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You Can Go Back – But It’ll Cost You

 

Continuing from last week’s post, “Here Come Da Judge.”

 

So, basically, your entire world has just crashed into shards at your feet.  None of your friends at the kingdom hall can talk to you, not even your family members.  You are considered to be a wicked person, a danger to the faithful.  How you wish you could run into your mom’s arms and be comforted, but your mom is a woman of strong faith in the organization.  She believes that by isolating you she is performing a great act of love.  She hopes that you will feel enough pain that you will do whatever is necessary to be reinstated.  Well, it’s working.

Sitting at home that weekend you realize you have a long haul ahead of you.  Even the most repentant sinners can expect at least six months of cold shoulders before they can apply for reinstatement.   You decide you’ll just pull up your big girl panties and deal with it.

Still, it niggles in the back of your mind.  How can three men sit in judgment on you and then separate you from your own mother and your best friend?  You’re not a wicked person, just an idiot who had too much to drink one night and made a mistake.

In order to be reinstated, you will have to acknowledge the gravity of your sin, display works befitting repentance (read: grovel), show up at all of the meetings (however, be the last one there and the first to leave) and sit quietly in the back of the hall.  And the elders will assign a “spiritually mature” sister to study with one or two of the Watchtower Society’s publications.  Ultimately, you will have to meet with the same three elders who kicked you out in the first place to ask for forgiveness.

This will be difficult.  Brother Rigid has always had it out for you.  He doesn’t like any display of individuality, like the time you tried a temporary hair color.  It was just auburn, for pity’s sake – well, maybe a tad redder than the usual auburn.  He threatened your father with the loss of his congregation privileges if he allowed it to continue.  Even Dad thought that Brother Rigid was being overbearing.   You spent a long afternoon washing your hair over and over to remove the color and spent the next year boring angry holes into the back of his head during the meetings.  Every time that man looked at you he frowned.  Your clothes were immodest.  Your pocketbook was too trendy.  You caught hell for buying a tiny two-door car that is not suitable for field service.  Groveling to that [expletive deleted] is going to be painful.

Every meeting is painful because you see your family sitting there but you can’t approach them.  So, you plug away for six months, keeping your head down at the meetings, wearing only the most modest clothes, playing the part of a repentant sinner, and enduring weekly study sessions with Sister Smug.  She insists you come to her house, so there’s that weekly encounter with Brother Smug and the Smugettes, who whisper and titter before scuttling away like you’re the Devil himself.

At the meetings, anyone who has to get up to use the rest room walks past you.  All of them avert their eyes, but there are a few spiteful sisters who make a show of it, snapping their heads around.  Then there are the inevitable encounters at the grocery store.  Sister Wasp and her two young children round the end of an aisle, nearly crashing into you.  The children cower behind their mother’s coat and she looks annoyed by the encounter.  How dare you bring your sinful self to the same store she patronizes?  Oh, and the excruciating gas station encounter with Brother Bombast!  You were filling up your tank, and he pulled up to the pump directly across from you.  The man’s face turned bright red.  You stopped short of a full tank and drove off as quickly as you could.

Finally, after six months of torture you approach the elders and request reinstatement.   A date is set for them to meet with you and discuss it.  At the meeting they interrogate you about your lifestyle.  Have you been frequenting bars?  Do you have a boyfriend?  A sexual partner?  You answer every prying little question in a respectful voice with a little weeping thrown in for effect.  They tell you that Sister Smug reports that you have done well on your study.  They see that you haven’t missed a meeting, even coming when you had the flu.  They dismiss you so that they can talk it over.

Again you wait alone in the cavernous kingdom hall while three men decide your fate.  You can’t take another six months of this.  Please, please, let them vote for reinstatement.

Finally, they call you back in.  They tell you they have decided that you qualify for reinstatement, and it will be announced at the Thursday meeting.

Thursday evening rolls around.  As usual, you take your seat of shame in the back.  About halfway through the meeting Brother Elder #2 gets up on the platform and reads a brief announcement saying that you have been reinstated.  Ten heads turn to look at you, a couple of them smiling.

