Jan Frode Nilsen's testimony
Jan Frode Nilsen and the Oslo Courthouse in Norway

Nilsen’s Testimony in Full

Jan Frode Nilsen was questioned about the Jehovah’s Witnesses practice of shunning in an Oslo courthouse in Norway on Thursday morning, March 30, 2023. This is his full testimony.

Transcript provided by Jan F. Nilsen in Norwegian. Translated by Jason Wynne. First published April 1, 2023 12:00am.

Jan Frode Nilsen assures the court that he will tell the complete truth. 

He is first questioned by the Government Attorney (GA)

GA: Nilsen, perhaps you could just tell us a little bit about your background, and what your relationship is with Jehovah's Witnesses?

Yes, I was born in “the truth”, as they call it. I was born a Jehovah’s Witness. I grew up as one in a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses. My father has been an elder for almost 30 years. My sister pioneered for many years. It was a fairly normal, average Jehovah’s Witness family. With the upbringing this entails. So I grew up with this.

GA: How was growing up?

My upbringing was, well, … I didn’t have a bad upbringing. I was mostly fine. But it is, after all, an upbringing that is very much characterized by being a Jehovah’s Witness. Because, being a Jehovah’s Witness is not something you only do one evening a week, as in some other religions. It is an identity, a culture. It fills your time. It affects what you talk about around the dinner table, and when you go to bed at night. When you are at school you are a Jehovah’s Witness, when you are playing with your friends you are a Jehovah’s Witness. It really dominates your life. For better or for worse, really. Not necessarily particularly bad, but it is important to understand. That it is about much more than just going into a meeting once in a while.

When I was growing up, there was a meeting 3 evenings a week. It has become 2 now. But when I was growing up there were 3 evenings a week that we went to meetings. So, we would also have one evening a week that was family study and then you would also have to go out and preach too. So it is primarily what I remember from my childhood, that a great deal of my time was spent on this. And of course that also meant that you didn’t have time for other things. For example, I really enjoyed playing football, but I never got to try playing on an organized team. Not because it is forbidden in itself. There are Jehovah’s Witness children who play football on a team, but for me there was no time. There were not enough evenings free. The training would come at the expense of meetings, and then the meetings are most important for a Jehovah’s Witness. That’s the way it is, and that’s okay.

So you just have to accept that as a child.

GA: We must move on. Are you baptized?

Yes, I was baptized when I was 17.

GA: Can you tell us a bit about this process? How old are people usually baptized?

I was a bit lazy getting baptized. People were starting to grumble a little. 17 was a bit older than the norm, and some were telling me that it was time now. So in the summer I was baptized when I was 17. Two or three of my friends were also baptized. I remember Kent Raymond and Terje, they were 16. Alf Didrik was 14. Most were in that range, but I’ve also heard of those who were 12. The literature mentions extreme examples of 7-year-olds and such, but most in my circle were between 14 and 17 when they were baptized.

GA: Yes, and then we have heard something about so-called "unbaptized publishers". What are they?

Yes, that is the period before you are baptized. You can compare it to getting engaged before you get married. I guess I was… I’m a bit unsure, but I think I was about 10 years old when I became an unbaptized preacher. That’s a pretty normal age then. Then you are not a fully baptized Jehovah’s Witness, but you are counted as a member. After all, it is preachers they count when they state internal membership numbers. And since it’s a bit halfway, you have to sort of answer a number of questions, you have to live up to a number of requirements. But you are not a full-fledged Jehovah’s Witness until you are baptized.

GA: How long were you a member of Jehovah's Witnesses. Can you tell me a little about this?

It’s a bit difficult to say how long I was a member. I had a sort of fluid transition. This is because I sort of slipped out gradually, I just began to slowly withdraw. The last time I was at a meeting was probably in 2014, I think.

Then I withdrew and no longer attended meetings. It was after a long and difficult process that I finally realized that I couldn’t do this anymore. But I was not formally expelled until February 2020.

GA: What does that entail? Can you talk a little bit about the process of leaving?

Not at all. For me, there were many things. So being a Jehovah’s Witness was very, very difficult for me. I suffered tremendously, mentally. There was an eternal conflict between my identity as a Jehovah’s Witness and that who I really was. There was also the cognitive dissonance going on in my brain that pointed out all the logical flaws in my beliefs. So, for my part, this entailed 20-25 years of mental conflict that made me sick. Very sick.

For me, it was a process that included help from the healthcare system, and with a very skilled psychologist. She is sitting here today. She helped me to simply come to grips with my identity, find out what I stand for, who I am, what I want.

This, combined with a number of horrible things that happened within Jehovah’s Witnesses that I could feel on my body, meant that in the end I just had to throw in my cards. I realized I couldn’t be there anymore. It was difficult. At my worst, I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for almost a month. I received a lot of help from the healthcare system for 3 years, until I somehow got back on my feet.

But then I was still a member on paper, and I had contact with my family. After all, I have siblings and parents whom I love and who I would like to continue to have contact with. I would like to be able to continue talking to my mom.

My first plan was, in a way, to just get back together, not make a fuss, and not be shunned. One likes to believe that there is an opportunity. Then I withdrew and I created for myself anonymous accounts and operated through those. I hid myself and spoke to the media anonymously. I hid when I went to vote, and no one saw me.

At the same time, I built up a network with others in the same situation, both nationally and internationally. There are lots of similar but equal devastating stories. I met people with very, very large wounds. It was difficult, very difficult. I always had that conflict. And then I have 3 children who are growing up.

