Why I Left

‘When justice is outlawed, the just must become outlaw.  (Mask of Zorro)

 

(Note: This is an attempted recreation of a previous post that I had written a few months ago that I have since deleted. It was written at the time under a pseudonym and was much different in scope. This was written to provide an explanation to my family and friends, if they ever read this, behind why I decided to disassociate myself from being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is not to try to persuade or debate things, just to show my thought process. I share here NOTHING from apostate sources.)

 

The very first question I get asked by people still in the organization is ‘What started all this?’. “I find that the best way to tell a story is from the end, then work our way towards the beginning, periodically working in different characters’ perspectives, to give it a little dimension so it’s not such a linear…” (The Other Guys)

I was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses at 15 and started regular pioneering 8 months later. For  2 years I devoted 70 hours each month in the door-to-door ministry that JWs are known for. I have always pushed myself to be more than the average witness. To have a life and ministry of significance. So from my early teens on I read and studied every publication from the organization I could find. Every Watchtower, every Yearbook, every old publication dating back to the 70s. I was not going to be the hypocritical type of Christian that I viewed my family as being. I loved working on my skills for the ministry, not being content to be the type of publisher that only memorized Psalm 83:18 and were totally out of their depth if the householder asks a question. My favorite thing was delivering talks during the midweek Ministry School. Mixing in funny remarks and emotional punches was my specialty. I say all this, not to brag or to say I thought I was better than anyone else, but to show that I really cared about my faith and to a great extent really enjoyed it.

In my 20s, I married the daughter of an elder, had 2 kids, lived in 2 cities, and had 2 different career paths. I also had very serious spiritual problems. I was ‘reproved’ in my early 20s and ‘disfellowshipped’ and ‘reinstated’ along with my wife in my late 20s. This caused me unbelievable distress and provided the first crack in the lens of my view of the organization I was born and raised in. For the most part though I used these situations to work on strengthening my faith and recovering from the ordeal. I read the Bible and the societies ‘bible-based publications’ constantly and was still considered a favorite for the ministry school talks due to my speaking abilities.

Cut to the summer/fall of 2017 when I was nearing my 31st birthday. The congregation at the time was going through the book of Ezekiel on a weekly basis. I love that type of stuff, really digging in to the scriptures. Except the problem I was coming across was that there were several sections of the book of Ezekiel that had no references in the Society’s publications. You see as a JW, when you do ‘research’ for a scripture, it is only through the organizations own publications, never independently. So finding no comments from the Watchtower on whole swaths of chapter and verses was frustrating to me. (Note: there has been much older commentaries by the Watchtower done on Ezekiel that were more extensive, but those are outside the scope of availability for the average JW. Typical research is usually in post-1970 publications, more on that later. Also, I am aware that since that time the Society has released a new book on Ezekiel. I know, I’ve read it and found it wanting, It is a very poor excuse for a understanding of that book, as it skims so much of it and reduces it down to very simple themes that the Watchtower wants you to focus on. Not extensive or deep at all.

So if you are looking for a genesis (see what I did there) for this whole thing it would have to be the idea to look up the book of Ezekiel in other religious denomination’s commentaries. I figured that the Bible has been around for thousands of years, so someone somewhere has had something to say on the verses I was researching. I came across the website Studylight.com which is a massive resource for Bible study. There you can access dozens of different Bible commentaries for free. It was amazing to have the benefit of hundreds of years of theological work at my fingertips. Thoughts and ideas that I had never been exposed to. These new facts didn’t contradict my faith, and weren’t in any way ‘apostate’ ideas, so I figured I would reap the benefits of this new-found knowledge and use it to grow in my spirituality. I continued this pattern throughout the rest of the Hebrew scriptures (old-testament) and into the gospels. I would do the research in the society’s publications first, then do further research in these other online Bible commentaries.

