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Empowering Advocates: Explaining the process with Jan Frode Nilsen

It’s been almost one year since the Norwegian government denied Jehovah’s Witnesses state funding after rejecting their religious status. We are eagerly anticipating the outcome of the trial in January 2024, as a courageous group of 7 former Jehovah’s Witnesses will be present, including Jan, Rolf Furuli, Hilde Langvann and others that may be interviewed at a later time.

AvoidJW has continuously covered what is going on in Norway, along with the testimonies and statements from Jan Frode Nilsen. Below the article are links to AvoidJW’s past articles of updates and timelines with Norway.

Jan is a family man, a former Jehovah’s Witness, an activist and now a politician residing in Norway. He has helped tremendously with exposing and helping begin this process of deregistering the organization since 2018. I have interviewed Jan to see how it’s going in his final stages of activism. His replies are in bold.

Jan’s advocacy was a surprise even for him as he was raised as a Jehovah’s Witnesses. The process of waking up, fading, being an anonymous activist, to coming out as himself with his story and mission in helping in Norway’s media and legal outcomes. Now he is an elected politician and is apart of a Labor Party Group, and will be for the next 4 years.
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political campaign Jan is invovled with

The Process of:

Fading

“My way out was slow and steady. As far as I remember my last meeting was in 2016 or 2015, my last convention probably 2014. I was a fader, just planning to go under the radar and slip away in silence.”

Jan started losing contact with his family that are still members of the Organization when he started fading. This is an all too familiar decision Jehovah Witnesses make once a member starts to show signs of what they label “spiritually weak”; “Apostasy”; “being Stumbled by the world.”  Fading is deeply personal, and it needs to be valued and treated with empathy and respect. Many former Jehovah’s Witnesses take weeks, months, or even many years to gradually disengage from the organization. The most important aspect is your mental health, personal preference, and family. As Jan explained in other articles regarding his fading, there are so many new experiences, and they can be very confusing because as you fade you do become more alone. Taking your time can help the process.

“I got stuck in the Twilight Zone, where you aren’t really able to move on because I wanted to dodge the shunning, or at least postpone it as long as possible. I felt my family, who are Jehovah’s Witnesses, deserved to see my 3 children grow up. It was a difficult balance”

Exposing Anonymously

A turning point for Jan was when he broke the facade the Organization imbeds so well in their minds. He realized there was a new reality beyond the religion he had been baptized, married in and devoted to. The pivotal moment was when he started creating anonymous profiles to seek understanding, challenging their preconceived ideas and beliefs, thus opening the door to a new and expansive reality. He wanted to see if he was as alone as he felt. The answers he found caused him to dive deeper into this journey.

How were you able to speak about what you were learning while finding yourself in this new reality as an anonymous activist?

“Well more and more I felt the need to speak out. So I started participating anonymously in several articles in the media. One journalist followed my journey and all my mental struggles for years and wrote a long article about it.”

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1st picture of Jan, fading as anonymous in 2019

What you can do while Fading, yet wanting to stay anonymous in advocacy:

You do not have to share your name, location, face, anything regarding your private life that you do not wish to expose. Journalists understand anonymity and the reasons behind it. There are thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses that have shared their stories on social media platforms while being anonymous. It does not mean your story is less credible because you decide to protect your name, safety, privacy or family.

Here are some examples of the articles Jan participated in while being anonymous:

⁠The Elder -April, 2018

⁠The Blue Envelopes- December 2018

⁠Faithleaks welcomes more churches -February 2019 

How were you able to help the mission of the former Jehovah’s Witness community to have a voice?

“I was invested in Exjw activism, mainly Reddit and Twitter. For years I was one of the moderators on Exjw Reddit. Through my activism I slowly got the process started to remove the funding of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Norway. Keeping the balance slowly became impossible.”

Since you started fading, how much has changed for you personally? Have you felt a better sense of self-assurance and self-identity with your mentality?

“Yes, it has helped me a lot. This has all been like a huge therapy session. I was really messed up mentally back in 2016 through 2019. I spent a lot of time in therapy, in a mental hospital and with huge emotional scars. But being able to write about everything, talk about it, being part of a process with a goal, has also helped me heal. I am now in a totally different mental state than back then.” 

Whistleblowing

“If I’m going to get ahead in life, I can’t continue to hide what I feel.”

Whistleblowers have been raising awareness on a variety of topics, but mostly covering the shunning, child sex abuse and the blood transfusion doctrine.

August 7th 2019, Vårt Land writes that Jehovah’s Witnesses who vote in political elections can be excluded from the religious community: 

Jehovah’s Witnesses risk exclusion if voting in elections

October 12th 2019 Jan blew his fading away on national Norwegian News:

The Apostates

October 29th, 2019 there was a face to the anonymous Jan. He appeared for the first time with his full name and photo on the cover of Vårt Land. Now that he is fully out, this means the ones around him who are Jehovah’s Witnesses will now know the advocacy he does.

