Browsed by
Tag: Michael Jackson

Remembering the Jehovah’s Witnesses

Remembering the Jehovah’s Witnesses

I’m not yet ready to write about the loss of my old friend Lee, but I will soon. Learning that he died from complications of a hospital staph infection has brought back thoughts about the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in which we both grew up – or… er… started to grow up. As much as I’ve ranted about the Witnesses on this blog, those experiences have given me so many reference points in my own experience that I can’t bring myself to regret them. Maybe – if the idea of reincarnation has any truth to it – I might even have chosen it, to learn some deep difficult lessons. I’ve been revising this post for four days, and it has turned into one long honker of an essay, but I hope it’s worth the read. It might be easier for you to print it.

The first wash of memory was tied to experiences with specific people. Good, bad, ugly, sweet – they won’t mean anything to a reader unless they were narrated at greater depth than I can do here, or perhaps fictionalized (that’s not out of the question). There were some kind and wonderful people – real people, despite everything. They weren’t always the most obvious candidates. Sometimes it even seemed like there was an inverse relationship between “service” in their sense and the character of the person.

Service never, never means caring for the poor, donating to charity, volunteering, following a calling, or anything that would otherwise be considered an act of service. Service only means “spreading the good news of God’s kingdom,” “placing” magazines and books, turning people into bible or book “studies,” or building a Kingdom Hall (don’t call it a church) for the organization. Sometimes the “friends” will help each other out, sometimes not – but they do not accept any obligation in the public sphere to any human as human.

I remembered the words and music of the “Kingdom Songs.” Oh, don’t call them “hymns”! “Dear Shulamite maiden, so lovely and fair/ your spiritual virtues are many and rare” – and the song we sang at night “we sing this tuneful melody and sing the notes in harmony / for no one else but you could be so worthy of our praise.” “Firm and determined in this time of the end / prepared are God’s servants the good news to defend…” What was it about those songs? Little bits of them still come to me at the oddest times. I’m glad there is a new collection with which I’m unfamiliar.

OH, then the language! The strange contagious weapons of language! Everything “worldly” (non-JW) was of “Satan the devil.” Never just Satan, always “Satan the devil” as though there were a million other satans. All that power discourse of slavery and domination – the district and circuit “overseers.” “Ministerial servants” – literally “serving servants,” used just to avoid words from other communities, like deacon. All the ranks of pioneers and publishers (how odd is that)!

Not “grace” – never, ever “grace” but only “undeserved kindness.” This so diminishes the idea of God, not to mention taking all the meaning from the “good news.” They’ve missed the whole point, I think.

Not “the second coming,” but instead “the presence.” What does that even mean? Is Jesus hovering in the ozone layer?

And here is the “Kingdom,” stripped of any sense that it could be within. What’s left is only a cold “theocratic” rule on earth, God’s “system of things” to be ushered in after the destruction of governments and the wicked (almost everyone, except of course baptised Witnesses in good standing).

By definition, anyone who rejects the JWs rejects God. All other religions are part of “Babylon the Great.” Babylon the Great… the Harlot.. the great evil of world religions, or the U.N., or the Catholic church, or the soon to be here one-world government, or the soon to be here one-world single religion, or… Rome (as many scholars would say).

We were persecuted! Not really, but any criticism was taken as persecution to prove we must be right.

We were special! Kind of special, not as special as the remnant, the 144,000 (who were not of the 12 tribes of Israel, that’s only symbolic), who could “partake” of communion the “emblems” of the Last Supper memorial dinner and rule as kings (that’s literal) with Jesus (in a heavenly democracy? unlikely, maybe a court?) over the “cleansed” earth.

Still, we’re certainly WAY better than those “worldly” people (every insecure group needs a scapegoat, don’t they?).

We’re the Great Crowd! We’re Grrrrreat (cue in Tony the Tiger)! Compared to the world population the “great crowd” is rather small, but there’s a lot more than 144,000! Who wants to be in heaven anyway? We get to live forever on Paradise Earth! Um, well, not counting the still-another final judgment after the thousand-year… reich?

In the “new system of things,” also called “the new world order” (no, not kidding), “things” will be different! After we pick up those pesky bones, we’ll live in an agrarian society full of baskets of fruit, and wild animals walking around harming no-one, and blind ones who can see again, and everyone will have a vapid smile on their face.

There will be no crying, and no sex or children, and no technology – not even the Watchtower and Awake magazines! And by the way, which mansion are you going to pick? I’ve got my eye on that one – truly the worldy people there don’t deserve it.

Watch out for the demonic smurfs! Don’t buy things at yard sales – they could be possessed! Don’t eat Milky Way bars – they have BLOOD in them!

Pray not to need a blood transfusion, unless you want to prove your faithfulness, perhaps unto death. For those about to die, we salute you! But over the years, “new light,” and a little science, and a lot of court cases have revealed some blood “products” might be acceptable now. Which ones? Better not risk it. Just be proud of those brave JWs who resisted the world and its courts in God’s name to ensure lots and lots and lots of death.

Watchtower Building at the Brooklyn Bridge The Watchtower, the Society, the Truth, the Organization, the Governing Body, the “wise and faithful servant” or the “faithful and discreet slave,” Bethel, the publishing house – in other words, the (various) headquarters for the company – was presented as, and believed to be, God’s channel – the only one on the planet. I guess Jesus had an underground station. Best not to investigate since apostates might infect you.

The Society (this was internal shorthand, and I think it’s dated now) was a shadowy group. Questions about its history were discouraged, and most people never questioned it at all. We just accepted that an ever-changing group of men in New York had “new light” (delivered…how? some say by angel!) about the unchanging and eternal Truth. It could really cause a lot of suffering if you happened to believe the “right” thing at the “wrong” time, or the “wrong” thing at the “right” time. Ask them about it in Malawi. Or ask the people that thought the end would come in 1975.

We thought we were following God’s plan, but there was always a tickling cognitive dissonance about being a slave to the organization. Does God really care about service timesheets? Really? Can you “earn” God’s love by spreading the good news? What is the content of this good news, really? Is there anything “good” about it, in their interpretation? Is there any authentic spiritual development or truth involved in the simple obligation to preach to every last person so that they have a last chance to know, and to choose God’s organization, lest they be destroyed and miss out on this Paradise Earth scenario?

