I’m about to tell you the worst imaginable thing; I’m admitting that I am an Apostate.
For those of you reading along at home, that means I’ve spoken out against what my mom’s religion refers to as “The Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses, directs all of the actions of their organization and leads the men in charge to make the decisions that God wants them to.
I know this means you probably won’t talk to me ever again. If you follow their rules, you won’t even invite me to grandma’s funeral, and I won’t be welcome at yours. But I want you to reconsider.
Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) actually have two forms of extreme shunning. The better-known form is called “disfellowshipping.” It usually lasts a minimum of six months, but can be reversed once the member is found to be “repentant.” The other, less talked about, form of shunning is to label someone as an “Apostate.” This means they have said or done something in direct opposition to the organization. The punishment for this is non-negotiable. The Apostate can never return; they are not to be spoken to, or even mentioned, again. Family and friends are instructed to act as if the Apostate is dead. If a member breaks these rules, they too will find themselves disfellowshipped or marked as an Apostate very quickly.
I want you to take a hard look at the organization of men you serve, and what they are asking you to do. I want you to think about it as someone who hasn’t sacrificed 30+ years of their lives for it. I want you to think clearly and rationally, even though being in a cult makes that hard.
When I was a baby in my mom’s arms, they came knocking on her trailer door in rural Arkansas. She was fresh out of prison and hadn’t gotten her pardon yet. Her three children had different dads and none of them were in the picture. You might say she was in a hard spot. You might have heard that JWs target people in hard spots, as many cults do, and keep them through doctrine.
All I’m doing is expressing a contrary opinion. I can do this with my Catholic friends, my Muslim friends, my Hindu friends, and my agnostic friends. Why can’t I do this with you? Are your beliefs truly beyond scrutiny?
Do you really think it’s normal for a religion to ask you to not have a close relationship with your children and grandchildren? When was the last time you spoke to or saw your oldest child? Do you really think wishing any of us happy birthday will destroy our spirituality, or chances of salvation?
For the record, my mom celebrated my first birthday. It was before she was baptized — which is the point from which breaking the rules will result in discipline or shunning — but she was studying at the time. Her guilt in the matter was overwhelming, and last I heard she still felt bad for this “sin.”
Do you know how many children were abused like me? Do you know how many families they’ve broken to hide and protect pedophiles? Do you remember how, when I was fifteen and still looked twelve, he kissed me? And how nobody went to the police? And how the elders punished me? Do you really, really think that’s normal? Do you know that’s part of their policy, handed down by the Holy Spirit? Do you really think it’s okay to protect Jehovah’s name before victims of sexual abuse?
The JWs maintain a “two-witness policy” which requires at least two members, in good standing, to have witnessed a thing for it to be valid. Here is a BBC article explaining it.
I’m not blaming you for the decisions they’ve coerced you into making, but I am asking you to consider them with some real scrutiny. A big part of what you always liked about the organization was that, in your words, they encouraged their members to really study, and think deeply. They said we should not blindly follow, but have a deep understanding of our beliefs.
So ask yourself: Do you think it’s right that positions of leadership, down to who gets to hold a microphone or say a prayer, should all be in the hands of men? Do you honestly think women are inferior, and should be subjects of men?
JWs maintain that women are not to hold positions of power, of any sort. They are to be in subjection to their husbands. When I was nine, my mom married a member in good standing. They never told us why he wasn’t allowed to see his other daughters, but I have my suspicions. He became progressively more abusive after they were married, but the elders kept telling mom to display humility with her husband, and to be “meek.” She was eventually disfellowshipped for leaving him and marrying another member after a decade of celibacy.
Do you really think Jehovah disapproved of your relationship with Stefan? Do you really think his Holy Spirit directed them to punish you for it while you cared for your dying father? Do you really think these men have the right to dictate your life the way they have for the past thirty years?
If you were to research on your own, you would see just how flawed both the doctrines and policies of the Jehovah’s Witnesses are. But you refuse to look outside your own circle of influence because you are scared. You have been told that anything that contradicts how these men interpret the Bible is wrong, and anything that disproves their policies is Apostate. How could you logically consider or evaluate what they’re asking you to do while doing it? It is literally impossible.
And I know you think they have done so much for you. But let’s consider what has really happened since you joined. You had a rough past and decided to clean it up in your late 20s. Some people told you they would help you out if you followed a few simple rules. The rules weren’t simple, but then they promised everlasting life. That’s kind of ridiculous, if you think about it, but you were told you could bring your children so long as you raised them to love Jehovah. They raped your youngest, turned your middle child into a pretentious asshole, turned your oldest into a stranger. They punished you when you had proof of your spiritual cleanliness, and you took it.
This leads me to believe that you are scared, tired, and possibly defeated. You have spent over half of your life investing in a lie, and to acknowledge it now would break everything you know. They are your support system and your social life. You traded your family, higher education, career advancement, and financial security for this.
I know what it’s like to leave and have almost no one.
I was disfellowshipped after years of sexual abuse, and later reinstated so that my mom would talk to me. They punished me for being a victim. They do this often.
It’s been fourteen years since I’ve stepped foot in a Kingdom Hall.
JWs have their own vocabulary for everything. You’re not allowed to call it “going to church.” It’s not a church. It’s a Kingdom Hall. Sigh.
And the truth is, the only reason you’d ever find me back in one is to confront the elders about their abuse, or to convince people to leave. That’s right Mom, I’m the worst thing you could ever imagine. I’m an Apostate, and I’m proud of it.
I know that means you’re probably going to chose Jehovah’s Witnesses over me, again. I understand why you’d do that, but I want you to know that I will always love you and hold out hope that you break free. That you realize these are just men, without any real connection to God.
I hope that someday you will be proud of me. I hope you will understand what a fantastic daughter you raised. How strong and tenacious I am, how fiercely I fight for what I believe in, and how much I love you.
A copy of this letter has been sent to the Jehovah’s Witnesses United States branch office in Wallkill NY, making my Apostasy official.