“I believe that the combination of evidence …reveals why it is reasonable to say that sensitive and emotionally fragile persons in particular are at risk in what is called a ‘spiritual paradise'”. – Raymond Franz, In Search of Christian Freedom.
One thing I do know – whereas I was blind, now I see. – John 9:25
Recently, I became a Christian. Not so earth-shattering a move, one might think, even in this age. But for me, it was a happening as dramatic as anything I have experienced. There are problems in relating my story, insofar as I have still to come to terms with the bitterness in discovering that the religion I believed was my salvation proved to be an empty vessel.
Before I tell you how it began, you will need a little background. I have not attempted to explain the doctrines of the Watchtower Society in detail but for the benefit of the reader who is not familiar with the terms, I list below the major beliefs of the Society.
The Great Battle of Armageddon fought between Jehovah and Satan will take place “very soon.” There will be survivors, but only those who are baptised, active Jehovah’s Witnesses.
There are two tiers of Witnesses. The few, the “144,000” mentioned in the book of Revelation are chosen to live in heaven with Jesus. The remainder, and majority, the “Great Crowd” will live forever on earth provided they have remained faithful to the organisation up to the time of Armageddon. (There is no salvation without the organisation). These ones will then face a further test of their integrity after 1000 years of paradise.
The date of 1914 is pivotal to the foundation of Watchtower teachings. It is the date of “Christ’s invisible presence” and is reached by complicated chronology involving the book of Daniel and “seven times.”
The Governing Body in Brooklyn, New York, USA, controls the organisation; a dozen or so men purporting to be members of the anointed class of Christians. They are responsible for all doctrines and policies. As members of the anointed class are presumed to be baptised before 1935 the Body consists mainly of elderly men. Although the anointed class as a whole are purported to be the “faithful and discreet slave,” a Witness would normally apply this term to the Governing Body.
All Jehovah’s Witnesses must accept the teachings of the Society without demur. Independent thinking is not allowed and is liable to attract the attention of the Judicial Committee, consisting of elders of the Kingdom Hall. These committees have the power to disfellowship (ex-communicate) for a wide variety of reasons ranging from immorality to displaying a Christmas card.
The Watchtower Society practices “shunning” of members and former members of the organisation who have disagreed with any doctrine. This involves severing all contact with friends and family members, including parents and children. A Jehovah’s Witness who does not follow this practice is himself threatened with disfellowshipping.
The doctrine of the Trinity is stringently denied by the organisation as pagan in origin. The cross of Christ is not recognised and “hell” is the common grave. There is no immortal soul and in the resurrection, Jehovah will re-create the human form in an identifiable manner.
Blood transfusion is classed as “eating of blood” and an offence such as accepting or sanctioning a blood transfusion under whatever circumstances is liable to disfellowshipping.
Jesus is a creation of Jehovah, and remained purely a man until the day of his baptism. He is also the Archangel Michael.
The story begins
I was born during World War II, the result of a brief and immediately regretted liaison. I remained a source of embarrassment and irritation to my mother, who had married “respectably” and given birth some years later to a half-brother for me. Where my mother was loud and brash, I was quiet and very shy. Where she was impatient, I had a feeling for the underdog. She bloomed with health, and I was frequently ill. She revelled in her men friends and I was withdrawn in the presence of the opposite sex. I blossomed academically when she boasted of never having read a newspaper. Both she and my stepfather found me an unsatisfactory daughter. They found solace in their small son, and I too adored this little boy, forever into scrapes. In his early childhood, he would toddle behind me wherever I went.
This, then, was the setting for the day in 1954 (I was eleven years old) when my mother accepted the offer of three books from a lady who called at the door. A Bible study was begun and whilst I was not allowed by my mother to be present, I listened curiously behind the door and was fascinated by what I heard. Very soon, a loving Jehovah – for that it seemed was the name of God – would make a paradise earth for us all to live on. We would not go to heaven – that was reserved for a few Jehovah’s Witnesses, but we would never grow old or die and we could play with the wild animals all day long – although of course, they would no longer be wild. Perusing the books in secret, I found illustrations of wonderful gardens with tropical blooms and a little girl holding a colourful bird on her hand. Another child was playing with a tiger cub, while the mother looked on peacefully. All we had to do was love God and tell other people what he had promised us, and wait for the battle between Jehovah and the Devil, which was coming “very soon.”
