This year’s Watchtower Victims Memorial Day was an overwhelming success, with photos and videos being sent in by participants in the U.S., the UK, France, Australia, Portugal, Poland, Belgium, Germany, and many other areas around the world. People took the opportunity to leave cards and notes outside Kingdom Halls, as well as on bus stop benches and store windows, in public parks, and in many other such locations. You can browse through all the photos at the website by clicking this link.
As many people realize, July 26 was chosen because that’s the day when the religion adopted the name “Jehovah’s Witnesses” many decades ago. It seemed a fitting date, as victims of this religion and its hurtful, harmful practices and policies often feel as if they need to take their own identities back when they leave.
In the News
The significance of our Watchtower Victims Memorial Day has not been lost on journalists. Some months back, many people saw the heartbreaking moment when a young man, Chris, who had been raised as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, asked his parents, who are still Witnesses, if they would attend his wedding to his longtime partner, Grant. The mother, Yvonne, was resolutely firm in rejecting her son’s marriage, and their confrontation was featured on the Australian television show, “Bride and Prejudice.”
As a followup to that episode, The Sunshine Coast Daily interviewed Yvonne about her current relationship with her son and his new husband. Yvonne said she would not welcome her son’s now-husband into her home, but deflected blame for her distance from Chris, stating, “The ball’s in his court, not ours. It is up to him.”
The news story of Yvonne’s rejection of her son’s new husband pointed out that her statements come right on the heels of our Watchtower Victims Memorial Day. They kindly noted that the Day, as stated on the website, is “a worldwide day of mourning and respect for all victims of the hurtful and hateful policies of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, commonly known as Jehovah’s Witnesses.” The story even included a screen capture of the Facebook page for the Day. What an amazing sight to see.
The Day in Australia
This year, in Australia, the date took on a rather ironic meaning. As many people know, Catholic Cardinal George Pell was arrested and extradited to that country for historic sex abuses of children, and Pell faced a preliminary filing hearing at Melbourne’s Magistrates Court on the 26th. (Read more about Pell’s arrest at this site.)
True to their form, ex-JW activists in that country seized on the opportunity to bring attention to the same abuses that occur in the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. A group of them stood outside the courthouse in front of the sea of reporters who had arrived to cover Pell’s story, holding signs and talking to any and all journalists who would listen. They had come armed with fliers and printouts, as well as survivor bags and t-shirts.
Many of these activists were the same ones who worked tirelessly to ensure the Watchtower Society was included in the Australian Royal Commission Inquiry Into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, in 2015. You can read more about that Inquiry and the Watchtower’s part at this page. Their appearance outside the courthouse on the 26th was immediately picked up on by The Sunshine Coast Daily, which then resulted in the above news story.
Ex-JW activist Lara Kaput, left, was one of the organizers and attendees outside the courthouse that day. If you don’t recognize the name, Lara also attended the “Bringing Abuse to Light” conference, regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses and child sex abuse, hosted by Reveal News in London in April of this year. You can read about that conference and see the pictures she kindly sent me during the day at this page. She is truly a strong warrior and kindred spirit, with a firm resolve to help victims of the Watchtower Society get the support and justice they deserve. The Day also had personal meaning for her; she was memorialising Rob Grayson and Julie-Ann Seabrook, who took her own life less than a year ago as a result of the damage done by the teachings of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.
As Lara noted in the above news story, she personally left the religion because, among other reasons, she “didn’t like that women couldn’t be in leadership.” That fine; if the Watchtower doesn’t appreciate and won’t take full advantage of her strengths, and the strength of so many like her, the ex-JW community will. Your loss, Watchtower.
A Huge Thank-You to Participants
For those who unfamiliar with its history, the idea for this Day was conceived by my friend Bo Juel, and he wrote about how it all developed in his book, “The Least of God’s Priorities.” One point he made, in his own words, “…everyone felt as if it was their day, their project. That was one of my main goals; I did not want any organization or group to have control over the event. The day should never be owned by anyone except those who want to be a part of it.”
I’m proud of my friend for conceiving of such an amazing Day, and deeply humbled by, and grateful to, those in the exJW community who have embraced it these past few years. I’m sure Bo never could have imagined the amazing turnouts we’ve had, and how this Day would become a means for raising awareness of abuses inside the Watchtower, and for allowing former Jehovah’s Witnesses to express themselves so freely. I would like to offer a huge personal thank-you to all the participants who have been brave enough to speak up and speak out, and who have participated in any way. I sincerely hope, as does Bo, that this Day will continue grow, so that our light becomes stronger than the darkness of the Watchtower.
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