Everything You Do Has Value
Gather ’round kids, I’m about to tell you a little story.
I have a younger sister who was once fully indoctrinated in the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She was homeschooled, wanted to be a pioneer (someone who spends an inordinate amount of time in their preaching work), and wanted to visit and work at Bethel, the headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I keep my work as an activist against Jehovah’s Witnesses quiet from her, partially to respect her own beliefs and partially because of the more stringent counsel Jehovah’s Witnesses have been getting in the past few years about not associating with non-JWs, even family (see this post).
Some months back, she came over to my apartment for a visit the same day that one of our more well-known ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses, Bo Juel, had posted a video of himself singing. Despite my sister not knowing that I’m an activist against the JW religion and keeping all my online activities quiet from her, I watched the video while she was there. As a freelance writer, I have clients from all over the world so I didn’t think she would wonder how I knew some guy from Norway.
A few months later she came back over and then eventually asked, “You know that guy whose videos you were watching that night, that Bo?”
“Well, after I left your apartment, I went back to YouTube and looked up some of his videos, and saw that one he made about the child abuse letter…”
My heart sunk. This was it. I knew she was going to tell me she figured out how and why I knew him, that I wasn’t just “inactive” but was very much active as an apostate against her beloved religion, and that we could never speak again. Damn you Bo Juel, why can’t you be more forgettable?
She continued, “So then I looked at some other videos that were attached to his YouTube page and then some websites about Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was already having some doubts that the governing body had the truth, so I stopped going to meetings and out in service [their preaching work] for a few months…”
I almost literally went to clean out my ears. What in the world was I hearing? My fully indoctrinated, dedicated sister dared to stop going to their meetings and out in their preaching work? Huh?
My sister told me about her doubts in particular, and while I wasn’t going to strong-arm her in any way I pointed out some obvious problems within the religion. She listened keenly, said she would look at other translations of the bible and continue doing her research online. Meanwhile, she had gone to our mother, someone who is so deep in the religion that I refer to her as a Jehovah Stalker, for advice as well. I understand that she has since returned to the Kingdom Hall, but her enthusiasm is gone and her doubts remain. I asked my brother if he saw her at their recent summer district convention and he said, “Yeah, I think she made it on Sunday.”
Everything You Do Has Value
Here’s the point; my sister didn’t watch a video that Bo had made and immediately announce, “Well, if Ponytail here says that the religion is full of crap, then it must be full of crap,” and then impale her fancy new bible on a Christmas tree to make a point. No, she watched a few of his videos, and then a few other videos on YouTube, then visited a few websites, looked up some other information online, and so on. Not one of them was a deciding factor for her or was “the” key to unlocking those doubts of hers, but each one was like a stepping stone on her path to free thinking.
As her sister, which of those stones do you think I would be okay with having removed or being missing? The answer is none, of course. Each of them was equally important, each led to the next step in her journey. Every one of those videos, websites, and blogs was valuable along the way.
This is something to remember for ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses and any who are concerned with spreading the word about the dangers of this religion. Other than illegal, harassing behavior, everything you do has value. Consider why it’s so important to remember this point.
This is Not a Competition
Some potential activists may hesitate to speak up and get involved, thinking they could never offer anything important in this fight, thinking they can’t “compete” with other websites or YouTube videos or with what other activists are doing. Well, activism is not a competition and no one should even compare their work to someone else’s. How do you know but that the words you say will resonate with a Witness or with someone who is studying the bible with Witnesses? How do you know that your words won’t give some comfort and strength to an ex-JW struggling with the same issues?
Think of it this way; people may not be able to “compete” with the Red Cross when it comes to offering relief at a disaster site, so does that mean they can’t make any difference and they should just stay home instead? Handing out blankets for an hour, giving water to those suddenly homeless; that makes no difference, simply because that one volunteer isn’t doing quite as much as the Red Cross? I bet to those few people who are helped, it makes a huge difference. Everything a person does when it comes to helping others, in any form, has value.
Every Approach is Important
If you as a potential activist are concerned with reaching Jehovah’s Witnesses who are still in the religion, should you approach them as a fellow Christian and talk about doctrine, trying to reason with them from the bible? This certainly would have its advantages, if you can get a JW to listen to someone else’s interpretation of scriptures. It might plant some seeds of doubt as to whether or not their leaders are truly guided by holy spirit and have the correct understanding of bible doctrine, or are just plain men making things up as they go along.
However, this may not be the only approach to consider when talking to JWs, as it’s shortsighted to assume that all active Jehovah’s Witnesses are actually Christians. That may seem like an odd statement since JWs believe in Jesus and the bible, but remember too that many Jehovah’s Witnesses are in the religion simply because they were raised in the religion and not because they actually believe everything they hear.
Take me as an example. Despite being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses for most of my life, I never believed in the bible and was never actually a Christian. I remember from when I was six years old, reading scriptures about rape victims being sold to their rapists and women being told to be “in subjection” and “silent” and thinking to myself, “Um… no thank you?” I never felt close to the god of the bible, never felt attached to the book itself.
What I needed to help me break free from the indoctrination was not a different interpretation of the bible; what I needed was someone to tell me it was okay to not believe in the bible in the first place.
