Why am I an activist? What do I hope to accomplish by speaking out against Jehovah’s Witnesses? It’s simple, really. The Watchtower needs to go. As a religion, as an organization. It needs to go away, liquidate, disappear into the night.
Sure, it would be nice if the Watchtower made some changes, for example, about how they handle child molestation cases, but it’s not likely. They’ve been staring down the barrel of multi-million dollar lawsuits for years now, and have only dug in their heels, so I don’t think they’re going to give up their “two witness” rule or leave off shredding personal notes anytime soon. If tens of millions of dollars in lawsuits lobbied by some of the most skilled attorneys who know how to manage public relations and the media won’t get them to change, I’m pretty sure we unknown and unskilled activists bumbling around on the internet won’t either. Shunning also isn’t going to go away; it’s their biggest weapon for keeping members in line and in the Kingdom Hall. Shutting people off from the outside world, and then threatening to isolate them from their families, has been effective for cults, terrorist groups, and even abusive relationships for generations; why give that up?
The Watchtower organization might give some leeway on the issue of blood transfusions, as medical treatment is able to break down whole blood even more, and offer more alternatives to blood itself. There may come a time when whole blood is rarely necessary, and we won’t have as many Witnesses dying due to their refusal of blood transfusions, but that will only happen through medical advances, not because of real concessions by the Watchtower.
All that aside, it doesn’t matter. The Watchtower needs to go. Completely. These major issues, important as they are, just aren’t enough for me to stop my activism, even if these changes were all enacted tomorrow. Why not?
Simply put, the Watchtower may be doing the most damage through these policies, but these are not the only horrific issues when it comes to the overall damage done by this “religion.” A few reformed policies, no matter the amount of good they do, won’t be enough for them to become harmless, and just another oddball religion.
Consider some often-overlooked ways the Watchtower Society shreds human lives, destroys families, and destroys children, and a few other reasons why I personally think this “religion” needs to go.
Read the Domestic Violence category of this site and you’ll see how the Watchtower Society strongly encourages women to stay with abusive men in the hopes of converting them, no matter the damage to a woman’s health, safety, and emotional well-being. As a matter of fact, a woman’s safety and her thoughts and feelings are rarely even mentioned; as I bring out in this post, the April 2013 Awake magazine lauded the experience of “Valerie,” who stayed with her abusive husband even after he pistol-whipped her and held a knife to the throat of their son. Not only is Valerie’s safety not a concern for Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout this ordeal, but neither is the safety of her children. The man threatened to slit their son’s throat; how would “Valerie” or any woman know if he was serious about following through with this threat?
Yet, Jehovah’s Witnesses strongly encourage women to stay in those situations and, as I bring out in this post, have even chastised women who have been the victims of domestic violence, telling them that it’s their fault that their husbands are abusive! This abuse and violence I saw even came from those who were elders in the religion. This is how ingrained this practice is with Jehovah’s Witnesses, and how much it’s overlooked.
It’s also important to note that domestic violence doesn’t always mean being physically abused. Recently the social media site Twitter launched a hashtag, #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou, to talk about the many forms domestic violence might take. Note a few things shared on Twitter under this hashtag:
How many of these comments sound like Watchtower policy and practices? Jehovah’s Witnesses still, to this day, say that wives must be “submissive” to their husbands¹, and, as I bring out in this post, when a husband feels his wife needs correcting, he is to do so with firmness, even in matters of her clothing, cosmetics, and jewelry. In other words, she needs his approval even in how she dresses or wears her makeup. When Jehovah’s Witnesses tell wives that they need to apologize for when they’ve been abused, as I personally saw many times over, this, in of itself, is a form of domestic violence.
The point being, if Jehovah’s Witnesses reformed their demand for two witnesses to child molestation, stopped shunning, and stopped their prohibition against blood transfusions, how would that help all the women and children who continue to be victims of domestic abuse? Whether that’s physical abuse, verbal abuse, or mental and emotional abuse, the effects are far-reaching; as noted in this post, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that children who are consistently exposed to this behavior are typically antisocial, depressed, anxious, violent themselves, and experience long-term cognitive and developmental problems. UNICEF has said that witnessing domestic violence can affect a child so much that it actually harms the physical development of their brain. They may have trouble learning and sleeping, and are at greater risk later in life for substance abuse, juvenile pregnancy, and criminal behavior.
