Jehovah's Witnesses: From The Watchtower To Christ


 By Jerry Bergman, Ph.D.

 November 1, 2004


 (Note: this is the story of a man who grew up in the Watchtower and then found new life in Christ.  His story shows the difference between life within the Watchtower and the life of one consecrated to Christ).

My background

            The desire to learn about God first clearly surfaced when I was about eight years old.  I was introduced to the Jehovah’s Witnesses around 1954 when my mother began to study with a local Witness, Sister Murphy.  From these studies I can, even today, vividly remember that I felt I was specially privileged to be learning about Jehovah’s “truth.”  Even though I missed most of my mother’s study, since I was in school at the time it was held, the little that I heard spurred me on to study Watchtower literature on my own.

            Soon I began regularly attending the Kingdom Hall with my mother and brother.  Although much of it was beyond the ability of an eight-year old to comprehend, the Witnesses were very kind and helped me progress in my knowledge of what I then thought was a knowledge of the Bible.  From that time until about the early 1970s, I was a staunchly devoted Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Although I never had a personal study with another Witness, the usual route to membership, I progressed rapidly in the “truth” through my own reading and study and was baptized in 1960 at the age of 16.

            Growing up as a Witness, I experienced the unique problems that all Witnesses face in school.  When other students stood to sing the national anthem, several asked why I didn’t stand and sing.  I explained, as well as I could, that, since I was a member of Jehovah’s Kingdom, allegiance to any other kingdom (even just the singing of another kingdom’s national anthem) was so wrong that this act may well result in the loss of my life at Armageddon.  Some of my classmates correctly concluded that I was only following my conscience, and was not deliberately disrespectful.  Many persons, though, clearly disliked me because of my religion and made their feelings crystal clear to me.

            I had many conversations with fellow students trying to help them understand what I believed at the time were God’s laws.  I felt it was a privilege to discuss the Bible with classmates.  Although I did not realize it then, I was actually often discussing “Watchtower” teachings that did not always agree with Bible teachings.  I became known at school as “The Preacher” and “Bible Bergman” and found that, although some students respected me for my religious beliefs, many relished mocking me.

            At about age 12 I joined the Watchtower Ministry School.  I can vividly remember how excited I was preparing for my first talk (sermon).  Years later I have given scores of talks for the Watchtower.  I have also been a book study conductor, a Ministry School Overseer, and have taken on the duties of the Assistant Overseer.  For over twenty years, I tried to help anyone I came in contact with to come to an “accurate understanding” of what then I believed was God’s will.  When someone I was helping became a Witness, I was ebullient.  Always thirsting for more knowledge, I often quickly devoured each Watchtower and Awake! as soon as it arrived in the mail.

            During my high school years I became very close to a local devout Witness family.  They often drove me to the meetings, encouraged me in the “faith,” and helped me through my turbulent adolescent years.  I was especially close to one of their three children, Bob, who was a year younger than I.  The family, which was financially comfortable, was looked up to by the rest of the congregation.

            My mother was not a model Witness, partly because of the strong opposition that she received from my father and, later, after their divorce, she had to work full time and take care of us children.  Although my dad once attended some meetings and briefly studied Witness beliefs, he concluded they were wrong.  While we were at home, neither of my two brothers were fully committed to the Witness beliefs, although my younger brother was raised around the Witnesses.  Without strong support from my mother, I was alone in my family as the vocal Watchtower proponent.

            My father was raised by various relatives and never had the security of two parents and a home to call his own.  He still moved from place to place after reaching adulthood, partly because his lack of education limited his ability to find a good paying job.  When I was small, we were fairly poor and were forced to move several times.  This caused some insecurity in us kids.  However, determined to make himself better, after he married, my father completed high school and, eventually, earned a BS degree in electrical engineering.  Finally able to leave the slums of Detroit, we built a house in a semi-rural area called Royal Oak where crime was lower.  There, for the first time in my life, I was able to savor the beauty of the fields, trees, birds, and other wild life.  My father’s struggle convinced him that his sons should attend college to avoid being trapped in insecure low-paying jobs as he once had been.

