My entire family disowned me when I was 16 because I was finally and completely done with the religion that they had raised me in – Jehovah’s Witnesses. When a person is “disfellowshipped” or excommunicated by the church, they are to be completely cut off by every member of Jehovah’s Witnesses, including their own family. Since I grew up in this religion, every family member and friend I had ever had were all Jehovah’s Witnesses(henceforth shortened to “JW”) and I was left with essentially no one to talk to.
This religion or cult or whatever you wish to call it stole my childhood and I don’t think that I can ever forgive them for it. Let me outline just some of the ways that my life was impacted by this religion.
Before I begin, I just want to say that I have no bitterness towards my parents for the way they raised me. The only blame in my eyes goes towards The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, the business name of the Jehovah’s Witness organization. I love my parents dearly and I know they were just blinded by the organization in which they were raised in as well. I cannot blame them for this; millions of people today still remain brainwashed by this organization.
After elementary school(5th grade, age 10), I was pulled out of school by my parents to be homeschooled because the Bible says “bad association spoils useful habits” and being around other kids who weren’t JW might lead me astray. I missed all my opportunities to form those lifelong friendships that you hear about people making in middle and high school. It’s like being that kid who moves and switches schools in the middle of the school year – no one from your former school bothers to keep in touch, or at least not for long. In my case, I didn’t even have a new school full of potential new friends to make, it was just me. This made it extra hard on me when I was disfellowshipped from JW and every person in my life stopped associating with me, I had no friendships outside of the church to fall back on.
As if pulling me out of school wasn’t enough, then even the homeschooling thing was eventually pushed aside. It was more important to my family that I honor God by “pioneering”, a JW term that means “volunteering” to knock on people’s doors and go preaching for a minimum of 70 hours a month. I wanted to make my family proud, as any kid would. I was 14 years old when I started pioneering and I really did try to do it all – school, work and preaching but there just wasn’t enough time in the day. Between my job and preaching, I was gone from 6am to 6-7pm most days. I would arrive at home in the evening, eat dinner and then do schoolwork until 3am, try to sleep for a couple of hours and then get up and do it all over again. It was killing me and my parents acknowledged that it was too much, so they weighed their priorities. They had me drop out of school. Higher education is discouraged by JW anyways(don’t waste time in college when you could instead dedicate your life to God and pioneer! The world is gonna end soon, so don’t bother getting a job!), so what was the point of getting a H.S. diploma either?
I did have the opportunity to bounce back from that with the Running Start program, where I was able to get my high school diploma and Associate of Arts degree in 2 years from South Puget Sound Community College. However; because of my lack of high school education, I didn’t know even the basics of maths and sciences so I had to take extra “catch up” classes for math and almost failed my biology class. My biology teacher said “You all took this in high school so we can skip the basics, let’s move on to the next parts” and I was left totally lost because, no, I didn’t know the basics like the rest of the class. Fortunately, I was dedicated and determined enough that I was able to pull my initial grade of ‘F’ all the way up to a ‘B-‘ and that is the only B I was ever proud of. As for those extra high school level math classes, Running Start didn’t cover the tuition for any class that wasn’t college level so I had to pay for those out of my own pocket. It was not at all cheap and I struggled to make the payments, but luckily I had had my wonderful job working at a local radio station since I was 14 years old and had my own income.
I was disfellowshipped when I was 16 years old because it was discovered that I had been dating 2 different JW boys(not at the same time, of course; two separate relationships at two different times). As a Jehovah’s Witness, dating is taking extremely seriously. You aren’t allowed to date casually; if you are dating someone it means you are already considering marriage with that person, so anyone below 18 years of age is automatically disqualified from dating as you can’t legally be married yet. Even when you finally are allowed to date, a man and a woman are forbidden to be alone together until they are married; every date must be chaperoned to prevent “immoral” behavior. Well, I broke the rules that all JWs were expected to follow by having these secret relationships.
Eventually, this all came to light. A friend knew about my relationship and at some point that friend’s mom got a hold of his phone and found out about it. So they did what any good JW would do, and reported me to the elders for punishment. I sat through what is known as a “judicial committee”, where 3 of the congregation elders interrogated me about my relationships and the extent of what happened. They asked me very intimate questions, and of course, my father had to be in attendance during this meeting. Just what every 16 year old wants right, to be interrogated about your sex life while your dad listens? Well, I was forced to confess what they believed to be my wrongdoings, and they decided I was unrepentant of my behavior(“only God can judge your heart condition”… oh but also JW elders) and so it was decided: I would be disfellowshipped. My life changed forever on that day.