A very paradoxical representation of “Jehovah” (YHWH) was really the anchor of the belief system. There is a sense in which it’s correct to call Jehovah’s Witnesses “Jehovists” rather than “Christians.” When they were called “International Bible Students,” the bible might have been fetishized, but at least a mission of learning was inherent.

There is no theology of a trinity. Any JW can give you the entire lecture about how a trinity isn’t scriptural – it’s one of the top ten! Here’s my take on it:

Jesus was only a man, a very special man. Jesus was the ransom sacrifice mysteriously required of the only-begotten son of God. Jesus was the temporary holder of the holy spirit “active force of God’s will.” Jesus was also – and this is fun – Michael the Archangel. Archangel Michael/Jesus became a man, and then stopped being a man and became an angel again, and his “presence” is right back here NOW (since 1914? or has that date changed, too?). Michael is strangely at the same basic level as Lucifer and Gabriel and other archangels, so how is he God’s son? Why aren’t the other archangels considered to be sons? Hey, wait! When did angels get gender? Where then are the female angels?

Don’t think about it. The Society says that God had to be talking to someone at creation when he said “let us.” “Elohim” is only plural in a grammatical, not real, way. Right? How was God’s son Jesus “begotten” if he was already begotten before incarnating being born on earth? Reproducing gods are so pagan, and there is obviously no divine feminine. Right?

In practice, Jesus was just the “mediator” for prayers to get routed to the right God mailbox, a name invoked in a unconsciously-magical chant. I don’t remember anyone ever calling on Jesus, or expressing love for Jesus – only praying “in the name of your son Christ Jesus Amen.”

Jesus was a kind of space alien, the Lord’s overseer for this garden experiment “territory” called the earth. I always wondered about the overseers of other planets. After all, God actually lived in a specific star system, on a giant throne – the Society said so!

How easily we just absorbed the language and the ideas, no matter how strange! The mind-numbing repetition helped a lot – that’s why going to multiple, tediously long and boring weekly meetings was necessary. Not much fellowship there, just rote learning. And of course, everyone talked like that, so you couldn’t help but pick it up, like any other in-group rhetoric, dude. Re-framing the language was not allowed, and deviations from the accepted vocabulary would mark you.

Is it any wonder that I became fascinated with the effects of language?

Speaking of effects, that reminds me that I also remember watching children being dragged outside or into the basement of the Kingdom Hall for discipline. Spare the rod (literal), spoil the child. Without grace, you were always trying to measure up to an impossible standard of perfection, and frustrated adults would often raise the bar (figurative, except for a couple of extreme cases) for children, not understanding much about child development.

My very favorite memory is about how a way opened that allowed me to know who I could trust and respect in my congregation. This was a major event for me – the appearance of spiritual ok-ness that has continued to inform me even now. It was during an ending prayer on a Sunday. We would sometimes go out after the two-hour meeting for lunch; this was a big treat. My baby brother (he *was* just a baby, maybe two or three years old) shouted out “WHEN are we going to get some KUCKY F*CKY CHICKen?!?” Obviously, he was talking about Kentucky Fried Chicken – but the volume, the uncontrollable nature of it, the unintended profanity!

I put my hand up over my mouth and tried so hard not to make a sound. I peeked up and looked around the room – and I suddenly understood that the congregation was divided in kind. Some were furious, frowning, clenching their fists – which is what I expected. Others simply ignored it, which was at least mature. But there was a third group – and I took note and remembered for *ever* the ones who had a hand over their mouth, or who were shaking with repressed laughter or who had heads bowed, but were grinning. Three people were openly looking at my brother with smiles, and one even caught MY eye – during a prayer! – shaking his head and smiling. The scary ones, the ones I knew to be bad people and hypocrites, no matter what anyone said, were all of the first group. Ever since, I have deeply valued a sense of humor, and the perspective of kindness that it sometimes allows, as a touchstone for ethics.

Meanwhile, pedophiles and other abusers were often known, and usually protected. Statistically, there are more abusers and predators among Jehovah’s Witnesses than in any other religion that isn’t generally considered a cult. There are reasons for that. But why would they be protected? “To protect God’s name.” Their reputation as a religious group is more important than the well-being of their members, who are only bits of a largely-disposable free sales force (ask what happens to their workers when they get old).

There were so few responsible men, you see. It was pitifully easy for men to “rise in the organization.” They didn’t receive or need any real theological or pastoral training. The sermons lectures talks were pretty much outlined in communications from HQ. Anyone (male) could do it. Since college was *heavily* discouraged, power positions in the organization also functioned as a compensation for the lack of a meaningful career. It was amazing sometimes how they would get drunk on their “service” and “responsibilities,” especially where it entered into women’s lives. It was a dangerous but required game to “submit yourself” to the elders, just as it was a dangerous but required game for wives to “submit” to their husbands. In theory, a man should love his wife as himself, and an elder love the congregation. But this was a very high standard, especially for such (generally) non-insightful and legalistic men.

Women are not protected as much as male predators and abusers are. The daughters of Eve are of course inherently more inclined to evil, although they outnumber the men in the congregation. This made it even more difficult for women or children to go to the elders to report abuse of any kind. The “two-witness or call it slander” rule meant that going to the elders for help might mean that you would be disfellowshipped yourself for reporting it. Normally, reporting on each other was pretty much a matter of course – a built-in panopticon, the secret police of your friends and family. But “friends” were discouraged from going to any satanic worldly authorities, like therapists or police or women’s shelters. By the time I was raped, I already knew enough not to go to the elders for “guidance.”

The “theocratic strategy” (lying to “worldly” authorities) was and is an active principle – courts take note – and JWs have an impressive team of lawyers, who presumably were allowed to go to college. They will even intervene in divorce cases, especially when child custody is at stake.

