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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.

Recovering JWs Mailbox

Recovering JWs Mailbox

From N in Australia

just saying hello and showing appreciation for your website, especially the section for ex-jw’s. i am an eighteen-year old female from australia and have not been to a meeting for a couple of years, since my mother got disfellowshipped.

i was hurt and disgusted by the way these ‘christians’, whom i had grown up believing were the best and only friends i would ever have, treated this beautiful, good-hearted, hardworking woman who continually gave everything she had for members of the congregation who were in need, for jehovah himself, for the harmony of her family and the wellbeing of her children. she lived patiently under one roof with the ‘family head’ who is an emotionally dead, selfish workaholic, who constantly put religion and prestige within the congregation before family. (one of his first questions on an early study with a brother: ‘so when do i become an elder?’) seventeen years later and my father is currently a ministerial servant and perhaps well on his way to being an elder, which will mean further lack of appearances in the family home. good luck to him, may he sleep at night.

i am losing my very best friend, a lovely boheme with a beautiful nature and some of my most beloved memories. we met when i moved south and went to the first meeting in the new area, we were thirteen. i have visited her every year since i left the area, and every year she sees how i have ‘strayed’ – i never excommunicated myself nor was i disfellowshipped, just stopped going to meetings. last time i got a tearful lecture about how i have to be there in the end, and if i dont make time for jehovah he wont make time for me. she seemed shocked by my offhand self-pity and i could feel her withdrawing emotionally as we spoke. i think about her every day, and miss her as one does such an influential and lovely part of their childhood.
these days i have regained most of my self-worth. i guess being young and resilient helps.

i understand that a god who is love cannot intend for his one true organization to plague earnest followers with guilt all their waking human hours. i understand that god cannot be love and at the same time influence an organization to punish good people by depriving them of fellowship, respect, and the basic human dignity of a polite ‘hello’ from old, old friends. i no longer feel anger when my mother averts her eyes or leaves a shop without explanation, but pity the misguided people on the other end of the stern, self-righteous glances. i can look them in the eye and smile with warmth instead of insolence.

because i have a wonderful boyfriend of three years, a younger brother who i am assisting in his recovery, a divorced, spurned and broken but growing mother who i will always look after and love; and all they have is a household full of tension and lies. ‘stumble’ that. – N

Once you’ve recognized the disconnect between the words and the lack of kindness that’s really there, it’s hard to ignore ever again.

It’s funny how we can put up with all sorts of things aimed at ourselves, but when people we love are hurt, that’s when it really hits home.

Since you won’t hear it elsewhere (unless you are very very fortunate), I would like to praise you for rallying your heart to the defense of others, for supporting and helping your brother, and especially for being there for your mom. You have work to do. This is a different kind of service – it’s all about caring.

We see the results of control by fear… that capacity for care and compassion and love gradually ebbs away. You can’t live in fear and continue to build a house of love – fear always leads to – and I think is a part of – hate.

With you, I reject the notion that a god of love would have intended that. JWs don’t talk much about grace (loving-kindness?) and they don’t talk about Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness, seeing god in the face of the other – even prostitutes and – eek! – tax collectors.

Like many of the neo-conservative right wingers here in the US, JWs rely on the texts concerning the tribal war god YHWH. And they don’t do it very well, as any rabbi could tell you.

I am proud of you for stepping out, for seeking the unique path and set of questions that have everything to do with the way you fit into the cosmos and nothing to do with the free sales force of a publishing empire based in Brooklyn New York.

By their own dogma, they are bloodguilty. They have been a stumbling block to the faithful.

Even more important, really – you have already grown spiritually to the point where you can smile with warmth, modelling the behavior that is better, feeling the difference deep inside. I know you feel the difference.

Sometimes it helps so much just to know that other people out there “get it.” Feel free to write to me anytime. Please give your mother and brother a few extra hugs. As you’ve learned, caring matters.

JW Family Refuse to Communicate

JW Family Refuse to Communicate

On the topic of how Jehovah’s Witnesses divide families, from the “Ask a Former JW” mailbag:

Basically, the whole of my mothers side of my family are JW’s. She was disfellowshipped when she was around 18-19 but wasn’t told then that she was not supposed to talk to people who were still members of the religion. Since then she was married to my father who was not a JW, had me and my brother and sister, then was divorced from my father.

Around 3-4 years ago my mother was approached by my aunt, who is still a member, and was told then that she was no longer allowed to see or have any communication with my cousins and the rest of the family who were still members.

I was just wandering if, what had happened, was right to have happened? if these JW “rules of life” permit such things? My mother has had difficulty speaking to ANY of her family since that day, and it doesn’t feel like any sort of religion should warrant that sort of treatment. Any info you may have would be extremely helpful.

– Sami

Dear Sami –

I completely agree with you that the dynamic here is wrong, unethical, and lacking in compassion, kindness, or family love.

