“Sticks and stones may break my bones,” the saying goes, “but names will never hurt me.” It’s a positive-leaning sentiment. Though, perhaps one that doesn’t entirely square with reality. Anyone who has had to endure sustained, persistent verbal abuse will attest to the fact that names do indeed hurt – often in deep, profound ways.
Of the many things Jehovah’s Witnesses believe they are, a great deal of pride is placed on the claim of being an inclusive, loving people. Consider the rosy portrait painted in this statement:
The bond that unites true Christians is a combination of family love and affection for true friends, with all relationships governed by love based on Bible principles. The Christian congregation is, not a social club or a secular organization, but a close-knit family united in the worship of Jehovah God. We call fellow believers brothers and sisters, and we view them that way. They are part of our spiritual family, we love them as friends, and we always behave toward them in harmony with Bible principles. – The Watchtower, July 15, 2009 p.14
This is soaring rhetoric to be sure. And one would be dishonest to imply that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not dedicate a notable amount of time to the discussion of inclusiveness. But as always, there is a caveat.
“Jesus said that his disciples would be outstandingly distinguished by the quality of love. (By this all will know that you are my disciples - if you have love among yourselves.John 13:35) But that love must be properly directed to be acceptable“, warns The Watchtower, May 1, 1956 article, “Accurate Knowledge to Please Jehovah.”
If it were possible to elicit the honest opinion of gay individuals within ‘The Organization,’ I believe it would be doubtful that they feel any love and understanding directed towards their herculean struggle. Instead the warmth and inclusion preached about publicly gives way to disgust and ridicule in private settings. And it is in these candid comments “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Offspring of vipers, how can you speak good things when you are wicked? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.Matthew 12:34)
NOTE: In this and previous articles, there are many references to “gay Jehovah’s Witnesses” and “homosexuals” within ‘The Organization.’ From Watchtower’s perspective if someone is not committing homosexual acts they are not considered a homosexual. Some brothers who struggle with homosexual tendencies refuse to classify themselves as gay or homosexual. This is because of the stigma associated with both terms. When either terms are used here, it is with reference to the dictionary definition of a homosexual, that is: “a person who is sexually attracted to people of their own sex.” – New Oxford American Dictionary. These designations are used regardless of whether a Jehovah’s Witness is actually involved in homosexual practices.
Historical, Ingrained Bigotry
With a fair amount of emphasis placed on “putting up with one another in love” (Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, appeal to you to walk worthily of the calling with which you were called, with all humility and mildness, with patience, putting up with one another in love,Ephesians 4:1, 2), why is it that the average Jehovah’s Witness harbors what could only be described as a palpable disgust for homosexuals? Aside from the basic human tendency to reject anything that deviates from the mainstream, ‘The Organization’ itself has been at the forefront in promoting intolerance.
For years The Watchtower and Awake! magazines featured news digests called “Insight on the News” and “Watching the World.” Looking back, it’s almost comical to see how often these news excerpts featured derogatory comments related to gays and homosexuality. In Watchtower Library 2014, a search for the word ‘homosexual’ returns 582 occurrences in the Awake! magazine alone. By comparison the term ‘fornication’ returns only 508 occurrences. The fact that these numbers would be so close is strange given the high ratio of straight versus gay congregation members. There are simply far more cases of disfellowshipping for instances of heterosexual fornication than the other way around. Yet, as far as the Governing Body’s Writing Committee is concerned, homosexuality is so evil it warrants this disproportionate condemnation.
