BORN INTO A FAMILY OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES

EMOTIONAL, MUST READ, THOUGHT-PROVOKING

Before sharing this list I want to remind people what Mother of All Lists stands for. It is a space for sharing individuals first-person stories about their own experiences. This anonymous writer came forward wanting to give a glimpse into her upbringing as a Jehovah’s Witness. It isn’t conclusive and of course does not represent the feelings or opinions of everyone who has been involved with the religion.  It is her experience, which she has written about bravely and from the heart.

  • You may think you know a bit about Jehovah’s Witnesses.  They don’t celebrate Christmas, they go from door to door preaching and don’t accept blood transfusions. 

  • I was born into a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I was a third generation Jehovah’s witness.

  • They consider themselves a religion, referring to their beliefs as ‘The Truth’ but many who have left consider it to be a cult. 

  • It was founded in 1870 by Charles Taze Russell in Pennsylvania.  He went on to set up the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society with its headquarters in New York. 

  • They have their own version of the Bible called The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.

  • The organisation requires that members attend meetings in Kingdom Halls (a bit like church) and go out preaching door to door. 

  • Sunday meetings are spent with an Elder giving a Talk and studying a Watchtower magazine.  This study involves the reading of an article, followed by the answering of set questions from the paragraph just read. 

  • Evening meetings are held twice weekly and largely consist of practising preaching methods and studying one of their publications. 

  • Prayers are said multiple times per day.  Before each meal and before bedtime. If there is a man present the man says the prayer, if a woman prays in a man’s presence she must cover her head to show submission.  

  • A chapter of their bible is read daily as well as a publication called ‘Examining the scriptures daily’. 

  • They knock on doors and preach because they want to convert you.  They have to declare the number of hours they have spent preaching at the end of each month in a report.

  • Jehovah’s witnesses do not accept blood transfusions.  This is because of their interpretation of a scripture in their bible.  Parents would refuse blood transfusions for their children even if this resulted in death. 

  • They believe that Armageddon is imminent and want to save as many people as possible. They originally believed this would happen in 1914, but as this year came and went they changed the date on a number of occasions. 

  • Things that are banned include; smoking, sex before marriage, abortion,  homosexuality, masturbation, and music with bad language and TV programs and computer games that are deemed to be ‘worldly’ ie, anything with any swearing, sex scenes, drugs etc.

  • Jehovah’s Witnesses do not vote as they see Jehovah as the only true leader.  They are forbidden from swearing allegiance to the flag in America and joining the military.  

  • Members are encouraged to only associate with other Jehovah’s Witnesses and to keep contact with outsiders to a minimum at school or in the workplace. 

  • If a member leaves they are ‘shunned’ other members would not speak to them, including family members. 

  • Higher education is frowned upon.  As teenagers, Jehovah’s Witnesses are encouraged to leave school and go straight into unskilled part-time work.  This is in order to maximise time available for preaching and door knocking. However, they also discourage critical thinking, for example the use of outside sources and websites that may contradict any JW teachings is very much frowned upon.

  • This is my story….

  • I think I always knew our family was different to other families.  We behaved and dressed differently and this made us stand-out.  

  • As a family we would attend ‘meetings’ (a bit like sermons) in a Kingdom hall (their place of worship) three times per week.   Here women must wear skirts below the knee, (never trousers), and must dress modestly. They are never allowed to give ‘talks’ from the platform, this is always done by men.  All the important decisions are made by Elders who are… also men. 

  • Growing up, Christmas was never celebrated.  We were told we were lucky that we hadn’t been lied to like other children were.

  • Our birthdays were never celebrated and I never went to a birthday party.  But the thing I struggled with the most was the weekly singing assembly in school.  Whenever a hymn was sung we would have to stand-up and walk out of the school hall in front of all our peers.  At an age when I desperately wanted to ‘fit in’ this made me stand-out and I hated it.

  • A few teachers discussed my beliefs with me, questioned me, and these small conversations stayed with me and planted seeds of doubt in my mind. 

  • By the time I went to secondary school I had started to question things and lead a double life.  I did not tell any of my new schoolmates about my religion. I lived in fear that one day I would knock on the door of one of my new classmates.

  • From the age of 13/14 I started to lead a double life.  Living at home, attending meetings, preaching door to door but I was questioning things.

  • I secretly started dating and on one occasion got spotted out in public with my boyfriend.  This was reported to the Elders and I had to confess my sins to my family and the Elders.

  • My boyfriend at the time became my husband.  Initially they tried to convert him but he was having none of it and they soon gave up.

  • I was given a ‘Public Retribution’ as my punishment.  The congregation was spoken to about the sin I had committed and advised to keep contact with me to a bare minimum.  However, the strongest form of shunning is called ‘disfellowshipping’ where even families cannot speak to the shunned member. 

  • I got out of the organisation when I was 18 years old.  Logistically this meant leaving home. But it also meant I was never allowed to speak to the friends I had grown up with ever again.

  • When I left I no longer believed in their teachings, but this fear of Armageddon, or the end of the world was deeply ingrained.  The sense of dread and anxiety was difficult to shake, despite my rational-self knowing it would not happen. A thunderstorm, events in the news,  a threatening skyline would trigger feelings of panic even years later.    

