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Words for Lee

Words for Lee

I miss my friend Lee. Although I continue to grieve, the worst of it has passed and I think it’s time to write for him. I hope that someday his daughter might find this post, and find some comfort here.

This is a difficult post to write for a number of reasons, but the trickiest part is to walk a careful line where I can be authentic and honest without compromising privacy. Lee confided in me; I know so much about his history, his issues and challenges, his hopes and dreams. It would be very therapeutic for me to finally bring out into the open some events and issues that made (and make) me very angry. I would, too, I really would – except that during the last long conversation that we had, the major topic was forgiveness.

He was in his 40s, and his inability to let go of the hurt in his past had been so damaging to himself and others for so long. We talked a lot about his daughter. She was the bright star in his life – he loved her so much – and we talked a lot about how his healing was tied to his ability to care for her, and to be the kind of father he wanted to be for her. One thing that really seemed to help was for him to imagine that the things he experienced were happening to her. Once the situation was transferred to someone he loved, he could finally see that someone who would behave hurtfully toward a child has deep problems of their own. He could even start to empathize – enough to stop blaming himself for everything that happened.

There was a lot of hurt and anger in Lee, but I am comforted by the thought that I really do think he was able to start authentically forgiving. More than that, I think he was even able to feel compassion, and to see the cycle, and even to disrupt it. He was capable of insight and of meta-thought and of imagination, but he was so hurt – so deeply and emotionally bone-tired and hurt – that it was only later in life that he even could bear to talk about it. A true friend is sometimes almost as good as a therapist. The safe place to talk – was with me. I’m honored that he trusted me that much.

But I’m starting at the end of the story. Once again, from the beginning this time…

Burnam Lee McCoubrey III (everyone called him Lee) and I were part of a Kingdom Hall community of Jehovah’s Witnesses. When I first tried to write this post, it veered off into remembering things that affected both of us just because of that, but I’ll try to keep to issues that are important only to our friendship this time. It was just as we were hitting adolescence that I remember him appearing as a figure in my life. At that time, my father was no longer an elder, and my parents had divorced and remarried. His father was an elder, one of the few that I trusted because he had a sense of humor and a loving heart. His mother – well, she always seemed to dislike me, for whatever reason, but she was a pillar of the community and not to be trifled with.

Lee McCoubrey
Lee McCoubrey
Lee himself was withdrawn, quiet. He was very pale in complexion, and when he was miserable it was transparently obvious. Still, there was something about Lee. If there was only a single ray of sunshine, he would seek it out. He had a core of innocence that never went away. Often he reminded me of Opie – not so much the later Ron Howard – but really Opie Taylor. I wished that he could have had that Mayberry world.

Once, his father was seriously injured. The men and older boys were playing some sort of game, perhaps touch football, and he fell and hit his head on a rock. It appeared that he probably had a concussion. Everyone panicked, and they were loosening his belt (I still don’t know why they do that), and trying to get him to respond. He was taken to the hospital.

Meanwhile, no-one seemed to remember Lee. He looked terrified. He’d gone ghost-white, and was sitting by himself, dazed. I went and sat down next to him. He often talked about that day, and how much it helped that I just sat there with him, not saying much, just being near. Somehow it made him feel that everything was going to be all right. I wish now that I would have hugged him, but at the time it was really unthinkable to do that.

We were still too young to date – even among other JWs – when we decided that we had a mutual crush going on. Basically, this meant that there was something to look forward to at those endless meetings – we could say shy hellos and give each other bashful smiles.

After a while, we got permission to talk with one another on the telephone. He was so so sooo shy. For the first few conversations, he had no idea what to say to me. So he read aloud the text from the back of Beach Boys record albums. He loved the Beach Boys. Eventually, we started to really talk. It was much easier on the telephone than in person, especially with everyone in the congregation monitoring us all the time. We would tell each other about bugs and rocks and plants, and how comforting and safe it felt to be among trees. He always told me that I was beautiful and kind and funny – especially funny. At a time when I was very insecure and very often sad myself, we cheered each other up.