The meeting ends and you’re swamped.  First, you mother weeps all over you, then your little sister.  Dad gives you a hug and his loving smile.  Then it’s your BFF’s turn.  After that, Sister Smug squeezes out a few decorous tears and hugs you.  Then, Sister Wasp gushes, “Oh, how I’ve missed you!”

Eh?   You decide you’ll wait until you get home to roll your eyes.

Meanwhile, there are handshakes and hugs and a few more tears.  You’re back.

 

 

Here Come Da Judge

 

Picture this:  You’re a 19-year-old Jehovah’s Witness girl living a sterile life.  Aching for some fun, you go out to a bar one night with a workmate, and while there you meet a gorgeous guy who pushes all of your hormonal buttons.  You’ve had a couple of drinks so your inhibitions are lowered.  Before you know it, you’re waking up in a strange bed with said gorgeous guy snoring beside you.  As the shock explodes in your brain, you realize you have committed a grave sin – one that could result in disfellowshipping.

You’ve been indoctrinated to confess your sins to the elders (Jehovah knows anyway) and let them “handle” the matter.  However, you realize that your workmate and the gorgeous guy are not going to rat you out, so maybe you can get away with it.   Conscience be damned.

Then, at the next meeting one of the elders asks you to step into the library for a moment.  With your heart in your throat you tremulously enter the room and find another elder already there.  Neither of the elders is smiling, and your guilty conscience keeps punching you in the stomach.  Brother Elder #1 opens his bible and invites you to turn to 1 Timothy 5:16 and read it out loud.  “Therefore openly confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may get healed.”

Gulp.  How could they possibly know about your indiscretion?  There’s no way they could know!  They would have to have two witnesses to establish the matter.  You decide to bluff.

“What does this have to do with me?”  you ask.

“Sister Guilty, Brother Elder #2 and I and our wives were out in field service last Saturday morning, and we happened to see you leaving an apartment building wearing clothing that is more appropriate for the evening.  Could you explain why you were there?”

You think of possible excuses.  “Um, I was staying over at a friend’s house for the night while my apartment was being fumigated.”

Oh boy, now you’ve opened a can of worms.  Your workmate is “worldly” and therefore bad association.  Why would you seek her out after work hours?  And then there’s the matter of clothing.  Why were you wearing evening clothes?  Did you go to a bar?  A party? (More bad association.)  Why didn’t you bring appropriate clothing for the next morning?

Peering out from deep inside the hole you’ve just dug for yourself you can see the elders don’t believe you.  The jig is up.  Tears sting at your eyes, and you sob out the whole story to them.   The two brothers stand up.

“Sister Guilty, we’ll need you to come to the kingdom hall on Monday evening for a judicial hearing.”

The words hit you like a cold shower.  This could be the mistake that ruins your life.

Monday evening rolls around, and you’re in the hot seat at a judicial committee hearing.  Brother Elder #1 and Brother Elder #2 have been joined by another elder, Brother Rigid.  They open the hearing with prayer and then the inquisition begins.  They want all of the details.  ALL of them.  How much did you drink?  Did you use illicit drugs?  How many times did you do the deed?  Did you climax?  Did you use contraception?  Could you be pregnant?  Is the man a regular partner?  Did you participate in oral or anal sex?

For some reason, the floor does not open up and swallow you.  Crimson with shame and crying profusely, you answer their questions, even though they are absolutely invasive and inappropriate.

Once the elders are satisfied, they dismiss you to wait in the main auditorium while they deliberate.    In a short time they call you back in and tell you that they will have to disfellowship you since people in the community know about the matter, tarnishing the reputation of the congregation.

At the next meeting your disfellowshipping is announced.  Several confused publishers furtively glance at you, but you stay in your seat and endure the humiliation.  Humility is conduct befitting repentance, something you’ll need for the next stage – applying for reinstatement.  It will be at least 6 months or maybe longer before the elders will even consider reinstating you, so it will be a long haul of shunning, sitting in the back of the kingdom hall in the row of shame, and enduring snide glances from your former friends and family.