October 29th, 2019 Jan no longer being anonymous

“During this entire process I saw the answers from Watchtower, where they completely denied the shunning in their letter to the government. At this point I just had enough and decided to show my face and reveal my identity and how I felt.” 

January 2020 brought forth more turning points for Jan. He appeared in Vårt Land, Norway to expose Jehovah’s Witnesses who have been lying to the government about the practice of shunning and exclusion.

Is there anything advocates should be cautious of when trying to create awareness, stirring things up for the organization in your point of view?

“I’m just a guy doing what I myself feel is the best for me and my life, I don’t want to tell anyone what they should do. We all must figure out what is best for us. For me though, the written word, being careful and accurate, has been the best. I’m not the type that yells in a crowd, holds signs and walks in protests, but others might feel the need to do that, in their way. The only thing I would ask everyone is to be respectful. I still have friends and family that I love that are Jehovah’s Witnesses, as does almost everyone that is out. I’ve been a Jehovah’s Witness for 35 years. It’s a struggle, it’s hard. I feel for them.”

With Whistleblowing its important to understand the Legal Protections and familiarizing yourself with them. Laws differ from country to country, but many jurisdictions have laws in place to protect whistleblowers from retaliations. As Jan mentions being accurate and clear with sufficient evidence before blowing that whistle will strengthen your case and increase your concerns to be taken more seriously. Its important to also remember that when it comes to advocating, It takes time- even years to see a change.

“The most important part is patience and accuracy. Always have patience.”

Jan in Vartland 09/29/19

Being Shunned

On January 15th, 2020 Jan was approached by elders of his congregation while on a walk with his dog. Jan started questioning them of their opinions on shunning, including showing them evidence of a known Jehovah’s Witness statement in a letter sent to the Norwegian Government regarding shunning. Knowing showing his real identity will start the process of shunning in the organization, Jan was ready. The recording of the conversation with the 2 elders is recorded here:

Elders come knocking

After this in January, Jan received a letter from the Jehovah’s Witness Organization stating that he is no longer recognized as a member of their community.

What would you say is a good thing to remember for others to know before they get involved in becoming an advocate exposing Watchtower? How did it go with Norway?

“The most important part is patience and accuracy. Always have patience. The process regarding funding in Norway started for me in 2018. Now in 2024 there will be a two week trial. This might be appealed for years and end up in ECHR in Strasbourg several years from now, maybe in 2027. No point rushing it. Always be accurate. Be subtle and underplay rather than fire with the big cannon. It makes the journalists more interested when you are trustworthy and don’t shout from the rooftops, that’s my experience. Also, being able to write down my own written opinions and essays and get them published has been a huge advantage”

Jan wrote an essay on the Jehovah’s Witness Organization February 23, 2022

“These are the Jehovah’s Witness sinners”

The EXJW subreddit is a great help for active, former, fading to whistle blowing ones who have never been affiliated with Jehovah’s Witnesses in order to see situations and exposed doctrines from all age groups, sex, race and location from around the world. The total members on the page are 93.5k and growing faster than ever in the past year. This is the ExJw Reddit: ExJw Reddit

The last time Jan was in trial was earlier this year on March 30th, 2023 in Oslo, Norway. He dived into his past as a Jehovah’s Witness, along with his intentions as an advocate.

In the trial Jan goes into what his life was like growing up as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, from the time he was a child until now as an activist speaking out for the ones unable to. There are many reasons why survivors of the organization are unable to speak out, one of them being that deprogramming the organization’s strict mindset is hard to overcome and unlearn. This is something that the world is learning more and more of  about this organization.

photo by: Kari Margrethe Sabro of Jan in Trial 08/30/23

How to Support others as an Advocate

We’ve been able to see some updates regarding Norway on the EXJW subreddit, but What else can advocates do in other countries to help with supporting the upcoming trial in Norway?

“To be honest, we Norwegian ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses have a whole crew of strong voices willing to participate in the trial. Lots of witnesses. We got this covered. We appreciate all kinds of moral support from the Exjw world though. Feel free to follow the trial, sharing information with anyone around you, contact local media and your local legislator. They need to be aware of what’s going on.”

 

“Watchtower demands blind loyalty with one hand
and denies any responsibility with the other.”

As a governing member of an organization, how can you  prevent your followers from seeing any opposition, while demanding total personal loyalty from them? Promote fear and distrust of honest journalism and media outlets in “Satan’s” world and claim every little bit of “achievement” that you can. This is exactly what the organization does, and did so, by releasing an update in December 2022 given by now former Governing Body member Tony Morris.

2022 Governing Body Update #8

In a very carefully worded way, Morris brings up how they have created a new department to help defend their worship in Europe, and the reasons given were because of the Norwegian Government shockingly coming after the religion. A speech carried by a sorrowful symphony explains how terrible this move was and how this can cripple the organization for the  brothers and sisters there in Norway.

