SHORT-TERM THINKING is a mindset that permeates the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ religion. Perpetually on a doomsday footing, the religion actively and tacitly discourages long-term planning. During the decades in which I was a believer, based on the alarms sounded by the Governing Body, it was not uncommon to hear followers estimate that Armageddon would arrive within the next 10 years.
As has been well covered elsewhere, Jehovah’s Witnesses’ expectations are constantly being stoked for the End Times. On various occasions, as that period has approached, sensing the imminent failure of the calculation, the Governing Body has desperately fumbled to release the ‘pressure valve,’ concocting new time calculations. For a period of time the H.M.S. Armageddon floats rudderless. But given the Governing Body’s embarrassingly short memory, it’s never long before the pronouncements of impending doom again blare from its deck. Privately the Jehovah’s Witness rank-and-file begins estimating that The End will arrive within the next 10 years.
This short-term mindset has a significant affect on anyone associated with the religion. It has a particularly profound affect on gay Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Short-Term Thinking and Two Short Stories
Most have heard the term gaydar. It is the supposed ability of one gay person to recognise another gay person. Although not 100% accurate there is some truth to this concept. Throughout my time at Bethel and in various congregations I came across a number of individuals who I assumed were gay. A few had obvious mannerisms stereotypical of gay males. Others were ‘straight-acting’ and quite a bit more difficult to identify. This was more the norm.
It was the recognition of subtle, unconscious actions – that mirrored those in my own life – that ultimately gave them away. For various reasons, despite the fact that I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness, I tended to look at life with a long-term point-of-view. I won’t deny that I too was eagerly hoping Armageddon would rescue me from having to face an extended period as a closeted gay. Still, when related to other decisions in my life, I tended to hedge my bets – even before realising The Truth was a lie.
So it was looking into the lives of younger gay Jehovah’s Witnesses where I was really able to see the deleterious effects of the religion’s tendency towards short-term planning. The following are stories of the decisions made by two gay Jehovah’s Witnesses – aided and abetted by Watchtower policy. Personally identifying details have been changed but the impact of their short-term planning has not.
One of the classic signs that an otherwise eligible young man is likely gay is a lack of interest in girls. I know that statement sounds obvious, but it’s sometimes more difficult to suss out when obscured behind a plausible excuse of ‘pursuing kingdom interests.’ I mean, that’s what I successfully hid behind for many years.
The fact is, regardless of whether one is enmeshed in service to Watchtower, girls come up in straight Jehovah’s Witnesses conversation very naturally and very, very regularly. Referring to young Jehovah’s Witnesses’ interests in girls as something of an obsession is not at all an exaggeration. I’ve met Jehovah’s Witnesses who, despite the fact they were socially awkward to a severe degree, were still enamoured of girls. So when a young Jehovah’s Witness, with no obvious mental or physical issues, fails to display the same preoccupation it’s generally an obvious sign.
And that was Julio.
We had spent about three years in the same congregation and as soon as he’d turned 18 he started asking to hang out with me. Always willing to help younger congregation members, I carved out time in my schedule. It didn’t take long before I became something of big brother to him. It wasn’t long after that I began to realise he never talked about girls, except in the rehearsed way gay Jehovah’s Witnesses learn to discuss them. His excuses for not dating were the typical: ‘I don’t want to rush into marriage.’ ‘I want to enjoy my youth.’ ‘I want to wait until I’m 30.’ All noble, sober-minded statements – if they hadn’t been coming from the mouth of the typically horny, testosterone driven 18-year-old.
Plus, I’d used the same excuses.
Following that initial observation, a string of innocent but extremely peculiar incidents fully verified his sexual preference. And then came the short-term mindset. When one is living with the belief that their problems will disappear in 10 years there is little urgency to anything else. I watched Julio forego education of any kind because, as he told me, “I’m convinced the end is coming in the next five years.” I watched as he stressed himself trying to make his monthly requirement of hours as a full-time minister or Pioneer. (It was obvious it wasn’t something he really wanted to do.) I watched as into his early 20’s he began leading the typical, unambitious young Jehovah’s Witness life of video games, watching movies, going out with friend and Pioneering.
In the meantime he was living in one of the most expensive cities on the East Coast. And in one of the most expensive parts of town. His only saving graces was the fact he was still with his parents in government subsidised housing. This served to completely obscure what was in store for him financially. To survive in that area required at least one of two things 1). A very good paying job, or 2). Another person living with you. Preferably both.
Since he’d been convinced by a well-meaning congregation elder not to pursue education of any kind, Option 1 was already gone. Then, his being gay meant Option 2 was off the table. Sure, he can get a roommate, but if the person is a straight Jehovah’s Witness, eventually wedding bells will ring and it’s back to roommate shopping again. The older Julio gets, the fewer roommate options he’ll have. Very quickly he will be priced out of his neighbourhood and need to move to a poorer area of town. The only way to avoid this dismal scenario will be for him to move back into subsidised housing with his parents.
With a one-two punch, the Governing Body had significantly crippled his life in a way that was not immediately obvious, but will be very difficult to recover from. At 20-years-old he’d already been boxed in and didn’t even realise it.
When I last saw Julio it was about two years into the five-year period into which he was convinced The End was coming. Of course when that date arrives, he’ll open the expectation pressure valve, because that’s what one does when one literally has everything to lose by leaving a religion. But the fact is, the Governing Body is running out of ways to slice and dice their End Times prophesies. So as 10 years creeps up, there will have been enough turn over on the Governing Body for the new group of false prophets to hit the reset button.
By that time, whether Julio will admit it to himself, his life prospects will be very bleak.