Then there is the largely abandoned but long held belief that somehow masturbation, homosexuality and pornography are inextricably linked. Each, somehow, causes or inflames the other (see Awake! April 8, 1989 p. 22-23). As a child I remember being somewhat appalled when I came across the chapter “Masturbation and Homosexuality” in the publication, Your Youth Getting the Best Out of It. In this chapter the following non-causal evidence is presented to link masturbation to homosexuality:
Weakly giving in to sexual desires by masturbation will certainly not give you strength when faced with a situation tempting you to commit fornication—or even homosexuality. Just the opposite, it cultivates wrong thinking and wrong desire. In fact, masturbation can lead into homosexuality. In such instances the person, not satisfied with his lonely sexual activity, seeks a partner for mutual sex play. This happens much more frequently than you may realize. Contrary to what many persons think, homosexuals are not born that way, but their homosexual behavior is learned. – Your Youth Getting the Best Out of It, Chapter 5 p. 39 par. 9, 10.
I read this chapter as a pre-teen and even at that age knew that this blithe assessment was incorrect. I was too young to know what masturbation was but already old enough to know I was attracted to the same sex. Masturbation had absolutely nothing to do with it.
Even as secular researchers moved away from classifying homosexuality as a disorder, Watch Tower obdurately clung to its opinions. Only in the publication Reasoning From The Scriptures does the pounding soften. Under the subheading “What is the attitude of true Christians toward those who have a history of homosexuality?” Watch Tower acquiesces:
True Christians know that even deeply rooted wrong desires, including those that may have a genetic basis or that involve physical causes or environmental factors, are not insurmountable for persons who truly want to please Jehovah.” – Reasoning From The Scriptures p.369 par. 4
When I first read this I could not believe my eyes. Here was an admission by Watch Tower that homosexuality may have a genetic basis. The sad thing is, the audience for this mea culpa was not gay Jehovah’s Witnesses struggling inside of the congregation, but for non-believers on the outside.
Even in their rare efforts to be understanding ‘The Organization’ comes across as ham-fisted and antiseptic:
Homosexuals find themselves “in darkness mentally, and alienated from the life that belongs to God.” (They are in darkness mentally and alienated from the life that belongs to God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the insensitivity of their hearts.Ephesians 4:18) But what about God-fearing youths who, in spite of their knowledge of Bible principles, find themselves attracted to the same sex? Clearly, they have a real fight on their hands. Of course, knowing how God views homosexuality helps such ones to “abhor what is wicked.” –Awake! February 22, 1995 p. 14)
No warmth. No commendation for their course of faith thus far. Just a reminder that ‘Whew, it sucks to be you. But just remember: don’t slip up. God hates homosexuals.’
Let us look at another example.
In the ever-elusive attempt to formulate a coherent policy for handling brothers involved in viewing pornography gay JWs received yet another reminder that, as far as ‘The Organization’ is concerned, they are second class citizens. In the March 15, 2012 issue of The Watchtower the regular feature “Questions From Readers” inquires whether an individual could be disfellowshipped for viewing pornography. The Governing Body chooses this opportunity to introduce a new policy: “It is a sad fact that some pornography is much worse than scenes of nakedness or of a man and woman engaging in fornication.” This statement establishes a precedent that viewing straight porn, between one woman and one man, is not as serious as viewing other forms of pornography.
The article continues: “There is sordid, abhorrent pornography involving homosexuality (sex between those of the same gender), group sex, bestiality, child pornography, gang rape, the brutalizing of women, bondage, or sadistic torture” that in extreme cases could result in a congregation member being disfellowshipped. Here again homosexuality is lumped in with the worst of the worst: bestiality, child pornography and rape.
So what Watchtower has done is set up a policy that could result in a scenario where a 20-year-old Jehovah’s Witness, addicted to straight porn, is only at risk of losing his congregation privileges. However if that 20-year-old happens to be gay he is subject to disfellowshipping, and according to Jehovah’s Witness beliefs, the potential loss of eternal life.
I invite straight Jehovah’s Witnesses to consider what impact this policy has on the morale of especially young gay JWs struggling to stay faithful to ‘The Organization.’ For most young JWs viewing pornography is the product of curiosity and an attempt to somehow experience sex since the JW religion prohibits relations outside of marriage. For most, if the habit hasn’t become entrenched, marriage (at least initially) makes the viewing of porn less of a desire.