Unfortunately for former-JWs (and for non-JW family members who are affected by it), this treatment is very common and even encouraged. Former JWs are considered to be even worse than “worldly associations.” Disfellowshipped Jehovah’s Witnesses are described in the harshest of terms, no matter what the reasons were for leaving the group. The same treatment applies to anyone who is disfellowshipped, whether it was for murder, rape, homosexual acts, being a whistleblower, asking pointed questions, having a less than submissive attitude toward elders and policies, or even smoking a cigarette.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are strongly encouraged, using several methods of “spiritual guidance,” to be loyal to the organization first. For some, that loyalty is even stronger than their feeling for God. The Watchtower Society and its affiliated corporations are very controlling and authoritarian – even totalitarian. They motivate with fear.

Unfortunately, your family members (like many, many others) prioritize the shaky biblical interpretations of a dozen men in New York over their connection to your mother. She has been demonized in their regard; they hold her in contempt. Her family may even fear that she is somehow contagious, or a contaminant or toxin (actually, this whole view of otherness and evil, along with their views on blood transfusions, first got me interested in the topics of my PhD dissertation).

The bottom line is that JWs will tend to err on the side of caution when following the directives of the Watchtower Society. Anything that they believe may potentially interfere with their reward of “everlasting life on paradise earth” (once the Jehovah-God very shortly destroys this “system of things”) is to be avoided… at all costs. They entirely miss the Christian message.

Just a sampling of some of the messages the family would have received (instead of ones which might emphasize love and forgiveness and grace):

“We must hate [the disfellowshipped person] in the truest sense, which is to regard with extreme active aversion, to consider [the disfellowshipped person] as loathsome, odious, filthy, to detest.”
Watchtower 10/1/1952 (p 599)

“In the case of the disfellowshipped relative who does not live in the same home, contact with him is also kept to what is absolutely necessary. As with secular employment, this contact is limited and even curtailed completely if at all possible. We should not see how close we can get to relatives who are disfellowshipped from Jehovah’s organization, but we should ‘quit mixing in company’ with them.

What if a person cut off from God’s congregation unexpectedly visits dedicated relatives? What should the Christian do then? If this is the first occurrence of such visit, the dedicated Christian can, if his conscience permits, carry on family courtesies on that particular occasion. However, if his conscience does not permit, he is under no obligation to do so. If courtesies are extended, though, the Christian should make it clear that this will not be made a regular practice. . . . The excommunicated relative should be made to realize that his visits are not now welcomed as they were previously when he was walking correctly with Jehovah.”
Watchtower 7/15/63 (pp.443-44)

“And we all know from our experience over the years that a simple “Hello” to someone can be the first step that develops into a conversation and maybe even a friendship. Would we want to take that first step with a disfellowshipped person?”
Watchtower 1/15/81 (“If a Relative is Disfellowshipped,” p. 26-31)

“Such ones willfully abandoning the Christian congregation thereby become part of the ‘antichrist.’ (1 John 2:18,19)”
Watchtower 7/15/85

“Former friends and relatives might hope that a disfellowshipped one would return; yet out of respect for the command at 1 Corinthians 5:11, they do not associate with an expelled person.”
Watchtower 4/15/91

“Why is it loving to expel an unrepentant wrongdoer from the congregation? Doing so is an expression of love for Jehovah and his ways. (Psalm 97:10) This action shows love for those pursuing a righteous course because it removes from their midst one who could exercise a bad influence on them. It also protects the purity of the congregation.”
Watchtower 7/15/95

“Sometimes Christian parents have accepted back into their home for a time a disfellowshipped child who has become physically or emotionally ill. But in each case the parents can weigh the individual circumstances. Will he bring ‘leaven’ into the home?”
Our Kingdom Ministry 2/2002

The destructive ways that JWs affect the larger dynamics of family are evident in testimonies, divorce case papers, and the news. Google some likely phrases, and you will have no problem finding material (see my JW-related links page). Here are just a handful:

Couple’s faith tested
The Yarmouth Mercury, UK/September 28, 2006
By Miles Jermy

Witnesses cost me my family

Halifax Herald (Canada), February 13, 2000
By Susan LeBlanc

Cast out: Religious shunning provides an unusual background in the Longo and Bryant slayings
The Register-Guard/March 2, 2003
By Karen McCowan

Jehovah’s Witnesses: A Threat To The Social Family Fabric by Victor Escalante

JW Chronicles: Disfellowshipped Apologist

JW Chronicles: Disfellowshipped Apologist

Disfellowshipped Jehovah’s Witness Scotty writes:

Sister or Brother???? I am actually in tears right now… Why, you may ask. Ill tell you. I am currently disfellowshipped right now and i now that i was disfellowshipped for my own willingful wrong doings. While i was commiting my sins, i didn’t care and i went along with everything that THE BIBLE says not to do,,,,,not just the WITNESSES. I hope Jehovah will be able to forgive you for blaspheming like your doing. I will pray for you tonight even though i don’t pray for my self because of feelings of unworthyness.

I read some of your advice to ex-witnesses. and i beg you to stop this. I knw that you know in the back of your mind, that this is the true religion, but you constantly battle try not to afirm it.