Next week:  You can go back, but it will cost you.

Adventures With Elders

Very shortly after we became Jehovah’s Witnesses my father rose quickly through the ranks to the position of elder in the congregation.  His life became much busier, and we saw less of him.  However, as he reminded us on the night his appointment was announced, the rest of the family had responsibilities too.  He sat us down and sternly told us that we had to be good examples to the other kids in the congregation.  He never wanted to hear that someone’s kid said, “But Brother Long’s kids do it and their father is an elder.”  I had to wonder why he was being so stern.  My brother and I were, if not model children, very well behaved indeed.

Dad had elders’ meetings to attend every so often.  Since he heaped verbal abuse on my head when he was at home, I was always elated when he picked up his book bag, straightened his tie, and left the house on a week night.  It meant I could spend the evening in the living room instead of holed up in my bedroom escaping to Avonlea or hanging out with the March sisters.

There was also a huge cloud of secrecy that hung around his activities as an elder.  When the phone rang and he answered it we were not allowed to ask who had called.  If we answered the phone and someone asked for him we would be severely scolded if we asked the caller to identify themselves.   We could never dig around in his book bag or any of the drawers of his desk.  We were to squelch our curiosity about anything he did as an elder.

Besides all of that, inevitably every meeting turned into a marathon session as he lingered afterward until we pretty much closed the kingdom hall down.  This led to some pretty late school nights and droopy eyelids the next day.

Since I married a ministerial servant, the workload wasn’t quite as heavy on my husband as on my father, and that situation continued for 10 years.  It was when dear hubby (DH) decided he desired to ascend Olympus and “reach out” for the office of elder that the pressure ramped up.

First, he had to qualify for recommendation, as defined by our body of elders.  It was well known around the circuit that you had to be practically Superman to get recommended by our body of elders, and some brothers had even departed for other congregations where less stringent requirements prevailed in order to get the desired promotion.

Along with him, I had to qualify too.  That meant I had to be putting in more than the congregation average in field service hours per month (which meant I had to go out every Saturday morning and at least one Sunday afternoon in the month), I had to keep a spotless home, entertain regularly (called “hospitality”), get to every single meeting and comment frequently, and accompany DH to the Wednesday evening field service meeting – all while holding down a demanding full-time job with a 45-minute commute each way.  That Wednesday evening thing meant that I didn’t get supper until afterward, maybe as late as 8 p.m.

There are a million other little things you have to do, like entertain the circuit overseer and his wife during their visit, take part in cleaning the kingdom hall, participate in any kingdom hall maintenance projects, visit sick JWs in the hospital or at home, and sometimes drop in on lagging publishers.

An example of this kind of unpaid extra work occurred during a month when I foolishly decided to add auxiliary pioneering (60-hour requirement) to my already bulging schedule, while still working full time (minus the commute – I had taken a job closer to home).   DH and I had been assigned to assist a sister in the congregation who had five children and a husband in rehab.

The phone rang at 2 a.m.  This sister’s daughter had been involved in a car accident and she needed help.  We jumped out of bed and drove the 20 miles to the hospital where we found our sister in a state.  They were admitting her daughter, and she needed us to take the baby and her 3-year-old son.  Ignoring my horrified expression she handed me the diaper bag and hurried away.

I need to pause here to inform my readers that I have never been the maternal type.  I never babysat, never sought out babies or toddlers, and I had most certainly never changed a diaper in my life.  I wasn’t even sure what year-old babies could eat.  Did they eat?  Our home was not baby-proof and contained not even a single toy.

Back home at dawn’s early light I found myself with an infant and toddler both sitting in the middle of the living screaming their lungs out.  I sure as heck didn’t even vaguely resemble their African American mother.  As soon as I thought people might be stirring I called a friend who had a couple of kids to ask if she could babysit these two.

