Beware the Cult-Like Control and Abuse of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Are Jehovah’s Witnesses a cult?
Really, what difference does it make?
That’s not a flippant question, as being able to label Jehovah’s Witnesses a cult or not doesn’t really change or affect anything. If you can absolutely determine that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a cult, so what? Cults are legal in the U.S. and elsewhere. Having them escape the label of cult also doesn’t give them special rights in areas of the world where their religion is restricted. “Hey, we’re not technically a cult, so you have to let us in, Russia.” I don’t think that’s going to work, but try it on Putin and let me know how it goes.
The label or word itself may not be important, but the level of cult-like, abusive control the religion has over its members should be of concern to anyone inside the religion and to those studying the bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Steve Hassan, a leading expert on cults, uses what he calls the BITE model to determine if a religion or other group can be considered a cult or abusive. This refers to the amount of control the group has over its members’ Behavior, Information, Thoughts, and Emotions.
To help people better understand how abusive and cult-like the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses is, I’m going to post Hassan’s entire BITE model below, with short paragraphs about how the JW beliefs or thinking fit into many of those aspects of this model.
(Editor’s Note: I’m aware that some information is repeated throughout this post; I am including the same points in different sections as they apply to different aspects of this model. Thank you for your patience.)
THE BITE MODEL
1. Regulate individual’s physical reality
2. Dictate where, how, and with whom the member lives and associates or isolates
Jehovah’s Witnesses are known for isolating themselves from the outside world, even family members, despite the fact that they don’t live on compounds or in secluded communes. JWs do not associate or make friends with non-JWs and are prohibited from associating with those who have officially left the religion, including family. (January 15 2013 Watchtower) While they may have limited association with family who never were Jehovah’s Witnesses, the key word here is “limited.” They may attend a cousin’s wedding or see her new baby, but won’t go out to dinner with that cousin regularly or have her over on the weekends.
Isolation can also happen within the congregations; in this post I bring out how even teens are encouraged to avoid active members whom they feel are not doing enough or living up to vague, man-made standards of conduct.
3. When, how and with whom the member has sex
As with many other Christian religions, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not allow their members to have sex before marriage or outside of marriage. This includes sexual behavior such as “manipulation of the genitals” and oral or anal sex. (Keep Yourselves in God’s Love, pp. 97-109)
Oral and anal sex are also prohibited between married persons; these were referred to as “perverted acts” in the March 15 1983 Watchtower. The True Peace book (1986) referred to these as “homosexual forms of intercourse.” (Note the important point here; while most Christian religions forbid sex outside of marriage, Jehovah’s Witnesses dictate details of sexual relations between married persons.) Pornography is also off-limits to all members, including adults and married couples. Masturbation is also prohibited; see this post.
4. Control types of clothing and hairstyles
Jehovah’s Witnesses dictate that women wear skirts and dresses when at their meetings and out in their preaching work; see this post. Men are prohibited from having beards or facial hair of any sort other than mustaches (i.e., no goatees, Van Dykes, etc.). While these are somewhat unwritten rules, individuals will be given private counsel if they don’t follow these rules; anyone not following these rules will also be prohibited from certain participation in their meetings. Men will not qualify for any type of authority in the congregation if he has a beard or any chin hair. The same is true for more “immodest” hairstyles, such as dyeing the hair anything other than a natural shade, long hair on men, Mohawk cuts, and so on.
Governing body member Anthony Morris also caused quite a stir in 2014 when he gave two public discourses that openly condemned the wearing of tight pants by men, stating that it was the “many homosexuals” in the fashion industry who like to see men in such pants. Morris actually made Advocate magazine’s list of the worst LGBT-haters for the year because of this; see this website.
This type of control is extended to those visiting and touring any of their branch offices, as shown in this brochure:
Morris also said during a public discourse (this site) that women should not be wearing “spanx” while exercising (it’s assumed he meant spandex, or tight leggings).
I personally had a hard time with this instruction, as I work out quite a bit and can attest that loose pants can be dangerous. You can easily step on a pant leg or they can actually get twisted between your legs when doing any type of stepping or running. Vigorous exercise can also cause what is called leaky capillaries and resultant red spots on the legs. I’ve had this happen to me and found that support of leggings addresses the issue. See this website for more information on this condition.
While it’s true that some low-quality brands of yoga pants may be very sheer, even leggings of moderate quality will be made of thicker material that doesn’t show off every dimple and curve (I certainly wouldn’t wear them if they did). Most show nothing more than what you would see from a standard pair of jeans, and certainly you see more when a woman is in shorts or a bathing suit. Leggings also have an added panel sewn into the crotch area for modesty and comfort.
The point is, Morris didn’t say, “Be modest even when exercising,” but gave exact instructions on what women cannot wear without any thought as to why they may need to wear these while exercising, and without realizing that leggings are not the same as a pair of sheer nylons.
5. Regulate diet – food and drink, hunger and/or fasting
6. Manipulation and deprivation of sleep
7. Financial exploitation, manipulation or dependence
Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that they are different from other religions because they don’t pass a collection plate, however, their magazines often feature outright cash grabs and the begging for slave labor to build their Kingdom Halls, assembly halls, and branch offices; see this post and this post. These buildings remain the property of the Watchtower Society, even though they’re paid for and built by the rank-and-file members.
Their asking for donations could be called exploitation when you consider the December 15 2013 Watchtower, which said, “In one very poor country in Africa, some brothers mark off a small section of their garden and use the funds from the sale of the produce from that section to support the Kingdom work. In that same country, a building project was scheduled for a much-needed Kingdom Hall. The local brothers and sisters wanted to assist. However, the project was to be undertaken in the middle of their planting season. Still determined to have a share, they worked on the Kingdom Hall project during the day and then planted their crops in the evening.” This is despite the hundreds of millions of dollars the Watchtower Society has been earning from the sale of their buildings in New York alone (see this news story).
8. Restrict leisure, entertainment, vacation time
Vacation time itself is not necessarily restricted or controlled by Jehovah’s Witnesses, but many activities are, and others include very strong counsel:
Gambling of all sorts is prohibited among Jehovah’s Witnesses, even in small amounts such as when playing poker with friends. (May 15 1995 and November 1 2002 Watchtower). Highly competitive sports are also counseled against; even the game of chess was mentioned in a full article in the March 22 1973 Awake magazine.
The January 15 2013 Watchtower simplified edition counseled against recreation that might be taking away from time spent in the preaching work and meetings.
The book Questions Young People ask speaks of “the dark side” of video games, counseled to keep music “in its place,” said, “Don’t take the matter of choosing a movie or a TV program lightly,” and gave a list of questions to ask if invited to any gathering where dancing would be involved, including, “Who will be going? What kind of reputation do they have? Who is taking responsibility for the event? What supervision will there be? Do my parents approve of my attending the party? What type of dancing will be featured?”