            When I finished high school, as a zealous dedicated Watchtowerite my desire to continue my schooling was suppressed (the Watchtower then strongly discouraged higher education).  Instead, my goal then was to be a full-time Pioneer, and, eventually, a writer/researcher for the Society at Bethel.  Also, I was going with a Witness girl who would only marry a Pioneer, and so I became what was then known as a “Vacation Pioneer.”  My father somewhat resigned himself to my becoming a full-time Watchtower Pioneer, always with the encouragement that I would attend college later.  I also worked for a time in a cabinet shop as a cabinetmaker to save money for this goal.  However, my first entry into the adult working world confronted me with the immorality and godlessness exhibited by my co-workers. 

            Sex, presented in a vile and revolting manner, was the obsessive topic of my co-workers’ conversations at the cabinet shop.  One good-looking man with seven children bragged daily about the women he seduced (raped was often more accurate).  On a huge wall in front of where I worked were what seemed every nude pin-up girl from Playboy dating back to 1956.  When my co-workers found out about my own inexperience with sex, they teased me unmercifully.  Finally, I had to leave this line of work.

            Field service was very rewarding for me, partially because I enjoyed talking to people and was convinced that I was helping them to understand God’s purposes, a most important activity.  I was always active in both the organized door-to-door and impromptu Witnessing.  Although I sincerely wanted to serve God full time, I found it difficult to work with the eleven other Pioneers in my congregation.  Most were immature, inefficient, and looked for any possible excuse to stop doing what we were supposed to do.  Often “lunch” took two hours.  Of the eleven Pioneers I started with, most stayed on for less than a year (one later went to Bethel, the Watchtower headquarters, for three years and one to the Kingdom Farm for several years).

            A final blow came when my girlfriend married another Pioneer.  I felt betrayed and deserted.  Her actions (and those of the other Pioneers I knew) disillusioned me about Jehovah’s “servants.”  Depression soon reared its ugly head, and some Witnesses suggested professional counseling.  Most, though, were against this.

            Discouraged by my unsuccessful efforts as a Pioneer, I briefly discussed with the Witness “servants” (now called elders) about returning to school.  Since they supported the Watchtower admonition that children should respect their parents’ wishes as long as they live in the parent’s home, they encouraged me to obey my father’s wishes and return to college.  Five years later, in the March 1st 1970 Watchtower, the Society finally formalized this once minority view:

If a father wishes that his son go to college but the son would rather spend his time in the Christian Ministry, what should he do?  He should explain his desire to his father and it may be that his father may contest for him to spend all his time in the ministry.  If not he is obliged to submit to the wishes of his father until he reaches the legal age, and as long as he lives in his father’s house.  His father has the right to decide on his education (p. 156).

The August 1, 1970 Watchtower p. 479 added: “ . . . how long should a child go to school? . . . the parents must decide that.  Proverbs 6:20-32, Eph. 5: 22-24.”

            I discussed my educational future with my “adopted” Witness family, and they too, encouraged me to return to school.  Both of them were college graduates, and they said that they would encourage their sons to attend college.  Their youngest son has now completed a medical degree and their older son, a graduate of the University of Florida, is a well-known playwright (none are now Witnesses).  In addition, several brothers in my congregation had college degrees, and two had graduate degrees.  Partly because of these members, the congregation gave me partial approval (I later found that other congregations were not so tolerant of education).

            I soon enrolled in a new community college close to home.  This opened to me a totally different world from the congregation life, and even from my high school days.  My attitude towards school now changed radically and I relished learning and growing in knowledge of the world around me.  Once I was again in school my emotional stability and my relationships with others improved greatly.  Ironically, my commitment to the Watchtower also improved.  Yet, the feeling that my time in school was taking away from Jehovah’s service still nagged me.  My response to this conflict was a resolve to increase my spiritual knowledge along with my secular knowledge and also to improve in my ministry as I progressed in school.  For this reason, I completed classes at the local community college that I believed would help me in my ministry, such as history, sociology, and psychology.

            I took my education very seriously, being sure to take “worldly” education in perspective with Jehovah’s education at the Kingdom Hall.  I was, in fact, more conscientious than I had been in high school, attending all of the Watchtower meetings and diligently pursuing my Kingdom service duties.  I enjoyed college and was pleasantly surprised to find that some students seemed very interested in learning.  The environment at college was completely different from the decadent world that I had left behind at the cabinet shop.  Although I got along well with most all of my fellow students, I had few close friends during my first year in college.  I soon met several other Witness students at college, and often associated almost exclusively with other Witnesses.