I’m certainly not the only ex-JW to feel this way. One girl I grew up with left the religion and is now agnostic as far as her religious beliefs and leans toward Buddhism and Eastern philosophies for her spiritual beliefs. She was exactly like me; an active JW who was just going through the motions while never really being a Christian in the first place.
Every approach has value. One JW may respond to a different interpretation of scripture, whereas another may respond to the idea of not needing to follow scripture in the first place. Some may also simply respond to information about the abusive and horrific policies of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and realize that this religion is not for them even though they aren’t sure of a belief to replace it. They may then find their own beliefs and spirituality after they leave the JW religion, be that Christian or something else.
Rather than pigeonholing or assuming the mindset of all Jehovah’s Witnesses, consider that a variety of approaches may actually help to rescue more of them and not just the few who fit that stereotype.
The Value of a Preemptive Strike
Many former Jehovah’s Witnesses who still have friends and family inside the religion may want to concentrate on reaching those ones, or other active Witnesses. Some may instead feel that they need to warn the general public about what really goes on behind closed doors of Kingdom Halls, so that people aren’t tempted to investigate the religion and become a new convert. Some might want to argue as to which is the better approach or which might be more effective in finally causing the Watchtower corporation to collapse.
Everything you do has value. Who is to say that one approach is better than another? A preemptive strike, meaning stopping people from investigating the religion and potentially becoming converts, is very valuable. If Sally Smith is impressed with the nice polite ladies who come to her door and talk about paradise, and she eventually becomes one of Jehovah’s Witnesses without any idea as to how the religion hides child molesters or encourages women to stay with domestic abusers, then this creates more work in having to convince her that her now-beloved religion is not what it seems. She may undergo months if not years of indoctrination and convincing that the religion is harmless and loving, and that makes it so much more difficult to convince her otherwise. Wouldn’t it be easier to simply warn her up front about the real teachings of the religion? Seems like less work to me, not to mention that it creates a greater chance to count her as a non-JW. The more time people spend listening to chants of “new light” and “the new system is right around the corner,” the less likely they may be to leave.
More Voices Mean More Credibility
Another reason that some hesitate to start their own websites or make videos or otherwise speak up is that they know that others are already doing these things, and they may wonder about the value of essentially repeating the same points and same stories. The value of this is that more voices mean more credibility.
Think of it this way; if there was just one outspoken ex-JW talking about horrific policies in the religion or saying that he or she was molested or abused, it would be easy for the Watchtower to dismiss that person as some rogue, bitter former member. However, when a person can go online and read story after story… after story, after story… of abuses, pedophilia, domestic violence, elders asking grossly inappropriate questions of women and rape victims, etc., then it becomes that much more difficult to dismiss all those stories. Every voice has value because every voice creates credibility.
Every Life Has Value
Some people may get caught up in the different avenues of activism and awareness and worry about which method will cause the most JWs to open their eyes. Some might argue with my point above about Christianity and the bible, reasoning that more JWs will relate to being Christians than not.
To me, this is saying that some lives have more value than others. Those who don’t identify as Christians such as me are less valuable than those who do? Releasing me from indoctrination wasn’t as important as releasing someone else, or two JWs versus one? The method that might wake up more JWs is more valuable than another because activism is suddenly a numbers game?
I have two responses to this; one is that this thinking reminds me a lot of being a JW as a child. The information given to women in the religion counseled them to stay submissive and to be more loving to their abusive husbands in the hopes of converting those husbands, with nothing being said about the effects of that abuse on the children in the home. My abusive stepfather’s potential spirituality and his life were more valuable than mine. To Jehovah’s Witnesses, everything is a numbers game; how many hours are spent in preaching, how many magazines they’ve printed, how many people attend their Memorial, how many bible studies are started each month. The lives sacrificed to get to that point are not important. I would hate to think that activism against JWs and their thinking becomes this same war of attrition.
My second response is that, if anything, it simply proves that everything you do has value. One activist may want to talk to JWs from a Christian point of view, but suppose that’s not a method for you. The fact that you could approach or relate to someone who is not going to respond to another form of activism should be all the more encouraging to you! This form of activism will reach these people, this other form of activism will reach these other people, and so on. There is no one perfect form of reaching people or of winning the war against the Watchtower abuses, which means that all forms of activism, as long as they’re not violent and destructive, will have value.
Everything You Do Has Value
The reason for this blog post is that I’m worried some potential activists may hesitate to speak up and get involved because they’re afraid they’re not doing things the “right” way, or they’re afraid of criticism from other activists. That scares me. We need all the voices, all the workers, all the soldiers we can find in this war for people’s minds and hearts, and their very lives. We need all the stories of victims, all the websites and blogs, all the YouTube videos, all the flyers handed out, all the participation we can get. Our collective voices need to get louder, not quieter.
Other than violence, vandalism, illegal activities, or anything that causes a disturbance to innocent people, everything you do as an activist has value. Rather than worrying about the “right” form of activism or worrying about criticism of your form of activism, it’s better to think about what you can accomplish as an individual. Yes, you need to give serious thought as to your activities so that your activism is effective and actually reaches people, but fear of criticism, fear of not making the “right” choice, fear of not making a difference at all, fear of not being able to rescue each and every JW; set those aside. Don’t worry that you’re not the Red Cross and instead, just go out and start handing out cups of water. What you do will have value; as someone whose once-indoctrinated sister now has one foot outside the Kingdom Hall doors, I believe that, and I hope you will too.