“When I first starting seeing the statements watchtower was releasing involving this, was completely shocked. Now I’ve seen this in writing and heard it in court so many times that it just becomes an absurd, weird thing. Most Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t know about this. Watchtower demands blind loyalty with one hand, and denies any responsibility with the other.”

This is important to know being a whistleblower and being involved in legal movements- The Hypocrisy.

The one temporary “win” the organization had was on December 20th 2022 when the Oslo Court granted them request for a temporary injunction to suspend an attempt to deregister them as a religious community.  An article on their site was published on January 11th, 2023:

“Norwegian Court Grants Jehovah’s Witnesses Request to Suspend De-registration”

“-The injunction allows us to keep our registration until the matter is further considered by the court. The Ministry of Children and Families is challenging our injunction.”-Further consideration was short lived though, and the challenge of their injunction even shorter, since afterwards they were again denied by the Government.

What is the most hypocritical thing that the organization says that can cripple them regarding Norway court proceedings?

“The most hypocritical, by far, is how there are two totally different narratives in the world of Watchtower. One internally, for members, that pushes loyalty beyond everything. You HAVE to obey instructions from the organization, like it is from God himself. A test of your survival skills when the shit breaks loose. We all know how they spin this. Their word is your law. We can easily find these things in the written literature.”

The January 11th 2023 boasted about their allowance for engaged couples to have their marriage legally formalized at a Kingdom Hall, but it was short lived. The article goes further, grasping for commiseration and understanding on their loss, quoting an engaged couples statement: “People have a connection to their faith and beliefs. When you lose that, it can feel like you are losing a part of your own identity.”

The irony of the statement by this Jehovah’s Witness couple, is that the main reason that the organization in Norway are being deregistered is because of the shunning doctrine. This destructive practice causes thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses to literally lose their identity and entire social support network, especially if they were raised in the organization. 

“Then in their external communication to the government, to the media and especially in court, they spin a totally different story. On this side, Watchtower has absolutely no responsibility over the choices each witness makes. It’s all a personal decision, whether it’s shunning, blood, judicial reviews or belief system. They then are just remote advisors that don’t tell anyone what to do. It’s all up to each separate member to decide, and nobody pressures them.”

How do you think the organization will take being deregistered for a whole year by the time the trial starts in January?

“For them the loss of the injunction hit their tactic pretty hard. They wanted to paint a picture where loss of registration would mean tons of harassment and problems for them in Norway. But they lost, and now they have been deregistered for almost a year. And what we can see is that they don’t really hurt at all. Most people don’t care. How they feel for Jehovah’s Witnesses is the same, if they are registered or not. There’s no trace of any major change in persecution because of it. They are fine. This is a fight for the money, not much else. Watchtower wants the cash, and they use the registration to try to achieve that.”

Has the advocacy you’ve done help your inspiration to also become a politician?

“Yes, absolutely. I learned how to deal with laws, change laws, handle administration, discussion, and politicians. Write down arguments, do a debate in an honest way. I have learned a lot of skills through this process, and also got myself noticed. When I got asked to put my name on a list for city council I felt it would be fun to just be a part of it, but I soon found myself elected. I was one of the candidates that got the most votes in my entire county, so I am now an elected politician. 

To be honest, this is also part of my plan to move on from my JW to ExJW part of life. I was never meant to be stuck here, I want to move on and put all of this behind me. In my opinion all former Jehovah’s Witnesses should look at this as a transformation period in life, with the goal of moving on eventually. Don’t get stuck in this, don’t plan to build your life around being an ExJw. That’s not healthy. Some might need 6 months, some 6 years. I’ve spent 9 years now doing this. It’s time to put it behind me.”

Now we await for the upcoming Trial in Norway with Jan and the other advocates that will be present. It is scheduled for January 16th & 17th of 2024. Quoted from Jan regarding the trial:

“Notice that this case is not WT vs Apostates. It is WT vs The State of Norway. And the state of Norway covers all expenses, and uses us Exjw’s as witnesses. We’re represented by two governmental lawyers. This means that all our financial expenses will be covered by the state, and we risk no personal retributions.”

The following is the court scheduled for the Trial:

Week 2 
Monday: Case presentation – JW 
Tuesday: Presentation of the case – The state
Wednesday: Witnesses – JW
Thursday: Witnesses –JW 
Friday: Witnesses – The State 
 
Week 3 
Monday: Witnesses – The State 
Tuesday: Court-free 
Wednesday: Final post – JW
Thursday: Final presentation – JW and the state (Half day each) 
Friday: Final post – State

Links regarding Norway news:

Timeline of Events; Norway Religious abuse on Trial- 12/11/23 -By Lester Somrah

Jan Frode Nilsens Testimony 03/30/230 -By Jason Wynne

Jehovah’s Witnesses and Norway -12/04/22 By Jason Wynne

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Aiding Transparency to Watchtowers teachings. If you have additional information about this topic or would like to reach the author- Please email [email protected]

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