Questions From Readers
● Is it proper for a married woman to leave her husband if they cannot get along well? Why did the wife of the first president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, C. T. Russell, leave him?—U.S.A.
The Bible does not encourage divorce or separation simply because a husband and his wife are not getting along well. Under inspiration the apostle Paul wrote: “To the married people I give instructions, yet not I but the Lord, that a wife should not depart from her husband; but if she should actually depart, let her remain unmarried or else make up again with her husband; and a husband should not leave his wife.”—1 Cor. 7:10, 11.
So rather than resort to separation when difficulties arise in the marriage, a Christian woman ought to do everything that she can to work toward a better, more loving relationship with her husband. Appreciating marriage as God’s institution and gift to mankind, she should want to make her marriage work out to the praise and honor of the Giver, Jehovah God. She should be careful never to give her husband any reason to want to leave, for the unbeliever should be able to see that true Christianity is responsible for making his marriage mate a more loving, kind, considerate and understanding wife. This would be in harmony with the counsel given by the apostle Peter: “In like manner, you wives, be in subjection to your own husbands, in order that, if any are not obedient to the word, they may be won without a word through the conduct of their wives, because of having been eyewitnesses of your chaste conduct together with deep respect.”—1 Pet. 3:1, 2.
At times, however, despite the fine conduct of his Christian wife, an unbeliever insists on leaving her. In that case, should the believing wife strive to prevent her husband from departing? Or should a Christian husband hinder an unbelieving wife from leaving him? No. The Bible tells us: “If the unbelieving one proceeds to depart, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not in servitude under such circumstances, but God has called you to peace.”—1 Cor. 7:15.
At times it may happen that a wife who claims to be a Christian leaves her believing husband. The husband may keenly regret the separation and may rightly hope for a reconciliation. But what if the wife’s departure is over the issue of husbandly headship or a disagreement over some other Biblical principle?
In that case the Christian husband recognizes that he cannot compromise his position as family head or make any concession that would be contrary to the Scriptures in order to bring about a reconciliation. A Christian husband is under divine command to reflect God’s glory. For him to abandon his position of headship would mean shaming the head of the Christian congregation, Jesus Christ, and dishonoring Jehovah God.—Compare 1 Corinthians 11:3-7.
C. T. Russell appreciated his Scriptural position as husband, as is evident from his handling of matters in connection with his wife. In a letter to a personal friend in England, dated December 27, 1899, he explained why his wife had departed and also expressed his feelings about it, saying:
“Our dear Sister Russell became afflicted with the same malady which has smitten others—notably those mentioned in the pamphlet, ‘A Conspiracy Exposed.’ Their difficulty was the same as that of the great Adversary in the beginning—ambition, and a desire to subvert matters in order to gratify that ambition.
“It is over twenty years since we were married, and for thirteen of those years Sister Russell was all that could be asked of a loving, noble, true helpmate, and at the time of the conspiracy she was still in this attitude to such an extent that she voluntarily made a trip through several states on the track of S. D. Rogers, correcting his slanderous statements. But the ambitious spirit which already had begun to work was fanned quite to a flame by the very warm reception which was accorded to our dear sister on the occasion above mentioned. She seemed to forget that she was received, not merely for herself, but also as a representative of the Lord’s work, and as the representative of her husband.
“She returned from that trip very self-conscious, and in that respect very different from what she had been previously—especially for the first ten years of our married life. This spirit seemed to grow stronger instead of less, until about four years ago, when she began to ‘strike’ for the gratification of her ambition. You will remember that it is nearly four years since at her request her name was dropped, as associate editor, and thereafter attached to any articles which she might write in the WATCH TOWER. The next move was to insist upon more space, and upon liberty to write what she pleased, which should not have any correction or criticism. This lasted awhile, until I told her, kindly but plainly, that I could not think it to be the Lord’s will to encourage her to take any part in the work so long as she manifested so ambitious a spirit. From that date nothing was published from her pen.
“Her next move was to seek to compel me to give her space, etc., or what she termed her proper liberties to use her talents. To this end she called two brethren to meet me, after the manner of Matt. 18:15. She was wholly disappointed in the results, for the brethren told her plainly that to their understanding the question she raised was entirely outside their jurisdiction, or that of any others; that so far as her judgment would guide them the Lord had not erred in putting matters into the hands of Brother Russell, and if he at any time saw fit to change the arrangements he was abundantly able to do so, and that they could only advise her to the contrary of her wishes, much as they regretted this disappointment of her exaltation.
“The next step of Sister Russell and her (natural) sisters was to organize a women’s crusade against me in the Allegheny congregation. The result was a considerable stirring up of slander and misrepresentation, for of course it would not serve their purposes to tell the plain unvarnished truth, that Sister Russell was ambitious, etc. You can readily understand my position; as a man I would be at a disadvantage, and the slanders proceeded without my being able to do anything to counteract them, and as you well know my desire was not to say a word against the companion of my choice, whom I dearly loved, and whom I still dearly love.
“Briefly, then, this female conspiracy came to a head, and resulted in a little sifting, the majority, under the Lord’s providence, being recovered from the snare, and only about six or eight of our company of two hundred, injured by it. Sister Russell’s next move was to give color to the slanders that had been started, by leaving me—she hoping that I would go after her and make any concession to have her back. But in this she was mistaken, and when she desired to come back I totally refused, except upon a promise that she should make reasonable acknowledgement of the wrong course she had been pursuing for a year, and give some assurance of being a friend and not an enemy. I esteemed that I had been delivered of the Lord, and that to put myself again into her power without reasonable guarantees would be wrong on my part. This is two years ago now. She is living in the city with her mother and sisters, and holds a little religious meeting, which her coterie of friends attend. I see her frequently, treat her kindly, and never have anything but the very best of wishes respecting her present and eternal welfare.”
In summing up the matter respecting his wife, C. T. Russell wrote: “Sister Russell became afflicted with the spirit of ambition, as others have been, and in the Lord’s providence it seemed best three years ago now that she should not be further identified with the publications [of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society], until such time as she might show a thorough change of heart in this matter.”
Manifestly C. T. Russell acted rightly in doing what he could to be kind and considerate to his wife. But Scripturally he could not abandon his position as head to bring about a reconciliation.