“All right children,” I toss instructions to my two ‘younglings’ over my shoulder as I head for my bedroom. “one more hour and then it is bedtime.” Having just gotten home from running errands I am carrying a couple of bags of supplies, my coat, and satchel. My mind on putting things away and my arms full, I suddenly freeze.
My heart stops and my breath catches in my throat. The book, Crisis of Conscience, is facing me as I walk in the bedroom door. It is on my side of the bed clearly placed so it is the first thing I see upon entering the room. At 30 I have spent almost 20 years afraid to even think about reading this book.
Typical of The-Joker-Husband. Sure enough, he walks in right behind me. I figure he has been waiting for me to get home and see the bomb he has set for me. Now that I have seen it he wants to talk.
Four months ago, I had Stopped Going to the Meetings.
I DON’T WANT TO GO TO THE MEETING
It is a beautiful Sunday morning in May. The desert sky is a deepening blue as the bright sun climbs toward noon. I am sitting on the back patio outside our bedroom. The-Joker-Husband is inside laying on our waterbed reading a book. The hummingbirds are feeding as usual at the sweet red water we hang in offering. Little brown ground sparrows pick thru the gravel pathways climbing our back hill. Squirrels race up and down the giant redwoods which tower above the roof.
The Meeting starts at 1:30pm. It is time for me to start getting the kidlets and I ready to go. A familiar grinding reluctance clinches my gut as I think about preparing for the Meeting. I am thinking about being 30. My birthday is coming soon. I have lived 30 years of my life as a Witness and I still am not convinced. I have been assured, for my entire life, Armageddon is Coming any minute and we need to be vigilant. I have constantly been warned, those who do not Worship the God of the Witnesses are going to be destroyed.
I spent my childhood watching people… people I went to school with…people I talked with at the door…people in the Congregation…people shunned from the Congregation. Looking at these living people, superimposed over their faces, I saw death, fire, and destruction. Pictures from the Watchtower publications flooded my life. The coming violence from God has always been held firmly in front of me.
“They deserve to die?” I have continued asking myself. “For believing differently? For having a different God or a different approach to God? For being a powerful independent woman who does not need or want the Headship of a man? For having or desiring to have ‘different’ sexual experiences? Death is God’s Righteous decree for such people?
I heard teachings growing up of the Apostle Paul admonishing the First Century Christians to test out for themselves the truth of his words. I heard my father and the Watchtower say, it is each individual’s job to judge for themselves if the Witness’s indeed have the One Righteous Truth from God.
I took the Governing Body’s words; the words in the Bible, the words taught at the Meetings and I examined them for myself. As my father instructed, I have been meditating on how the Society’s teachings resonate in my heart to judge for myself if I believe their words are true.
I heard the Organization say God wants me to love the Earth and Everything on it just as God loves the Earth. God wants only our Greatest Highest Good. God loves us All equally, including All humans, animals, plants, and the very Earth itself. I heard the Society say God’s heart hurts upon seeing the pain and suffering around us.
My heart hurts from that too. I love people. I see how much pain is in the World and I am crying with God. In the Monastery of God-the-Father’s House I spent my childhood quietly loving people as I heard God loves people. When I was five, ten and fifteen, loving Creation; the earth, and its plants, animals, and people, made sense to me.
As an adult, that feeling of love for the earth and its people has never wavered. I support what I understand to be an intention of equality, nurturing, and peace. What I have not been able to reconcile is the paradox of perspectives in the Society’s Literature. In one I hear the voice of a God of peace, love, and equality and the other a God of judgement, intolerance, and destruction.
I continually hear I need to punish my children in order to Keep Them Safe in This Time of the End. If they should demonstrate an Ongoing Lack of Repentance I must shun my children. If they will not obey the Society’s rules there is no other hope for them to be Saved during God’s Coming Armageddon.
My children are pre-teens. They are not showing any signs of wanting to embrace this Witness Belief System. At 30, I am no closer to being willing to shun my children than I was at 10 years-old and I saw the older kids getting In Trouble With The Elders.
In addition to the words of the Society and my father I have been thinking on the words of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. I listened to the words of the suffragettes and feminists, the artists and scientists of the Renaissance and the voices of the Civil Rights movement. “Do I hearing the voice of Spirit in what is being said?” Is the heart of the question I have continually been asking myself.