Well, things move on. Sadly, I dumped him. Unceremoniously. With the fickleness of youth, I had a crush on another boy, and the year of Lee and Heidi was over. He was mad at me, and hurt of course, and it took a while to admit that we actually still liked each other and could be friends. I knew he still liked me “that way” though, and a couple of years later, I did give him a kiss. It was in jest, almost a dare (I was in a time of some confusion). I didn’t know until about a year ago that it had been his first kiss. We never held hands, or went out alone on a date, or anything like that. Just the one kiss – but it was a good one (smile).

Lee was third generation. Not only his father, but also his grandfather, were Jehovah’s Witness elders. In high school, I started to hear that Burnam was saying bad things about me, and I was shocked. I felt so betrayed! My lack of understanding on how or why that could possibly be the case gave me unaccustomed courage and I confronted him with what I had been told. His face fell, and he searched my eyes – something no other elder had done. “But I didn’t, Heidi,” he said – his voice breaking. Later I discovered that it was Lee’s grandfather – someone I’d only met briefly, occasionally – who was the one who had somehow developed a very bad impression of my “dangerousness” – not Lee’s dad at all. I went to him at the next meeting, and apologized profusely. Presumably, he investigated the thing – I don’t know, we never spoke of it again. Lee wouldn’t talk about it. But it wasn’t long after that when I was accused of many things that didn’t actually happen. Ahh, the rumor mill of malicious gossip.

What I remembered, though, was that Lee’s father was the only elder who treated me as a full person. He talked to me honestly and respectfully. I think it was the death of Lee’s dad that prompted Lee to find me again. He needed to talk, and to remember.

I couldn’t believe that he had forgotten the best and funniest thing that had ever happened, the day that Bernie got a little creative.

He was giving a talk on what it means, scripturally, to be a righteous man, and he had an idea for how to set it up. So we’re sitting at the Kingdom Hall meeting, and suddenly through the speakers – “Body, body, wanna feel my body, body” – the opening for “Macho Man” (video) by the Village People!

First of all, I can’t begin to explain the shock. It’s the only time I ever heard any other music than canned recordings of the “Kingdom songs” at the Hall. Then – OBVIOUSLY he had NO IDEA that the Village People were gay. None. None at all, or it would have been an entirely different sort of talk.

And then – Bernie comes strutting up to the podium, flexing his biceps and bouncing to the music. I thought I was going to pee my pants. It was one of the very few times that I remember where almost everyone was roaring with laughter.

“Is that what it means to be a man – being ‘macho'”?

Wow – it was hard to settle down to the scriptures after that. It did make the point, and it was perfect, but… well, someone must have enlightened the parental units. Lee was made to destroy much of his album collection that day. When we talked about it, we got almost hysterical with laughter, until he remembered the aftermath.

“But Lee, dear – you decide – was it worth it?” He thought about it for a couple of heartbeats, then started laughing again. “Yes. Yes, Heidi. It really was. Thank you. That’s one of the best memories of my Dad – that was so cool. It was worth it.”

Lee had lots of hard times, and sometimes it was as a result of bad choices, but I knew Lee really well – he had reasons to want and even need his escape vectors. Like most JWs, he never got to go to college, and he seriously injured his back some years back. He got addicted to the painkillers and had to go through a lot to get off of them, finally. He had financial troubles, too – he didn’t manage his meager funds very well. His love life was always a disaster area – I might have been the only woman that he really trusted.

His daughter – oh! Molly was the sun and the moon to him. He was so proud of her. He wouldn’t have wanted to abandon her, but to love and protect her always.

Lee and Molly
Lee and Molly

Lee was so hungry for caring and love and joy and laughter. Whenever he could be with a group of people, it made him so happy. He would open up. And when he opened up – oh, what magic! As he got older, the Opie side of him never quite went away but more and more he reminded me of Dan Akyroyd (especially as the character Joe Friday in the 1987 movie Dragnet). There was a slight physical resemblance, but more that that – the combination of abruptness, dry humor, and – yes, even then – a slightly naive kind of openness and innocence. I would have loved to have seen Lee decked out like a Blues Brother – just once.

