Update March 21 2020: The submitter of this story contacted AvoidJW today to inform us that he recently stepped down as an elder to spend more time with his family.
It seems that there is no end to the varied types of individuals in the world of Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW), as well as the experiences that they have. Quite often we hear of, or read stories from, an ex-JW perspective, but the ones from active JWs seem to be few and far between.
Your first reaction to this might be, “Well, that’s because the JWs are warned against sharing their experiences online, even if they are positive, and certainly they would be in for some serious questioning from their local bodies of elders if they started posting their doubts online!” You’d be correct in that assumption of course but, like in most other areas of life, there is a wide range of people amongst the JW ranks, from the most zealous, uber-verging-on-governing-body-wannabe to the worn-out and weary, almost-out-of-the-organization individual. I most certainly fall into the latter categories but let me give you a super-brief history about myself (due to time restrictions, wanting the article to be readable and also to protect my identity.)
I was brought up as a JW from an early age in the 70’s, got baptised in my mid-teens (mainly due to my fear of being destroyed at Armageddon by Jehovah if I didn’t), regular pioneered for several years, and served where the need was greater etc. I had a very strict upbringing and this included what I could and couldn’t watch/listen to/read on telly, music and books. Our family studies were laborious affairs with Watchtower study preparation being regular two-hour affairs and were also used to give us a good telling off when warranted (almost always apparently). All the things that I wasn’t allowed to do I got away with doing at friends’ houses, who were also JWs but with more balanced families, or at school, though those friendships were limited to school hours as I was never allowed to associate with them after school!
I personally like to think of myself as having always been a balanced individual, one who questions things (maybe too much) and there have always been Watchtower teachings that have made me feel uncomfortable or seemed unreasonable to me, such as not celebrating birthdays or New Years, that humans don’t have the solution to anything, and the biggest teaching that I’ve never agreed with: that Jehovah God will destroy all people at Armageddon. Many of their teachings or ideals I do agree with though (even if WT themselves don’t stick to them): Christmas being a pagan and commercial celebration, church affairs shouldn’t be involved in political affairs, all politicians are as bad/good as each other, bloodless surgery (where not life threatening such as in cases of Leukaemia), spending time cultivating good friendships, don’t hold petty grudges against others, and most of the concepts explained by Jesus Christ in his Sermon on The Mount.
Fast forward to a few years ago and due to several problems, hypocrisies in the congregation and worldwide, I finally started to listen to the critical thinking side of my brain (or logical thinking as I prefer to call it, as anything “critical” is viewed as negative by most JWs.) The first thing that sparked my attention was The Guardian’s article in 2001 about the Watchtower being part of the United Nations, even if it was only for them to be able to use the library (although the exact same material was available in repository libraries across the USA, two of them being in New York state). I only became aware of this in 2013. Then the Australian Royal Commission (ARC) cases about Watchtower’s problems with child abuse. With Watchtower actually denying there being a problem, that really did make me stop and analyze my faith.
JW Broadcasting also did a lot to help with my awakening. Now I finally got to see the Governing Body “in the flesh” in all their luxury and superficial caring attitude. As a side issue, how can these people (supposedly the brothers of Christ) be such regular, leaning towards poor, public speakers? It seems that the counsel in the “Theocratic Ministry School Guidebook” and subsequent “Benefit” book doesn’t apply to them (or they choose to ignore it)!
I’m not here to talk about my awakening as there are already many ex-JWs who have similar experiences and don’t need or even want to hear mine. Neither do I want active JWs to think that this article is just a rant from another disgruntled “apostate”. For the record, as of the time of writing, I am an ACTIVE Jehovah’s Witness serving as an elder in the congregation. My wife is fully pro-JW. She is what you might term PIMI: Physically In/Mentally In. Although, after several years, she has come to the same conclusion as me about the Governing Body and their terrible policies on protecting children from abuse and also their misuse of congregation funds to build their palace in Warwick whilst there are hundreds of new Kingdom Halls needed worldwide, which can no longer be built due to Watchtower taking over all surplus funds.
So what do I want to convey in this article? My situation is not unique and it is very scary, if I’m honest. I can’t stand being lied to and when those lies come from an organisation that claims to be directed by God, they hurt even more. I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that there is nothing wrong in the slightest with studying the Bible and coming to your own conclusions. In fact, after listening to some comedians that have spoken on the subject of God and religion and analysing their thoughts, I would now class myself as an agnostic atheist. Surely if the book God uses to judge people worthy of living or not is the Bible, then you would think it would be as clear as possible as to what was truth and it should not be open to interpretation at all!
I want to convey the difficult situation that I’m in. I hate using a pseudonym. I’d much rather use my real name but can’t for obvious reasons. Is that really how a loving God would have his spirit-directed organisation treat individuals who have doubts? Will God destroy me for doubting his existence or for questioning things that Watchtower (‘not his only spokesmen’ according to Geoffrey Jackson’s own words) teaches? God using hurricanes to move sand so that Kingdom halls can be built is a tough one for me, especially as those same hurricanes killed my fellow witnesses in a Kingdom Hall in the Philippines. JWs tend to have this ability to attribute so many things to divine intervention, when supposedly he has left us to our own devices to refute Satan’s challenge that he puts a protective hedge around his people.
