‘Jacqueline’ on Being a Member of and Leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen (w/ Jeff McBrine)

‘Jacqueline’ is a former member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Here she 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 21, 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?

‘Jacqueline’: I was born into the religion, my mom came into the religion when she was a kid because of her mom, and my dad found it through his sister (who is now disfellowshipped) when he was in his mid/late 20s.  My parents were always heavily devoted to it, though we did go through a few years in my childhood when we were “inactive” which basically meant that we weren’t attending the weekly meetings and bible studies, just our multi-day conventions and the memorial of Christ’s death which both happened every year.  Even with this though, my family always followed the rules to the letter, no holidays, not too much interaction with my “worldly” family, no birthdays, praying before every meal, etc. and after those few years between the ages of about 4-8 we started to become regular at the meetings again, and I remember always trying to come up with excuses for me not to go; like “falling asleep” before we had to leave, pretending to be sick, and purposefully taking too much time figuring out what to wear.  Sometimes these excuses worked, but most of the time I had to go anyway.  This continued for several years, I hated going to meetings, I thought they were really boring and I enjoyed hanging out with my dad’s side of the family way more than anyone on my mom’s side or in our congregation, plus I despised wearing dresses so I really gained nothing from going, I just went because my parents did.  It wasn’t until I was somewhere around 12 that I started to feel the pressure to listen and participate more, and I slowly became more “involved” with the congregation; giving comments, going out in service, bible reading, participating in talks, and other things.  However, I still never really wanted to do that stuff, I did it because I was expected to and I knew I’d make my parents happy and get praise from others for doing it.  For the next several years I kept in that pattern, “progressing” in the congregation, although I was suffering from depression and anxiety due in part to the religion, something that I kept quiet about.  Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I had no choice and couldn’t leave or I’d be doomed to painful death, so I reluctantly decided to get baptized when I was 18 (worst decision of my life).  On the surface, nobody was pressuring me to do anything I didn’t want to do, my parents never negatively commented on me not being baptized and participating in meetings wasn’t mandatory or enforced, but there was this unspoken stigma that if you didn’t do those things you should feel guilty that you don’t love Jehovah as much as you should.  Along with that, during the years we were inactive I constantly saw my parents berating and beating themselves down for being such “disappointments” to Jehovah, because in their (and everyone else’s) minds simply believing wasn’t enough, you had to “prove” your love by going to meetings, participating in talks, and going out in service.

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?

‘Jacqueline’: I personally haven’t experienced anything that was a direct violation of my privacy, however it always felt like as soon as you have an issue in your family the Elders are there, asking to come over and discuss things with you, even if you haven’t asked for help.  My personal experience with this is when I first mentioned to my parents that I had doubts and at the very next meeting, only a few days afterward, the Elders had pulled my family into the back room to discuss these (quite frankly, tiny) doubts that I had.  It’s hammered into our minds that if there’s any type of issue within your family you should tell the Elders so they could get involved, no matter how personal it is.  Something else that isn’t a direct violation of privacy but I remember always thinking was weird was how they always announced when someone got disfellowshipped or left the congregation.  I never heard them explicitly state why that person did, just that they had, but it always sparked these rumors in the congregation and gossip would start about what happened.  Unrelated, but another strange thing is that whenever they announced that someone had left or been disfellowshipped everyone would start acting as if that person died; somber, morose, talking about them in the past tense, “I’m going to miss them, they were so fun to be around”.

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.

‘Jacqueline’: The major positive I loved and still love about the community is the sense of hospitality members have: if they hear someone lost their job they’ll help them find a new one, if someone is sick in the hospital they constantly have a stream of visitors bringing cards and flowers, and if someone is low on money they can expect multiple deliveries of groceries and meals to their house.  Although their sense of “community” is skewed to just those in the religion, you can bet they’ll take care of each other and support one another.

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?

‘Jacqueline’: In general expulsion, shunning, and ostracizing are engrained into this religion as one of its base beliefs, nobody can deny that.  However, many of the bad things that happen in this religion are unspoken rules and norms: you aren’t guaranteed to be kicked out if you don’t answer a question, but pressure from the Elders for the full story could make you feel trapped and in danger of being judged and ostracized if you don’t answer it (though depending on the answer you could be shunned anyway).  Everyone in this religion is expected to be 100% transparent with the Elders, telling them every detail of every decision you have made, which makes them suspect you of doing something bad if you refuse to disclose personal information.

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.