The next stage in this development is my deep love of podcasts. In my work I have time on my own all day and use this time to listen to various, but mostly educational podcasts and audiobooks. I searched out a podcast that would give me a good understanding of the gospel accounts from another perspective, as the congregation was now in the book of Matthew in our weekly Bible readings. I searched and discarded several that I found because they were to….weird. I never respected the very emotional Bible thumping style of most evangelical preachers. Plus the moment I heard the preacher talk in a deep southern accent it got a hard ‘nope’ from me, it was just to TBN television revival sounding for me. I finally stumbled across the podcast of New Hope Church out of Vancouver, Canada, with Jeff Thompson delivering very smart, compelling and educational messages on every subject, but with an emphasis frequently on specific books of the Bible in whole. Right up my alley. He had taken 3 whole years and covered the life of Jesus from all 4 gospels, and since that was what I was wanting at the time for my research I started there. For about a good 6 months I binge-listened to everything they put out. It was eye-opening to see things from another perspective. Again, this didn’t challenge me faith, only deepening it. At times he would say things that I would greatly disagree with, but when that happened I would just roll my eyes and continue listening. If nothing else, I thought, I at least would be able to respond better to someone I met in my ministry who believed something similar.

I was seeing the Bible, and especially the life of Jesus from a fresh perspective, and I was loving it. It was lighting a fire under me that I hadn’t felt in all long time. I began to reorganize my spiritual routine to better express my faith. I changed my study habits and service schedule. I wanted to make ‘the truth’ enjoyable and fun. Especially for my kids. I started to take Saturdays off completely which caused a minor stir with some people since that is the day primarily used for the door-to-door ministry. But it didn’t make sense anymore. Everyone was just trapped in the same routine that they had always been in even though it didn’t work. Nobody is home on Saturday morning, and I didn’t want my kids, who were 6 and 4 at the time, to grow up seeing ‘faith’ like this. Working 3 hours outside in the Texas heat in a suit and tie and accomplishing nothing, all because that’s how we always have done things. So we took Saturdays off and used them to enjoy being together as a family and resting. I instead took my kids out in the ministry with me for 15-30 minutes before the mid-week meeting and after the Sunday meeting. It was perfect for them. We were already dressed for the meetings anyway and the short time kept them from hating the ministry.

I also began sharing what I had been learning in various Bible commentaries and podcasts at the meetings through my comments and talks, though I was careful never to reveal where I had gotten my info from. The results were ironically sad. Time after time I would get comments after the meetings from people in the congregation that what I had brought out was ‘so refreshing’ and ‘the best comment/talk I had ever heard’. I began to see that most people in the congregation were not fed well spiritually and were actually craving something new, something that would make them feel alive spiritually again. This began to weigh heavily on my mind and caused me to question something I had never bothered to before: Were the religious organizations outside the Watchtower Society really as starved spiritually as I had been told? I grew up thinking we were the ‘smart’ ones about the Bible and God. That those outside had nothing really to grasp on to. They were only about ‘fire and brimstone’ and John 3:16 and that was the extent of their faith and knowledge of the scriptures. However, here I was reading the same thing over and over again at the meetings and seeing the Watchtower and other publications being dumbed-down more and more (they call it simplifying) and at the same time I was reading Bible commentaries written decades and centuries ago with the richest content I had ever come across. I was hearing Christian preachers expound on the life of Jesus that would never be as deep or as meaningful in a Watchtower (on the rare occasion they spend more than a few sentences on Christ). This realization changed something in me. I could no longer just accept the fact that the organization I was ‘lucky’ enough to be born into had all the answers and were the ‘top dog’ so to speak in theological ideas. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel like the smartest person in the room spiritually. And the more I looked at the Watchtower from a neutral perspective and compared it to other religious works, the more childish and uneducated it seemed. It scared the crap out of me.