Unfortunately, she was going to a wedding that day, but after laughing at me heartily, she offered to come over and give me a diapering tutorial.

DH rushed to the store and bought a passel of toys, none of which appealed to our young charges.  Mom came flying by at about 5 p.m. to nurse the infant and to tell us that she couldn’t take the kids back until the next day.

After she left I drew DH into the bedroom and with trembling hands and tear-stained face begged him to find someone else to take these children.  I could not face babysitting overnight.  We didn’t even have any baby gear!  Luckily, we found a family who, after finding amusement in my distress, happily took the kids for the night.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, that baby didn’t soil her diaper even once during that day.  I still haven’t changed a diaper.

Shunning

If you are an ex-Jehovah’s Witness, no doubt you have been subjected to some form of shunning.  If you have never been a JW you will know little or nothing about their practice of shunning former members.

It sounds like something out of the Puritan era, like The Scarlett Letter, and yeah, there are a lot of Hester Prynnes around.

If you leave the JWs voluntarily or if you are expelled for “wrongdoing” you will be subjected to shunning.  This means that every JW you know will not talk to you, yea, will not even acknowledge your existence.  If you have family who are JWs, depending on how staunch they are, they will follow the same procedure with the possible exception of a life-or-death situation or in business situations.

If you have “faded” from the congregation, simply stopped participating, it is likely you will receive the same treatment from most in the congregation, since you are now “bad association.”

Here’s how it works in practice.  The JW-in-good-standing (we’ll call him “Paul”) is perusing the selection of cantaloupes in his local supermarket, and whilst thumping a melon he spies a no-longer-a-JW (we’ll call him “Jim”) approaching.  Paul will either become extremely absorbed in melon selection, pretending not to see Jim, or he will drop the unlucky melon and beat a hasty retreat to the dairy case, depending on whether or not he considers Jim to be an apostate (very scary people, indeed).

Once he reaches the safety of the yogurt display, Paul will whip out his cell phone, call some other JW-in-good-standing and breathlessly relate the chilling tale of his narrow escape from eye contact with Jim.  “He was right there by the organic zucchini!  I barely got away!”

However, if Paul is a braver soul than previously indicated, he may relish the encounter in order to show his disdain for his former friend, dramatically turning his back, placing his melon in his cart, and walking away.  In this way, Paul imagines that Jim will feel the pain of the lost friendship and long to return to the JW fold.

Paul will view his actions as evidence of his Christian brotherly love and will likely experience a moment of smug satisfaction, having done his duty although, due to distraction, having selected an overly ripe melon in the process.

In my case, I left of my own accord, delivering a letter of disassociation to the local body of elders.  That act placed me among the worst of the worst, as though I had spit upon Jesus Christ himself.

“She left voluntarily?  Inconceivable!  She is in league with the Devil.”

I moved about 50 miles away and, on my first day at a new job, found myself in a small office with no fewer than three JWs, one of whom I knew a little, and one of whom was an elder.

After a couple of days the elder came to my desk and asked me basically what my deal was, and I told him I had disassociated myself.  He offered to help me return to the flock, which I politely refused.  After that, he and I didn’t interact much.  The other two JWs were women who restricted our interaction to business matters only.  Until Christmas.

The company paid for everyone in the office to go to a restaurant for a dinner that would serve as our Christmas party.  We all knew it was a Christmas party, and the dinner occurred mere days before Christmas.  Therefore, since JWs do not participate in the celebration of Christmas, the three JWs should not have attended.

Throw into the mix that I was going to be there and that the Bible clearly says that the faithful should not eat with one who has left the faith.  No way should any of them have been there.  But they all were, even the elder, with their spouses.  I can only imagine the mental gymnastics they had to perform to quiet their consciences.

About 6 weeks later I moved 1000 miles away, so I am now comfortably incognito.

My family members who are JWs (Mom and brother) live 5000 miles away, so seeing them has never been an issue.  Of course, I am no longer welcome in their home, and I receive no communication from them.  I write a couple of times a year because I love them and I want them to know I’m still alive.

