Recently, the news reported on a tragic triple murder-suicide of a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses in South Carolina. According to news reports, “38-year-old Sheddrick Byron Miller killed his wife, 28-year-old Kia Von Miller, and their two children before fatally shooting himself. [Coroner Gary] Watts identified the children as 3-year-old Kyler Devane Miller and 1-year-old Syrai Raquel Miller. Watts says all four people had been shot in the head.”
This is a tragic story, especially for the innocent children, no matter the reasons or circumstances, and condolences to the families have been pouring in from Jehovah’s Witnesses and non-Witnesses from all over the world. Chances are, no one will ever really know what happened inside their home on that fateful day, but many who have been associated with the Witnesses for years are speaking out about what might have led up to these events.
The Implication That You’re Just Not Enough
While it doesn’t seem that financial problems are at the heart of this horrific act (I’m sure more info will come out as the case moves forward), men who kill their families often feel that they need to present a perfect facade or “front” with them, and everyone around them; as soon as that front crumbles, or as soon as they feel they may have failed in some way, they prefer the family be killed than find out about their situation.
Unfortunately, this type of thinking can affect Jehovah’s Witnesses. Many Witnesses commenting on this story have noted that there is constant pressure on individuals to do more, contribute more, preach more, and take on more responsibility. In the 2014 Yearbook, there was the example of a disabled woman who “auxiliary pioneered” (putting in 50 hours per month in the preaching work) every month for two years, despite one leg being paralyzed, consistent risk of falling, panic attacks, and a breathing disorder. Another example was of a polio victim who was paralyzed from the waist down and who still “regular pioneered” (putting in 70 hours per month for an entire year). There was also the example of an elderly man from Burundi, who decided to sell his bicycle that he needed for employment, so he could have money and time to donate to a new building project.
These examples are commonplace among Jehovah’s Witnesses, and ones who go above and beyond any type of “average” service are often paraded in front of congregations as shining examples. Ones who are run-of-the-mill Witnesses are often made to feel inferior, and even unacceptable, for just living their lives and doing the best they can.
In this post, I talk about how congregation members are openly encouraged to actually shun other members if they don’t quite live up to certain vague, unnamed standards of behavior. Note, this is advice that is applied toward active, faithful members of the congregation, not those who refuse to preach or who are committing a serious sin on the side. The information in the magazine quoted is especially written for teens, so Jehovah’s Witnesses learn this self-righteous, dismissive, holier-than-thou behavior from an early age. Imagine being one of those Witnesses who is isolated, ignored, and pushed aside simply because other congregation members assume that you could be doing more, or have decided for themselves that you just aren’t living up to their standards.
Also imagine being someone who cannot maintain a perfect appearance, in other areas of life. Jehovah’s Witnesses are expected to have obedient children, to study constantly, to be out in the preaching work regularly, to be ready to participate at all their services, to shun non-JWs, and so on. They’re also expected to support their families, to keep up their homes, to look presentable, and to always have a smile on their faces.
The problem with this type of appearance is that you need to do all this without seeming as if you’re not absolutely dedicating yourself to the preaching work and religious services. What this means is, you need to support your family financially, but without putting in too many hours at work; you need to maintain a clean and lovely home, but without spending too much time working on the house; you must look presentable, but without seeming materialistic, etc. The minute it seems as if you’re too attentive to your job or are spending too much money on clothes or time on your appearance or home, you’re looked down on for being “spiritually weak” or “worldly”; you may not be officially disfellowshipped (excommunicated), but there is always the threat of being isolated if you’re not doing what others think you should be doing, or if your family and your life just don’t measure up to the discretion of other congregation members.
Other Factors to Consider
The prevalence of mental and emotional illness within the Jehovah’s Witness community has also been mentioned, when it comes to this tragic story. I knew many JWs who were on antidepressants and other medications, and many elders and others have commented about the mental and emotional illnesses they see among congregation members.
If you wonder why Jehovah’s Witnesses would suffer from mental and emotional distresses, keep in mind that this religion:
- Teaches that everyone but them will soon suffer a horrific death at Armageddon. This includes non-JW family members, coworkers, neighbors, and others. Just because you’re a JW, that doesn’t mean you want to see your beloved non-JW grandmother or sister or nephew, or your friendly coworkers and neighbors, die a horrible death! This can be very distressing for Witnesses to consider every day.
- Threatens members with shunning if they don’t believe every doctrine, teaching, and practice of the organization. This includes not endorsing the idea of pedophiles becoming elders, questioning their accuracy of predictions since so many of them have failed, pointing out how the religion has flip-flopped on certain doctrines and issues, and so on.
- Threatens rape victims with shunning for “fornication” if they do not literally scream and fight and resist enough to satisfy elders of the religion.
- Strongly encourages women to stay with violent and abusive men in the hopes that these men will be so impressed with their submissiveness and loving behavior that they’ll become JWs themselves. Note that Jehovah’s Witnesses say nothing about how this type of home life affects the children, and of course there is no guarantee that staying with an abusive man will result in his accepting the religion; women can be beaten, raped, and otherwise abused for years and accomplish nothing by this situation.
- Has a horrible track record of domestic violence and pedophilia within their own ranks, while strongly discouraging members from calling the police or even talking about these things to outsiders.
- Talks constantly about Satan, demons, and other wicked spirits that can (according to them) possess inanimate objects in order to terrify and harm you.
- Often discourages seeing a mental health professional, stating firmly that they (these professionals) must not disagree with the teachings of the religion. This means that, if a psychiatrist believes a Witness is experiencing mental or emotional distress because of the religion itself, they can’t follow the advice of this expert, but must find another doctor who will tell them something else.
With all these teachings, is it no wonder that so many Jehovah’s Witnesses need medication just to get through their day?
When this type of incident occurs, police always check if there were reports of domestic violence in the past. As said, Jehovah’s Witnesses are strongly discouraged from reporting these incidents, and encourage women to simply tolerate this abuse no matter its extent, so police may not find any type of report to substantiate this. However, previous reports or not, there was an incident of domestic violence in the home. A man killed his two innocent children and his own wife. Whether or not he beat them or abused them in the past, he put a gun to their heads and killed them. That is the worst form of domestic violence, and it happened. There’s a good chance it didn’t just happen out of the blue, so something led up to this, or was working in this man’s mind for a long time, to cause him to do this.
As said, no one knows or ever will know exactly what happened in that house on that day, and perhaps the husband suffered from schizophrenia or another severe mental illness. Perhaps being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses had nothing to do with the case. However, no matter the facts, this story does show that, while Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to worship a happy god and to be the happiest people on earth, and while very few wind up as did this family, very few are as happy and positive and self-assured as they would like others to think. Often they are hiding fear, frustration, anger, lack of self-esteem, anxiety, and a host of other problems that are just not addressed properly among their ranks.
If nothing else, perhaps a lesson can be learned from this tragedy about what it truly means to be more loving, to others in the congregation and to one’s family. Perhaps Jehovah’s Witnesses can think twice about their stand against getting quality psychiatric help when needed. After all, wouldn’t being happy and healthy and balanced and loving, and getting the care you need, make you a better Witness, and mean more protection for children and families in these situations? Their lives should be worth the effort.
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