For women, those who are victims of domestic violence are more likely to develop depression and, according to some studies, “schizophrenia-like psychotic symptoms.” Other studies report high suicide risk, loss of trust, low self-esteem, fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, tension, suspicion, somatic problems, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Women who are taught that they cannot make a move without the permission of their husbands are stifled in their own personality and ambitions, and in their mental and emotional health; how can you decide that you’re good enough to be a doctor, business owner, or any type of professional, or even just a capable grownup, if you’re taught that you cannot make up your own mind about whether or not your jewelry is appropriate?
This behavior also has other far-reaching effects on the children. Little boys are taught that they can act any way they want, and it’s up to the woman to simply tolerate their actions, and put them and their needs first. If boys see this type of violence being tolerated at home, how do you think they’re going to treat other women in their life, including classmates, teachers, coworkers, or a waitress, much less their own wife? I certainly saw a lot of generally disrespectful behavior from JW men when I was “in.” Little girls are taught that being humiliated, treated as second class, and even outright abused is simply “too bad,” and that their feelings and needs don’t count. This can open them up to being in abusive relationships as they get older, as they learn that there is something very “righteous” about trying to change an abusive man by tolerating his abuse with a submissive smile.
Considering that this teaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses, that women are to be submissive and subject to men, is part of their foundation for their teachings about the family, and that it was repeated by governing body member Geoffrey Jackson during the Australian Royal Commission Inquiry (this post), makes me think it’s not going to go away anytime soon. Even during their 2016 summer conventions, they’ve repeated this information, congratulating women who put up with abusive situations no matter how it affects anyone in the family, including their children.
Even if Jehovah’s Witnesses somehow clamped down on the physical abuse that I saw when I was “in,” they will continue with this mentally and emotionally abusive teaching, that women need to always be submissive and ask permission for their actions and ensure a man’s approval, and needs to play whatever mind games with him that a man might dish out, rather than treating women as equals and as adults.
So, the Watchtower needs to go.
Child Physical Abuse
Child rape and molestation are no doubt the worst forms of child abuse, but they’re not the only ways that people can abuse children. Severe forms of physical abuse, even under the guise of discipline, can scar children for life, both physically and mentally. These abuses can include beatings, paddling, and whippings, with belts, straps, switches, and the like. While I firmly believe that children need discipline and some types of punishments, I also know that mercilessly beating your child, and especially for demands that are outside their abilities, only traumatizes that child and other children in the home.
You don’t need to take my word for it; the American Psychological Association says, “Many studies have shown that physical punishment — including spanking, hitting and other means of causing pain — can lead to increased aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury and mental health problems for children.” This same report noted that 30 countries have banned all forms of physical punishment against children in all settings, including the home, because it is so damaging to them.
Yet, Jehovah’s Witnesses still allow this type of abuse toward children; as I bring out in this post, even governing body member Geoffrey Jackson publicly stated, while being questioned at the Australian Royal Commission Inquiry, that the religion won’t outright forbid it. You can visit that post to note comments made by ex-JWs when it comes to the physical abuses they suffered as a means of “discipline,” and how it affects them today. Even as adults, they are upset, anxious, humiliated, and traumatized.
This practice is also very unlikely to go away anytime soon. Rather than take an ounce of responsibility for the trauma that children suffer with corporal punishment, Jackson seemed to just squirm out of, and then gloss over, the questioning. If the glare of the publicity surrounding the Australian Royal Commission was not going to make him sit up and take notice of the pain and suffering of the children in their religion, I don’t know what else will. Jehovah’s Witnesses, like many other fundamentalist religions, take literally the scriptures that say to punish children with a “rod,”² and I see no reversal of this interpretation in sight. So, again, the Watchtower itself simply needs to go.
