Jan Frode Nilsen's testimony
Jan Frode Nilsen gives testimony before an Oslo Court regarding Jehovah's Witnesses' shunning of former members

Norway: Jan Frode Nilsen’s Testimony

Anders Ryssdal, lawyer for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Norway, asks Jan Frode Nilsen some questions before an Oslo court on Thursday. The following is a paraphrasing of what was discussed based on notes written in Norwegian and provided to Mr. Nilsen after the proceedings.

How invasive is it for the Jehovah's Witnesses not be able to exercise their right to marry? How are their weddings done in other countries?.

They only need to sign another document in addition to their normal wedding ceremony. It’s not like the religion collapses because they have to sign this document. But, it must be noted that not everyone who is a Jehovah’s Witness gets to be married in a kingdom hall. Jehovah’s Witnesses have to be tested to see whether they are “worthy enough”. In general, they must set a good example in behaviour. When a couple have to have their ceremony elsewhere, everyone understands what they have done. So, in a sense, it’s a “cunning power grab”. The matrimonial law gives them that power to decide who they will or will not marry.

Are those who leave the organization stigmatized? 

Yes. It carries with it a certain stigma. If one does something controversial, or has behaviour that is not accepted by the organization, whose fault is it when the people react negatively to such ones? Is it those who committed the wrong acts? Or is it the ones who explain the consequences of the wrong acts? Or is it the ones who decide what the consequences are for those wrong acts?

If we were to think like Jehovah’s Witnesses, then it would apply to all of their judicial committee cases. If we can’t speak out about the consequences of the wrong acts, because it’s not permitted to have a contrary opinion, then one will be stigmatized. It is a strange claim from the organization that it does not have rules, because it is very clear that if you break those rules, you will be stigmatized. The logic here does not add up.

Did you go to regular school in your childhood? 

Yes but I was exempted from religious activities. I played with other children. And I lived in an area with other children.

How old were you when you left the Jehovah's Witnesses? Did someone force you to stop?

I was 36 or 37 years of age. Things happened that made me quit. What does coercion mean? Is it coercion when you are told that you can’t talk to mum and dad anymore if you leave? There was no physical pressure. I was expelled in 2020, some 6 years after leaving. In that 6 year period, we maintained contact but I couldn’t talk to them about my difficulties with the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Did you have freedom during this time?

No. I had to be careful that I didn’t do anything that would lead to me being disfellowshipped. As long as I operated on their terms, I was not ostracized. I left with my children, two boys: 5 and 6; a girl: 10. 

So you chose for your children the same way that Jehovah's Witnesses decide for theirs?

The difference is that I  have never denied my children anything. I would let them read the Watchtower. But, I would not recommend Jehovah’s Witnesses to them because I felt they were wrong and harmful. The big difference is that if you do this or that within Jehovah’s Witnesses, “then I’m not your daddy anymore, and I never want to talk to you again”. I would never say this to my children. But my parents tell me that.

Is it important that children grow up with their parents' religion?

No.

Would it be natural for someone who is not a believer to be a member of Jehovah's Witnesses?

No. I have no desire to be a member. But it is not the membership we are talking about here. This is about the consequences of no longer wanting to be a member that is the problem.

Logically then, because you do not believe, you are no longer a member?

I would have left a long time ago if it wasn’t for the consequences that result from leaving.

On your Twitter account you describe yourself as an activist. You wrote a message about this case saying you will "get even"?

No. That is not what it says. It says I get to meet “on even terms“.  I had been before two judicial committees previously within Jehovah’s Witnesses’ justice system. This is where you come alone without knowing about the elder book, and are seated alone with three elders. That is the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ legal system. This is the secular legal system. Here we are equal. Here I am, not as a weak party. I’m “on even terms”.

You say you're an activist. Are you an activist against Jehovah's Witnesses?

When you have felt something in your body telling you that you need to say something, speak out, feel the need to do something; that is an activist. It involves a lot of things. It’s not particularly negative in my opinion.

I am an activist for all my friends; those who cannot say these things. I speak on behalf of many people. It is important that outcasts have a voice because what it means to be an outcast, is to be isolated. It hurts to be alone. So I am an activist in the sense that I don’t want them to feel alone.  I am an activist on behalf of such outcasts. I am not an activist against the ordinary Jehovah’s Witness members.

Surely you are against Jehovah's Witnesses, when you go on Twitter and in the media debating about what they believe from your viewpoint and claim that their faith is completely meaningless and that it is not a good place to be?

To say that their faith is meaningless are you words, not mine. Just as Jehovah’s Witnesses preach about what they believe, I somethings say the the things that mean something to me. I have been a preacher for 35 years and I guess I am still a kind of preacher, just from the other side.

Did you make citations from the court on your Twitter? So, you have become very concerned with this trial?

I cited some news stories, those in Dagen, Vårt Land, among others. Maybe it was wrong? Many people are following what is happening in Norway. You can see the comments from people in many countries. Norway has become a country that these people want to keep abreast of what is happening.

Is Norway perhaps a country that treats Jehovah's Witnesses differently?

Our society has perhaps come further along in the way organized religions’ way of doing things are viewed, in terms of human rights, among other things. What is happening here is not unique. Sweden had a debate for many years. A lot is happening in the United States too.

You were a Jehovah's Witness for 36 years. Why did it take a long time for you to make the choice to leave as an adult? Did you have friends? Is the problem for you that you no longer believed?

Yes. It can be nice being a Jehovah’s Witness, especially if you believe in eternity, etc. But I left not because of disfellowshipping. I left because I no longer believed it. However, if the disfellowshipping did not exist, I would not have anything against Jehovah’s Witnesses. I may have attended a convention once in a while, and enjoy old friends and good memories. I would have liked to attend conventions to meet acquaintances. 

Well - now you've gone hard against the Jehovah's Witnesses, so I don't know how natural it would have been. Is it the case that when you leave the faith you also feel that you are also leaving them a little too?

It is mentally difficult to break with the religion you have grown up with. 

We have free will in Norway. You have used your free will to choose a different point of view, and so perhaps you have made other friends now?

Yes. I have had to start again. First and foremost, I have three children whom I am very fond of. And I have a good relationship with their mother. I have friends and a girlfriend and I manage well. My depression, among other things, is gone and I am healthy, even though I have wounds. 

Were you married in Jehovah's Witnesses?

Yes. I got married in the Kingdom Hall in Risør. It was nice to an extent. We got married as children. I started my young life as a married man, having got married in 2000. 

You waited 14 years before you left?

I was probably spiritually weak. I made the best of it.  I had to tackle my cognitive dissonance.

In response from additional questions from the State

I have had many friends that have left Jehovah’s Witnesses but I cannot be seen in public with those who are inactive, but have not officially left. I have celebrated Christmas with some other outcasts. 

As regards some who want to leave, I know of one who is in the process. He wants out completely, but his wife his very attached to her parents. They are trying to find a way forward.

In Jehovah’s Witnesses, the religion is the rule of thumb all over the world.  When I first went online, I was shocked to discover that I was not alone in my feelings. They were exactly the same as thousands of others. At first you think that you are alone, that there is something wrong with you, but then you discover that there are thousands of others who are in the same boat as you.

It is extremely important for me to say this, because there are many others who do not dare to say what I am discussing here in court.

On a final note, I would like to stress that I am as much against the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves. I will never support the persecution of this religious group. We are peaceful critics of Jehovah’s Witnesses and we work peacefully. I have spent a lot of time writing peacefully.