All of this behaviour meant that I was a so-called “inactive” member of Jehovah’s Witnesses. A “fader”. This is one who lives a life in that intermediate phase. And that allowed me to continue to have contact with my parents and siblings, at least to a certain extent at that time. This was based on me doing things on their terms.

But then I have three children who are growing up. So, a choice is forced upon me. Who will these children become? Should I play along with their rules as the kids grow up, just because I still want to talk to mom and dad? Or should I tell my children that we are no longer Jehovah’s Witnesses? I don’t believe in this anymore. I want my children to have freedom. I want to celebrate Christmas with them. I can’t deny them birthdays anymore. We have to stand for something. So, I did that. I finally came out of the closet as a non-believer.

GA: You use the term shunned. Are you disfellowshipped?

Yes, I am disfellowshipped. I was disfellowshipped when I came finally forward with my full name in the media. It was in the voting case discussed in Vårt Land. I was on the Saturday review and I talked a little about my experiences. That meant that I was now an “apostate”. If you speak against God’s organization, then you are an apostate. An adversary, as it is called. The ultimate renegade. The Watchtower writes that we are “mentally diseased” and compares ourselves to a contagious disease that must be removed to protect others. So what happened in the end was that two elders came to my door. This was after I had been in the media with my full name.

They wanted me to come to a so-called judicial committee in the Kingdom Hall, to clarify my status as a Jehovah’s Witness. I told them that I will not attend; I do not recognize this court; so I will not appear there. I said to them that if they have something to say, just say it immediately. Then they asked me, based on what is written in the elder book about those who are inactive, if I still considered myself a Jehovah’s witness. And if you answer no to that question, then you have in a way disfellowshipped yourself.

Then I replied, “You can only assess that yourself based on what you know. Just do what you have to do. Figure this out for yourself.” So, then it was revealed the next day at the meeting that I was no longer a Jehovah’s Witness. The information itself is perfectly fine, that I am no longer a Jehovah’s Witness. But everyone sitting in that kingdom hall are now on notice to shun me. Whether you are expelled by a judicial committee, or you withdraw yourself, the announcement at the kingdom hall is the same. Legally, that’s a smart thing to operate. They just say that you are no longer a Jehovah’s Witness, nothing else. But in all the instructions, it is a notification to shun.

When people go home that evening after the meeting, everyone knows that Jan Frode Nilsen is disfellowshipped.

GA: If we can go a little further, what does that entail? Those who have their name read like this, how are they treated?

It was like attending one’s own funeral.

I got messages from … I can read the message from my mom for example? Is it legal?

GA: Yes.

I have it here. This is in 2020.

This is from Mom:
My boy. I have now learned of your actions and am terribly disappointed and sorry. Although I am deeply fond of you I will and cannot have anything to do with an apostate. I’m in tears, mom.
I heard nothing more from her for almost 3 years, until my grandmother died.

I also received messages from my brothers, my sister, and my brother-in-law. There were like obituaries. They said goodbye. They wrote quite nice things, they recalled some of the nice times they had with me, but they were sort of saying “Goodbye”. Yes, that’s what it was like: a funeral. Then there was silence. And the years passed.

I heard nothing more. My children lost their uncles, their aunts, and their grandparents. Everything was gone. So that was us. It’s just me. It was just me and them again. Yes. And that’s just the way it is. I wasn’t surprised when it happened.

GA: You talked about uncles and aunts. Jehovah's witnesses have said that family ties are not broken when someone is disfellowshipped. Do you have any comment on that?

Yes, there are some exemptions to shunning. If you live in the same house. For example if you are married, then you keep in touch. For example, if I was 18 years old and lived at home with mum and dad, they would of course talk to me in a limited way. But that exemption ends when you no longer live at home. Then it’s not like my mum is no longer my mum. We have a family bond, even if we are not in contact. As she writes, she is “fond of” her son. What am I supposed say?

The rules state that this is a test of loyalty to the religion, and it is so. I was not surprised when this happened. After all, I have lived a life where this is normalized because this is the norm. When you are a Jehovah’s Witness, you know this. It is part of the literature that comes up all the time that you do not have contact with apostates. Cutting off contact with family is a test of one’s loyalty to God. I knew that they would: my father who is an elder and my mother is deeply religious. I knew that they were going to follow those instructions, so I wasn’t surprised at all. This was the reason why I waited so many years. I tried to avoid all of this.

GA: When you say "a test of loyalty", what do you think is the purpose of disfellowshipping? What does it achieve?

No, Jehovah’s Witnesses can answer that themselves. They have a number of reasons. First and foremost, it is about protecting others. I am a non-believer and I have very good reasons why I came to that conclusion. I can explain it in great detail. I could talk for 3 hours here now about why I chose to leave the religion. It is well-founded. Getting rid of me protects them from this influence, that’s for sure.

It is a step they have taken to prevent this influence.

But the stupidest thing is that they say it will make me turn around. That in a way, the punishment should be so difficult that I will come back. That’s the main thing, you could say. That’s how they’re justifying it. And it probably worked before. But using it on someone like me who made the conscious choice to leave, based on the fact that I’m done with faith, this doesn’t work. Of course I’m not going to crawl back there because they use that weapon. And there are many other examples. People like my ex-wife have come out as lesbian, so she also left the faith at the same time as me. After all, the shunning will not force her to dump her girlfriend and become heterosexual again. That’s not how it works. The move they take only works on a certain type of renegade, those who somehow can’t behave, have sex or something like that. And so in a way it is a form of punishment. Then it works. For someone like me, it becomes completely pointless.