I was startled to learn that Jesus had not died on a cross but an upright stake, but pleased to discover we would not go to hell, because it did not exist. To my dismay, mother discontinued her study after a few weeks but I took my little courage in both hands and approached the “Bible lady” to ask whether she would teach me. I was surprised to receive permission, but from then on, I went to Sister Jean’s house twice each week and learned more of what Jehovah had in store for those willing to obey him. Who would be stupid enough to refuse? Nevertheless, I was told millions would turn away from “the good news of the kingdom” and they would die at Armageddon. I hoped I would not have to watch all this death and was disconcerted to be told the scriptures said we would all have to clean up the dead bodies. A few months later, it was all right, because the “birds of the air” would do it instead. This was “new light” from Jehovah.
Before long, I was introduced to the Kingdom Hall. This was a new, rather bare building without windows and there was no decoration as I had seen in Sunday school, and certainly no cross, which was of pagan origin. The congregation was then quite small and dominated by members of the “anointed class” of Witnesses who would go to heaven to reign as kings with Jesus Christ for eternity. I was terribly in awe of these men (there were few women). Most had come out of “Babylon the Great”, the world empire of false religion, for all churches were part of this, led by Satan. Several of the anointed had been ministers or lay preachers reared in the tradition of hell-fire and damnation for sinners.
The meetings – five a week – seemed interminable to a 12 year old, lasting up to three hours with a short break in the middle of the public talk and study of the main article in the Watchtower magazine. The male speakers (women were not permitted to teach) seemed to have a nice appreciation of their own worth because the meetings frequently overran the allotted time. No one protested, and I would not have dared. Much of the content of the organisation’s teachings went over my head but what I did understand I never doubted. If Sister Jean, whom I loved very much, believed, then so did I. Much was made at these meetings of “the fear of God” and into my head came an image, which lasted most of my life, of a Great Jehovah who was dark, angry and forbidding, and who could only be placated by “works.” Faith without works, we were often told, was dead.
In time, I was introduced to the door-to-door work, accompanying always an adult Witness. I was far too shy to try to preach the “good news” by myself, though I was very proud to fill in my first report form listing the hours I had spent witnessing, despite rarely venturing anything beyond a timid greeting. These reports were forwarded to the headquarters of the Society and appeared in the Yearbook, so they were very important.
Baptism came when I was 13 and took place in a hired swimming pool during a district assembly. The first immersion failed as I was so nervous and had to be repeated. At the time of my baptism, I understood so little of what was happening I thought that after Armageddon we would all be naked and live in mud huts. Being very shy still, I did not like the idea of being naked at all, but presumed Jehovah would programme our minds so we would not notice.
The great scandal that split the congregation came shortly after my baptism. The teenage son of Sister Jean had fallen in love with a married Witness many years his senior and upon the situation being discovered, the boy had committed suicide. His funeral was a cold and bleak affair – there was no funeral talk and no comfort for the bereaved mother, who was told that her only child would be denied a resurrection from the God of perfect love for the sin of taking his own life. In the ensuing weeks, the congregation became a hotbed of gossip and innuendo, many members not speaking to others, and a brother from Bethel headquarters arrived to sort matters out. It was a bewildering and upsetting time, for I did not know to whom I should or should not speak, in case I offended.
Matters finally settled down in the congregation, but not for me. My unhappiness at what was happening at home had been increasing, and I ran away. I was promptly returned to the fury of my parents, who told me they could not live with the disgrace, and the anger of the congregation committee, who castigated me for my sin towards my parents and Jehovah. No-one thought of asking a troubled young girl what had been happening at home and I was too terrified of having to appear alone before a committee comprised solely of men to be able to utter a single word.
The committee placed me on a period of probation, which meant that I had to prove myself spiritually repentant over a period of 12 months, after which they would review the situation. This decision was announced publicly to the congregation and I felt terribly alone. I was not yet fifteen years old.
The inevitable happened – meeting attendance, on which the organisation placed great emphasis – began to fall away and a continual stream of visits from the “anointed” caused me to understand that I was relinquishing my hold on everlasting life. The nightmares, which were to plague me most of my life began and I became very nervous. My schoolwork was affected and I performed badly in my examinations. A kind teacher tried to talk to me, but I could not respond. I did not return to the Kingdom Hall and I was disfellowshipped for breaking the terms of my probation.
The following two years were frantic. Insomnia became a part of my life and I would spend the night hours reading with a torch under the bed-covers. I was at a disadvantage as far as normal teen years were concerned, as the last four years had been taken up entirely with meeting attendance and the door-to-door work. When a young man asked me out, I determined to marry him as soon as possible and have babies. After all, Armageddon was just around the corner and I was condemned by the organisation to die.
