Questions From Readers
◼ Once someone has signed a Declaration Pledging Faithfulness, can that arrangement be terminated?
The question has to do with a provision that does not apply in most lands. So let us first see what that solemn interim arrangement is.
The Watchtower of March 15, 1977, discussed a problem existing in some lands. Though God permits divorce on Scriptural grounds, some governments have no divorce provision. (Matthew 19:9) Or the law may make it very hard to get a divorce, perhaps requiring many years. Hence, that magazine issue explained that Jehovah’s Witnesses have a concession applying only in such lands; it involves a Declaration Pledging Faithfulness. Consider an example of the arrangement:
A woman comes to a knowledge of Christian truth while living with (and perhaps having children by) a man who has long been separated from his legal wife. The newly interested woman is faithful to him and wants to marry him, but that is impossible because the law does not permit him to divorce his legal wife. Hence, if the congregation elders are convinced that her relationship with this man would otherwise be accepted by God, they will allow her to sign a Declaration Pledging Faithfulness. She therein states that she has done all she can to legalize this relationship; that she acknowledges before God the binding nature of the Declaration; and that she promises to get legally married as soon as that is possible, thus terminating the Declaration that had enabled her to become part of the Christian congregation.
However, the question arises: Once she (or anyone in that situation) comes into the congregation under such a Declaration, is there any other way that it ends or could be ended?
The Declaration itself states that its signer ‘recognizes his or her relationship as a binding tie before Jehovah God and before all persons, to be held to and honored in full accord with the principles of God’s Word.’ It thus is, from the congregation’s standpoint, as morally binding as a legal marriage. However, death of a mate ends either a marriage or a union under such a Declaration. (Romans 7:2) The Bible also says that if one’s marriage mate is guilty of por·neiʹa (sexual immorality outside the union), the innocent partner can get a divorce. (Matthew 5:32; 19:9) Parallelwise, under a Declaration Pledging Faithfulness, immorality by a mate can be a basis for ending the union, if the innocent one so chooses. The innocent Christian would have to establish with the elders proof of the unfaithfulness. This would terminate the Declaration; thereafter the innocent one would be Scripturally free.
Recognizing that the congregation considers a Declaration Pledging Faithfulness as being as morally binding as a legal marriage raises a related issue. This comes about when the previous impediment to marriage is removed. For instance, in the example above, the man’s legal wife might die or the government might legalize divorce, and he is willing to marry the Christian woman legally. In that case the sister cannot continue under the Declaration Pledging Faithfulness, even for reasons such as its being embarrassing to get legally married now or because she might lose some material advantage. In accord with her Declaration, she must now take steps to have their union legalized. Otherwise, the congregation would invalidate the Declaration, and she would have to separate from the man or be disfellowshipped.
What, though, if the unbeliever refuses to marry her? When she signed the Declaration, the congregation viewed the union as binding and moral. The fact that she is unable to force her unbelieving partner to legalize their union does not now make the union immoral. So she could continue to be a faithful mate, not needing to separate from the unbeliever, although she should persist in her efforts toward having the union legalized. (This adjusts the comment in “Questions From Readers” of November 1, 1985.)—Compare Judges 11:35; Luke 18:1-5.
Of course, the situation is different if both parties signed the Declaration and became baptized Christians. In this case, both solemnly committed themselves to enter into a legal marriage when the governmental impediment was removed, at which point the Declaration would be terminated. They are obliged to do this within a reasonable time, or else separate in order to remain in the congregation. (Compare “Questions From Readers” in The Watchtower of September 1, 1982.) If they do separate, the morally binding Declaration still applies, so neither is free to enter into a union with someone else.—Compare 1 Corinthians 7:10, 11.
Though the arrangement for a Declaration Pledging Faithfulness does not apply in most places, the above discussion centers on the Bible standard that applies everywhere: “Let marriage be honorable among all, and the marriage bed be without defilement, for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.”—Hebrews 13:4.