When I was a very young boy, my grandfather died. I don’t know much about his life, aside from the fact that he was a carpenter, a policeman, and a Catholic. He was, in fact, Irish Catholic, and I suspect my father’s family took great pride in their heritage and their faith. It was a disappointment for them that during the pre-1975 years, my father became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The invasive control that the Jehovah’s Witness organization had over my parents divided our family. At my grandfather’s funeral, all hope of normality was smashed when my father refused to sit with his brothers, instead electing to place himself at the back of the church, with easy access to the nearest exit.
Why would he do this? His decision was decidedly influenced by the March 15 1970 Questions From Readers, which posed the question
“May dedicated Christians attend church funerals of other religious organizations?”
The phrasing of that question in itself diminishes the thinking ability of the reader and transfers control of one’s life to the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The article casts aside the faith of the individual, suggesting that attending a church service places a Jehovah’s Witness in serious danger of violating his Christian conscience.
“Thus there is no need for a Christian to feel obligated to go to a church funeral of another religious organization, where there may be the temptation to give in to pressure and follow the crowd when everyone else is performing some false religious act. Thus also the danger of performing an act of apostasy and displeasing Jehovah God can be avoided.”
Only recently did I come to understand the permanent damage that this caused. For the balance of my childhood and to this day, I never got to know my uncles, my aunt, my cousins, or anyone else in the family. In a sad twist on the words attributed to Jesus below, my extended family became strangers who purportedly worshiped God incorrectly, or so I was led to believe.
“Do you think I came to give peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” – Luke 12:51
The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses makes no apology for splitting apart families; in fact they summon Jesus’ words to reinforce their divisive policies. Luke chapter 12 continues:
“For from now on there will be five in one house divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law”
Undoubtedly, self-imposed estrangement is not the intended meaning behind these expressions, but for the Jehovah’s Witness religion, they mean just one thing:
Blood is not thicker than Watchtower
It has been nearly 40 years since my family was fractured by the policies of this organization. Instead of a softening of rules and regulations, the Governing Body has elected to double down their doctrinal directives, expanding their influence using the power of suggestion and crowd manipulation to achieve control of their flock.
An example of this control is found in the Watchtower of February 2016, study edition. The article “Prove Yourself Loyal to Jehovah” drives readers to the conclusion that loyalty to the suggestions of the Governing Body is equal to loyalty to God.
We encounter Olga, a Jehovah’s Witness wife and mother who has suffered at the hands of her non-JW husband, a man who “abused her emotionally, insulted her, refused to speak to her, and threatened to take the children and leave her.” The Watchtower paints a picture of the stereotypical “worldly” man, a person without redeeming qualities and without Jehovah.
Sadly, his father dies, and Olga agrees to travel with him to another city for the funeral, showing respect for him despite his non-affiliation with Watchtower. But did she truly show this man respect? The article says:
“She waited for her husband at the church door until the ceremony
Without even addressing the subject of attending a church funeral, the Watchtower suggests that a truly faithful Witness of Jehovah would never step foot inside a church. While this statement is not the subject of the article, the powerful suggestion is nonetheless implanted into the reader’s mind, setting a precedent that must be followed.
Just a few paragraphs later, we are reminded of some of the simple pleasures in life that must be abandoned if a person is to be loyal to Jehovah.
“Loyalty to God helped an Australian sister named Alice to decide how much importance to give to other loyalties. When she began studying the Bible, she would tell her family about the good
things she was learning. Later, Alice told members of her family that she would not be celebrating Christmas with them”
“My mother finally said that she disowned me. I was shocked and deeply hurt because I really loved my family.”
This heartbreaking story touches me personally. The endless years of alienation from my family and any sense of celebration and happiness were replaced with piles of Watchtower magazines and books that filled my shelves, but left me empty and depleted.
It is difficult for Jehovah’s Witness children to really understand what is happening to them during the formative years of their life. One by one, normal relationships and activities are eliminated, and Witness children are advised that they must be “no part of the world.”
Another way this happens is by abstaining from school activities, including healthy and stimulating sports and clubs. The Watchtower hammers down this point by stating:
“If we are not careful, loyalty to a nation, a school, or a sports team can eventually choke out loyalty to God. For example, Henry enjoys playing chess. His school had a tradition of winning the
championship, and he wanted to put forth his best effort. But he admitted: ‘Gradually, loyalty to the school began to take priority over my loyalty to God. Weekend chess matches were crowding
out my Kingdom service. So I decided to give up being part of the chess team.'”
For most of us who have lived the life of a Witness child, we understand what this means: no extra-curricular activities, no after school sports, nothing that might steer us away from field service and regular attendance at the Kingdom Hall.
Snitching and shunning
Along with behavior modification, Jehovah’s Witnesses engage in one of the most cruel practices in modern society: shunning. The February 2016 Watchtower advances from suggestive behavior control and graduates to full-fledged punishment of anyone who violates the social customs of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Members are encouraged to spy on one another, and if the guilty party refuses to confess, the elders must be notified.