At the age of 20, I had acquired a husband and two of the babies I wanted so much. After the birth of my son, I suffered from post-natal depression combined with scenes of Armageddon and I thought I was going out of my mind. I had been shown Watchtower literature as a child portraying people and children dying horribly by falling into great chasms at Armageddon and I began seeing these images in my dreams. I knew that Jehovah was going to annihilate children along with their unbelieving parents, and I had to take responsibility for my little ones. I had made a geographical move after my marriage and I approached the committee at my local Kingdom Hall and explained my disfellowshipped state. The “solution” was coldly explained to me. I must enter the Kingdom Hall just as the meeting began and sit in the back row. I must not speak to any one and must now allow any one to speak to me. If I was approached, I should explain that I was in a disfellowshipped state. For a full year, I attended all meetings following the instructions earning my redemption. During this time, I learned later, a sister had asked the elders if she could approach me with encouragement. Her request was refused.
I was now a fully accredited Witness again but though very relieved, I was not happy. It did not occur to me that I should be. Leading the life required by the organisation was no easier than it had been earlier. Determined not to put a foot wrong this time, I threw myself into meetings and the “ministry” work, taking my little children with me in order to inculcate Witness teachings and practices into them. My husband would have nothing to do with the strange religion his wife was practising and objected to my constant absences, but I was ‘hell-bent’ on becoming the perfect Jehovah’s Witness. About this time, a rumour ran through the congregation concerning various bedroom practices engaged in by married Witnesses. It was hinted darkly that such practices were forbidden. I had no idea what was meant but so frightened was I of offending Jehovah I made excuses not to sleep with my husband. The inevitable happened and my husband began seeing some one else. I cared little – he had become superfluous in my quest to placate God. We eventually separated and I returned to my hometown.
Renting a large and dilapidated old house, I joined my local congregation. I had always laboured in the belief that I would never be good enough to associate with my brothers and sisters, and I would arrive quietly and try to merge into the background just as the meeting began and leave as soon as the final prayer was offered. I made few friends except one rather determined sister who enrolled me in the Ministry School where I always took the part of the “householder,” who had little to say. The appearances on the platform always unnerved me and although I joined my brothers and sisters almost daily for the door-to-door work, I often collected a territory map and worked by myself, putting in pioneer hours.
However, I was approached and encouraged to offer accommodation to the special pioneer sisters who were assigned to our congregation. At this time Jehovah’s Witnesses were not as well known as they are today, and special pioneers would arrive to help cover the territory. These young women spent many hours a day preaching “on the doors” and received a small monthly allowance. I felt privileged to have been singled out for this honour – it did not occur to me that no one else had volunteered. There was no bathroom and no hot water in the house, but I very happily undertook to provide hot meals and laundry for the two pioneers, who paid me 30 shillings each week towards the cost. Life was very hard but I felt Jehovah would look kindly on me for my efforts in caring for these young women. The pioneers were collected regularly and driven to meetings, but there was no room in the car for me and I walked for some miles with my children in a pushchair to get to meetings. I felt no rancour for this – pioneers were special people. The Tuesday book study was also held at my house and I provided refreshments for a dozen or so Witnesses each week for several years.
An odd incident occurred during the stay of one set of pioneers, who were with me for six months at a time. One of them began missing small items of clothing and became convinced that demonic activity was at work. True, it was an old and unfriendly house we all lived in, but I could not imagine a demon being interested in odd socks! Nonetheless, the congregation servant was duly summoned along with some elders, who prayed in the house for the demonic activity to stop. I was embarrassed and felt to blame somehow for all this, but I had my own suspicions. My young son was asthmatic and in inclement weather, I would leave him with a baby-sitter whilst I attended meetings. The baby-sitter, a teenage girl, was known locally for helping herself to what she could find and when I later saw her wearing a sweater belonging to the pioneer, I felt relieved, though I said nothing. Some Witnesses looked at me askance at meetings and it was quite an uncomfortable time. The Society makes much of “opposition from Satan” and several Witnesses I know claim to have experienced demonic activity.
