They sat in the back of the Kingdom Hall every Sunday, the sprinkling of women hiding their bruised faces behind their hair; their weakened spirit behind their bible. I was young, and I watched these women and their tears, and their persistent attendance, and I learned from them what it was to be a woman here. It was cold, and it was painful.
The religion was a weapon, a restraint that cuffed these women to their offenders. They lost their entire existence if they protected themselves. If he cheats? Fine, leave him. Adultery is the only grounds for divorce – the bible says so. Fear for your life, end up in the Emergency Room, or take a verbal beating with his drunk, cruel words piercing into your heart night after night? Carry it. God wants you to.
The Elders are trained manipulators. They have well-scripted passages handed down to them from the Governing Body, the self-appointed rulers of the religion. They memorize these passages and use them to keep their congregation in line. One of their most powerful tactics is limiting education and career skills. There’s such a short time left on earth, why waste it improving yourself? That’s selfish. Go spread the word of God, it’s your duty. Between this and the fists, it was a rare thing for these battered women to step out of line and stand up for themselves. So, they carried it.
The women who couldn’t carry it – they were forced out, disfellowshipped. The really unfortunate ones lost custody of their kids to the abusive husbands and their posse of Elders, who have a surprisingly powerful arsenal of legal tools at their disposal.
It’s devastating to be shoved out into the world with nothing. Imagine being stripped of your belongings, your clothes and your dignity, and pushed out onto the street, naked and vulnerable. That’s what it feels like. Scared of the big, bad world you were always warned about, not sure where to go. No friends, no family, no financial help. Lost, alone, and broken. You broke the rules; God isn’t going to help you carry anything anymore.
And what about those kids? They’re raised with venomous stories whispered in their ears about the immoral mothers who abandoned them for the temptations of the world. Hey little one, isn’t it awful that your mom doesn’t want to live with you in the new system? She’s choosing the world over you!
These moms didn’t just lose custody; they lost their children to manipulative lies. They were transformed into evil monsters in their kids’ eyes, far worse than the kind under the bed. They were part of Satan’s army, now. These angry, abandoned little kids were armed with destructive words they were encouraged to voice into the receiver on rare phone visits.
It turns into something these kids have to carry later on, how they treated their own mothers. Years later they realize the heavy, violent toll their own words had on their mothers’ hearts, and they spend their entire lives trying to make up for it. Some of them do, anyway. Some of them sit in the front of the Kingdom Hall with their good Jehovah’s Witness families, avoiding eye contact with that sprinkling of defeated women who sit in the back, every Sunday.