That irony always bothered me very much: that every little rule could destroy your world, and yet gigantic issues couldn’t be dealt with or even questioned – especially from a female perspective. Dating was only allowed with an eye to marriage, and you didn’t want to risk being “unevenly yoked” with a worldly person. You’d lose all status in the congregation that way. The “gray areas” or “matters of conscience” were heavily surrounded with “guidance” from the Watchtower Society. I remember a time when they were obsessed with oral sex, and spouses were reporting on each other for “asking”! Homosexuality… well, don’t even go there. But somehow physical spiritual emotional and sexual abuse – even toward children – was treated differently.

My own experiences were minor, really. I was reprimanded for being in a high school play of Fiddler on the Roof because it had a dream sequence with a “depiction of the supernatural,” not to mention the general exhibitionism. This was the same year that JW Michael Jackson released the “Thriller” video. I started asking some questions and instead of answers, I got labelled “rebellious youth.”

Rumors flew – JWS are great gossipers! – and I got hauled up before the elders again. This time I was accused of sexual misconduct. Supposedly I had been all over the state sleeping with “brothers” in every possible congregation (on my bicycle?). The truth was, I was a virgin – but not for nearly long enough after that, since I stopped caring about it after what happened. Looking back, that was the most damaging part, that loss of self-dignity and self-value. I wasn’t allowed to confront my accusers, although I found out later that it relied completely on malicious gossip, with not one confession or witness involved – yet pedophiles and abusers required two witnesses to the act before there would be any investigation, much less any “disciplinary action.”

I asked myself why they thought it was acceptable and right for grown men to surround a young girl, intimidating her and accusing her of lies. I didn’t think their actions were even in alignment with their own rules. It felt – and I think it was somehow – personal. Events after that, mostly concerning how other people were treated, finally convinced me that the fruits of the spirit were only to be found as exceptions to the rule among Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s not completely their fault. Their priorities are seriously disordered, and intentionally so. It gives special meaning to Leonard Cohen’s song “The Future“: When the prophets said “repent,” I too wonder what they really, truly meant. Surely not this.

The self-righteousness training backfired on them in my case. I could not in good conscience commit to being baptised (the symbol of my dedicated vow to serve Jehovah and his organization). Sure, I enjoyed explaining exactly why I didn’t salute the flag. I loved feeling that God was on my side. I loved being a possessor of “the Truth” and being “in the Truth.” I even believed that this evil satanic system of things could end at any moment. But…

I was also a bookworm, and I loved to dance and to sing. And – I so valued kindness. I so valued caring and love and understanding. Eventually, the very training that they gave me in having the courage and integrity to stand up for what I truly believe made it possible (with curiosity, knowledge, imagination, creativity and humor) for me to leave. I took the easy road, and left town to go to college on scholarship.

What a flashback it was in graduate school to face a faculty that had already decided to dismantle the program of Literature and Religion when my advisor had a stroke. They called a meeting to “get feedback” from the students. It was amazing how fast colleagues had abandoned ship. When I tried to argue for the merits of the program, the faces of the faculty members held the same expressions as those elders so long ago. For a while, it seemed like I was back in that same helpless, unfairly-judged space again. I thought I was getting “the intellectual life,” but these dynamics can appear anywhere, anywhere at all – even in my adopted community of academe, toward which I was so idealistic.

You have to deal with ignorance and injustice and resentment and hate and insecurity and all of the rest directly and at the time. That’s the way in which teaching and ethics and politics are all local. I would have handled things differently knowing what I know now. I understand their perspectives (in both cases) better now, and wouldn’t have set myself up by being defensive and letting my fears be so visible and easily-read.

It’s not always wise to stand up to a bully, but smarts often beats thugness. Among people who seem to lack empathy, stories and humor are the only methods that have any chance of getting through. Sometimes it’s not really worth the effort – or the effects – even to try, but one thing is certain: the argument “but it’s not fair” is not one that ever works. You can’t assume – ever – that anyone will understand why it’s not fair. Just skip that part. Try logic if you like, but logic does not engender empathy. Let logic be implicit.

Obvious sectors of the American political landscape remind me so much of what was so unkind (and so self-righteous, misinformed and manipulated) about the (enforced/reinforced) mentality that so affected my life and those of others. I am heartened when I see healers and thinkers and storytellers, but there are not nearly enough of them, not nearly. Their voices are shut down whenever possible. Sometimes our future looks very dark. I cannot read The Handmaid’s Tale again in this atmosphere; just remembering it makes me cry.

How could I ever have thought that “theocracy” was a good thing? The mentality is global now – almost every religion has an active fanatical wing. Christians, Muslims, Jews, even Buddhists? Say it isn’t so. What happened to the virtue of humility? What happened – in America the Beautiful – to the wise separation of church and state that has been one of the foundations for both to thrive? Power-mongers, corruption, mass manipulation. It’s sad… and shameful.

Lingering effects… I still don’t salute the flag. I know the history, and I just feel that it’s a creepy way to show love for your country. I do vote now, though, and I’m kind of relieved that Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t.

I still have a kind of hyper-conscience about community memberships. I don’t feel comfortable participating in communities if I’m not in agreement with every little thing that a particular group believes. I’ve become aware that this is actually a holdover effect, but this has meant that I’m basically a non-joiner (my natural mode is critical). I’m getting better about allowing myself some leeway that since I’ve seen – and experienced – the value of accepting people and situations as they are, unless they are destructive. I am not so distrustful as I used to be, nor as insecure or defensive, and that helps enormously.

I’ve made peace with that me-girl who so desperately needed someone to tell her that it was going to be ok and that she was loved and that the cosmos only asked for her authenticity and her ethic of caring. Her God was a such a cruel, heartless God.

“Independent thinking” was against her religion, but everything inside told her that it would be wrong not to think and ask questions. She didn’t run toward, but away, from the Kingdom Hall to find spiritual dwelling places. Being a JW kept her – for a while – from heading toward the path that was always at the core of her being. Isolation, paranoia, the insecurity/superiority flip – all of these were stumbling blocks. And friends? Sisters and brothers? There *were* friends and sisters and brothers among the members of the Watchtower Society, but many more false friends and Pharisees. Not trying to sound like Job or anything – just sayin’.