‘Jacqueline’: In general, nothing this religion asks of you is unlawful or inhumane, however, it does ask a lot of you.  You have to dedicate a lot of your time, energy, resources, and money to it, you aren’t expected to pursue higher education or career advancements (and your priorities can sometimes be questioned if you do), and you’re generally supposed to put God above everything in your life, including yourself.  However, like I stated, none of these things are cruel or unlawful, in fact some teachings are good morals to follow; such as being kind to people and not being greedy.

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.

‘Jacqueline’: However, the pressure of adhering to some of the more “serious” rules can sometimes seem inhumane.  If you celebrate your birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, or any other holiday you can expect to be reprimanded and even disfellowshipped (shunned and kicked out).  You can have no tattoos, no revealing clothing, no swearing, no anything that is deemed “bad” by the religion otherwise you will, once again, face reprimanding and possibly shunning.  This control over the member’s identities might be considered cruel and a violation of self-expression to some.

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?

‘Jacqueline’: My entire life has been relinquishing my human rights.  From the time I was born I was taught to dress, act, and think a certain way otherwise I risked tearing apart my family, breaking their hearts, and ending up alone.  This religion controls every aspect of your identity, turning its members into copies of each other, more or less.  We have the same pattern of speaking, the same morals, the same fashion sense, and the same goals with only small differences; and if you fall somewhere outside this category you will definitely be judged and questioned and even shunned if you stray too far.  You aren’t allowed to be involved in politics or develop your own opinions on matters, you aren’t allowed to express yourself in a bold way, and you aren’t allowed to even associate with those outside the religion.  The leaders of this organization and the members of it constantly boast how “diverse” it is, but it really isn’t.  You’re allowed to express yourself, sure, but only within the small confines the religion has established.  There are certain things you absolutely do not and should not want to do otherwise you “bring reproach to Jehovah’s name”.

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?

‘Jacqueline’: At around age 14-15 I became severely depressed and anxious.  I self-harmed, had multiple anxiety and panic attacks every week, and thought that killing myself would be the only way out of my situation.  I lied and told my parents this was due to my schooling and that I couldn’t keep up with the workload anymore, which was true, but the reason I couldn’t keep up with it was due to mental issues connected to the religion.  Around that time I had a realization that this wasn’t what I wanted with my life, and consequently had to deal with the realization that I would be “turning my back to God” which meant I would die an awful death and never be resurrected (like we believed).  This fear paralyzed me, I knew I wasn’t happy in this religion and never would be, but I thought it would be even worse if I left and went to “Satan’s side”.  So my options were basically to spend my entire life miserable, lying to myself and pretending to be happy, or I could live out my life with Satan in the “world”, happy and satisfied, but never be resurrected and never see my dead family again.  My mind had been so twisted and distorted by listening to years and years of propaganda that I honestly thought that being miserable my whole life or killing myself were better options than leaving the religion.  Since killing yourself also meant you wouldn’t be resurrected, at 18 I had been so beaten down and was so tired of this battle in my mind that I settled with the former option and ended up getting baptized, knowingly condemning myself to a life of lies and mental torture (I was actually sobbing in my room the night before I was going to do it).  Now at 20, I realize that was the worst decision I’ve made in my life.  Now that I’m more mature and have figured out that this religion actually isn’t “the truth” I’ve subsequently condemned myself to never speaking to my family again, losing all my friends, and being left all alone when I decide to officially leave.  I’m still attending meetings with my parents (over Zoom) and outwardly appear to be faithful, however mentally I’ve already distanced myself from this life.  Even with that, the constant preaching that this is the “end of times” that I hear twice a week is slowly trying to pull me back in by using fear and emotional manipulation which has caused a milder relapse of what I went through a few years ago.  And I know that even after I leave I will forever be plagued by those thoughts, the fear and manipulation I had drilled into me for 20 years will always make me question my choices and opinions.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the time and opportunity to tell your story here today.   

Jeff McBrine: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.

‘Jacqueline’: In reference to my previous answer: yes, absolutely.  From my own personal experience and also the experiences of others that I’ve seen, this religion makes leaving it so difficult.  Like I said, once I leave I’m going to lose all of my social structure, all my family and friends, as well as be forever haunted by the “what if” question.  This religion thrives and survives by scaring people into staying and making members feel guilty for leaving.  I highly recommend listening to “Mother Knows Best” from Tangled because that song fully encapsulates what it’s like to be in this religion (honestly Gothel and Rapunzel’s whole relationship does).  Gothel relies on fearmongering, isolating Rapunzel from the outside world and feeding her stories about how awful and scary it is out there so Rapunzel never wants to leave.  And after she does leave, Gothel still tries to convince her that life in the tower is so much better than life outside and that she has so much more in her tower than she could ever have “out there”.  This is exactly what it’s like.  A toxic, manipulative relationship where the authority makes it seem as though they’re only trying to help the victim “be safe” and that if the victim leaves they’re the bad person for not accepting the help and staying.