GA: Yes, this is my next question. How do you think the disfellowshipping practice affects the individual's ability to opt out?

It depends on what the starting point is. Let’s consider youth’s behaviour: Jehovah’s Witnesses have very strict moral requirements, among other things. They are not allowed to have sex before marriage. If they want to ensure young people do not to sleep together, then they must have a punishment to threaten them. If not, they may lose control of their behaviour. So in that sense, the shunning works as intended. In a way, they have a threat. They can say: “If you don’t behave then you will be shunned”, and that means that young people generally behave, or at least learn to hide what they have done. So it has a function if you want to have strict rules, keep a strong grip, then it has this very important function. Absolutely.

GA: The opportunity then to leave. What is it like?

No, it costs an enormous amount for many. For many, it costs too much. Absolutely. I do have contacts, as I said, I have a large network where I am in contact with many people who are still registered as Jehovah’s Witnesses and do not believe, but it is too difficult to leave. So they are in that intermediate phase. They just stay inside, and then they are part of our online network. Both nationally and internationally.

The exJW group on Reddit has over 80,000 subscribers. Many of these are still registered members. That is the consequence of creating a cobweb that forces people to stay against their will. There are a lot of people who are there because they are kept within Jehovah’s Witnesses against their will.

It is one thing to lose one’s parents. But I know of people who have lost touch with their own children as they grow up. Some haven’t seen their children in years. When they are small children, they have contact, but as they grow up, perhaps the child turns 18-19, gets baptized and moves away from home, then you can no longer have contact. It is completely crushing, mentally. Yes, it works as intended and they keep the members who would otherwise have left them.

GA: Can you say a little about the treatment of children who are disfellowshipped?

The vast majority of children are not disfellowshipped. As they say, they are the exception.

GA: Do you have to be baptized?

Yes, one must be baptized. People are baptized early, so in theory you can be disfellowshipped as young as twelve-years-old. We have heard of examples of this happening. It certainly happened at Støren, among other places. The child was probably 13 years old, but that doesn’t happen very often. Most of them are 17, 18 or 19 years old. At least before they… Most people who are shunned are shunned for having sex before marriage. So there is a limit to what a ten-year-old can do to be shunned, other than not wanting to be with involved with the religion any more. But the shunning of children, most children live at home, so family relationships at home will continue pretty much as normal. It’s not like you throw out ten-year-olds in Norway. But internationally I know of cases. I was a moderator on that reddit network, and there we had several situations where adults (strangers) had to go out and pick up children.

GA: During the period when you are shunned, but live at home. How is one treated then?

Internally in the family, you want to have contact. But if there is a visitor, then in principle that visitor should not have contact with the disfellowshipped person. It could be grandparents. It can be acquaintances in the congregation, old friends and of course the circle of friends, the other children who are Jehovah’s Witnesses. After all, they should have nothing to do with the disfellowshipped child. No, it’s quite clear. And that’s also the point: That child is bad company now. That child will be cut out of that social circle, of course, and then they also have to remember the rules. Like I did when I was a child. So then I only had friends who were Jehovah’s Witnesses, apart from when it was school time, but everything apart from that, my circle of friends were also Jehovah’s Witnesses. So being banned from them is quite crushing for the child, absolutely. And that is the point.

GA: And these, whom we call unbaptized publishers, what happens if they commit something that is wrong?

Yes, it’s a bit different. It’s not the same as shunning. But they have rules to adhere to, and it’s written about in the elders’ book. There are various things they can do if an unbaptized publisher does not behave. It can be announced to the congregation that the person is no longer an unbaptized publisher. Then their name is read out, and the people realize that this person is a bad egg. A so-called planned “local needs” talk can be held where you are told to mark the person in question. They don’t mention names, but in such a context everyone wants to know who it is, and that is also the intention. Or they may give instructions under the table to parents in the congregation. They may, for example, direct that parents make sure that their children stay away from this because the child is bad company. That’s what it’s like to be a Jehovah’s Witness. One is concerned not to have foolish dealings. It “spoils useful habits”, they say.

GA: You don't have much contact with your family. What kind of consequences can it have for a member to have contact with someone who is disfellowshipped?

Yes, it’s a little different. The elder book has its own sections on contact with disfellowshipped ones in the chapter dealing with judicial committees. That is risk of shunning, and then it says that basically you are not shunned just for having contact once. But one must be guided by the elders. And then it is in the text that you should be guided so that you stop doing it. So if you continue to have contact with a disfellowshipped person, you risk a judicial committee But then there is an exception for family. A judicial committee shall not be set up and you would not be shunned if you have contact with your family. However, if you in some way openly criticize the scheme, or or in some way say that you disagree with something around it, then you run the risk of being shunned because you are seen as someone who is creating divisions in the congregation.

But it is not direct. They are right in claiming that it is not a direct legal prohibition. But in practice they do not want to shun. I know of disfellowshipped ones who have contact with their family: I have an acquaintance for example, but then their father had to retire as an elder. He could not both be an elder and have contact with his child, so when the child was shunned, the father resigned as elder in order to have some contact with his child. So it happens. Otherwise, they say that there are exceptional cases like that. For example I got a phone call from my father last winter, the first time in 3 and a half years. But I knew right away that something terrible had happened when I saw his name. I guessed that someone had died. And it was probably his mother, my grandmother. Then he rang to tell me. We had a nice conversation. It was really nice, by all means. We kind of reconnected because of it, but it was the excuse he needed to call his son.

