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Jehovah’s Witnesses Claiming to Follow the Christ

Jehovah’s Witnesses Claiming to Follow the Christ

According to an article in the Cherry Hill N.J. Courier-Post, Jehovah’s Witnesses aim to “debunk myths” about their faith by adopting the topic “Follow the Christ!” at the District Conventions. The article mentions only the one convention being held in Reading, Pa., but of course the program is an identical thing everywhere, and it’s not as though it’s an actual “conference” type of convention at which one might expect discussions, debates, new scholarship, pastoral support, and the like. It’s reinforcement and rah-rah. The JW assemblies were fun because it was a chance to meet other JWS, and it had a celebratory air for that reason. Now it seems they are using it as a preaching tool. They must have gleaned some tips from Falwell, et al. Too bad for the young ones seeking a mate – they’ll have to sort through all the non-JWs that attend.

Jehovah’s Witnesses in South Jersey are knocking on doors and inviting their neighbors to attend the convention, which will explain how following Bible principles that Christ promoted can help people improve their family life, draw closer to God and gain everlasting life, said Mark Weaver, a spokesman for the Reading conventions.

Here’s a funny bit: “There also will be a public talk debating the question: Who are the real followers of Christ?” Debating? Hee-hee. Not likely. Any guesses on who they will claim as the “real” followers?

Last year, the district convention was all about the “Deliverance at Hand” – meaning that the loving God is about to kill off most of the people on the planet. So this year, it’s a PR move. They want to fight the perception that “their denomination isn’t a Christian religion.”

Why fight a perception? That’s like saying that you should undermine an insight. They should at least say they are fighting an “inaccurate impression.”

I think that people have the perception that Jehovah’s Witnesses (I call them Watchtowerites) aren’t Christian because of different and larger issues than simply their non-celebration of Christmas and Easter, which is the only reason given in the article (Even mainstream Christians are somewhat aware of the history of the development of these two holidays). No, there is a much larger set of issues. Grace, forgiveness, compassion… for starters.

They miss Jesus’ whole point (and in this they are not alone, of course), and so this topic is very pertinent to their problem. Unfortunately, they won’t address it at all. It takes a very narrow focus to try to claim that JWs follow Christ, and many things must be unspoken in order for them to attempt to do so.

Since comments on the article were allowed, here is the one I posted:

In some ways, JWs follow Jesus. They preach, like the disciples. They accept persecution, as did the early Christians. They will die for their beliefs – even as the beliefs change. They believe that the Christ has a mediating function in prayer, although they do not think it through but merely invoke the name.

However, I don’t think that anyone who looks more closely would believe that they are Christians. They are more like Watchtowerites.

They believe that Jesus, as Archangel Michael, very shortly will act as God’s hand to destroy “this satanic system of things,” including most of the people. They do not have a communion, only a yearly memorial of the last supper, during which only those who feel that they are of the 144,000 (destined to rule as kings over the earth) may partake of the bread and wine. The “emblems” are actually passed over every person present. In the years that I was a JW, I never witnessed any of them eat or drink in remembrance of Jesus. The ceremony is a reminder that they are not part of the communion. But hey, most of them would rather live on paradise earth anyway (once all the pesky bones have been cleaned up).

It seems to me that they have become more rule-bound and less able to make Christian decisions in my lifetime – but I am surely biased on that since I receive letters and questions from people who have been hurt by their myriad and often senseless cruelties. In judging comments from other former JWs, remember that they have cause for anger.

In their most destructive aspects, JWs not only divide families and cause paranoia and isolationism, but also protect predators – not only through their infamous “two-witness” requirement, but also by discouraging their members to deal with worldly (satanic) powers such as the police. Although they have furthered civil rights legislation in the US, they do not offer such democratic structures within their system. There is no discussion or debate, only endless repetitions of the “guidance” of the governing body in Brooklyn.

What they produce is a free sales force, driven by self-righteousness and fear, not compassion. And it is exploitative, too, since members often end up paying for the publications themselves. For a population that has been discouraged from higher education, and whose primary investment might be a few of those (strategic blending-in camouflage) three-piece suits, this is a hardship. They are kept busy and isolated – if members have questions of faith, they are labeled rather than mentored.

The rank and file JW is a good “sheep” – submissive, obedient. At least you can say that they are doing what they believe God wants of them – sometimes at great sacrifice. But the leadership, for all they call themselves “slaves,” are all-powerful to members. Some would even say that they have put themselves in the God-position. And they hide it under anonymity; you will look in vain for writer’s credits in any of their publications.

Local elders, who hold power over each JW’s life, have no training in languages, biblical interpretation, or even basic pastoral counseling. But there is a huge investment in their legal team. Recently, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Corporations succeeded in settling multiple cases about child abuse and pedophilia out of court – with a gag order.

If this is a Christian group, then the Christian message of reconciliation between God and humanity has been warped beyond all recognition. They have no concept of grace whatsoever. They are neither forgiving nor kind. Their only concept of service to others is to offer them the “good news” of how people might be able to survive the approaching destruction from their loving God. That’s it. The only community they are concerned about is their own.

Like some other fringe groups that have risen in influence, they are of the sort that would be more than happy to throw the first stone. They have completely missed the message.

I still don’t salute the flag – I think it’s a very creepy nationalistic ritual, but in most other ways, I have found that there are higher spiritual standards than the ones they can offer.

The recovering JWs that do best are those who have curiosity, like to read, and can locate their sense of humor. And, if you leave in freedom, you do have another advantage. You have learned to recognize the methods of control, and you have one step ahead in resisting them from other directions.

For those who are being shunned by their families and the people they thought were their life-long friends – know that you are not alone! Hang in there – it gets better.

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.

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