In my late twenties, I learned that my husband had died. I was saddened, for he was a young man still; no matter that we had become almost strangers. However, I was now free. Months earlier I had witnessed to a man who claimed to be in the throes of demonic possession and was very frightened. I arranged for him to have a Bible study with a male Witness and he made great strides into “the truth.” When he proposed marriage, I was thrilled, for I had come to care for him very much. I also wanted more children, although the Society made plain its disapproval by publishing articles suggesting this was not a good time to plan children given that Armageddon was so close. Several couples I knew had, in fact, remained childless for this reason. I was very happy planning the future when one day the congregation overseer appeared without warning to tell me that I must consider my engagement at an end. No explanation was given and I was devastated but not allowed to be alone with my former fiancé to ask why he had done this. Some weeks later, he married one of the special pioneers assigned to the area.
As the full impact of the rejection took hold, I slowly succumbed to depression and found excuses to evade meetings. Witnesses who accused me of not having “faith” – whatever that may have meant, visited me. I turned to alcohol to help me sleep, combining this with powerful sleeping pills from my doctor. In caring for my children, I became an automaton and I am all too aware that they suffered during this time. My suicide attempt was inevitable and I spent a week in hospital earnestly explaining to my doctors that I was certainly not fit to enter into the new world, so there was no point in living in this one.
Slowly over the months I recovered my equilibrium. No Witness visited me and I received help and friendship from the people I had been taught to regard as “worldly” and to be avoided – my neighbours. I took a job and gradually gained a little confidence. I discovered an interest in clothes and make-up and made friends with work colleagues. Soon I was living the life of a modern young woman, but inside I was very frightened. I never mentioned my religious background to my new friends. I am not proud of the life I lived for the next few years and I try not to think back on it. The spectre of the organisation reared its head constantly and coloured all my actions. I was condemned, so it did not matter what I did. I had no concept whatever of a loving God – only He who demanded such perfection. I could not sustain a relationship – how could I explain how it really was under the veneer?
Two or three times a year I would visit my parents and help with decorating, gardening etc. On one of these visits, I was told that my brother – now an elder married to a pioneer – would be visiting. It was strongly hinted that my absence would be desirable as I was no longer an “active” Witness. Having no wish to embarrass my brother or parents, I spent a very cold and wet afternoon wandering around the town centre. When I returned home to find my brother still in the house, I had to go to a neighbour to shelter from the rain. I quite understood the situation and accepted it as my due.
Over the next few years, restless and feeling without roots, I made several house moves, finding my local congregation wherever I went. I would slip in and out of meetings until people became curious about me; then I would move again. I took out a subscription to The Watchtower and Awake! magazines, painfully aware of what I had lost. As 1970 drew near, the Society began to state in its publications that 6000 years since man’s creation would end in the autumn of 1975. It mooted the prospect of this being a wonderful time for Jehovah to begin Armageddon. I tried hard not to think about the date, but it was a very tense year. I learned that some brothers and sisters had sold their houses to enter the pioneer work in this “time of the end.” The Society commended this as a fine action. When 1975 came and went, I was greatly relieved, though confused. I had no way of knowing, any more than the average Witness, that the Society had a long history of failed prophecies about the end of the world. The organisation dealt with the failure of 1975 by implying “some Witnesses” had read too much into the Watchtower publications – though I recall some elders and a circuit servant actually stating that Armageddon would begin in 1975.
I married again in 1979. Despite the great expectations about 1975, I thought wildly that Jehovah might be giving people like me a second chance, and I promptly contacted my Kingdom Hall and began openly associating again. I insisted my husband had a Bible study and was delighted when he agreed. I threw myself into “kingdom activities” and became very much a part of the congregation. A pioneer sister took it upon herself to officially re-introduce me to the ministry work, and one day we went from house to house in a deprived, run-down area of the town. An elderly and obviously frightened lady talked to us through the letterbox but would not open the door. Anxious that she should have some literature to read, I pushed a copy of The Watchtower magazine through the door. I was immediately subject to what I can only describe as a tirade from the pioneer sister. If we were to give magazines away, she said, it would “spoil it” for other Witnesses. I was very taken aback and rather shocked at her attitude.
I was now a mature and outwardly more confident woman, and I began to find some Watchtower articles for study caused me some concern. We were told that Jesus Christ was not the mediator for us all, only for the 144,000 anointed class. This class would intercede for us with Christ. I had given little thought to Jesus over the years – He was, though important, merely a creation of Jehovah. This article however, smacked of the “intercession of the saints” doctrine of the Catholic Church. I voiced my doubts to no-one – although it would be denied, Jehovah’s Witnesses fear the judicial committee, who have the power of life or death spiritually over individuals. I also had at the back of my mind the prospect of seeing the bodies of millions of little children at Armageddon. We had been told we would have to clean up the bodies, or possibly we could leave it to the birds – I was never quite sure which teaching was in force at the time. It still left the sight of all those bodies.