GA: Now we can move on to the next topic, which is the rejection of the application for registration as a religious community. This means that Jehovah's Witnesses no longer have the right to marry. Do you have any idea how important this is?

Yes, I have a network. Yesterday, I asked this network, from different countries, how do they do it in other countries? I got a list of countries: France, Germany, Poland, Canada, Bolivia. In Japan, they don’t have the right to marry. So then I ask, how do they do it there?

They have the same wedding ceremony in the kingdom’s hall as they have here, but they have an additional step where they have to sign a legal document. In some countries they have 2 wedding parties. Someone from Bolivia explained this to me: They have a party on the first day where they sign the legal document, and then they have a wedding in the Kingdom Hall the next day where there is also another party. But they have to wait until the Kingdom Hall ceremony before they are allowed to consummate their marriage.  They are not allowed  to touch each other on the first night. They have to wait until everything is finished. In other countries, they have weddings in the Kingdom Hall anyway, as the religious ceremony is exactly the same. The only difference is that they must sign a legal marriage document at the town hall, and this is usually done on the same day. In these situations, the bride and groom, and perhaps the bridal party, go to the courthouse and sign the documents, and then they go to the Kingdom Hall afterwards where they hold their marriage ceremony. It will be possible to do that in Norway as well. It’s not like the religion collapses because they have to sign a legal document elsewhere. It has not been that long since Norway gave them the right to marry. Was it in the nineties? 

GA: The eighties. 1986.

The eighties maybe? Yes. Until then they did it like that here too, like a lot of countries. Also, in European countries with absolute freedom of religion, like Germany and France, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not have the right to marry. But they still have weddings in the Kingdom Hall. The weddings are exactly the same. The audience will not notice the difference. It’s exactly the same ceremony, exactly the same speech: they stand up and say, “Yes. I do.” The only difference is that they have to sign legal documents at the courthouse.

GA: Was it mentioned a bit about the importance of a prayer?

Yes. But of course, they only have to ask as much if they want to pray. No one is denying them that. They can pray at the courthouse if they want too. It is not that their religious worship will be hindered. It will be exactly the same even without marriage rights. There is no difference. Plus, many Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves are not allowed to marry in the Kingdom Hall anyway.

GA: It was said that it was very important to get married in the Kingdom Hall, but is not everyone allowed to?

No, they don’t. Most of my friends that I grew up with were not allowed to get married in the Kingdom Hall.

GA: Why not?

Because the requirements are extremely strict. Jehovah’s Witnesses have tough moral standards. You may be engaged for a year, during which time you are not allowed to touch each other. You are not allowed to have any sexual contact. Jehovah’s Witnesses then define sexual contact based on the Greek word porneia, which is contact with the genitals, to be blunt. If you have done it during that period and admit it, then you will not be allowed to get married in the Kingdom Hall anyway. Also, you must be a good example for the congregation. This is also stated in the Elders’ Book, regarding general behaviour. So even without sex, if you’ve behaved in a way that people might believe you’ve had sex, that might be enough to disqualify you. So for their own part, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not think that getting married in the Kingdom Hall is a right for every individual member. No, you have to be rock-solid loyal to be allowed to marry in the Kingdom Hall.

Or possibly “bend the truth” a little when asked.

GA: Yes, and those who do not marry in the Kingdom Hall, what do they do?

They have the same ceremony. They may even have a Jehovah’s Witness giving the speech and such. They can have a party.  After all, the party is held somewhere else, not in a kingdom hall, usually in a rented venue.

This is also a kind of “name and shame”. Everyone understands why they were not allowed to marry in the Kingdom Hall. Everyone understands what they have done, so to speak… It’s a cunning move too. The marriage license gives them this power to tell everyone else in the congregation whether they have been good or not.

GA: Let us move on to the financial support. The subsidy. What do you think the significance of that for Jehovah's Witnesses in Norway?

In practice, the monetary support has no practical function in Norway. If you look at the accounts – I have followed the accounts for the last few years – Jehovah’s Witnesses send approximately 8 to 9 million US dollars out of the country to the main organization every year. That’s okay. But the $1.6 million they get from the state will only be deducted from that figure. For operations in Norway, there is no significance at all. They hardly spend money in Norway. The local congregations are financed locally, with local contributions. No one is taking a salary. The accounts in the local congregations are read out every month. The same is the case at their conventions. But I have never seen state aid mentioned anywhere. That money never shows up. That money never appears to be used. There are no local congregations that see any of that money. That money goes right out. For the ordinary congregation in Norway, it does not mean anything at all if the state support disappears. It has never been part of the local accounts. When it is stated that they have such and such large expenses, and so many contributions have come in, it is never the case that anyone learns that each person has received $100 from the state . It never happens. I didn’t know the state aid even existed before I started this.

GA: I'm nearing the end now, but just one more thing. Jehovah's Witnesses claim that the refusal to register involves stigmatization. Do you have any comments on that before we close?

Yes. What to say?

It is clear that a certain stigmatization comes with it. It’s a bit … What should be said then, if you do something that is problematic? Which word should be used when it comes to something that is controversial, or has a behavior that is not okay, or that is something society cannot accept?

