‘Hello from the other side’. That is of course from Adele’s hit song ‘Hello’ released in the fall of 2015. At that time I had been disfellowshipped as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses for over a year. Although the song is about a breakup and its after effects, when I first heard it, I immediately could relate to the emotional plight of the song. The sadness of wanting to reconnect. (‘I must have called a thousand times’).The regret of the past. (‘I’m sorry for everything that I’ve done’). The isolation of being separated. (‘Hello from the outside’). I clearly remember hearing it on the radio and feeling tears well up in my eyes because of my situation. I desperately wanted to be back among the local congregation here. For over a year I was shunned by friends and family. People I’ve known my whole life were not even allowed to say hello to me. Being forced to arrive at the meetings at the Kingdom Hall late and leave early so as not to accidentally cause anyone the awkwardness of bumping into me and acknowledge my existence. But it was all my fault I told myself. I had sinned and been deemed unrepentant, and as such, I had to be thrown out of the congregation and treated like a dead person ‘for my benefit’ and the ‘benefit of the congregation’.
I did make it back eventually and got reinstated. But in the years since then, what was considered so important to me that I had endured months and months of punishment for now seemed like a cracked mirror. Seeing the organization from the other side broke my heart and damaged my soul to such an extent that I knew that even though I was back where I wanted to be, I would never be the same. I would never be the person I was before I had been disfellowshipped. Any potential that I had as a youth in the congregation was gone. Now all I could see was the massive crack in the mirror. I was damaged. But more significantly, the image in my head of what was supposed to be ‘God’s Organization’ was damaged. Now I’m on the ‘other side’ and ‘outside’ the organization of my own choosing.
At the beginning of the year 2018 I was a dedicated baptized Jehovah’s Witness. At the end of the year I had left the religion. How did I get there?
I always wanted to be more than just the average Witness. I was never content to be satisfied with doing the minimum, and to be honest I was always amazed at so many in the congregation that did. Ones that would just have Psalm 83:18 memorized and nothing else. Ones who would go in the ministry to just place magazines but would be absolutely stumped whenever a question or objection from a householder came up. Ones that dreaded their talks on the Ministry school or comments at the Watchtower study. In saying this I don’t mean it as a slight on any of them or question their sincerity. It is merely an honest look at what I saw. I’ve always struggled for more though. I studied every publication there was (Or at least that was available. More on that later). I’m naturally a good student so I craved digging deeper into spiritual things. I listened to the Bible and the publications whenever I was out and about. When I was a young teen I even would fall asleep every night while listening to the audio dramas the organization produced. I enjoyed the ministry and my favorite part was speaking to the people I got home. I didn’t even cared if I placed anything. I just wanted to have deep conversations with people, to find out what they believed and why. I had ‘the truth’ and knew the Bible better than they did so what did I have to fear with anything they would bring up? My absolute favorite thing thought was when I could give a part on the Ministry School. I would try to make my talks very enjoyable to the audience. I mean, if they don’t enjoy listening to you then they aren’t going to pay attention are they? I would splash in comedy as regularly as I could. Hearing people laugh during my talks was amazing and energizing to me. Even better was when someone would tell me afterwards that it made them tear up.
But enough nostalgia, I will never have those opportunities again. My point is that I did really enjoy some aspects of being a Jehovah’s Witness. But my love of study eventually led me to leaving the organization. I started when the congregation was going through the book of Ezekiel. It was really enjoyable for me but I began to notice that there were whole sections of the book of Ezekiel that were not covered in the organization’s publications. This really bothered me. I had to find out more, I couldn’t just accept that there was only application in one or two verses in a chapter and I was just supposed to skip over the rest. So for the first time I looked elsewhere. Surely someone in 2000 of years Christianity has commented on it. I looked online at several Bible commentaries and found a great site that listed several and let you compare them (Studylight.com). What I read was mind-blowing. Here was what was supposed to be ‘Babylon the Great’ and ‘false religion’ and I was reading some of the most detailed and thorough writings on subjects and verses the Watchtower was silent on. So on and on that went. Through Ezekiel and the minor prophets and into the gospel accounts. First researching the chapters for the week in the WT Library, then in several other commentaries. The information I was getting was so good I began to incorporate points I read into my comments at the meetings. I was nervous at first, ‘would someone suspect that it was not from approved sources?’. But I was quickly put at ease when person after person each meeting began to tell me how much my comments meant to them, how refreshing they were. I was dying to tell them where I had gotten the info from but I couldn’t. They would immediately reject it for being from not from ‘the slave’, and it might land me into hot water as well. This began to help me see that the people in the organization, though they think they are the best fed people on earth spiritually speaking, they are really starving themselves on the same breadcrumbs from the Watchtower over and over again.
