(Illustration: Diana Quach)

Jehovah’s ‘Wikileaks: Former Insider Posts Leaked Docs Online

A former Jehovah’s Witness elder is using his access and connections to publish documents the group wants to keep private

By Jacob Steinblatt

A former elder of the Jehovah’s Witness religious movement is sharing his insights into the group with an online archive of religious publications, videos, and internal memos normally unavailable to the public. The former Jehovah’s Witness elder, going by the Reddit username “Ohmyjw,” revealed the archive in an Ask Me Anything post in August, where he described his life as an elder, and the process he claims he and his wife underwent to leave their congregation.

Ohmyjw, who was an elder in the Polish congregation of the group, fielded dozens of questions about life as a Witness and the transition to normal living. For instance, the user described his first birthday as an ex-Witness, saying “It felt very nice and I felt a relief that finally I don’t have anyone that tries to govern every aspect of my life.” Members of the congregation believe thatcelebrating birthdays “have pagan roots,” and as such, these celebrations “displease God.” The sect has been described by former members as cloistered and highly controlling, with one former member writing that “the faith discourages more than the bare minimum education, advising that higher education is a waste of time” better spent on preaching.

Other insights include what this user alleges are the kinds of punishments that the congregation metes out to those who question the group’s beliefs. “First they take your ‘privileges,’ so you cease to be an elder, pioneer or having other position in the congregation,” he claims. “Then the punishment is basically shunning even without disfellowshipping you — people drift away from you, don’t want to talk to you outside the meetings, etc. It may sound trivial, but when your whole world revolves around the congregations, it can be very painful.”

On the archive’s website one can find a number of religious publications, including one called “Shepherd the Flock of God,” which the user describes as an elder’s secret handbook. The handbook describes the powers and responsibilities of elders, and details the “judicial” system, wherein elders can hold hearings for alleged wrongdoing. The book explains “Elders should act promptly when they receive a report of serious wrongdoing so as to safeguard the congregation… Neglecting to care for such matters can hinder the flow of Jehovah’s holy spirit to the congregation.” Some of the serious wrongdoings described in the handbook as requiring a judicial committee are manslaughter, attempted suicide, and “Por·nei’a,” defined as “immoral use of the genitals, whether in a natural or in a perverted way, with lewd intent.”

Ohmyjw explained his reasoning for the archive and AMA, telling his audience that their goal is to help those still in the congregation, “to try making people who are still in to see that they are being lied to.”

Vocativ reached out to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but they declined to confirm or deny any aspects of Ohmyjw’s claims.

This story originally appeared on Vocativ on September 16th, 2016.

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