A pivotal event was in the late summer of 2018. I was in the ministry and was invited in by a friendly older gentleman and his wife. The conversation quickly turned to the topic of the trinity. It was pleasant and back and forth conversation. He showed me his library and I was blown away with the contents. Stacks and stacks of theological books lined the walls everywhere. Not the ‘god loves you’ self help type but the type you would need a degree to properly understand. I was in heaven. I could have spent years going through his books. The conversation returned to the living room and slowly got more heated as it went along. It lasted for about an hour and a half and at the end he basically asked me to leave. As I reflected on it in the days and weeks after, it began to rub me the wrong way. It wasn’t really about whether or not I was wrong on the subject of the trinity, it bothered me because here I had come to his door and with no theological training behind me other then the Watchtower and I was telling this guy (who had the library Martin Luther would had loved) how certain I was I was right. I had countered every point he had raised with a counter point verse in the scriptures (I’m very good at it), however, I was deeply aware that in the next room were countless books that had dealt with the same issues before and put them to rest. I, nor the Watchtower had invented new scriptures to attack the trinity. It had been debated and researched thoroughly by people for 2000 years who were way more qualified than I or anyone at Bethel. The past year had made that painfully clear to me. It turned out that the conversation with that gentleman would mark the last time I would engage in the ministry as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

*********

During that summer I found a stack of old publications written by JF Rutherford (second president of the Watchtower) being thrown out from the Kingdom Hall library. The dozen or so books were from the 20s and 30s, the earliest, ‘The Harp of God’ was published in 1921. I thought it strange to throw away pieces of the organization’s history, so I recovered them and added them to my personal library at home. (Note: Unknown to me at the time, the Organization had wrote a letter to all congregation elders to get rid of all older publications, pre-1950 I believe, from all Kingdom hall libraries. As you will see from my experience, they had a very particular reason for doing this.) I like to think that finding them was ‘Jehovah’s hand in the matter’. LOL

People who like to attack Jehovah’s Witnesses often like to cite examples of old beliefs that had been changed later. These things never bothered me before. After all, doesn’t God lead his people progressively? Right? That’s what I was always told. So I needed to go right to the source and read the old books myself. No harm ever came from reading a book.

My main topic of interest was to read about what JWs taught about Armageddon and who would survive it. I knew that it had changed over the years to the current form of believing that only JWs will survive the end of the world (and only the really good ones of those too). All others, all 7.5 BILLION men, women, and children will be slaughtered by God as He wipes the slate clean. It turns out that prior to around 1935 JWs taught that when Armageddon came it would only be the governments and other elements of power that would be destroyed, and as all of JWs at the time were of the heavenly class and would be ‘raptured’ beforehand, that left the rest of mankind to survive the end of the world and be progressively taught the truth about God and reach perfection and live forever. (This was the whole idea behind the ‘Millions Now Living Will Never Die’ campaign) I really liked that explanation better than the whole mass genocide of 99.9% of humanity one.

So I kept reading the older books and the more I read the crazier things began to sound. The majority of things believed back then were either absolutely insane or just a complete 180 change to what it is now. Here is a partial list of changes I read about (and remember current JWs, these aren’t apostate beliefs, these were your OWN teachings):

The ‘last days’ began in 1799.

Jesus second coming was in 1874 and He began ruling heaven in 1878.

1874 also marked the beginning of Armageddon and this would END in 1914 as the world gradually descended into anarchy during that time.

When 1914 didn’t pan out, the date of the end was changed to 1925 (Rutherford even saying that 1925 was even more firmly set in the scriptures than 1914 was).

The idea of ‘shunning’ people was considered a ‘pagan’ concept.

Jesus should be worshiped.

The cross, Christmas, and birthdays were all acceptable practices.

CT Russel HIMSELF was considered to be the ‘faithful slave’.

CT Russel was still said to be running the organization after his death.

The Great Pyramid was considered a sign from God that prophesied the time of the end.

Blood was acceptable to eat.

