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Waking Up

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One of the oddest things about being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses is what happens when a JW “wakes up” and discovers TTATT (the truth about The Truth).

This awakening is a long process.  It starts with a niggling doubt, some teaching that just doesn’t quite sit right.  Maybe it’s a change in a teaching, what the Society calls “New Light.”  For me, it was a change in a core teaching about when The End would come.

The Watchtower Society has taught for well over 100 years that Jesus gave his followers a clue as to when the end would come.   In Matthew 24 his disciples asked him for a sign that the end was near.  Jesus described a whole laundry list of not-so-remarkable events (wars, earthquakes, etc.) to watch for.  Then he said, “This generation will not pass away until all these things occur.”

Mix together a vague prophecy, some devil-may-care chronology, a belief that God is communicating only with you, and a whole heap of hubris, stir well.  Yield:  An adjustable end-time teaching.  Serve relentlessly.   Without getting into nitty-gritty detail, the Watchtower Society had taught that the “time of the end” began in 1914 (with a whole lot of emphasis on WWI), and since Jesus had said that the end would come within the lifetime of a generation, it is logical to conclude that the system would end in the 20th century.  Many times in their literature they stated outright that the end would come before the new millennium.

Fun fact:  The Watchtower Society holds that God’s truth is revealed gradually, only when Jesus’ followers are ready for it.  They cite a handy scripture in Proverbs 4:18 that says that the light gets brighter and brighter, even though that scripture is not talking about doctrine, and is probably mistranslated in their Bible.  In any case, all JWs get really excited whenever there is “new light” in the Watchtower magazine.

Around about 1995, the Society could hear their chronological clock ticking and came out with some “new light” about the meaning of the word “generation.”  It was so murky and illogical that I can’t even remember exactly what their argument was.  It had something to do with the definition of the word “generation” that made it possible for any group of contemporaries to be part of a “generation.”   The moment I heard it I said, “We’re going to see the year 2000 in this system.”  I recognized it as a maneuver.  An organization that claims to be the sole conduit of God’s Truth shouldn’t need to maneuver,  shouldn’t find it necessary to overturn a doctrine that had stood for nearly a century just to save face (and they’ve changed the understanding of “generation” twice more since then).   That realization started the ball rolling for me.  It took another nine years for the ball to strike the pins.

During those nine years I started noticing cracks in the Christian personalities of those around me.  I saw politics and cliques at work, elders who hardly ever used their Bible when giving talks, and just general hypocrisy.  I was irritated.  Luckily, I was not alone.  I had a friend who shared my irritation.  Once she and I discovered our mutual growing antipathy we started to get together regularly for what we called “natter” sessions where we would express our feelings about the organization freely without worrying that the other one would turn us in to the elders.

I had known for several years that Jehovah’s Witnesses had a big problem with pedophilia.  Of course, in any microcosm you’re going to see a cross-section of the human condition, but there was a much bigger problem with JWs, and it still exists.  Their procedure for dealing with accusations of pedophilia does not involve law enforcement, nor is it likely the perpetrator will ever be disciplined for his actions.  Here’s why:  Even as recently as October 1, 2012 the Watchtower’s stated procedure when an accusation of child abuse is brought to the elders’ attention is for the elders to contact their local branch office of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.  The branch will give them instructions.  Under no circumstances are the elders or the accusers to contact the police.   In other words, keep it hushed up.

Within the congregation, the elders can convene a judicial committee only if there are two witnesses to the offense.  When does that ever happen in a case of child molestation?  I’ll tell you – never.  The perpetrator is considered innocent of the charge, and it is quite possible that the accuser will be the one in hot water for making an unsubstantiated accusation.

I knew of a situation in a neighboring congregation where this very situation existed.  There was more than one report of a young man in the congregation, an elder’s son, molesting younger boys, sometimes even in the kingdom hall.  Because nothing could be done to discipline the young man, he was free to prowl the congregation and snatch more victims.  Outraged parents took their children and started attending my congregation, even though it was a long drive for them.  Some of them actually packed up their households and moved to my town because their home congregation had become a dangerous place.

When I found out what was happening I was completely outraged.  Being a survivor of child sexual abuse myself (although it happened before I became a JW) I couldn’t understand how God’s organization could permit such a situation to continue.  Maybe the boys in Brooklyn didn’t know about it.  Shouldn’t we tell them?  Of course, being a woman, any letter I sent to headquarters would be sent back to the elders in my congregation.  I asked my husband at the time to write, but he decided he would “leave it in Jehovah’s hands.”   My faith was strong then, so I went along with his decision, but the idea that there were children suffering shattering emotional trauma was impossible to ignore.

If you are outraged that a mind-control cult is harboring pedophiles, please view this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcIC4g5tulw and visit this Facebook page:  The Association of Anti-Watchtower Activists

Next week:  The Final Straw

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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.