By Scott Douglas Jacobsen (w/ Jeff McBrine)
Tyler is a former member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Here he discusses some facets of life in and out of the community, the faith.
*Due credit to Jeff McBrine for the push and organizational skills here.*
*Interview conducted July 22, 2020.*
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: In terms of entering into the Jehovah’s Witnesses at a later period or birth into the Jehovah’s Witnesses communities, what are the early parts of the personal story in the Jehovah’s Witnesses for you?
Tyler: I was born-in in 1982. My parents converted in the early 1970s, getting baptized in 1974. I have two older brothers (one in, one disfellowshipped) and one younger sister (disfellowshipped).
Jacobsen: Within community, hierarchs or leaders exist who have more authority than others. Members of the community respect them or fear them, or both, and can report grievances or concerns to them. Can you relate any experiences in which personal life was brought to the congregation or members, even hierarchs/leaders, within the Jehovah’s Witnesses in which you felt demeaned or as if personal privacy was violated?
Tyler: My oldest brother schemed with two elders (father and son) to get “revenge” against myself and several others, for things that they deemed sinful or disrespectful. He wrote approximately 10 pages of complaints, that I was forced to go through with four elders. The four main topics discussed ranged from “speaking disrespectfully” of an elder (I exposed the father stealing from the congregation), to sharing inappropriate things on social media (the three other elders laughed at their “examples”), to being accused of trying to force myself on my sister-in-law (18 months after the “fact”?), to the sexual activities of myself and my wife.
Jacobsen: As a social species, social links matter deeply to us. What were some of the communal or social positives while in the Jehovah’s Witnesses? Those good things that came with the community of faith.
Tyler: It’s hard to deny the sense of community that comes with being a believing JW. However, once you no longer believe, you learn that this community is conditional. Up to that point, it’s a nice feeling to be able to approach a witness anywhere in the world, and find a “friend.”
Jacobsen: Many individuals have been expulsed, kicked out, from the Jehovah’s Witnesses for a variety of reasons. Others have been scared or pressured/coerced into staying in it. Were social ostracism and threat of expulsion real threats for others or yourself when questioned on matters of a highly private nature if refusing to respond to the questioning?
Tyler: I have been avoiding speaking to the congregation elders for about 9 months, because there is a judicial committee waiting for me. Now that I no longer believe, I also have to fear disfellowshipping simply for that.
Jacobsen: In terms of individual and community behaviour towards you, what Jehovah’s Witnesses policies seem fair and humane within ordinary legal and sociocultural contexts? Please provide examples as you feel comfortable.
Tyler: I actually struggle to find any policies exclusive to the religion that are beneficial to the community, or individuals. (Please see the next response.)
Jacobsen: In terms of individual and community behaviour towards you, what Jehovah’s Witnesses policies seem unfair and inhumane within ordinary legal and sociocultural contexts? Please provide examples as you feel comfortable.
Tyler: The only policies they employ are based on unsubstantiated claims to authority. And even seemingly benign practices, like their policies on preaching put undue stress on followers. Meeting attendance puts children at an unfair advantage, because they are not able to perform to the full potential at school, nor encouraged to learn critical thinking skills. Elderly ones are left pinching pennies, after sacrificing their time and money for decades, because they are unable to save, due to constant propaganda to donate financially. My father went to work in Puerto Rico for two months on his own dime, and the kingdom halls they rebuilt have since been sold by the organization, after collecting the free laboir, materials, and often insurance checks.
Jacobsen: If any examples, have you ever been coerced by the community or the leadership of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to relinquish individual civil rights and human rights for the sake of the Jehovah’s Witnesses?
Tyler: I can’t think of any examples of this in my life.
Jacobsen: Many people, as per the “social species” example before, can suffer from mental anguish or even mental illness (if prolonged stressors) as a result of coercion from the community, expulsion from the community, even banishment from family, friends, and community all-at-once. Sometimes, this can lead to the extremes of suicidal ideation, even suicide attempts (often as a cry for help). If I may ask, what were some mental health issues and unhealthy, towards the self, behaviours as a result of the process of leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses, i.e., as a result of the loss of community, threats of shunning, removal of friends and family, and other forms of coercive attempts at control?
Tyler: Each type of example provided has been used against me. In addition, I’ve been told that I’m a failure and a loser, and that I don’t love my children. These control methods have led to serious mental health problems, suicidal ideation/planning, anxiety and depression. I have since started seeing a therapist, which I would recommend for any former witnesses.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the time and opportunity to tell your story here today.
Jeff McBrine: Thank you Scott for those questions. I’d like to add one too…
Do you feel Jehovah’s Witnesses that stop believing are forced to suffer a way of life that they find unacceptable or can’t find any true enjoyment in because they fear leaving the religion and then having all of their social structure taken away? Basically, do you feel any are trapped in the religion and are suffering psychological damage or violations of their personal freedom and rights? Do you know anyone that fits this description? Explain if you want.
Tyler: Up to this point in time, I would say I fit that description, as well as countless others. While I haven’t attended any meetings since last year, and would consider myself POMO, I still receive constant pressure from my wife to get me to return. This constant pressure has trapped me within my own home, in a sense. Additionally, my sister told our mother that she didn’t believe when she was 15 or 16, and was forced to go to meetings until she moved out the day she turned 18.