I've been thinking a lot recently about my former faith, specifically about how incidents of domestic violence were treated and the many articles the organization published on the subject. (TW domestic violence discussion.)
My former faith tells its members that they are part of the one true religion, and as God's people, they must demonstrate this by being "no part of the world." This means no association with "worldly people," or, those who are not a part of the faith. All the structures of authority in the world are controlled by Satan and deemed "Satan's System of Things."
One way this relates to domestic violence that women and men in the faith experience is that, as a part of Satan's System, police should not be involved if someone is being abused. Those in the faith with this problem are actively discouraged from calling the police, and are told to rely on the Elders in the congregation for help or guidance.
The Elders are not trained in any way to deal with domestic violence or counselling members who have been abused or currently experience abuse.
As far as the organization's published articles on domestic violence, they all condemn it, of course, but every article provides examples of women who were beaten and managed to "adjust their thinking" to display Christian qualities that would improve their abilities to properly submit to their husbands, thereby causing their husbands to reciprocate their loving qualities.
Here is an excerpt from an article published in April 2012 regarding domestic violence: "Selma recalls a lesson she learned from the Witness who studied with her. ‘On one particular day,’ says Selma, ‘I didn’t want to have a Bible study. The night before, Steve had hit me as I had tried to prove a point, and I was feeling sad and sorry for myself.[i] After I told the sister what had happened and how I felt, she asked me to read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. As I did, I began to reason, ‘Steve never does any of these loving things for me.’ But the sister made me think differently by asking, ‘How many of those acts of love do you show toward your husband?’ My answer was, ‘None, for he is so difficult to live with.’ The sister softly said, ‘Selma, who is trying to be a Christian here? You or Steve?’ Realizing that I needed to adjust my thinking, I prayed to Jehovah to help me be more loving toward Steve. Slowly, things started to change.’ After 17 years, Steve accepted the truth."
Each article has a variation of this interview, with different people and different specifics, but the outcome is always that the abuser changes his ways once the wife is able to properly align her thinking with biblical, Christian traits.
Often the woman has a revelation that once she stopped challenging her husband, stopped nagging him and learned to be submissive, she was finally able to have a peaceful family life. The onus is always on the woman.
And if that doesn't work, the articles point out, and only in cases of extreme abuse, the wife may separate from her husband. As adultery is the only grounds for divorce, she is not allowed to divorce her husband without serious consequences from the faith. (She would be cast out and cut off from her friends and family.)
The statistics on how often a separation successfully stops domestic violence are not pretty.
If she separates from her husband, she is never allowed to remarry. She must live alone for the rest of her life, or leave the faith, meaning she would lose her friends and family. (Shunning is a standard thing, for this group.)
I joined a group on Facebook of people who used to be in my former faith and asked them if they thought DV is rampant in the religion. The response was overwhelming. Women, and some men, told horrific stories of abuse and how the Bible was used to justify it, and how, when they asked for help, the Elders counseled the DV victim to be more submissive, to be more loving, kind and thoughtful, to stop provoking their spouse to violence.
My own mother commented that during her abusive relationship, after she got out of the hospital, once, the Elders told her that the only way she would be allowed back in the congregation was if she went back to her husband. She suffered enormously for 10 years, praying for Armageddon to come so she could be freed from her marriage.
I've been thinking more and more about patriarchal religions, particularly Christian sects, and how many women have been harmed by their propaganda. I know men are victims of DV, too, but I think in these kinds of sects, the kind that victim-blame and all but tell husbands it's okay to beat their wives, the rates of women who are abused must be higher.
But with my former faith, how can I find statistics? DV is already something that isn't reported all that often, and when you have someone you trust (the Elders) telling you that you must not call the police because doing so would be a betrayal of God himself, what respectable Christian woman would do so?
As I read more and more accounts written by women who have left the faith after years of abuse, I feel heartbroken for those who are still in the faith, still in their marriages, waiting for the moment when their abusive spouses' eyes will be "uncovered by God" and realize that beating their partners is wrong.
I can't help but think of all the people right at this moment who might be praying, like my mom used to, that Armageddon will come and stop the abuse and pain that they struggle through every day.
And if nothing changes, it's always their fault.