9. Major time spent with group indoctrination and rituals and/or self indoctrination including the Internet
Jehovah’s Witnesses have reduced the time spent at their meetings, but as of this writing they have a meeting on Sunday morning, then another meeting one night during the week. They then are also told to use another night during the week for Family Worship, or a special night set aside for personal or family study. Just a few years back, this second night per week was spent at yet another meeting.
In addition to attending these meetings, members are pressed to study for them beforehand, meaning reading over the materials that will be discussed at that time. They are also instructed to read their JW material as it’s released; this includes bi-monthly magazines, tracts, books, and other such pieces. They also have two conventions in the year; this number has also been decreased in the past few years, as it was two small conventions and one large convention just a few years back.
The preaching work of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which they call “field service,” is also a major part of their lives. The average amount of time spent by those in the U.S. in this work is just under ten hours every month, but it’s encouraged to do as much as you can. Most Jehovah’s Witnesses go out in this work every Saturday morning for several hours, and during summer months, they may also go out one night during the week in the evening. They are encouraged to “pioneer,” which may include 30 hours of this preaching work in one month or 750 hours over the course of an entire year. This number too has been reduced in the past years; the monthly activity was at one time 60 hours, and the annual hourly requirement for “pioneers” was 1000. (Note; these actual numbers may change, but the point is that they are encouraged to spend as much time in this part of their indoctrination process as possible.)
10. Permission required for major decisions
11. Thoughts, feelings, and activities (of self and others) reported to superiors
The February 15 2012 and August 15 2010 Watchtower both referred to “reporting” sin to the elders of the congregation. While these magazines used the word “serious” when talking about sinful conduct, many ex-JWs will attest to how often elders are approached about everyday activities of congregation members, including complaints regarding clothes that others are wearing, how families are raising their children or spending their money, if they feel someone has missed too many meetings or should be doing more in the preaching work, and so on.
12. Rewards and punishments used to modify behaviors, both positive and negative
Jehovah’s Witnesses can receive public or private reproof for a number of behaviors; public reproof involves a public announcement stating, “So-and-so has received counsel and is showing signs of repentance.” Private reproof means meetings with panels of elders who ask pointed and direct questions about behaviors and who give counsel and reprimands. JWs may face certain restrictions if deemed necessary by elders, such as not being allowed to comment during their meetings or handle certain responsibilities in the congregation.
Perhaps the most stringent form of punishment that Jehovah’s Witnesses employ is the practice of shunning, which extends even to family members and “young ones.” (See the Shunning category of this site for more information and reference material.) This shunning is virtually all-encompassing; JWs will not speak at all to a disfellowshipped or disassociated person, and may even avoid family functions where such ones will be present. While some minimal contact with close family members is allowed, this cannot include socializing and in most cases, JWs will not even eat with disfellowshipped or disassociated family members; see the photo at the right.
It’s also outright encouraged that members shun other members in the congregation if they feel these ones are not living up to certain standards of conduct; this behavior is even taught to teens. See this post.
13. Discourage individualism, encourage group-think
One of Jehovah’s Witnesses can be disfellowshipped (excommunicated) for believing or teaching anything other than their official doctrine (Shepherd the Flock of God book).
The May 8 2003 Awake magazine included an article titled, “Does Christian Unity Require Uniformity?” The article mentioned that Christians were and are allowed to make individual choices about many matters, but also stated, “… loyal Christians would not insist on their personal rights to the detriment of the consciences of others or at the expense of congregation unity. Nor should they claim freedom of action to do something clearly forbidden by God’s Word. (Romans 15:1; 2 Peter 2:1, 19) Love for God should move us to attune our conscience to God’s thinking. This, in turn, will keep us united with fellow believers.”
Note too the beliefs Jehovah’s Witnesses have that take away a person’s individualism, including the direction that women all wear skirts and dresses at meetings and when preaching and men all be clean-shaven, and the prohibitions against sexual matters even between married couples.
14. Impose rigid rules and regulations
The term “rigid rules and regulations” could be interpreted to mean any number of things; someone who is not a Christian can see the prohibition of sex before marriage as being rigid, whereas others may agree with this standard.
However, note again some rules and regulations that may seem overly rigid to most persons, including the ban on beards and the insistence that women wear skirts and dresses. Jehovah’s Witnesses require members in good standing to not only participate in their preaching work but to report on that activity every month. They require members in good standing to attend and participate in all their meetings; to fail to do so can result in counsel and the removal of “privileges,” including the ability to hold positions of authority for men. Masturbation, pornography, and oral and anal sex are all forbidden, even between married couples; this may be deemed as being very rigid and downright invasive of one’s privacy.
Another rigid rule or regulation that is noteworthy is the requirement of women to scream and resist if facing rape, and if they don’t, they are deemed as having “consented” to the act and may face shunning for “fornication.” See the category on Rape for more info.
The book “Shepherd the Flock of God,” the handbook used by elders to oversee congregations and determine judicial matters, is kept strictly confidential from other congregation members, and women especially as they are not allowed to even handle the book in order for it to be spiral-bound. This may seem like a very rigid rule when you consider that information inside the book directly affects those in the congregation and the bible, which they consider their holy book, is public and required reading. In other words, the word of their god is public but the words of men are kept secret.
According to the Shepherd book, a person can be disfellowshipped (excommunicated) for smoking and other uses of tobacco (i.e., chewing tobacco), gambling of any sort including incidental wagers (playing poker with friends, buying a lottery ticket), “manipulation of the genitals” between persons who are not married, “willful, continued, unnecessary association with disfellowshipped nonrelatives,” extreme physical uncleanness, gluttony, obscene speech or “sexually explicit, filthy expressions,” and taking up professional boxing. While there are other matters for which a person may be disfellowshipped, these may be considered the most “rigid.”
The October 15, 2006, Watchtower, in the article “Weddings That Are Honorable in the Sight of God and Man,” discussed how to have a marriage recognized by the congregation, based on varying legal requirements in each country. It then said, “If a Christian elder will deliver a wedding talk, … the speaker will not feature humor or folk sayings.” It also stated, “Unless local law requires something else, these vows that honor God are used. For the groom: “I [name of groom] take you [name of bride] to be my wedded wife, to love and to cherish in accordance with the divine law as set forth in the Holy Scriptures for Christian husbands, for as long as we both shall live together on earth according to God’s marital arrangement.” For the bride: “I [name of bride] take you [name of groom] to be my wedded husband, to love and to cherish and deeply respect, in accordance with the divine law as set forth in the Holy Scriptures for Christian wives, for as long as we both shall live together on earth according to God’s marital arrangement.”