For a gay JW there is never a case where they live ‘happily ever after.’ They will never be able to satisfy their sexual desires – which everyone has. If they do attempt to satisfy them they are in danger of being expelled from the congregation and later destroyed at Armageddon. Viewing pornography then becomes a way to vicariously experience homosexual relations. But now, this too may result in their destruction. With gay JWs it is a lose-lose scenario with virtually non-existent support from an organization supposedly known for love and inclusion.
The Price of a Dog
Of course Watchtower is rarely content in using only the words of its publications to make a point. It’s even more effective if the Bible can be shown to back up a policy, even if the scriptures have to be twisted ever so slightly.
The New World Translation Reference Bible (Rbi8), generally an impressive work, is unfortunately diminished by frequently dubious scriptural cross-references. At Outside are the dogs and those who practice spiritism and those who are sexually immoral and the murderers and the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices lying.Revelation 22:15 we see a particularly ugly example of this. Speaking of those who would not gain access to New Jerusalem, the citation says, “Outside are the dogs and those who practice spiritism and the fornicators and the murderers and the idolaters and everyone liking and carrying on a lie.” The point of interest in this passage is the word ‘dogs.’ Vines Expository Dictionary indicates that the Greek word kuon (dog) refers to “those whose moral impurity will exclude them from the New Jerusalem.” However, The New World Translation Bible Committee (1984) cross references ‘dogs’ to You must not bring the price paid to a female prostitute or the price paid to a male prostitute into the house of Jehovah your God to fulfill a vow, for both of them are something detestable to Jehovah our God.Deuteronomy 23:18 where the Law prohibits bringing “the hire of a harlot or the price of a dog into the house of Jehovah.” The same question is appropriate here. In context, what is the meaning of the word ‘dog’? To see The Committee’s opinion one only needs to follow the asterisk to the footnote: “Likely a pederast; one who practices anal intercourse, especially with a boy.”
Yes, the words “anal intercourse” actually appear in the Reference Bible, again laying bare Watchtower’s obsession with linking child molestation to homosexuals.
When the revised New World Translation (nwt12) “Lite” was introduced in 2013 one of the noticeable changes was the significant reduction in the number of cross-references. Revisiting Outside are the dogs and those who practice spiritism and those who are sexually immoral and the murderers and the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices lying.Revelation 22:15 the reference to You must not bring the price paid to a female prostitute or the price paid to a male prostitute into the house of Jehovah your God to fulfill a vow, for both of them are something detestable to Jehovah our God.Deuteronomy 23:18 has been removed and replaced by an asterisk which identifies ‘dogs’ more broadly as “those whose practices are disgusting in God’s eyes.” Clearly ‘new light’ and a refined understanding – except for the fact that this is essentially how W.E. Vine defined the word more than 70 years ago. Next returning to You must not bring the price paid to a female prostitute or the price paid to a male prostitute into the house of Jehovah your God to fulfill a vow, for both of them are something detestable to Jehovah our God.Deuteronomy 23:18 ‘dog’ is replaced with ‘male prostitutes,’ which is in semantic agree with the preceding reference to female prostitutes. References to anal intercourse and pederasty are nowhere to be found.
So where did that Deuteronomy footnote originate? The explanation offered could not have been surmised from the ancient manuscripts. In fact historical records suggest that pederasty was much more a product of 7th century B.C.E. Greek civilization than of the ancient nations contemporary with the Israelites at the time the Law was propounded. So the source of this crass, inaccurate and prejudicial reference is the minds of the men who made up the New World Bible Translation Committee. From their point-of-view homosexuals were dogs worthy of destruction. So vehement were they in this belief they were okay adding the completely unsupported phrase ‘anal intercourse’ to the Bible. I will say this, when I stumbled across that footnote, even as a non-practicing gay, it was a stab to the heart thinking that this is what God thought of me.