I had been taught of course, that the parents took responsibility for their offspring, hence the importance of contacting all we could on the door-to-door work. It certainly served to confirm in my mind that Jehovah was a God of vengeance – His name would be vindicated at all costs. We were reminded to pray to thank Jehovah for all the information He released to ‘His people’ in His “due time”, but I found prayer difficult as always. I could not reconcile myself to a God with such a harsh, unbending nature. It seemed He could be vindictive and loving at the same time. We were told that He was a God of love, yet was dispassionate enough to coldly arrange the deaths of billions. I tried very hard to see that His proposed actions were justified but I feared Him very much. Anyway, what did I, an imperfect human, understand about God?
To my dismay, I discovered that some Witness families were definitely to be avoided, having gained a reputation for strife and trouble making. Divisions were apparent – gossip was rife and the wives of some of the elders appeared to think they too had a special place in the congregation. As my husband was well to do and we lived in some style, Witnesses were eager to become friends. Those of the congregation who were not rich materially were frequently excluded from the rare social occasions. An announcement was made at the close of the Service Meeting one day – our congregation overseer, a successful builder, was, we were told, experiencing financial difficulties. I was surprised, for I had seen no sign of this. His teenage children all ran their own cars and the family lived in a large and comfortable house. I disliked this man intensely – I found him arrogant, bombastic and bullying. To make amends with my conscience for this, I contributed a sum of money to help him out of his difficulties, as, I know, did many other Witnesses. A week later it was announced that this man’s situation had “improved” and thanks were offered to all who had contributed. No change had been made to this family’s affluent life-style and I wondered how many of my less well-off brothers and sisters had made sacrifices to help this man.
An angel of light
Satan presented himself as an “angel of light,” and his target was God’s people – Jehovah’s Witnesses. Thus, we were warned against “thinking independently” as this was one of Satan’s wiles. We were to look on the organisation as our “Mother,” whose wisdom came from Jehovah himself, via Jesus Christ. “Running ahead” of Jehovah’s organisation was a phrase frequently used when brothers held minor doubts and we were cautioned against this. “New light from Jehovah” came very regularly to be shed upon a particular doctrine, and some changed entirely. The Society pictured this as “tacking into the wind” in order to keep the craft going forward. My hobby was sailing, and I knew this could produce the opposite effect one was seeking. However “waiting on Jehovah” for enlightenment was the policy, and I never heard any complaints from my brothers and sisters. I believed I was at fault in lacking faith in our “Mother.” The Society made so much of chronology they afforded it more space in their publications than that given to Jehovah. I doubt many Witnesses could give a clear explanation of how the crucial date of 1914 – Christ’s invisible presence – was reached. If any of my “interested persons” enquired, I would refer them to one of the Society’s publications. On one occasion I telephoned my son to ask why the organisation insisted on the date of 607 BC for the destruction of Jerusalem, when world historians to a man disagreed. My son angrily accused me of reading “apostate” literature, when in fact I was reading a book on ancient Egypt.
The announcement from the platform of the Kingdom Hall during a Service Meeting was greeted with bated breath and great excitement by my fellow Witnesses – and some apprehension by me. Literature distribution was in the immediate future to be a “simplified arrangement” whereby it would be offered to the public without charge. The “faithful and discreet slave” had decided on this move, it was rumoured, because “the end” was so near. I remembered 1975, and wondered how certain it was this time. Surely there could not be another mistake? It was pointed out to the congregation that the literature produced by our hard-working brothers at Bethel had to be paid for somehow, and brothers were appealed to use their conscience. In effect, we paid for the literature as normal but via the “contribution box” at the rear of the Hall. Demonstrations took place on the platform suggesting how we could ask the public for ” a small contribution” towards the magazines and books. Such contributions were to be handed in at the Kingdom Hall. I do not know how many of us realised that in this manner the Society was getting twice the money it had previously. I did not understand the true reason for this “simplified arrangement” for some years.
