Ask a Former JW: JW Gramma Won’t Participate in Church Wedding

Ask a Former JW: JW Gramma Won’t Participate in Church Wedding

I will be married soon. Upon telling my Grandmother (a 40+ year JW), I was informed that she can’t come if it’s held in a church. My grandmother told me I was being selfish for not holding the service someplace where everyone can attend. Any advice on how to make her understand that she is more than capable of walking into a church?? Do you know of any biblical references in HER bible that I can refer her to? (edited somewhat for reasons of privacy)

It’s your wedding. You do what you want to do, whatever is most meaningful to you and your future husband. You are not being selfish. It’s your day, not hers.

If she doesn’t feel that she can participate, witness, and help cement your matrimonial bond, then she just isn’t part of that community and network who will be there for you. That is her choice, not your choice. She doesn’t get to dictate what kind of wedding you and your future husband decide to have.

On the other hand, don’t take it personally – she would be disciplined if anyone found out she had come to your church wedding. It’s JW policy not to participate in any sacraments of any religion or to set foot inside any church or other religious building. Wedding vows, if held in a church, are off-limits, and so are baptisms and funerals.

It is unlikely that you will be able to convince her to act against the JW dictates on this, especially since they all had big assemblies this summer on the importance of submission and obedience to their local elders (as well as to the governing body in Brooklyn, who they believe are directly inspired and will rule with the Christ after Armageddon).

Entering the church is the problem – they firmly believe that all other religions are part of “Babylon the Great,” “the great Christendom,” that is to say, that they are ruled by demons.

Since the issue is really about location, an alternative would be to invite her just to the reception – sometimes Witnesses will do that (although she won’t throw rice – it has a “pagan” origin). Have a video camera recording and sending the image outside, or have someone hold a cellphone so she could hear. That’s all you can do if you are inclined to be accommodating.

As a practical matter, there is another option for how to handle the situation. If you just want to save yourself some aggravation, and the wedding in the church happens to be your fiance’s desire, then she will respect that. The man is the head of the household, even before you are married. Whether you particularly agree with the idea of the man as the God-appointed boss or not, it will put an end to the discussion and accusations of selfishness. I’m not suggesting that you fob it off on him (although with his agreement on the matter, a joint action on this might be helpful).

You ask for bible verses from their translation of the bible. It might be better to get her to try to explain to you from the bible why she can’t come to the wedding. Any such reading would have problems that you could probably point out to her.

I doubt that it will make any difference even if you had every verse memorized and delivered a flawless argument. Even if she can bring herself to hear you out, she would probably go to “check” with a brother or elder. Independent thinking is also against her religion – she will say this with a straight face and in all authenticity.

Nonetheless, these did occur to me.

Matthew 22:8 “The marriage feast indeed is ready, but those invited were not worthy.”

Ok, that’s not very nice. Part of the problem is that the early Christians didn’t have church weddings (or churches), but open wedding feasts. It would have to be a general principle.

Perhaps the strength of faith that allows you to eat food sacrificed to idols? No, it goes on to say that it might affect those with weaker faith to see you do it. Ok, now I’m just curious…

Jesus attended a marriage in Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-11) with his mother – where he turned water into fine wine in response to her noticing that the wine had run short. He first rebuffed her, saying “What Have I to do with you, woman? (literally, “What to me and to you” meaning, according to their annotated bible, an idiom of repellent question indicating objection) My hour has not yet come.” But then his mother orders the ones “ministering” (that’s the word they use) to do “whatever he tells you.” He tells them to fill the jars with water. When they brought some to the “director” of the wedding to taste, he compliments the bridegroom on holding the best wine in reserve – the opposite of custom. Why did Jesus turn the water into wine, although he had no obligation and it wasn’t his time? Perhaps because it was an important occasion for his mother? He told her that it had nothing to do with him, but then… he did it. Why? Kindness? Love? Possibly.

The only other scriptural resource I can think of that might mean anything was the kind of faith represented by Paul. It presents a lot of their language but a counterexample to their obsession with keeping themselves “clean.” They are very concerned about the dangers of contaminating themselves with anything false, worldy, or of “non-believers” (all but JWs), and understand themselves as obedient slaves. You could read this and argue that she could be a greater slave to the good news of the kingdom by exhibiting the fruits of the spirit to non-JWs in the family: attending and showing her love, compassion, loving-kindness, and so on, showing them that she is not hostile to them and setting a good example on how the faithful behave in love. The idea will be foreign, but who knows?

1 Corinthians 9:19-23
“For, although I am free from all persons, I have made myself the slave of all, that I may gain the most persons. And so to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews; to those under law I became as under law, though I myself am not under law, that I might gain those under law. To those without law I became as without law, although I am not without law toward Christ that I might gain those without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak. I have become all things to people of all sorts, that I might by all means save some. But I do all things for the sake of the good news, that I may become a sharer of it with [others].”*

*To see some translator differences I recommend a parallel bible, which lists each verse as it is translated in different versions of the bible. Here is an online one, and I’ll start you at the right verse. In this case, notice in particular the alternatives to the word “slave” as well as the different translations of the last phrase. I would guess that the sense of the last bit might really be closer to the idea of having a share, partaking in the good news, rather than sharing it with others. Nonetheless, their own translation puts the emphasis on being close to others on their own terms – an idea that they use in the door to door work, but not much for kinship ties.


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