I know, I know, I’m not going to change your mind anytime soon. You’ll stop reading now, or halfway through, or well before the final line. I assure you I come in peace. I’m not going to try to convince you to abandon your faith or turn away from Jehovah. The internet is already awash with such material. I’m approaching this from a different angle. What follows is my advice for Jehovah’s Witnesses, accepting the fact that they’re not going to leave. I’ll treat that as a given. Fine, you’re a Jehovah’s Witness and that’s never going to change. Okay, great, I can dig that. So, here’s my advice.
These are my eight tips—eight hopes, really—for those determined to maintain their loyalty to Watchtower.
- Love each other, always
I cannot describe the exquisite pain felt when your family—the ones you hold most dear—choose to cut you out, ignore you as though you were a stranger, or vermin. You needn’t fear that, of course. You’re determined to maintain your convictions and I’m not here to convince you otherwise. But life happens. You lose people. Things go wrong. So please, hold your mother close, tell your father you love him. Remind your children that they are valued and loved for the unique individuals they are. Of course, you can’t tell them that you love them no-matter-what, but at least tell them you love them very much.
One day your son or daughter or mother or father might decide that they don’t believe in the Watchtower’s teachings. I know what you’re thinking. It would never happen to your family. My family felt the same way. And yet here I am, twelve years shunned. I’ve had to mourn the loss of my family just as they have had to mourn the loss of a son and brother. I hope it doesn’t happen like that for you, but life happens.
So, hold your loved ones close. Cherish them. Your time in the sun may be brief.
- Try not to judge too much
You’ll try to convince me that you don’t judge at all, but let’s save that for the “worldly people”, a term which by its very nature is one of judgement. I was one of you, remember, so let’s just speak honestly.
Try not to judge too much. Try not to sneer in disgust when you see homosexuals. It’s not good for them and it’s not good for you. Try not to value the lives of non-believers as inferior to yours and your brothers and sisters. Of course, you will to some degree, but try not to let it overpower you completely. Don’t let it erase the compassion in your heart. Other people matter too. They love as deeply as you and in many cases, much more deeply than you could imagine.
I know that this will be hard for you. You think that you must see outsiders as “unclean” or “worldly”. But, you really don’t. I’m asking that you see them as people. Just people. Don’t label them. Don’t dehumanise them. I know doing so makes it easier to devalue and judge them, which is why I’m asking you not to do it. I’m not asking you not to judge them at all. Such is the nature of your faith. I’m just asking that you try not to judge too much.
You don’t know what lead to the hooker selling her body to get by.
You don’t know what horrors the drug addict experienced as a child, why he needs to numb the pain.
You don’t know how the teenage girl wound up getting pregnant.
You – don’t – know.
So, please, try not to judge too much. It’s not good for them and it’s not good for you.
- Know your religion
This one seems obvious, but you would be surprised how few people know their own religion. And that extends to many denominations, not just yours. Adherents are often born in and keep on doing the things they do and believe the things they believe simply because they always have. That’s not really a good enough reason though, is it? You owe it to yourself to know why you live the life you do.
That’s why I don’t proselytise or wave anti-Jehovah’s Witness literature in your face. I’m not going to do your homework for you. There’s no point. You wouldn’t read anything like that, coming from someone like me. Besides, we live in the “information age”. If you want to learn the truth, it’s not hard to do so.
I will give you a head start. Your primary concern should be whether what you believe in is true. For that reason, I cannot stress enough, that history is where you should look. Any organisation that pertains to have God’s favour must have a solid historical basis for such a claim.
Let’s pretend that you were interested in becoming a Muslim. I know, I know … that’s a silly idea! You’re a steadfast Jehovah’s Witness, but just stay with me for a moment. Pretend you were considering the Muslim faith. Where would you start? Would you be most interested in their practices today? Of course not! That can be said for secular organisations, but not for religion. When it comes to religion what matters is whether or not it’s true. So where to start? History. Did God speak with the profit Mohamed, or not? It’s a “yes or no” question. You must examine the past to determine your future.
How much do you really know about the history of the Watchtower? Sure, you vaguely remember the names of a few of the presidents. You may have an inkling of Beth Sarim … but is that really enough? Don’t you owe yourself a little more detail than that?
- Try not to bleed
Look after your health as though the world wasn’t coming to an end, just around the corner. This is a point of pure concern for your well-being. I never paid particular attention to my health as a teenager because I didn’t honestly think I would age another year or two before the end came. Now I’m thirty-one years old. One day, I’ll be sixty and hopefully much older. You may age as well, but you might not have as many medical options as me.
Take care of yourself and try not to bleed. Your faith won’t allow you to replace the blood you lose. Also, when you abide to point three, you will learn that at times the Governing Body has forbidden organ transplants, but I won’t go into that, as that’s for you to investigate.
The point is, take care of yourself. You never know what medical options will be available to you at any given time. This life is precious.
- Save some money for yourself
It is not selfish to do this. I attended the same meetings as you. I remember the example, time and again, of the old woman putting two coins of little value into the contribution box. She was praised for having given more than the wealthy man because she’d given everything she had. You remember those talks, right? You can be honest, it’s just you and me and we both know it’s true.