I continued looking into other sources and came upon several podcasts that dealt with religious subjects. (I love love love Spotify and have probably damaged my ears from the amount of podcasts I listen to). So during the days I would feed myself on these ‘truths’ while at the same time being in ‘the truth’. The person I owe the most to in this regard is a pastor named Jeff Thompson out of New Hope Church located in Vancouver. His detailed explanations of the gospels probably did more to solidify my faith in Jesus than did 30 plus years as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Now keep in mind till this point I still never once doubted the teachings of the organization. I just justified all the extra research as helping me be closer to Jehovah. When I would come across points that contradicted what I believed already I would just file it away in my mind as info on why other people believe the way they do. I especially loved when I heard someone mention Jehovah’s Witnesses and the usually inaccurate representation of our beliefs. (Onetime I heard a preacher say that ‘although we don’t publicize it, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus returned to the Earth in 1976 and is currently living and working in our world headquarters in Chicago.’ If you are/were a witness then you know how many things are wrong with that statement. I almost spit out my coffee when I heard that.)
Things I think changed one day when I found a large quantity of the organization’s books in the Kingdom hall trash one day when I was helping clean. You see, the direction to the Elders had been to destroy any publications prior to 1950 that were being kept in Kingdom Hall libraries. So here were a dozen or so books ranging from 1921 to 1941 all written by Rutherford. I scooped them up and took them home hoping to better understand the organization’s history and progressive teachings. I always knew, as does any JW, that we had changed and updated our beliefs over the years and that this was justified as ‘new light’ from God. It was when I read those books that it first really hit me HOW MUCH changed over the years. And not just minor clarifications but a complete 180 degree change on some things and dropping or adopting several other things that looked nothing like the organization I belonged to today. All this made me more curious as to what CT Russel wrote, since I didn’t have any of his publications and there is no way to find any from ‘approved’ sources.
This leads us to October 2018. I was listening to a podcast that discusses a significant event that occurred on that day in history. The date was October 22 and the event was The Great Disappointment of the Millerites in 1844. I wont bore you with the details (though it is very fascinating), but basically this event in the 1800s led to a movement that spawned several bible groups in the later part of that century. Groups that would focus extensively on dates and the return of Jesus. When I did more research on it I came to see how the early Bible Students under Russel were led to believe what they did. It wasn’t some great flash of light that God bestowed on them, as is the picture that is painted in any modern Watchtower retelling of that time period. Instead, looking at it in its historical context, you can clearly see the same pattern among several different groups of people at the time with the same basic beliefs such as a rejection of the Trinity or Hellfire doctrines or other mainstream beliefs. Several groups also printed magazines for their followers, as these groups didn’t fit in with the traditional churches of the day. So there it was. Jehovah’s Witnesses were not unique. Even such core teachings such as 1914 came from the Adventists movement that sprang from the Millerites.
Its the last week of October now and I can distinctly remember praying extensively to God about just wanting to know the truth. Wanting to know God more fully. Just wanting some clear sign of his care of approval. I needed direction. That was a Monday. On Tuesday I attended what would be my last meeting. I even remember the last comment I gave. It was about the verse in John when Jesus just before he dies said ‘It has been accomplished’. I spoke about the Greek word ‘tetelestai’ that the phrase is translated from. How it basically means ‘paid in full’, and that Jesus death means our sins are paid in full. I’m glad that I said it. For one, it came from a ‘false religious’ source, and two, its just not something you would hear generally at a Kingdom Hall since its not about the ministry or some of the other countless tasks we have to do.
On Wednesday I looked at for the first time at what would be considered apostate material. It was a website that had a large collection of CT Russel’s books and Watchtowers. What I read there only convinced me further that this organization that I belonged to was not what it claimed to be, and was certainly nothing like the one that was founded by Russel. The final nail in the Watchtower coffin was that Friday when I downloaded (don’t worry I payed for it) and read Ray Franz’s ‘Crises of Conscience’. (If you unfamiliar with this book, it is written by a former member of the Watchtower Governing Body and is considered by many to be THE pivotal book in helping people leave the organization.) After that I immediately found and read his next book ‘In Search of Christian Freedom’. My world had crashed and I was left with the seemingly impossible task of orchestrating my exit from the religion of my birth without losing the people I cared about the most, which for me is my spouse, my parents, my brother and sister, and my best friend, and my spouse’s parents. All who are active JWs. But I will leave that for my next post………
(Thanks for reading. Please leave me a comment or email and let me know what you think or what you would like me to talk about)