Two Things Jehovah’s Witnesses Taught Me Without Saying A Word
Forty-five years a Jehovah’s Witness. Then I was out.
After I did my dirty deeds, I knew I had to clean things up. The sooner the better. Lacking courage, I took the longer the worst route, bucked up and did the right thing. Desiring to please God and straighten my path, I went to my spiritual leaders and laid it all out on the table. To their surprise, I confessed to all the bad shit I’d done from age 7 on as a Jehovah’s Witness.
It was too much information. By my way of thinking it would help them help me. So I spilled the beans on everything I did that even hinted at sin.
Going into it I understood being kicked out was a possibility. Being kicked out is the non-religious terminology for the state known within the “JW” community as being disfellowshipped. There are rebel’s here and there who are hell-bent on getting kicked out of it., It’s not something solid JW adherents aspire to.
Getting kicked out is on the mind of every JW being judged by a committee of 3 elders. The golden ticket is repentance. Are you repentant? Are you repentant enough? It’s what the elders try to figure out on the judging committee.
The spin is disfellowshipping is always a last resort. It’s not true but saying so makes it more palatable. The sheep find it comforting to know their shepherds did all they could to keep the wayward one in the congregation. There was no other choice but to kick them out. The person was not repentant. Or, rather not repentant enough.
My goal was to get right with God
The tricky part for the elders in these situations is determining what repentance looks like. And if it doesn’t look like repentance does that mean it’s not? It isn’t easy. It’s not something an elder looks forward to unless they suck as a person. I mean, who enjoys judging whether someone is repentant or not? It comes with the territory once you’ve reached that level of leadership in the JW community. You deal with it as it comes.
It hit me a few days before the committee meeting. Call it intuition but I knew they would kick me out. After confessing my deviancy to the presiding overseer (now called coordinator of the body of elders), he formed a committee of 3 elders which is standard practice in the JW community with serious sins. The elders hear the matter and become the prosecutor, judge, and jury to the outcome.
Between my approaching the elders for help and the day for the hearing there was a week and a half of anticipation hell.
At the Kingdom Hall there were cursory greetings such as “hello”, yet no “how are you holding up?”, no “keep it together brother” or “we’re rooting for you” type encouragement which one would hope for from elders during such times after going to them for help.
Minds made up or at least the mind of the most influential one, the presiding overseer. He was a pleasant man, but a much older and conservative JW. He and his wife were the first JW missionaries in Lebanon like a thousand years ago. In the congregation he was the last word on matters. He didn’t force that. As human nature goes people in the community seemed to elevate his word. He got used to it after a while.
The committee included him and two new elders. “New”, as in each had been an elder less than 2 years. Mine would be their first JC.
No matter what, game over
Being kicked out serves two purposes within the community. It’s a spiritual protection by removing a potential threat. And, also discipline to sinful person. Hopefully, it will shock them back to their senses to stop whatever bad they’re doing.
I had already stopped the bad weeks before and approached the brothers for help and the only person in the congregation other than me affected by my deviant course was my spouse. No one in the congregation was aware and wouldn’t be unless someone who knew spoke about it. There was no threat me contaminating the congregation.
As to discipline, I recognized the wrongness of my course and took steps to rectify matters as best I could. If, as they say, discipline is from God, then my discipline was the counsel received from God’s word. I was no longer involved in the practice and didn’t want to go back to it. I expressed my determination and intentions not to repeat the sin.
It didn’t matter, and I was out.
From hero to zero in all of 45 minutes
Weeks before I approached the elders I had come to my senses. That’s why I could seek their help. I knew I was wrong and needed help. I thought I was doing the right thing. At least it felt like the right thing.
Being kicked out helped me in ways I hadn’t imagined before. It expanded my view and re-shaped my view of the JW community, its processes and what worship means. I gained a different perspective on things. If kept in, I would have gained a different perspective too. As things go, I’m glad to have gained the one I did.
Maya Angelou once said there was a time she did what she knew and when she knew better, she did better. That’s how I feel.
