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Category Archives: Kingdom Hall

It’s not a church. It’s a kingdom hall.

Jehovah’s Witnesses meet together in a kingdom hall.  They’ll wince if you call it a church.  These structures are either remodeled existing buildings or built from scratch.

When my family started attending meetings we went to a kingdom hall that was a remodeled warehouse.  It was the ‘70s, so you can probably imagine the décor – gaudy carpet with lots of orange and red in it, plain-Jane fake wood paneling,  a brick planter in front of the platform (don’t call it a stage) full of orange and yellow plastic flowers, and dark stained woodwork.   We sat on metal folding chairs that had a vinyl “pad” on the seat about the thickness of a saltine cracker.

This building became too small for the growing congregation, so we did a remodel and extended the back of the building.  The work progressed slowly, even though some friends from other congregations came to help on the weekends.  There was one meeting I remember when the back of the kingdom hall had been torn down, so we spent the evening looking through plastic sheeting at the stars.

In another few years even the remodeled hall was too small, so the brothers went looking for someone to donate land to the congregation, which they found.  The property was an old farm with a house and barn and a nice big field suitable for a kingdom hall and parking lot.  Back in those days you could design your own kingdom hall.  Nowadays the Society offers you a couple of plans to choose from, but we digress.

The brothers decided, bless their hearts, that an elder’s family should live in the long-abandoned house, so a chunk of the collective effort was focused on making the house livable.  My family was the one chosen to live there and sort of guard the building site (although it was several hundred yards away).

At the building site, the brothers ran into grief almost immediately.  While digging for the basement they ran into a long ridge of granite ledge.  Of course, they would need to blast, so they applied for a permit.  The official in charge of issuing permits wanted his palm greased, and the indignant brothers refused to give in to his demands.  Instead, they hired a whole bunch of jackhammers and spent months chipping away at that granite ledge.

Five years later, there was a building with a congregation meeting in it, but it wasn’t completely finished.  Finally, a visiting circuit overseer shamed the elders into making up a punch list and getting all the little stuff done.   By then, it was time to remodel.   I had married and moved away, so that wasn’t my project.

That’s an extreme example of how long it took to construct a kingdom hall back in the day.  The Society decided that this was not cool because it kept the brothers busy building instead of preaching.  They devised a whole new way of construction – the quick build.  It was a revolutionary concept back when the first few quick builds went up.  Here’s how it works:

Weeks ahead of time the site is prepared with a slab and parking lot.  They have the utilities hooked up and ready to go.  The materials are gathered and food service is planned so that the workers can stay at the site.  On the designated weekend skilled crews of JW volunteers descend upon the work site and build the whole kingdom hall, right down to carpet and wallpaper, even landscaping, in less than three days’ time.

At first, a general invitation would go out to the entire circuit and a thousand people would swoop in, most of them just to watch the thing go up.  The building site was crowded, the port-a-potties were maxed out, and a lot of food went to feed people who were just standing around gawking.

“No, no, no,” said the Society, stamping their collective foot.  “That’s not what we meant.”  Then they devised a structure whereby Brooklyn could control it more tightly.  They designated Regional Building Committees (RBC) who would oversee every quick build in their area.  There was also a thick notebook of instructions that had to be followed to the letter.  I was at one quick build where the local elders messed up a few things (including arranging for the port-a-potties to be serviced) and all of them were removed as elders in the aftermath.  Yikes!

The RBC also scheduled the crews so that only the people needed at the time were milling around the site.  The drywall crew didn’t show up until later Saturday afternoon or evening, for example, and worked through the night.  Of course, the local congregation members could be there anytime.  They were usually doing grunt work or food service.

In order to get on a crew you had to apply to the RBC.  My ex-husband volunteered his carpentry experience and worked on a bunch of quick builds around New England.  I was not allowed to accompany him, not that I really wanted to.  Hanging around a building site that is not your own is no fun at all.  Worse, I’d be expected to participate in field service, letting the locals know about the project and inviting them to drop by for a little impromptu propaganda treatment.