Even before the announcement of my disfellowshipping was officially made, all my friends stopped talking to me. I was now “bad association”, despite my parents’ best efforts to keep me secluded from the world. The hypocrisy of my friends, though – the first of my friends to shun me were just as guilty of some so-called sin or another as I was; if I had been selfish and vindictive I could have brought them all down with me. But they were the first to ignore me when I was in trouble. I remember when I approached a girl that I previously had considered a very close friend at the Kingdom Hall – I was visibly dissed by her and that hurt really bad. The bitter part of me hopes she feels guilty for the way that she treated me when I could have gotten her in just as much trouble as I was in.
Then, the announcement was made. I was barely 16 years old when it happened. My aunts, grandparents, cousins, friends; they all immediately abandoned me without question. It was what Jehovah wanted, and they would obey. My world came crashing down around me, I was so alone. The really twisted part is that Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that shunning an unrepentant sinner was a loving thing to do. Loving to look past the person you used to care about as if they don’t even exist. Loving that when you see them, they cross the street just to avoid coming to close to you. Sin is contagious, you know.
Most of my family I haven’t seen since I was 16. The exception was, of course, my parents. Even Jehovah couldn’t make them abandon their legal responsibilities; since I was still a minor, they had to care for me still. So I got to enjoy about a year after being disfellowshipped where I at least still had my parents and brother, since I lived with them. When I was 17, though, my parents moved to Mexico and I didn’t go with them. That tearful goodbye, knowing I would never ever see them again, is one of the most painful memories that I have. It’s been almost 3 years now since I have seen my own mother, and the hurt never lessens. I still miss my parents every day, I cry all the time because of how much I miss them. I don’t think the pain will ever fade, but I cope as best as I can.
The funniest part? If they hadn’t shunned me, I would probably still be one of them today. Their so-called loving behavior did nothing but push me away. I had no one in my life, so I sought solace in the internet. I found a forum for people like me, for former JWs and for JWs that are struggling with wanting to leave. That forum is the reason that I am here, where I am, today. When I found the forum, I found people who knew exactly what I was going through. I found friends that understood my heartache. I met mothers who had been shunned by their daughters for decades because the mother had left JWs for another religion. I met husbands being treated like dirt by their own wives because they no longer wished to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I met other daughters, like myself, who had no hope of ever seeing their own parents again.
At the time, I was still struggling with my beliefs. Did I believe in God? Eventually I came to the realization that I did not, and that I don’t think I ever truly did. I was never given the chance to question my faith and decide for myself; even asking questions about the religion is grounds for disfellowshipping, so no one would ever dare. But now, I had lost everything and had nothing more to fear from the organization. And I realized that I had never truly believed in a god. I said I did, and I believed that I believed, but it was all just because of how I was raised and the fact that I’d never been given a chance to think about how I truly felt. So today, I stand as a proud atheist. I have absolutely nothing against people who believe in God, or even against JWs as individuals(the organization as a whole, is another story), but I am not one of them.
Many people think of Jehovah’s Witnesses as a harmless religion, but they are a cult. It is a cult that brainwashes people into thinking total shunning is a loving act. It is a cult that forbids their own to read any religious writings not written by Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is a cult that uses fear of disfellowshipping to keep the members from leaving. Even if a person decides they want to leave – not because they have committed any sin but simply because they don’t agree with the teachings or have chosen to follow a different religion – they will still be treated as a sinner and shunned. In fact, those who leave because they have changed their beliefs are regarded as worse than sinners, they are labeled as “apostates” who have turned against God, and are to be more feared than demons.
When you dig deep into the roots of nearly any business or religion, you will uproot dark secrets, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are no different. One of the most disgusting things that I have learned since leaving is the pedophilic child abuse that goes on. I have learned that registered sex offenders and pedophiles are allowed to hold positions of power in the congregation, and the members aren’t even notified of the person’s status. That is disgusting. There are warnings publicly posted by the government when pedophiles move into neighborhoods, but the elders will not allow the congregation the same rights. Your child may be spending time alone, going “door to door” with a pedophile and you would never know because making it public knowledge would “bring shame to Jehovah’s organization”. That is disgusting. And it gets worse. If a child reports to the elders that a brother has molested him, the “case” nearly always gets thrown out. Why? The Watchtower has a policy that if it’s one person’s word against another’s, there must be two witnesses to the crime in order to convict the wrongdoer. What pedophile do you know of that will wait for another person to be present as a witness when he molests a child? But instead of taking these crimes seriously, the elders will do nothing. They will not even contact the authorities as, once again, “it will bring shame to Jehovah’s name”. They aren’t just abandoning the victims of such cases, they are enabling the perpetrators.