The point being, a couple’s wedding ceremony should not include “humor” or any type of “folk sayings,” and the bride and groom have no option to write their own wedding vows. Some might view this direction as being very strict and rigid.
15. Instill dependency and obedience
Obedience to the organization is demanded and obedience to the elders in each congregation is also expected. The April 1 2007 Watchtower contained an article about being obedient to the elders, referring to them as “heavenly gifts to the congregation.” It said, “Our heavenly Shepherds, Jehovah God and Jesus Christ, expect us to be obedient and submissive to the undershepherds whom they have placed in positions of responsibility within the congregation.”
The article also noted that submission was expected even if members do not agree with the elders; “What, though, if we are not convinced that in a certain case the elders’ direction is the best way of doing things? That is where submission comes into play. It is easy to obey when everything is clear and we agree, but we will show that we are truly submissive if we yield even when we do not personally understand the direction provided.”
It is important to note also that elders in a congregation have quite a bit of autonomy when it comes to demanding obedience from others, using their authority to restrict privileges or to give counsel as they see fit. Many ex-JWs can attest to elders becoming outright angry and even verbally abusive to ones who do not follow their instructions or give in to their demands, even in matters of their personal lives. As an example, an elder just recently tried to get other elders to agree to having my own brother “reproved” because my brother would not host the man in his home for a “shepherding call,” which is supposed to be an encouraging visit. That’s it; my brother didn’t want the man, known for being verbally abusive and for having an uncontrolled temper, in his home and around his wife, and for that the elder thought my brother should be “reproved” for his lack of obedience.
The demand for obedience extends to the family, as women are expected to be submissive to their husbands in all matters, even if he is being abusive in any way. As I bring out in this post, men are told that they have the authority to “correct” their wives with “firmness,” even in matters of how she dresses or wears her makeup. Women are consistently told to be supportive of their husband’s decisions, and in the congregation, she needs his permission to “pioneer” or take on any other types of responsibilities. Many ex-JWs will attest to how JW husbands, even elders, are often outright abusive, domineering, and condescending to their wives, or may ridicule or make incessant demands of their wives, and the women have little to no recourse but to “obey” these men.
a. Deliberately withhold information
b. Distort information to make it more acceptable
c. Systematically lie to the cult member
Jehovah’s Witnesses deliberately withhold information from their members by giving instructions and directions to elders only; as an example, a letter dated October 1 2012, sent to all elders worldwide, stated outright that a known pedophile could have positions of authority in the congregation. This information is not common knowledge among the rank-and-file members. The handbook used by elders, Shepherd the Flock of God, is also for their eyes only; women are not even allowed to touch the book to have it spiral-bound and elders must oversee any other male member of the congregation who performs this work. The financial information of the organization is also kept secret from members.
In another area, they withhold information from authorities in cases of child molestation. According to their instructions, they are to report these cases only when required by law and only after calling their branch office first; this reporting is then done from a public phone booth in a nearby city so they technically follow the law, but aren’t exactly effectively sharing information. They have also been found to keep records from authorities when requested in child abuse cases.
Distortion of information and outright lies are also used to change their doctrines and teachings when a prediction of theirs has failed to come true. For instance, for years Jehovah’s Witnesses taught that the generation which was alive in 1914 would not die before Armageddon occurred and its members received a promised paradise. In recent years, as it became obvious that this generation has died out, they changed the term to “overlapping” generations; anyone that knew anyone who was alive in 1914 (i.e., their children or grandchildren) could then be included in that “generation.” Please see this website for a more detailed explanation.
This practice of distorting their own information or outright lying about their own history is not uncommon, as you can see from the illustration on the right.
Jehovah’s Witnesses also have a long history of misquoting outside information, to make their teachings appear as if it is backed up by authoritative sources. For a list of misquotes and outright deceptions in their literature, please visit this site.
2. Minimize or discourage access to non-cult sources of information, including:
a. Internet, TV, radio, books, articles, newspapers, magazines, other media
b. Critical information
c. Former members
d. Keep members busy so they don’t have time to think and investigate
e. Control through cell phone with texting, calls, internet tracking
Jehovah’s Witnesses are strongly counseled against reading anything that is critical of the religion, referring to websites and other sources of information as “apostate propaganda.” (Watchtower May 1 2000 and February 15 2011) The book Keep Yourselves in God’s Love stated, “You can also absorb that evil spirit through objectionable literature, pornographic or apostate Internet sites, unwholesome entertainment, and highly competitive sports—really, through anyone or anything that conveys the thinking of Satan or his system.” (Bold added for emphasis.)
As mentioned above, former members are also to be strictly avoided by active Jehovah’s Witnesses, even family. When associating with family who were once JWs, biblical discussions are strictly off-limits.
Also mentioned above, members are kept constantly busy in their preaching work, consistent study of literature written by the JWs, weekly meetings, assemblies, and the like.
3. Compartmentalize information into Outsider vs. Insider doctrines
a. Ensure that information is not freely accessible
b. Control information at different levels and missions within group
c. Allow only leadership to decide who needs to know what and when
Jehovah’s Witnesses withhold information from rank-and-file members by keeping secret their instructions to elders; this in turn does not allow their everyday members to know the real truth about their religion. As an example, the handbook used by elders, Shepherd the Flock of God, is not to be shown to anyone other than elders. That book instructs elders that when a woman is accused of adultery, her husband may sit in on all her meetings with elders. However, when a man is accused or even outright confesses adultery, this information is considered “confidential” from the wife. Women are not allowed to know that this procedure is in place, much less this information about her husband’s conduct; see this post.
As another example, instructions to elders given in a letter dated October 2012 stated outright that those who have sexually abused children may qualify for privileges of service (meaning authority in the congregation) but everyday members are not allowed to know this process is in place much less know that a member of their congregation has committed an act or acts of child molestation.
4. Encourage spying on other members
a. Impose a buddy system to monitor and control member
b. Report deviant thoughts, feelings and actions to leadership
c. Ensure that individual behavior is monitored by group
5. Extensive use of cult-generated information and propaganda, including:
a. Newsletters, magazines, journals, audiotapes, videotapes, YouTube, movies and other media
b. Misquoting statements or using them out of context from non-cult sources
Jehovah’s Witnesses receive two Watchtower magazines and one Awake magazine per month, along with books, tracts, and other pamphlets and journals released throughout the year. (Speaking from personal experience, most JWs I knew struggled to keep up with reading the literature that was produced for them.) Their website, JW.org, also has videos and other media that they are encouraged to use extensively for themselves and their children.
As mentioned above, Jehovah’s Witnesses also have a history of misquoting outside sources or taking them out of context to make their own statements appear accurate and authoritative. See this website for examples. Ironically, during the writing of this post, Jehovah’s Witnesses were publicly criticized by a scientist for taking his comments out of context in order to support creationism versus evolution; the scientist publicly demanded an apology from the JWs. See this website for details.
