She was such a nice sister. I was particularly impressed by the way she read from the Psalms. Her strong emotional attachment to God was obvious by the inflection in her voice when she read. She always brought her son with her to the meetings. He must have been about 5 or 6 at the time. She had enrolled him in the ministry school and often helped him prepare his talks. I frequently wondered where the boy’s father was. One day my curiosity overcame me and I asked one of the Elders about the situation with her husband. I was told that he was baptized but that he very rarely attended meetings. I thought to myself that he certainly had the right to decide if he wanted to come to meetings or not; but I still found it somewhat discomforting that the family was not together at the meetings. I also knew for a certainty that the sister was deeply distressed about it; I could see it on her face many times. It was that look - that smiling depression - that gave her true feelings away.
I knew the Witnesses often spoke of the Kingdom Hall as an "ark of salvation." But that never made much sense to me until I got to see how this sister was affected by that reasoning. It was as if I could read her thoughts by the expressions on her face. Certainly she was thinking, as most witnesses do, that if her husband did not return to the Hall soon and be active in the work that he would die at Armageddon, which was always just around the corner. As time went on I could see that she was getting worse and worse with each passing meeting. The mind-set of the Witnesses was gradually taking its toll on her.
At each meeting the Witnesses are reassured that they are doing "the right thing" by coming to meetings and being active in field service. The Witnesses are taught from their youth up that these works are the foremost responsibility in the life of each Witness, and that it is by doing these things that one gains approval from God. This mind-set has no effect on married couples so long as both partners attend the meetings and participate in the witnessing work together. However, it is an entirely different situation for "divided households," which is the term used to describe those in situations like the sister here under consideration.
While the reinforcement that a "united couple" gets from meeting attendance and field service serves to strengthen their commitment to the work, it has just the opposite effect on a member from a divided family. This became more and more apparent to me as I watched this sister go to pieces. Her mind was being tormented by her belief that her works were assuring her salvation at Armageddon, while at the time those very works were condemning her husband to a certain death. She often got encouragement from many Witnesses to keep up her efforts and not to let her husband pull her away from "the truth". The truth of course being the assured salvation that results from frequent visits to "the ark."
I, for my part, had a great deal of trouble reconciling such reasoning, because I knew it didn’t conform to what I understood from scripture. I always believed that salvation was a free gift and works had nothing to do with it. I learned this when I was a Baptist, and for some reason I never let it go even after I became a Witness.
One day I heard that the sister had moved out and was separated from her husband. I new this was a violation of a scriptural principle but I reasoned that she couldn’t stand the strain anymore and had just given him up for dead. I was really saddened about this matter as I thought that the sister should have stayed home with her husband instead of coming to meetings. My understanding of scripture was that a wife’s duty was to her husband first and not to following some form of a law code like that set forth by the Witness Organization. I was often "rebuked" by elders for my reasoning on this but I paid them no mind because none of them could show it to me from scripture. Why couldn’t the sister just stay with her family at home and tell people about Jesus at work during the day, or on the bus on the way home, or anywhere for that matter?
After the sister moved out on her own she had to take another job in order to support herself. As a result of this she missed many meetings. Latter, I saw her at an assembly and she looked worse than I had ever seen her before. But that look - the smiling depression - it was still on her face. The elders would pay her a visit once in a while, maybe every 3 months or so; but she was clearly "marked" by now. The Witnesses will quickly mark or label anyone who violates a scriptural principle regardless of whether they themselves are the cause of it or not. I learned this when I started taking courses in Biblical Hebrew at a local college. After I was able to translate I pointed out errors in the New World Translation. That got me marked rather quickly. I then learned that most Witnesses think that the translation of their Bible was inspired by God himself even though the society does not make this claim.
Some time later I heard the announcement that the sister was dissfellowshipped. I thought to myself how terrible this was. While I was taking Hebrew I learned about a whole pattern of verbs in the Hebrew, 1 of 7, that addresses causative action. I then came to know that it was the mind-set of the Witnesses that had slowly caused this whole thing to occur. The sister was disfellowshipped for adultery. She had taken up living with another man while she was still legally married to her first husband. It often takes in excess of 1 year in my state in order for a divorce to be finalized. I reasoned that she was so desperate that she just needed someone. And I was certain that someone, "a worldling," was now taking better care of her than the organization could ever do. I thought to myself, "She reaped what she sowed when she forsook her husband for the meetings." And, again, "She reaped what she sowed when she was dissfellowshipped for breaking a rule." Yet I was never deterred in my reasoning that God will be merciful on her.
Simple fact is a man was created with the need for a women, and a women was created with a need for a man. Yet the mind-set of Watchtower doctrine does not allow for a relationship to thrive between a man and a women without the Watchtower being involved. I recall that it was just some 20 years ago or so that the Governing Body was even involved in what goes on in the marriage bed! I, for my part, would never marry a woman who is a Jehovah’s Witness; as the scripture says, "Marry only in the Lord." Yet when the Watchtower quotes this verse they mean, "Marry only in the Watchtower."
George J. Parrish Jr.