There were strict rules on the sites, too.  No slogan t-shirts could be worn, for example, so leave your “That’s what she said” shirt at home.

On Sunday afternoon, the congregation held their first meeting in the new hall.  Of course, there were always a few details to finish up, and sometimes things were not quite ready for a meeting due to some unforeseen complication.  All in all, it was a pretty amazing process, but hoo boy, don’t cross the RBC or you’ll find yourself in a serious pickle.


Just a Spoonful of Sugar…



One of your first experiences upon attending a meeting at a kingdom hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses is what cult experts call “love bombing.”  Usually, a new recruit will be introduced around by the publisher who is studying with them and much solicitous clucking will ensue accompanied by a warm smile, widened eyes, and an “it’s so nice to see you here.”  That’s phase one.

Phase two will commence once the new recruit has started attending regularly.  Suddenly, their social life explodes with invitations to dinner, get-togethers, ice cream after the meeting, and so forth.  Everyone at the hall is their friend.   At this point it will be nearly impossible to extricate the new recruit from the grasp of “The Truth” (this is what JWs call their religion).

Prior to studying with JWs my family had virtually no social life outside of the extended family.  My mother certainly didn’t have friends, and my father’s friends were all workmates.   Mom hated to entertain with a nearly thermonuclear passion, so there were no dinner parties at home except for the occasional family Thanksgiving dinner (which I think happened only once in those 12 years).  Dad, on the other hand, loved to entertain a crowd and he was the soul of hospitality.

Things changed dramatically once we started attending meetings.  We were nearly suffocated in the enthusiastic embrace of the congregation.  Suddenly, we had 60 friends, all of whom lighted up when they saw us.  That’s heady stuff.  Sometimes we’d be invited to come over after a meeting for popcorn and some fellowship.  During these visits our new friends would tell their experiences about finding The Truth or fill our heads with JW urban legends.

The effect of all of this was to make us feel like we had a place in the congregation.  We had found something rare and wonderful.  The love bombing was the chocolate coating that made the weird doctrine go down easier.

Our entry into the cult was swift; altogether it took only about 6 months before we were sufficiently drunk on love to become fully committed.  The local elders desperately needed more help with their duties and figured out pretty quickly that my father was a sucker for flattery and prominence.  They arranged for my folks to get baptized at a circuit assembly 200 miles away so that he’d be qualified to be recommended as a ministerial servant during the next circuit overseer’s visit in three months.  One of the qualifications is to be “not a newly converted man.”   I think they fudged that one, because three months is a pretty short time for a new JW to marinate properly.  Less than two years later, dear old Dad was promoted to elder and we were well and truly entrenched.

As you might expect, once a “new one” has become one of the regulars, the love bombing tapers off.   In our case, however, since Dad was in a position of prominence, we didn’t go through the post-love-bomb letdown experienced by most of those who join JWs.

By the time the letdown comes along you’re convinced that Armageddon is tomorrow and that if you leave The Truth you’ll be miserable and die.   It has also been pounded into your head that if you are unhappy it’s your own fault because you obviously haven’t been studying enough, praying enough, preaching enough, and attending every single meeting.  And that’s when you pull up your spiritual maturity panties and deal with it.

Holidays and Birthdays Part One

“No more laughing, no more fun.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses are largely regarded as wet blankets when it comes to holidays because they don’t join in the celebration.  Relatives, friends, and coworkers will use every conceivable argument in an attempt to coax a JW into a party mood, but they won’t budge.  Their reasons for being the ultimate party poopers vary by holiday and are often very odd.  The basic premise of their objections is, essentially, “If it ain’t in the Bible we ain’t doin’ it.”

Let’s move through the calendar year and find a reason for JWs not to participate in each holiday.

