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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.

We Now Return to Our Regular Program

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Jehovah’s Witnesses are encouraged to live a modest life and be content with simple things.  This is so that they can throw themselves into their service to Jehovah.  They are discouraged from pursuing wealth, fame, or even a career because these things will tend to draw them away from God.  It’s called a “theocentric” life and is the source of true happiness.  In return, God will make sure they have everything they need.

There are a gajillion stories in the Bible about how Jehovah provided for this prophet or that widow.  One prophet had fled to the barren desert to escape the wrath of an evil queen, and Jehovah sent ravens to him to provide him with food.  God provides for the sparrows – why would He not provide for you?  During a famine one faithful servant of God found herself with an inexhaustible supply of cooking oil and flour.

Jesus himself said, at the conclusion of a parable on the folly of pursuing wealth, “Keep on seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness and all these other things will be added to you.”

My ex-husband and I were very sincere in our beliefs.  We were always looking for ways to improve ourselves and boost our spirituality and usefulness to Jehovah.  In return, we believed that we would be cared for by the god we worshiped.

Hubby’s parents raised him as a JW.  They envisioned him rising quickly through the organization to become a circuit overseer or district overseer – maybe even becoming a bigwig at Bethel.  Consequently, he would not need to learn a trade.  In any case, the end was so near that he wouldn’t have to worry about it.  In fact, his parents were told that he wouldn’t graduate high school before the end came.

I should add that he’s 61 years old now.  Whoa, talk about your failed prophecy.

My parents were more practical, pushing me to take typing and business classes in school so I was always able to find work.  However, it was never enough to support the two of us because I was determined to follow the counsel from Brooklyn – it’s not a career, it’s just a job.  I worked in a number of different industries – insurance, banking, oil, medicine, and always got terrific performance reviews, but I never got much farther than entry level in any one of them.  Just when I was getting somewhere we ended up moving because hubby couldn’t hold a job, partly because he had no skills and partly because of his daddy issues (couldn’t deal with male authority).  To be fair, I should add that he did eventually settle into a decent job, and as far as I know he’s still working there.

We focused on doing the divine will by faithfully serving Big J and being good Christians according to WTS teachings (hubby was working toward becoming an elder), but we were always barely scraping by.

In the midst of one particularly lean period of time I was sitting in my seat between sessions at a district convention chatting with two sisters from my congregation.  They were discussing the new ring one of them had just been given by her husband and the Disney vacation the other was going to take after the convention.

Now, wait a ding-dong minute here.

Hubby and I were working our tails off being good servants of Jehovah, but we were driving a 20-year-old clunker, living in a two-room apartment where water froze on the floor in the winter, and sometimes eating only rice.  And here were two less-than-average publishers (oops, got a tad judgmental there) who were enjoying luxuries.

Being a well-programmed JW my first thought was that we must be doing something right if Satan were testing us so savagely.  My second thought was, “What are we – chopped liver?”  Why are we clawing our way through the mud while these two chicks are gliding in style down Easy Street?

What I wanted to do at that moment was throw myself onto a fainting couch a la Scarlett O’Hara and weep bitter tears, but what I did was smile and nod and reprove myself for my momentary lapse into selfish thinking.

I had to remind myself that serving Jehovah is its own reward.  I mean, maybe my material circumstances were threadbare, but I was living the best way of life, right?  I had the spiritual paradise at the kingdom hall, I had a clean conscience, I had Jehovah’s approval, I had a good marri…well, I didn’t know any better back then.  That’s it – focus on the positive.  Focus on hubby’s good qualities, focus on the fact that you indeed have food to eat and a roof over your head, focus on the important disciple-making work, focus on the glorious future you have before you – the New System where everything will be perfect.

There, that’s better.  Hubby returned to his seat next to me and the afternoon program started, completely diverting all of my troubled thoughts.

I was back to my regular program.

 

 

Getting Baptized

Sorry I’m late with this post!