Rape is no doubt one of the most horrific, violent, traumatizing crimes you can commit against another human, adult or child, and the mental and emotional scars last long after a victim heals physically from the assault. According to RAINN, a victim of rape can suffer from PTSD, stress, depression, anxiety, flashbacks, resultant eating disorders, sleep disorders, and even suicide attempts. As a woman, I can tell you that many women around the world live with the fear of rape every day, in far too many situations. We’re careful about where we park our car, about going into a public restroom or even the gym locker room alone, about talking too much to our neighbors and about leaving our windows open during the day, much less at night. A woman can be attacked anywhere, including her own home, no matter what she’s wearing, no matter her overall appearance, and no matter how she behaves.
Yet, despite all this, Jehovah’s Witnesses have a horrific track record for how they treat rape victims. As I bring out in this post, they have blamed women for raising rapists and for being raped in the first place! Forget about placing the blame for rape at the feet of the rapist; no, it’s women’s fault for how they raise little boys and for being out of their home at night. Jehovah’s Witnesses have told women to treat rapists “respectfully” and “understandingly” (this post) without mentioning what a woman should understand or respect about such a violent, disgusting animal.
There is also no mention of treating a rape victim herself with such understanding and respect. As I bring out in this post, Jehovah’s Witness elders are told to use “discernment” when a woman claims to have been raped, based on her “mental disposition,” if she delayed reporting the incident, and the circumstances leading up to the incident. In other words, if a rape victim’s attitude isn’t to an elder’s liking, he gets to say she wasn’t raped. If a woman somehow knew, or just spoke to, the man who raped her, an elder gets to say she wasn’t raped. If she was traumatized, terrorized, humiliated, or otherwise in too much shock to immediately call the police, go through a rape test, and retell her story the minute it was over, the elders get to say she wasn’t raped.
Of course, elders can’t determine any of this unless they sit her in a back room of the Kingdom Hall, with no other women or anyone else present for emotional support, and ask her to repeatedly retell every horrific detail of the attack, including the most disgusting details of the sexual assault itself. They do this, not because they’ve been instructed to help her at all, but because they need to determine for themselves if she’s just lying about the whole thing. They won’t respect her word or version of events, but feel this need to grill her, put her on the spot, and immediately look at her with suspicion, in order to “discern” her words and judge her. This is all done by men who have no training in criminology, psychology, counseling, and the like.
Imagine the trauma, the humiliation, and the outright abuse that a rape victim goes through at the hands of her supposed loving spiritual shepherds, where she is made to feel as if she needs to explain herself and her actions, and somehow defend herself to them, lest she be labeled a liar and then shunned by everyone she knows. There is no help for her, no respect for her, no regard for her feelings or even her dignity, and this situation isn’t likely to be addressed anytime soon. The instruction above, for elders to “discern” if a woman was really raped, was in the 2010 Shepherd the Flock of God book, the handbook used by elders, and not some book from a hundred years ago. There has never been any apology or rescinding of the information about blaming women for raising rapists or for being raped, or any backpedaling on their instructions to treat a rapist with respect and understanding. So, since they aren’t likely to reform their damaged, horrific approach of blaming a woman for a brutal crime against her, and for mentally raping her all over again, for the sake of these victims, the Watchtower needs to go.
Throwing Your Money, and Your Life, Away
Many ex-JWs will tell you of how they struggle to make ends meet, since they were routinely discouraged from pursuing higher education while in the religion; in turn, they may find themselves with few job skills and a paltry resume. As they get older, ex-JWs, and Jehovah’s Witnesses alike, also have little money for retirement or for facing expensive medical bills that are especially common with advancing age. Keeping persons from pursuing higher education also means keeping them from feeling fulfilled and satisfied with their work; washing windows may pay a few bills, but does it make anyone happy? Would someone feel as good about themselves doing that for a living, as opposed to their their dream of acting, being an architect, or learning marine biology; might window washing or cleaning offices itself make a person feel outright depressed?