So now, I sit in the back garden, watching the birds and the animals being alive, and think, “If the Organization is right and God is going to destroy everyone who does not want to live as One of Jehovah’s Witnesses…God can kill me. I would rather be dead than continue to live my life in this way.”
I am startled by this thought from the deep quiet place in my mind. This is a first for me. This realization, the thought of death as preferable to the Society’s vision of happiness, unlocks something in my body. Slowly I release my breath as I sit with this freedom from fear of death. I am more afraid of never living. I am afraid to die regretting the life I have lived.
“I am almost 31 now and I am not convinced this Organization has the one-right-way Truth from God. If I am not convinced at 30,” I think as I watch the little birds eating ants. “What if I am 60 and still don’t agree with this way to live?”
“But Leaving the Truth, means leaving my family. My parents.” My thoughts circle inevitably back to the one thing the Organization has as a hook in me…my family. Leaving the Society means my family, and entire community, will shun me.
It is getting late. I need to start getting ready if I am Going to the Meeting, yet still I sit and watch the birds. Eventually, I drag myself inside. My body feeling heavy with reluctance. I stop at the edge of the waterbed. The-Joker-Husband is absorbed in his science fiction book of the moment. He looks up curiously when I say nothing but continue to stand next to the bed.
“I do not want to Go to the Meeting.” I say softly. I have never said those 9 words in my life. I am afraid and excited as I let these words sit in air suddenly thick with carefulness and possibility.
I see him exhale a long breath and slowly bookmark his spot while his serious blue-green eyes examine my face. He tips his head in acknowledgment of what I said and is quiet for another thoughtful breath.
“Well,” his words, when they finally come, are slow and gentle. “What if …you give yourself some room to decide? Maybe you could consider… stop Going while you think about what you want to do.” Caution is radiating from his skin as he gives me the suggestion.
I feel my heart soften into this idea of space away from the constant pressure of the Meetings in order to figure it out for myself.
THE EVIL SLAVE WRITES A BOOK
Now it is 4 months later. I have not been to a Meeting since. Today, thanks to The-Joker-Husband, I am looking at the one book specifically named by the Watchtower as coming from the Evil Slave. I feel as if I am suddenly face to face with a rattlesnake…like the book, Crisis of Conscience, is going to strike out from the bed and bite me.
The-Joker-Husband is stepping very carefully with me on this. He speaks softly but quickly before I can say anything. “I see that you found it. I know what the Organization has told you. The Governing Body says this book is to be burned or destroyed if it comes into your possession. The Watchtower says it contains the worst sort of lies.” He continues closely watching my face.
In the last couple of months, I have talked with some of the Elders, and my father, about my doubts and unhappiness in the group. I am still afraid to look at anyone else’s experience of leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
He looks at me with a firm gentle clarity apparent in his body and his voice. “I got it from the library and read it.” He knows if it is from the library I won’t burn it or throw it away.
“This book doesn’t sound like lies. In fact it sounds calm and meticulous in detail. If what your father taught you is really the Truth with a capital ‘T’, then it can stand up to any examination. This man, Ray Franz, has been the only member of the Governing Body to leave and he wrote this book about what he experienced in those secret meetings. He tells why he left.”
“I believe it is important for you to look at some information from people who have left the Organization while you are deciding what you are going to do. I also think this man, in particular is important for you to check out.”
My face is impassive as I listen. I am giving him flat eyes while I think about his words.
He says it with the firmness of a declaration. The-Joker-Husband does not tell me what to do…period. This is the strongest suggestion I have ever heard from him. I can hear how important he believes it is for me.
I listen. I say nothing.
When I stay quiet, looking at him, he continues, “He doesn’t sound angry or like he is attacking them. He mostly sounds like your father in how dedicated and serious he is about all this. It’s up to you.” He finishes, “you need to make up your own mind. It is here for you if you should decide to read it.”
He leaves the room.