That girl found somewhere to be, somewhere to find connection, always – in the woods, the song, the dance, the book. She was always going to be nurtured somehow; it was intuitive, and for that gift I am ever-more grateful. Because of that private set of communion-paths, I wasn’t damaged in some of the ways that I’ve seen among some of the other ex-JWs I’ve known. It took many more years to find authentic connection in relationship, but the starting place was observation, watching people as characters instead of threats, listening to a range of perspectives and voices – especially to the ones that weren’t just nightmarish variations on familiar themes.

Because of the new communication and information resources of the internet, I’ve also discovered that I was never alone in this. There were, and are, others. Some of these went on to higher education, some became singers or musicians or artists or writers or comedians (yes!), some became caregivers in real service to all kinds of people, some started a business or found a soul-mate or travelled the world. Some developed compassion and their own ethical sense (often a much better one). Some kept the evangelism, or even the fundamentalism, but became involved with another religious community that was more rewarding to them. Others became freethinkers and atheists, or goddess-women, pagans, wiccans. Some – sadly – have not yet found another way to be, or are so hurt and isolated and scapegoated and abandoned that their road will be a very difficult one. Some – realistically – never were very interesting people, and still aren’t. There is no one thing that describes former JWs, certainly not the attribute of being “demonic.” Sigh.

The path that brought me to value openness and attunement has been admittedly eclectic (even mystical), but it is imbued with a sensitivity to kindness and justice that I feel all the prophets tried to convey. I lean towards more compassion than I naturally possess – as though it were the sun. I dream with more freedom than I’ll ever have – just like the moon.

There are wisps of fondness for some members of that community still. There are people that I could love better now than I did then, and I am so sad about the loss of the people they might have become were it not for the stranglehold of the JWs. I will always cherish each one’s essential person in my heart, their ‘ness. Sometimes, I pray for them. Still I wonder (yes I wonder) if anyone is listening.

I’ve seen the nations rise and fall
I’ve heard their stories, heard them all
but love’s the only engine of survival. ~ Leonard Cohen, “The Future”

Michael Jackson, Child Abuse, and JW Apologist Firpo Carr

Michael Jackson, Child Abuse, and JW Apologist Firpo Carr

“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.” – William James

Recently, I participated in an online discussion in the comments of an article written by a prominent friend/adviser to the late Michael Jackson.

Michael Jackson & Jehovah’s Witnesses, by Firpo Carr

The Michael Jackson case and the issue of child abuse are both important to me, but I didn’t really know who Firpo Carr was when I made my first comment. I’d run into his name before, but I was a little under-prepared for his particular style of debate. I felt pretty battered by the end of it, much like what happens when I try to have a political discussion with someone who has already been stirred up by their favorite propaganda machine.

His back and forth with Jerry Bergman is illuminating and true to form.

A sampling of Carr’s other L.A. Sentinel articles for you to chew on:

One article on money and priorities took an argument that was very familiar to me from JW days, and made it much more compelling and interesting. He’s clearly a smart guy, but something….

I hadn’t really thought about this very much before, but there might be a serious educational problem with a dependence on some forms of long-distance learning, especially at the upper levels in the humanities. Potential scholars may simply lose too much by not participating on-site at their universities. There is a sort of human osmosis effect that can only be learned by being there. It’s important to have both peers that are interacting with you and trustworthy mentors that can call attention to your blind spots without attacking you as a person. It may be more difficult to absorb the values and norms of dialogue and debate if you’re not part of the ebb and flow of discussion.

On campus, you become part of a network of friendship that includes worthy adversaries, and you develop different skills as you learn how to respect people independently of whether or not you have disagreements. Constant exposure to a wide range of scholarship and discussion not only helps the scholar to develop an ethical sense of discernment, but also models the qualities that they admire (or reject!) in a teacher. At its best, university life at the graduate level is amazingly liberating, intellectually stimulating, and fulfilling.

It’s not just the “immorality” (sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll) of university life that JWs object to, it’s the training in strong interpretations and critical thinking, along with the ethics of scholarship, that would be dangerous for them to condone in their followers. Independent thinking is against their religion.

Firpo Carr has written a fair number of books. Good for him for being so prolific! However, some supplemental reading might be helpful. Start with a selection from my page of reading recommendations for former JWs. To that, add:

Why? Because this latter list contains non-JW-influenced resources for understanding some aspects of the mindset that can lead people to be manipulated – and possibly continue the chain.

To stick to the topic at hand, though, readers should be aware that child abuse among Jehovah’s Witnesses is a systemic problem, one that is reinforced by setting unreachable standards of perfection, demonizing “worldly authorities,” defending questionable biblical interpretations with out-of-context snippets, defending the two-witness rule for any accusation of foul play, subordinating women, presenting an almost comical style of discourse and argument, hours of weekly meetings for repetition and reinforcement, the paucity of choices for a mate, the fear of disfellowshipping and abandonment by friends and family, the threat of demonic possession, the undermining of kindness, and the almost complete lack of pastoral care.

Firpo Carr can of course believe what he likes and project what he needs to – his path is none of my concern – but it’s a very odd position from which to deny or rationalize child abuse. Even more so now, I wish that I had followed my instincts while Michael was still alive. Michael Jackson describes some of the abuse he and his siblings suffered at the hands of his father in this video.


Watch that, then read our discussion. Remember that Firpo Carr says he was Michael’s friend. I’m sorry, but I have serious doubts that Firpo Carr brought much of spiritual value to the friendship. Now he says that Michael Jackson took him aside and told him that he wished his children to be brought up as Jehovah’s Witnesses – and to have them study with Carr!


I wonder if Michael said that to anyone else, or (shall I be this cynical?) if he said it to anyone at all.

In related news – some new documentation on the Watchtower child sexual abuse settlement. It’s not hearsay – it’s signed, sealed with gag orders, wrapped up in lies, and delivered:

“Documents show that the church knew for years that some prominent members were sexually abusing children and did little.”

The Watchtower PR department issued a statement. “For the sake of the victims in these cases, we are pleased that a settlement has been reached.” Sigh. It’s not for the sake of the victims, or their policies would be different.

