Tuesday, June 11, 2013

So you want to help someone get out of the Jehovah's Witnesses?

By Joel Gunz

"I am married to a JW and started having a Bible study with an elder. After realizing that being a JW is not for me, I am trying to find ways to show my wife that her way is not the right way. Please help in any way you can."—Anonymous 

Ex-Jehovah's Witness chat rooms and discussion boards are loaded with comments like this. So is my email inbox, which is where I found this call for help. If you'd like a few tips to help you get someone out of the Witnesses (or any other high-control religious group, for that matter), read on. 

Tip #1: Fuggeddabout arguing
You've probably already figured this out, but all the reasoning and scientific facts in the world won't get a Witness to budge from any belief. In fact, it usually convinces them further that they have "the Truth." So I suggest not doing that. When someone's ready to listen to the other side of the story, Google will be there.

Tip #2: Check your assumptions at the door
Is it really your place to decide that the Witness path isn't right for your companion? As messed-up as the Witnesses are, people join for very personal reasons. That choice must be respected. For all you or I know (or have any business knowing), the best possible life for that person can only be found in a Kingdom Hall. I firmly believe that some people need the control and structure that the Witness religion provides (*cough* my ex-wife *cough*). 

To believe otherwise could lead to the same trap of religious arrogance that Witnesses are caught in. Last summer, I had the opportunity to speak to a church group about how to preach to Jehovah's Witnesses; the hostility to others' faiths and rigid thinking that I observed in this group convinced me that they weren't doing anybody any favors by proselytizing to Jehovah's Witnesses.

Tip #3, a.k.a. the main point here: Try a little love 

When I was a Witness, I'd hear about people who married "out of the truth"—a horrible, possibly fatal, decision, in the Watchtower Society's view. Their reasons for doing so were a usually a variation on the theme of "he shows me more love than most Witnesses." Ha! Therein lies the key. To illustrate:

After I was disfellowshipped, I tried for over a year to get reinstated. During that time, I found other people to hang out with, even as I continued to identify as a Witness. On numerous occasions they showed me love in ways I'd never before experienced. Yes, I was helped in material ways at times—on at least two occasions I would have gone homeless were it not for people reaching out a helping hand—but it was the small things that touched me most often: the phone calls just to see how I was doing; the comments they made that showed they were listening, really listening, to what I had to say; the loving assurance that I could make my own choices and not be judged; the patience with me as I continued to spout off self-righteous Witness propaganda at inappropriate times.

Love offered freely, without being predicated on my "good standing" or worth in the community, was a novel concept. And it accomplished what all the debates and logic couldn't—it helped me see Jehovah's Witnessism as just another religion.

Their publications state repeatedly that "the most outstanding mark of true Christians is that they have real love among themselves,"* the pointed implication being that they bear that "most outstanding mark." That's an extraordinary claim. Do they have extraordinary evidence to back it up? No. Sure, there's love among the Witnesses. But not to a degree higher than in any other church.

I had to see, feel and experience unconditional love for myself, over a period of time, before I finally "got it." And when I did, it was one of the most profound moments in my life. This realization was as transformational as a born-again experience. (Except that I was "born" into doubt and atheism. Which is fine. As far as I can tell, spiritual experiences are about as discriminating as crack whores.)

There's a gaping disconnect between the Witnesses' claim of having "real love among themselves" and the reality of life in their community. Get any Witness elder drinking and he'll tell you candidly: many Witnesses suffer from loneliness and depression because their social needs aren't being met (sorry, those formalistic charades at their weekly meetings just don't cut it); if they're lucky, they might get invited to "gatherings" once in a while, but day in and day out, Witness life is as blah and purgatorial as the interior of their Kingdom Halls (unless you're a pioneer or an elder, but then the drabness comes in other forms). 

Their lack of true love is the Witnesses' biggest weakness—and our biggest opportunity to step in and do some good. Ironic as it is, maybe that's the way it should be. After all, helping someone out of a harmful situation is, by definition, a loving thing to do.

If you want to help someone escape the Witnesses, I suggest showing that same love. Show her or him every day that the Witnesses are not the only ones who have "real love among themselves." Make love on their religion, not war.

The more love you can show Witnesses, the more likely they'll be to start questioning what they've been forced to believe. With luck, and assuming they really have honest motives, they'll find their own way out.

*"What Does God Require of Us?," published by the Watchtower Society