My story: Growing up as a Jehovah's Witness
This article belongs to Religion theme.
Every child raised as a Jehovah's Witness will have different circumstances. However, the intensity of pressure to conform remains constant.
Here’s my story:
I didn't come from the standard Jehovah's Witness background, since I only had one parent who was a Jehovah’s Witness. She wasn't raised as one, though. My mom was actually raised Catholic but her family wasn’t very religious. My mom was introduced to the Watchtower Society by her first husband's family. Her brother-in-law and his wife were Jehovah's Witnesses and her husband was beginning to study with them. One night, they offered to go out to dinner together, but they deceitfully took her to the Kingdom Hall, first. Initially my mom was angry about being tricked. However, since she had never been encouraged to build scriptural foundation for her beliefs, she was swept away charismatic presentation of twisted scriptures. As a result, my mom became a baptised Jehovah's Witness. Her husband did not. Their marriage ultimately failed due to his ongoing affair with another woman. My mom moved back to her mother’s home, pregnant with her second child.
Shortly after, my mom became acquaintances with my father, a controlling man who had no religious beliefs or morals. I believe she was desperate for someone to take care of her and her children, and my dad took advantage of her vulnerability, weaseling his way into her life. Not long after, she was pregnant and disfellowshipped. My mom was 7 months pregnant with me when they were married.
I don't know what transpired for the next five years, aside from hearing that my father was relentlessly cruel to my mom’s sons (my half-brothers) especially the one who was later diagnosed with Asperger’s, taunting him for his delayed development. I've also heard chilling stories of border-line abuse in the name of punishment. But I was completely unaware of this. He was actually pretty good to me until my pre-teens, and I was even a "daddy’s girl."
When I was five, my mom was reinstated as a Jehovah's Witness. At about the same time, my father got custody of his two sons from his previous marriage. (I have four half-brothers, two from each parent.) My mom had already started taking me and her sons to the Kingdom Hall. My dad's sons only attended a few meetings before deciding not to go back.
I continued to go and a year later I was thoroughly indoctrinated. I was NOT at all like other children. My mom had already ingrained into my brain that "Bad association spoils useful habits." This would include everyone who is not a Jehovah's Witness (aka "worldly" people). Let me paint a picture of what that looks like in action. At age six, I had no friends at school since my two Jehovah's Witness friends moved away. I remember sitting on a swing next to a “worldly” classmate and suddenly realizing that I was becoming friends with this girl. Immediately, I explained to her that I was not allowed to be friends with her. I also explained that sometimes I forget and asked her to remind me not to talk to her in the future. We were only SIX! My dad’s sons had friends, so we were allowed to play with them when they came over. However, my mom was very uptight about me playing with any boys. She always wanted me to be proper and scolded me for being playful and silly. And I was not allowed to make any of my own friends. If I got caught talking to a neighbor when my mom got home, I would quickly end the conversation and head inside feeling shamed by my mom’s disappointment in me.
"I had no friends at school since my two Jehovah's Witness friends moved away.
So in just one year of attending the Kingdom Hall, I already secluded myself from society and I already knew the basics of the religion, including which Bible verse to share with other students about what God’s name “really” is (however, I now know this is false.) I would take WTS publications to school to defend my religion and try to win converts before I was even on the “big kids’ side” of the playground. I would ask to be removed from any classroom birthday or holiday activities. Sometimes, my father would encourage me to celebrate holidays, and twice I gave in. But I felt torn inside, because God was displeased with me for doing so. I sometimes laid in bed asking God to make my dad a Jehovah’s Witness so he wouldn’t have to die in Armageddon.
As soon as I was able to read, I was pressured into studying the WTS publications. I hated to read and often got drowsy while attempting to read their propaganda. But, I always strived to do what was right, no matter how difficult it was. I was also trained to answer objections to my religion and shut out any opposing views. Questioning the Watchtower Society, I was told, was the same as "Questioning God!" Three to five times a week, my mom would ask the same question: "Have you studied for the meeting, yet?" She was constantly hounding me and almost never had a nice thing to say. I was also taught how to go out in door-to-door service as young, trembling child.
I did have some good times during these years, most of which I attribute to my oldest brother (my mom’s son) who always looked out for me. He was the one who glued us kids together. We were a team, the kids versus the parents.
He sheltered me from the chaos of my unblended family. However, the pressure built up to a degree that he could no longer take, and he buckled. My dad continued his verbal abuse towards my mom’s sons, and my mom countered using my dad’s son as a pawn. Their real dad was no better, treating them as second-rate to his daughters from the “other woman,” whom he married. It got worse. After he failed to stay faithful to his second wife, he ended his life, leaving my brothers (and even my mom) with scars I will never understand.
