Several months ago, I co-wrote an article with Joel Martz titled “A Gathering for Healing.” In that article, we invited all who were interested to go with us to Warwick, NY, where we desired to shine a light on some of the most destructive practices of the Watchtower, and for people to share their stories. We invited the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses to be present through our open letter. However, while they never showed up, many people did, including investigative journalist Avery Haines, of the Canadian TV show W5, and her film crew. Parker Brian – “The Fateful Slave” on YouTube – did a great amount to help get this media attention. Joel Martz, Gilbert Gonzalez, and numerous other individuals contributed greatly to the effort to put the event together.
On November 4, 2017, we all met up in Warwick NY, although we stayed a few towns over in New Jersey. I had arrived the night before, which was a Friday, and many others had arrived well before I had. Many of us had known each other due to our activity on YouTube to warn people about what the Watchtower really teaches. Meeting people for the first time face-to-face was like meeting old friends that you’ve known for a long time. The reason for this is that all of us shared a similar traumatic experience in our lives, though some of us had much greater trauma than others.
I suppose this raises two questions. First, what was the trauma, and second, why was it traumatic? Both are valid questions, and as such I will answer them to the best of my ability. The trauma we shared was two-fold, first that of having been one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and second, the trauma of having left Jehovah’s Witnesses.
So, what’s so traumatic about that? I mean, Jehovah’s Witnesses tend to be nice, kind, decent people. How could you say that it was traumatic to have been amongst such fine people?
The answer to this question is more complex. Jehovah’s Witnesses live their lives following Watchtower doctrine rather strictly. I say “Watchtower doctrine,” because the Watchtower is considered the final authority on Bible interpretation for Jehovah’s Witnesses, and they are not allowed to question Watchtower doctrine, on pain of expulsion from the congregation and subsequent shunning by all of Jehovah’s Witnesses, family included.
A key part of this doctrine – never specifically admitted to, but often not so subtly implied in Watchtower literature, now on JW.org, and in meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses – is that Jehovah’s Witnesses must appear to be happy, decent people to those who are not Jehovah’s Witnesses. This appearance of happiness and decency is, more often than not, just that … an appearance, masking the reality. That mask is often so convincing that Jehovah’s Witnesses can actually fool themselves. I successfully did that for over 30 years, putting on the happy mask while being truly miserable.
Human beings are impacted by strongly negative emotions such as shame, fear and guilt. When they are experienced over long periods of time, or to excessive degrees, it can cause considerable emotional and mental harm. Much like physical harm, mental and emotional harm requires recovery. However, while you can see a physical wound, you can’t see an emotional or mental wound. This can make it so that you don’t actually realize how badly you’ve been hurt, and for many people, this means that they never address the hurt that was done to them.
The Watchtower motivates their members through fear, guilt and shame. The fear is via the teaching of Armageddon. Their Armageddon teaching, in not so many words, is that the loving God Jehovah will soon annihilate 99.9% of the world’s 7.6 billion people in a fiery cataclysm that will leave behind untold destruction and piles of dead bodies everywhere. If someone is destroyed in that holocaust, they have no chance of coming back.
To survive this event, easily described as the most horrific event in all of human history, one must basically be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. But, to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, you must submit to the authority of their Governing Body, which exercises local power through the elders. If you break one of their numerous rules, you can be put on trial behind closed doors with three of those elders sitting both in accusation, and in judgement. The purpose of the trial is not to determine guilt or innocence, but to decide how harshly to punish. This, of course, is under the guise of being a loving arrangement.
In addition to that, it is mandatory for Jehovah’s Witnesses to “volunteer” their time and knock on people’s doors to tell them this wonderful news of the Kingdom. Every active member is required to report how many hours they do this every month. If the members don’t report, the local elders are instructed to get in touch with people (meaning, to harass them) to find out if they have any time for the month. Reports are kept for each individual of at least 5 years worth of such preaching records, called field service.