Three years into my exile, my mother, in a wild act of rebellion, answered one of my letters.  Alas, in the five years since that communication I have not heard from her.  More than likely my brother found out about the letter and had a severe chat with Mom.  He is very staunch, and Mom is dependent upon him for a home.

Sadly, the emotional blackmail that is shunning has a fairly decent success rate, especially among those expelled for “wrongdoing.”  Among those who leave of their own accord, perhaps on principle, usually shunning does not work.

One way of leaving the cult is called “the fade” where you gradually stop attending meetings until you disappear.  At first, you are likely to get a few “shepherding calls” during which two elders will read to you a predictable list of scriptures to induce you to return.

You will also be subjected to “encouragement” from fellow congregation members when they run into you in public.

This painful stage can last a year or more.  However, once you have faded completely, and the elders have stopped harassing you, basically you’re out.

Now, this method has varying degrees of success as far as shunning is concerned.   It is likely that most of your former friends will avoid you, but your family is under no obligation to shun you.  However, it is quite possible that they will do so in order to make your nonassociation as painful as possible and effect your reactivation.

Leaving the cult is never easy, sometimes humiliating, and always painful.

Life in a Congregation – Part 3

The second meeting on Thursday nights was the Service Meeting.  This meeting featured assigned material from a monthly flyer called “Our Kingdom Service.”  The focus of the meeting was the ministry – how to be effective, encouragement to do more (read: guilt tripping); but it covered organizational matters as well – assembly dates and themes, how to dress for a visit to the World Headquarters, encouragement to give more money (again, guilt tripping).  Often, demonstrations were given of suggested presentations to use at the door.  Anyone could be drafted to give a presentation, another 5 minutes or so of terror.

We were often regaled with an experience about some person who had seemingly impossible circumstances who still managed to engage in the full-time ministry (pioneering) or to increase their hours temporarily (auxiliary pioneering).  A composite of this beknighted individual would be a single mom with 5 kids under the age of 10, a wooden leg, no car, and a full-time job breaking rocks in a quarry using a sledge hammer.  Dang, if she could do it, why were you being such a cream puff?

I actually responded to this arm twisting one time and auxiliary pioneered for 6 weeks (I tried it out for two weeks just to make sure I could do it before I submitted my application) while working full time.  That meant I had to get up and 0-dark-30 and head down to the area around the train station (with a group of similarly motivated JWs) to give away magazines, thus putting in some time before work.

After work I was picked up by a car group who were covering not-at-homes (homes that had been called upon at another time of day but without finding someone at home) during the dinner hour, an activity which did not endear us to the community.  As you can imagine, when I finally limped home in the evening I was pretty well tapped out, and we often dined at the sign of the golden starches.

On Saturday I put in a full day in the ministry, and on Sunday I was out for a long afternoon.  And just where did I fit in housework?  I dunno.  I think we just lived in squalor for that month.

The month of the pioneering was May, and we were living in Eastern Massachusetts at the time.  During the first week of that month we had a snowstorm of 8 inches, and on the last day of the month the temperature soared to 100 degrees.  In between, on one Saturday, we were surprised by a phone call in the wee hours to come help a single mother whose child had been in a car accident.  When we returned home we had a year-old baby and a 3-year-old with us.

The rest of that story can be summed up in a few words:  We had no children, we knew nothing about children, the baby was still breast feeding, and I had never changed a diaper in my life.  I’m sure you can imagine how that day went.

But I digress.

The parts on the Service Meeting were generally assigned to elders or ministerial servants and sometimes involved strong counsel directed at the congregation as a whole.  This meeting was also the one where any disfellowshippings or other disciplinary action would be announced.

Rounding out the week was the Sunday meeting which featured a public talk, usually by a visiting speaker who would bring his family with him.  The outlines (or manuscripts) for these talks were provided by the Watchtower Society, and usually each elder in the Circuit had three or four outlines that he had developed into talks and would give wherever assigned.  For those who had to listen, it was usually an hour-long struggle to keep your eyes open.