 

Baptism is a huge, ginormous deal to Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Without that ritual dunking you won’t survive Armageddon, and you won’t get the title “Brother” or “Sister.”  In fact, at one congregation I visited the Watchtower Study conductor made a point of calling on children and unbaptized people as “Mr.” or “Miss” rather than simply using their first names as most other congregations do.

In my case, Dad dragged us into the cult in the early 1970s at a time when JWs were trumpeting from the housetops that Armageddon would come in 1975 (or possibly earlier than that – we don’t know Jehovah’s timetable after all).   My brother and I were 10 and 12 respectively when Dad started studying, and a year older when he and Mom got baptized.  That’s when the pressure started.

There was an understanding that a child who had reached the “age of reason” no longer fell under the parental umbrella of safety from Jehovah’s judgment.  Since little brother and I were fairly sharp kids Dad felt that we had reached that age and needed to be baptized post-haste.  The trouble with that idea was that our “Bible study” had not kept pace with the folks, so we were not knowledgeable enough to correctly answer the pre-baptism questions.

We kids still had to finish studying our first book, “The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life” and then study the second book, “True Peace and Security – From What Source?”  Dad undertook the job of teaching us ( at our weekly family study) what he and Mom had only just learned themselves.  He also started quizzing us on the questions for baptism and reviewing the answers at the dinner table.  These questions and their answers were printed in a book that only baptized JWs and those preparing for baptism could own.  At the time there were 80 questions, and you had to know the scriptures that supported the answers.

Over the next year we received the parental indoctrination and even studied together at other times so that by the end of 1973 we could parrot the answers.  Then the two of us had to individually approach one of the elders and request baptism.  I was completely terrified of most men, and especially of the elders, but I managed to gather my courage and squeak out my request.

The elders arranged to divide up the ordeal into three sessions, one conducted by each of the three elders, and little brother and I were allowed to do the questions together instead of separately.  The elder I feared the most happened to come on a week when I had a nasty case of laryngitis and took every opportunity to poke fun at my croaking answers.  I was a shy, sensitive kid who took herself extremely seriously.  It was all I could do to choke down the tears.

We passed, thank goodness.  The reviews of those questions ranks right up there with my driver’s test as one of the most terrifying events of my life.  There was a circuit assembly coming up in January, so that’s when we’d get dunked.

The day arrived.  It happened that the circuit assembly was taking place at my high school, so it was a little bit surreal to see the place crowded with JWs instead of my classmates.  Usually, at a circuit assembly there are around 5 to 10 people baptized, tops.  That year, however, was 1974.  At that assembly there were 119 people baptized, most of them teenaged children of parents frantic to get their kids protected from the wrath of God by a quick splash in a pool.

We sat through the baptism talk, and at the end we had to stand up as a group and answer two questions:

Have you recognized yourself before Jehovah God as a sinner who needs salvation, and have you acknowledged to him that this salvation proceeds from him the Father through his Son Jesus Christ? 

On the basis of this faith in God and in his provision for salvation, have you dedicated yourself unreservedly to God to do his will henceforth as he reveals it to you through Jesus Christ and through the Bible under the enlightenment of the holy spirit?”

In unison we shouted, “Yes!” to each question.  Interestingly, I hadn’t actually dedicated myself to Jehovah in prayer.  For some reason nobody had told me I needed to do that.

After a prayer a song was sung as the baptismal candidates marched out of the auditorium.  The song wasn’t long enough for all of us to make it out of the auditorium, so they had to punt and announce a second song.  That never happened again at any assembly I attended.

Since the high school did not have a pool, we had to go to the local Boys’ Club for our dunking.  We went down to the locker rooms which for some reason were flooded with a half inch of ice cold water.  It was a challenge to get my pantyhose and undies off without getting them wet.  I changed into my “modest” bathing suit, grabbed a towel, and got into line with everyone else.  The males managed to change more quickly and were being dunked first.   The pool had been squeezed into a small space, so there was just a narrow ledge around the edge for us to walk on.  I was afraid I’d slip in, so I hugged the wall.

As I got closer and closer I could see that there was no ladder leading into the pool, so a couple of burly brothers were grabbing each candidate by the arms and lowering them into the pool.  A couple more were on the other side hauling everyone out.

