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Russian JWs Awake(n) – A Beginning?

Russian JWs Awake(n) – A Beginning?

It is possible that internal discussion about Watchtower policies has begun, at least among some Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Internal discussion or debate is very rare – those who attempt to initiate such are quickly disfellowshipped so that their “unsheep-like” attitude does not “infect” the congregation. The Watchtower Bible and Tract publishing empire/religious group is totalitarian – very much a “top-down” organization. They believe that their Governing Body is literally God’s earthly representative. Disagreement with the Governing Body or the Watchtower publication’s interpretations are not tolerated. Members do not hold them accountable for anything.

To be honest, I can’t tell if this is from any organized group of people or not. There is a forum and a site, but I don’t know how many people may be in agreement with what it says. I don’t know how many among them might actually be active JWs, either. But when I got this via a news bulletin from Silent Lambs (where it was submitted) this morning, I saw it as a hopeful sign that some JWs might be opening their eyes on this issue.

To the people of Russia and of the world

D E C L A R A T I O N of active members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses International Organization

We are compelled to write this Declaration because of recent events in the United States that have to do with established incidents of sexual abuse of minors involving some appointed servants (including elders) of the Jehovah’s Witnesses religious organization. We want to express our opinion about the situation and about the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society position in this regards.

Our organization’s leadership — the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses — remains silent and pretends that nothing extraordinary is going on. Nevertheless we cannot remain silent any longer, because we see it all, we face these problems in our everyday lives and we feel confused and ashamed when others point us to such incidents. Thus we in Russia feel very uneasy about these facts.

We do recognize clearly that the present internal policies of our organization are favorable and conductive to concealment of such transgressions against law and morals. All who attempt to press for just punishment of the offenders will themselves come under condemnation unless they have enough evidence against an accused person – oftentimes presence of two or more eye-witnesses of a given incident is requested, whereas one-man witnesses of crimes committed against close kin are dismissed. Therefore a criminal often goes unpunished and privately continues to commit felonious acts against his victim.

We do not know of any single instance when elders of a congregation would turn to the law enforcement agencies with a request to investigate claims of sexual abuse, although crimes of such kind should be investigated by experts.

This probably happens because the elders themselves, as we know, are often involved in similar transgressions (including, to be sure, not only sexual sins, but also deceit, licentiousness, rudeness etc,). Praise God, we do not know of any instances of pedophilia in Russia, but in other situations actions of elders are being portrayed in such a way as if nothing has happened — elders being often “shielded” by fellow elders and/or regional overseers. All this gives rise to feelings of indignation and aversion. We have enough examples to prove our case, but it is not our goal to publish these.

Unfortunately it turns out that it has become more important for Jehovah’s Witnesses to maintain authority of the elders and of the organization in general than to maintain biblical ethics and morals.

We’d be glad to find ourselves mistaken, but thus far all facts speak in favor of such conclusion.

On behalf of all Jehovah’s Witnesses indignant with the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society policies we would like to make apologies to those who have suffered from such actions on part of Jehovah’s Witnesses. We are truly ashamed of their actions. We do this because we recognize that the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, with its usual practice of improper “pudency”, will never do it. Public should know that among Jehovah’s Witnesses both in Russia and in the world there are hundreds and thousands of honest people — they see all the lawless deeds of their organization and sincerely mourn it.

We also do recognize that many policies of our organization are not biblical, but rather based upon dogmas put forth by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. One result of such unchristian position is their “policy of concealment” as applied to various crimes committed by members of the organization. Rank-and-file Jehovah’s Witnesses are mostly unsatisfied with this policy, but they remain silent for fear of being repressed by the leadership which has only one interest: to maintain a positive public “image” of the organization.