Now NONE of these teachings are currently accepted by JWs today, and you could make the argument of that is how God progressively leads his people. But I began to wonder then, if this is God’s organization, why did he allow us to believe these falsehoods in the first place? Where is the precedent anywhere on the Bible of God letting his people believe something false? If this group of people were selected by God in 1919 as his one true religion, why did he select a people that obviously was so wrong about so many things? Plus, these weren’t minor changes that took place. It was major theological differences, and the disturbing part for me was that all the above and more beliefs taught back then was presented as absolute FACT and beyond any doubt whatsoever (Rutherford had a way of talking that made you think he was talking directly to God). Yet they all were proved false. So what does that say about beliefs held now that are said to be facts? If so much can be changed about fundamental beliefs, than why would they punish people who disagree with them? Why shun someone who decides that they can’t go along with something they teach? What if 50 years from now all of our cherished beliefs that we have are proven false and changed? Would they issue a decree that says all publications prior to the year 2020 be thrown away?

*********

This all lead me to a very stressful month of October. I was greatly distressed about all that I had been learning and spent most of the month praying my heart out to God for truth. I didn’t care where it came from, or if I was wrong, I just wanted God in my life. Just wanted to feel his presence. I begged to know what to do, to be able to discern things probably. To have the wisdom and humility needed to listen to Him.

The next block to fall was on October 22, 2018. As I mentioned, I love podcasts. At the time I was listening to one that told a short daily fact about what happened on this day in history. For the date of October 22 the historical event was the ‘Great Disappointment’ of 1844. In the midst of a fervor of spiritual awakening in America during the 1800s one of the most prominent movements was of Adventism, the idea that the return of Jesus was imminent. The key figure in this was a guy named William Miller. He preached in the 1830s and 40s, based on some time calculations from the book of Daniel, that Christ would return in 1844. This sparked a huge movement, with people leaving their traditional churches for this exciting new faith proclaiming the last days to be here and is wrapping up soon. Spoiler Alert: He was wrong. The date of October 22, 1844 went down in history as the Great Disappointment. This caused a splintering effect among his followers, the largest among these being the modern day ‘Seventh Day Adventists’ which traces its roots back to these events. Another person who tried to hold together his beliefs following the let down of 1844 was Nelson Barbour. He and others repackaged the Millerite ideas but with a new date – 1874. Hopefully you will recognize that date from the list above of old JW beliefs. But 1874 came and went too. Not one to admit defeat, Barbour claimed that the date of 1874 WAS correct, we were just expecting the wrong thing. Christ did return that year, he said, but it was an invisible presence in heaven. In 1875 he met a scrappy young man, CT Russel, who would go on to start the Watchtower magazine, and persuaded him to see things his way, so much so that in 1878 Russel wrote and Barbour published the booklet ‘Object and Manner of Our Lord’s Return’, which laid out these new dates and ideas. Although the two would ultimately split over differences in theology soon after (Russel publishing the Watchtower in 1879), Barbour’s influence on Russel in regard to Bible chronology became a foundation piece of JW belief. History is a very convincing argument for me and so when all the pieces came together showing the Watchtower organization’s roots in Adventism, that was just another proof that my religion wasn’t the special, one-a-kind, group it claims to be. Nor was CT Russel just a great student of the Bible that God used to reveal all this stuff to. It was borrowed theology from Adventism. Even the important date of 1914 was borrowed form Advent ideas, being first thought up in 1820, long before Russel was born. If you looking for a good video to watch (and by good, I mean interesting if your into religious history) that explains the roots of Adventism and its offshoots I found this one fascinating:

‘Adventism: Roots, Shoots, and those in Cahoots’

