Meeting the Witnesses...
We were a relatively average close-knit happy little middle class family. In 1972, when I was around 15 years old, my mother became very ill. One day everything was normal and within a week we all thought she was going to die! It was during the early years of Mom's illness we first met Jehovah's Witnesses. I guess my dad, who wasn't particularly religious, was searching for answers when they came to the door. At any rate, Dad agreed to a study and within the year he was baptized as one of Jehovah's Witnesses.
I listened some and argued some with these Witnesses. Two guys studied with Dad. One of the Witnesses, we were told, was of the "anointed" class. (Witnesses believe only 144,000 anointed born-again humans actually go on to heaven when they die while the rest will live eventually on earth in paradise) He was an eerie old dude; always talking about the destruction that Armageddon would soon bring upon earth (at that time, the Watchtower was predicting 1975 as the year). He had my attention, that's the year I was to graduate high school! The other guy was real bold and arrogant. I argued with him about the necessity of human government (Witnesses will not serve in government), war, blood transfusions, and so on. I lost each time because I always played into their well-rehearsed counter-arguments. Eventually, they won my mind.
They didn't win my heart though. Dear old Mom was able, in time, to return home for short visits. If anyone was ever opposed to the Watchtower it was my mother! By 1973 our peaceful little home had become like a high-pressure steam cooker. Dad carted me and my little sister off to five hours of meetings each week (plus field service) and that made Mom boil. She couldn't understand what was happening to her family. Dad, well, he just wanted to save everyone from Armageddon. My sister and I were stuck. Stuck in the middle. We both loved our parents very much. We were both worried about Mom's health. And we both respected our father. But the pressure! If we went with Dad, Mom got mad at us. If we fussed about going with Dad...we'd get a lecture about how Jehovah would destroy us. Finally, after 1975 came and went without all the doom and gloom, I bailed out. I still believed the Watchtower was right, but I couldn't deal with my divided love. College was out because at the time the Watchtower strongly discouraged higher education so I took a job pumping gas.
Joining the Watchtower
My Dad dove into the organization head first. I graduated high school in 1975, the year "Armageddon" hit. College was not an option for me because Watchtower "light" at the time forbid the pursuit of higher education. Dan, the JW who studied with Dad, told me college was "chasing after the wind" (Hosea 12:1). So I found work at a gas station/car wash. I also found some new friends...the kind 1 Corinthians 15:33 warns against.
I want to speak a moment about my Dad. This guy was wonderful. He was a Navy veteran and a printer by trade. And handy...he could fix or build anything. He made Mom a sewing desk, he made us kids toy airplanes, go-carts, and he built my sister a full-size doll house complete with shutters and counter space! We had original Christmas decorations including a huge wreath with "lit" candles and a snowman that tipped his hat to all who passed by. All that changed when he became a Witness. It enveloped his life. All his time was absorbed by the Watchtower and the "friends." He did not become mean or nasty...but my Daddy, the Daddy I grew up with and loved ceased to be, consumed by this religion.
I guess it was the stress and pressure from the tension at home, but I turned rebellious. Drugs, sex, alcohol, and of course, cigarettes. I never hurt anyone but I grew ugly. My old high school friends hardly recognized me. I embarrassed everyone in my family. Chasing women, driving drunk, coming home at all hours of the night too stoned to find the bathroom. I was the proverbial party animal. Emphasis on animal.
In 1979 I met my first wife. We married in May...she was 6 months pregnant with our first daughter. Within a few years, daughter number 2 was on the way. It was then that my Mom died...and my heart broke. The Witnesses, who Mother hated so much, filled her home and conducted her funeral. My sister was livid. I went to the Kingdom Hall. I just knew the Witnesses were right. Hopefully, Mom would be resurrected during Christ's thousand-year reign. I figured I'd better stop goofing around and make sure my family and I would be in
Paradisetoo. Dad quit work (retired early) sold his home and moved South to knock on doors where the "need was greater."
By 1985, I'd talked my wife into having a "Bible Study" with two lovable JWs I knew. My wife and I had talked talked about religion off and on during our marriage. I always gave her a hard time around birthdays and holidays (Witnesses do not observe any special day except wedding anniversaries). Our study went real well. Too well in fact. Within 6 months, my wife wanted to get baptized...and she didn't want to wait. I stopped swearing and drinking wasn't really a problem (Witnesses are allowed to drink "in moderation.") but smoking. Gak! I just could quite seem to leave those butts alone.