My ex-husband was an elder, so often on a Sunday we’d be traveling to another congregation.  Some of his talks I heard so many times I could have given them myself.  I was not particularly outgoing, so it was exhausting for me to muster the traditional elder’s wife’s toothy grin and buoyant personality.  After the meeting I would have to put up with a bunch of women coming up to me and telling me what a wonderful man my husband was, and blah, blah, blah.  Meanwhile, he’d have given the closing prayer and be milling around on the platform with the local elders.

Afterward, we often had to go to someone’s house for “hospitality,” meaning we’d have lunch with them and it was another few hours of torture for me while I had to keep the toothy grin plastered on my face.  By the time it was all over and we were headed home I’d be exhausted and asking for an ice cream.  The only good point of being the visiting speaker was that we weren’t expected to participate in field service after the meeting.  Sometimes we could even beg off after the talk and leave.

After the public talk comes the Watchtower Study which is a consideration of an article from the Watchtower magazine which featured question and answer much the same as the Book study (read: a big yawn-fest).  This was another instance of needing to prepare well in advance or at least give the appearance of having done so.

There you have it.  In addition to field service, JWs spend 5 hours over 3 days of the week attending meetings and more hours preparing for them.  In my case, that means that I never saw any TV program that was scheduled for a Tuesday or Thursday, leaving me woefully out of the loop on a chunk of the pop culture.

One of my current favorite things is to wake up on a Sunday and know that I don’t have to get ready for a meeting (you always get dressed up for meetings, so there’s no jeans and t-shirts – it’s suits, ties, skirts, and pantyhose) or to turn on the TV on a Thursday night and gloat that I don’t have to gulp my supper and run out to a meeting.  Yay!  I’m free!

Life In A Congregation – Part 2

JWs place much emphasis on attendance/participation in meetings and field service as a gauge of your spiritual maturity.  Missing meetings is a sure-fire way to get unwanted attention from the elders and other congregation members, and you’d better have a good excuse.  By “good excuse” I mean something along the lines of, “I was in the hospital on an IV drip,” or, “I was projectile vomiting.”  Trifling ailments like a cold or a broken limb are simply not good enough.  Inevitably during cold and flu season, there will be a week or two during which the kingdom hall sounds like the end-stage ward at a TB sanatorium due to faithful congregation members dragging their flu-wracked bodies to meetings.

While at a meeting, you must participate.  In order to participate, you must come prepared.  JWs have at hand the material upon which meeting parts will be based, with the exception of the public talk on Sundays.  When I was a JW there was a meeting on Tuesday evening called the Congregation Book Study.

For this meeting, the congregation was divided into smaller groups of about 20 and it was generally conducted in a private home.   The bookstudy group was a sort of subunit of the congregation.  You would meet for field service on Saturday with your bookstudy group, and the bookstudy conductor (usually an elder) would pay especially close attention to his bookstudy group, paying shepherding calls on them from time to time.

At the book study meeting JWs consider one of the Watchtower Society’s publications.  The pages to be covered were assigned ahead of time so that the entire worldwide brotherhood would be considering the same material on the same week.  The questions for each paragraph were printed at the bottom of the page.

Ahead of the evening of the book study you would read each paragraph and underline (or highlight) the answers, looking up each cited scripture and making a brief note of that scripture in the margin.  Since other members of the group could easily see whether or not you had prepared ahead of time, it was prudent at the very least to have gone through and underlined something in each paragraph, whether or not it had anything to do with the question.

A male member of the group would be assigned to read the paragraphs, and then the conductor would ask the questions.  Some of the cited scriptures would be read aloud, and anybody could do that, you didn’t have to be male.

This meeting has been eliminated from the weekly schedule for JWs, which is strange, because over the 30+ years I was a JW, we received repeated admonition not to miss any of the 5 meetings a week.