Leaves me staring at the book I have been told since I was 13 is the highest epitome of Evil. Reading this book is grounds for Being Disfellowshipped. I sit in my desk chair, at the foot of the bed, staring at the book for a long time. I do not touch it while I think about what The-Joker-Husband just said and what I know the Watchtower says. I feel like I am breathing underwater, the air surrounding me tight with the forbidden.
I think about the Truth being able to withstand examination. I think about why the Society might be so afraid about Witnesses looking at the information in this book. What is Ray Franz saying, that the Organization so adamantly does not want the Faithful Sheep to hear? These questions reverberate in my heart as I sit there and look at the book laying in front of me.
Sitting here, thinking about reading it…touching it…holding it in my hands…I feel my entire childhood training screaming inside me. Finally, I pick the book up.
I have been warned that people may try to give this Book to me in an attempt to pull me from God’s One True Organization. I notice that even as I am certainly not a loyal Witness, I am questioning my willingness and participation in the Organization. I am not Attending Meetings. I have confessed to the Elders in my Hall that I am struggling with doubts.
Yet still, I cannot imagine going to the library and getting this Book for myself. I feel afraid and guilty with it sitting in my house. On my bed. I have always known The-Joker-Husband is an epitome of bad association. The fact that he read this book ‘proves’ it. He wants me to read it. He thinks outside the allowed boundaries. He does not blindly obey the Faithful Slave.”
As I hold it, the book feels like any other book I have held. 800 pages of paper and ink waiting to tell me things the author wants to share. He took time and life energy to put these words together.
The-Joker-Husband says the book isn’t angry. I know I am not willing to read angry denunciations of the Society. “Why is it a sin for Jehovah’s Witnesses to look at his words?” I ask myself, my eyes on the cover, examining this thought from every angle.
After about 15 minutes of thinking it through I walk out into the living room where The-Joker-Husband is laying on the couch, reading his latest science fiction book. He looks up as soon as I come in. He eyes the book in my hands, he is quiet, waiting for me to speak first.
I say, “You are right. The Truth, if it really is true, can stand up to examination. If they are telling the truth they have nothing to fear from what this man has to say. The fact that they are willing to rip families apart by shunning a person for reading this book is strange. It is a red flag. Why are they so harsh about this?”
He nods, watching me closely, and not saying anything. He lets me talk.
“I am going to read the Book.” I conclude and retreat back into our bedroom to start reading.
The-Joker-Husband goes back to his book. I see how careful he is being not to say anything that might upset the delicate balance of my willingness.
The Malawi Situation
Ray Franz was the youngest member of the Governing Body ever appointed. He grew up in the Truth, like I did, and his uncle was Fred Franz. Fred Franz was the President of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society at the time.
The Governing Body is the board of directors for the corporation part of the Organization. They are also the Faithful Slave from whom all guidance for the Organization comes. They are the One True Voice of God my father has dedicated his life to following.
As a Witness, I know the Governing Body’s Meetings are completely secret including their notes. My view into their decision-making process has only come from the Watchtower Publications.
I have heard for my whole life, as Jehovah’s People, we must be ready to be tortured, imprisoned, or killed for the points of doctrine they lay out in the Watchtower. On the command of the Organization we must be ready to suffer any sort of torture or loss; even unto death. The Brothers and Sisters In Malawi and their suffering have been held up before us as an example of what is expected of God’s Loyal Servants.
I have always read in the Watchtower, the Governing Body Meditates and Prays and Searches Out the Will of God as a group.
In the book I read Ray Franz’s telling about a time the Governing Body receives a letter from the Brothers in Malawi. In the letter, the Brothers are begging for clarification of the principle they are suffering and dying over. Their government is confiscating their homes. They are being beaten, imprisoned, and killed because they are taking this Stand of Conscience as instructed by the Governing Body
They were asking for prayerful consideration be given to releasing them from this requirement for two reasons. First, the principle is not clear to them. Second, the cost of holding this principle is extremely high.
The Elders who wrote were begging to be released from the need to die for this rule of the Society. If they really do have to die for this, they were asking could they please have help to understand better why God requires their suffering in this way. If they must do it could they have clarification of the reason for the Principle. He says these Elders conclude by saying they will Faithfully Follow Whatever Instruction the Governing Body Gives.