This is the way they protect known predators. Imagine how they handle psychological and physical child abuse, and then start Googling for the testimonies…

Here’s a sweet sad Monty Python/Michael Jackson mashup. Maybe it will start to express the inexpressible value of caring and kindness.


For a while, Michael was able to redefine and transform his experience. He created music that brought fun – and even joy – to people all over the world.

I will remember him that way.

Roundup of JWs in the News

Roundup of JWs in the News

Recent conversations in the comments have reminded me that I haven’t done my posting of recent news related to Jehovah’s Witnesses. The purpose in doing this is simply to highlight, over time, the kinds of issues that the JW mindset and set of demands can create or intensify in some. It is meant to encourage more compassionate and ethical policies and behaviors within the Watchtower organization and to help former JWs understand some of the clusters of danger that may be worthwhile to (even further) transcend.

Ex-JWs: Use What You’ve Got

First off, there is a very humorous treatment of growing up as a JW in a new book by Kyria Abrahams called I’m Perfect, You’re Doomed: Tales from a Jehovah’s Witness Upbringing. It’s on my wishlist, and I’ll let you know what I think of it once I’ve had the chance to read it. It looks promising as a bit of comic relief.

Given that Abrahams is now a stand-up comic and spoken-word poet, it makes perfect sense to begin her very funny memoir with her performance debut at the Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Kingdom Hall, at age 8 (her presentation was about freedom from demon possession). She describes the children’s books she read as a child as a cross between “Dr. Seuss rhymes and tales of how sinners would scream and gnash their teeth at Armageddon.” In her world, Smurfs were “little blue demons” and yard sales were enticements from Satan. As a bored teenager with OCD, she didn’t know what to do with herself or how to make sense of the world. On the verge of 18, she married a 24-year-old part-time college math teacher because, even if his interest in her was, at best, halfhearted, she wanted a boyfriend and didn’t know any other Jehovah’s Witnesses who liked her. Anyway, she reasons, “this is what adults did, and I was an adult.” It wasn’t long before she longed to be out of the marriage.

Author Lisa Foad writes in a fractured, variable, and somewhat surreal style – trying to say the unsayable takes you on some funky roads sometimes. She thinks her approach to writing might be a side effect of her Jehovah’s Witness upbringing.

“After an assembly where they were talking about the folly of music,” Foad recalls from her early childhood, “I went home and broke records with my dad. We broke Led Zeppelin, Cream. But I had this Wham! record I really liked. I didn’t want to break my Wham! record but then he reminded me that in the paradise I would have a pet tiger, a pet lion. What are you going to do? It was a trade I was willing to make. There’s so much fodder in that.”

Check out her book: The Night Is a Mouth

In other, depressing but illuminating JW book news, get a child’s eye perspective on Jehovah’s Witnesses by reading William Coburn’s The Spanking Room: A Child’s Eye View of the Jehovah Witnesses.

I had stopped vomiting, but still shook and sobbed. Mom returned to the room to sit on the edge of my bed. Again she asked, “Billy what’s wrong?” “That was my bus route,” I whispered when I could get words out. “What if someone I knew came to the door?” “So?” “They’d find out I was a Jehovah’s Witness.” Mom’s hand met the side of my head in a flash of brilliant white light and an explosion of pain. I collapsed onto the mattress while she flailed at me, her rage-clenched fists thudding into my eight-year-old body. “How dare you?” she shrieked. “You awful, rotten child! How dare you be ashamed of Jehovah? I hate you! I hate you!”

The Spanking Room is the true story of a young boy’s upbringing, and how the unorthodox doctrines of the Watchtower Society encourage violence against its most helpless members–the children.

Artist Lindsay O’Leary’s piece “Pedaling Backwards, Moving Forward: How to Lose 100 pounds in 365 days” is part of an exhibit in the opening of “Gestures 13” at the Mattress Factory. She has created a scaled model of her childhood home that is controlled by a stationary bicycle to represent her “old self and old habits.”

“Inside my childhood home, there’s a silhouette of me praying,” O’Leary says. “All of the silhouettes of me (except the biking one in the garage) are of me when I was obese. I was a Jehovah’s Witness from birth to (age) 21. We had to pray every day and attended five ‘meetings’ at the Kingdom Hall each week.

“It’s a really strict religion, so, to say that it has had a huge impact on who I am today would be an understatement,” she says. “From not being able to recite the Pledge of Allegiance throughout elementary school to not celebrating birthdays to being forbidden from participating in any competitive sport, again, the imprint it has had on my life was/is massive.”

O’Leary says the real irony is in where she has found her new home. The Mexican War Streets is where Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the precursor to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, lived and preached.

Media Talk

Katherine Jackson has been taking Michael Jackson’s three children to the meetings at the Kingdom Hall (of Jehovah’s Witnesses) to “help them deal with the death of their famous father.”

Michael stopped being a Jehovah’s Witness 1985 but reportedly resumed attending the Church’s meetings throughout his child molestation trial. Katherine and the eldest child Rebbie are the only two remaining Jehovah’s Witnesses in the family.

I would prefer to remember Michael for his music and performances, and his work to help fight AIDS. I wish I’d gone to talk with him as I felt called to do.

Oh, and this season of Big Brother features a former JW, Kevin.

He is a 30 year old graphic designer who was excommunicated at 21 from his Jehovah’s Witness raising. Therefore has lost contact with his family and friends. However, he has chosen to work through it instead of letting it tear him down. He is of Japanese/ African-American heritage. Adversity is something he is used to overcoming so the prediction is he will do well in the house.


The most horrific story in the news right now has to be about the Texan JW Otty Sanchez, 33, who decapitated, dismembered, and partially cannibalized her 3-1/2-week-old baby, Scott Wesley Buchholtz-Sanchez. She claims the devil told her to do it. She told him Scott W. Buchholz, the infant’s father, that she was schizophrenic a week before the slaying. She was diagnosed, however, with depression. Buchholz, who said he is schizophrenic, has announced that she said that she was going to leave him, and he wants her to receive the death penalty.

McManus, who appeared uncomfortable as he addressed reporters, said Sanchez apparently ate the child’s brain and some other body parts. She also decapitated the infant, tore off his face and chewed off three of his toes before stabbing herself.