We do not want to be condemned by God along with those who stubbornly persist in their delusions (2 Thes. 2:11-12). Having put our hope in His mercy and submitted everything under His mighty hand (1 Peter 5:6), we pray for our brothers that God may open their eyes (Rom. 10:1). Members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses International Organization


I see here open criticism – and it seems to me that it may come from a grounded integrity that feels compassion and sorrow, a sense of priorities, and a more evolved form of ethics. An apology to victims – because the Governing Body will never do it. An acknowledgment that JWs will not refer these cases to the police for investigation. The practice of “shielding.” An understanding that the dogmas exceed biblical justification. (Side quibble: I don’t even want to know what they mean by pudency. It is a word, ranging in meaning from modesty to shame to prudery (as you might guess, it refers to pudendum). Do they mean “prudence”, perhaps?)

I keep hoping that – for the sake of JWs themselves – they will learn how to begin local discussions and debates, and that they find within themselves the wherewithal to step outside the controlling structures and think things through for themselves.

In order to prevent such discussions from happening (or to deal with them if they start), I am speculating (if not outright predicting) that before too long the Governing Body will be forced to announce that they have “received new light from Jehovah” on some of these issues. (I have always wondered about the specific mechanism of the new light delivery system – is there a receiver near the Brooklyn Bridge?)

I know that some Jehovah’s Witnesses have to have noticed the steep decline of compassion and kindness (among other things) among their “sisters and brothers,” their “friends” over the last several years. JWs often quote the scripture about the “fruits of the spirit” as a way of arguing that only they are the true religion. Protecting predators while ignoring victims is not a comfortable stance for people who do their best to conduct their lives in the way they believe God wants and is asking of them.

It is my feeling that the greatest change would occur when JWs find the courage to start having local discussions on some of these issues, rather than simply parroting the talking points sent over from Brooklyn on how to answer questions at the door. True friends and sisters and brothers share their insights, and each one’s gifts contribute to the body as a whole. Spirit does not reside only in the head (so to speak). The fact that almost no JWs partake of the wine and bread at the Memorial, and that even those who consider themselves of the 144,000 never meet with the Governing Body, could make them think about what kind of “communion” or “network” they might really be involved with, but it doesn’t happen.

Some of them know, deep inside, that there are more important things than maintaining the image of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the eyes of the world. Reform is long overdue.

Questioning JW Records Disfellowshipping Process

Questioning JW Records Disfellowshipping Process

In the words of Christopher Walken in the role of The Continental, “Wow. Wowie-wow-wow-wow.”

I stumbled across this today while backtracking some google searches that led people to this site. It’s always interesting to see what else comes up under the same search phrases. Go to this page at to hear the recordings. It doesn’t take long for someone who is looking for answers to their questions to be shunned. This gives a pretty good idea of their pastoral expertise.

Sick of Lies Conversations with Elders

The following phone conversations reveal the lying, misinformation schemes and doubletalk of elders and other brothers that are often triggered by a conversation with a questioning Jehovah’s Witness who is trying to get truthful answers from the Watchtower Society.

“I get many people asking me why I did this, it started as an idea. I wanted to leave and just disassociating myself seemed pointless because I wanted people to know why I was leaving and not just have a blank statement read to the congregation that I’m no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I decided that I would get myself disfellowshiped and document every step of the process. I had already been ‘reproved’ for asking to many questions on the subject of evolution, so I decided to continue to ask questions. I phoned up several elders and asked them questions on various topics, including 607, child abuse, UN NGO statue and more. When I first started doing this I started having second thoughts, I decided I would not pursue the matter anymore, I doubted anything would come of the questions and decided to leave it alone. Well it was only two days after asking these questions that the elders told me that they wanted to meet with me in a judicial committee and discuss what I had said. I was very nervous, but I decided to finish what I had started and carry out my project.

