Jehovah’s Witnesses tear apart families

Regina Spiess Infosekta

Yesterday, (Sunday July 26, 2015) a worldwide commemoration day for the victims of Jehovah’s Witnesses took place. Regina Spiess from Infosekta organized a poster campaign in Zurich.

Originally posted on Tages Anzeiger by Hugo Stamm
Living in a parallel world: Visitors to a convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Zurich Hallenstadion (July 24, 2010). Photo: Steffen Schmidt (Keystone)

You focus on the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Why?
We have many inquiries about this denomination. It also has to do with their size, with around 19,000 members in Switzerland, worldwide there are 8 million.

Yesterday, a day of remembrance for cult victims took place. What do you want to achieve with that?
We draw attention to the illegal practice of ostracism. The group excludes members, in part for trivial matters and demands relatives to cease contact with the outcasts. This leads to enormous suffering.

Could one not assume that the outcasts must be glad to leave this narrow world of belief?
The Jehovah’s Witnesses live in a parallel world. Children are taught that the world is ruled by Satan. Everything secular such as birthday parties, political activities or competitive sports is frowned upon. This “evil system of things” is reportedly soon to end bloody with the eschatological decisive battle of Armageddon. Having to live in it is a bad idea for most, even for those who can not adhere to the rigid requirements of the organization. The fear of annihilation is central.

What social consequences does ostracism have?
Disfellowshipping means the loss of the entire social environment: the family, the friends, all acquaintances. There are hardly any Jehovah’s Witness families who have no excluded relatives. If they keep the contact secretly, even they risk being excluded.

How is disfellowshipping justified?
It is with the “purity” argument, the group is to remain free from “sinful” members who could, so to speak, infect the others.

How are such practices classified?
Ostracism is a kind of top-down bullying. It violates human rights and the constitution when families and relationships are torn apart under pressure from outside. The family is entitled to protection by society and the State.

And the individual?
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion – a right that Jehovah’s Witnesses claim for themselves, but do not grant to their members.

When do young people expect to be excluded?
For example, if a teenager smokes and does not give up the vice despite being admonished, or if he falls in love with a non-witness or does not abide by the commandment “No Sex Before Marriage.”

What happens to minors?
In that case, parents and siblings are to reduce their contact to the essentials. Saying something sweet, asking what their day was like, or hugging the child – that’s no longer possible. Children experience a constant fear: even books for preschool children show pictures of Armageddon, the stoning of Stephen and other abominations. The message is always: He who does not obey dies.

How do you assess the ban on blood transfusion?
This shows very clearly the cult’s extremism. Alien or autologous blood transfusion is considered a grave sin, even if it would be life-saving, and leads to exclusion. Believers are to die after traffic accidents or women during childbirth.

Does their closed group benefit sexual assault?
The closed nature of their group and their dogmatic beliefs generally promote sexual abuse, especially of children. These have internalized that their needs come second. They practice this twice a week when they have to sit still for one and a half hours as an infant in the congregation.

How do the leaders deal with the assaults?
There is a 2-witness rule that favors sexual abuse: The suspicion of a sexual offense on a child should be investigated only if there are at least two witnesses, which is by nature never the case. If they do not exist, the elders should leave the matter in Jehovah’s hands, so do nothing. The victim has to be silent. Otherwise he or his family is threatened with exclusion.

Are there such cases in Switzerland?
Yes, Infosekta is aware of such cases.

Why are the public and authorities reluctant to react to such cult groups?
Most people simply do not know what a problematic group Jehovah’s Witnesses are. They do not look outwardly extreme, at most a bit old-fashioned. However, there is a growing awareness of the severe forms of violence people experience in such groups.

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