Dan Akyroyd
Dan Akyroyd

Recently, he had attended a JW assembly with this mother. It meant a lot to her that he go to the thing. He said that he was still able to get something from it – he still believed in God – and that it meant so much to her that he couldn’t refuse her. I thought it was a very giving thing. <3 We talked about the JWs a lot. Over and above the doctrines and all, the thing that had most bothered both of us – going way back – was the way that legalism was more important than kindness. I hope that if any Jehovah's Witnesses read this, that you might try – just try – to be a little kinder and less petty and judgmental with your brothers and sisters. Follow the way of love and compassion, even “loving-kindness” – and especially, please be kind to the children. You’re already asking a lot from them. Be kind. Be loving. Be true. It matters. They – and you – don’t have to be perfect, don’t need to be perfect, can’t possibly be perfect. Do the best you can, and trust in love. Be kind to one another. As an adult, Lee was only very nominally part of the JW community, primarily to avoid being cut off from his mother. His memory is not authentically honored by contributing to the community that so often treated him badly. Even at the funeral, I’m told that there was one older man who, bible in hand, intimated that Lee had brought his death upon himself. I didn't go to the funeral. It would have been very difficult to travel there in time - as a former JW, I strongly suspect I wouldn't have been welcome anyway. Lee was gone, and I didn't think I could get - or offer - much comfort there. Lee died from complications of a preventable hospital staph infection. These deadly infections have affected the lives of several people that I know, and Lee is the second death among my close family and friends. In both cases, children were left fatherless. Lee worked for many years caring for others in a hospital setting, and it seems appropriate to me to honor his own real service and to work against this type of preventable death.

So while the official family request “in lieu of flowers” was for contributions to the local Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall, I would ask you to consider contributing to (or taking action for) a higher standard of hospital care. Please visit some of these sites and/or doing something to support this cause:

Finally – to respond to Lee’s last text message to me (and how I wish I had called him back immediately): I love you, too, and I always have. You are in my thoughts and daily meditations and, if there is an afterlife, I hope that you have – at last – found your endless summer. <3

This one’s for you:

“Catch a Wave” – The Beach Boys

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”

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.

JW Video

JW Video

I just have to mention Spiritual Brother’s Bible Research blog for its stunning collection of Jehovah’s Witness videos and documents.

I had never seen Pastor Russell preach before, and now I can understand how liberating and authentic it must have seemed at the time.

Today’s post really got to me, so I’m posting the video from YouTube. Historical photographs are set to a group of people singing the Kingdom Song “Take Sides with Jehovah!” (Exodus 32:26). It almost brought me to tears. It must have been so different back then. The song never sounded like that at my Kingdom Hall. For one thing, no-one was trained to sing the harmonies anymore. Music with spirit was almost entirely gone. It’s still a very basic song, but it would have made those long meetings a lot more bearable if we could have created a beautiful sound of praise – with feeling and beauty – rather than a cold dirge. I remember people almost glaring sometimes at the few people who really sang. So sad.

And Now… Jehovah’s Witnesses in the News

And Now… Jehovah’s Witnesses in the News

The ongoing saga of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the News continues…

Watchtower Image Trumps Ethics, Again; or, What Part of “Women and Children are Less Important than Men” Don’t You Understand?

Sask. church failed to report sexual abuse: Victims

After telling each other about the abuse, the two sisters informed their parents. Their father confronted the man, who did not confirm or deny what had happened, and the matter was subsequently reported to church elders, Zerr said. “There was no report to the police at that time.”

Instead, the man received a lecture from the elders, and many in the community rallied around him because he regularly attended church meetings – while the girls were “treated like troublemakers” and encouraged to let the whole thing go, one of the victims wrote. Their father and their abuser later became “dear friends, and would go for coffee daily,” a situation which continues to this day, she added. “We were trash-talked and slandered throughout the community . . . the religion abandoned us.”

ColdHeart: More Than a Little Ethically-Challenged

Friend of man accused in San Ramon real estate financier’s killing testifies

Two days before real estate financier Kashmir Billon was found shot to death in a San Ramon business park, the business associate charged with his murder allegedly offered a lifelong friend $50,000 to kill an unnamed man. Police found Billon, 42, of San Ramon, dead in the street next to his smoldering BMW late Sunday, April 27 after a hotel employee found him slumped over and pulled him from the vehicle. Robinson, a 31-year-old El Sobrante resident, is charged with murder, solicitation of murder and three felonies related to a real estate scheme prosecutors said was a motive for the killing.