In Bielefeld, Germany, an 82-year-old man who blames the Jehovah’s Witnesses for making him lose contact with his daughter, stormed a gathering of some 80 Jehovah’s Witnesses. He was wearing a mask and was armed with a machine gun. No-one was injured; the gun didn’t fire. He was seized by two congregation members as he headed back to the car. Officers also found a samurai sword, three clips of bullets and a knife in the man’s car, parked nearby.

In the tiny hamlet of Porth Kea, near Truro in England, Jonathan Cock – a 24-year-old RAF veteran from Moor Vue Fram, Penzanze – murdered his girlfriend’s Jehovah’s Witness father (41-year-old Adam Hustler) and shot her mother (Amanda Hustler) in the back in revenge for ending the couple’s “forbidden” love affair. Ex-girlfriend Danielle Hustler, 20, (are they for real with these names?) had a minor injury in the arm from a bullet graze. Mr. Cock was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Jonathan Cock blamed Jehovah’s Witnesses Adam and Amanda Hustler for thwarting his romance with their daughter Danielle because the religion bars relationships with outsiders…. The court heard Cock and Danielle fell in love while working for her dad’s drain clearing firm. He converted to her religion, but she later split with “controlling” Cock. He carried out the killing three weeks later.

Estranged JW husband Michael Smith, 37, is on trial for first-degree murder of Eugena Smith. Eugena had written a letter of disassociation from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, saying that her decision was final. The letter, which was read aloud to a trial jury, was found by investigators “lying among a pile of clothing on the floor of Eugena Smith’s bedroom, shortly after the 33-year-old St. Thomas woman was found murdered.”

The Crown argued in an opening statement Tuesday that Eugena Smith was trying to leave both her husband, and her church, just days before she died on June 7, 2007. Michael Smith, the Crown says, thought she was having an affair.

After JW William Redman murdered his 12-year-old daughter, he told a 911 operator that she was dead because that was “…the way Jehovah does things.” Evidently he “fell on her” with a knife.

Police arrived at the Roadrunner RV park to find the father covered in blood in front of the home, the mother, Rosemary Redman, screaming, “What did you do to my baby?” Inside, their daughter was lying in a pool of blood, a knife lying under her chest and her neck deeply gashed.

Sexual Violence / Pedophilia

New Hampshire resident JW, Robert Matheson, pleaded guilty repin Salem Superior Court to four counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of 14. He had been planning to run away to Plum Island with a girl he had been molesting at his beach house for the last three years. The JWs alerted authorities (this must be a state where it’s required to do so).

Matheson told police that he began molesting the girl during a time when he was struggling with unemployment and disconnected from his faith, and said he was “persuaded” by Internet pornography. The sentencing was pushed to Friday in order for Matheson to face sexual assault charges on a “compatible case” in New Hampshire.

Wigan Today reports that Daniel Simonetti, a 31-year-old Jehovah’s Witness, let himself into the home of an 89-year-old woman and brutally assaulted her. He denied rape, which was dropped, but admitted assault by penetration. Jailing Simonetti indefinitely, Judge John Roberts branded him “dangerous to vulnerable females.” Simonetti had previously assaulted a 4-year-old girl, for which he was never prosecuted.

Francis Gandhi a Jehovah’s Witness elder/ministerial servant (the article says “pastor”) was detained at the Kailahun Police Station for the alleged rape of an 11-year old student of the SLMB Mission in Kailahun.

On 4th of April 2009, she said that they came home from work and discovered that the girl has not returned home and immediately they contacted her grandmother who told them that the young girl had left for her home around 5pm. “We went in search of her moving from one place to place, relatives to relatives we could not find her and we returned home as it was getting close to 10pm” she said while in bed somebody knocked on her window and when asked she heard the voice of her daughter. “I jumped out of my bed and enquired from her where she was coming from only to tell me that she was in the room with a man of God.”

Robert Edward Bill, 54, a former teacher, businessman and “senior Jehovah’s Witness” attempted to abduct a five-year-old and was sentenced to six years in prison.

He has been found guilty at separate trials of the attempted abduction of the girl in Holywell two years ago, of indecently assaulting a seven-year-old 10 years ago, and of possessing 730 pornographic images of children. … Mr Medland said Bill of The Roe, St Asaph, Denbighshire, had been driving slowly around areas where he was likely to come into contact with children that same day. He’d claimed that he was trying to fix a mechanical problem with his car.

His wife and son were also sentenced:

Jacqueline Bill, his 51-year-old wife, received a suspended six-month jail sentence after pleading guilty to trying to pervert the course of justice by destroying a laptop hard drive, and must do 250 hours unpaid work. Bill’s son David, 24, of Mount Road, St Asaph, must do 150 hours unpaid work after also admitting that he tried to pervert the course of justice.

Thirty-five-year-old JW Shane Thomas Thorne had a child pornography collection of more than a thousand images, many of which involved children as young as five years old. He was sentenced to two years, but is due to be released on November 16, 2010.

Evidence was heard that Thorne grew up in a violent family environment and was sexually abused as a teenager. …”There is nothing to indicate that he has acknowledged the injury caused by his actions,” Mr Johnson said. “There is no realisation expressed or reported of any acknowledgement of the harm done to children in child pornography.” He told Thorne that a sentence must be imposed that would reflect the community horror and the disgust for the use of children for sexual gratification.

Selective Clampdown on Freedom of Religion, or “The Persecution Justification for Claims of JW Righteousness”

Novoshakhtinsk prosecutors from the Rostov region in Russian have sent case files to an investigative body to consider a criminal prosecution local members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization for preaching in public places, propagating the exclusivity and supremacy of the Jehovah’s religious doctrine above all others and promoting refusal from civil duty, voting at elections and serving in the army. The regional prosecutor also asked the Rostov regional court to order the closure of the organization in Taganrog for extremist activities, including the incitement of religious hatred and human rights violations. This situation is heating up…

The deportations of four lawyers since March strike at the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ already pressed defence against attempts to ban their literature as extremist, one of those deported, Mario Moreno, has told Forum 18 News Service. The lawyers – two Americans and two Canadians – were defending in four out of seven simultaneous local extremism cases against Jehovah’s Witnesses. A recent police detention allegedly involving torture and a raid on a Sunday service – after which one worshipper had a miscarriage and another was sent to a children’s shelter – suggest the law enforcement agencies continue to view Jehovah’s Witnesses as religious extremists even without a ban.