This long history of disparaging, vilifying and maligning homosexuals has set a tone among the Jehovah’s Witness community that is difficult – if not impossible – to walk back. So it is no wonder that Jehovah’s Witnesses, despite all of the talk of tolerance, have a deeply ingrained hatred towards homosexuals.
From the Abundance of the Heart
I happened to barge into the middle of a conversation between two Jehovah’s Witness friends discussing homosexuals. The conversation went like this:
“I don’t know…being gay is the worst thing someone could be.”
“Well, I don’t know,” says the other brother, “I can think of worse things.”
“Like what?” the other brother says with a furrowed brow.
At that point, besides realizing that Watchtower had been quite successful in its efforts to place homosexuals and child molesters in the same orbit, it was reinforced to me the very stereotypical view Jehovah’s Witnesses have of gay people. Because ‘The Organization’ has spent the bulk of its time insisting that homosexual behavior is learned, the average Jehovah’s Witness cannot fathom that a member of the congregation would knowingly open themselves to this sort of ‘lifestyle.’ In reality most of the gay Jehovah’s Witnesses I’ve met are virtually indistinguishable from straight Jehovah’s Witnesses in both looks and mannerisms. Especially when one is young it is quite easy to blend in with the heterosexual friends you are surround by. And it is those who are flying under the Jehovah’s Witness gaydar who get the opportunity to hear what ‘The Friends’ really think of them.
In my previous article The Apostle Paul Complex, I mentioned that often some of the hardest working single brothers are those struggling with homosexual tendencies. They are the brothers who seem to truly ‘pour themselves our like a drink offering.’ (However, even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and the holy service to which your faith has led you, I am glad and I rejoice with all of you.Philippians 2:17) They are working hard as elders and servants, counseling, shepherding, listening, mentoring. Yet in all of these efforts they must sometimes tolerate derisive comments from the very people they are helping. One brother who had reluctantly befriended the son of a newly divorced, homophobic, sister had to endure constant suspicion. Anytime the clearly straight young man displayed an action his mom took as effeminate, the boy was interrogated and then asked whether he had learned this from the unfortunate single brother who had been trying to be helpful (and who to my eyes had no outwardly obvious affectations).
I’ve sat through many smug, uninformed meeting comment explaining how people ‘become’ gay. During a meeting part not even related to homosexuality, I remember one brother saying,
“For example, if a gay person came to the congregation and needed a bible study, I wouldn’t want to study with him…but I would anyway.”
I’m sure to that brother his comment sounded benevolent.
In another instance I had watched a movie with a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which to the group’s distaste, featured flashbacks of two young boys, no more than 13 years old, who had an obvious attraction towards each other. Partway through one of the boys tragically dies. Following the movie, as everyone discussed the plot, one person asked,
“Was that one kid gay? Did he die?”
When the rest of the group answered affirmatively the response back was a resolute: “Good!”
The deepest stabs of course come from the comments of family members. Every member of my immediate family has expressed distaste for gay people. Every single one of them. And that’s what makes being a gay Jehovah’s Witness particularly difficult. One brother put it this way:
“In nearly every other situation, if people don’t like you for any particular reason, you can always go home and be accepted there. When you’re gay, you aren’t even accepted by your family.”
A Double Standard
Quite famously Or do you not know that unrighteous people will not inherit God's Kingdom? Do not be misled. Those who are sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, men who submit to homosexual acts, men who practice homosexuality,1 Corinthians 6:9 identifies the types of people who will not inherit God’s kingdom. Among others, this list includes fornicators, adulterers and homosexuals. No weight is given to one moral failing over the other. When a member of the congregation is involved in heterosexual fornication, the congregation generally expresses sadness. The same is the case for those involved in adultery; there are those who are within ground zero of the act that are profoundly affected, but those outside the impact zone generally express sorrow related to the event. In the case of those involved in homosexuality the reaction can be quite different.