Whose fault is it when people react negatively to such controversial or unacceptable behaviour? Is it the fault of those who behave in an unacceptable manner? Or is it the fault of those who speak out about the unacceptable behaviour? Or is it the fault of those who make the laws that  have consequences for unacceptable behaviour?

If unacceptable behaviour creates stigmatization, then it will apply to almost all court cases where people break the law. Then you cannot judge someone no matter what they do, because then they run the risk of being stigmatized. It is a somewhat strange claim, that society cannot have rules, because if you enforce the rules, then those who break the rules are stigmatized…! This is illogical.

GA: But can you tell us a bit about the debate here. Jehovah's Witnesses say that the stigmatization is getting worse. They claim that the State Administrator's decision has led to an increased focus on Jehovah's Witnesses?

I have been a Jehovah’s Witness for 35 years and we have always been stigmatized. We have always been unpopular. This is nothing new. I myself have gone around knocking on doors and have been frequently yelled at. That has always been part of our identity. It is nothing new that Jehovah’s Witnesses are disliked by many. I’ve struggled with it myself, all my life, being out in a world where people dislike Jehovah’s Witnesses. But saying that, I really don’t dislike Jehovah’s Witnesses. There are many people I really like who are Jehovah’s Witnesses, and if I were allowed to go out with dignity, shake hands and move on, I would never do any of this. I had visited my mum and chatted about the old days, perfectly normal.

For the sake of time, the Government Attorney ends her questioning of Nilsen. The floor is given to the Jehovah's Witnesses Attorney (JA).
JA: Nilsen, lawyer Ryssdal here. Thank you for your review. First, I have some questions related to what you told us about yourself. When you were a child, were you in a family of Jehovah's Witnesses? Did you go to regular school here?

I went to a normal school, yes. The only thing was that at that time you had an exemption from Christianity. Besides that, I attended regular school.

JA: Did you have a regular circle of friends at school?

Yes, but I went to school with someone else who was also a Jehovah’s Witness. So it was mostly the two of us. But I also played with the other children during recess and such, yes.

JA: Did you live in an area where there were other children who were not Jehovah's Witnesses when you were growing up?

Yes, I grew up in a housing estate in Kattem in Trondheim. As a small child I played on the streets just like other children. Yes, absolutely. I was not excluded from the circle of friends there. I played a lot of football and had a good time when I was a little kid.

JA: I understand that you were born into this, but how old were you in 2014 when you left?

I was probably around 36-37 years old then. I’m a little unsure exactly when I attended my last meeting, but something like that, yeah. A number of things happened then that made me just tell my wife that I will never enter a door of the Kingdom Hall again. Now I’m done. After that I never went to a meeting again.

JA: You were then 37 years old, so this was a decision you made as an adult, right?

Yes.

JA: During this period when you did not go to meetings, did anyone force you to continue being a Jehovah's Witness?

This becomes more of a philosophical question. What is coercion? What is volunteering? If you learn that you can never speak to your mum or dad again if you stop being a Jehovah’s Witness, can that be called coercion? I am not sure … but I wasn’t physically bound hand and foot.

JA: I noticed that there was a six-year period from 2014 (your last meeting) to 2020, and what you call the expulsion. I will come back to that. So there were six years where you didn't feel any connection, where you didn't go to meetings and followed your personal decision to withdraw. So during this period you were not shunned by the community?

Yes, I had some contact with my family. They came and visited us occasionally. There was a kind of demilitarized zone. I didn’t poke at anything, and they didn’t ask me about any of the unpleasant stuff. This was my motivation for staying inside, that they should be allowed to see their grandchildren grow up. So when they came to visit us, we didn’t talk about these things at all. We realized that if we want to have contact, we just have to focus on the children and have a good time. This was really my goal, that we should manage to keep that contact as long as possible, for their sake.

JA: What this case is about is "disfellowshipping". And now we have established that you were not disfellowshipped. The case also concerns minors, but as I understand it, you were over 40? We have heard about disfellowshipping by the state as being very aggressive, but as I understand it, you were inactive as a Jehovah's witness for six years without being expelled?

Agreed, but it is important to understand that…

JA: Yes, you mean that there would be social consequences for you if you left. I understand that.

But you have to understand that during that period, I lived my life on their terms. For example, in the municipal elections this autumn, I am in fourth place on the Labor Party’s list. If I had done that in those years, I would have been disfellowshipped. If someone had seen me with a girl on the town or discovered that a girl was spending the night at my house, I would have been disfellowshipped. If I had spoken out politically, I would have been disfellowshipped. If I had become a member of another organization, for example a humanitarian association, where it may have applied for government support in my name, then Jehovah’s witnesses would have been informed about it, and then I would have been disfellowshipped. For the 6 years I lived my life based on Watchtower’s terms, and they received state aid in my name all those years. But yes, I got to talk to my mom.

JA: Yes, so you were a member of Jehovah's Witnesses without experiencing any shunning during those years?

Yes, because I lived my life on their terms and avoided doing anything that would lead to disfellowshipping. You are not shunned for not going to a meeting; you are subject to actions that violate their rules.

JA: Yeah, I'll come back to how you look at it now. But I intend to go into it with your own children. You have three children? So you chose to leave Jehovah's Witnesses. Are your children members there now?

No, my children were never baptized. My boys were probably 5-6 years old when we stopped going to meetings, and I think my daughter probably around 10-11. So then they are not expelled either.