Further Watchtower articles appeared dealing with the sexual lives of married Jehovah’s Witnesses. These more explicit articles banned certain practices, including oral sex, between married couples. Not a few of the congregation were seriously affected, not least those married to “non-believers”. The Society was very prompt in issuing advice to married members but little was said to reassure single persons, except to insist that Jehovah’s organisation must come first. These latest articles too affected me, for my husband had long since discontinued his studies and association. I was phlegmatic, for my husband loved money, but I was not prepared for his request for a divorce. While I had been holding down a demanding full-time job, attending five meetings a week and going from door to door, he had felt neglected and decided he wanted his freedom. The only grounds for divorce permitted by the organisation are those of adultery, and it was hurtful to be issued with evidence of this. In the end, our parting was amicable enough.
Alone again, I was glad that my children were long married to other Witnesses and settled with families of their own, though they both lived at opposite ends of the country and I did not see them as often as I wished. Both, I knew, had suspected for some time that I was uneasy with some doctrines from “God’s sole channel of communication with mankind” and though it was never discussed, sometimes excuses were made when I asked to see my grandchildren.
I had for some time understood that I had a birth father, and I set out to find out if he still lived, and whether he would welcome a daughter. Upon approaching my mother for details of the past, she erupted furiously and sadly, an estrangement came about between us. She had finally become a Witness some years before upon my brother being baptised, though her personality had changed not at all. My brother was now the congregation overseer in his area. Although we had not been close since childhood, when I married a wealthy husband he eagerly renewed our relationship and availed himself of the hospitality offered in my home on the coast. I was delighted to prevail upon my normally cautious husband to loan my brother a very considerable amount of money. Since my divorce and rather reduced circumstances, I had not heard from him. I loved, admired and respected him and had agreed with my mother that his workload as a Christian overseer prevented him from applying normal family ties. However, I wrote to my brother and gave him details of my whereabouts, and of my natural father, whom I had traced.
My conscience over the next two years troubled me. I wanted to get in touch with my parents, but guessed what reception I would receive. When I received a letter from my brother after two years silence, I assumed I was needed to care for our parents, and made mental preparations. Two minutes after our meeting, I was casually informed that our parents were dead. Stumbling out of the restaurant, blind with grief and shock, my brother called me back, and handed me, without further words, a copy of the death certificates. There had been not a single word of consolation or sympathy, except a brief mention that my step-father had not accepted “the truth” before he died, with the unspoken implication that Jehovah God would never resurrect him. The next few days brought enormous heartache and guilt and I could not bear it. I approached an elder of my congregation for help and was handed a copy of a Watchtower article dealing with depression, and told to return it to the Kingdom Hall when read. This was the extent of the help offered me. A letter to my brother asking for details of what had happened had me waiting seven weeks for a reply. When it came, it brusquely informed me he was too busy winding up our parents affairs, and being a family man and Christian overseer, to answer my questions. He did inform me that my stepfather had consulted a solicitor three days before his death who had prepared a new Will, which left the entire estate to my brother. The new Will, a copy of which I obtained from the Probate Office, consisted of a single page in my brother’s handwriting with the feeble signature of my stepfather at the bottom of the page. I learned much later that the day my brother had visited me was the day contracts of sale had been exchanged on our parent’s house.
My brother’s actions bewildered me, and added to the grief I was under, made for a very unhappy year. I blamed myself continually, though puzzled that my brother had not contacted me in time for me to reconcile myself to our mother. It seemed old neighbours had questioned my absence and been told by David that I was in a mental hospital, having suffered a breakdown. Upon being approached by his two older children from his first marriage and urged to find “Aunt Anne” he told them he had no idea of my whereabouts. It never occurred to me that such an outstanding Witness of Jehovah could lie so outrageously or behave in the manner he did. I began to believe that Jehovah had used my brother in this way to make it clear to me that I was not welcome in the organisation.
I knew that my only chance of seeing my mother again was in the New World, when she was resurrected. She would surely be in a better frame of mind then, knowing I had survived the Battle of Armageddon, and as she gradually grew to perfection, we would become close, as we had never been. These thoughts spurred me on and I became assiduous in association with the organisation, but my heart was raw at my loss.
Early in 1999, I made the usual arrangements to travel some distance to a district assembly. Having seated myself, I prepared to concentrate and take notes. I disliked assemblies, though I was never foolish enough to say so. There was always a good deal of travelling and upheaval and I was usually tired by the time I arrived, let alone having to sit through five or more unrelieved hours of talks from the platform. At circuit assemblies, this went on for days at a time. In the windowless converted cinema, there was always the muted sound of crying children being “disciplined” in the background. I had been seated for just an hour when I realised my thoughts had been wandering and I had lost the thread of the programme. I looked around me. There were the pioneers seated in the front row, having boasted smugly and publicly of how Jehovah was blessing their ministry work with almost miraculous incidents. There were the parents, dragging their children outside for the “mental-regulating discipline of Jehovah.” And yes, here it came – the announcement, now all too familiar, that this might be one of the last assemblies we would ever attend in “this system of things” Well, I thought – if everlasting life means everlasting meetings and assemblies, then I wanted none of it. Horrified with myself, I obeyed the impulse to get up and walk out, passing the disapproving eyes of the brothers on the door as I did so. I spent the rest of the day walking around the town in the sunlight, guilty, defiant and now certain that I would never get through Armageddon.