Additionally, the branch office receives a report of total congregation activity in the preaching work – field service. Congregations that have more than approximately 10 hours per month per publisher, and placements of literature, and return visits (calling back on people who took literature) and bible studies (a study of Watchtower literature complete with scriptural references often taken out of context) is considered to be spiritually strong. Congregations that fall below the unwritten minimums in such categories are considered to be spiritually weak.
On a local level, individuals that do not spend enough hours knocking on doors are considered to be spiritually weak. (See this post for more information.) The Watchtower spends considerable effort to guilt people into doing more, spending more time door-knocking, more time reading Watchtower literature, time volunteering to do Watchtower activities, etc. None of these activities will benefit those in need even remotely close to what you’d see in the ministry of Jesus Christ.
That’s a quick overview of what it is like to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Someone who is truly indoctrinated, as I was, will often feel that they aren’t doing enough. That is because the Watchtower always uses examples of people who basically gave up everything to engage in Watchtower-centric activities full-time, and extols such individuals as being the most spiritual, and the happiest individuals. However, in my experience, those individuals are just better at putting on the show of happiness than most people, and are often the most miserable.
Anyway, if the constant fear and guilt aren’t enough, once you’ve woken up and realized that you are being not only misled and pretty much lied to, but you’re being taken advantage of. However long you’ve been one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, this has involved you putting off your own life to do things for the Watchtower. Realizing this is traumatic. It leaves many people very angry, and often for a long time.
Then, to add insult to injury, such individuals are faced with the fact that, if they leave to go and live life as they see fit, all of their friends and family will shun them, and assume they have become the worst kind of people. This is, after all, Watchtower teaching. They teach that the only reason to leave the Watchtower is because you want to be a horrible person, and are under the influence of Satan himself.
If this sounds like an abusive relationship to you, that is because it is. Thus the trauma. However, leaving has its own trauma, as described above. All of this is a lot to work through, and can easily take years to come to terms with. For me it did.
So, being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses can certainly, and does certainly, damage people. It hurt me. But, there are some individuals who have been even more devastated. There is a problem within the Watchtower organization, where child abuse is basically covered up, and has been for years. I served as an elder for almost 10 years. We had direction in letters from the branch that instructed us that, the first thing we should do when we hear any allegation of child sexual abuse, was to call the legal department of the branch. They had lawyers there who are Jehovah’s Witnesses, who would instruct you as to whether or not you needed to report the allegation to the authorities. So, while the Watchtower regularly issues statements about how they abhor child abuse, their well-documented practice is to attempt to protect the reputation of the Watchtower organization before they protect or help the victims of abuse, as is evidenced by instruction to call a Watchtower lawyer before you call the local authorities. For victims of such abuse, the trauma is considerably higher than for the average Jehovah’s Witness. This specific trauma, and the absolute heartlessness of the Watchtower towards these victims is why the W5 crew was there to film the event. We had survivors of such abuse present, and they courageously shared their stories.
In short, I spend my time shining the light on the dark places of the Watchtower corporation to protect others from the harm inevitably experienced from such policies. I don’t make a cent doing this. The payment I get is when I can help people reclaim their life. I had one friend that I talked to that I could assist. One of the greatest rewards I have ever gotten was seeing their family become much happier and grow closer together as a result of the freedom they now had. Their children will now be free to live life as they see fit, without coercion to follow the dictates of a publishing company with a track record over 100 years long of false prophecy.
If you want to see the news program, here is a copy of it. I recommend watching:
As a final point in all of this, I want everyone to understand that I am not directly asserting that any particular Jehovah’s Witness is a bad person. They actually tend to be good, although there are definitely bad ones, as is evidenced by the problem with the child abuse cover up. My gripe is against the Watchtower organization. Their policies create the environment of shame, guilt and fear that traps people. There are only three policies that need to change for this not to be the case. First, the two witness rule for child abuse must be done away with, and the first call made in allegations of child sexual abuse must be to the authorities. Second, the practice of disfellowshipping and shunning must end. Third, the restriction on blood transfusion must end as well. In actuality, if you end disfellowshipping, you effectively end the coercion to refuse blood transfusions. If those changes are made, I would have no reason to spend any time warning anybody about the dangers they face from this group.
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