JA: No, of course not. My point is rather that you then, in a way, decided for your children their relationship with religion, in the same way that you claim Jehovah's witnesses had decided for you?

No, I have never denied my children anything. If they want to read the Watchtower, so be it. We have open dialogue: we talk about things. They are allowed to think for themselves. I wouldn’t recommend them to become Jehovah’s Witnesses, of course, because I don’t believe in it. I am completely convinced that this is a wrong and harmful religion, in many ways, while it can also be good for some. However, the big difference is that I will never tell my children that if they do this or that , then I’m not their dad anymore, that I’ll never talk to them again. That is a huge difference. I would never say that to my children, but my parents say that to me.

JA: Now we have you as an adult - and we are talking about communication between two adults in your case - as you were that old when you signed up. But I had intended to just point it out, that it is not quite a common phenomenon that children grow up in the family they are in, that is, your children grow up outside Jehovah's Witnesses, other children grow up as Jehovah's Witnesses. Is it really that special?

No, it is not special that my parents wanted me to belong to the religion they themselves believe in. Of course not.

JA: You talked a little about the process where you yourself went public and talked about Jehovah's Witnesses. And then you, yourself were disfellowshipped when you declared that you no longer considered yourself a Jehovah's Witness, and this was probably a consequence of the fact that you perceive yourself as a non-believer?

Correct. I am not a believing Jehovah’s Witness. Absolutely not.

JA: Would it then be natural for someone who does not believe in the faith to be a member there?

No, I have no desire to be a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is not the membership we are talking about here. We are talking about the consequences of no longer being a member. That is the problem.

JA: But if you talk about belonging, then it is natural that those who are members believe in certain teachings and feel a sense of belonging. When you don't do that, it's natural that you're no longer a member there?

That’s okay. I have no need to be a member of a place I don’t belong. Absolutely not. I would have opted out a long time ago if it didn’t cost so much.

JA: You have a Twitter account. And there I see that you have described yourself as an activist against Jehovah's Witnesses, and there is a twitter message that is less than 24 hours old [at the time of the court cases], where it says that you are looking forward to witnessing here because you want to "get even", that is you?

No, that’s not what I wrote! I wrote “meet WT on even turns”. That is something completely different.

JA: I have it here, actually.

Yes, just read it.

JA: It says..."Off to Oslo, and for the first time I can meet WT on even terms".

Yes, this is about the legal system. I have previously been on two so-called judicial committee meetings within Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is the legal system of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, where you come on your own, without access to the elders’ book, and are left alone with three elders, on their terms. What we are in now is the Norwegian society’s legal system. This is completely different. Here we are on “even terms”. Here I am equal. Here I am not a weak person who sits alone against three authorities, on their secret terms. That’s what I mean by “even terms” in my tweet. It means quite a lot to me.

JA: Yes, I understand that. That you get to explain yourself to a judge, in a Norwegian court case.

Yes, and we do now. And that’s nice. But my past experiences have been different.

JA: Yeah right. So you compare the two.

Yes. In relation to my life and experiences, yes.

JA: But when you say you're an activist, what do you mean by that?

Yes. Activist: it’s about having experienced a lot of things, and having felt a lot of things first hand. There are many types of activists. An activist is someone who wants to do something, say something, speak out about something that is important, something they are passionate about. We had, for example, the Fosen activists here a couple of weeks ago. An activist is someone who feels a need to do something, say something, tell things. There are many activists in the world. Activists get a number of things done together, or they can engage in community education. It could be legislation. It can be very different things. There are many ways to be an activist, and it is not a particularly negatively charged word in my world.

JA: No, I have no comment on that. But if we are to use a common definition of the word, then you can be an activist for something, or against something. For example, activist for climate, or activist against racism, for example.

Yes. Absolutely.

JA: What are you an activist against? Are you an activist against Jehovah's Witnesses?

No. I am an activist for all my friends who are in the same situation as me. I speak for all those who may not be able to say the things I say. I speak for many, many people. I am an activist for those who are not allowed to talk to their mom because of these rules. I have no illusions. I know Jehovah’s Witnesses are not going to change because of me. But I think that in the long run it is quite important that we who are shunned also have some voices, because the point of disfellowshipping is to isolate the person who is shunned from their social circle. And Hilde probably talked a little yesterday about how it is very painful to be alone. So I am an activist in the sense that I don’t want these people to be alone anymore. They need someone to speak for them. A voice. I have made many contacts over the last 6, 7, 8 years, and I am an activist on behalf of them; not against Jehovah’s Witnesses.

JA: Surely you are against Jehovah's Witnesses when you actively declare on Twitter and in the public debate that what they are doing, according to your point of view, is completely pointless and that it is not a good place to be?

No. Those are your words. After having been a Jehovah’s Witness for many years, and having done a lot of research, I am of course free to believe that faith and many doctrines are meaningless. And I will continue with that. Just as Jehovah’s witnesses are out on the doorsteps preaching their message, so I will say the things I believe. I’m trained to preach. I was a preacher for 30 years, and I guess I’m still a preacher in a way, just on the other side.

JA: On the flip side, yes. Then I think we give up, because we have clarified what you mean. I was a bit stumped. I read through your twitter messages and there were 16 of them in the last 24 hours. I would like to ask you whether you have mentioned the things that I and other lawyers have said in the district court?