6. Unethical use of confession
a. Information about sins used to disrupt and/or dissolve identity boundaries
b. Withholding forgiveness or absolution
c. Manipulation of memory, possible false memories
Discussing an unethical use of confession is difficult as there are no written rules about how to use confession in such a way, however, stories from ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses abound regarding elders who ask grossly obscene questions of the women when discussing sexual matters, those who mercilessly grill confessors in a harsh and draconian style, and those who have been accused of child rape being allowed to question their accusers without interruption or any type of guidance. One such inquisition asked a child rape victim how far apart her legs were spread during her attack and another asked pedophile victims if they enjoyed it at all (see this post and this post).
Training videos for elders showed a demonstration where a group of elders withheld forgiveness or absolution from a man who had confessed fornication because they didn’t feel he had the right heart condition or was concerned enough about the reproach he brought on Jehovah’s name (see this post).
1. Require members to internalize the group’s doctrine as truth
a. Adopting the group’s ‘map of reality’ as reality
b. Instill black and white thinking
c. Decide between good vs. evil
d. Organize people into us vs. them (insiders vs. outsiders)
Jehovah’s Witnesses outright refer to their religion as “the truth.” The 2011 Yearbook stated, ““In summary, the Writing Department insists on using only material that is accurate and truthful, even regarding seemingly insignificant details. As a result, “the faithful and discreet slave” can consistently supply spiritual food that brings honor to “the God of truth,” Jehovah.”
Along with many other abundant examples, the March 1 2002 Watchtower included a full article titled, “How Precious is the Truth to You?” referring to their religious beliefs and organization.
The “us vs. them” mentality is also abundant among Jehovah’s Witnesses. Anything outside the organization is referred to as “the world”; note the November 15 2011 Watchtower simplified edition, “Temporary Residents in a Wicked World,” which referred to Christians living in “Satan’s world.” The book Keep Yourselves in God’s Love, pages 50-61, instructs on “How to Keep Separate From the World.” It states, “Its influence often begins subtly, perhaps by way of associates who may appear to be good people but, in fact, have no love for Jehovah.”
2.Change person’s name and identity
I cannot attest to this being a current practice, but when I was active as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, married women were referred to on their official records as “Mrs. [husband’s first name] [husband’s last name].” So Mary Jones, married to John Jones, would be referred to on her records as Mrs. John Jones. This was done even if she did not take her husband’s last name when marrying him. Members are also referred to as brother and sister rather than mister or missus; an elder is “Brother Smith” and a woman is “Sister Jones.”
3. Use of loaded language and clichés which constrict knowledge, stop critical thoughts and reduce complexities into platitudinous buzz words
The loaded language of Jehovah’s Witnesses is abundant. As said, they refer to their religion as “the truth” and anything outside of their religion as “the world.” People who are not JWs are referred to as “worldly.” JWs often state that we are living in “the last days,” meaning a time when god will soon step in and destroy those who are not Jehovah’s Witnesses. The entire political and economic structure outside of the religion is referred to as “Satan’s system of things” and the paradise they have promised their members is called “the new system.”
The governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses refers to themselves as “the faithful and discreet slave” and congregants are called “sheep,” with elders and others in authority called “shepherds.” Those who do not listen to Jehovah’s Witnesses are often called “goats,” and when such ones try to refute their teachings, JWs are told that it doesn’t matter if they cannot answer them as they are looking for “honest-hearted ones” who will receive their preaching.
The terms “brighter light” and “new light” are also commonly used to explain why their governing body needs to change their teachings and doctrines. Their teachings and literature are also commonly referred to as “spiritual food.” Other religions are referred to as “Christendom” and are outright called “false.”
Loaded and misleading language is also often used when talking about the positions of husbands and wives in a family. As brought out in this post, a woman who is not submissive to her husband is accused of “competing” with him, leaving no room for a simple equalizing of roles between them.
4. Encourage only ‘good and proper’ thoughts
Jehovah’s Witnesses are regularly encouraged to regularly meditate on bible principles (September 15 2013 and January 15 2015 Watchtower simplified edition) and to “reject bad thoughts” or “men’s thoughts.” (March 15 2011, January 1 2005 Watchtower). The August 15 2013 Watchtower simplified edition said, “If we want to be holy, we have to reject wrong thoughts and desires.” In training videos for elders, they encourage a suicidal woman to reject thoughts of suicide as she would an immoral thought (see this post).
5. Hypnotic techniques are used to alter mental states, undermine critical thinking and even to age regress the member
6. Memories are manipulated and false memories are created
7. Teaching thought-stopping techniques which shut down reality testing by stopping negative thoughts and allowing only positive thoughts, including:
a. Denial, rationalization, justification, wishful thinking
e. Speaking in tongues
f. Singing or humming
One form of rationalization or justification that Jehovah’s Witnesses use when it comes to shutting down criticisms of their failed predictions is the use of the term “brighter light” or “new light.” These phrases are meant to indicate that they have been given new guidance from god that in turn required an “adjustment” in their understanding of bible teaching.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are also consistently counseled to pray when experiencing any negative thoughts and emotions; the book Keep Yourselves in God’s Love, pages 196-205, stated, “Never give in to the negative, degraded, twisted thinking of Satan’s old world. If you sense that the spirit of this world is making inroads into your mind or heart, pray fervently to Jehovah for “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.” That God-given peace will guard your heart and your mental powers.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses compose their own music and songs, dubbed Kingdom Melodies, and openly encourage congregants to use them even when not at their meetings. The July 22 2002 Awake magazine related one woman’s experience with depression; “During difficult times, I listen to audio cassettes of the Bible and to Kingdom Melodies—spiritually and emotionally uplifting music prepared by Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
8. Rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism
Critical thinking or analysis of the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses is often described as “apostate” information or outright propaganda, to be avoided. The May 1 2000 Watchtower stated, “Some apostates are increasingly using various forms of mass communication, including the Internet, to spread false information about Jehovah’s Witnesses. As a result, when sincere individuals do research on our beliefs, they may stumble across apostate propaganda. Even some Witnesses have unwittingly exposed themselves to this harmful material.” The article also counseled against those in the congregation who may have disagreements or “debates.”
9. Forbid critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy allowed
The February 15 2009 Watchtower said of the governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, “Since Jehovah God and Jesus Christ completely trust the faithful and discreet slave, should we not do the same? … The slave thus deserves our complete trust.” During a discourse given in 2014, governing body member Anthony Morris stated that those who would disagree with his words would need to “take it up with god.”
