Growing up in my house was anything but idyllic. My stepfather has a violent, vile temper, and I don’t remember there ever being a day when he wasn’t screaming profanities and threats at the family, the neighbors, or the foursome golfing in front of us. My mother remained in the marriage for some 40 years because she was told outright by Jehovah’s Witnesses elders that she had no choice to leave, despite her numerous nervous breakdowns and suicide attempts. She soon found that she, too, could take her frustrations out on me, and I became a favorite target for her abusive words, insults, and blame.
In addition to the horrific treatment, my parents were both downright neglectful in every other area of parenting. I was never provided with adequate clothes, wasn’t given a breakfast or lunch for school, and friends weren’t allowed either. The list could go on, but let’s just say growing up in that house and being raised by those two people was horrific.
I was an adult when my sister was born, and unfortunately my parents hadn’t changed much by that time. Because of how much I love her, and also because of how neglectful and abusive my parents continued to be, I took my sister under my wing and made sure she had the things she needed growing up. I took her to my apartment several nights during the week to get her out of our parent’s house, arranged play dates for her with other JW children, bought her clothes, had those little talks with her that parents are supposed to have, and showered her with as much love and affection as possible.
As she got older, I continued to take care of her, buying her makeup and taking her for haircuts. We went to the gym together and I was happy to drop her off at a friend’s house or pick them up and take everyone to the movies. When she was older, I encouraged her to join the group that went snowboarding every week. Because Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t celebrate birthdays or other holidays, I gave her gifts at random times, and gave her a graduation party to end all graduation parties. She would come over to my apartment several times a week and we would hang out as much as possible, even while I encouraged her to have her own friends.
In recent years, however, my sister has drifted very far from me; not only do I not see her more than once every few months, she often won’t even return a phone call or text. I’m sure part of this is living just minutes from the ocean and having friends who are always planning things to do, but when someone cannot even return a text, you can’t help but to think something is up.
This distance between us began in the last few years, just as Jehovah’s Witnesses started intensely cracking down on “apostates,” and controlling the association of their members like never before. In 2011, those who left the religion were referred to as “mentally diseased,” and in 2013, family members were told to not look for “excuses” to associate with non-JW family members, not even through email.
In the past few years I’ve developed a greater sympathy for those who are shunned by their families for whatever reason. My situation is not exactly the same, as I’m still allowed some communication, but it’s been difficult to go from seeing my baby sister several times a week to just several times a month, to now once every few months, if that.
In thinking about this situation, I realized something; she isn’t theirs to take. My sister is not the property of the Watchtower Society for them to decide the people to whom she speaks, and it shouldn’t be up to them to have such control over her. I’m the one who took care of her when she was a baby, I’m the one who took her shopping and helped her with her homework and taught her to drive, I’m the one who helped her prepare a resume when she went into the work world. Who are these people to then step in and tell her that she can’t talk to me, after I took care of her all those years?
One factor that makes this situation even worse is that I stepped in because our parents could not and would not do their jobs, and because of their abuse. I needed to protect my sister from her father and from our mother. I was not just taking care of her because she had no parents of her own, as if they were dead; she has a father and a mother, but they are neglectful at best, and abusive at worst. And why is she in that situation? Because of the Watchtower Society. Their controlling, hateful policies do everything but outright demand that women stay with abusive husbands, and my mother has been told to her face by more than one elder that she has no scriptural reason to leave my stepfather. That situation rewarded my stepfather for his abuse, and turned my mother into a broken down, angry, hateful woman. In other words, I had to protect my sister from a situation that the Watchtower created, and then, when that was over and done with, the Watchtower decided I wasn’t worthy of her company.
My sister is not theirs to take. Family members are not theirs to take. When I hear of parents being shunned, I can’t help but to think, What gives anyone the right to tell a child that they cannot talk to the mother whose body grew, nourished and protected that child for nine months, and who went through hours of labor to bring that child into the world, and who then continued to care for, nurture, and raise that child for years after? Who is anyone to tell a child that they cannot talk to the father who helped create that child, who may have been the first one to hold that baby once he or she arrived in the world, and who worked hard to care for and protect that child for so many years? That child is not theirs to take.
This is how I feel when I hear of any family member being shunned. When parents don’t speak to their children because these ones have left the religion or committed some “sin” that has gotten them disfellowshipped, I can’t help but to think that those parents aren’t theirs to take. A child needs and deserves their parents in their life, for their entire life, and bringing a child into this world should mean a commitment to that child no matter his or her religious views, life choices, etc. Those parents belong to the child, not to a controlling and abusive religious organization. It’s doubly upsetting when you hear of children who leave because of abuses suffered in the Watchtower organization, and who are then cut off from the support of their parents right when they need them most.
These family members are simply not theirs to take. Did the Watchtower Society step in and take care of my sister after she was born, or to take care of me, for that matter? No congregation members ever did anything to help me when I was being raised in that house; not one elder had a word of encouragement after any of my mother’s suicide attempts, much less did they help in the day-to-day dealings with my stepfather, or of managing the household in her absence. They didn’t do or say anything after my sister was born either; standing between her and our abusive parents was left to me, and me alone. The Watchtower Society is not there for elderly persons to fill in for their children when the parents get older; in all my years as a JW, I never knew of anyone caring for elderly ones whose children were not in the religion. They were pretty much left to fend for themselves.
Jehovah’s Witnesses will say that they need to cut off association with outsiders to keep the congregation “clean” and to avoid any influence from these ones. However, as brought out on this website and many others, even confessed pedophiles are allowed to remain in the congregation and are given positions of authority over others, and elders are allowed to hide serious sins and still remain elders. That makes this statement hypocritical at best, and an outright lie at worst. Why would they claim that a mother cannot speak to her own child because that child committed some sin, or because he/she simply left the religion, when that mother is allowed and even required to speak to a confessed pedophile in her congregation, or is governed by an elder who has committed a serious sin worthy of disfellowshipping?
This obscene victimization of Jehovah’s Witnesses and their families should be made known to others, and they should be warned about what happens when you join this religion and bring your children into it. You’re repeatedly told to keep contact with non-JW family members to a minimum, and are outright required to cut off contact with those who are no longer in the religion, no matter their reasons for leaving or for being expelled. This is despite the fact that parents are the ones who raise children from birth and both deserve to be in each other’s life, as do siblings, grandparents, and so on. They are simply not yours to take.