Again the pressure was on. The thing I thought I really wanted: my family in
Paradisewas on the line. So I went underground. I just stopped smoking around people...it was assumed I had quit. I reasoned Jehovah would help me stop eventually. Smoking became my demon, my secret sin. By June 1985 we were about ready to take the plunge. Our family and friends, including Dad, his wife and Ray, our study JW, helped a neighboring congregation construct a "quick-build" Kingdom Hall. That's where a completely functional (although drab) meeting facility is erected in two days. We answered the "eighty questions" the Watchtower requires as a prerequisite to baptism and by September 1985, we were baptized Jehovah's Witnesses!
Life as a Witness
Life as a Witness was short and hectic. I had no doctrinal qualms. My biggest problem, of course, was cigarettes. It wasn't long before we were busy. Busy with meetings. Busy knocking on doors. Busy reading and studying the latest word from God's organization. Some things occurred during that year that are worthy of mention.
Immediately after baptism, I found myself climbing the "organizational ladder." This is very important for male JWs. I guess it strokes the ego. It made me feel good. Our congregation was desperate for male leaders...especially elders. We "joined" the "
" (where JWs learn to read from the platform and prepare and deliver public talks from Watchtower outlines) and attended all 5 weekly meetings. Within a few months, I was assisting the Magazine Servant. At that time, the Watchtower "sold" it's magazines (The Watchtower and Awake!) to Witnesses who in turn "placed" them at homes for a "small donation" thereby covering their cost. I handled the money and helped in distribution. I was repeatedly told how important responsibility was and how soon I would be eligible to be a Ministerial Servant (e.g. Deacon). "My how Jehovah was blessing you" we would hear. Isn't it interesting how Jehovah blessed me, a smoker? I loved the attention and the affirmation...and I hated deceiving these people. My little family seemed to be growing "spiritually." Then something scary happened, my friend got "marked." Theocratic Ministry School
Most of the congregation knew me through my dad who, although living in another state at this time, had been a part of the congregation for years. In fact, he had helped build the current Kingdom Hall. One JW, Lonnie, was about my age and we became good friends. Lonnie was somewhat of a radical; he was outspoken and unorthodox. He wore "loud" ties and wrinkled suits. Most of the other JWs kept some distance between themselves and Lonnie. One Sunday I noticed Lonnie was uncharacteristically quiet and did not answer any Watchtower study questions. After the meeting I moved to greet him and was intercepted by an elder who warned me that Lonnie was being "disciplined" and I should keep my "association" with Lonnie to a minimum. The Watchtower calls this "marking." That was a sad experience. There was no explanation of his "crime" nor could we ask. Witnesses are told this is for the good of the offender and keeps the Organization clean, but that never made sense to me. At the time, my daughters were very young. I didn't discipline them by withdrawing my affection and love. If they messed up, they were confronted, told what was wrong and why, punished if necessary, and after all the tears we always hugged them and told them we loved them. If I, as an imperfect human father, knew enough to affirm my love for disobedient children, shouldn't our Heavenly Father do much more? Then, I got another lesson in love and loyalty.
One Sunday in November 1985, just before the Public Talk started I received a phone call at the Kingdom Hall. An elderly aunt of mine (a non-Witness) had fallen and sustained some injuries. As it turned out, she wasn't hurt badly, but the doctor refused to release her since she lived alone. My wife and I decided the Christian thing to do would be to move in with her until she got back on her feet. Sounded good huh? What a trial! Around Christmas our empty home was burglarized. Taking care of my aunt meant we missed some meetings and our service time dropped...the very yardsticks the Watchtower uses to measure one's spiritual health. Soon we were being counseled to leave my aunt and refocus on "serving Jehovah." The wife and I huddled and decided my aunt would be all right alone. Although I was glad to leave the hassle, the situation bothered me. Many scriptures speak of caring for the unfortunate; many specifically mention widows (James ). Aunt Florence was a widow and she certainly was in "tribulation" and yet God's Organization was telling me to abandon her and stick to it's program. There was no alternative plan, no offer of assistance, no love. But hey, I was just a peon. A smoking peon at that! I was certainly in no position to argue with God nor his organization.