The term “causing divisions” is also used in the handbook of elders, Shepherd the Flock of God, and can be applied to anyone who outright questions their doctrine. This same book noted that a person could be disfellowshipped if they don’t accept bible teachings as set out by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
10. Labeling alternative belief systems as illegitimate, evil, or not useful
Other Christian religions are referred to by Jehovah’s Witnesses as Christendom, and a search of their literature will show that they refer to these as “unfaithful,” as being rejected by god (November 15 2004 Watchtower), “pagan,” “steeped in false worship” (February 15 2001 Watchtower), with “reprehensible actions and false teachings” (Isaiah’s Prophecy book, pages 390-402). The Isaiah’s Prophecy book also states that “calamity will come upon unfaithful Christendom, whose members claim to worship God but actually disown him by their works.” (Pages 230-243)
All other religions outside of Jehovah’s Witnesses are referred to as “false religions.” The September 15 2012 Watchtower simplified edition stated that the world would come to an end first by seeing “false religion” destroyed. The September 15 2004 Watchtower said, “Satan has, in fact, built up a world empire of false religion, identified by rage, hatred, and almost endless bloodshed.” The May 1 2012 Watchtower stated that there are two types of religion; one false, and one true, and that true religion would be those who “serve Jehovah.” The book What Does the Bible Really Teach notes that false religion does not use idols, celebrate holidays (with a special emphasis on why the true religion would not celebrate Christmas), or worship ancestors.
1. Manipulate and narrow the range of feelings – some emotions and/or needs are deemed as evil, wrong or selfish
2. Teach emotion-stopping techniques to block feelings of homesickness, anger, doubt
While Jehovah’s Witnesses do not necessarily come right out and deem emotions like anger or resentment as being evil, wrong, or selfish, they do give strong counsel about these types of negative emotions. For example, the November 15 2012 Watchtower, the article Forgive One Another Freely stated, “…if you suffer an affront or an injustice, what can help you to keep your emotions under control, react as Jehovah would want you to, and be willing to forgive? … The Scriptures indicate that a willingness to forgive others regardless of how often they offend us is a Christian requirement. … A person may feel anger, a sense of betrayal, the desire for justice or even revenge. In fact, some feel that they will never be able to forgive the offender. If you feel similarly, how can you cultivate the forgiving attitude that Jehovah requires? … we can lessen anger, disappointment, and other negative emotions with understanding, open-mindedness, and a willingness to forgive.”
Doubts are also strongly cautioned against. The October 1 2009 Watchtower, in the article He Fought Against Fear and Doubt, says, “Doubt can be a powerful, destructive force. If we yield to it, it can eat away at our faith and cause us to sink spiritually. We need to fight back vigorously! How? By keeping the right focus. If we dwell on what scares us, what discourages us, what distracts us from Jehovah and his Son, we will find our doubts growing. If we focus on Jehovah and his Son, on what they have done, are doing, and will do for those who love them, we will keep corrosive doubts at bay.” (Note, there is no counsel given on doing apt research to erase doubt, but counsel to simply stop thinking about what makes a person doubt in the first place.)
Things that give Jehovah’s Witnesses doubts are also referred to as “satanic propaganda” in the July 1 2001 Watchtower, which also said, “‘Are we really living in the last days? Can you believe everything the Bible says? Is this truly Jehovah’s organization?’ Satan would love to plant doubts like these in your mind.”
3. Make the person feel that problems are always their own fault, never the leader’s or the group’s fault
One distinct area where Jehovah’s Witnesses have placed blame on members is their failed prophecies; JWs have made direct statements regarding the end of the world as taking place in 1914, 1925, 1975, and before the end of the 20th century. After this end failed to come, their literature stated outright that the problem was the “inflated” imaginations of members (Watch Tower 1976) and stated that “his own understanding was based on wrong premises” (July 15 1976 Watchtower).
The August 15 2004 Watchtower stated, “When we feel tired and discouraged in our service to God, could it be because the pursuit of material things is smothering our spirituality? … One married couple decided to eliminate some of their hobbies and nonessential personal projects. They actually went through their things and literally packed all the materials related to such projects and put them out of sight. Periodically, we can all benefit from taking inventory of our habits and possessions, putting off every unnecessary weight so that we may not get tired and give out in our souls. … Do we regularly eat wholesome meals and get enough rest? Reasonable attention to our health in general can minimize feelings of emotional and spiritual exhaustion.”
On a personal level, as I bring out in this post, there are many examples of women who have been outright abused by their JW husbands being blamed for this abuse and even being told that they need to apologize to their abuser for “not being submissive enough.”
4. Promote feelings of guilt or unworthiness, such as
a. Identity guilt
b. You are not living up to your potential
c. Your family is deficient
d. Your past is suspect
e. Your affiliations are unwise
f. Your thoughts, feelings, actions are irrelevant or selfish
g. Social guilt
h. Historical guilt
Pushing their members to do more and accomplish more and live up to their potential is a hallmark of Jehovah’s Witnesses; the February 1 2015 Watchtower discussed the subject of secular work and said, “Rather than simply doing the minimum, look for ways to do more than is required. Set personal goals; challenge yourself to do your work better or faster than expected.”
The May 15 2010 Watchtower addressed the men of the religion, “If you are a dedicated male, ask yourself: ‘Do I have a full share in the preaching work, and am I assisting others to do so? Am I building up my fellow worshippers by taking a sincere interest in their welfare? Do I have the reputation of being a good student of God’s Word? Am I improving the quality of my comments? Do I diligently care for the assignments entrusted to me by the elders?’ … Such questions merit serious consideration.” The article talked about the “self-sacrificing spirit” that would be needed. The November 15 2009 Watchtower said, “What if we simply lack motivation to do more in Jehovah’s service and are inclined to coast along in the congregation? … beg Jehovah to make us want to make spiritual advancement.”
Many ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses can also attest to the many, many discourses given at meetings and assemblies that consistently encourage ones to preach more, contribute more, and seriously consider working as missionaries where possible. The goal of “pioneering,” or putting in some 750 hours every year in their preaching work, is also consistently encouraged in their magazines, with parents even being encouraged to help their children set this as a goal. This is often contrasted with pursuing a secular career, which is typically presented as being for spiritually weak. The September 15 2005 Watchtower says, “Youths, what are your plans for the future? Are you seeking to excel in some professional field? Or are you working toward a career in the full–time service? “Keep strict watch that how you walk is not as unwise but as wise persons,” admonished Paul, “buying out the opportune time for yourselves, because the days are wicked.” He adds: “On this account cease becoming unreasonable, but go on perceiving what the will of Jehovah is.””
As for the family being deficient, governing body Anthony Morris gave a public discourse in Italy in 2014 and chastised the families, asking if they had taken their children to an amusement park versus visiting their local branch office for a tour, telling them to “explain that to God.” Consistent counsel is given to families about their “Family Worship” night and about doing more as JWs.