Once in the water and therefore center stage (an uncomfortable place for me) I made my way toward one of the three brothers in the pool.  I was so flustered that I didn’t even notice that my father was one of the baptizers that day until he called my name.

I went over to him and followed his directions for how to hold my arms and my nose at the same time.  Then he tipped me backwards and under I went.  He wanted a hug, but all I could think of was getting the heck out of that pool and out of the spotlight.  He pulled me in anyway and then I made my way over to the burly brothers who hoisted my chubby body out quite easily.  The ledge on that side of the pool was even narrower, and with water pouring into my eyes from my wet hair I barely made it back to the locker room without incident.

Putting the pantyhose back on while standing in the water was my next challenge.  I spent the afternoon with wet feet as well as wet hair.

Once I got back to the lobby of the Boys’ Club I was surrounded by a group of elderly sisters from our congregation who were all crying and exclaiming, “By your own father!”  Honestly, I didn’t think it was such a big deal.  It was just a ritual I’d had to get through and now it was over.  Come to think of it, I experienced the same detachment on my wedding day.  Hmmm.

Little brother had been dunked by Dad as well, and met the same weeping contingent upon his arrival at the lobby.  Then Dad and Mom showed up, along with the newly dunked single guy we’d driven over to the baptism site.  He sat in the front seat and sobbed quietly all the way back to the high school.  I didn’t understand why everyone was so emotional.

It’s common nowadays for JWs to throw a party to celebrate baptism, but back then nobody did that.  We went back to the high school and ate the institutional food being served.  At home that evening there wasn’t even a congratulatory pat on the back from the parents, cake, or even a special meal.  Just a normal day.

That night I got down on my knees and dedicated myself to Jehovah in prayer, but I always felt funny about the fact that I wasn’t actually dedicated when I got baptized.

 

 

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.

Unfriending Your Family

When you start studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses at first it’s all paradise in a New World, resurrection of dead loved ones, perfect health, and end of wickedness.  You’re pumped.  Wow, why hasn’t the rest of the world found out about this?  I have to share this with my family members!

So, positively vibrating with excitement, you pounce on any relative unfortunate enough to be living near you and perform a data dump of all your new beliefs.  While the poor relative is still spluttering in horror you tell them how wonderful all of the love bombing is and what nice people JWs are.

Finally pausing to take a breath, you wonder why your grandma isn’t jumping up and down clapping her hands at the joyous news.  In fact, her eyebrows are doing that thing where a deep  vertical crease forms over the bridge of her nose.  This reaction does not compute.  Instead of the program happily running, you’re getting the equivalent of the blue screen of death.

Recovering her grandma composure she says, “Well, dear, that’s wonderful for you.  Would you like a cookie?” and shuffles out to the kitchen.

Okay, well, that’s grandma.  Maybe she missed her meds this morning.  You try the same tactic with your brother who asks if you’re going to be moving into a compound somewhere in Montana with all the other loonies in your group and warns against accepting any Kool-Aid.

It’s the same all around the family circle.  Nobody believes any of the hoo-hah you’re preaching at them, and some even warn you against joining because they heard that JWs break up families.  You cheerfully brush that comment off by saying that JWs are very family oriented and actually strengthen familial bonds.

Even your best friend isn’t having any of it, especially since you turn every single conversation into a witnessing session.  She longs for the days when you could talk about muffin recipes, cellulite, and what in the world was Betty Jo thinking when she wore that low-cut blouse to your son’s birthday party?  Pretty soon you find that your BFF is hanging around with Betty Jo instead of you.

But it’s worse in your own household.  Not only does your spouse not want to listen to your constant babbling, but he also complains that you’re out at meetings and field service all the time and are neglecting him and the kids.  Then he lays the big one on you – he doesn’t want his children going to those damned meetings.  One of them is on a school night and he has to employ high explosives to separate the kids from their beds the next morning.