Yes, I quoted the news stories. There were articles both in Dagen and in Vårt Land, so I probably quoted a bit of them. Maybe I was stupid? Maybe I’m not allowed to do that? If so, I apologize. I’m not experienced in how we are to behave here in court.

JA: I don't think it is entirely in accordance with a witness's duty to refrain from participating in the negotiations. But now you have said that it has been done, it's something we can consider it. But the point is that it appears as if you have been very concerned with this trial?

Yes, and as you can see, I have a large international network. There are many people all over the world who follow what is happening in Norway and would like to know how it goes. Norway has, in a way, become a country that people follow.

JA: A country where the authorities treat Jehovah's Witnesses differently?

Because we are perhaps a society that has come a little further than some others when it comes to the view of organized religion’s way of doing a number of things that can be problematic, in relation to human rights, among other things. This is probably not completely unknown in other countries either. Sweden has the same debate, things happen all over the world just like here in Norway…

JA: [Interupting] Yes, that's fine. There are many countries that have tried to restrict the activity of Jehovah's Witnesses, including public ones. That is correct. But now we have to stick to the Norwegian case. So I have a couple of questions related to your own experiences. You had arrived at a period when you were around 36 years old, where you decided that you no longer could be associated with Jehovah's Witnesses, even if your family was. Then we are talking about a fairly long period, after you were of legal age and until you made this decision as an adult. During this period, did you have friends and a pleasant tone among Jehovah's Witnesses?

Yes. As I said, I was a Jehovah’s Witness for 35 years and it wasn’t too bad. It can be nice to be a Jehovah’s Witness. Absolutely. I had many good friends. Growing up, a lot was good, not everything was perfectly good, but I didn’t have an abnormally bad life. Being a Jehovah’s Witness in itself is not a… you don’t necessarily have a bad life within it. There are many who are having a great time as Jehovah’s Witnesses. If you firmly believe it, and if you believe it in your heart that you belong to God’s people, paradise will come soon. Earth will become a paradise. You will live forever. Then all the world’s problems will disappear; diseases will disappear. Yes, if you can believe that you belong to the only organization that has God’s approval and that has understood the truth. If you believe in it and are satisfied with it, of course, then you are very lucky. You have truly hit the jackpot. Everything will be fine.

JA: So I understand that the main problem for you was that when you no longer believe in it, then there is a bond that is broken?

Yes, there are several things. I didn’t speak out because of the disfellowshipping doctrine. Rather, the big problem in relation to what I’m talking about is the shunning doctrine. If they hadn’t had it, if I had been able… I wouldn’t have had anything against Jehovah’s Witnesses per se. I could probably go to a meeting now and then just to enjoy old memories and meet old friends. If I could visit a summer convention once in a while and greet my old friends and reminisce about the old days, I would have done it. That would be really nice.

JA: Yes. Now it is the case that you have come out quite actively against Jehovah's Witnesses, so I don't know how natural they would think it was, but I hear what you are saying. I was going to ask a question, about the friends you had as Jehovah's Witnesses: Is it now the case that in a way you yourself feel that by losing your faith you have abandoned them a little too?

Yes of course. I have let them down. I have let down those I’ve belonged to. I have betrayed my identity. I have failed my parents. That’s where a lot of the heavy mental stuff is. That’s why you get sick. That is why you struggle afterwards. It’s not like I do this… It’s not like I enjoy any of this. Breaking with a life-long religion that you’ve grown up with is very hard mentally. Nobody does it because they think it’s fun or because they want to be an activist.

JA: But in Norway, we have free will. And you have made use of your free will to choose a different point of view, and perhaps you have then made other friends?

Yes, I started my life all over again. My life started at zero and I’ve managed somehow. Above all, I have three beautiful children whom I am very fond of. I have a good relationship with my ex-wife. We work well together and have a great time together. I have a girlfriend. I have made new friends. I’m doing fine. Absolutely. But I manage fine… Without my family now.

JA: No. So my point is simply that you have replaced your social community with another. It was not meant as a criticism or anything else.

No, I get it. I have a pretty good life and have recovered mentally. I have no contact with the healthcare system. The depression I struggled terribly with for all these years is gone now, even though I have quite a few wounds and struggle a little sometimes, I have moved on in life. Absolutely.

JA: As a final question, were you married in the kingdom hall?

Yes, Mari and I got married in the year 2000 in the Kingdom Hall of the Risør congregation.

JA: How was this experience?

Well, that was pretty good, because with Jehovah’s Witnesses it’s a bit unusual as we get married when we were still almost children.

JA: How old were you?

I was 23. So I was quite old compared to many others. My sister was 19. My brother was 19, and my wife was 21. So you kind of start your teenage life by getting married, because you can’t be together, sleep together, live together until you get married. Mari and I got married so that we could move in together. In a way it is… But it was nice. The wedding was nice.

JA: What year was it again, you said?

2000

JA: Yes, so it was 14 years before you stopped going to meetings, yes? At the time I understood that you defined yourself as a practicing Jehovah's Witness?

Yes, I was. I guess I wasn’t deeply religious. I was what they call “spiritually weak”, but I kept to myself, I didn’t make any issue of it. I focused on life in general. I tried to make the best of it. I was married and eventually had three children. But I struggled a lot then, especially with the cognitive dissonance and… but I was a faithful Jehovah’s Witness, yes.

JA: Since you had this cognitive dissonance and later distanced yourself from Jehovah's Witnesses, it is perhaps a bit difficult to rewind, as they say. But I still ask you to do it. When you were 23 and married in the Kingdom Hall as a Jehovah's Witness, did you experience it as a nice and meaningful ceremony?