Thankfully reaching home I went to bed, hoping to avoid the usual nightmares that accompanied any rebellious thoughts I entertained. It was a restless night and I set off early for my local library, which had always been a haven of peace. I had been criticised in the past for having the time to read “worldly” books when I surely could have learned more from the Watchtower publications. I had once, years ago, burned dozens of books when told they could be satanic – they included, I remember, several Agatha Christie crime novels.
On the way out
Sitting on a shelf, quite alone, was a small paper-backed book, which immediately caught my eye. It was an account by Susan Thorne, an ex-Witness, of 15 years with the organisation. I knew very well that this was “apostate” literature and forbidden reading, but I was past caring. So certain was I of impending doom when God’s day of wrath arrived, one more sin was not going to make any difference. I took the book home, cradling it like a baby in my arms. Completing the book in the small hours, I was alarmed. This educated, intelligent woman spoke of finding Jesus Christ – how many times had I heard this in the course of my “ministry” work? I was sure these people were sincere in their belief, but deluded, of course. There was only one way of salvation, and that was through the “Mother” organisation. But Susan Thorne was not some apostate with a grudge against the Society. I checked the scriptures she quoted in her book to support the deity of Christ, and I was very uneasy. The author mentioned a charity called “Reachout Trust” but gave no further details. It seemed these people had more information about Jehovah’s Witnesses and I determined to find them. It was frustrating – no address, no telephone number. The following day I walked through a small parade of shops, and in the corner of a window, tucked away, a postcard caught my eye. It invited anyone studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses to contact The Reachout Trust for information – and gave the address. I went straight home and wrote a somewhat incoherent letter, asking for help. In the two days before I received that first, reassuring reply, I returned to the library and found a book by Doug Harris, giving the origins of the Society and discussing all their doctrines from the Bible. I was astonished to find that Doug Harris was the Director of the Reachout Trust! So many coincidences in such a short time. I read the book again in one sitting, praying I would be able to disprove what I learned. I could not.
In the space of three days, I had come to realise that for 45 years I had been deceived, lied to, manipulated, controlled and humiliated. I felt very, very sick and in deep shock. I learned that the organisation deliberately misquoted from authorities to back up their doctrines. I learned they were highly selective in quoting in part from scholars in order to claim that the New World Translation of the Bible was the most pure in existence, when in fact it was highly slanted and even spurious in parts. The first president of the Watchtower Society had lifted the peculiar chronology directly from another small religious sect of the time – then confirmed the dates with measurements taken from the Great Pyramid of Gizza, which he claimed was of divine origin. The Society had prophesied the end of the world on no less than five previous occasions. A mansion had been built for the return of the “princes” of the Bible in 1925 when Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, among others, were expected to return in the flesh. The idea of the “simplified” literature arrangement had been purely to avoid paying huge sums of tax on religious literature – and the Society had declared themselves “friends of the court” in supporting Jimmy Swaggart – a prominent member of “Babylon the Great”, the world empire of false religion.
Marley Cole, author of a popular and much publicised book about Jehovah’s Witnesses was not, as we had been encouraged to believe, an independent author – he had been an elder for years. Shock followed shock and when I thought there could be no more in store, I was mistaken. Even now, as I pursue my study of the Watchtower’s false teachings, something new brings anger. When the second Watchtower president, “Judge” Rutherford ignored and turned around the teachings of his predecessor – who had modestly accepted his adherents claim that he was in person the “faithful and discreet slave” spoken of by Jesus – and declared that the Holy Spirit had departed from him and been replaced by spirit creatures, it does not take much imagination to realise what is controlling this dreadful religion. How many times do the scriptures warn Christians to be aware of false prophets that would arise to deceive many? Much of my anger is for those Witnesses who have died unnecessarily refusing blood transfusions, vaccinations and organ transplants. And what of the thousands who have been tortured, raped, dispossessed and murdered for obeying the orders of the Watchtower not to carry a party political card costing a few pence?