As I healed and overcome my issues, my spouse divorced me and friends known since childhood would no longer talk. As long as they thought I would come back to the community, my father, mother and sister, who are still active JWs, would at least converse with me from time to time. Once I made it known I wouldn’t return, they stopped.
Despite being separated from family and friends no one could separate me from the love of God. His love wrapped around me and gave me the courage and strength I needed to look inside myself and check my motives.
Jehovah’s Witness again… almost
After 5 years out I felt it was time to go back. In 2013, after attending meetings for months at a new congregation I was weeks away from being “reinstated”. But years on the outside looking in. Years of self-reflection, of prayer and meditation had changed me. I was more self-aware and closer to God than ever before. And this was all done without the help of the JW organization.
That realization both pissed me off and made me happy at the same time.
I felt misled. I wasn’t supposed to succeed on the outside the JW community. But I did. How did this happen?
Despite being on the outside, I was a happier person. Why? Because I had grown in ways I couldn’t while inside the community. Being free to rely only on God and determined to stay strong to keep my integrity made me a tougher person.
My thinking was more balanced. As I sat and observed the congregation week in and week out reviewing the community study materials, restating in their comments word for word what they read in the paragraphs it gave me pause.
The right answers coerced through clever questions. There was little autonomy. I had seen this all my life. But now it seemed so strange to see. This is how we worshiped? Being told what to say and how to say it? It all felt surreal.
Questions lingered in my mind. Is this how God wanted us to worship? Is this what Jesus meant when he said his followers would worship with spirit and truth?
Preaching and drawing people to God through the JW community is the core of who a JW is — it’s what they do. As an active JW, I helped 4 people get baptized and worship God through this community. That was before being kicked out. Now I’d outgrown relying on other people to help me worship God. A church is for encouragement, but a church isn’t required to please God.
Though required I knew I couldn’t in good conscience invite others to worship God through the JW community anymore. If I couldn’t perform that core requirement then I knew my heart was no longer in it. That’s when I decided not to go back. I stopped going to the Kingdom Hall. I told my family of my decision. Orphaning myself from them.
Although they choose not to respect my choice, I respect theirs
I get that some people need that structure to give direction and purpose to their lives. Many enjoy the sense of community it provides. Some don’t. It doesn’t make them bad. Even JWs will agree its what’s in the heart that matters most.
God is an equal opportunity Deity. No one person or group has a monopoly. Would God use a group or community to carry out a purpose? He would. According to the bible, He used Israel to keep the Messiah’s lineage. I believe He has used others depending on the purpose. One group feeds the hungry, another group houses the homeless, another treats the sick and disabled, still another spreads the message of the kingdom, etc.
Who am I to say how or through whom God spreads goodwill around the world? Or how an individual will change his or her life on the basis of that goodwill?
Finding a voice
The most encouragement and tools to overcome my issues came from a group created to give support to people dealing with addiction and compulsive disorders. Not from JW’s. As I made steady progress, I saw this as God’s goodwill toward me. The JW community doesn’t provide these resources. They’re focused on preaching. Still, I survived and overcame. Today, I’m a better man thanks to God’s goodwill toward me.
In my isolation I realized I had a voice. The voice had been there — locked away and shuttered. Each of us has this voice if we can find it. It’s the voice God gives each of us created with free will. It is our voice to use to praise him and to serve others. As unique as God has seen fit to supply it.
What being kicked out taught me
I learned two things with no one saying a word:
- No one can separate us from God’s love — no matter what
- We all have an individual voice — it’s up to us to use it as God intended
I intend to use my voice for as much good as possible as I travel down the road of life to a better happiness.
Most people will not go through what I did. Some within the JW community will, to a greater or lesser extent, experience a similar plight. Whatever community we belong to we will all face tough times in our lives. Whether due to our own actions or the actions of others if we live long enough life will shit on us.
Find a better happiness
But no matter what our situation, it’s up to us to choose the road that leads to our own happiness. No one can build that road for us. I call it a road to a better happiness because it’s our own to create. Getting there is not always pretty but getting there is what it’s all about.
© Marc Townsend — www. betterhappiness.comby