Family and Community
Jehovah’s Witnesses place great emphasis on family life and on raising children within the faith. They believe that marriage is a sacred and permanent bond and that by following Biblical principles, one can have a happy and long-lasting marriage. These Biblical principles include adherence to the authority of the husband in a patriarchal family dynamic: “A husband is head of his wife” (Ephesians 5:23), but must treat her as Christ treats the congregation and to love her “as his own body” (Ephesians 5:25, 28–9); “Wives, be in subjection to your own husbands” (1 Peter 3:1). A happy marriage depends on accepting these God-given roles, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Nevertheless, Witnesses view this not as gender inequality but as gender complementarity. They believe that God created Eve not merely as a helper for Adam, but as a “complement of him” (Genesis 2:18). Together, the couple are made complete and can satisfy each other’s emotional and sexual needs. Together, they can fulfil the divine commission to have children and populate the earth.The Jehovah’s Witnesses produce a great deal of literature on the topic of keeping a happy marriage, with advice and guidance from managing money, managing relatives, when children are born, how to cope with tragedies, and more. There is also a great deal of guidance available on raising children and teenagers. Children are expected to obey their parents but emphasis is placed on discussion, with parents encouraged to explain their values and decision-making. Great emphasis is placed on inculcating the ‘right’ values in children, and parents should be the primary role models for this. Children should not be overpraised or overprotected and should be encouraged to help with chores around the home. Parents should practice ‘loving discipline’ which relates to ‘instruction, education and correction’, not punishment.
Stress is placed on worshipping together as a family with most families spending at least one evening a week together in family worship. Spiritual activities should be placed ahead of entertainment and relaxation activities, according to Witness literature.
The moral education of children thus happens primarily in the family context. As mentioned above, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not run organised, segregated children’s education services comparable to Sunday school in other denominations, nor do they have their own schools. Instead Jehovah’s Witness children normally attend ‘mainstream’ schools where they participate in most of the curriculum except for assemblies or lessons which incorporate any element of ‘collective worship’; RE teaching which resembles interfaith work; any celebrations of religious festivals including ‘Christian’ festivals such as Easter and Christmas; and some aspects of sex education. During these lessons, Jehovah’s Witness children are usually taken out of the class. Also they do not usually take part in extra-curricular activities, both because spiritual activities are prioritised and because competitiveness, such as in the majority of sporting activities, is discouraged. Some families may make a personal decision to home school their children.
Whilst importance is placed on the family unit, there are also married Witnesses who choose not to have children in order to ‘give their full attention’ to full-time ministry, either as missionaries or working at Bethel. The belief that we are in the ‘end times’ can add to both a reluctance to bring children into an evil world and a sense of urgency with spreading the Witnesses’ message. Some Witnesses who have decided not to have children, “consider the possibility of bearing children in Jehovah’s righteous new world.”
The majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses do not attend university, but rather take up trades after school or college.