Often cited was the example of young David who, before he went out to slay Goliath, picked up five stones from an obliging creek bed, and Jehovah blessed him with success.  For some reason his picking up five stones was a sign of faithfulness.  I can’t remember exactly how they tied that in.  Therefore, we needed to attend all five meetings each week in order to secure Jehovah’s blessing.  Evidently, the Watchtower Society has adjusted its understanding of David’s actions to those of an ardent rock hound rather than those of a young warrior seeking God’s approval.

Moving along in the week, Thursday evening featured two meetings:  The Theocratic Ministry School and the Service Meeting.  These meetings were the ones that could ruin your entire week, because parts in these meetings were doled out to the rank and file JWs, even females.

The School Overseer (usually the most recently appointed elder) was in charge of assigning parts and offering counsel.  Personal speaking ability was not a requirement.  In one congregation I was in, the School Overseer counseled one speaker about his “pronounciation,” repeating the word over and over.  I had to bite down on my lip to keep myself from cracking up.

The School featured 7 parts:

  • A 15-minute talk, given by an experienced male on an assigned subject, usually something really dry and boring.
  • A 5-minute review of the assigned Bible reading for the week (usually 4 or 5 chapters), given by an experienced male.  This could be somewhat juicy, depending on the portion of the Bible being read, and which chapter the speaker chose to highlight.
  • A 5-minute reading of a portion of the assigned Bible chapters, usually 10 or so verses, which could be given by any male, even a child.  The speaker included illuminating comments during his reading.
  • Two 5-minute talks assigned to females which were to be set in a field-ministry-type situation.  These talks could be assigned to any female, even a child, but the speaker was not allowed to address the congregation directly.  Instead, she was assigned a “householder,” and the talk was written as a sort of conversation between the two of them.
  • A final 5-minute talk given by a male with some experience, not usually a child, unless they are unusually precocious, in which case either the “awww” factor or the nausea factor (depending on your view of the cutie-pie/snotty little brat) was exponentially higher.

All of the assigned material is planned in advance and a listing distributed at the beginning of the year, so hang onto that schedule.

Most people have a horror of public speaking, so you can imagine that those assigned these talks (you knew about them at least a couple of weeks in advance) were sweating bullets until their parts were concluded.  One friend of mine called it “the five minutes that can ruin your week.”

After each student finished his talk, the School Overseer would offer counsel.  The counsel points were also assigned in advance, so you knew what to emphasize when you were preparing the talk.  For this purpose there was a book specifically about public speaking which discussed in detail each counsel point.  An example of a counsel point would be “introduction aroused interest.”  Another was, “poise.”  (There were around 30 altogether) So, not only did you have to mold the given material into a coherent presentation (and that could be a challenge) you had to concentrate on the counsel points.

Since the original purpose of the School was to train males to give public talks (females were not allowed on the School for some time after its inception) I used to chafe at the fact that I was forced to undergo this torture every month or so when, as a female, it benefited me not a jot.  After 18 years of it I finally quit, to the horror of the School Overseer whose face went slack in disbelief.  From then until I left, some 14 years later, I didn’t give a talk.

When I attended my very first meeting at a kingdom hall I was 12 years old, and as I looked around the room I thought with a sense of weariness, “These people attend all of these meetings and they’ve been doing it week after week for years and years.”  And so would I.

Next week – the other beatings meetings

Life in a Congregation – Part 1

All JWs are assigned to a specific congregation.  Usually this is determined by the location of your home; you will attend the congregation that covers that area.  In special circumstances, some JWs will be assigned to a different congregation, and some will just get themselves into a huff over some perceived slight and make their own choice.  The latter circumstances indicate spiritual weakness.  The former indicate spiritual greatness.

Each congregation is overseen by a body of elders.  Elders are “appointed by holy spirit,” which is a special process that begins with the local elders deciding which males in the congregation are “reaching out” for the privilege of increased responsibility.  “Reaching out” is considered to include such actions as increased participation in the field ministry, increased commenting at meetings, showing up for all kingdom hall maintenance projects, and showing hospitality.