Rogers, a contract home inspector with past felony convictions on drug and gun charges, said he has known Robinson his whole life because their parents were members of the same church for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Rogers said that in 2006, he offered for $20,000 to kill a man suspected of committing a home invasion robbery at Robinson’s house, but that Robinson declined the offer. Robinson asked Rogers in person on Friday, April 25 to kill a business associate on a Richmond property. Rogers claimed Robinson told him he had previously asked someone else to do the killing, but that person did not want to do it in Richmond. Rogers said Robinson wanted it done in Richmond because the target could be lured to the property under the pretense of tree work that needed to be done.

No Part of Satan’s World

Total Service Objectors Doubled During A Decade

In Finland, in theory all men between the ages of 18 and 60 are subject to military service. Approximately 82% of all young men do military service and around 7% do alternative non-military service. Members of the Jehovah Witnesses were exempted from both forms of service under legislation that came into force in 1987. According to the newspaper Keskisuomalainen, the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations and the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe have called Finnish legislation discriminatory in this respect and said that the preferential treatment accorded to Jehovah’s Witnesses should be extended to other groups of conscientious objectors.

Jehovah’s Witnesses canvass for God instead of votes

Since his religious conversion at age 30, Brooks holds the Witness viewpoint – that not voting emulates Jesus Christ’s example of avoiding political involvement. … Housner, like many Witnesses, thinks the only perfect government is God’s kingdom, which ultimately will reign over humanity, he said. That kingdom’s approach will be augured by signs that the world is in its last days, said Derrick McCraw, a property manager and Witness in Norfolk.

“Items that are on the front page of the newspaper parallel what the Bible says about our time: food shortages, war, disease,” he said. In addressing the current global financial crisis, McCraw said, “Being in the last days, people will be lovers of money.”

Nonetheless, “God allows governments to function in the meanwhile, before his kingdom comes,” Housner said. “We need to have some form of government – otherwise, it would be anarchy.” By avoiding politics, Witnesses avoid a source of internal division and escape being beholden to any politician, he said. The global, 7-million-member Witness community also avoids friction caused by nationalism.

Jehovah’s Witnesses transform West Palm Beach’s ‘leaky teepee’ auditorium

It has been 10 years since the city transferred its auditorium to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in a controversial $12.5 million sale. Although most of the public hasn’t set foot this decade in the building that once housed the county’s major concerts and events, the crumbling structure known derisively as the “leaky tepee” has been transformed into a state-of-the-art beacon for a religion that is 1 million strong in the United States. … It was a great deal for the Witnesses, who have converted the auditorium on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard into the Christian Convention Center. The Witnesses bought the land for $12.5 million, then sold much of the property, including the baseball field, recouping a good portion of the initial cost. Since then, the building has been completely remodeled at a cost of about $13 million. ….In 1998, the Jehovah’s Witnesses were looking to buy a building that would become their largest enclosed gathering place in the world. West Palm Beach was a logical location because Florida has a sizable Jehovah’s Witnesses community, and the group was already the auditorium’s top tenant.

Dragging to the Kingdom Hall: No, not Children! Cars!

Pro Tow, which has a contract to enforce parking at Shady Glen Mobile Home Park, began towing and booting vehicles parked along the street or in the grass near homes Tuesday night. On Wednesday, at least four tow trucks patrolled the neighborhood, pulling roughly 15 vehicles to the nearby Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, where owners had the option of paying $300 or losing their vehicles temporarily. … The towing also angered elders of the church, who filed a trespassing warning against Pro Tow for using the hall’s parking lot. The elders said they had granted permission for the lot to be used to temporarily store a broken down vehicle and, the next thing they knew, 15 towed vehicles showed up.

Experience Bringeth Wisdom

Time Magazine: America’s Unfaithful Faithful (a Report on the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life)

An even more extreme example of what might be called “masked churn” is the relatively tiny Jehovah’s Witnesses, with a turnover rate of about two-thirds. That means that two-thirds of the people who told Pew they were raised Jehovah’s Witnesses no longer are — yet the group attracts roughly the same number of converts. Notes Lugo, “No wonder they have to keep on knocking on doors.”