During the whole process I listened to questions and comments from other people who have been through emotional distress because of this religion, I tried to incorporate some or their concerns and questions in where I could. All in all I would say that this has been very therapeutic for me, facing my abusers who caused much depression and hardship in not only my life, but many others has made me feel like I took control of the situation and left under my own terms. After the whole ordeal was finished I left feeling no fear and no anxiety, I felt totally free.” – Sick of Lies

A few sample descriptions:

The elder who denies the “Two Witness” rule that protects pedophiles in the congregation as well as the Watchtower’s connection with the United Nations as an NGO (and they are still an NGO) (19:37)

An “anointed” elder is asked about proving the validity of the 607BCE date for the destruction of Jerusalem, gets flustered and says, “If the Watchtower says that’s what it is, then that’s what it is.” He is then asked about how you know you are of the anointed, and what would happen if the caller partook at the Memorial observance. (11:37)

Asking an elder about 607 BCE. (2:59)

The committee begins, they start by stating the reason they are there: “because your questioning everything” then state the reason they feel that I’m asking the questions is “your just trying to show your superiority because you have an education”. The elders in this committee repeatedly run down ‘higher education’ and state how it destroys spiritual minds.

“You’re looking for information that’s outside of what the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society has published… I support what the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society has to say. Those are my beliefs.” Never is the bible mentioned as the highest source, but always the Watchtower.

Questions are asked about how the elders handle someone who is suicidal or mentally ill. The elders simply reply that this is not their concern and they are simply there to assess wither or not the person qualifies for membership anymore. The elders state that baptism is a contract, and that once joined there is “no nice way out”. They take no responsibility for any depression or suicides that occur because of the shunning that results from their decision.

Second appeal hearing Part One. This time Dan is accompanied by Sean who came to provide him support and counsel if needed. Until last meeting where the elders allowed an outsider (Dan’s mother) to attend the entire hearing and even speak freely, this time they state confidentiality / elder privilege / organizational policy prevent any outsiders from viewing judicial committee under any circumstances.

Part two of appeal hearing. Elders ask if the meeting is being recorded and ask him ‘do you want to get in a war with us?’ ‘If this recording is being used for clandestine purposes you are in a heap of trouble’. Also the person is told that a picture he took of the elders was illegally taken.

04/26/06 Final Meeting with elders. Here the person is told the appeal committee has decided to uphold the decision to disfellowship. He is told there will be no more appeals and this decision will not be overturned.

JW District Convention Invitation Received

JW District Convention Invitation Received

What’s a girl got to do to have her house marked with an X on the local territory map of the JWs?

For the second time this week, I received a home-delivered invitation to the District Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The first was delivered when we weren’t home. The second was delivered this morning by a lone man carrying an uncommonly nice leather valise. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever seen a JW at the door by himself; normally they travel in pairs. He didn’t say anything much, no attempt at the usual pitch – maybe he just wanted to get a look. Considering the other visits I’ve received, I wouldn’t be surprised.

I felt a little bit sorry for him. It’s a warm day, and my uphill driveway is difficult enough that we get few visitors at Halloween. So I didn’t ask any questions, didn’t make any statements. I just said “thank you,” and stepped back inside. The man who handed me the tract looked so cheerful. He is confident that he will survive and be part of God’s Kingdom. He thinks it is a literal place in history, and he’s going to see it and live forever on a Paradise earth while all the heretics and blasphemers and miscreants – basically, anyone who’s not a JW – die on the orders of the God of Love, with Christ (the Archangel Michael) arriving on a white horse for the slaughter. Sometimes I think the organization must be talking about an alien invasion of some kind. The cheerful man looks for “deliverance” from the world while not noticing (even as a black man) that the JW organizational structure is designed on the vocabulary of slavery: slave class, district/circuit overseer, and so on. But – each to their own path.

It’s amusing to note the differences between the official JW website and what JWs are actually taught at the Kingdom Hall. The Watchtower Society looks so benevolent online. You wouldn’t know that they were an extremely profitable set of corporations. Common JW phrases and words do not appear on the site. It’s easy to see the vetting by legal professionals and spindoctors on matters such as how to treat exJW family members, how to respond to domestic abuse or child abuse, their stance on pedophilia, in what circumstances it’s ok to lie in court, or even their views on male “headship.” Maybe current JWs don’t read the site, or somehow don’t notice the huge differences, or maybe they just assume that all is fair in “theocratic strategy.”

I looked at the invitation to attend the “Deliverance at Hand” District Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I know for certain that they don’t want me to attend!

