This testimony letter gives a glimpse into some of the recurring issues. Thanks for sending and giving your permission to post, Angela!
I was raised by parents who converted to Jehovah’s Witnesses (from the Catholic religion) when I was five years old (I am now 32). My father is an elder and he and my mother are very active. I have six younger brothers and sisters who are all active JW’s.
When I was 18, I married a “brother” I had met at a quick-build. Five years later we had a daughter. After seven years of marriage, I found myself very unhappy and I decided to leave. My husband (a Ministerial Servant), along with the elders help, tricked me into signing custody papers that were not as they were presented. My ex and his wife have primary physical custody of my daughter. I see my child every other weekend and six weeks during the summer (they moved 3 hours away). I tried to regain custody of her, only to fail. Can you say “Parent Alienation?”
After I remarried, I tried to return to the Kingdom Hall in 2003 to be reinstated. I attended meetings faithfully for six months. I decided to write my letter in order to be reinstated. The elders on my committee told me that everything seemed to be going well and it would only be a couple of weeks before they made the announcement of my reinstatement. When I met with the elders a week later, they informed me that my ex-husband did not think I was ready to be reinstated… and the elders wanted me to drop my appeal that was currently in progress for custody of my daughter. I gave up and almost went crazy with grief for the sudden loss of my daughter, my family and all of my friends. I had to receive intense counseling to deal with the emotional pain.
Since 2003, I had allowed my daughter to attend meetings with my family during my weekend and summer visits with her. Things have recently taken a turn. I told my seven year old daughter that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not know if they have the only true religion… no one knows. Well, apparently she told one of my sisters who in turn retaliated with a very nasty letter that stated, “you are basically trying to kill her (my daughter) by telling her or trying to convince her that she does not have the true religion!” and “you now have the name of an apostate in my eyes.” That letter made me sick. My sister who had been my best friend had written these horrible hurtful words. She had been disfellowshipped at one time, but I took her in despite being chastised by the elders.
Since that letter was written, I have not allowed my daughter to attend a meeting at the Kingdom Hall while she is with me. She is around those people enough with her father. This decision that I have made will probably result in another nasty custody battle because my ex husband will not respect my decision… he will try everything in his power to program our daughters mind. She has already started asking me why she can’t go to the Kingdom Hall this summer. Her father must have her convinced that God will look unfavorable upon her if she doesn’t persuade me to let her attend the meetings. He’s making her feel torn between two worlds.
I too am in limbo. No one seems to understand how it feels to lose all of your friends and family in one day. No one understands how it feels to be treated like dirt on someone’s shoe. I have never done drugs, been a drunkard, beat my children, or murdered anyone… yet I am treated (by JWs) as someone who is beneath those type of people. The lowest scum of the earth. What gives those imperfect humans the right to judge me as unworthy of God’s love??
I have just begun to explore websites that are created by former Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the past I was afraid. I am only full of anger now. I want to relate to someone. I want to talk to people who understand what I’ve been through and what I am still going through. Thank you for taking the time to read about what I’ve been through.
Angela, I hope you know that you are not unworthy of God’s love, which is endless and does not depend on human organizations like the one in Brooklyn. Show your daughter better examples of caring, compassion, and kindness. She will remember, and in the long run, it is the best thing you can do for yourself and for her.
You are not alone in this, but it is a difficult path to navigate. Start building a more authentic life for yourself, and let go of some of your anger if you can. Document everything that happens (and do not respond in kind, no matter how tempting it might be). Take control of your own religious path and your relationship to God – prayer helps a lot, if only to focus and meditate. If you can, turn your focus outward toward acts of friendship and service – not door-to-door service, but the kinds of “helping” gestures that can mean so very much to others. This will help lift you up, stabilize you, and help you to rebuild a sense of yourself that brackets out these unfair judgments.
There are some JW boards where you can thrash some of this out if you want to, but ultimately it’s up to you to find inner strength (if not for yourself, for your daughter). Think of the mommy you’d most like to be, and start moving in that direction. The more you act out of the center of your soul, the more it becomes habitual. Take the good things you’ve learned, and dump the rest. God is bigger than their vision – explore your ethics and your spirituality for yourself.
As for your family and “friends” – I can only mourn with you. It’s heartbreaking, and I’m so sorry. Again, the best thing you can do, when you can manage to do it (it’s not easy sometimes) is to set an example of ethics, compassion, caring, and love. It is the only thing that might make any difference at all.
I have a good feeling about you because you took in your sister when she had been cast out. That means you have a sense of ethical priorities, which JWs usually have trouble ordering. You already know that the highest priority is not following the rules of an organization, but rather caring for others (and for yourself, too! don’t forget that). Take care of yourself first, so that you may then care for your daughter.
Arm your lawyer with any documentation that you have of any of this. Alienation of a child’s affection is a serious matter. That the JW elders sat down with you (!), misrepresented the agreement, and so on may be basis for coercion, and the judge may take that into consideration. Also, your situation is changed now, and that also has to be taken into account. As you have discovered, JWs will hit hard for children to remain in the custody of the JW parent. They could even lend your ex one of their own lawyers. I recommend that you do a little web research on Jehovah’s Witnesses and custody battles – there are perhaps some previous cases that may be of help to you and your lawyer.
Keeping you in my daily meditations, and sending you waves of healing and love.