by Barbara Anderson
When my husband and I left the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs), we, like countless others, lost family members and friends because of the Witnesses shunning doctrine. Each of us has a story to tell as to why we left. Some stories are similar; others far different. Some are shunned because they were disfellowshipped; others because they no longer participated in JWs religious activities or are said to have “rejected the faith.”
We were disfellowshipped and shunned, not for what was considered a “sin” (or wrongdoing) which we were unrepentant for, but for “causing divisions” by publicly denouncing one of Watchtower’s policies that protected criminal actions committed by JWs.
Those who shun as described above, do so because of instructions such as found in the September 15, 1981 Watchtower, p. 23:
“Persons who make themselves ‘not of our sort’ by deliberately rejecting the faith and beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses should appropriately be viewed and treated as are those who have been disfellowshipped for wrongdoing.”
Did our son love us?
Our son, Lance, loved us before we were disfellowshipped in 2002 and, if asked, probably would say he still does. We know we still love him.
Proof of his love can be found in a letter to us he wrote after his marriage. That was when the three of us were still living in Bethel, the world headquarters of JWs. The letter was published in the August 8, 1993 Awake! on page 31 as follows:
Appreciating Godly Parents
Parents who work hard to raise their children to be responsible and God-fearing adults are gratified when their efforts are successful. They are also very pleased when their children express appreciation for that good upbringing. Following is a letter sent by a son and his wife, after their wedding, to his parents:
Dear Dad and Mom:
Oh, where do we begin? Let’s start by saying how much we appreciated your love, support, and generosity on our wedding day. It truly was a special day, and your presence was invaluable. Additionally, as if that weren’t enough, you assisted us in making our honeymoon so enjoyable. [Our gift to them was a honeymoon trip to California.] All the above is further evidence of what outstanding, loving, reasonable, and fun-loving parents you are and have always been!
Have you ever wondered why I have been able to stay on the straight and narrow? Because, besides my love for Jehovah God, I have always had great respect for you both. This respect has been so strong that coupled with your discipline, it has caused me always to think twice when doing things and making decisions. The success of my life in doing God’s will is indeed due in large part to your consistent love and discipline of me and your undying devotion to Jehovah and his organization.
If I were to take all the memories of my childhood about the two of you and were to combine them, they would say that although I may not remember everything you said, I do remember your outstanding conduct, especially your love for others and for Jehovah.
We love you very, very much. Your son and daughter-in-law, L. and W.
Note in the letter that our son used the word, “discipline” twice to describe what we did to keep him “on the straight and narrow.” His expressions of love, although sincere, reflect JW’s viewpoint on child raising, which we followed.
By JW’s standards, we were successful parents. And as a husband and father, our son tries to be a good parent and provider for his two children by following JW instructions. However, he’s probably stifling his kids as we did him because of following JW’s organizational instructions that were a fit for a society 2,000 years ago but not for today in the 21st century.
Interestingly, when I was part of the Witnesses’ headquarters staff working in their Writing Department, I learned that articles in Witness literature about raising kids were usually written by people who didn’t have children. That was true in the case of one senior writer who was not even married, yet penned articles explaining what was required to have a happy marriage and to be a successful parent.
Back in 2001, because I had left the religion four years previously, our son told my mother that he would rather I die before the world ended so I would come back in the resurrection. (At that time, his father was still an elder.) In his grief over my exiting the JW organization, he expressed his hope to see me again after Armageddon just like he was taught would happen to unbelievers if they died before God brought his destructive fury to the earth. In this way, he expressed his love for me. That was fifteen years ago. (I wonder if he still expects Armageddon to come soon.)
Although our son still shuns us, we know from a note he sent us after our disfellowshipping in 2002 that he shuns us out of love, hoping that if we loved him and Jehovah enough, we’d return to the organization. And we thought at one time that if he loved and respected us enough, he would listen to reason and leave the organization. So it comes down to this – we’re in a stalemate.
Once again, let me say that it’s not that he doesn’t love us. He is doing what he was taught since infancy – to put God’s requirements first. And, when “God’s organization” instructs members to shun disfellowshipped parents because it is one of God’s requirements, he obeyed.
This mindset of believers should never be taken personally by those who are shunned. Religious belief and emotion are tightly connected. We, the shunned, have to accept the reality of the hold that belief has on an individual and learn to live with it as best we can. All we can do is hope that the coercion tactics that often times influences someone’s religious convictions will be exposed in such a way that a normal relationship can be achieved.
We wished back when we followed the doctrines of the Witness religion that we had read the April 1, 1920 Watch Tower, p. 100 and learned that at one time our religion was not vindictive towards those who had left or those who asked for change to harmful policies:
“We would have no quarrel with anyone who wants to seek truth through other channels. We would not refuse to treat one as a brother because he did not believe the Society is the Lord’s channel.”
It’s too bad that this tenet is no longer acceptable in the JW religion.
Our son, Lance, is no different than thousands of other JWs who have never taken the time or shown the interest to really dig into the teachings and history of JWs. They are ignorant by choice – but a choice forced on them by the very group that is dividing their family.
After we learned about JWs cover-up of child sexual abuse, we decided to spread the truth to try to prevent continuing child abuse and other criminal behavior within the membership. We never tried to argue doctrine but only the disreputable actions by the leadership, and, we, like Ray Franz and his wife, paid a heavy price. Ray and his wife never had children – because they put the organization first until they realized their error – and then it was too late for them. We followed the same path – except we did have a son and grandchildren whom we lost because of our stand.
Perhaps hundreds of thousands of JWs would leave the JW religion tomorrow and act on their conscience if they could bear to give up their familial relationships. An aunt, an uncle, even a grandparent would be tough – but a child and grandchildren? Despicable and unbearable.
Until enough JWs stand up to their leaders and act on their conscience to force change by not shunning for whatever reason, we the shunned are coping with our loss by moving ahead building relationships with people who are moral, ethical and have unconditional love.