If there were ever a JW ‘boy next door’ Brian was it: a perfect smile, well regarded in the congregation, moving up the spiritual ladder, immediately took up the full time ministry after high school.
It was sitting next to Brian during a movie night that I discovered we might have something in common. The mom hosting the event began handing out pillows and blankets for the pile of guys cluttering her living room. Mom dropped a pillow in my lap and Brian immediately pulled it across to cover our legs. With the lights dimmed he scooted close enough that our legs and thighs were touching. A few seconds later he whispered rather cryptically: “I’m going to be 18 next month.” Now perhaps I made something out of nothing, but to me that statement indicated a desire to start a gay relationship of some type. Clearly he had used the gaydar on me!
Being someone with responsibility in the congregation (i.e. a ministerial servant) I gritted my teeth and refused to take the tantalising bait he had dangled in front of me. From that day forward Brian was constantly looking for opportunities to touch me or stumble against me or otherwise have some sort of ‘accidental’ physical contact. Even though I really liked the attention, I finally told him he was going to have to stop. As the years went by he’d still do little things but he was more subdued.
He changed congregations a few years later and shortly thereafter I moved to out of the city. I took that opportunity to write him an encouraging, though vague, letter. I knew he’d understand the thrust of it by reading between the lines. I told him that our struggle was the same, seemed somewhat unfair but to “hang in there, Jehovah will give you strength.” I’m sure I must have also quoted 1 Peter 5:9, 10.
He wrote back thanking me for my words and mentioned it was one of the most encouraging letters he’d ever received. A few years later he left the country to do missionary work. It was the usual stay busy approach gay JWs often fall into. Then a few years later I receive a text from him: he was getting married. Now there existed no doubt in my mind that Brian was gay. Not one doubt. And yet here he was talking about marriage. Why? 1). Either he believed he had cured himself, or 2). He imagined that marriage would cure him.
I’d already tried #1 as a teenager.
Sure enough, through much emotional pain and near constant mental exertion, one can suppress homosexual desires. But they’re never truly gone. I was more like a guy walking past a row of girls, sucking in a flabby stomach to look fit. I did it for a good while but it was wearing me out.
Of course I knew better than to try #2.
When I received the texted photo of him and his fianceé it filled me with sadness. Brian was living a lie and a very high-stakes one at that. I thought: ‘What if he can’t keep up the deception?’ ‘How humiliated will his wife be if he someday cheats with another man?’ ‘What if they have a child?’ ‘How will such a revelation affect that child?’
Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only gay Jehovah’s Witness who’d married a woman out of necessity. During the Bethel years I remember one of the photographs on a very popular brochure having to be switched out. The image had to be removed because the husband had been ex-communicated for having a gay affair. In one of the few instances in which I talked to a brother about my sexuality he took pains to warn me: “Whatever you do, don’t get married.” (Although on another occasion I received the exact opposite advice: “Don’t you think if you found a nice sister all of this would go away.”)
The brother who had advised against marriage had been around the block. He knew of numerous real world instances where gay Jehovah’s Witnesses were trapped in straight marriages – as well as the painful consequences. It’s really only a solution that would be offered by a straight person drawing from a vast well of profound ignorance.
I would ask straight individuals who are reading this article to consider what is being asked of gay Jehovah’s Witness. Imagine that you are a straight male. Now imagine having to go home every day to kiss another man? Imagine having to be sexually intimate with another man, on a regular basis? Imagine crying with a man, hugging a man, consoling a man? Does the very idea repulse you? It’s okay to say, “Yes,” I actually understand. From your point-of-view it seems absolutely unnatural. But this is exactly what a gay person, trapped inside of a straight marriage, must do seven days a week, 365 days a year, after year, after year.
And it’s exactly what Brian is doing.
That is, as long as he can keep his stomach sucked in. As long as he stays mentally regimented and doesn’t slip. Because if he does slip, it’s pretty much over. His life will come crashing down around him. When Brian made the decision to marry a woman I seriously doubt he thought it through. Fortunately for him The End is right around the corner.
Stay Warm and Well Fed
Some may argue that fundamentalist religions like Jehovah’s Witnesses wield a heavy club related to all of its adherent’s personal lives. This is true. Others will add that single JW women face similarly bleak financial circumstances. This is also true.
The difference, though, is ‘hope.’
There is still possibility that a single female Jehovah’s Witness might find a husband. And if not, the congregation lauds them for their faith. Curiously they may even marry a non-JW and still be accepted in the congregation. With gay Jehovah’s Witnesses none of those possibilities exist. There is no hope and there certainly is no pity.
As the years pass the level of education needed to sustain a living continues to climb – right along with the cost of living. Nothing about the future looks to be easy. In the meantime members of the Governing Body are in the catbird seat. They have their marriage mates. They will never want financially. They will continue to encourage short-term thinking because it’s what keeps people revved up to build new headquarters and continue pounding on doors when no one is interested. And most of all, it keeps the donations coming in.
Julio’s future is still in the process of unfolding. Brian’s I don’t know. I often wonder if he’s still married, hanging in there. Whatever the case, I doubt their stories will have happy endings. And that fills me with overwhelming sadness. These were friends of which I had great affection. But Watchtower’s policies paint a very glum portrait of anyone following them – and especially if one is gay.
The Governing Body is out of touch with the financial struggles of the flock and unconcerned with the emotional struggles of those with same sex attraction. This fact is self-evident in the few occasions they do acknowledge those struggling. They offer impractical solutions, in flashy colours and simple answer:
The End is right around the corner. Continue faithful to Jehovah and He will take care of you. Go in peace, stay warm and well fed.