Photo by Christian Lue on Unsplash

Scott Douglas Jacobsen
Scott Douglas Jacobsen
Assistant Editor, News Intervention, Human Rights Activist. Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He focuses on North America for News Intervention. Jacobsen works for science and human rights, especially women’s and children’s rights. He considers the modern scientific and technological world the foundation for the provision of the basics of human life throughout the world and advancement of human rights as the universal movement among peoples everywhere. You can contact Scott via email.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) predicted the end of the world, IN WRITING, numerous times. Not once did they come true. They truly are known for their ‘False Predictions’ the world over.

    JWs are taught that they alone are TRUE Christians and that all other people not JW will soon be destroyed. This is no exaggeration.

    JWs will allow their own children TO DIE rather than accept a life saving blood transfusion even in severe medical emergencies. It has already happened THOUSANDS of times!

    Just like this mother died unnecessarily! http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/shropshire/7078455.stm

    Two recently in Canada! http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-42002996

    Or this teenager that also DIED: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/west_midlands/8690785.stm

    This pregnant JW and her baby died.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3027599/Jehovah-s-Witness-baby-die-refuses-blood-transfusion-seven-months-pregnant-cancer-80-chance-surviving-treatment.html

    JWs NEEDLESSLY die for this sorry blood policy today.

    From the same organization that has an entire 100 + year history of similar bad and embarrasing policies.

    As a 15 year active JW (and an elder) here is my own story: http://www.bibletoday.com/archive/JW_Disassociation_letter_by_Vinny.htm#.W0E7_K2ZMVc

    JWs used to forbid Vaccinations and Organ Transplants (calling a life saving transplant “Cannibalism”) for a combined 33 years.

    This JW elder refused a kidney transplant and DIED only to have JWs say transplants are now OK 2 years later. http://ajwrb.org/debbie-shards-story

    JWs enforce extreme shunning for any JW that decides to leave their religion or who sins without showing enough repentance to the elders.

    I have literally seen parents cut off all ties with their children solely because the kid did not want to remain a JW but went in another direction.

    Even ex-JWs who leave the religion on their own, are 100 percent truthful, sincere, love God, pay taxes, help others and more are still SHUNNED by all current JWs and marked as godless, proud, sinning apostates. The Awake magazine recently called them “mentally diseased”.

    And MANY contemplate suicide because the penalties of losing everything are TOO MUCH TO TAKE.

    But an honest question is: Why do so many JWs leave after being one time followers?

    As I eventually found out, the JW religion did say, IN WRITING, that the end would come in 1914 and then again in 1925. Was Jehovah directing all that? 1914 and 1925 came and went! They were proven false predictions. Period.

    They also said the end very likely would happen in 1975 and even commended (in the watchtower) witnesses for selling their houses and pioneering because of it.

    But 1975 came and went!

    They also said (for many decades) that the end would come before the generation born in 1914 passed away. In fact up until 1995 it was written inside each Awake magazine cover. Only they then had to change that meaning as well (including the Awake masthead) because that generation CAME AND WENT TOO.

    I was an active JW (and elder) for 15 years before leaving because of the blood policy 13 yrs ago. Today I’m shunned by all JWs simply because I left the religion.

    Most JWs accept everything the Watchtower teaches and says as “food from God”. Just like I did.

    Most believe God has chosen the Watchtower Society as his “channel”, which provides food from God Himself to their religion and ONLY their religion.

    But an honest look at the facts of the JW religion shows God has not chosen the WT for anything!

    Take a LOOK: https://jwfacts.com/watchtower/changed-watchtower-teachings.php

    ALL FROM THEIR OWN LITERATURE WITH DATES & PAGES TO SEE FOR YOURSELVES!!!

    Pages and pages of mistakes, embarrassments, false predictions, medical disasters, weird science, doctrinal failures and more for over 100 years now!

    Obviously ‘GOD’ would not get things wrong like this. Obviously ‘GOD’ did not provide bad food like that for their entire history.

    But most JWs have no idea about these things. They’re told to stay away from anything critical of their religion.

