Sunday, February 14, 2010

Stepping Stones to a Brighter Future

Posted by Joel Gunz

A number of years ago, circuit overseer Keith Kelley gave a talk at the Circuit Assembly in Woodburn, Oregon, on the theme, “Are You a Stepping Stone or Stumbling Stone?” If you were around then, maybe you remember it. His point was that, depending on the choices we make, we can either be a force for good or for evil. It was an excellent talk, and it continues to influence me in my post-Witness life.

I’d like to extend the illustration a bit further.

Imagine that you are stepping from stone to stone as you cross a narrow creek. In some places, jumping to the next rock might seem to require a huge effort, and you may not even be sure that you’ll make it. But as you cross, you look back and realize that it wasn’t so difficult after all.

For those of us who have successfully left the Jehovah’s Witnesses, can’t we say the same thing about our exit? Most of us were plagued by all kinds of fears, anxieties and self-doubts. We knew we were leaving longtime friends and family members. Some of us even faced the reality that we’d take a financial hit as our former brothers cut their business ties to us. We might also have been afraid that our new “worldly” associates would injure us in some way. Our leap out of the Witnesses was probably the most terrifying move we’ve ever made, like stepping into a black void. But then, looking back, we quickly realized that our fears existed purely between our ears, a product The Organization’s indoctrination.

Upon leaving we discovered that many non-Witnesses are capable of a quality of love and loyalty that is all too rare among even the most “exemplary” Witnesses. To the extent that we reached out in the non-Witness world, making new friends came easily. The proverb that “there exists a friend that is sticking closer than a brother” acquired new meaning for us.

Our activities in The Organization might once have loomed large in our lives. But looking back, doesn’t it all seem so small? The friendships shallow? The “privileges” no more substantial than a chocolate gold coin?

Because we’ve taken that leap, we can look to the future with a confidence that is predicated on our own well-earned character strength — not the fiery destruction of 99.99 percent of mankind. We are free to jump ahead to our next stepping stone.

If you are contemplating such a leap, you don’t have to do it alone. There are numerous ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses in Portland, Oregon and surrounding areas who would consider it an honor to help you. You can join our local Meetup group, or contact me at

Okay, I’ve left. Now what?

Posted by Joel Gunz

Now that I’ve left the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I’m frequently asked about what I believe now. Do I go to another church? (Not at this time.) Do I hate The Watchtower and Jehovah’s Witnesses? (No, I’m just very disappointed.) Do I celebrate Christmas? (Hell yes!) How do I feel about the Bible? (Inspired, at least in parts — as were the writings of the Buddha, Adyashanti and Bill W.)

Watchtower publications provide an answer for almost every question a person might have about religious doctrine, morals and conduct. For people who need that kind of direction (and there are many who do), they provide a valuable service. Yet, almost everyone I know who has left Jehovah’s Witnessism did so because they no longer needed that kind of religious micromanagement. They found that their (God-given) thinking abilities and common sense were adequate for guiding them as they went on to lead a successful post-Witness life.

They found that it was possible — actually, an improvement — to trade in the flawed certainty of religious fundamentalism for the exhilarating uncertainties that go along with creating from the ground up a life of their own choosing.

Jehovah’s Witnessism teaches that when you “turn your back on God’s organization,” it’s only a matter of time before you’ll become hooked on drugs, adopt a morally profligate lifestyle and contract H.I.V. or have some other disaster befall you. Here’s what, in most cases, actually happens. With apologies to Elizabeth K├╝bler-Ross, let’s call it the Four Stages of Life After Witnessing:

1) You’ll leave of your own accord, or you might be disfellowshipped. Sometimes it’s a clean getaway and you can walk away from The Organization with your head held high. Many times, though, it’s a messy affair, accompanied by anger, resentment and confusion. Our religion can seem to have us in a choke-hold, and it’s understandable that our escape may take nothing less than manic energy.

2) Once free, it’s quite possible that you will want to catch up on the things you’ve been missing, which might include experimenting with sex or drugs. It can be a really topsy-turvy time — and not all that pleasant to watch. I was a virtual train wreck when I made my break. You don’t have to do those things, but that’s often how it goes.

3) Once you’ve gotten all those pent-up desires and curiosities out of your system, you’ll likely return to an equilibrium that works for you. If you were a decent, honest person when you were a Witness, you’ll probably be that way after you leave and get back on your feet again.

4) You’ll find a path that works for you. It might involve Christianity in some way or it might look at other traditions, such as Eastern philosophy. Or, having had your fill of religion, you might decide to take a break from all that. When I asked my cousin, Sean Delaney, why he joined the Catholic monastery in Mt. Angel, Oregon after being disfellowshipped, he said that he needed a place where he could enjoy some much-needed peace and quiet.

The point is, leaving the Witnesses is like having the rug pulled out from under you. When that happens you then have the opportunity to get yourself up, brush yourself off and start over.

The ex-Witnesses I know were often among the most sincere members of the congregation. Now they are productive members of the community and living decent lives while they follow fascinating life-paths that are as unique as they are.

Have you left or do you need help finding the path out of The Organization? Get in touch with ex-Jehovah's Witnesses in Portland, Oregon. Join our local Meetup group, or contact me at