  • I went on to marry and a few years later fell pregnant.  Following a very straightforward pregnancy I had a very traumatic delivery where I suffered a Post-Partum-Haemorrhage.  I needed a blood transfusion, something that is banned by the cult. Despite having left the religion nearly 10 years previous I struggled with the decision to accept it and felt guilty, as though I had sinned. 

  • I had three blood transfusions after my son’s birth.  Those blood transfusions literally saved my life 

  • Laying in the hospital with my new-born in my arms I struggled to come to terms with the fact that, had I, or any of my siblings ever needed a blood transfusion as children, my parents would have let us die. 

  • The guilt I felt having accepted the blood transfusion and the anger I felt over the issue left me with Post Natal depression, anxiety and PTSD. 

  • If my family ever found out they would shun me and my child, meaning they would have no further contact with us ever again. 

  • In writing this post I have committed the ultimate sin ie, spoken negatively about the organisation and they would label me an apostate.  Although they do not believe in hell they do believe that apostates will have a particularly painful death. 

  • Twenty years later I have been to university and have a successful career.  However, I still feel the effects of growing up in a cult. I started seeing a counsellor who has really empowered me and helped me find my own ‘truth’.  Most of my family remain Jehovah’s Witnesses. 

  • I have never confronted my parents about any of this.  In their hearts they still believe they are in ‘the Truth’ and they grieve the fact that I have left. 

  • I grew up in a loving home but I did not ask to be born into what I consider a cult.   

  • Leaving has been my positive and has been the driving force that motivated me to succeed.

  • Leaving has taught me to always question things and examine the evidence in front of me.

  • Leaving has made me the educated, politically active, Christmas-loving feminist that I am. 

 

Previous Post

You Might Also Like

9 Comments

  • Reply Danielle July 26, 2019 at 8:16 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing.
    So much I had no idea about.

  • Reply Anushka July 26, 2019 at 10:41 pm

    Really interesting and eye opening. The courage the author must have had to leave! All the best to you.

  • Reply Cat July 27, 2019 at 7:02 am

    Thank you for opening my eyes. So much I knew nothing about. More importantly congratulations for having the bravery to leave and the courage to make the right choices for you and your family, I wish you every continued success and happiness ess.

  • Reply Joanna Turner July 27, 2019 at 10:02 am

    Fascinating. Thank you to you and this brave woman for sharing. I wish her well in her life.

  • Reply Sophie July 27, 2019 at 3:23 pm

    I was brought up in pretty much exactly the same way in a large JW family. I am ‘disfellowshipped’ and estranged from my extended family. I have been deeply affected by this and still grieve the loss of family and faith but I know I have made the right decision for my young family. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it but sometimes I feel that in comparison to others problems it not a big deal…reading this article has really helped me, just to know I’m not alone and I haven’t actually blown anything out of proportion at all.

  • Reply Marion July 27, 2019 at 7:58 pm

    My tears were flowing when i read your article. You spoke for me, i could not have told it any differently. This is exactly what happened to me as well with the only difference that there were always fights in my family. My brother was often violently treated which scarred us badly. Violence was not supposed to happen. My sister was disfellowshipped, i was not. After i had a boyfriend at the age of 17 the elders wanted to bring me in front of the Committee. I left the country and started my young life over in London where i met my husband. He guided me to learn to live and enjoy life. Although it still influences sometimes my life. My other sister and her daughter with family is in my opinion totally brainwashed and it hurts me to see how they live. But for them there is no way out. As good and lovely they are, they believe so deeply in it that they are convinced they doing the right thing. I love them dearly, i still see them occasionally but can not go into a discussion with them as they would choose to cut all strings.
    I am glad you opened peoples eyes. I am proud of you that you had the courage to write the truth.

  • Reply Anna July 27, 2019 at 9:03 pm

    I’m so pleased you wrote this, I’ve always been interested to know what JW are all about, thank you.

  • Reply Becky July 29, 2019 at 1:35 am

    My best friend at school was a JW. I’m Christian so the common thread of having a faith bonded us. I remember feeling sad she couldn’t celebrate Christmas or birthdays but her family always welcomed me to play at her house and nothing ever seemed unhealthy at home. It’s intereating you mention uni isn’t encouraged as I always wondered why my friend didn’t apply (she was a talented artist) but she took on her family’s cleaning business and started her door to door ministry. When we were older and I’d gone to uni I tried to talk about our faiths once but she said she wasn’t allowed. I hope she’s happy now and safe. She married a fellow JW. Thank you so much for sharing this insight. All the best as you live in your own truth x

  • Reply Abigail July 29, 2019 at 1:25 pm

    I agree with the fact that this is one persons individual experience. I was also brought up a Jehovahs Witness. And left at the age of 21 but have a very different experience of it.
    Like any religion people will practice how they interpret it.
    I believe it gave me a good foundation & a strong sense of right & wrong. But decided (after being baptised) that it was not for me.
    I never experienced the truly negative parts some have which I am truly grateful for.
    I feel it also made me an incredibly strong person, as if you are brought up in this religion you are made to stand out. I’m sure it must be even harder nowadays with the internet & social media but I never wanted to just fit in anyway.
    As for it being a religion run by men, it is but what mainstream religion really isn’t.
    They all are!
    Always so interesting to here about other people who left. And I am truly sorry that it has left you with such a negative experience.

  • Leave a Reply