5. Instill fear, such as fear of:
a. Thinking independently
b. The outside world
d. Losing one’s salvation
e. Leaving or being shunned by the group
f. Other’s disapproval
Fear is a very common theme among Jehovah’s Witnesses and their teachings, even if they try to “candy coat” this fear in various ways. Consider:
The July 15 2006 referred to the “trap of independent thinking” as applied to questioning the changes in doctrine over the years. The Worship God book decried the “independent” attitude of “the world,” listing in the same paragraph as “immorality and violence.” The same book also said, “We should not think that we can figure out everything by independent research.” The December 15 2013 Watchtower talked about “newspaper headlines, television documentaries, and Internet Web pages” being used to propagate untruths,” and said that those who believe them were “gullible.”
Anyone and everyone outside of Jehovah’s Witnesses is referred to as “the world.” The world is often depicted as being controlled by Satan; note what is said in the God’s Love book, ““The world” Jesus mentioned refers to all of mankind who are alienated from God, ruled by Satan, and enslaved to the selfish, prideful spirit that emanates from him.” It refers to the world as having an “evil spirit,” and says, “Simply put, the spirit of the world progressively causes the traits of the Devil to grow in the hearts of humans … [it] is deceptive and impels millions to look to money and material things for happiness.”
Losing one’s salvation is a prominent part of their teaching; the idea of salvation being conditional is noted in the Isaiah’s Prophecy book (pp. 76-92), the book Reasoning From the Scriptures (pp. 356-361), and the December 15 2013 Watchtower, which said, “We definitely do not want to ‘miss the purpose’ of Jehovah’s undeserved kindness and lose out on the promise of everlasting life…” The August 1 2006 Watchtower said, “A person’s life can become cluttered with so many activities and pursuits that he is hard-pressed to find the time needed to maintain the all-important spiritual routine and balance. The result is that he may suffer spiritually and eventually lose out entirely on entering God’s promised new world.” Losing one’s salvation includes a horrible, fiery death at Armageddon, as depicted in this illustration from the September 15 2012 Watchtower and many illustrations like this one.
Shunning is also a common fear among Jehovah’s Witnesses, as brought out above. If disfellowshipped, a person is shunned entirely by their family and friends; even “young ones” can be shunned; note this public discourse recorded in 2013 that encourages and even downright demands that family shun each other.
This fear of disapproval is also extended to the congregation itself, as I bring out in this post. Even teens are encouraged to shun active, faithful members who are not supposedly living up to vague, man-made standards of obsessive activities within the religion.
6. Extremes of emotional highs and lows – love bombing and praise one moment and then declaring you are a horrible sinner
Love bombing and praise are difficult to define, separate from being simply courteous to new visitors at a Kingdom Hall. I would expect people to reach out to them as you would to the new kid in school. However, one thing I might note in this section is that Jehovah’s Witnesses are often concerned about the “witness” they give to others through their conduct (April 2011 Kingdom Ministry, “Our Conduct is Refreshing to Observers”) with little thought given or stressed as to the “witness” their conduct gives to ones inside the congregation. Note this post about a long, rambling, incoherent and downright abusive letter a JW mother wrote to her daughter, no doubt with little thought as to the “witness” this would give the child. Angry abuse toward children was and is common, as was domestic violence when I was in the religion; women were then blamed for this abuse because of “not being submissive enough.” These opposing actions are very common among Jehovah’s Witnesses and used to recruit or impress outsiders and then persistently browbeat those already in the religion.
7. Ritualistic and sometimes public confession of sins
8. Phobia indoctrination: inculcating irrational fears about leaving the group or questioning the leader’s authority
a. No happiness or fulfillment possible outside of the group
b. Terrible consequences if you leave: hell, demon possession, incurable diseases, accidents, suicide, insanity, 10,000 reincarnations, etc.
c. Shunning of those who leave; fear of being rejected by friends, peers, and family
d. Never a legitimate reason to leave; those who leave are weak, undisciplined, unspiritual, worldly, brainwashed by family or counselor, or seduced by money, sex, or rock and roll
e. Threats of harm to ex-member and family
The leaders of the religion are depicted as being given their authority by god himself; the Keep Yourself in God’s Love book says, “When we as individuals respect the authority of Christian elders, we are obeying Jehovah … Elders are appointed by holy spirit.” The June 15 2000 Watchtower talked about Korah, a bible figure who was not “honoring God-appointed theocratic leadership,” and said, “Korah and the 250 chieftains were destroyed by a fire from Jehovah.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses regularly teach that any life outside the religion only results in misery; the June 15 2010 Watchtower says, “… some who in the past chose to leave the ‘safe water’ of the Christian congregation now bitterly regret that decision. One sister, whom we will call Tanya, explains that she … left the congregation to “pursue worldly enticements.” … She now says: “The three years I spent away from the congregation left ugly scars on my emotions that will not go away … I want to tell all the young ones who are wishing they could ‘taste’ the world even for just a little while: ‘Don’t!’ It may taste good at first, but it leaves an extremely bitter aftertaste. The world has nothing but misery to offer. I know. I tasted it. Stay in Jehovah’s organization! It’s the only way of life that brings happiness.” … Just think what would become of you if you were to abandon the protective environment of the Christian congregation. Many, recalling their futile course of life before they accepted the truth, simply shudder at the thought … You can continue to find security and protection from the woes and misery so common in Satan’s world by staying in close company with your Christian brothers and sisters.”
As mentioned, shunning is a punishment Jehovah’s Witnesses use for those who leave the organization. This includes young ones and family literally turning their backs on each other; see the photograph above and the Shunning section of this site.
Those who leave are often referred to as “spiritually weak” (Watchtower July 1 2004, August 15 2010, August 15 2012, March 15 2013). The July 15 2011 Watchtower said that some leave in order to “draw away disciples after themselves.”
BEYOND THE BITE
Steve Hassan is the expert when it comes to cults, and I would never question his criteria in any way. I would however add some additional considerations when determining if a religion or any other group crosses the line into rightly being called abusive or high-control. Consider:
Hassan mentions sleep deprivation, but I might consider if there is marked physical abuse within a religion, and also consider how the group responds to such. It’s true that there can be domestic violence and child abuse everywhere, but the key word is “marked.” When I was a JW, domestic abuse was commonplace, and as I’ve brought out, women were routinely blamed for their own abuse. One elder I talked with outright told me that they sent women home to abusive men and “some of these men wound up killing their wives,” with a smirk on his face. Stories abound of elders actually encouraging physical abuse to keep women submissive.
Child abuse in the form of harsh beatings and spankings were also common; one man gave a discourse at a congregation I attended and said that while spankings and beatings were a parent’s decision, you simply should never leave a permanent mark on your child.