Under the text are sepia-toned depictions of “Poverty,” “Epidemics” and “Disasters.” Love the “helmuts” on the vague police/soldier guys, which look like a cross between Darth Vader and a Roman guard. Under these, a curved arrow points down (as transformational timeline?) onto their idea of the post-apocalyptic world. A strange pastoral in the regular JW style, it is set in a valley: Representatives from different races, smiling, tending a crop of flowers. One man pushing a wheelbarrow that overflows with grapes, watermelon, kale, and other produce. A yellow suburban house on the hill. A mountain lion sipping water from a stream, with children petting it – a gazelle and deer nearby.

On the back of the flyer, there is an illustration of a packed stadium, bordered at the left and bottom by a curve dotted with six illustrations (shouldn’t it be seven?) of the globe turned to different locations.

The conventions take place “from one end of the earth to the other” in July. They make a point of saying that no collections will be taken. An offer of a free book (“What Does the Bible Really Teach?”), along with a form to set up a free home Bible study, ends the page. There’s a little sticker for the dates, times, and location of the local 3-day convention.

I wonder how many hours of door to door service is required per book study these days? Per convert?

One feature of the convention “To Whose Authority Do You Submit,” is a “dramatic presentation in a Biblical setting” that promises to “highlight what loyalty to God really means.” They are backpedalling a bit, then, from the obedience and submission themes of last year. That was all about submission to the organization, obeying the dictates of the parrot-elders, and the like. The slight reorientation to God combined with the “Deliverance” theme is a bit troubling.

The last public address points to what is really meant by “Deliverance”:

Deliverance by God’s Kingdom Is at Hand!

Yikes. Ok, let me translate. Ask yourself… deliverance of who? from what? by who? how? when? Go ahead. Guess….

Answers: Deliverance of God’s submissive and obedient true people (i.e. Jehovah’s Witnesses at two levels – the great crowd of sheep, and the 144,000 intended to rule Planet Earth with Christ in heaven) from this evil and worldly system of things, by God and Christ, through global apocalypse. When? Any day now, just like they’ve been saying since the corporation got started.

Here’s the message. Listen up now:
Everybody had better join up with God’s voice on earth, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, lest they be destroyed. Got that? Join us or die. Sound familiar?

Love and compassion and ethics and service to others and patience and reason and gifts of the spirit and all manner of other spiritual qualities and goals and gifts don’t matter. What matters to the JWs is to bring in as many free workers as possible – under a death theat under God’s own authority.

Other evangelists do similar things, of course. Well, religious liberty and all that.

Actually, I don’t recall that there is anything much new in terms of fulfillment of their interpretations of biblical prophecies. If I remember correctly, I think the next thing in line was a united world religion, followed by its destruction by the UN (or a similar worldly organization transcending nations and having military “horns”). Of course there is the little matter of their doctrine, which says that the generation of 1914 “surely will not pass away” before the end comes, but I think they will be forced to see some “new light” on that one before too long.

They are incredible fear-mongers, not unlike the current Administration of the United States.

I do see economic disaster in our future, but again, one mustn’t blame God for our own stupidity and incompetence and greed. Unfortunately, religion is playing a very destructive role all around the globe – from one end of the earth to the other (sigh).

Ironically, I do think that we are poised on the brink of possible world catastrophes ranging from the threat of global warming to the escalations of war into nuclear catastrophe, but I don’t see either of these scenarios resulting in a cleansed earth fit for paradise. You know, unless they really are in contact with an advanced alien species whose earth rep is named YHWH.

The world today is more fearful than it has been in a long time. Apocalyptic pep talks don’t do much to help rebuild world sanity.

If the eagle can fight the dragon and the bear – which isn’t looking impossible – and the conflict escalates further in the middle east, and some bioweapons are let loose just as global warming really starts to accelerate, and the corporate fundies unite and pollute the rest of the planet under the name of their “stewardship” of the earth, then maybe the aliens will come in and rescue us. I guess. But why would they? It’s not as though we’re very good neighbors.