Ray Franz was at that time newly Appointed to the Body; and he, like me, had been told the Governing Body come to their decisions by deep Meditation and Prayerful Consideration for these life and death questions. So, when the letter came and was read, he was expecting Prayer and Meditation on the Will of God.
He says they give this plea no consideration or thought but instead immediately decide. ‘No. The policy will remain as it is. They have to hold the principle and no other explanation is to be given’. He heard them say. ‘Next agenda item.’***
He describes their energy as drinking their coffee and shuffling their notes and carrying on business as usual while a plea for these people’s lives lay dismissed on the table. A topic given seconds of attention.
He says he was shocked by the casual handling of this question when people’s lives are at stake. Faithful Brothers’ and Sisters’ lives are being sacrificed and they didn’t even Pray about it.
I sit halfway up, sloshing the water under me in an echo of my sudden outrage. “Wait! They didn’t Pray??” “They said they were Praying!!” I feel my fury clawing up from the center of my chest. It is in my throat strangling me. I have an intense desire to throw the book across the room. “They said they were Praying!!!”
I can’t bear to read any more. I leap up off the bed, as well as anyone can leap from the wallow of a waterbed. The-Joker-Husband loves the waterbed. I fight it. So, after wrestling with the sloshing bag of water and immerging victoriously to my feet. I tighten my grip on this heavy tome, which is dooming life as I have known it, and head for the living room.
The-Joker-Husband hears me coming. He has been waiting for this explosion. Waiting all evening as he sits placidly reading his science fiction. Waiting since he read the Book and decided to give it to me.
“They just decided that these people had to keep on suffering and dying!” I have to tell someone. My entire universe is spinning and I cannot contain it anymore.
“‘Without a by your leave, kiss my rear end, or nothin’!” My Nana’s phrase twisting harshly in my mouth as my fury crawls out of my throat and spills into the room. “They said they were Praying!! No wonder they don’t want us to read this Book!” The words grit out from between my tightly clinched teeth.
I storm around the living room waving the Book and hissing in a strangled almost-scream. “Did you see what they did to the Brothers in Malawi?!?” It is nearing midnight and I am aware of the sleeping children. In my mounting ‘righteous fury’ I do manage to remember not to wake the whole house.
“Yes,” says The-Joker-Husband with a small smile. He marks his place with one finger and puts his book down in his lap. He has been waiting for this from me.
My realization of the big picture of what goes on in the Organization. My anger about what is being done to us. I have found it. Anger, anger, anger, pours hot and tight around my body, like a giant snake coiling and smothering my breath. I seem to be losing my ability to speak coherently.
I am spitting an inarticulate storm of rage into his quiet knowing eyes. He listens to my tirade calmly, adding no fuel to my fire, he is still afraid of sending me back in the other direction. I have spent almost all of my 30 years defending them from any criticism.
I can see the-Joker-Husband is happy to hear their loyalty lock on me break. He has been with me a long time. He knows what he seeks to free me of and just how delicate a process it is; this unwinding of mind-control.
This moment resounds through me, and through my family, from that day to this. The echoing crack of my mind coming free of the Organization’s hold hit our lives like the falling giant redwood tree echoing off the mountains.
It has continued to impact us in a lingering reverberation I feel humming across my skin even now as I write this book.
UNCLE-APOSTLE-PAUL DIES or I Am Different
The memorial for Uncle-Apostle-Paul’s death is over. The family and some of the Congregation are gathered at Nana’s house for food and memories. It has been a year since I left the Organization. This is the first family funeral since I Wrote the Letter Disassociating Myself.
Uncle-Apostle -Paul was funny and intense. He was smart and passionate. He was a powerful and committed Preacher and teacher. I loved him and I am sad with his dying.
It is halfway through the gathering time with the family. I find God-the-Father and say quietly, “Can we talk for a minute?”
He nods once and we head outside. As the Head of the Family he is the appropriate person for me to talk with as a Disassociated family member. He is charged with handling Necessary Family Business. We walk together to the end of Nana’s front path and stand at the foot of this heartbreakingly familiar driveway. He waits for me to start.
Now that he is standing in front of me, and willing to listen, at least for a moment, I am not sure what I want to say. My hurt and my anger and my sadness at the loss of connection with my family over Beliefs fills my belly and clogs my throat with points like shrapnel.