The reaction of the group itself to such abuse should also raise concern as to whether or not it’s a cult or too controlling. As I bring out in this post, women are outright encouraged to stay with abusive men in the hopes of converting them. Other religions run domestic violence shelters, but for a JW woman, your place is in the home, taking your beating with a smile so that your husband may be so impressed that he becomes one of Jehovah’s Witnesses too.
Admonitions Against Seeking Outside Help
This thought should apply to when people of the religion or organization need protection of sorts, or help that is beyond the capabilities of those in charge. While Jehovah’s Witnesses do not forbid their members from seeking psychiatric help, they do admonish “Christians should be sure that any treatment they pursue does not conflict with Bible principles.” (December 2014 Awake) This is a very vague statement; what if the treatment includes psychiatric drugs, or a person is told that they are under stress because of the demands of their religion? The May 2014 Awake talked about reducing expenses and time spent at work as a way to reduce stress, not reducing the time spent studying JW literature, going in the preaching work, attending meetings, and so forth.
It should also be noted that JW women are not encouraged to call the police when being abused by their husbands, but are told to be loving and submissive in the hopes of converting them. This includes when being physically abused.
Until their policy was rewritten in 2010, Jehovah’s Witnesses were outright forbidden from calling the police in cases of child molestation, being told that this violated a scriptural principle of “bringing a brother to court” and that it would bring reproach on the congregation. While they have put in print that calling the police is a personal decision for parents to make, many will attest to how elders pressure and even outright threaten families to keep them from doing this.
Serious Matters That Are Handled Internally By Those Not Qualified
As brought out in the category on Rape, a woman who is the victim of rape is questioned by elders as to her actions during this time. Elders are not trained in post-traumatic stress syndrome, criminology, psychology, and the like. When a religion allows unqualified persons to try to handle these types of scenarios internally and to supposedly “determine” if a woman has been raped, this is a sure sign in my mind that they are abusive and very high-control. Who are they to put themselves in that position of deciding whether or not a woman has been raped? They decide to control women even during a horrendous, brutal, vicious attack by threatening her with shunning for “fornication” when they are not qualified to make this call.
Questioning of child rape victims is also an abhorrent factor among Jehovah’s Witnesses; elders have been caught asking them if they enjoyed the experience at all, asking a victim to actually demonstrate in front of her attacker how far apart her legs were spread, and so on. (See the Pedophilia category for more information.) Elders are not qualified to speak to victims of any crime, much less child rape victims. Many have come forward and talked about how they felt raped all over again during these meetings with elders. This too indicates the need for more control and intrusion than is necessary for a religion.
The discouragement women face when it comes to calling police for domestic violence issues may fall under this section of something being handled by those not qualified. Domestic violence is a crime, and elders and the governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses have no training or education in how this situation affects children in the home, yet they assume that a woman needs a lecture and should just take her abuse, in the hopes of converting the men. See the Domestic Violence category for more information.
As brought out in this post, elders also counsel a suicidal woman in one of the worst ways possible, actually reprimanding her for her feelings, telling her to just reject those thoughts.
Claiming Direct Communication With God
Some religious leaders claim a direct communication with god, but these claims seem to be strongest and loudest in the most controlling and abusive of all groups. Leaders claim to have a direct inspiration from god, talk with god, get direction right from god, and so on. For Jehovah’s Witnesses, their governing body has been slyly elevating itself over the rest of the organization in the past few years; at one time they talked about being just a small representative of those they thought would go to heaven, to just recently stating that they are the ones responsible for directing everyone in the religion (see this website). They note that they are guided by “god’s holy spirit,” which they believe to be a force god uses to accomplish things (September 2015 2009 Watchtower). During a discourse in 2014, governing body member Anthony Morris stated outright that those who disagreed with his words should “take it up with god.”
Sexism or Racism
Any group of people will no doubt have sexists or racists among them, but when a group’s doctrines, teachings, or overall atmosphere include a degrading view of persons based on their gender or race, this is an abuse on their part.
The early history of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is not kind toward those who are black, as the February 15 1904 Watchtower supposed that black skin would turn white in their paradise earth. The future magazines talked about the futility of trying to educate a black man, about their inherent drunkenness, and such. In 1973 it was noted in the December 1 Watchtower that a couple of different races may not want to get married if it offended their neighbors or local culture. This attitude may have softened somewhat, as a current member of their governing body, Samuel Herd, is black. However, there has never been any official apology or retraction of these earlier words. See this website for more quotes from the Watchtower about black persons.
Misogyny is abundant in the JW religion as you can see from the Women category of this blog. Women are not allowed to handle any responsibilities in the religion and must wear a hat or other head covering when they need to perform certain work, such as arranging for car groups for their preaching work, to show respect for her “submission” to men. A woman’s long hair has said to be a natural sign of her subordinate position to men (see this post). Women are not allowed to give public discourses or even public bible readings from the stage of a Kingdom Hall. She must also wear a hat or head covering when studying the bible with her own son, if he is baptized as a JW, no matter his age. A woman who has been the victim of rape must recount her ordeal to elders, who will “discern” if she did enough to resist, otherwise they will decide that she consented to the act and she may face shunning for “fornication.” Battered women are not assisted but rather blamed for their abuse.
You might also note this post, where Samuel Herd, mentioned above, said that women’s brains are too small for leadership roles and that they should hide their intellect from their husbands.
As mentioned above, Jehovah’s Witnesses have their wedding vows dictated to them, from the October 15, 2006, Watchtower; “Unless local law requires something else, these vows that honor God are used. For the groom: “I [name of groom] take you [name of bride] to be my wedded wife, to love and to cherish in accordance with the divine law as set forth in the Holy Scriptures for Christian husbands, for as long as we both shall live together on earth according to God’s marital arrangement.” For the bride: “I [name of bride] take you [name of groom] to be my wedded husband, to love and to cherish and deeply respect, in accordance with the divine law as set forth in the Holy Scriptures for Christian wives, for as long as we both shall live together on earth according to God’s marital arrangement.”
Note the difference; the bride must vow to “deeply respect” her husband, but the husband is under no obligation to make such a vow to the wife.
The Organization Above All Else
One teaching that I would think would make a group cult-like or abusive is if they feel the organization should come above all else, even the health and safety of its members.
Before their official policy was rewritten in 2010, parents were outright forbidden from calling the police in matters of child sexual assault, so they wouldn’t bring reproach on the organization. As brought out, women in abusive marriages are encouraged to stay so that the man gets a “witness” and hopefully converts to the religion.
Children in the religion are strongly encouraged to give up higher education in favor of preaching and missionary work, or unpaid volunteer services at one of their branch offices or headquarters (May 2010 Kingdom Ministry).