These events drove my oldest brother to drugs, alcohol and the type of friends that go along with that life style. At this point, he was an unbaptized publisher and was constantly being reprimanded by the elders and eventually he left, never to return. Being that I was still so young, I didn’t understand what was going on with him. All I knew is that he was "bad" because he "had 'the truth' and he left it!"
Now that the glue in our family had become undone, my life began to take a turn for the worst. Without him to make sure that there was fair play, my other brothers began to pick on me relentlessly. Even my mom wouldn’t stand up for me! Instead, she always told me just to ignore their taunting and scolded me for fighting with them. My mom was trying to turn me into a clone of herself. For as long as I can remember, she has been a down-trodden, non-confrontational people-pleaser. No doubt this demeanor is a strong factor in why she fell into the snare of the WTS. My mom would project this attitude onto me, expecting me to let everyone walk all over me. It wasn’t just with my brothers. My father would hypocritically spank me for not eating peas, when he wouldn’t even allow beets into the house. My mom said nothing. When I told her that the girls at school picked on me, my mom insisted that the other girls must have had a good reason for not liking me. (They did. It was my lack of social skills and odd religious behavior, but I was too young to comprehend this.)
No matter how much I wanted to please her (and "Jehovah"), it just wasn't in my nature to accept these injustices. I would have extreme crying bouts, shoving my face into the pillow and screaming at the top of my lungs, leaving my door open for all to hear. I always hoped that my parents would see how deeply I was wounded and come to my aid. They never did. This led to some very dark thoughts at the age of 10. Since it didn't seem enough to them that I was hurting so deeply, then I began to imagine "how sorry they'd be" if I were dead. I never had the guts to actually attempt suicide, nor did I want to displease God! But, I was so angry to the core that I often fantasized about the sorrow and regrets they’d have if I chose to go through with it. I wanted them to hurt to the same degree that I was hurting!
When I was about twelve, while visiting my uncle, he told me that he had a book with all these facts about CT Russell being a liar and a crook. I didn't dare look at it (for doing so would be “questioning God!”) but just the “what if” thoughts freaked me out. I felt sick to my stomach and couldn't sleep that night. I just couldn’t bear to think that I was wrong, that my mom was wrong, and that our congregation was wrong. And it was dangerous to toy with the idea. After all, I’d already been warned about “apostate lies.” I convinced myself that whatever that book said, it just couldn’t be true. I went back to trying to please "Jehovah" and my mom, JW-style. With time, I even repressed the memory.
At age 13, I began getting pressure from my mom to get baptised. Every time someone my age or younger was baptised, my mom would nudge me, as if to say, "What about you?" She thought it was admirable when an eight-year old was considered mature enough to make that decision, as did the rest of my congregation. Mature or NAIVE?! The other two girls my age were already baptised and, in the eyes of my mother and my congregation, I was becoming a public disgrace.
I was constantly compared to one of these other girls, specifically. The other girl was far more sheltered and far more indoctrinated. Both of her parents were Jehovah's Witnesses, her father was an elder, and she was home schooled. She was baptised at about thirteen. Her P.E. requirement was fulfilled by door-to-door service. She put so many hours into “field service” that she was considered a “pioneer” (I think it’s about 60 hrs a month) and her name was mentioned monthly in the Kingdom Hall.
Of course, this would again result in my mom giving me the “comparison nudge.” This other girl was considered to be more “spiritual,” more “mature” than I was. After all, I was still an unbaptised publisher going out in service less than 15 hours a month. If my hours fell under 10 a month, I had an elder of the congregation calling my house asking to speak to me to find out why my hours dropped…… Oh, I don’t know…. Maybe going school, doing homework, studying for meetings three times a week and going door-to-door more than two hours a week is a bit much to ask of a thirteen year-old!
"By age fifteen I started realizing that I'd never chosen my religion and began questioning my faith.
By age fifteen I started realizing that I'd never chosen my religion and began questioning my faith. Everything I’d done was a result from outside pressures, especially that of my mom. Thankfully, I had not yet been baptized! (This is an important fact. All the Jehovah’s Witness children who were baptized, even at the ripe old age of eight, suffered far more when they chose to leave. There are strict rules regarding former Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are considered apostates and “are worse than ‘worldly’ people because they had ‘the Truth’ and turned away from it.” They loose all their friends and even some family members refuse to speak to them. Even though I am not technically an “apostate,” JW’s who know my past will still avoid me like the plague!)
I had really dark thoughts about God. In fact, my favorite song at the time was "Blasphemous Rumors" by Depeche Mode. This was a result of being taught some conflicting ideas:
1) Never question my beliefs.
2) All non-JWs who don't question their beliefs will be killed in Armageddon.