New Year’s Day:  The actual celebration is the night before, but the official holiday is January 1, so we’ll start here.

The reasoning on this one is flabby at best.  It begins with the date itself, January 1.  Julius Caesar changed the date of the new year from mid-March to January 1 because the month was already dedicated to Janus, the god of new beginnings.  So there’s a false god involved.  Oh no!

Another reason is that the celebrations involved (depending on your location) are often of pagan origin, such as eating certain foods.

Then there’s the big tuna:  Revelry, drunkenness, and other debauchery mark the celebration.  JWs adhere to a rigid code of conduct that excludes such naughtiness.

I suspect that a lot of them stay up and watch the ball drop anyway, but they won’t admit it.

Martin Luther King’s Birthday:  This holiday honors a man, a human, instead of God.

St. Valentine’s Day:  Aside from its association with a Catholic saint, there’s the origin of the holiday.  It is thought to be the result of an effort to Christianize a pagan Roman holiday called “Lupercalia,” a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus the god of agriculture.   Then there’s that troublesome symbol of the holiday, Cupid (or Eros), the god of romantic love.  Good heavens, a sex god!  Three reasons for JWs to recoil in horror at participation in the holiday.

Presidents’ Day:  See MLK’s Birthday.

St. Patrick’s Day:   Another Catholic saint.  More drunkenness.  And a vague association with the Druids.

Easter:  Hoo boy!  This holiday is one huge fertility rite.  The symbolism alone clues you in – bunnies and eggs.  The name of the holiday itself comes from the name of an Anglo-Saxon goddess, Eastre, which is bad enough, but the main reason they don’t participate is biblical.  There are more pagan associations, but there’s no need to list them exhaustively.

An assiduous reading of the biblical passages related to the Last Supper shows that Jesus told his disciples to commemorate his death, “Keep doing this in remembrance of me.”  Most Christian churches perform this rite at varying intervals, some daily, in the form of communion or mass.   JWs notice that he never once commanded his disciples to celebrate his resurrection, which is the significance attached to the holiday Easter.  Most Christians find commemorating a death to be more than a bit odd, since the resurrection was a much happier event and better suited for a celebration, even without the fertility symbols.  Not JWs.

Instead, they gather at their Kingdom Halls on the night of Jesus’ death (Nisan 14 on the Jewish calendar, which may or may not coincide with Passover) and listen to a Bible talk that is intended to explain the event and inform the uninitiated that the goodies sitting on a table on the platform are not for them. Then they will re-enact, in a way, the salient portion of the Last Supper, the passing of the bread and wine.

This last part is the white-knuckle portion of the proceedings.  The attendants will stand, one at each end of a row, and literally pass the “emblems” to the first person, who passes to the next and so on until the end of the row.

I sat through 33 of these things and every time my palms would sweat, worrying that I would spill the wine or that the unleavened bread would cascade off the plate as I passed it.  I usually wore a dark-colored dress, just in case.  And I always hoped I wouldn’t have to sit beside a child who might yank the goblet out of my hands and leave a lasting memory of the occasion on the kingdom hall carpet.  I always heaved a sigh of relief once that part of the show was over.

The Memorial of Christ’s Death, as they call it, is the most important event of the year for JWs, and they will invite any- and everybody to join them.  It’s also a sort of holy day of obligation for not-so-enthusiastic JWs.  If you don’t show up for the Memorial you are a very, very bad person.

Mother’s Day/Father’s Day:  Oh, honey, this is one controversial holiday if your mama isn’t a JW but you are.

Despite the benign appearance, Mother’s Day is not a holiday for True Christians.  Again, flabby reasoning at best.

Mother’s Day, according to the Watchtower Society, has its roots in mother worship.  ‘Nuff said.

Another reason, and this includes Father’s Day, is that Christian children are commanded to honor their parents every day, not just on one special day a year.

So why not make Mama happy and send her some flowers?  Remember – “If it ain’t in the Bible, we ain’t doin’ it.”

