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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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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.

Persecution Complex

Jehovah’s Witnesses know they are God’s people.  They don’t just believe it, they know it to the core of their being.   As a result, God’s enemy, Satan, is also their enemy and wants to destroy them.  Wants it bad.

Satan uses a number of different weapons in his war against JWs, everything from their own bad qualities (greed, lust, etc.) to family members who oppose their belonging to the cult to national governments who ban their religion and persecute them.  They see anyone who isn’t a JW as a potential threat – an us-versus-them mentality.  They also see persecution as a sign that they’re doing it right.  After all, Jesus told them to expect persecution.  Well, he told his first-century disciples to expect it, and he was right.

JWs often end up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy because when they take a stand on an issue they won’t back down for anything – well, most of the time.  Back in Nazi Germany, they managed to get on Hitler’s bad side, and were rounded up and herded into concentration camps, receiving a purple triangle for their stubbornness.   Many died in those camps.  JWs view that whole episode as a badge of honor and practically worship the survivors.

Back in the 1970s the African nation of Malawi passed a law that required all citizens to purchase a political party card.  JWs refused because of their stand of political neutrality.  It could easily be reasoned that because there was only one political party, the country being ruled by “President for Life” Banda, that it would not violate their neutrality to purchase the card, viewing it as more of a tax than delving into politics.  However, the Watchtower Society would not back down on the issue, and the JWs in Malawi experienced a number of waves of persecution where their crops and homes were burned, many were beaten, raped, and even murdered by gangs of thugs, the government egging them on.

At the same time, a curious double standard arose in the hallowed halls of the Brooklyn headquarters.   JWs do not perform military service and will even refuse to perform alternative service, and consequently men of military age spend years wasting away in prison to pay for their impudence.

At the same time the JWs in Malawi were suffering, a veritable get-out-of-jail-free card was handed to Mexican JWs.  In Mexico, men of military age were required to obtain cards that identified them as members of the reserves who had completed a year of weekly training sessions.  Possession of this card was necessary in order to obtain a passport.  Instead of taking a stand, for some reason the Watchtower Society agreed to allow the brothers there to bribe government officials in order to obtain a card under the table.

Excuse me?

How were these guys making decisions?   Dart board?  I thought Bible standards were the basis of their policy making.  I don’t know what the motivation was for this shocking double standard, but it horrified one member of the HQ staff who took the time to document the whole thing and later include it in his book, “Crisis of Conscience.”

These guys were (and are) deciding who would die for standing in opposition to the government and who could get off easy by bribery.

The governments aren’t the only entities lusting for the blood of JWs.  JWs in the early part of the 20th century were very in-your-face in their preaching, marching around with sandwich signs and shouting “religion is a snare and a racket” in front of churches, using sound cars in rural locations to blast the local livestock (and farmers) with sermons, and generally being a nuisance.  Needless to say, these actions failed to evoke kindly feelings on the part of townspeople.  JWs were tarred and feathered, beaten by mobs, and jailed for their trouble, heroes all.

Luckily for me, by the time my family joined JWs, they had dialed it back a few notches and were concentrating on the peaceful-new-world message.  Still, we heard lurid reports of what was happening in Malawi, and we were told to expect the same sort of mistreatment when the Great Tribulation started, leading to God’s swooping in and rescuing JWs in the form of Armageddon.

The reports on Malawi scared the bejeezus out of me and many other kids at the time, some of whom had nightmares about it.  I tossed uneasily in my bed many a night contemplating being beaten or raped for my religious beliefs.  I even formulated a plan to cut my hair short if persecution developed so that I wouldn’t be as easy to catch by the hair.  I doubt that hair would have factored in to my inevitable capture as I’ve never been even slightly athletic.

Perhaps the most ominous threat to the average JW is Satan’s henchmen, the demons.  More about that next week.

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.

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.