If you don’t believe me, scroll to the end of this post where I have linked just a couple documented cases of this disgusting behavior.
That’s the heavier part of my experience growing up as a JW, but of course there are all the small things that sucked too: Horror movies are forbidden as is any movie that is rated R, or even movies with magic in it such as Harry Potter. I wasn’t allowed to go to birthday parties and whatnot of my classmates as a kid, I have never experienced trick or treating which I know I would have loved. No close friendships with a person of the opposite gender because that could lead to immorality, dyeing my hair unnatural colors labeled me as evil, it’s forbidden to keep up with politics, yoga is considered evil, competitive sports are evil, reading any religious publication NOT printed by JW is a sin, rap, rock and metal music is all from the Devil, I could go on forever. Here’s a list of 141 things that are forbidden by JW and as a former member I can assure you that every one of them is true: Things Jehovah’s Witnesses Can’t Do.
Having said all this, I do not regret my past. Everything that happened has led to where I am today and you know what? I’m pretty damn proud of where I’ve gotten and who I have become. Despite my educational setbacks, I graduated with a 2 year college degree by the time I was 18 years old. I also learned to be very independent, having a job since I was 14 years old. I feel really blessed to have had my experiences working at that radio station and my years there were wonderful. I will always be grateful to my work family for taking me in, they always looked out for me and were happy to help me out in any way she could.
I feel like my experiences were quite different from most people’s childhoods, and I think I acquired a lot of wisdom from the things I went through. I know everyone faces their own challenges and troublesome times growing up and I’m not trying to claim that I had it any worse, but I had a somewhat unique set of circumstances and I am proud of how I was able to overcome them and become the woman I am today.
I am still very bitter towards the religion for what they have put me and my family through and I will never forgive them for taking my family away from me, but I also have to thank them for everything. I am thankful for my past that has led me to be an independent person and someone who has really learned to think for herself and not just allow myself to believe whatever anyone tells me anymore. I appreciate the ability to decide for myself what is right and wrong, something most people take for granted. I am thankful for the opportunities that have led me to be where I am living now, in the Philippines, thousands of miles away from where I was born with the man of my dreams who treats me like I deserve to be treated. I am thankful for the thirst for knowledge and adventure that I have developed because of my secluded childhood. I am thankful that because of my past, I have learned the ability to really choose the people who are worth keeping close in my life and I know that my friends today won’t ever just disappear because their church told them to, the friendships that I have today are much more genuine than that.
“What my parents didn’t know, was that Jonathan had sexually molested another girl in our congregation. The elders knew this and had kept it a secret. They were following orders from Watchtower leaders, based in the world headquarters in New York, who in 1989 had issued a top-secret instruction to keep known child sex abusers in the congregations a secret. This instruction became Exhibit 1 at my civil trial.”
“Abigail related how Stewart gave her chocolates and led her to believe that when Armageddon came she would not be saved as she had committed fornication. In 1995 Stewart was convicted of assaulting another child and sent to prison for 5 years. When he was released, Abigail was terrified the abuse might resume, so she told police about her own ordeal. Stewart was arrested and charged with the offences, but he died in 2001 before the case could be heard in court.”
“In 1918, Rutherford exclaimed in a series of public lectures, “Millions now living will never die!” This was related to his prophecy that the resurrection would commence on earth in 1925, with the return of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to earth. This article provides quotes regarding this failed doctrine of Rutherford, and shows how in recent times the Watchtower dishonestly presents this historical episode.”
“When our own thoughts are forbidden, when our questions are not allowed and our doubts are punished, when contacts and friendships outside the organization are censored, we are being abused for an end that never justifies its means. When our heart aches knowing we have made friendships and secret attachments that will be forever forbidden if we leave, we are in danger. When we consider staying in a group because we cannot bear the loss, disappointment, and sorrow our leaving will cause for ourselves and those we have come to love, we are in a cult.” – Deborah Layton
“There must be two or three eyewitnesses, not just people repeating hearsay; no action can be taken if there is only one witness.-Deut. 19:15; John 8:17.
If there are two or three witnesses to the same kind of wrongdoing but each one is witness to a separate incident, the elders can consider their testimony. While such evidence is acceptable to establish guilt, it is preferable to have two witnesses to the same occurrence of wrongdoing.”
– From page 71 of the 2010 secret elder’s manual of Jehovah’s Witnesses, “Shepherd the Flock of God”.