes, HIV, or another serious communicable disease might marry without revealing that fact. Maybe his infection was contracted through sexual immorality before or during the engagement. The wife’s later learning of his disease or past immorality (even of sterility or impotence) does not change the fact that they are now married. An unsavory past before the wedding is not a Scriptural basis for ending the marriage any more than if she had contracted some disease or even was concealing a pregnancy by another man when marrying. They are married now and have committed themselves to each other.
Granted, such sad situations are rare, but these examples should add emphasis to the basic point: Engagement is not to be taken lightly. Before and during an engagement, Christians should strive to get to know each other well. They ought to be honest about what the other party wants to know or has a right to know. (In some lands couples are legally required to have a medical examination before marriage. Others may want such a checkup for their own information.) Thus the joyousness and seriousness of an engagement will serve an honorable purpose as the two move toward the even more joyous and serious state of marriage.—Proverbs 5:18, 19; Ephesians 5:33.
In some societies parents still arrange for the betrothal of their children. This may be done quite some time before the two would be in a position to marry. In the meantime they are recognized as engaged, or promised to each other, but they are not yet married.
See QuestionsYoungPeopleAsk—AnswersThatWork, chapters 28-32, and TheSecretofFamilyHappiness, chapter 2, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.