Not only does this teaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses hurt their members financially and deprive them of a sense of accomplishment, but it also means society itself may very well be missing out on doctors, business owners, builders, and other important contributors. Many former Jehovah’s Witnesses are also very talented singers, artists, actors and actresses, and writers, but the world will never hear their voices or enjoy their talent because of being lost to the Watchtower Society.
Note, too, how Jehovah’s Witnesses donate what few extra dollars they have to their religion; many even donate what few dollars they don’t have. The December 15, 2013, Watchtower 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.”
So, even poor persons in Africa are encouraged to donate to a religion that is raking in hundreds of millions of dollars, perhaps even a billion dollars, from real estate sales in New York alone. Jehovah’s Witness practice no official charitable giving despite their profits; poor persons give to them, not the other way around.
In addition to taking food from the mouths of their children, congregants are encouraged to spend as much time as possible in the preaching work, recruiting new members. Time they could spend learning, earning a living, or building a happy family is instead spent preaching, studying Watchtower literature, or attending more of their meetings.
Speaking of futures, along with not pursuing higher education, many members put off marriage and children because of believing that the promised “new system” will be here tomorrow, and that they’ll be able to have their family after Armageddon. These ones then miss out on bringing their children into this world, something that I can personally attest to being very painful, and even more so as you get older.
One of the most effective ways that Jehovah’s Witnesses keep their members inside their religion, apart from the threat of shunning if they leave, is by dangling that carrot of a new system in front of them at all times. If they take that away, their members may, in turn, live their own lives and eventually leave the religion.
So, this teaching isn’t likely to go away anytime soon. This will mean even more wasted, frustrated lives without fulfillment, security, and futures. Since this damage will no doubt be continuous and ongoing as long as the religion is in existence, the Watchtower needs to go.
Out of the Frying Pan
When a person becomes an activist for any social or political cause, of course they are free to pick and choose whatever cause works for them; however, picking and choosing a few policies of Jehovah’s Witnesses, while overlooking these others, is hurtful to many victims. This teaches those victims that they are not as important as others, and I have a problem with that.
Remember that, when you’re in the religion, you’re often taught that your health, safety, well-being, personal value and worth, are all pointless and unimportant, or at least secondary. This is true for those who are victims of domestic violence or child abuse; your safety and health are not important enough for the religion to even acknowledge the damage done to you, much less for them to affect change. A rape victim is taught that her needs and dignity are not important; this vicious, disgusting creature who would attack someone in such a horrific way is worthy of “respect” and “understanding,” but she is not. Her well-being is not important enough for Jehovah’s Witnesses to change their teaching or even acknowledge what she has been through.
Those who give up their money, their time, their potential family and their futures are also not important, at least, not in comparison to the religion itself; their sacrifices are immaterial, when they’re for the greater good.
This is what the religion teaches all these ones, and when supposed activists say that Jehovah’s Witnesses should just change a few policies to protect a few victims, without it ever occurring to them to consider these other victims of the religion, they are sending them this same message.
Child molestation victims are very important, yes, perhaps the most important victims for whom we’re fighting, but victims of domestic violence are not? Children who are not molested, but simply beaten within an inch of their lives, are not worth fighting for? Someone whose family shuns them is worthy of our fight and insistence that Jehovah’s Witnesses sit up and take notice of our work, but a woman who has been raped and then abused all over again by these disgusting elders and their disgusting inquisitions is not worth our fight? We want Jehovah’s Witnesses to change their policies to protect a person’s right to take blood transfusions, but those women and children being beaten, who cares about their physical health; is this the message we’re sending them? We’ll just leave them behind and be satisfied with these other changes, without thinking of them or being concerned with how they’re being victimized by this religion?
That hurts me deeply. Very deeply.
That hurts my heart, to think that people can come out of the religion after being dismissed, shoved aside, and made to feel invisible, and then be told the same thing they were told when they were in, that they just aren’t as important as the next person, no matter the levels of abuse and damage they’ve suffered.