At its best, “reaching out” is a show of spiritual maturity.  At its worst it’s a popularity contest involving a lot of sucking up to the existing body of elders.

If the male in question is a family man, his wife and children have to pass muster as well.  The wife must be in subjection to her husband (read: immaculate home, smile on her face, toeing the party line), must be exemplary in her conduct, and must be very active in the field ministry.  The children must be obedient to their parents (read: bright, shining faces happy to be at the kingdom hall – this requires careful training at home).

If the candidate meets with approval from the body of elders as a whole, he will be “recommended” to the circuit overseer at his next visit to the congregation (usually twice a year).  If the circuit overseer approves, he will include the recommendation in his report to the Watchtower Society.  From there, it’s pretty much a rubber-stamp process.

So where does the “appointed by holy spirit” aspect come in?  It doesn’t.  That’s a myth, although you’d be hard pressed to find an active JW who would agree with that statement.  It would be disloyal to suggest that the Watchtower Society is making that part up.

Below the elders are “ministerial servants” who handle practical matters such as literature, accounts, territory, sound, and so forth.  Depending on the number of ministerial servants in a congregation, some might have very vague duties amounting to “first assistant coat hanger.”

Ministerial servants are appointed in the same way as elders, but they can be much younger.  Elders are usually over 30 years of age, but servants can be as young as 20.  They have to meet the same requirements as elders in all respects except spiritual maturity.

Elders are shepherds charged with keeping the congregation (flock) safe and clean from bad influences.  This means that they are on the lookout for any evidence of independent thinking so that they can quash it, usually by figuratively whacking the offender with their figurative shepherd’s crook (the Bible and the Watchtower Society’s publications).  The “whacking” can occur either by hauling the offender into the kingdom hall library or on a personal “shepherding” call.

If the sheep does not respond well to the “whacking” (they continue to use their brain to think for themselves), the shepherds will convene a judicial committee, which in most instances is a kangaroo court where the verdict has already been decided and all testimony from the offending sheep is for naught.  The sheep is expelled from the congregation (disfellowshipped) and once the announcement is read at a meeting, the other congregation members (including their own family members) will shun the offender.  The shunning has the objective of making the offender feel the effects of his sin so that he will return to the congregation.

Other offenses that could merit disfellowshipping include:

  • Fornication.  This is a broad category that includes sex between unmarried persons (hetero- and homosexual), bestiality, child molesting (okay, I’m kidding – you can’t get kicked out of JWs for pedophilia), unnatural sexual acts between married people (including penetration of alternative orifices), and incest.
  • Uncleanness.  This is another broad category, open to interpretation by the elders, but could include viewing pornography, self-pleasuring, making out with your honey in the back seat of the car, oh, and so much more.  Really depends on how prudish the elders are.
  • Apostasy.  Oooooo, scary!  This would include questioning the teachings of the Watchtower Society, celebrating an unapproved holiday (in the U.S. that’s all of them), participating in interfaith, voting, joining a political party, etc.  Those last two may come under a different category, but it’s all pretty much the same thing:  Disloyalty.
  • Lying, stealing, cheating, using foul language, etc.
  • Eating blood (to be considered in another post).

You might wonder how on earth the elders would ever find out if you were, for example, employing unconventional techniques during marital intercourse.  Often, a guilty conscience will drive one of the offending parties to the elders to confess.  It is thoroughly drummed into the heads of the rank and file that God is watching them and knows even what is in their hearts, so there is no escape.

Much of the material presented at the meetings is designed to make congregation members feel like hopeless pieces of dirt that don’t deserve to be noticed by God, which means that joining JWs is perfect for people with low self-esteem – no other religion reinforces self-loathing better.  Not even Catholicism.

Other times, the offender may get caught.  Let’s say the wife is sick and the elders visit and happen to notice naughty literature or a sex toy carelessly left out in the open.  Gotcha!

The congregation is supposedly a haven for the righteous, but watch your step!  God and the elders are watching you.