This article is about artistic former Jehovah’s Witnesses who created a heartfelt documentary expressing the acts of shunning in their own authentic way. Featuring in-depth interviews and extensive home video footage. Everyone in this film has endured through the pain in one way or another regarding the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization’s teachings on shunning. Scott Homan was interviewed for this article and his responses are in Bold. Witness Underground has been shown in many art festivals, but their goal is to get it seen on a wider scale around the world. Even if you cannot support financially, you can share the post so others can be involved as well to get this documentary seen and easily found so that you can watch it on common streaming services. Friday November 17th, 2023 is their deadline, and they are so far 90% funded. The reason Witness Underground is important to the community of former Jehovah’s Witnesses is because there is not another documentary like it.
“I’ve never seen myself on TV before. I feel seen for the 1st time in my life”
“This isn’t the best ex-JW documentary I’ve seen, this is the best documentary I’ve ever seen.”
“May today be the day I’ve cried the most in parking lots.”
“People from other cultures have told me how much they related to the film. Musicians love it, they feel its a story they have lived. Its demonstrating shunning and healing through your heart. Humanizing the cult experience to show these are people you can relate to, This can make a powerful impact on society.”
“I want to do more” Is something Scott Homan, the director of Witness Underground kept telling himself, one project after another years ago. The projects he traveled around the world for were meeting fellow former Jehovah’s Witnesses and other former religious members that had used their talent such as writing, art, singing, playing an instrument for breaking the controlled chains with their own authenticity and sharing them with the world. Deprogramming themselves through the tragedies they endured “I wanted to go bigger. I wanted to make a documentary about artists escaping a cult.”
Scott saw what was coming together was a new vision, beat, and masterpiece. After each project it became more and more vital to him to tell its story, as he kept telling himself “This project needs to be bigger.”
“I wanted to tell a story of the impressive people I have met and wanting to meet, to show people in the world that once you get out of a group such as this, anything is possible. I want to inspire people around the world. I wanted the film to surround the origin I grew up in. It was based in a community and a broken community that I used to be a part of, I knew something was there.”
Ryan Sutter is Co-Founder of ‘Nuclear Gopher’ which is featured in the documentary and ran a record label for Jehovah’s Witness artists for over 17 years from 1987 to 2004. He played in The Lavone, and is also a solo artist and in a few bands. “It beautifully illuminates the shunning of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This documentary is a bond stronger than faith” The trailer of Witness Underground goes into how there are around 30 lost albums and short films featuring how it felt being shunned. “This film is different from other documentaries. Everyone in this film navigated a cult like mind control and survived it.”
You can find the trailer of Witness Underground and all of other amazing content here:
“This was a very important film for me to make. I was suffering from the shunning like many do. After I was shunned it all got really dark for me. I lost valuable relationships from people I love. I think the film does a good job of not paving too bad of an outlook on the witnesses though. Its about the pure act of shunning that they have to do. Like losing someone was worth living in paradise for yourself. Having to do this dark thing that they are coerced to do. They are the victims here as well. They prioritize with their fear of community and paradise instead of the value of losing their sibling, parent, child. That was difficult to navigate for myself. I think making the film also helped my personal process and healing.”
“Music is what always makes me happy, its a great coping tool and an outlet. To write lyrics has been a big outlet since I was 14. I realized I actually didn’t want making music as my one ambition, at least not a professional one. When I was making music it was other musicians that really impressed me. My natural desire was to capture that instead. I started renting cameras, audio equipment and editing tricks. I am told now that my content is the best some other directors and editors have seen and heard. I remastered the entire film myself. I met all of my friends through this project. With music, travel, dedication, highlighting their work by excelling in mine and always having an open door. I love the DIY ethic I created with this background that we all share. True raw passion is how I met the friends I have now.”
How do you build a life after your community and family are gone? The film deeply dives into the results of shunning -A doctrine engrained and distilled in the high control group of Jehovah’s Witnesses. When being shunned (Also defined as disfellowshipping) You must not engage with them. You feel like an invisible person with immense guilt and shame for some sort of ‘wrongdoing’ that caused you to be in this trying situation. It flips your life upside-down. In some extreme situations within the fully indoctrinated witnesses eyes you are no longer a friend, or a family member. The effects this has on a person’s mentality is a terrible downward spiral that causes a delirious collision of fear, pain, loneliness, anxiety, depression, physical and mental health problem’s, and thoughts of suicide. Many have ended their lives due to this sadistic doctrine.
