Loving Spiritual Shepherds or Baby-Eating Apostates … You Decide
On Tuesday, March 3, I was in one of the best three-way situations of my life.
Get your mind out of the gutter, honestly. I was in a Skype conversation with two other ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses and well-known activists, Eric Bottorff of JW Struggle, and Bo Juel. If you think the idea of being on Skype with two handsome, charming, charismatic men was appealing to me, you would be wrong. To a certain extent, that is. Let me explain.
Because of the abuses suffered in my home and while one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I’ve developed a severe panic disorder and regularly have panic attacks. I also have a phobia about being recorded, and am still staying anonymous as an ex-JW, so this was my first foray into the public eye. Needless to say, I was petrified and shaking at the thought of being recorded on Skype for the call. The conversation was going to center on the very important Watchtower Victims Memorial Day however, and Eric had asked that I be part of it, so I couldn’t say no.
As frightening as it was, I couldn’t have been in better hands. The call was originally scheduled for the day before, and I told Bo how downright panicky I was getting. He sent me a long email in return, reassuring me of how easy it would be and that they would do the bulk of the talking if it would be better for me. He then said something I have probably never heard in my life, and know that I’ve never heard from any Jehovah’s Witness elders; “I will be there all the time…”
When we dialed into the call, I told Eric how nervous I was and that I outright hyperventilate when being recorded. He too couldn’t have been nicer, reassuring me that many people get nervous on those calls and that he would be glad to direct most of the questions to Bo and allow me to jump in when and if I could. I was still nervous, but felt no pressure from either of them, and as the call progressed I managed to actually relax and have a few laughs, a feeling that was very, very unusual for me in such a setting.
Just Do It
Let me contrast that for a minute with some typical experiences I’ve had with Jehovah’s Witnesses over the years. Once while visiting a Kingdom Hall in another city, and mind you, I was a visitor there so they didn’t know me, I began to have a panic attack as I walked into the auditorium. I took a seat in the last row and a man came over and said that I needed to move up since they saved those seats for latecomers (an odd command, since I was walking in just as they were starting their session). I told him I wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to sit further up. His response? A hissing, “You don’t want to be obedient?”
Well, in answer to your question, since I’m not a dog on a leash, I would say that no, I don’t want to be obedient. I might also point out how the man didn’t know what I meant by “not feeling well” and obviously didn’t care; he didn’t care if I had a migraine, was throwing up all day, was faint and dizzy, or was experiencing panic and anxiety. All he cared about was that he was barking orders and I wasn’t falling in line.
On another occasion an elder asked me to write out an outline for an experience he would share during one of their meetings, and when I asked him a simple question for clarification I needed, he snapped, “Just write it!” So even when just needing clarification to ensure my work was what he wanted, all I got were impatient, angry demands.
This type of mindset is typical with Jehovah’s Witnesses, at least as far as I’ve experienced. Very little concern is shown for a person’s limitations, mental health, emotional state, or even physical well-being. When an order or directions or an assignment is given, you’re expected to simply fall in line. Period. My own mother has been in and out of mental health facilities for being suicidal, having extreme anxiety and depression, and other bouts of mental and emotional illnesses. One elder asked her to have a part on a discourse at one of the assemblies, where she would need to stand and speak in front of over a thousand people. She had a near nervous breakdown at the request, but he was stubbornly insistent. I’ve never seen my mother so pale and shaken during that time, and I can attest that she was all hocked up on Xanax and other tranquilizers while up there. Did the elder care? Of course not.
Even without a direct order or assignment, Jehovah’s Witnesses are simply expected to preach, attend the meetings, attend their assemblies, comment at meetings, join what is called a “theocratic ministry school” where you give discourses and presentations from the stage of their building, and so much more. Every week, every day, day in and day out, your’e just expected to do.
Jehovah’s Witnesses may say that they do recognize the limitations of persons by creating more manageable situations for them, such as allowing them to write letters to persons for preaching rather than pounding the pavement to knock on doors, or allowing infirm ones to dial into their meetings over a phone line. While this may seem very accommodating at the outset, note that these are just alternative forms of doing what they ask and of insisting that you participate in their religious rituals one way or the other. Those who don’t regularly participate in all these things are typically considered to be “weak” and if you don’t simply do what elders and others tell you to do, you may face reproof or counseling of some sort. After all, since they’re the elders, they will decide on your limitations and are sure to “encourage” you to always be doing more.
And Now Go Away
As if barking demands and orders was not bad enough, there is a distinct air about Jehovah’s Witnesses that speaks volumes as to their lack of appreciation for their members. The fact that they’re always “encouraging” you to do more is part of that lack of appreciation; if anyone thought you were doing enough, they wouldn’t be “encouraging” you to comment at their meetings more, preach more, contribute more, and so on. Note one example; after giving a presentation as part of that theocratic ministry school mentioned above, you are then given counsel in front of the entire congregation on how to improve.
The May 15 2010 Watchtower addressed the men of the religion, saying, “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? … Am I improving the quality of my comments? Do I diligently care for the assignments entrusted to me by the elders?’” 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.” So, no words of appreciation for what you are doing and how you are living your life according to their demands and even according to your own limitations, but just browbeating for what you could be doing better and how you could be doing more.
One thing that I realized as last night’s call progressed is that I felt I was… what’s the word I’m looking for here… appreciated.
I felt appreciated. They needed my input about the Watchtower Victims Memorial Day, with Bo even mentioning how I had put together the website and maintain the Facebook page. He talked about a book he’s writing and the editing I’m doing for him. Eric asked about this website and my input when it comes to activism as a whole. What in the world was this all about? Recognizing my work, asking for my input? Not chastising me for how I could be doing more, contributing more, saying more, stepping into the light more? How odd.
Terrible, Horrible Apostates
One of the points we made during our conversation is that these types of presentations from ex-JWs are important, since many Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that those who leave their religion are terrible, immoral persons who basically sleep in glass coffins and eat babies. Lest you think I’m exaggerating, note that the July 15 2011 Watchtower outright referred to “apostates” as being “mentally diseased.”
Yes, you read that right. Mentally diseased.
Look, I can’t speak as to any diseases that these men may be carrying, but what I do know is that during our Skype conversation, I felt more appreciated, respected, and just genuinely cared for by these two men than I have ever felt in my life, including the decades spent as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Those “mentally diseased” apostates respected my limitations and both took time to reassure me, and they showed more appreciation for what little bit I had to offer than any elder or anyone else within the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses I had been a part of for decades. This is despite the fact that their literature often calls these men “loving shepherds.” (October 15 2009, April 1 2007, and July 1 2000 Watchtower)
Call me crazy, but I would take time in the company of those terrible, baby eating, “mentally diseased” apostates versus those barking, angry, demanding, condescending, arrogant, rude, browbeating, “loving” shepherds any time. Thanks guys. I mean that.