You run to the JW who is studying with you (we’ll call her Mary) and tell the dismal tale of family opposition.   Mary pats you on the arm and reassures you that this happens all the time and is a test of your loyalty to Jehovah.  Satan is using your relatives to discourage you from pursuing true worship.  Whom will you choose in the war for universal sovereignty – Satan or Jehovah?  Well, duh.

Your newly minted faith is strong, and your new support system, the love bombers, offer hugs and stories of others who have survived similar storms of opposition.  They pepper you with scriptures showing that Jesus himself warned his followers that they would encounter opposition from family members.  The good news is that even if your family members pull away you will find substitute mothers and fathers and children among Jehovah’s people.

You steel yourself to stand firmly on Jehovah’s side.  The issue of universal sovereignty is bigger than family or so-called “friends.”  And, really – Betty Jo?  Hrmph.

None of your former associates can stand to spend 5 minutes in your presence, no matter how much they love you.  It’s like you bathed in Eau de Skunk bubble bath.  So, you throw yourself into the congregation and theocratic activities with the love bombers who think you smell like a rose.

Then comes the first family holiday.  You can’t go because you no longer celebrate it.  Grandma’s 90th birthday – no can do.  Your niece’s wedding, which will be held in a church with the reception in the basement.  That’s interfaith, so you can’t attend.   After an angry phone call from your highly offended sister you are now the pariah of the family.

And that’s how it happens.  You’ve lost your family and friends.  Your formerly happy marriage is on the rocks, and you have no one to turn to but the JWs in the congregation.  Welcome to your new life.

Down Time

Taking a week off, everyone.  If you haven’t read all 32 of my posts, please browse the archives and enjoy!

Armageddon

Armageddon – From a book for children

Jehovah’s Witnesses are a fearful people.  They fear the demons.  They fear what will happen to them if they ever leave the cult.  They fear displeasing Jehovah or, more importantly, the elders.  They fear disfellowshipping.  And they fear Armageddon.

Armageddon, as defined by JW theology, is God’s day of wrath when he sends his son, Jesus Christ, to destroy the present system of things and all of the wicked people in it.  As seen in the above illustration taken from Learn From the Great Teacher, page 243, this day will be filled with violence and death, but those who please Jehovah will be kept safe – maybe.

When I was a JW I used to wince at these lurid pictures and wonder how a loving God could inflict such terror and pain on his human children.  JWs don’t believe in hellfire; they say a God of love would not torment humans for eternity.  I preferred to picture it as more of an instant death for everyone, all at the same time.  No need to terrorize them (really, that’s more serial killer-ish, don’t you think?).

However, in Watchtower publications every illustration of Armageddon involves huge fireballs falling from the sky, crumbling skyscrapers, people screaming in terror and running for their lives.  Some of the drawings depict smiling JWs walking away from the burning piles of flesh and concrete, faces raised and arms extended in praise to their God.  What a wonderful…..

Wait a ding-danged minute here!  These smiling people have just witnessed their God killing millions of children, along with adults (including some of their own relatives), because they were deemed to be wicked.  What was the criterion on which this verdict was reached?  Whether they had accepted or rejected the message of JWs. How can you smile about that?

Actually, JWs are keenly anticipating the day that you die a horrible death at the hands of a wrathful God. That is the teaching of Armageddon in a nutshell.

Oh, but wait, there’s more.  After Armageddon there will be billions of dead bodies lying around which will be eaten by vultures and their ilk.  Lovely thought, that.  As times goes on, squads will be dispatched to bury the bones. 

Meanwhile, the rest of the survivors will have to clean up the mess that God made.  Mind you, those fireballs have probably damaged the infrastructure, and the highways will be clogged with abandoned cars, and are there working toilets?  And think about this – since all industry has come to an abrupt halt, how will the survivors power the necessary tools, like bulldozers and jackhammers?  Is there any chocolate?  Really, the issues they will face are very serious.

Ask an active JW about this and they will tell you, “Jehovah will see to it that we have everything we need.”  In fact, their focus is on the paradise to come, not practical matters. 

To add insult to injury, they may even have picked your house as one they want to own after you’re dead.