As a Jehovah’s Witness in the Kingdom Hall?

JA: Yes

No, not at all. [Jan chuckles]. The ceremony for Jehovah’s Witnesses is a prepared script, a speech that is essentially exactly the same regardless of who is getting married. Maybe a couple of minutes of the speech are used to talk about the bride and groom. So for me the wedding in the Kingdom Hall was almost like being at a completely normal meeting. I sat in my own wedding and thought to myself that this was almost exactly the same as being at a regular meeting, which I attend three evenings a week anyway. I thought it felt a little strange, sitting at my own wedding and getting a little bored in the same way I did at all the regular meetings. I didn’t mind that per se, but since you ask, I remember thinking it was a little strange that it wasn’t more personal, that they didn’t talk about us as people, the couple who were going to be married. They talked about religion, and the Bible and such, as they do at a normal meeting. Of course, that’s perfectly fine, that’s how they do it. But for me personally, it felt very strange. But all in all, it was a pleasant day. I don’t mean to say that it was wrong in itself.

JA: It was a pleasant day, a nice day, in the situation you were in then. There are perhaps many of us who would have given such a mention of our wedding. You mentioned briefly that you had received some inquiries about this with marriage rights, and signing a form and such in other countries. Do you know, in the other countries that you heard about, if it is the case that other people, belonging to other religions, are allowed to marry in their church, but Jehovah's Witnesses are not allowed in theirs?

No, I know nothing about that. I only asked how Jehovah’s Witnesses did it in those countries.

JA: Do you know an organization called Hjelpkilden?

Hjelpkilden? Yes. Hilde was probably here yesterday and spoke to you. She is a leader in Hjelpkilden.

JA: How would you describe that business?

I don’t know the business itself very well. I know it mostly as a meeting place on the internet where we meet and exchange experiences, help each other, support each other. I know they do physical work in discussion groups and such, but I have never been associated with that. So for me, Hjelpekilden has been a digital meeting place where I meet others in a similar situation to me.

JA: Others who have left?

Yes. Hjelpekilde was originally for former Jehovah’s Witnesses. That’s how it started. But now it has been extended to also apply to defectors from other groups.

JA: We heard from 16 people yesterday. They were breakaways from 16 different religions. But if you don't know more about that business, then I'm done.
Judge: Does the state have any additional questions?
GA: Yes, we have a few follow-up questions. There has been talk of friends, finding a new network and so on. Do you have friends who have also left Jehovah's Witnesses?

Yes. I have friends who have left and I have friends who are so-called “inactive members” who have not been able to leave yet. I have quite a few of them. They can’t be friends with me publicly, but we have a lot of digital contact. But yes, I have friends among outcasts. My first Christmas, for example, I celebrated together with two other ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses. The three of us celebrated Christmas together for the first time. Then we thought we should help each other and try to celebrate Christmas each year.

GA: Are these also people who have wanted to leave Jehovah's Witnesses, in the same way as you?

Yes. I have a particularly good friend who is in that process. He is married. So both he and his wife are in a way not believers anymore, but they are trying to find a way forward now. The wife is very attached to her family. He would prefer to leave completely, but she is… There are quite a few girls in their 20s or people in their 20s who are very attached to their mum, for example. So he has spent several years trying to find a way forward. He has tried quite a few times. He has come to me sometimes. Plus I have other friends like that too, yes.

GA: Yes, because what I really wonder about here is whether the experiences that you have told us about have any transferable value?

Yes, that’s what I’m saying. The religion is the same both nationally and internationally. It is a detail-driven religion that is equal. It is a shared culture. So when we meet, and that was one of the things that shocked me like crazy when I first went online and started building the first networks, understanding that what I had inside me, the experiences I had, the psychological problems I had, were exactly the same with thousands of other people, and finding each other instead of being alone… Because when you’re alone, you think it’s yourself that has issues. It’s in your head. It is your psyche that is broken. And then you discover that thousands of other people say and believe exactly the same thing. It is extremely important to us. Because then it’s not just me that has issues. Many of us have the same experience and have received the same answers. And for me it is very important, to somehow represent all these others as well.

There are a lot of people who don’t dare to sit here and say the things I say. A lot of people. And that’s what I mean by activist, as I said. It is on behalf of them. I am not a person who wants to burn Jehovah’s Witnesses to the ground. I have no interest in that. Such things that happen in Russia, for example. What Putin has done now. To forbid and persecute. I’m just as against it as Jehovah’s Witnesses are. I have always spoken out against such things. My friends and my family are Jehovah’s Witnesses. All the persecution, the threats, the vandalism against Jehovah’s Witnesses is also an attack on me and my friends. I would never support something like that. The ex-witness community in Norway is much more peaceful than it has ever been before. Among other things, it is because of people like me, who use the role I have to speak out against such things. That way I am among their best friends. I have spent a lot of effort managing that type of activism 100% peacefully, with respect… So I get a little disappointed when it is portrayed as if we are running a hate campaign, that we are almost dangerous, then I get a little disappointed, because we are perhaps the most peaceful activist community of all time.

GA: I think I'll finish there but the court may also have some questions for you.
Judge: We thank you for your explanation.

While comments are welcome on this subject, please be mindful that this testimony is transcribed from a court case. Rude and insensitive comments will be removed.