Theocratic War Strategies (Sanctioned Deceptions)

Is God Really Going To Destroy Everyone But Jehovah’s Witnesses?

There are almost 7 billion people on Earth and of that number there are about 7 Million Jehovah’s Witnesses. So, if Armageddon came today, approximately 1/1000th of the population would survive according to what the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach. … Do you think God would really butcher nearly 7 billion people and save only the Jehovah’s Witnesses? I don’t. So once again I am led to question the validity of anything the governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses says.

Watchtower 9/1/1989, p. 19:
“Only Jehovah’s Witnesses, those of the anointed remnant and the ‘great crowd,’ as a united organization under the protection of the Supreme Organizer, have any Scriptural hope of surviving the impending end of this doomed system dominated by Satan the Devil.”

JW Blogger Discovers He Was Directed by the Governing Body to Lie about Watchtower Affiliation; or, Did you know that all those service reports to the Watchtower Society don’t count after all?

… publishers do well to avoid representing themselves as agents or representatives of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., or any other corporation used by “the faithful and discreet slave” to advance Kingdom interests (February 1989 Our Kingdom Ministry, page 3)

Not Affiliated with “Any” of the Bible Societies; or, JWs, Step Right Up! Buy Your Not-Affiliated Watchtower Supplies Right Here!

This one just cracks me up (Thanks M). We didn’t have all this fancy stuff when I was out in service – you kids! get off the lawn!

Do you sell return visit books?
We don’t sell anything for “just” return visits. However, we do have some ideas for these:
1. Our theocratic monthly planner has several pages at the back to record your return visits, as well as a handy chart to keep track of magazine routes
2. We also have several service organizers, such as the all-in-one service organizer, magazine and tract tote, and pioneer portfolio which have specially-designed slots to hold the house-to-house slips where you can also note return visits and other activity.

How are you affiliated with the Watchtower?
There is a vast distinction between our faith and our business, which is a commercial enterprise and is not affiliated with the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in any way. Therefore, we do not sell Bibles or Bible literature. We make custom leather products, specializing in protective covers for Bibles and Bible literature, including the New World Translation, among many other versions and translations. Ministry Ideaz is a commercial enterprise and is not affiliated with any of the Bible societies that distribute the Bibles mentioned on our site. These societies are not-for-profit organizations.

How many “Bible societies” was that again? Can we get a business card to hand out when they come to the door?

Service supplies for Jehovah’s Witnesses
New World Translation Bible Covers
Watchtower and Kingdom Ministry Foldersand more!

Thinking Still Forbidden? Absolutely

The Watchtower says you MUST Obey them in ALL Areas

A Selection from the “Ask a Former JW” Mailbag

These writers prefer our conversations to remain anonymous. This is just a sampling for illustrative purposes, edited to ensure privacy. If you have a question, you can contact me here. If you approve, I will post our entire exchange (with or without names) – or I may use non-identifying bits like these to show some of the recurring issues that I see.

I disassociated myself and cut all of my immediate family and friends that I had. This is all I have ever known. I have a spiritual void but can’t seem to find a church. I search but they all have crosses and the pit of my stomach aches and my mind tells me Babylon the Great. How do I get past this and how do I find a church. Please help.

She is a JW and I am not. … She eventually moved … and became distant with myself and many of her other good friends. While I’ve tried to keep in touch with her, she never returns my phone calls or emails me. I just found out last night that she got married this spring and I am utterly shocked. … I am still going to call her and let her know that I love her and will always be there for her. I am the most upset because we had always talked of how our wedding days would be and they were always inclusive of each other no matter what. I really just needed to get that out, as it has been a very emotional day for me. I pray that one day she will be strong enough to think for herself.