Of course, this puts me in a difficult position with both my family and the congregation. I’ve spoken to my wife of my doubts, which has obviously upset her as she enjoys our JW life and we do have a very good circle of friends (quite a few of whom feel the same as me, unbeknownst to her). However, if I step down as an elder, I will have to give my reasons and I’m sure that they won’t go down well and I’ll find myself facing a judicial committee leading to being disfellowshipped so I’m trapped. My health suffers as a result but I use that in my defence and avoid being on any judicial committees. Confessing sins to the elders is no different in my opinion, to confessing before a priest in other churches but in our case we make a person confess before THREE members of the clergy (oh yes, JWs DO have a clergy class, they are just not paid and there are official documents to prove that if you don’t believe me). As a side note, there have been times when individuals in the congregation have wanted to tell me about their supposed “sins” and I’ve started by asking if they’ve committed a crime. Thankfully they’ve all said “no”. I’ve then replied that if they are truly sorry for what they’ve done then to pray to Jehovah, ask his forgiveness and try their best not to make the same mistake and to rest easy knowing that they’ve informed an “older man” as the Bible states.
The main problem with being outside the bubble, is seeing how ritualistic everything is, devoid of real study and love. Most friendships in the organisation are conditional, based on someone having the same spiritual interests, individuals that don’t preach much are classed as being spiritually weak (as are brothers with beards), and ones who no longer associate regularly with the congregation are “off limits” for social activities. When it comes to study, it’s just a question and answer session from the paragraph, not real Bible study. The only thing that comes close now (officially at least) is the “Spiritual Gems” section where the flock can express what they’ve enjoyed from their Bible reading. Unofficially, there are Bible study groups in the congregation between friends, or where they get together to prepare the Watchtower and usually finish by just underlining a few paragraphs as the discussions centre around thoughts on a certain Bible passage being read, how it SHOULD be.
Then there is the trolley witnessing or whatever you want to call it. This would have been my dream as a kid: prop one up next to a bar or restaurant and have your coffee next door whilst people approach the trolleys and get their own literature. Ask if you can help them and that’s all! Plus you get to count your time to and from the hall as people are seeing the trolley! I occasionally do the trolley work in the vain hope that one day I will meet an ex-JW or a disgruntled member of the public who I can have a good chat with about the organisation!
One benefit to my state as a PIMO is that I have allowed myself to see “apostates” for what they really are. Don’t get me wrong, there are some nasty pieces of work out there whose language and attitudes I wouldn’t entertain in any field, but then again there are plenty of nasty pieces of work amongst the active JWs, plus they have the added bonus of being self-righteous and judgemental! Before any active JWs have a heart-attack with me talking with apostates, even Jesus Christ talked with the die-hard Pharisees. The apostates that I have met and conversed with are nothing like Watchtower paints them (mentally diseased, evil and bitter.) To the contrary, they are individuals who, for the most part, are friendly, may have been wronged, may have doubts, or maybe they no longer believe that JWs have the truth.
The owner of this very site has become a personal friend (and he will tell you that I was waiting for almost a year before I revealed my true identity to him. Wow, I sound like a super hero!) and we converse regularly about a whole range of things, just like any other normal human being. Yes that’s another myth: apostates spend all their time slagging off Watchtower & JWs. Again, some do and that’s their prerogative (just ask Bobby Brown) but ask yourself why? Many of them have given decades of their lives, at least their youth to an organisation which lied to them and promised the end would be here at least before the end of last century! Most of them just want to have contact with their JW family and friends whilst trying to explain THEIR side of the story or trying to help others avoid the harmful practices that the Watchtower promotes.
How can I sum it up? For any active JWs, please take the time to analyse your beliefs but mainly your ATTITUDE. Is your main thought, or first thought, about apostates that they should die where they stand? That they will get what’s coming to them? That they only tell hateful lies? Or that they are all wicked sinners? Then I seriously suggest that you examine yourself to see if you really are displaying a truly Christ-like attitude.
Sites like this one also have a great repository of Watchtower literature so you can complete your own collections, see changes that have been made in the same publications, read congregation letters (yes the ones addressed to YOU, including the postscripts that the Governing Body don’t want you to see) and also the elder’s letters. Why should you want to read them if you’re not an elder? Because many contain policies handed down to your local body, policies that affect you as an individual publisher. The ONLY purpose of avoidjw.org is to govern the governing body, not in a presumptuous way but rather to ensure transparency and make sure that EVERYONE has access to their policies.
It is a scary process to come to the realisation that what you’ve believed your whole life may not be true at all. I’m not for a minute suggesting that you leave the organisation. If you’re truly happy there and you can be yourself and go along at your own pace then good for you! My aim is not to destroy your faith just because mine is faltering. In fact, I would encourage you more than ever to use the Bible itself and your OWN reasoning, without the Watchtower spin being put on things.
Try and look at our organisation through the eyes of outsiders, or at least in the same way as you view other religious organisations. For example, how do you view the Mormons who say that an angel gave John Smith his revelation, thus God choosing him and the Mormon organisation as his true representatives on Earth? As a Jehovah’s Witness, you see that as a crazy assertion, right? Well, why is it any less ridiculous to believe that Jesus chose Charles Russell and his followers at the end of the 19th Century to be God’s representatives on Earth? Plus, if you take into account that the Governing Body no longer view him as part of the Faithful & Discreet Slave class, it really does make you see things in a different light.
Remember, if you really think you have the truth, then why be afraid to have questions asked of you? If your faith can’t stand genuine, hard-hitting questions, then doesn’t that say something about the quality of your faith? As JT (from Critical Thinker) states: “I’d rather have questions that I can’t answer, than have answers that I can’t question.” So don’t be afraid to analyse your doubts and get answers. If the Watchtower won’t give them to you (or will punish you for asking) then here is a good place to start!