We moved back home and struggled to make sense of everything. We missed the Spring assembly which is another "no no." My wife began making excuses to miss meetings and field service. The illusion of Spiritual Paradise (this is what the Watchtower tells JWs they live in) was vaporizing. For a few months I carried on myself. Making all the meetings, doing my assigned talks, and knocking on doors but all I felt was confusion and guilt. It was coming up on our one-year anniversary in the Organization and life was failing apart. I became obsessed with quitting smoking; thinking of self inflicted bodily injury and worse. Then one day I called a Christian bookstore to inquire about the price of a King James Version (KJV) Bible. Witnesses sometimes use the KJV to support various doctrines (for example the word "Jehovah" appears four times in the KJV). After work I stopped at the bookstore and, while speaking with the owner, shared that I was one of Jehovah's Witnesses (loved to watch people squirm!). The owner pointed to some material she had by former JWs. My heart stopped..."apostate" books! I had heard about them but never considered actually reading one. I bought two (out of curiosity!) and a KJV Bible. I read the books and wasn't impressed. Yet, the prayers of that special lady and her church may well have led to my leaving the Watchtower.
Shunned by Jehovah
I can't recall exactly which proverbial "straw" broke the camel's back. But after months of sneaking cigarettes, munching breath fresheners, and always looking over my shoulder...I had had enough. My wife, by now, had completely withdrawn. She had "caught" me smoking (and forgiven me...by Watchtower law, she was required to turn me in to the elders). The marking of Lonnie and the Aunt Florence incident kept nagging my conscience. Suddenly, one day I just sat down and wrote my letter of confession.
Within days after I mailed my confession, my Dad called. In an ice cold tone he offer this "loving" advice: each time I wanted a cigarette, I should envision grinding out the butt on the arm of my youngest daughter. That was it. Next, a car-load of elders came to the house. These were all good decent men I'd known most of my life. We went through the "routine," reading applicable Bible passages and verses including their favorite:
"What! Do YOU not know that the body of YOU people is [the] temple of the holy spirit within YOU, which you have from God. Also, You do not belong to yourselves for YOU were bought with a price..."
1 Corinthians ,20 (NWT)
These verses bugged me. In the Watchtower, only a few living JWs called the "anointed remnant" are said to be "born again" and have the holy spirit dwelling within them, the rest of the 5 million or so JWs, called the "other sheep" cannot be born-again and do not receive the indwelling of the spirit. This verse was used to impress upon us the need to keep our temples clean but just how I, as an other sheep, could be a temple of the spirit was never discussed. Basically, the charges were that smoking was unhealthy, it polluted the air of my fellow humans, and it contaminated my body. And, the elders had an obligation to "keep the congregation clean." They asked if I had any doctrinal questions or doubts... I didn't. Then, sort of in desperation, I gave the situation my best shot.
I asked exactly how damaging to my health were two cigarettes a day (which is about what I was smoking at the time)? What if I only smoked one a day? Or one every couple days? Many Witnesses I knew were overweight. Is that evidence of gluttony which, unlike smoking, is specifically condemned in Scripture? Obesity certainly isn't healthy. Does the Watchtower pursue over-eaters with the same determination it does smokers? And talk about air pollution! Were the elders willing to give up their automobiles, the major contributor of air pollution? And then I brought up the subject of alcohol. "Isn't alcohol addictive?" I asked. How many drinks does it take to sin? "Why is my two cigarettes a day a sin but two beers a day isn't? And," I said as I slowly looked at each of them, "Don't tell me my smoking affected the health of my family, no one even knew I smoked during the last twelve months!" To top it off I mused how ironic it was that as long I kept my "sin" a secret, I was deemed "in good standing" in God's Organization. But the minute I confessed and made some attempt to really do the right thing...I am threatened with expulsion! "Didn't" I asked, "Jesus come for sinners not the healthy?"
Dismayed, the elders expressed their willingness to do whatever they could to help. In my opinion, they wanted to work with me. They understood my struggle wasn't with God it was with a drug addiction. I could see they wanted to help but they couldn't. These guys were elders. Small officials in a large legalistic organization. They were bound hand and foot by rules and regulations. The best they could do was give me six-weeks to quit.
At the end of six weeks, an evening "judicial" meeting was held at our Kingdom Hall. I sat in a small room facing about six elders. They read the "charges" and solemnly asked if I'd quit yet. Admittedly, the temptation to lie was very strong! But I hung my head and whispered that I had not. I was excused while the elders "conferred" and then summoned back to hear the "verdict." They disfellowshipped me. A dear older elder and friend, Raymond's father, escorted me to the door. We were both crying. I sat out in my dark car for a long time as waves of negative emotions swept over me. I was out.