Did this little girl CAUSE herself to be abducted from her home and raped because she went “Trick or Treating” ie: “Celebrated the Devil” (Her words in quotes)? When she told me this I freaked out a bit and said “NO” but….she looked square at me and said “Well, that’s what (her parents) said” and when I said “…that couldn’t be what they said” she interrupted me with a VERY indignant “Well, read your Bible.” So how did her “un-holy” behavior CAUSE the Devil to do that to her? I guess that I can agree that if I am a bank robber-or I beat people up and mug them, well, if my life always feels full of fear-and on the run-and i have bad relationships with people, and problems and strife, well-I guess I can see how my “un-righteous” behavior CAUSES “bad” things to happen to me, but; What in “Jehovah’s Witness” religion says that “celebrating the Devil” causes you to be raped?

His biggest concerns revolve around the ideas (facts according to him) that the bible according the JW has prophecized a lot of what is happening now – fall of capitalism, global warming, etc. I am not well versed in the bible and no little about JW. Is any of this true? It is very hard for him to even consider other reasoning because he has been taught that the things happening now have supposedly so clearly been already prophecized. Can you please point me towards more information or a person for him or I to speak to that can help him get past this fear of the end of the world?

Okay, this might sound like a really stupid question and I know you’re not here to play agony aunt, but I’m somewhat desperate. My ex-boyfriend is a Jehova’s Witness and that’s the reason I broke up with him – I just couldn’t take it any more .. no meeting his family, no sex, total secrecy etc. I’ve tried talking to him, he just won’t listen. Is there ANYTHING I can do? I miss him and I just wish he’d give up his freaky religion. What made you change your mind? Do you think I can do anything at all?

I was told that he had been reported by one person as a pedophile, and that there were others who were abused as children that were not coming forward about it. I was also told that the act of disfellowshipping was done not necessarily because of the act committed, but “because the person is unrepentant”. … in many ways I see no difference between sexual abuse of a child and murder, as it was the murder of a child’s spirit. I guess I’m asking your help to help ME to focus on what needs to be done next. I cannot let this man just be out there in the community.

I was a jw for more than 20 years. I’d like to know what your opinion is regarding dating (?) . I mean, as a jw it’s more serious, you have marriage in mind – but, I’ve noticed that that’s not the case in the real world… do you have any suggestions as to how to view dating or go about it??? just feel a tad lost, to say the least.

Hello, i am a former JW, left about 12 years ago. My mother, father (an elder), and sister all completely shun me. Even after all this time, i still feel like an orphaned child, with much anger inside for how i’ve been treated by them and all my childhood friends. I need advice on how to cope with such stupidity.

We live in an area with a large concentration of JW’s. They’re on our street every weekend but have never knocked (in 5 years) until last Saturday. I’ve decided that if they come knocking on my door, maybe the Holy Spirit is knocking on their hearts. I want to witness to these people effectively but I want to better know where they’re coming from. I am a champion of debating and can argue with a hole in the wall (and win), BUT I realize that “winning” isn’t the goal if it leaves the JW confused, intimidated, angry, hurt, etc. I want to share the gospel WITHOUT arguing, if possible. I’ve looked at your recommended reading page and I was already considering purchasing a couple of those books, but I want to know what would be most useful, from your perspective, to know. I already have a fair grasp on the fundamental doctrinal differences, but that’s not enough – I need to reach these people where they are: in the prison of a cultic way of thinking. What specific books would you recommend as the most effective?

Explosive JW Suicide at Kingdom Hall

Explosive JW Suicide at Kingdom Hall

Jehovah’s Witness blows himself up at a Kingdom Hall near Kansas City… I wonder what the backstory is for this one. Why do you think someone might choose to blow himself up at the Kingdom Hall? Hmmm…

Bates City Church Explosion Kills One
Saturday, 26 Jul 2008

Investigators searched the scene of an explosion at a Jehovah’s Witness’ Kingdom Hall in Bates City, Mo. on July 26, 2008.

A bizarre explosion at a church east of Kansas City killed one man on Saturday afternoon.

ATF agents said the explosion at the Jehovah’s Witness’ Kingdom Hall on Foggy Bottom Drive was intentionally set, and that the person who died appears to have committed suicide.

Witnesses described large amounts of smoke pouring out of the building, which they said was just recently completed.

The source of the explosion remains a mystery, but investigators found evidence of accelerants in the debris.

The victim was the only person inside the building

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