In Israel, the Human Rights Report for 2008 shows that police needed to be reminded (again) that it is their duty to fully investigate crimes against minority religious communities:

Members of Jehovah’s Witnesses reported an increase in assaults and other crimes against their membership in 2007 and during the year and noted the difficulties their members faced convincing the police to investigate or apprehend the perpetrators. Between September 2007 and September, members of Jehovah’s Witnesses filed 46 criminal complaints against antimissionary activists, most of whom belong to the Haredi antimissionary organization Yad L’Achim. The crimes ranged from harassment to assault. Police responded to 15 of 35 calls for assistance during the same time period, according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses legal department. The JIJ noted a similar increase in crimes and violent assaults against members of the congregations it represents.

JW Disappearance

Eridania Rodriguez, a 46-year-old married mother of three, disappeared from her night job as a cleaning woman in Manhatten. Police found her cleaning cart on the eighth floor and her street clothes and purse in her locker.

“I think she was kidnapped,” said Figueroa. She said she was suspicious of a DOT worker who her mother often saw on the eighth floor. “She was really terrified of him,” she said.

Rodriguez’s brother, Cesar, 28, ruled out the possibility of a jealous lover. “My sister is not like that,” he said. “She does not have a boyfriend. She is a Jehovah’s Witness.”

Money, Money, Money

Securities industry regulators report that say Kenneth George Neely, a Jehovah’s Witness stockbroker from St. Peters, MO ran an eight-year ponzi scheme in which he swindled brokerage customers, fellow church members and a cousin. It seems that Neely ran up some bills buying dinners and drinks for clients and friends at his country club just at a time when his personal income had declined.

“It was during this period of personal financial stress that (Neely) conceived and effected his ponzi scheme,” FINRA said in its order. He invented the “St. Louis Investment Club” and the equally phony “St. Charles REIT,” promising 20 percent returns. He made up investment “certificates” for the club and REIT to give to clients. His first investor was a cousin who invested $30,000, expecting returns of up to 10 percent.

Neely portrayed membership in the investment club as exclusive. He told a retiree, a longtime friend and fellow church member (Neely is a Jehovah’s Witness) that he would tell her when “openings” occurred in the club. “Seven or eight” other church members invested in the scam, said James Shorris, executive vice president at FINRA.

Maxine Kennedy, the JW school secretary for Scotlandville High School in Lousiana, ran amok with the school’s credit card. For some 28 months, she bought groceries and furniture, paid bills, and got cash advances. She also allegedly allowed her daughter, Toni, to use the card, including for large cash advances, and a Jehovah’s Witnesses convention.

Legal News

Lawrence Hughes abandoned his Jehovah’s Witness faith to fight for a blood transfusion for his daughter, Bethany, who had acute myeloid leukemia. He has since lost his daughter and been disfellowshipped. But he’s still fighting, even after divorce and bankruptcy.

What it most clearly does not say is that Mr. Hughes is necessarily wrong in claiming that his daughter received problematic advice from lawyers working not just for her, but also for a religious body intent on seeing her denied the blood she needed. “If I was advising [the Watchtower Society and its lawyers] I would now say, ‘At some point, this is no longer going to work out for you,’ ” Ms. Woolley says.

When Bethany Hughes died in the summer of 2002, her story was national news; the girl, just turned 17, had been diagnosed earlier that year with acute myeloid leukemia, but had fought, legally and physically, blood transfusions prescribed by doctors on religious grounds, her resistance abetted by lawyers from a firm that, by all available evidence, is a branch of the Watchtower Society itself, retaining the church as its primary client – a “captive law firm” as one judge described Glen How and Associates, employer of Bethany’s lawyers David Gnam and Shane Brady. The firm is even located within the Watchtower Society’s Georgetown, Ont. compound.

Armageddon’s Gonna Git-choo

A sweet blog post on the moon landing reminds us that on the day in 1969 in Chicago, 38,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses, who had crammed into Comiskey Park, saw the landing as “a sign that our universe is in its last days.”

I get the sense that there has been a serious effort towards positive PR. To a current JW, this must be a little bit humorous, in a macabre sort of way. Here’s the new approach:

JWs “don’t mean to scare people,” they say, but just to “provide believers with a revelations roadmap. A spiritual survival guide to emerge from Armageddon intact.” The May assemblies offered guidance on how to “avoid Satan’s snares. Because we know that the goal of Satan is to hamper people from surviving.”

The summer assemblies deny that JW’s approach Armaggeddon in a “fanatical way” but only to use “careful judgment in everyday life.”

Along with spiritual gains, he added that avoiding negative behaviors has very real benefits: money can be spent in better ways and a greater focus can be on family, for instance.

“People are being barraged all the time by different viewpoints of morality, different concerns for the economy,” West said. “We know by trusting God that we can cope with the most difficult situations in life and it gives us a positive hope in him.”

By lunchtime on Friday, the thousands of Witnesses and others who packed the Convocation Center, Northern Illinois University’s sports arena, had just finished listening to the keynote speaker. Darien Hanson called on the group to be “watchdogs” and to be alert to the signs of Jesus’ presence. A slackening of Christian expectations, he said, is detrimental to this.

Hanson also announced a very exciting offer: A DVD on creationism was being released that weekend, and each family in the audience could take home a copy. This is what Jean West was most excited about, as it would help illustrate God as a creator, she said.

“It tells us we have a maker who’s intelligent,” her husband added.

Though the Bible teaches that God both created the world and will someday end the world, neither the 24th chapter of Matthew nor Jehovah’s Witnesses know when that will be.

“We feel that there is going to be this change,” West said.

As written in Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples that preceding this time will be wars, famine, false prophets and the like. This makes the 2009 district convention theme very “timely,” West said, noting how much has changed since the onset of World War I.