Memorial Day:  Commemorates the war dead.  JWs do not participate in the military or war and are politically neutral.  They don’t do political holidays.

Independence Day:  Since JWs are politically neutral they do not observe this holiday.  They won’t go to the parade or watch the fireworks.  Such a bummer.

Labor Day:  This one isn’t really “celebrated” in the U.S., but it’s a nice day off at the end of the summer.  JWs will enjoy picnics and barbecues with family and friends just like anyone else.

Next week:  The Queen Mother of “evil” holidays and birthdays.

How to Die at the Order of the Watchtower Society

My previous posts have sketched a picture of a strange religion with some odd doctrines.  The oddest and most controversial is The Blood Issue.  I don’t have the space here to go into great detail about this doctrine, so I’ll boil it down for you. (Read more here.)

JWs will not accept a blood transfusion, even if their life depends upon it.  Even if their child’s life depends upon it, which is where things can get tricky with the court system.  But, I digress.

The reason for this extraordinary stand can be found in the Old Testament as far back as Genesis 9:4 where God tells Noah (after the flood) that he and his descendants can now eat meat, but not blood.  Okay, so you slaughter an animal and drain the blood from it before you eat it.  Makes sense.  We do that today.

In the Law given to Moses, this prohibition is mentioned again in Leviticus 17:14 where it says basically the same thing that Noah was told.  Okay, we got it the first time.  Drain a slaughtered animal.

Christianity replaced Judaism as the approved form of worship, and the old law given to Moses was abolished, so Christians are not under obligation to observe its tenets.  You would think that the prohibition on blood would be part of the abolished law, but according to the JW interpretation Paul restated that law as applicable for Christians.  Acts 15:28, 29 where Paul said to “keep abstaining from …blood.”

Okay, got it.  Drain your slaughtered animals – same ol’ same ol’.

Not so fast.  Of course, blood transfusions didn’t exist as a common medical treatment until the 20th century, something the writers of the Bible could not have foreseen.  Prior to 1945, JWs accepted blood transfusions.

Somewhere along the line, however, bigwigs at the World HQ decided that taking a blood transfusion constituted “eating blood.”  (The Governing Body did not exist at that time, so the decision would have been made by the President of the Society, Nathan Knorr, and his cronies.) From then on, it was forbidden for JWs to accept blood transfusions.  Period.  They can’t even bank their own blood to be used later as an autologous transfusion.  Once the blood leaves the body it is to be poured into the dust (this was the ancient custom) or disposed of.

But, wait.  Didn’t Noah, the ancient Israelites, and the first-century Christians understand this command to mean not to eat blood, like, dine upon it, put it into your mouth and swallow?  Blood transfusions are administered intravenously, not orally.  I can’t remember any occasion where I ate a cheeseburger through an IV line.  How do you justify such a jump in logic?

The reasoning behind this odd interpretation of Paul’s words is summed up in this illustration, which JWs have heard about 10 million times:  “If your doctor told you to abstain from drinking alcohol but you decided to get around his order by taking it intravenously, would you be obeying his order?”

Um, well, no, I guess not.  OMG! Such unassailable logic!  Taking a substance by mouth is no different than taking it intravenously.  You’re still taking it into your body.

Of course, any scientific mind, any logical mind, could shoot dozens of holes in the Society’s argument without even breaking a sweat.  However, JWs are not allowed to consider another viewpoint as it would be a treasonous act to do so.  They’re stuck with whatever the Society chooses to tell them.

A loyal JW who is dying for want of a blood transfusion or who is watching his beloved child going the same way is left with an agonizing decision.  Take the blood and live for short time before you are destroyed at Armageddon for your rebellion, or loyally refuse the blood and fall asleep in death for a short time before your resurrection as a faithful servant of God and then live forever in paradise on earth.