These are the thoughts that can run through your mind when you’ve been raised on this stuff. You can actually have a train of thought like this and weigh the merits of the speculative argument. Maybe it will help me write fiction.

I’m still waiting for someone to connect the dots and hire some blue-turbaned actor to ride through the gates on a donkey. Maybe that’s the signal to the fathership.

No jail for JW that sexually assaulted daughter

No jail for JW that sexually assaulted daughter

The Globe and Mail: No jail for Jehovah’s Witness found guilty of abusing daughter

Ontario JW Gower Palmed pleaded guilty to one count of sexual assault. Although the court found he abused his daughter on at least five occasions, Judge Kruzick thought he had already been punished by the civil suit – and after all, he’ll be on a sex-offender registry.

Now a married mother of three pre-teen daughters, Ms. Boer said she hoped her criminal and civil battles would force changes to how Witnesses deal with sexual abuse within their ranks. …

Ms. Boer, 34, was sexually assaulted by her father between ages 11 and 14.

Rather than notify authorities, she claimed in an earlier civil suit that elders told her not to seek outside help or report the abuse. She also said they forced her to confront her father to allow him to repent his sins as outlined in Matthew Chapter 18, Verses 15-18, a process she said was abusive and traumatic.

In 1998, Ms. Boer sued the Jehovah’s Witnesses through the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society for $700,000, saying the abuse and how it was handled by the sect almost drove her to suicide. In June of 2003, Madam Justice Anne Molloy ruled the Witnesses could not be held responsible for all her pain and suffering.

Judge Molloy found the church had not warned her against reporting the abuse, and that only one elder had wrongly applied sect policy by persuading her to confront her father. She did find the organization negligent in allowing untrained elders to hold the meeting and awarded Ms. Boer $5,000 in damages.

“They don’t follow the [written] policies,” said Ms. Boer, who abandoned the faith in the early 1990s.

Spokesman Mark Ruge disputed allegations that the Christian movement tries to deal with abuse away from the prying eyes of outside authorities.

“We abhor any sexual misconduct or abuse, especially when children are involved,” Mr. Ruge said from Georgetown, Ont. “We abide by the letter of the law as far as legal requirements are in reporting to the appropriate child-welfare services.”

How many of these cases will it take to get an action? JWs consider themselves part of a theocratic kingdom, and resist any intervension by “worldly authorities.” For an organziation that will kick someone out for smoking, they are strangely lenient about disciplining their men when they internalize and literalize what they’ve taught them about their authority.

When the Catholics came out with this sort of thing, there were charges, there were new policies. Somehow the JWs are able to send in lawyers who deflect that.

How many more cases will it take before they are held accountable for the so-called “secret” rules that everyone knows?

I applaud you Ms. Boer.

Transcending JW Abuse

Transcending JW Abuse

It’s such a familiar narrative now, and it’s almost comforting to me to see more and more people testifying to it – to know that what I observed and experienced is pretty much the same from congregation to congregation, and not just a matter of my own family or community in the Jehovah’s Witnesses: the fantasies of a paradise earth devoid of all but other Jehovah’s Witnesses, the fatalism toward the coming apocalypse and the lack of engagement in the world, an almost total lack of compassion, paranoia and fear of others, spankings and beatings “out back” at the Hall, the abusive and sometimes predatory nature of many of the elders, the way small slights divide families while larger issues are ignored, the hypocrisy, the mind-numbing repetition in the many meetings – the smallness of it all.

Joy Castro is now a literature professor – it is very heartening to find that so many of us, who were not irretrievably damaged but instead went on to thrive, were able to save our sanity and navigate a different path if we had something else – like intellectual curiosity, a higher sense of ethics, compassion for others – some private treasure to hold onto like a mantra while redefinining faith and value for ourselves.

Bits from the article “Turn of Faith” by Joy Castro
August 14, 2005, New York Times Magazine

Three times a week in the Kingdom Hall in Miami, my brother and I strove to sit perfectly still in our chairs. Our mother carried a wooden spoon in her purse and was quick to take us outside for beatings if we fidgeted.