Also mentioned in the Apostle Paul Complex was an incident where a young gay Bethelite propositioned a friend he erroneously believed to be gay. In typical Bethel fashion both brothers were dismissed. What was most shocking was how fast the news traveled around the Bethel Family. Even more shocking than the speed of the gossip was the lack of sadness directed towards these brothers. Instead certain members of the Bethel Family were heard discussing the incident with scornful glee, joking that the incident had been like Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, except it was two guys. Note that the gay Bethelite hadn’t actually committed an act of homosexuality.
In contrast, a few years later I personally knew a young Bethelite who abruptly announced that he was leaving to go back home. He left with very little fanfare. Later, because I happened to be on his congregation’s elder body, I found out that he had confessed to Bethel overseers that while on vacation he’d committed fornication with his out-of-state girlfriend. Quite differently from the previous incident, there was no scandal and the general Bethel Family had no details of the incident.
So why the difference? Within the congregation there are married brothers who struggle with maintaining fidelity to their mate; there are individuals who are recovering alcoholics fighting to maintain their abstinence; there are teenagers whose raging hormones every day push them closer to committing heterosexual fornication. All of these people are just one bad decision away from committing sins that according to Or do you not know that unrighteous people will not inherit God's Kingdom? Do not be misled. Those who are sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, men who submit to homosexual acts, men who practice homosexuality,1 Corinthians 6:9 will endanger their eternal life.
Yet they are not presumptively condemned in the same way individuals who struggle with homosexuality are. In reality the amount of damage an adulterer or drunkard causes in their family and congregation is orders of magnitude worse than a poor gay Jehovah’s Witness kid who slips up and gets involved in a same sex encounter. And it is almost a sure guarantee that should the congregation catch wind of the kid’s homosexuality he will be considered with much more revulsion than when Johnny Pioneer and his fiance are found to have had sex a few months before their wedding.
Love (almost) Never Fails
One of the most beautiful passages in the Bible is the description of love found at It beears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away with; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away with.1 Corinthians 13: 7, 8: “[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”
Love is one of the cornerstones of Christianity. It transcends all prejudices and reservations. It should permeate a Christian’s thinking and motivations. It should have a transformative affect on the way one interacts and considers everyone around them.
But the reason JWs feel so comfortable withholding their love from gay brothers and sisters is because there are no apparent repercussions. But what’s interesting in the Outisde are the dogs and those who practice spiritism and those who are sexually immoral and the murderers and the idolaters and everyon who loves and practices lying.Revelation 22:15 citation is that those prohibited from entering New Jerusalem are not only murders, idolaters and the sexually immoral but also those who lie. Agreement is also found at But as for the cowards and those without faith and those who are disgusting in their filth and murderers and the sexually immoral and those practicing spiritism and idolaters and all the liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur. This means the second death.Revelation 21:8 which states that those who will be thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur include “all the liars.”
If one claims to be tolerant, loving and accepting, yet in the abundance of their heart, harbors hatred towards a group of people, their life is based on a lie. If a full-time minister professes to be a peace-loving follower of Christ yet would prefer that a gay person be dead – they are living a lie. If a person agrees that “We call fellow believers brothers and sisters, and we view them that way. They are part of our spiritual family, we love them as friends, and we always behave toward them in harmony with Bible principles” – yet withdraws that love once he finds that the person is struggling with homosexual tendencies, his love is a lie.
Whether one believes in an eternal hell or eternal destruction, if one reads But as for the cowards and those without faith and those who are disgusting in their filth and murderers and the sexually immoral and those practicing spiritism and idolaters and all the liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur. This means the second death.Revelation 21:8 correctly, when God finally gets rid of the gays we’re going to have the company of all the Jehovah’s Witnesses who claimed to be inclusive but harbored hatred in their hearts. Who knows, maybe over an eternity we will finally learn to understand each other.
Though, I’m not holding my breath on that.