I was out of the Watchtower. Out of what I believed was God's Organization. Doomed to everlasting destruction unless somehow I quit smoking. I was also cut-off from all my JW family and friends. No longer would any JW speak to me, eat with me, or even look at me if that could be helped. They had to shun me or risk being disfellowshipped themselves. That included, my dad, my step mother, their son/my half-brother, and my six step sisters (five of which I've never met). That also included Lonnie. My wife and children too would miss
Paradise. Witnesses believe that everyone who dies before having an opportunity to hear their message will be resurrected into the Paradiseearth. But, everyone who hears the message and fails to respond favorably, or joins the Watchtower and "falls away,"is doomed to everlasting annihilation. I felt like I was alone on a deserted island watching the only water-craft in the universe sail out of site. Jehovah hated me. I was shunned by God. What hopelessness. What despair. It's beyond words. It's no surprise that many JWs commit suicide rather than face the world outside the organization. But, although I couldn't have known that dark night, life wasn't over...in fact it had just begun!
A New Life in Christ
Reflecting on my spiritual condition during those first several days after being disfellowshipped, I had a strange feeling all wasn't lost. Again, some things just didn't make sense. Why was I really still smoking? Wasn't Jehovah bigger than a cigarette? Why couldn't the elders help me, even though it really seemed like they wanted too? Jehovah's Witnesses often hear that their organization may have problems from time to time but "hey", they are told in mimic of Jesus' words at John 6:68, "where else [but the Organization] are you going to get the truth?" I too had heard that and believed it. But something just didn't square up.
I begin to read the Bible a little each night. For some reason, I was using an old Revised Standard Edition instead of my trusty Watchtower New World Translation. Starting with the book of John, I soon had plowed through to Revelation. It was stunning! There was something there. More than I'd ever knew or heard of before. What was it? Love? Yes something to do with love. And there was "grace" too or what Witness call "undeserved kindness." I read more and this concept begin to slowly form in my mind: "God loves us because of who he is, not because of what we do or don't do." I chewed on that for awhile. That's why God's love is undeserved...because everyone does something wrong (sin) sometime. Excitedly I pressed on. This Bible repeatedly said salvation was a gift, a free --no strings attached-- gift. All one had to do, according to Scripture, was believe that Jesus was God's Son (I did), that he died, was buried, and then rose again (I did), and confess him as "Lord" (I did). So was I saved or not? I wasn't certain but I couldn't get enough Bible reading. Suddenly, it wasn't so clear any more that only the 144,000 anointed receive the Holy Spirit...it sure seemed to me that everyone that believed received the Spirit. One after another, formerly ironclad Watchtower doctrines began to crack. I was both very excited and very confused. After all, where else could I go?
Someone told me about a book called Crisis of Conscience. It was written by a former Governing Body member named Raymond Franz. I purchased a copy of this book in February 1986 and read it in three days. Again, I was stunned. If what this man wrote was true (and he supplied ample documentation), then the Watchtower simply could not be true. Could it be? I was a mess. First my life was shattered and then my theology was shattered! Was the truth a lie? "Oh Lord," I prayed. "Help me make some sense out of this. I honestly don't know who or what to believe anymore except you are God." That same month some pastor came to my house. We had a nice little discussion but I blew him away with my old Watchtower arsenal of questions. I wasn't in the mood to play hypocrite church games. I wanted answers. I wanted to talk to someone who knew the Bible. Another pastor, named Bud, came to the house wearing a big cowboy hat and without a Bible. "Oh man, here we go again" I thought. Well, Bud knew God. And he introduced me to Jesus Christ. He asked me to get my Bible and we read some very important passages. We talked for quite some time and I just knew God was using this man. Within a few Sundays, I got up the nerve to visit his congregation.
Bud's congregation was "up the road on the right" so we drove up the road to the first church and pulled in. My girls and I sat there for 30 minutes wondering what was going on. My youngest picked up a song book and I read the title: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. OOPS! We were in a Mormon church. We left very quickly and quietly and headed a little further up the road. There was the building we wanted! We had missed about half of the service (although I noticed Bud made much use of his Bible) but enjoyed the friendliness of the people. I felt welcome and you know what? No one asked if I smoked or cursed or why I wasn't all dressed up, or "how long I'd been in the truth." They just welcomed me and asked me to return. It wasn't long before I publicly confessed Jesus as my Lord and Savior and submitted to water baptism in symbol of my death, burial, and resurrection in Christ (see Romans 6) I was saved and, could I say it, born again! Praise God! I was a new creation! Now, the whole New Testament applied to me!