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x16tchx6Lpo

October 30th would be my last meeting I ever attended, though I didn’t know it at the time. 3 days later I met up with my best friend in Dallas to hang out for the weekend. (It would turn out to be the last time I would ever see or talk to him, as he would just 2 months later shun me) Things were coming to a head for me and although I didn’t speak directly about my doubts to my friend, I was letting things slip now and then. It was November 2nd and it was the day the house of cards that was my faith in my religion came crashing down. There is a book. A dangerous book. One that has, more than any other that has been published, caused more people to leave the JW organization. What makes it so special, was that it was written by a former member of the Watchtower governing body, the innermost elite among JWs and who control everything in the organization. His name is Raymond Franz. In his book, ‘Crisis of Conscience’ he lets you in on the way the governing body operates, and how it decides things, and the controversies and dilemmas that took place during his tenure on that body in the 1970s. He describes his growing frustration with issues and beliefs and how in heartbreaking fashion he is kicked off the governing body and then later disfellowshipped in a very shady way by the organization he had given so much to. (Note: If you ever wonder why JW policy was changed in 1981 to shun people who are disassociated, you have the witch-hunt to go after Ray Franz for that)

I had downloaded the book on my phone (calm down, I paid for it) while I was in Dallas with my friend and that night I stayed up into the early hours of the morning reading it while my friend slept on the other side of the room. I told him I was reading just some book about something (can’t remember what I told him). Little did he realize that my life had changed completely that night while he slept, and by reading that book I had set the wheels in motion that would lead to the dissolution of our friendship. Now let me just say that I was EXTREMELY cautious with this book. Just downloading it caused me to sweat. I would have stopped reading immediately and deleted it off my phone if I had read anything that was untrue or in any way seemed angry or bitter, like Ray Franz sounding he had an ax to grind. But from the very beginning you see someone in their own words describe the pain and frustration that came from his conscience. Someone who cared deeply about those around him and the organization he was apart of. He never said anything that was derogatory towards people, even ones that did him the most harm. He only wanted to tell the truth about what happened.

The single most damaging thing in the book for me was when he discussed the date of 607 and its relation to the belief in the date of 1914. You see, Jehovah’s Witnesses are pretty much the only group on the planet that hold to the idea that Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 607 BC. While ALL historical and archaeological evidence points to the years 587 BC. Why? The short answer is that they need that to be so because it makes the date of 1914 work. The book describes the governing body stonewalling any attempt to be open to changing their obviously wrong date in the face of overwhelming evidence to do so. Even now if you google ‘when did Jerusalem fall to Babylon’ you will get just on the first page 8-10 results that say 587 and 1 lone result for 607 (which happens to come from the official JW website).

I was officially out mentally. This began a flurry of reading on any religious topic I could find. And yes a full look into so-called ‘apostate’ material. (Note: this was only AFTER I had already made up my mind) I agreed with some things and disagreed with others. But I was free to make up my own mind for the first time and see what lined up with the scriptures for myself. I was ready to disassociate myself in just a few weeks time. I even wrote out my letter and was going to tape it to the kingdom hall door. It was dated December 4th 2018. However, I thought it would be best to wait a little and try to talk to my family and friends first before surprising them. Finally after months of almost unbearable pain and stress from my parents and friends and in-laws cutting me out of their lives I officially was disassociated on April 30th 2019, exactly 6 months after my last meeting. (Its sad that you can be shunned by your family and close friends even while still in the organization)

So for me here is where I stand:

I still believe in God.

I still consider myself a Christian.

I still love the Bible.

I probably still have more things in common with JWs than I disagree with.

I’m sorry that is not enough to be in your lives. I will always pray for you with the hope that one day we can be a family again. A family, not based on absolute conformity of beliefs, but one based on love and compassion for one another. A love that Jesus said would be marked by ‘loving your enemies and praying for those that persecute you.’

However, If you do come to your senses one day……you owe me a goddamn drink.

Jon

(A Big thank you to Jeff Thompson, the late Raymond Franz, Lloyd Evans, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Deborah Francis-White, Chris Whaley, Bob Smithson, Rev. Bradley Dyke, Anthony Morris III, and countless others who have helped me along in this journey!)

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