See a problem? Yeah, it made me think that God, if He existed, was cruel! I wanted nothing more then to hope, against all odds, that evolution was the source of life. Since I was taught that there is no hell, I figured I was gambling, at most, an untimely and gruesome death at Armageddon. I felt "I'd rather die than serve a god like him." I refused to look at arguments for creation and always used this cop-out: "One day, I'll figure out what I believe. But for right now, I'm just gonna live life as I please."
My parents' marriage was falling apart. By this time, I was fully aware of who my dad really was and I hated him! The elders deemed that my mom had grounds for separation since my father was verbally abusing my entire family and was sexually abusing her, driving her to a suicide attempt. I was thrilled when we moved out. Only three weeks later, my mom dragged my brother (with Asperger’s) and me back to my dad’s, crying and pleading the whole time. (Eventually, they divorced.) Since I realized no one was looking out for my best interests, I pinned them against each other, to break free from the control of the Watchtower. As long as I was living in my father’s household, my mom didn’t have the power to force me to go the meetings. I used my new-found freedoms to choose my own friends. My previous best friend, a Jehovah’s Witness was actually a bit pushy with me, but because she was the only JW in my grade level, she had become my best friend by process of elimination. But now, I had options!
I made quick friends with a classmate who had a crush on me. Although I wasn’t interested, our friendship grew. He was there for me when I needed to be angry and vent. He was there for me when I needed to cry. And he was there for me when I needed to laugh and for the first time in my life, I had someone to be silly with! It wasn’t long before we fell in love. My mom strongly objected to our relationship. But I’d never been able to gain her approval in the past, so her continued disappointment had very little effect. She kept hoping that I would return to the Kingdom Hall and stop dating a “worldly” boy. I did neither. After four years of dating, at age twenty, I married him!
"At age 21, God revealed Himself to me. He warned me that if I didn't turn to Him, that I was headed for hell.
My husband was raised Christian but wasn't exactly strong in his faith during his teen years. As he got older, he began taking his faith more seriously. He also began praying for me on a regular basis. God honoured his prayers. At age 21, God revealed Himself to me. He warned me that if I didn't turn to Him, that I was headed for hell. I woke up shaking and crying. For the first time in six years, I prayed. I poured out my heart and begged God to show me who He really is. I began going to a Christian church and independently comparing it to the doctrine I was raised on.
My mom lent me some materials to aid in my research. One of the publications I borrowed was a Kingdom Interlinear (A Greek-to-English Bible translation). When I saw the discrepancies between the original Greek and the English of the New World Translation, I knew that the WTS had intentionally altered their Bible to conceal the Deity of Jesus Christ. In one moment, I knew they were a false prophet and couldn’t be trusted on any theology. And even though I became a born-again Christian, I still grappled with confusion over the indoctrination of my past. I still had to cover each issue, one by one, to figure out what was true and what was not.
My mom and I tip-toed around religion for five years. Recently, we reached a boiling point. This resulted in sending me back through the doctrinal differences, since I needed a stronger case to prove to her what I already know. This time, when I researched, I dug much deeper than before. What I’ve discovered was so sickening that it makes me physically nauseated. In addition to faulty doctrine, I discovered a long history of false prophecies. I also found a history of flip-flopping on their position regarding blood transfusions and organ transplants. They’ve even repetitively protected rapists and child-molesters and shunned the victims, labeling them as “fornicators!” Learning the depth of deception and the horrors that are taking place within Kingdom Halls, I finally felt free letting go of the legalism that I had been clining to, even after five years as a Christian. I now know the source of my unexplained depresion and I am beginning a journey towards true healing, that only God can bring. God's grace is overflowing in my life and I'm brought to tears when I realize how much He loves me. I'm figuring out who I am, and I like the person that God is turning me into!
Now, I actively work towards opening the eyes of the members of this horrendous cult, including my mom and one brother who are still active Jehovah’s Witnesses. I have a solid case, but they’ve been so indoctrinated to assume that any former member is spreading vicious lies that they refuse to even look at the evidence. I have not been disowned, though (which most former JWs are disowned by family members) and I look for open doors to share my faith.
Even my oldest brother, who never returned to the Kingdom Hall, still carries the wounds of his spiritual abuse, along with the other trials he’s endured. He’s into his thirties now and has achieved some level of stability. He’s now married, owns a home, works full-time, attends a trade school and has three dogs. However, he is still attempting to mask his pain with marijuana and alcohol. Deep down, he still believes in the teachings of the WTS. He can’t yet see that the god of the Watchtower is not the God of the Bible. As a result, religion is too painful for him to consider, at this time. It’s just recently that God has allowed me to see his inner pain and I am beginning to reach out to him, with positive results.
As a Christian, I am learning to forgive my father for what he’s done to my family. I no longer hate him but he has not changed, so I keep him at a safe distance. I worry about him and his sons the most, since they are all content with their Godless lives of depravity. Their names are often included in my very long “prayer list.”