“Kindness can help you to deal with a conflict of loyalties. For example, you may have definite knowledge that a certain fellow believer is guilty of serious misconduct. You may feel loyal to him,
especially if he is a close friend or a relative. But if you were to cover up the wrongdoing, you would be disloyal to God. Of course, your loyalty to Jehovah should come first. So like Nathan, be kind yet firm. Urge your friend or relative to seek the help of the elders. If he or she does not do so within a reasonable period of time, loyalty to God should move you to report the matter to the elders.”
In a series of 5 photographs, the Watchtower study article visually demonstrates the process:
- Observe the social media photo of your friend committing an infraction, such as drinking alcohol at a party where non-Witnesses are present
- Confront your friend with the photograph
- Take your tablet to the Kingdom Hall and show the photo to an elder
- Two elders take your friend into a private room and chastise and counsel her
- Your friend regains her senses and is soon participating in meetings once again
The reality is that seldom does the process occur in this manner, with step number 2 usually bypassed. But the encouragement to police each other within the congregation is very real.
Another disturbing practice is shunning, which is not limited to those who have been disfellowshipped from the JW faith. Simply leaving the organization for personal reasons results in the immediate loss of your complete network of friends. And for those who have been formally disfellowshipped from Jehovah’s Witnesses, there is a total and devastating loss.
A woman might decide that this religion she was baptized into at a very young age was not the correct decision for her. But it is too little, too late to change this decision. The Governing Body has decided that her own daughter is barred from fellowship with her. The bond is severed indefinitely, the punishment is very real.
“A conflict of loyalties may arise when a close relative is disfellowshipped. For example, a sister named Anne received a telephone call from her disfellowshipped mother. The mother wanted to visit Anne because she felt pained by her isolation from the family. Anne was deeply distressed by the plea and promised to reply by letter. Before writing, she reviewed Bible principles. (1 Cor. 5: 11; 2 John 9-11) Anne wrote and kindly reminded her mother that she had cut herself off from the family by her wrongdoing and unrepentant attitude. “The only way you can relieve your pain is by returning to Jehovah,”Anne wrote”
There is no greater bond than that between a mother and daughter, yet the Watchtower has managed to produce a doctrinal solvent capable of dissolving the closest relationship known to humans.
I know many Jehovah’s Witness mothers who have been reinstated to the organization, superficially believing they have “returned to Jehovah,” when in fact they just wanted their family back. They walk among the congregation with the permanent stigma of judicial discipline, but take comfort that they have traded public humiliation for the ability to speak and associate with their family.
The Abraham Principle
“Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son” – Genesis 22:10
Inflicting harm on a son or daughter is a completely foreign concept to any human with a measure of good mental health. Yet according to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the biblical character of Abraham showed the ultimate faith in God when the Almighty required him to stab his son to death on a mountaintop.
Is this really a lesson in faith in God, or could it perhaps be a convenient method of demanding blind obedience? The Watchtower study article titled “Jehovah Called Him My Friend” suggests that anyone who doubts Abraham’s decision to knife his son is void of faith. The blame is shifted from the perpetrator (God) to the critic:
“There are those who say that God was cruel for asking such a thing of Abraham, and some imply that Abraham’s obedience was blind and unfeeling. They take that position because they have neither the faith nor the understanding of how faith works.”
I never could grasp the sense of this bible tale. Apparently my faith and understanding are just too weak. We are told that Jehovah called out to Abraham and halted the murder just in time. Why didn’t he apply this same life-saving power moments before the planes crashed, or the tsunami hit shore, or the crazed gunman slaughtered those schoolchildren? These are questions we must all ponder for ourselves.
Separation of church and sanity
Looking back on more than 40 years of loyal association with Jehovah’s Witnesses, I truly understand how damaged my family was by this destructive organization. I can finally validate my own feelings, my internal conscience which always told me that these things are insane:
- Associate only with Jehovah’s Witnesses
- Stay away from non-JW church services
- Avoid playing team sports or joining school clubs
- Spy on your friends and turn them in to the elders
- Avoid higher education
- Shun anyone who leaves the organization
- Never accept a life saving blood transfusion
- Do not celebrate anyone’s birthday (or any holidays)
- Believe that God will kill everyone but Jehovah’s Witnesses at Armageddon
The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses is increasing its doctrinal control over its members, further blurring the line between religion and personal identity. They have systematically removed individual freedom of mind and conscience and replaced it with a long list of directives, leaving many Witnesses depressed, feeling inadequate, or unable to keep track of the latest “new understanding” of truth.
This is a prison from which you must escape.
If you share the same feelings, please reach out to someone for help. You can do it anonymously and without judgment. Read, watch and learn as much as you can, and separate verifiable truth from the insanity of indoctrination.
Make this the first day of the rest of your life.
You are now free.