I knelt and prayed to Jehovah, addressing Him as Heavenly Father. I opened up my heart and mind and I challenged Him, if He cared at all about me, to send me some sign, some message. That night I slept like a baby, and awoke the next morning with a joyful heart. I could have danced, so certain was I that God did indeed care about me. It was like having a bright light switched on after years of fumbling in the gloom – everything seemed so clear.
The need to resign from this organisation became urgent. I wrote a long letter to the elders of my congregation disassociating myself forever. I wrote to friends in the same vein, telling them what I had discovered. Finally, I wrote to my children. To do this brought great pain. I knew perfectly well from 45 years association what my action would mean. The organisation makes very sure that former members cannot convey the truth by holding the threat of disfellowshipping over the head of any Witness who talks to a disassociated one. I am not alone – there are thousands out there experiencing the same rejection and thousands whose family lives have been ended on the whim of a dozen or so old men at the pinnacle. The Watchtower magazine of July 15, 1992 describes such “dissidents” as “enemies of God, who are intensely hating Jehovah.” Witnesses are urged to “hate them with a complete hatred.” And The Watchtower of October 1, 1994 – “apostates are so rooted in evil that wickedness has become an inseparable part of their nature.” Witnesses are told to pray to God in the manner of the psalmist David “Oh that you, oh God, would slay the wicked one”. In this way, Witnesses “leave it to Jehovah to exact vengeance.” I am now one of those to be hated. I am an apostate, a member of the “evil slave class” to be shunned at all costs. I quote below from a testimony by a former Jehovah’s Witness, Robert Newton, who was disfellowshipped for mentioning to his elders his concerns about Watchtower doctrine and the Bible.
“One of the most difficult things to try and explain to anyone else is what the act of disfellowshipping does for you. If you can imagine your closest friends, your wife and children, your relatives, everyone you’ve ever loved, all dying instantly in a jet crash then you might just get an inclination of the devastation you feel. When you are disfellowshipped, the loss is tremendous – you can no longer have any contact with those you love. In effect, it is actually worse because with death you have to learn to cope with the fact that those you have loved are gone but with disfellowshipping there is always the hankering and hope that something might happen to enable you to be united with your loved ones”.
Since learning of the false teachings of the Watchtower organisation, life over the past year has been a real spiritual journey of discovery. On referring to the Bible without Watchtower literature, I discovered that most of their doctrines relied on scriptures taken entirely out of context. Understanding that our Heavenly Father has appointed His Son to carry our sins not just for the past, but for the present and future is a great relief. I could never, I know now, have earned my salvation no matter how long I lived. The concept of “grace,” which is missing from the New World Translation of the Bible, is very wonderful. The Watchtower deliberately twisted scriptures from the book of Revelation to convince its members that the vast majority would never achieve heaven to be with their God. I understand so many things now – above all that being a Christian gives us freedom from heavy chains and a myriad of regulations. What a comparison with the Pharisees of Jesus’ time!
Feeling a need to be with other Christians, finding a place to worship was not easy. Overcoming the belief that Satan controlled all churches was a great mental obstacle. But I have settled very happily into my local Baptist church where the service is simple and hearing voices raised in worship to our Heavenly Father brings me nearer to Him. Learning about Jesus Christ and the real message of the Bible has taken time – undoing the thought processes of so many years has not been simple. But to my surprise, my faith in Jesus Christ and the real message of the Bible is growing daily. When I pray, I know Jesus Christ is near, and listening.
Taking a fresh look at the Watchtower’s well-worn use of Matthew chapter 24, I have learned to wait with patience for the second coming of our Saviour. Even the organisation has now taken another “tack” and changed its policies on their teaching of the “generation of 1914”. A further “new light from Jehovah,” of course. I wonder how much longer they can keep their members in a state of permanent expectancy?
Much of my life is now over. I try not to look back, remembering Paul’s words that what he had lost he counted as gain for the sake of Christ. But I am bitter. Life without my family can be empty at times. This is when I need to pray most of all. I made no provision for my old age, which along with thousands of other Witnesses, I believed I would never reach. Nevertheless, I have a new purpose – I am trying, with fellow Christians, to reach as many of those in the cults as I can. Already there is fruitage, and it is thrilling.
When Jehovah’s Witnesses contact you, please take a few minutes to talk to them. Only Jesus Christ can offer salvation, but it may be that some day, somehow, you will be able to reach one of these. The “good news of the kingdom” is right here, now.