My loneliness was nourished by rich, beautiful fantasies of eternal life in a paradise of peace, justice, racial harmony and environmental purity, a recompense for the rigor and social isolation of our lives.

This bliss wasn’t a future we had to work for. Witnesses wouldn’t vote, didn’t involve themselves in worldly matters, weren’t activists. Jehovah would do it all for us, destroying everyone who wasn’t a Witness and restoring the earth to harmony. All we had to do was obey and wait.

Shortly after our return to the States, my father was disfellowshipped for being an unrepentant smoker — smoking violated God’s temple, the body, much like fornication and drunkenness. Three years later, my parents’ marriage dissolved. My mother’s second husband had served at Bethel, the Watchtower’s headquarters in Brooklyn. Our doctrines, based on Paul’s letters in the New Testament, gave him complete control as the new head of the household; my mother’s role was to submit. My stepfather happened to be the kind of person who took advantage of this authority, physically abusing us and forcing us to shun our father completely.

After two years, I ran away to live with my father. My brother joined me a tumultuous six months later. We continued to attend the Kingdom Hall and preach door to door; the Witnesses had been our only community. Leaving was a gradual process that took months of questioning. I respected all faiths deeply, but at 15 I decided that I could no longer be part of a religion that condoned inequality.

I love my mother, but I also love my ”worldly” life, the multitude of ideas I was once forbidden to entertain, the rich friendships and the joyous love of my family. By choosing to live in the world she scorned — to teach in a college, to spare the rod entirely, to believe in the goodness of all kinds of people — I have, in her eyes, turned my back not only on Jehovah but also on her.

Joy Castro is the author of a memoir, “The Truth Book: Escaping a Childhood of Abuse Among Jehovah’s Witnesses,” to be published next month by Arcade and from which this essay is adapted. She lives in Crawfordsville, Ind.

Here’s a bit from “Farm Use” in Without a Net, in which she writes about mealtimes:

“Food becomes a measured thing. Each mealtime, my stepfather dishes himself up from the pots. Then my mother may help herself to half of what he has taken. Then, while he watches, she can spoon half of what she’s taken onto my plate. A portion half the size of mine goes to my brother. If my stepfather wants a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, my brother gets one-eighth. If she gives us more than my stepfather calculates is correct, he beats us with his belt.”

What is it with the belt, anyway? I remember my mother asking my father to hit us with his hand, so that he could feel how hard he was hitting us – but he preferred the belt, followed by a biblical lecture which might well have been a reading from some back issue of the Watchtower magazine. Of course we had all the bound volumes. I remember being beaten one time for standing near to the stereo and looking to him as though I might be thinking about touching it. He wanted his children to be perfect in Jehovah’s eyes – spare the rod, spoil the child. Myself, I always wondered what exactly a “rod” was… I mean, in that context (ha). It always sounded like it might have been a bad translation – anyone know?

Thanks goes to H.K. for alerting me to this.

Jehovah’s Witness Elders

Jehovah’s Witness Elders

This short article by Victoria Cater gives another common example of what the Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) does to families. This is typical of the kinds of situations I remember and hear about from people who write to me for advice.

The first claim – that her father was kicked out for not giving up weekends with his family in order to pioneer (go out door to door for a specified number of hours per month) – is unlikely. You can’t really be disfellowshipped for that. Probably she wasn’t told the real reason – so that’s forgivable.

However, the example of her grandmother rings true:

Not only was my family not invited to attend my 97-year-old grandmother’s funeral, but Brothers and Sisters from the Kingdom Hall contacted my family to say we were not welcome and would not be allowed in if we showed up – all because we were not of their faith! After her death, we discovered that for the last year of her life, the Jehovah’s Witnesses were telling her she would not go to the “new world” (equivalent of heaven) if she continued contact with her family.

The “new world” isn’t really heaven, of course, but the promise of everlasting life with other JWs (and no-one else) on a paradise earth after the apocalypse. As for the funeral – Crater’s family must really have been in deep doo-doo to be prohibited from attending. Normally they are more concerned that their “sheep” keep away from sacraments of other churches – no attending services, weddings or funerals!