If you are a fully indoctrinated JW, you might shed a few tears, but your decision will be to refuse the transfusion.  Many JWs have died this way thinking they were pleasing God and assuring their resurrection by refusing blood.  Many families have lost a mother or father or beloved child because of this doctrine.  The Society even published an issue of their Awake magazine (May 22, 1994) which lionized children who had willingly faced death or given up their lives for this doctrine.

Cover of Awake 5/22/94

At first, the ban on blood was comprehensive, any blood product was forbidden.  In the 1990s, with the advance of medical science, so many blood fractions were in use for various ailments that the Society had to get out their hair-splitting equipment and get to work.  The first word we had on this radical change in policy was that it was a conscience matter, although I knew a couple who chose to treat an Rh-factor issue with a blood fraction in the ‘90s, and it caused some congregation members’ noses to be put out of joint.

Needless to say, it came as a bit of a shock to long-time JWs, including me, that there was now a gray area in The Blood Issue.  What if you’d been a JW in the early 90s and needed one of these blood fractions to save your life or your child’s life, but you refused because of the understanding at the time?   To see an about-face in policy just a few years later would be galling, but as usual the Society used some slick reasoning to smooth all the ruffled feathers.

So, now the use of certain blood fractions is hunky-dory with the Governing Body.  But they still want you to face death if you are presented with the need for a blood transfusion.

Ah, but there are other ways to die at the order of the Watchtower Society.  More on that next week.

Note:  The Ex-JW community lost a member to suicide last week because of the harsh JW practice of shunning.  RIP Eric Reeder.

Courtship and Marriage


JWs live by a very strict moral code, rather Puritanical in nature, that forbids any type of sexual contact between people who are not married to each other.  Once engaged to be married, the rigidity of that policy slackens only the tiniest bit.  As a result JWs do not engage in what most non-JWs would consider normal dating.

In order to be eligible for their brand of “dating” one must be of marriageable age and, as the Bible calls it, “past the bloom of youth” when hormonal urges might cloud their judgment and lead to an imprudent marriage.  Therefore, teenaged JWs do not date.  No prom; no, “Hey, wanna catch a movie on Friday?”  If they socialize at all it is in groups and chaperoned by a responsible adult (preferably a small army of adults).  This means that the normal process of exploring one’s own sexuality never happens until marriage.

A more mature JW (let’s call him “Don”) who desires marriage and sees an attractive prospect (let’s call her “Sue”) will have to angle to make sure they are invited to the same social events which, depending on the congregation, may be few and far between.

Lacking the requisite social events necessary for the desired contact, Don will attend meetings at Sue’s congregation whenever possible, engaging her in conversation or, perhaps just gazing longingly (at which point we must vigorously poke Don in the side and push him in Sue’s direction).

Once friendly contact has been established and mutual interest ascertained, the pair will have to create social events at which to mingle or press their married friends into service as chaperones on visits to museums, dinners out, and shopping excursions.  No hand-holding, kissing, or other physical contact is allowed except, perhaps, a supporting arm when walking across an icy sidewalk.

So, Don and Sue are smitten, and Don manages to find an opportunity to slip away from the chaperones and ask for Sue’s hand (having obtained her father’s permission).  Now they may hold hands and sit together at meetings.  Kissing is not recommended, although not forbidden.  No fumbling hands amongst the shirt buttons, now, Don!  Be a good boy.

A brief engagement is preferable in order to prevent lust from causing the premature loss of chastity.  In order to use a kingdom hall for their wedding, Don and Sue’s conduct during their courtship and engagement must be above reproach.

In practice, this repression of natural urges results in many early marriages, which leads to a great deal of unhappiness down the line.

In my own case, I was married at 18 to a 25-year-old man who, I found out some 25 years later, only wanted me for the basest of reasons.  I’ll write more about that in my book.