Perhaps one of the most obvious cases of putting the organization above everything else when it comes to being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses is the practice of disfellowshipping, or excommunication, and the all-encompassing shunning that goes along with it. Despite the claim that the religion builds strong family bonds, this practice is based on the flimsiest of scriptural applications and outright misquotes (see this post), and yet members will shun even their own children who are still living at home or their elderly parents and grandparents. When a family member is shunned, their extended family (children, grandchildren) are also typically shunned along with them, even if these ones were never Jehovah’s Witnesses in the first place.
Inappropriate or Exaggerated Responses to Criticism
When a religion or other group is criticized, of course they can respond as necessary. However, the manner and type of their response may call into question their credibility and if they are trying to be overly controlling of members and how these ones view such criticism. Inappropriate responses may include threats, name calling or ad hominem attacks (meaning attacking the person or source directly, rather than answering the criticism), insulting or calling into question the other party’s level of education or knowledge of a particular subject, calling into question their motives, crying “persecution” in response to legitimate criticisms, etc. These methods of responses can demonstrate a need to control outside criticisms, and are often attempts to downgrade or diminish the critics themselves in the eyes of their followers. In turn, the criticisms are then downplayed rather than actually answered.
Often Jehovah’s Witnesses refer to critics as “apostates,” which is a derogatory term they use to describe any who leave their religion; the May 1 2000 Watchtower referred to Satan as “the first apostate.” The February 15 2011 Watchtower talked about “apostate websites” and the January 15 2013 Watchtower simplified edition said, “Newspaper headlines, television shows, and Internet Web pages are used to spread false stories…” and called these “Satan’s lies.”
In March of 2015, governing body member Stephen Lett referred to “apostate-driven lies and dishonesties” when it comes to news stories that imply they are permissive to pedophiles (see this website). This is an interesting term, because it is not “apostates” who are doing all of this reporting, but reputable news agencies such as the BBC and PBS have presented news stories about pedophilia scandals among Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The March 1 2003 Watchtower, when talking about the subject of persecution, said, “…how should we feel when newspaper, radio, or television reports about Jehovah’s Witnesses are distortions or outright falsehoods? Should we be shocked? No. We expect such things. … And we are not surprised when some believe the published lies and distortions, since ‘anyone inexperienced puts faith in every word.’ … Still, loyal Christians refuse to believe just any statement made about their brothers, and they certainly do not allow bad publicity to cause them to miss Christian meetings, to slow down in the field ministry, or to waver in their faith.”
Sexual Indiscretions and Abuse of Power by Those in Authority
One strong indicator of a religion or other group being a cult, abusive, overly controlling, etc., is the number of sexual indiscretions and abuse of power by those in authority in order to take advantage of their members sexually. Unfortunately Jehovah’s Witnesses do not have a good track record in this regard; see the page JW Victims in the News for story after story of child molestation and outright rape that happens behind their closed walls. They have been repeatedly sued by these victims because of how they have handled, or more rightly refused to handle, these incidents and have even put children in harm’s way by allowing them to be alone with known pedophiles without warning parents. These pedophiles have included elders and others in authority in the congregation.
Along with lawsuits because of child molestation, stories abound of elders asking obscenely perverse questions of the women in particular when it comes to their sexual encounters, supposedly as a way to judge their “repentance” of immorality. They may ask if they had an orgasm, if they changed positions during sex, if they had anal sex, if they performed oral sex and how many times, if the man put his fingers in her vagina (to determine if she was actually a virgin when this happened or if she’s lying about it being her first sexual encounter), and so on. These questions are typically asked of three men who are alone with the woman, and they will even ask these questions of underage women without their parents present.
This obscenity of questioning even extends to child rape victims, as they have been known to ask them if they enjoyed the sexual experience at all (this post), and in one case, asked a rape victim how far apart her legs were spread during her attack (this post).
Religions may set standards as to what they feel is immoral and unacceptable according to their beliefs and holy books; many religions feel that homosexuality is a serious sin. While I would never tell a religion what to believe when it comes to morals and sexual behavior, you might note in this post how Jehovah’s Witness governing body member Tony Morris blamed homosexuals for pedophilia. As brought out in that post, study after study has debunked the idea that gay men are more likely to commit pedophilia than heterosexual men. Set aside the idea that Jehovah’s Witnesses are still refusing to take responsibility for the pedophilia in their religion; to talk about how homosexuals use young children for sexual gratification is, in my mind, hate speech.
Note too this post, where Jehovah’s Witnesses liken the death of everyone who is not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, something they feel will soon happen at Armageddon, to a homeowner exterminating “pests.” This too is hateful when it comes to people who are not JWs. While many religions teach that theirs is the only true set of beliefs, going past this exclusionary thinking to fostering outright hatred toward homosexuals and those outside the religion might be considered mental abuse and a form of extreme control. If you can teach your congregants that people outside your religion are akin to cockroaches, and that homosexuals aren’t just immoral in your eyes but downright dangerous to your children, then it’s less likely that those congregants will ever want to stray from your religion or explore sexuality outside your mandates.
SO ARE JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES A CULT OR NOT?
I don’t know if Jehovah’s Witnesses could legally or technically be called a cult, and 11,000 words later I still don’t care. What I do know is that they are abusive, controlling, obscene, harshly judgmental, misogynistic, and just plain unloving. They misquote and misapply scripture, have made many false prophecies and have changed their beliefs many times over.
Jehovah’s Witnesses emotionally blackmail their members into staying and abandon those who do to some of the most horrific abuses imaginable. They create guilt, depression, stifling childhoods and marriages, and downright unhappy congregants. Most ex-JWs, myself included, will attest to this; my own mother tried to commit suicide many times and was regularly in mental health facilities, as were many other women I knew in local congregations. It wasn’t unusual to see women in the back rooms crying during meetings, talking among themselves about their oppressive and abusive marriages but knowing they could do nothing about them. Depression was common, as was alcohol abuse and the use of antidepressants. Most men I knew in the religion were angry, oppressive, condescending, arrogant, and downright rude to congregants; after all, they could certainly afford to be, since they had absolute authority over members and anyone who didn’t like it could be disfellowshipped and was going to die at Armageddon. Many of us children grew up nervous, anxious, afraid of our own parents, terrified to go to meetings for fear of a beating, and dreading yet another Saturday being dragged out into the preaching work.
At the end of the day, this religion costs people their lives, not to mention children their innocence and many people their happiness, all because of scriptures they obviously don’t understand, predictions they have to repeatedly change, and teachings which seem to do nothing but allow them to wield more power over others.
The power that cults and other such groups have over their members is referred to in the legal arena as “undue influence,” and I absolutely hate that phrase. Why? Because it doesn’t even come close to describing the horrific abuses and control this religion has over its members.
I don’t know how to define Jehovah’s Witnesses, but if the words of a woman who survived the Jonestown massacre could easily be applied to them, I would say there’s probably a number of labels that would fit, “cult” being just one.