The more tragic and common theme is simply that the grandmother was prohibited (using methods of appeal to authority) from contact with her son and the rest of the non-JW family. There is a deeper problem with those who have been disfellowshipped than with non-JWs who could conceivably be converted. These separations are one of the top issues for people who contact me.

When I was a JW, family were still allowed to spend at least some time with each other – but it seems that there has been a drift into more serious tinkering with family dynamics since then. Then, it was a matter of conscience – and since we didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas, we missed out on a lot of occasions that kin networks use to gather themselves together. There was also the sense of taint – that it was just better to minimize contact. The result of this is that I am only beginning to get to know most of my father’s extended family – I have 19 cousins on that side!

To get back to the article, I really did want to mention something else. This is something that outsiders don’t really know about:

From what I have experienced, the “elders” who oversee the individual Kingdom Halls are not trained faith leaders. All other religions I am familiar with have a leader who has extensive training for this position. The Jehovah’s Witness elders have no right to guide individuals or families.

The only “training” that elders and “ministerial servants” and “pioneers” get is the same dreary fare as that of the general congregation: endless repetitious mind-numbingly dull meetings, the “theocratic ministry school” meeting once a week – really more of a public speaking class – and the derivative highly interpreted and predigested materials from Bethel in New York. The hour-long “talks” (they don’t call them “sermons”) are read aloud from a script – their ministers are not even trusted to follow their own calling or relationship with God.

While there is a certain kind of appeal to the idea of spiritual leaders that arise spontaneously from the flock, the fact remains that none of their ministers have, or are allowed to have, any training or education at all outside the group. They have not studied Greek or Hebrew or Latin. They do not have divinity degrees, or educational background in sociology, psychology, religion, literature, acheology, history or philosophy/theology. Most of them have never attended even one college class.

They are elders because 1) they do what they are told to do and, 2) because they are likely the only males in the congregation who have reached a certain age and are sufficiently involved with the group. The other elders decide who gets awarded different kinds of rank. There is some lip-service paid to the idea of “serving” the congregation, but it’s pretty clearly a position of power – and a power often abused. The JW rules and regs are very strict and authoritarian to begin with – add any personal corruption to that and you start to hear even more heartbreaking narratives.

Members of the congregation are told over and over to humble themselves before the elders, to submit to the elders. They believe, since they have no access to the actual interpreters and decision-makers, that God wants them to trust utterly in these flawed, untrained, uneducated and often staggeringly unwise men.

Incidentally, because sexual issues are one of the top reasons that people leave or are kicked out of the JWs, these elders – like the hard right – are obsessed with sexual issues. Of course, they are in no way prepared to deal with these issues in any healthy way and create enormous damage. They also discourage any kind of professional counselling or the intervention of “worldly authorities” in any way. I remember there was a period when married couples were encouraged to report their spouse to the elders if they got adventuresome sexually (or in a few specific ways – oral sex seemed to be the big obsession). The goal at the time seemed to be to target women who might possibly enjoy sex – I don’t remember any discussion of pedophilia or sadism, for example, although there were people in my own congregation who had to deal with those issues. It was simply inconceivable that any of “God’s people” would be involved with those sorts of things.

When there is a matter of personal conscience to confront, most Jehovah’s Witnesses will capitulate to the decision of the elders or the guidance of the organization’s publications. They are fearful of even writing a letter to headquarters to ask a question. Such communications might end up in their file, and many JWs have a fine-tuned paranoia. If they present a difficult situation to their local elders, they draw attention to themselves, and “spiritual guidance” as an idea is so tangled up with reprimand and danger that most questions are simply never asked. A person with questions is automatically regarded as “rebellious youth” or “in danger of straying from the truth” or being too close to “worldly influences.” The best thing to do is remain attentive at meetings, parrot back the expected rote answers, and be seen going out in service as much as possible. Independent thought, any of them will tell you, is against their religion.

How is any of that conducive to spiritual growth?

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