“It’s not easy being shunned, it’s a destructible path when you are in the group. The concept as we made the film was explaining the path to being okay after leaving a group like that. That you can accelerate it and make it better and maybe even thrive through the use of music. Also art, writing, any form of self expression. The self empowerment that is special about writing and singing is important. We’ve been following Cindy Elvendahl, also a former Jehovah’s Witness. She is like an empowered rock goddess. She also made another band that was all female called ‘puff puff’, and now she’s on another project with her husband Eric- Also a former Jehovah’s Witness as they continue making music and art.
“The 1st 30 minutes of Witness Underground shows how religion changes a person through the eyes of the artists who have left.” Music should be used to help with coping and understanding emotions- not to control them. This isn’t just a documentary to bring light to the dark repressive aftermath that thousands have endured through being shunned, or doing the shunning themselves though.
“This is about humanizing the cult experience. Growing up in that religion”
In a world of greyscale, monotoned routines swirling in mental evading liquid slow depths this sort of thing can hijack your mind like a spell, because in this black and white world you’re constantly taught that anything different or against it is wrong- You will be in fear of doing wrong yourself if you walked to a different beat than the path chosen for you, for all.
This is how you live in the inner world of a Jehovah’s Witness.
What is deemed music if not its influence? Like how music can be used to express and feel valued, deep emotion -It can also be used to control and distill a certain thought process as well- What’s hard to differentiate between the two can be difficult.
So what if this controlled constricting emotion is repeated? You are forced to stand up and sing it a few times a week, the songs ingrained in your head like a hymn, a chant. If you hear a tune similar to it, it lingers.
Music is powerful, and music can have a dark side. Not only can it help feel raw emotions, it is also used as a harmful tactic to control one’s thoughts, desires, and their thought patterns.
This highly controlled group the Jehovah’s Witnesses -though not the only highly controlled region that uses this tactic- knows how its depth of music can reach its followers to control, and they use it well.
In a Watchtower article of 1975 ‘The Music you Choose’ It states “Music is often enough to give a decided push in a certain direction or to lower resistance to a certain attraction or temptation.” It also says that music can help create temptations leading to weakness. A major teaching of this high control group is that you don’t want to mix yourself with the wrong crowd or bad influence. This to them also includes how you dress, how you act, what you draw, what you read, who you associate with and what music you listen to. Metal, Punk, Rock, any music involving an emotion that does not align with their beliefs or standards is considered an influence that can make you spiritually weak or with a ‘corrupt mind.’
The songs their followers repeatedly sing in their weekly meetings are mixed heavily with the doctrines they teach, along with music videos featured on their site, JW.org. Their music video’s depict family members you had lost now resurrected in a paradise, sick children becoming perfect, a dramatic person of bad influence poisoning your thinking by association and so on.
Recently throughout the past decade the group has also created a vast amount of children’s music videos to teach children how to act, feel, and treat each other. This is to teach the children that their mind and heart is not their own, but is instead Gods. “One faith, one heart, One mind, one voice throughout the universe. When all hearts sing as one.” – ‘When all hearts sing as one’ – Music Video released July, 2023
Like how music creates emotional reactions, stimulates new connections, and helps our character grow- It isn’t just activating within us, its synchronizing to our core. What we don’t need with this great therapeutic outlet is to have an extreme teaching through it that is very toxic and controlling.
This is the case for the ones in this article, where the all too familiar songbooks of Jehovah’s Witnesses were forced upon them to sing weekly, as all other 8 million Jehovah’s Witnesses currently do to this day.
“Yes there are other worse problems in this group, like the no blood transfusions and the child sex abuse is being rampant and seemingly much more widespread and corrupt than the Catholic’s problem’s that have been exposed. It’s going to all blow up some day in their face.
My activism angle in the film is to expose shunning. I want people to live their present life and to help excel, be excited about their own future and to be tethered to what can you do. What are your dreams, passions, what do you really want to do? You have more than one chapter in your story. You have 2, 3, 4, and more. We just need to see that, treat it beautifully and embrace it.”
The talented, shunned, strong artists starring in this film uprooted themselves and reversed out of the one way street of that black and white controlling world, diving into a new one of expressing the real truths, and that is Witness Underground.