The wedding ceremony itself consists of a talk given by an elder and then the reciting of vows.  Oh gosh, let’s see if I can remember how it goes.  “I Sue take you Don to be my wedded husband, to love and to cherish and deeply respect for as long as we shall live together on earth according to God’s marital arrangements.”  Don uses basically the same vow, except he leaves off the “deeply respect” part.

Weddings are supposed to be fairly simple, especially if held in a kingdom hall.  Customs vary in different parts of the world, but lavish decorations are not allowed, you must use a Kingdom Melody (JW “hymn”) for the processional, and writing your own vows is not allowed.

Likewise, the reception is to be modest and controlled.  If the whole congregation is invited, probably there won’t be any alcohol served.  Weddings I attended in Maine back in the ‘70s usually were potluck affairs with square dancing.  By the ‘90s they were more likely to be catered and invitation-only with a hired band.  It is extremely unlikely that any JW in good standing would hire a wedding planner.

In my case, we had to do things on the cheap, even though I was engaged for nine months with plenty of time to plan.  Of course, I was only 17 for most of that time and had been trained not to expect much.  As was customary back in the ‘70s in my part of the world, I made my own wedding gown, and my groom wore his best suit.  I had two bridesmaids who also made their gowns and the male attendants wore their best suits.  We had a small reception at my parents’ home, mainly for family and close friends.

Once married, the JW wife is expected to be in subjection to her husband.  If there is a heavy decision to be made he will listen to her opinion and concerns, but it’s his decision, and she must support him no matter what she thinks of it.  As you can imagine, for a modern woman with a brain in her head this is nearly impossible and requires a huge amount of self-control and self-repression.  Now, there’s a recipe for lasting happiness!

A striking example of this dynamic in action occurred when my supervisor, a JW, received permission from her superior to attend a national trade association conference in a distant city.  It was shortly after 9/11, and her husband was uneasy about her taking a plane anywhere.  Of course, his fears were irrational, but she had to obey him and send someone else in her place.  Her chagrin was obvious, but she was forced by scriptural law to knuckle under.  The non-JWs in the office were astonished, and the ultimate result of this inexplicable turn of events was that the boss was diminished in the eyes of her staff.

As you can imagine, this dynamic works well only if the husband is a reasonable, loving man who follows the example of Jesus Christ.  Yeah, right.  Often, what you find in JW households is an abuse of power on the part of the husband/father.  Conversely, there are some women who will not be silenced and run roughshod over their husband’s authority – in private.  In public, they will put on a show of submissiveness.

The children in the household are subject to their parents’ authority, at least until a son gets baptized.  Once that happens, while still required to be obedient to his mother, he is considered her spiritual head.  Newly baptized boys tend to let this teensy bit of authority go to their heads and start trying to order their mothers around, a situation that never ends happily.

Girls in the household are absolutely the lowest forms of life on earth.  They have no voice whatsoever.  If an autocratic father rules the household, life can be pretty unbearable providing yet another reason for early marriage and escape.

More on a woman’s place in JWs next week.


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.


The doctrine that draws people into the JW cult like flies to a barbecue and has the most influence on how JWs live their lives is the promise of eternal life on an earth that has been restored to paradise.

Only baptized JWs will receive this extremely generous gift, so remaining a JW in good standing is essential.

They reason that God’s original purpose for the earth was for the perfect human couple, Adam and Eve, to produce an earth full of perfect people whose sole job would be to spread the original Eden worldwide.  Of course, then Eve and that snake had their little chat and, yada-yada-yada, everybody dies, the planet’s a wreck, and you can’t buy a decent piece of fruit at the supermarket.

But, rather than God throwing up his hands and saying, “It is what it is,” he hinted around in the Bible about not giving up on his original idea.   The plan involved thousands of years of suffering for mankind (think of it as a “time out”) the death of his son, and, of course, an intrepid band of true believers who would arise just in the nick of time in the “last days” to spread the word.  After some vigorous Earth scrubbing by God (Armageddon) they would form the foundation of mankind  in the “new system of things” and would live forever, never having died at all.  Everyone who has ever died (except the ones snuffed at Armageddon) will be resurrected (with some possible notable exceptions – that’s up for debate) and after one little hiccup (a final temptation and then the destruction of the Devil) they all live happily ever after.