For those who have read Bo Juel’s story, you know he was the victim of more than just child molestation. His stepfather beat him so bad that he was unconscious and nearly comatose many times over, and he has scars on his head, his shoulders, his legs, and elsewhere from that abuse, scars that I have seen in person. If Jehovah’s Witnesses changed their policies about child molestation, do you think I would be happy to know that the man who molested him went to jail, but as for the man who beat the shit out of him, oh well too bad, we reformed a few policies so our work here is done? Sorry that you barely made it out of your house alive but hey, we have our priorities, so we’ll just let the organization that made it okay for your stepfather to beat you like that keep chugging along, with other children inside being abused in the same way, so try not to let it bother you…?
I realize that, being a woman and the victim of certain policies of this religion, I have a certain point of view, and may be especially sensitive to some hurtful policies of the religion. I’m actually glad for that, because I know that other “activists” are men who may easily overlook the horrific damage caused by those policies. There are many ex-JW men who don’t seem to realize how prevalent domestic violence was in the religion, and they also may not understand how treating a woman like a child who needs your approval and permission is a form of abuse, and how much it can hurt her self-esteem and overall mental and emotional health. If these men didn’t grow up witnessing domestic violence, it might not occur to them to think of the damage done to children in such homes. Men who have never experienced rape may not ever realize the level of fear, anger, and PTSD it causes without having to “answer for” your own actions to a group of nasty, disgusting, accusatory elders. Some men even carry a misogynistic attitude with them outside the religion, as being an ex-JW doesn’t mean you suddenly and automatically respect women, or anyone, as equals.
As I’m composing this post, I’m also reading some transcripts from the Royal Commission Inquiry; one of the victims questioned during the Inquiry was molested by her father, who was molesting all four of his daughters. She talked in detail about her father raping her while he was telling her to be obedient to him as her father, and about how the religion taught her that she had no choice but to obey her father. She talked in detail about the elders grilling her in the most obscene way, even asking her if she enjoyed her father’s sexual abuse. She talked about how the elders knew that her other sisters were being raped, but they dismissed the words of those girls as being unreliable, and about how she was threatened against going to the police for fear of “dragging Jehovah’s name through the mud.” She was also counseled to respect her raping, violent father, and was counseled against talking to anyone for support, including her own fiancee. As part of her testimony, she also stated:
I know that the Watchtower won’t change and, even if they did reform a few policies, it won’t be enough. We owe more to that little girl and all victims like her than to take a simplistic, naive approach with activism. We’re not talking about letting women wear pants to the meetings; we’re talking about violence, mental and emotional abuse in many forms, and a laundry list of crimes that are intrinsic to the very fabric of this religion, and part of its very foundation.
There comes a time when you can no longer put a few patches on something and call it workable; you need to get rid of it altogether. My car is quickly becoming an example; the Watchtower is another. The Watchtower cannot be patched up here and there and expected to be a harmless little religion; its list of abuses is too long, its damaging policies too central to their core beliefs. I just don’t see how that can happen.
I personally am working hard to see the Watchtower gone; I’m working on some legal wranglings, and am trying to correct the misinformation that was being spread about the UK Charity Commission and their inquiry, am knocking back at so-called activists who have silenced stories with journalists and hurt this work, but my vision is clear. The Watchtower needs to go. I don’t endorse criminal activity or confronting JWs with mindless shouts that are ineffective and pointless, but I also won’t insult and degrade the victims of this religion, or marginalize what so many have gone through, by acting as if a few changes here and there will be enough. People can believe what they want when it comes to god and Jesus and the afterlife and who is going to heaven and etc., but this religion is past the point of saving. It’s dangerous, deadly, and hateful, and because of how many people it’s hurt and continues to hurt, and will always continue to hurt and destroy, it just needs to go.
¹Keep Yourselves in God’s Love book, June 2015 printing, chapter 4, “When his decisions are not to her liking, she may respectfully express her thoughts, but she remains submissive. … If her husband is not a believer, she may face challenging situations, yet her submissive conduct may move her husband to seek Jehovah.”
²Insight on the Scriptures, volume 2, “Rods or staffs were used for support (Ex 12:11; Zec 8:4; Heb 11:21); for defense or protection (2Sa 23:21; Mt 10:10); to punish children, slaves, or others…”