BREAK WITH THE COURSE: Having been a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout his life, Dennis Langedal (24) last year chose to break with his congregation. It has cost him dearly.
Story originally posted on TV 2.no by Malin Saue Johansen. Cover Photo: Line Hatleskog / Studvest
Dennis Langedal grew up in the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In 2018, he made a choice that would change his life beyond recognition.
Dennis Langedal (24) from Bergen grew up in the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
He reminisces back to what he describes as a nice upbringing. In addition to attending school and having friends, he regularly attended meetings with his congregation. After the meetings, he went from door to door preaching.
“The older I got, the more I got into it. Around the age of 17, I was convinced that what I was doing was right. I felt a need to save other people,” he says to TV 2.
Dennis first told his story in Studvest.
The Road Up
Dennis says he liked the conversations he had on the doors. Particularly when he got the opportunity to argue back and forth, and especially when he got a good response.
At the age of 20, he decided to become a pioneer. In the congregation this means that you do volunteer work for the organization where you must spend 840 hours a year preaching.
During that same period he and a friend traveled to Uganda in connection with the preaching work for six weeks. The 24-year-old says that they met with very many believers which gave him a motivational boost when he came home.
The goal now was to become a ministerial servant within the organization. But so far he did not yet become one.
“I admitted to the “elders” that I had looked at pornography, who are very strict. |The result was that I could not pioneer for the summer,” he says.
The elders work as a form of judicial system for the congregation which corresponds to priests.
Dennis felt the punishment was fair. He now decided to work extra hard for the congregation. He spent less time preaching, and began to read up on the faith and what the religious group calls “apostate literature,” books and sources contrary to the faith.
This would be a turning point in Dennis’ life.
“I could no longer answer the counter-arguments that I came up against. Criticism began to grow on me, and I went back and forth on whether I believed or not.”
Although Dennis had very good relationships within the group, he now began to question the leadership. Several cases regarding pedophilia came to light in the media, both at home and abroad. He also saw no argument that blood transfusion should be prohibited, as it is today.
He describes this period as very chaotic.
“I would not have my name associated with an organization that did those things,” he says.
In December 2017, he made the decision to resign. However, it would be several months before he made it official.
“I knew what that meant. I knew I was going to lose contact with friends and family. But for me it was either be honest with myself, or continue to be a member and follow the rules even though I didn’t believe them. It had become difficult.”
At that time, Dennis has rented a room with someone in the group. He decided it would be practical to wait until he moved out before breaking the news.
It was a Wednesday in May 2018 that Dennis’ word would turn on its head.
“The Sunday before that I gave the letter to the elders that I wanted to resign. On Wednesday, the congregation informed me that I was expelled. Then there was silence,” he says.
Meeting with family
The day before he delivered the letter, he was at a family dinner.
“It was nice at first. Eventually, plans for the future were discussed, and then I said I was going further my education and that I had no plans within the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They asked if I wanted to leave, and I said yes.”
They started crying and things went pretty quiet. They saw it as an impossibility that I no longer believed. It was like being at my own funeral. Both I and they knew the consequences of this,” he says and explains:
“The Bible states that those expelled are not to be part of the organization, the family, and the spiritual community. They treat you like you don’t exist. It was heavy.”
New meaning in life
The 24-year-old says that he has long struggled with his choice. He felt the meaning of life had disappeared, the one who had previously been serving God. He had to find the spark of life spark, and decided to go back to school.
The boy from Bergen began to feel a sense of relief.
“When I was a believer, I would feel guilty after watching a war movie, because God does not like violence. I often thought that I was not strong enough, clean enough and always felt dirty. I felt weak because I started comparing myself with everyone else. My only focus was to be as clean as possible in God’s eyes.”
Now he appreciates the freedom he has received and that his faith is no longer setting any limitations.
“I can take higher education if I want to, and I don’t have to have a bad conscience for things that really don’t matter. I can be who I am.”
Today Dennis has taken subjects at a private school. His greatest dream is to become a psychologist because he wants to help other people.
The only contact Dennis has with the family now is about practical things, such as a package being sent incorrectly. He does not have any contact with his friends either.
“The only thing that I regret is that I miss the social aspect, because there is a good youth environment in there. I miss part of it because it has been such a big part of my life, but when I look at the big picture I do not regret that I resigned.”
He knows he will never return again. Therefore, he is uncertain whether he will ever reconnect with family and friends.
“It depends on how strong the faith is for them. I hope it can happen someday, because it would be fantastic.”
The 24-year-old emphasizes that he does not think the members are bad people even though they believe in something else, and says he respects many of them.
Great personal benefit
Hege Kristin Ringnes works as a religious psychologist and this year she will complete her doctorate with Jehovah’s Witnesses as her field of research. She says that members can benefit greatly from the congregation, if they fit in and are active.
They have a higher goal in life and live by God’s rules, and it gives a sense of meaning to many. In addition, it provides most people with a large social network.
According to Statistics Norway, there were almost 15,000 registered members in the church in 2009. In 2018 there were 12,500 members. Ringnes explains that the numbers may seem low because Jehovah’s Witnesses only report active adult preachers.
“The most common cause of expulsion is sex outside of marriage. Also the rule of not receiving a medical blood transfusion sets it high here. They can not receive blood for any medical conditions, which has led to premature death.”
In her studies, Ringnes has talked to many who have a similar story to Dennis.
Most people have to rebuild their identity. Some are forced to leave because they have done something wrong, and for those they have not necessarily lost their belief. It can be difficult because it can cause anxiety that God is no longer there. They are left with a sense of grief, and if the person had good relationships with the group, it is a big loss.
TV 2 has been in contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses, who do not want to comment on the matter.