The US and Russia are about to go back to a cold war and just like daniel prophecy says, things will come to pass. Jehovah won’t lie and just like he says that you reap what you sown……..what your sowning right now is very rotten and wrong. I didn’t beleve a lot of things that the witneesss say but ive come to see what is truth. And this organization is absoulutely the truth. Children need to be disciplined sometimes in order to mold them into something dignifyable. Whether you parent does it (Jehovah) or you parent tells your older brother to whip you (the elders) its all for our benefit. If something is handled wrongly, then LET JEHOVAH DEAL
WITH IT IN HIS OWN TIME. I beg of you sisiter of brother, shut this website down, and truly repent!!!!!!!!!!! Please, please, please, stop playing GOD

This is a nearly perfect example of the kind of thing that appears in my mailbox on a regular basis.

First off, my heart really goes out to Scottie, although he would never believe it. I recognize this mind-space that he is in, with all its agonized and agonizing contradictions. He is currently being shunned by everyone he knows and loves, and his reaction is both to judge others very harshly and also to be plagued by an even deeper insecurity. Scottie, you’re right where you are intended to be, feeling horrible, judging others, trying to make yourself feel better, and ready to come back for more indoctrination. He doesn’t believe a lot of what they say, yet he believes it is the truth. He can’t see the contradiction. What Scottie needs right now is a friend, and I hope he has one. I’m the last person he would listen to if he considers my advice to recovering JWs to be blasphemous, so I’ll (reluctantly) have to leave that to others. I hope the prayers will help him – you never know when grace might happen.

For the record… No, in fact I do not in any way believe that this is really the true religion, neither in my mind, nor in my heart (nor even in my deepest paranoid fears). Amazingly enough, I’m not wrestling with the meme of the Watchtower as the “Truth” anymore – it is a very pernicious virus, to be respected, but it is survivable. I don’t believe in the idea of a “true religion.” I’m not sure how many of us religious non-absolutists there are. I think that different religions have their strengths and their faults and blind spots too, just like human beings do. I think that words about God are flawed – by definition, they have to be. Humans are not God, nor do we have the heart-mind of God (or gods). What we have are strengths (gifts) in different areas – as prophets and judges and thinkers and mystics and healers and scientists and teachers and lots more. Our religious traditions, at their best, are attempts to codify and disseminate religious insights. But none of us is God, and none of us is perfect, and our texts and traditions are based on human realities, not the life of God.

One of the common themes in the JW letters is the idea that I’m “playing God.” It is so drummed in that you must never think for yourself – not even to become closer to God, not even to let your spiritual gifts (whatever they may be) grow and thrive, not even to discern better ways of handling situations. JWs are not allowed to think or grow – they are only allowed to be submissive sheep, ready for Jehovah (the abusive father) to tell the older brother (the elders) to whip them again and again. But no matter how often they are whipped, they can never be good enough – hence the pervading sense of unworthiness, which is not to be confused with genuine humility or meekness.

Here is someone who really truly is unable to digest or process any of the information. Maybe I should add questions at the end of each paragraph, for repetition and emphasis, like they do with the publications. He knows (however dimly or incompletely) that he needs help (either that or he was being naughty when he sought and found the recovering JW advice page). Yet he is not able to confront the idea that there may another perspective. He immediately feels guilty. He sees blasphemy. That’s how tightly controlled the psychology is. This dynamic will loop back on itself until the very experience of reading another perspective will lead him back to more comfortable terrain. For now. Perhaps some small point will be retained somehow and may help him at another time.

While he asks me to wait on Jehovah to deal with any injustice – or is it to order someone else to be whipped? – he intervenes to ask me to close the website. Well, perhaps God will sort it out in time. But I think the gift of freedom is a valuable gift, and one’s use of one’s free choice is the foundation for the development of character as well as one’s religious path.

No person, no organization has the authority to take God’s place in anyone’s heart-mind-spirit-soul – and especially not as some sort of dictator of the soul. God is no dictator.

Dictators are interested in total control, power, their own gain.
Dictators are not interested in freedom, love, or compassion.

Scottie will most likely go back again and again until they “whip” the soul and spirit right out of him. In a worst case scenario, he might even have brought himself to this point willingly in order to undergo a religious trial, and thus create a deeper sense of conviction.

My feelings for the great majority of JWs are swirled in a big mixing pot, the main ingredients of which are empathy and sorrow – admittedly also with an occasional a dash of impatience, such as what you might feel while witnessing a successful con game and being unable to rescue the mark. Most of the JWs are trying to do good, to follow biblical principles – but they get entangled with the controlling psychology and its reinforcements and they lose their sense of priorities as well as their sense of self.

I criticize the behavior of the leadership because of its destructiveness to their people. I offer support for those who wish for it. You see above the standard product that is reaped from the sowing of the Watchtower Society. Is this what God intends for humanity? Dwell on that question. Everyone has their own path, if they wish to feel for it.

The biblical text is not a threat. It’s a simple statement: What you sow, that also you shall reap.

If you plant corn, you get corn. Cause – effect.

What you nourish in yourself or in the world is what grows.

Stand against destructiveness and hate. Nourish kindness and love.

Plant a seed.

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?

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.

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