Desperate, Marilyn called a local Columbus, Nebraska attorney and asked if she could meet with him. It took over an hour for her to explain what her life had been like, particularly for the last five years. A second meeting was scheduled, and then a third. Marilyn finally summoned the courage to do what she knew she had to do. She didn’t want a divorce, knowing that adultery and death were the only two ways to end a marriage per Jehovah’s Witnesses’ rules. At the same time she did not want to live with Carter or let him reside in her house.
When the papers were served and Carter was forced to move out of the house, Marilyn heard from the elders at her Hall immediately. They wanted to meet with her right away because what she had done did not match with the Bible and their rules. The elders advised her that she would have to take him back if she expected to “stay in good standing with Jehovah.” They suggested that she and Carter should then take their problems to Jehovah God and He would help them mend their marriage.
Marilyn again asked, “So what if I take him back and he really does kill me this time? Then what?”
Tim, our brother and one of the elders, responded, “You will be resurrected in the New World.” For Tim, it was that simple. But Marilyn had the courage to stand up to him and make it clear that if that was her only option it did not sit well with her.
Tim then explained that if Marilyn did not take Carter back, the committee would not be able to actually disfellowship her. Nevertheless, the elders would be obligated to shun her whenever she attended meetings and in other social settings. It would be their way to help her see God’s great wisdom in this matter and their actions might ultimately help save her marriage and restore her standing with God.
A “Loving Arrangement”
According to the Watchtower “shunning is a loving act used to help bring rule-breakers back into God’s favor.”
I had never heard of a situation where “shunning” was an option without a person actually being disfellowshipped. I am certain that someone from Watchtower headquarters advised Tim in this matter, but no one would talk with me about it. I assumed this decision came from Bethel’s legal department, unconcerned about how poorly it would play out in the court of “worldly” public opinion. The fact was that neither Marilyn or Carter had committed adultery. Marilyn, because she feared for her life, simply did not want to live with Carter. After the elders made it clear that under their rules she couldn’t kick him out of their house, Marilyn decided to ignore their advice and used the government’s court system to remove him.
Per JWs, “Shunning” is a Loving Act to Help bring Rule-Breakers back into God’s Favor
The events of the next six months tested Marilyn’s faith as a JW. When she attended meetings with her kids, the elders and their families would not speak to her and treated her as if she was invisible. On the other hand, when Carter attended meetings he was treated as though he was the one who had been abused.
My Parents Take a Stand
My parents were the one exception. They knew what Carter was like and decided to take a stand. They wouldn’t be disfellowshipped for talking to Marilyn, but their actions were taken as an indication of a big disconnect to having a loving relationship with Jehovah. The elders removed Papa as an elder and told him that he could no longer give public talks.
My parents consulted with other respected JW members and asked their advice. They were told that there was a “loophole” – if they were willing to use it. If they moved to another congregation (there was one in Central City, forty miles away), the members at that Kingdom Hall would not shun Marilyn. Papa would still not be eligible to serve as an elder, but he could worship Jehovah as he saw fit.
Plans were made and within three months, Marilyn’s house (in spite of Carter’s protests) and my parents’ home were sold. After they purchased new homes in Central City, it appeared that the “dark side” of Carter and the unjust JW policy enforced by the elders had just been parts of a bad dream.
My family shared those events with me after the fact, and then only in dribbles and drabs. Just when I thought, “My God, can this get any worse?” I would learn of new developments.
In retrospect, I’m not sure who appalls me more: Carter? The Governing Body and their policy makers for JWs? Or my own brother Tim? Yes, they all harmed my sister, but it was Marilyn’s son and daughter who would bear the brunt of the resulting emotional damage.
Mama knows the damage that was done to Marilyn’s children is irreparable, but somehow she is able to live with that fact. It’s because Mama believes that in the New World Marilyn’s kids will eventually grow back to perfection, their childhood trauma will be forgotten, and they will live forever on a paradise earth. She accepts that they were inconvenienced in this lifetime, but feels that for them it will be well worth the wait.
Our Trip to Nebraska
When I met Marilyn at her Columbus home in August of 1991, I knew that she and Carter were separated. But I had no idea of the ordeal that she had gone through or would yet encounter.
Shortly after Helen and I checked into our Columbus motel, I called to get directions to Marilyn’s house. As we drove to her home, we passed the Kingdom Hall on Highway 81, the very same Hall I had attended from 1959 to 1962. Many unpleasant memories were flooding my mind when suddenly I noticed Carter mowing the lawn. He did not see us, but I wondered what he might do if he knew we would soon be meeting and spending time with his children.
Marilyn knew we were coming and stood on her lawn, jumping up and down as we parked the car in front of her house. Tears were streaming down her face. We had been separated for over fourteen years. The joy I felt during that initial hug she gave us cannot be put into words and I cry every time I try. Neither of us wanted to let go. Finally she said, “Please come in. I want you to meet my kids.” That, too, was an emotional experience and very difficult to describe.
First, I picked up Edith, a plump, smiling little girl, as pleased to see me as I was to see her. Whatever Marilyn had told Edith about me had to be very good. Edith was the spitting image of Marilyn at that same age, just bigger boned. But she had a severe stutter and it took her forever to say anything. I knew that no one is born a stutterer. Something had happened, possibly something Carter may have done.
Marilyn then dragged me into Martin’s room. A very handsome boy with curly hair, he looked like I imagined Papa as a child. He knew we were there, but he was more interested in finishing the painting project he was working on. I suspect that we could have walked out of the room and he would not have noticed, but I decided to sit down next to him and asked if I could help. He looked up and seemed pleased that I wanted to help him. Suddenly he decided we were friends and did not want me to leave.
After playing with Martin for several minutes, I excused myself because I knew Marilyn wanted to show me her house. As she directed the tour, she told me that she had called my parents and our sister Susan. They were on their way, looking forward to seeing me after all these years, and would join us for dinner. I had been excited about connecting with Marilyn, but I was uncertain about how I would feel about meeting with my parents. They hadn’t spoken to me for the past ten years.
When Mama and Papa walked into the house, they were as excited as I can ever recall. Mama rushed to hug me, saying how happy she was to see me. I looked older, she said, but as handsome as ever. Papa seemed just as pleased to see me and kept asking how I was doing. No tears were shed and I was ambivalent about the whole thing. After all, Mama told me ten years before that unless I decided to love Jehovah as she did, she would never talk to me again. Here she was acting like nothing had ever happened. I had no idea why she could now greet or share a meal with me.
I remember eating that dinner – a meal Marilyn had worked long and hard to prepare. Her over-cooked chicken was hard to chew and tasteless, the vegetables bland, the potato was hard as a rock, and the salad mediocre. It seemed bizarre that Marilyn and my parents belonged to a cult that made it a big-time “crime” to eat food with people like Helen and me. But for this one occasion they decided to break the rule and I’m thinking, “My God, they couldn’t dish up a better meal than this?”
Our conversation during dinner was just general chit-chat and table talk that works with strangers, but not for people who were at one time immediate family. I was unnerved by it, although Marilyn and my parents appeared oblivious to this disconnect. I wanted to have one-on-one heart-to-heart chats with both Marilyn and Mama; those conversations happened later that evening and the next day.
How totally different those two conversations turned out to be…