Life wasn't perfect afterward. In fact, it was hell. My wife left me and my girls, my aunt died, and I really struggled with what I call "heart sins." The Watchtower never really explored the heart. As long as you conformed outwardly to their standard, you were considered "spiritual" (kinda like the Pharisees) But man, oh man. God cleans from the inside...and that makes all the difference in the world! Also, I took a long time to untangle my mind theologically. I didn't want to believe something just because Bud or someone else said it was true. Each ingrained Watchtower doctrine had to be dismantled, examined in the light of Scripture, and modified or discarded. It turned out almost everything they taught was erroneous! In 1990 I remarried a Christian woman and we've tried to help others involved with the Witnesses or other false religious systems.
Oh, by the way, Jesus finally took my cigarettes away!
If you profess to be a Christian but never had much contact with Witnesses.
Please consider this plea: share your faith like the Scripture says! Do your friends, family, and neighbors know about your faith? Think about it because you know the Witnesses have talked to them! Perhaps, if a Christian had talked to my Dad before the Watchtower did, my family would all be serving Christ today. What about your congregation? Are your spiritual brothers and sisters strong enough in their faith to resist and refute false doctrines? And don't forget your children. Young Witnesses in school are trained to lure your children into the Watchtower! Don't think it can't happen to you. Jude wrote to "urge you to contend for the faith that was once and for all entrusted to the saints." (Verse 3, NIV) Need help, encouragement, materials? Let me know.
If you are a professing Christian and have friends or relatives in the Watchtower.
My heart goes out to you. Unfortunately, there is no sure-fire method to get folks out of the Watchtower. But there is prayer, our biggest weapon. The consistent and persistent prayer of a congregation or more is very effective. Make certain your life squares with Scripture. You need to be prepared to dialog with your JW friend or relative in a way to keep the door open. Never ever argue religion! Learn some background information about the Watchtower. Steven Hassan's book Combating Mind Control provides much insight into how "cult" members are conditioned to think and respond. This may help you devise better discussion strategies. There are various support groups around the country and on the Internet. Let me know if you need help locating a group. Also, as mentioned in the first category, get your spiritual brothers and sisters motivated to get out there and make the true Christ known in your area. Truth fears nothing.
If you are a former Jehovah's Witness but not into religion.
Believe me, I can understand. Leaving the Watchtower is an extremely traumatic experience. A large number of former JWs head off into another control-type religion or withdraw into miserable insignificance. Let me tell you a secret that I didn't know: you are not alone! I thought I was about the only former JW in the world. Wrong! Thousands leave annually and come to know and serve the true God with a real peace and joy only talked about in the Watchtower!
If you are currently one of Jehovah's Witnesses
We both know you would be in trouble with the Watchtower for reading this...but I'm glad you did! Whatever you do after this, remember love is the key to true religion (compare 1 Corinthians ). We both know Watchtower love is conditional; as long as you obey, no problem. We are to obey the Word of Jehovah only, not the rules of men. Agape love, the love Jesus spoke of, isn't turned on and off like an electric light switch. Expulsion or disfellowshipping has Biblical basis, but if you read 1 Corinthians 5 carefully, Paul applies it only to the most serious sins and only when one is demonstrably unrepentant. In fact, Paul urges the Corinthians to forgive and comfort the expelled one so the Christians would "not be overreached (outwitted) by Satan." (2 Corinthians 2:11)
I felt a lot of emotions when I was disfellowshipped except the one the Watchtower said I would...love. I felt like a failure, helpless, unworthy of life, condemned because of an addiction I couldn't overcome alone. What about you? Have you noticed a lack of real "undeserved kindness" in your congregation even though the literature continuously paints a rosy picture. Please explore the issue further. May I suggest you read Ray Franz's Crisis of Conscience? Ray writes kindly and objectively about issues he experienced and decisions he had to make. Many Witnesses have been helped by this material. Jehovah loves you and nothing you have done or could do will change that. Jesus offered his life as the full payment for your sins, but you have to accept this free gift. An organization can't save you. You, as an individual, must be reconciled to God through Christ as the Bible prescribes. All need Christ as their mediator. Please contact me and we'll talk.
For those just passing through.
I hope this testimony touched you somehow. There is a God and he has a Son who paid a very high price to make your reconciliation with your Creator possible. There is an eternal life beyond all that is currently visible and your place in eternity depends on what you do here and now. A man named Jesus walked the earth thousands of years ago; some believed his message and followed him but most rejected him and his message. Jesus left the earth but we all at some time come to meet him and we make a decision...to follow him or to reject him.
Forget what you've heard before, forget televangelist, forget the cults, read your Bible. The choice is yours.
Email Michael or visit his website!