Obviously, I’ve left out a few details, but that’s the basic idea.  Of course, generations of Bible scholars never figured this out, but JWs know “the truth” because God has communicated it to the big guys in Brooklyn.  What’s more, it’s going to happen very, very soon.  So soon that they’ve been living in a state of urgency for 130 years.

If this system of things is going to its violent end at any moment (maybe tomorrow) and billions of ignorant people are going to die, then why would you waste time doing silly things like getting an education or investing for retirement or pursuing a career or building a house?  Now, there are some JWs who do these things, but believe me, they face a lot of tut-tutting from their fellow congregation members or even getting hauled into the library for a tut-tut session with some disapproving elders.

Instead, you should spend every spare moment trying to get everyone to become a JW so that they can be spared execution by God.  Your vocation is the ministry; your avocation is your job.  The job supports you in the ministry, and that’s it.

My family joined the cult back in 1972 when I was 13 years old.  Back then everyone was convinced The End was coming in 1975, so the urgency had risen to a frenzy.  As I have recounted in earlier posts, my parents did things like quit their jobs, sell the car, and force my brother and me to eat dry peanut butter so that they could spend the maximum amount of time in the ministry.  I was told I would never graduate from high school because The End was that close.

Although God apparently misplaced the schedule and nothing happened in 1975, the Watchtower Society did what it does best and kept the fire to the feet of the membership.   The End could come at any time.   So, I didn’t go to college.  I learned to type in high school, and thank goodness I did.  Back then typing was a rare skill, much sought after, so I had no trouble finding a job.  But that’s all it was – a job.  No career ladder for me.  Instead, it was a long series of office jobs, and by the time I had extricated myself from the cult, I had no actual career and the income to prove it.

My ex-husband’s parents, in the misguided belief that he would enthusiastically embrace the full-time ministry as a career and rise through the ranks to become a circuit or district overseer (they receive a small stipend from the Watchtower Society), failed to ensure that he learned a trade.   Consequently, he was doomed to spend his life working at one crappy job after another, dragging me along with him.

But, remember – The End is coming soon.  Keep your eyes on the prize (they have a whole song about that in their songbook).

Let’s suppose that you have a talent that cries out for expression from the depths of your soul.  You have eternity to pursue that talent, so it would be just plain ridiculous to nurture that talent with so little time left in this system of things.  Besides, JWs do not seek fame.  You are strongly discouraged from exploiting your talent to become rich and famous.

So, use that glorious singing voice only at the kingdom hall and at the occasional get-together.  Forget about dancing (not forbidden but frowned upon), acting, or writing anything other than letters.  Painting, sculpture, playing a musical instrument, gardening, and similar activities could fall under the heading of “hobby,” so as long as you engage in these activities only occasionally (remember – these are urgent times so you need to spend your spare time in the ministry) it’s okay.

When it came down to my passion, writing, sometimes I would feel a burning desire to put pen to paper and let it flow, but I had to squelch it, or else write another letter (distant friends loved getting my letters because I threw myself into them).  I tried to picture myself writing fiction, but nixed that because any love story I wrote would have to be painfully chaste.  My lovers wouldn’t even be able to hold hands until they were engaged, and even I wouldn’t want to read that.  I thought about children’s books for a while, but it lacked appeal.

I should add that once I started writing, it produced such a change in me that within 5 months I left the cult.  Nothing like self-expression to break that cult mentality.

The JW life is very narrow because of their end-is-near mindset.  Their concept of the future has nothing to do with the world around them, so they resist every attempt to involve them in its affairs.

You’ve been reading the words I couldn’t write while I was a JW.  And there is no “end” except the period at the end of this sentence.