Save some money for yourself. I know, I know, the end is just around the corner. What use is it building up wealth on Earth when you should be building it up in “the Kingdom”, am I right?
Save some money for yourself. In 1914, millions then living thought they would never die. Prior to 1975 (for reasons you can investigate at your leisure), countless brothers and sisters sold their homes and took out bank loans they couldn’t possibly repay so that they could spend their final years in this system in the preaching work. That’s great. That’s admirable. They scrounged up the metaphorical two coins of little value and put them into the metaphorical contribution box.
You mustn’t live this way. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Maybe, just maybe, the end isn’t so close as you think. It’s conceivable, right? It’s even conceivable without breaking any Watchtower rules. All you have to do is acknowledge how long your religion has been around: well over a hundred years, right? For that entire time, you’ve been preaching that the end is imminent, right? Well, if it’s been imminent for a hundred years, it could conceivably be imminent for another hundred years, right? Who really knows what “imminence” means to Jehovah?
I know, I know, you’ve got to contribute something. I’m not telling you not to. You’re a steadfast Jehovah’s Witness and nothing is going to shake your faith. Fine, I’m cool with that. But maybe, just maybe, you’re going to get so old that you won’t be able to work. You’re going to have to feed and house yourself somehow and guess what, Watchtower’s not going to contribute back to you. Their funding is a one-way street from your pocket to theirs. If you get too old, you’re on your own.
Save some money for yourself. Be practical. Get real. Plan for a future that just might come, after all.
- Do not trust other Jehovah’s Witnesses completely
This is a tricky one to negotiate without going into matters you’re probably unwilling to hear, but I’ll try.
The congregation is a spiritual paradise, right? Well, not always. Think about it this way. You think apostates are wicked. Let’s run with that. Well, before they were outed as apostates, these people were in congregations just like yours. That means “wicked people” can exist, however briefly, within the congregation.
Other kinds of wicked people exist in the congregation as well. I’ll demonstrate with an example from my own life, rather than using second or third-hand accounts.
When I was in my early teens I had a best friend, also a Jehovah’s Witness (naturally). I often slept over his house. I found out years later that he’d been molesting his cousins and younger brother. He had likewise been molested. Wickedness existed in my congregation.
You wouldn’t trust “worldly people” with the care of your children beyond your supervision. I know, I know, you naturally trust Witnesses a hell of a lot more than “worldly people”, but I’m asking you not to trust them completely. The congregation isn’t always quite so clean as you think.
- Don’t be cruel
I get it. You have to shun or “limit association” with ex-Witnesses and non-Witnesses. Just don’t be cruel about it. If your loved one leaves your religion, don’t sling insulting terms at them when they reach out to you. They’re only following the natural instinct to engage with someone they care about. Remember, they have every bit as much right to—and as little control over—believe in whatever they do, as you.
I know you’re not supposed to share a meal, but refusing even to acknowledge them is just cruel. Keep the conversation brief if you must. Remind them that you cannot have a relationship with them because of some arbitrary beliefs, but don’t ever let them walk away thinking you’ve stopped loving them. Don’t hassle them with your literature. Many of us have read it all our lives. We know what’s in there. We know what it’s about. We don’t magically forget once we leave. Hassling ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses to return to your way of thinking is about as useful as ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses hassling you, the steadfast Jehovah’s Witness, to read apostate literature. It’s not going happen.
So, if you cannot talk about doctrine, what can you do? Don’t be cruel. Tell your disbelieving loved one that you do in fact love them. Tell them that because of the way a handful of admittedly imperfect, fallible men in Warwick in the United States of America have interpreted the scriptures, you cannot speak to them. Admit that it’s not your interpretation, nor do you necessarily understand it. Remind your loved one that you know they haven’t turned to sin, that they just don’t believe in a few things that have absolutely no biblical backing. Tell them that you’re just in so deep with your religion that you are willing to suppress all natural affection to obey the interpretations of men.
Just remind your disbelieving loved one that you love them and that if the men at Bethel ever change their minds about shunning, you too will immediately change your mind about it thereby proving that it was never your personal belief to begin with. When that day comes, let your loved one know that you will associate with them freely, but if the Governing Body changes its mind again, and reintroduces shunning, then you’ll change your mind back. But if they change it yet again, you’ll embrace your loved one again. Then if they change it back again … oh, you get the point! You’re a mindless puppet. Just try not to be cruel to the ones you love and let them know that you do in fact love them, in whichever limited fashion you’re allowed. Because, after all, you’ll do as you’re told.
- Keep something of yourself for yourself
You are a steadfast Jehovah’s Witness. You give all of yourself to Jehovah. Well … I’d suggest that you exercise some caution in doing this. Keep something of yourself for yourself. Nurture a hobby, not related to your faith. Find a passion for something you enjoy, not related to your religion. Find something that makes you, you.
Please do this. Keep something of yourself for yourself. Because if you don’t, when you wake up, and yes, eventually you will wake up, you will have nothing left. There will be nothing left of you.