I breathe a long breath into the silence and come to center. I have the words. They are his words. “You always said to me, ‘time will tell’, I pause and look him directly in the eyes. “Time has told and look at what it is telling. Look at them!” I name 5 different people that he and I have both watched grow up under the Organization’s Guidelines for childrearing. I count them off on my fingers as I name them holding my outstretched hand forcefully between us.
I have watched the application of this rigid system on the development of something like 60 children. I saw all but a tiny handful spin into seemingly highly dysfunctional lives as they grew up and rebelled in various self-destructive ways. After naming several specific examples I add, “Look at me.”
“You are different!” The words seem almost jerked from God-the-Father.
“You better believe I’m different!” I flare back just as fast and hard. “I looked at the Principle of it. I decided it is wrong, and I left.”
God-the-Father looks at me for a heartbeat saying nothing. I turn on my heel and walk back up the curving pathway and into the house. I leave him standing alone at the end of the driveway.
Now, 16 years later, I am writing this book and mourning my lack of possibility to talk at length with you, my father. I notice I did not really finish this conversational moment. Because of your belief system’s constraints, we have had extremely limited opportunities to really talk. This funeral was one.
I chose to ‘last word’ instead.
I wanted you, God-the-Father to think about the meaning of these facts ‘time has told’. I have been hurt and angry with the abuse of the children I was witness to and I wanted you to think about the impact of your actions and choices on the lives of these real people.
Parents and children, families who trusted you, with your charisma and certainty, and your Organization, to improve their lives. People who have suffered years of painful and separative policies that fractured their families and wounded their children with the one-right-way answers of the Society.
You, God-the-Father, and Uncle-Apostle-Paul converted almost everyone in our Congregation. You two brought these families into the Truth. You two held the rules of the Organization around them like a pair of pit bulls riding herd on the Flock.
In this moment of opportunity to talk I was afraid you would argue instead of taking it in so, I walked away, giving you time to think about what I said.
Lots of time as it turns out.
GOD-THE-FATHER SAID DECIDE FOR YOURSELF
My father told me to Meditate and Pray and decide for myself if what the Organization is telling us is the Truth. To him the most important decision of my life is this one…Do I believe their Truth is really God’s one and only Will for us?
I heard God-the-Father say he loves this path whether it is true or not. I also heard him say wants me to decide for myself. Now I see this as him wanting my genuine consent.
For my whole life he told me these two things. I see how they were true. He did choose this Truth. He lives his life in accordance with the Society’s directives. He accepts the Governing Body as the One True Channel to God and he follows the Organization’s directions in all things.
I have done as he bid …I Meditated and Prayed deeply on this question for as long as I can remember…and in the shadow of my 30th birthday …I finally made my decision with an almost audible click.
I will not follow the orders of such people.
This moment when I learned more about the situation in Malawi marks the exact instant when my Loyalty to the Organization was broken forever. My loyalty and emotional conflicts about my parents and family are much more complex questions.
When it comes to breaking the hold of mind control different issues are the breaking point for different people. For me the happenings in Malawi were an irretrievably defining moment. The difference between my life before reading the book and after reading the book has been monumental.
Once I left the Society I started to find it possible to look at its structure. I have been working to understand human nature and society, in general. I did it, initially, in an effort to accept the doctrines of my father’s faith.
Now, I am interested understanding the structure of the wider society surrounding me, the World. The Witnesses held the World’s failings up in front of my eyes at all times. I have come to believe they want to encourage people to be afraid and horrified by the problems facing the world today so that they will feel comforted by the Society’s promised solution.
I agree with the Witnesses regarding the sad state of the world. People are suffering in a lot of ways and for a lot of reasons. I diverge from the Witnesses when it comes to causes and solutions.
One of the most important things I have learned from my experiences thus far is the importance of Celebrating Diversity in this world of ours. There is no one ethic that everyone agrees on. There does not exist one right answer for how we should live that works for everyone.
Where are you still hooked by the selective perception of your childhood socialization? What sorts of social controls do you accept and why? What does your internal dialog sound like? Does it serve you or does it pick and pull at your self-esteem like burrs catching on an old sweater?