The Pew Forum comparative study on religious beliefs and practices is very interesting and worth a read.

Jehovah’s Witness Michael Jackson?

Jehovah’s Witness Michael Jackson?

See my previous blog entry for a reading of Michael Jackson’s psychology from the perspective of a former Jehovah’s Witness.

mj conflict jw

Interesting article from Silent Lambs. In 1987, it was publicly announced that Michael Jackson was no longer a Jehovah’s Witness. However, the recent news articles say that he is.

Jesse Jackson is saying that although Michael Jackson is a Jehovah’s Witness, they pray together (a “nondenominational prayer”). That is SO not allowed! I’ve been in contact with a grandmother who was barred from seeing her grandchild simply because she brought him to a site where they were planning to build a church. Any other JW would be disfellowshipped for praying with an outsider.

As the article points out, the PR wing of the Watchtower Society has neither confirmed nor denied Michael Jackson’s status as a Jehovah’s witness. That’s interesting especially in light of the multiple child abuse scandals and the Society’s ludicrous policies concerning same. They even went out of their way to disfellowship any questioners or whistleblowers. Family members were urged to shun previous members, and made to choose between their loyalty to the organization and their love for family members. One wonders if he was in the JW database of thousands of molesters not reported to authorities.

The media has not yet delved into some of the background of Michael Jackson’s involvement with Jehovah’s Witnesses – and what effect this group may have had on him. On the other side, Jehovah’s Witnesses are not questioning his role in the organization. When one of the so-called “elect” – Firpo Carr – even functioned as Michael Jackson’s spokesperson in 2003, there wasn’t a peep about his working for a disfellowshipped JW – again, something strictly prohibited. So either special rules applied to Michael Jackson, or else he was a member in good standing. What seems incontrovertible is that if Michael Jackson is a current Jehovah’s Witness in good standing, he certainly has a special status strenuously denied the rank and file.

Reading Michael Jackson

Reading Michael Jackson

An Ex-JW’s Take

Ok, so here’s my opinion on the Michael Jackson story, offered from no particular professional perspective, but only from my observations of him over the years and my intuitive understandings of the strange psychology of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Michael Jackson does need psychological help. He needs guidance to navigate through the fantasy of magical princehood into some sort of functional adult status. But I do not believe that he is a predator, nor do I believe that he is (at least by any conventional profile) a pedophile.

The most sensitive and talented child in an authoritarian and ambitious JW family, his fame and wealth gave him both adoration and escape. Like an artificial castrato, when he reached a certain age, he became less able to access that escape and tried to reinvent himself. The black glitter glove, like a magic wand, became an early sign of his independence and will, but also reflected a darker side of his psyche. He wanted everything he touched to turn to gold, but he also wanted … protection.

He is, essentially, still a child. He wants to be loved and adored. He is narcissistic. He is playful – all of that is his private world. He is horribly hurt when he is not understood, but he doesn’t have enough touchstones in reality to understand why others can’t understand him, nor to clearly define for himself where the fantasies end and reality begins.

He is a gentle soul – a sweet soul who plays at being bad with a kind of innocence that has always touched me. He really seems to believe that in bringing magic to others’ lives he can avoid becoming a pied piper. If he had left it at the music, it would have been possible – but he wanted to make his reality into his fantasy. His wealth allowed him to do that to some extent, but his world needed a population of children to be complete.

Clearly he has tried to retain the outer image of his youth to match the way he seems to feel inside. He would do almost anything to avoid looking too much like his abusive father, too much like a black man, too much like a man at all. He has wanted the freedom of infinite possibility, without developing mature faith.

The results are plain on his clownish face, but it is a tragic story. He would actually have been quite handsome. If he does have the skin disease, it would be better not to emphasize it with the makeup – his own face has become a mask. His eyes still make me cry.

I have wished for many years to talk with Michael – there is something inside of me that yearns to help heal him.

When I was in high school, I was Hodel in the drama club’s production of Fiddler on the Roof. I got into a little bit of trouble over that, since my JW elders considered it to be exhibitionist, and – at the same time that the Thriller video was coming out – there was some discussion of the appropriateness of participating in the dream sequence that contained “a depiction of the supernatural.” That the whole dream sequence was an elaborate story about a false visitation from a dead wife, told to release Tevye’s oldest daughter from a planned wedding, was irrelevant.

Michael Jackson’s ghoulish face in the video made me laugh, and gave me courage to try all kinds of new roles – and it was also the Thriller video that started his eventual distancing from the JWs. The metamorphosis sequences of spectrums of transposed race and gender – those amazing faces in the later video – were perhaps the best example of morphing technology of the day. And again, I felt he was trying to transcend identity expectations and limitations. It could have been a story of liberation.

And yet somehow it wasn’t. It broke down. Perhaps he’s just in the closet. Perhaps he’s ADHD. Perhaps he just didn’t get enough education. Perhaps it is a version of self-loathing, to try to make everything, absolutely everything, different. Perhaps he has delusions of grandeur. I don’t pretend to understand.

Michael Jackson is one of a kind. I feel so sorry for him.

If he is indeed guilty of something like rape, he should (of course!) be brought to justice. But it’s probably not that simple. I suspect that there is some kind of truth in the charges. Perhaps he was too close physically to some of his child friends and made some of them uncomfortable, especially if they were warned about him – children don’t miss much. Or perhaps this is a way of distancing the child from Michael.

The presence of children is what makes him feel safe – but maybe precisely because of that, he may not really have understand them as true others – maybe to him they are more like pets. It does seem a bit that way with his own children (who I hope will be cared for by some of Michael’s siblings). Or maybe it just started to get too weird for the children themselves to be so near such a charismatic child trapped in an adult’s body. Or perhaps, to be most charitable toward Michael, he’s not really guilty of anything except being a temptation for financial gain by unscrupulous parents.

Normally, I would be offended to see a story such as this take precedence over discussions of the energy bill, medicare, or even the reaction of the British populace to Bush’s visit – but Michael Jackson’s story continues to haunt me. Hang in there, Michael.