    For example: Was God’s spirit with JWs when they said Organ Transplants were a “conscience matter” in 1961?

    OR,

    Was God”s spirit with WT when they THEN SAID Organ Transplants are same as “Cannibalism” in 1967 and forbid them?

    OR, was God’s spirit with the WT when they THEN SAID Organ Transplants are NOT the same as cannibalism in 1980 and now allow them?

    Was God behind all those changes each time? Did ((GOD)) get all those things wrong each time? How many JWs like that elder above DIED by refusing kidney transplants, only later on to be told they’re OK to have now?

    Which is why some end up taking their lives due to losing their family or feel compelled to speak out about it, like me right now.

    And because I walked away JWs are demanded to shun you for life (including your very own family).

    Examine this religion and ask as many questions as you can!

    Vinny

  2. Hey Jacqueline im sorry to hear your conflict! as one of Jehovah’s witnesses myself i know this is intense times! I have my own conflicts and internal struggles , satan is not going to give you everlasting life without a fight ! But really what else is there? Take a good look? We are spinning in space ??? Hello human , we are walking in an insanely complex piece of equipment called your ‘body’ where did it come from ?? Jehovah’s wants to keep you safe , satan is a psychopathic serial killing , pyschotic murderer! Eek.. he writes about it all in his music ‘ phantom of the opera, Queen under pressure , florence and the machine dog days are over and shake it out??? Hes telling you exactly where it is at! Its not a great situation to wrap your head around but hey in satans words do you want the truth or something beautiful ( paloma faith ) he certainly isnt going to help you listening to people on here under his control. Sure there are amazing people in the world , i repeat satan is a psychopath he hates humans that includes the people in his world , he will just pop you on his world wide web with all the others , he knows its coming he and the demons have been writing songs and films about it for years now calling it their last dance, they dont quit because its real! I really pray you stay awake and dont let the struggle get the better of you, life goes so quickly youth fades fast ‘ florence and the machine Rabbit heart .. Edgar Allan poe The Red Death .. if you open your eyes see it for what it is.. The end of the world .. love sister ..

  3. The Jehovah’s Witnesses violate human rights by putting fear into your mind. They do that to make you stay within the organization, and quite frankly, this organization isn’t God’s organization because they do use fear tactics, and the Bible says that God isn’t a God of fear. I used to study with this group way back in the erly 1990s, and I didn’t have to study for long to see what this group was all about.

    They follow you, they report you to the elders and they council you on just about everything that you do. One of their favorite scriptures that they use says that bad association spoils useful habits. What they mean by bad association is anybody that isn’t a Jehovah’s Witness including the old lady that lives next door to you.

    This organization uses what is known as the BITE model. BITE stands for Behavior, Information, Thought and Emotional control. They use all of this to keep all their members in line. When you join this group, all your American rights are stripped from you. You can’t vote, hold any office, join the military, do any extra coricular activities from school, read Christian books from book stores, visit other churches, read the Bible alone without the Watchtower magazine and on and on.

    The life of a Jehovah’s Witness is controlled totally from cradle to grave if you’re born into the religion. The only life for a Jehovah’s Witness is to bang on doors, go to meetings, study for the meetings and that’s pretty much it accept for doing a mediocre job that doesn’t pay much and only allows for you to just scrape by. Of course, you are expected to give your money to the organization, and even children are instructed to do the same thing with their piggy banks, or ice cream money. You’re taught to give to a multi-billion dollar organization that really doesn’t care about you at all, and you’re asked to follow the whims of eight men in New York who are also imperfect human beings who sit up there and make up all the rules, regulations and policies or as they call them; their governing body.

    This is not a peaceful religion even though it may appear so on the surface with all the love bombing and support that they give you provided that you’re in good standing. However, once you have something against you or you’re disfellowshipped then watch out because all the kindness and support suddenly disappears as quickly as a light switch turning off. The whole concept of disfellowshipping was never ever practiced by Jesus and he never ever told people to do such things either. Truly this is an organization of cruelty. It isn’t God’s organization, and God doesn’t need an organization. He works in individual hearts, not through eight men in New York. They’re not God’s mouthpiece, and they’re no more the true religion than the Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists and Catholics are as they all claim to be. However, that’s just it, they all claim that but they have no hard evidence or factual proof from God himself that would signify them as the one true organization. The Jehovah’s Witnesses organization is full of hipocracy, lies and deception, and they definitely use the BITE model.

    The organization is corrupt from the core outward. It is one really bad rotten apple. Don’t join!

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