            I later transferred to Wayne State University.  One Witness I got to know at the university was an assistant congregational servant.  I used to study the Watchtower and read the Bible with him, and sometimes he would work on the congregational paperwork in the university cafeteria.  In-between classes we would “witness” to our fellow college students.  We had several, at times heated, discussions with our fellow students. 

            As part of my history study, I read Early Christianity by Roland Bainton and Ur of the Chaldeans by Sir Leonard Wooley.  In my first four years in college, much critical of religion was covered which only strengthen my convictions as a Witness (Witnesses are very critical of every religion except their own).  Information in my history classes about the abuses perpetrated by the Catholic and Protestant churches throughout history reinforced Watchtower teachings.  The crimes of the Inquisition, the Reformation, and the Counter-Reformation gave me the ammunition I needed to conclude that Christendom was not following God as the Watchtower taught.  As a result of Christendom’s apostasy, the Watchtower taught, God had rejected them and had instituted a “new organization” – the Watchtower – in these last days to bring his pure truth to the world. I only heard a few professors regularly criticize the Bible itself.  One professor who had repeatedly criticized the Bible, I later found out, was related to a Witness and was friends with others.

            In spite of my encouraging experiences in school, I still had guilt about “taking time from Jehovah’s work.”  Many Witnesses criticized me, some even predicting that my secular education would sooner or later convince me to believe in evolution (It did eventually, but that is another story).

            After I left the Witnesses, I learned that a big difference exists between Churchianity and Christianity – between true believers and those who associate themselves with the church to further their own goals while never actually committing themselves to Christ.  Unfortunately, many people join cults (or even reject God altogether) in protest against these pseudo-Christians. My secular education, in the end, helped me to see that objective science, especially in physics, biology, and psychology, positively affirms the existence of a Creator.  My professors vividly demonstrated how the design and order in the universe inexorably pointed to a Master Designer, God. 

            After graduation, I began teaching school and was soon appointed to what was then known as a “servant” in my congregation.  However, after I started teaching, my family moved and we began attending another congregation.  I soon learned that the new congregation had very negative attitudes towards secular education.  When some of these Witnesses learned that I had been to college, they became very critical of me.  One Witness sister even stated that I should be disfellowshipped for going to college (“stealing time from Jehovah”, as she put it).

            In spite of these criticisms, with much effort I was eventually accepted by the new congregation and soon became active in giving talks, going out in service (averaging about twenty hours per month), conducting home Bible studies, conducting the Watchtower study at the Kingdom Hall, and developing many Witness friendships.  I often visited other congregations, giving hour talks working at assemblies and helping others via shepherding calls, and helping people into what I then thought was the “truth.”

Opposition to College

            As noted, a major conflict I had with the Watchtower was over education.  The example of a young Witness friend of mine, Robert, illustrates the harmful and dangerous attitudes of most Witnesses towards education then (they are less opposed to education now, but many individual Witnesses still oppose all schooling beyond high school).  Robert was an extremely intelligent young man with a great aptitude for physics, calculus, and most math-oriented sciences.  After he graduated from high school, he was very interested in continuing his education.  His mother, a Witness, forbid him to attend college, although he did complete a short, expensive course in computers.

            Robert then began working in a drug wholesale house, assigned to the computer-programming department.  I knew he was skilled in the computer area, so I asked him to help me with a computer program for my Ph.D. work.  After we finished the program, I asked him to meet me at the university so we could try it out.  Robert became so enthusiastic about the university’s computer degree programs that he stayed for several hours talking to the computer engineers there.  A short time later Robert told me that he had quit his job and wanted to enroll at the university so that he could complete a degree in computer programming!

            Robert, a sincere, dedicated Witness, had difficulties due to his extremely high aptitude in one area (science and math) and low skills in other areas (socially).  His heavy work schedule prevented him from spending the quality time in which he could study the Society’s publications and join in with other Witnesses for Saturday house-to-house work.  Robert had decided that if he went to college he could advance in the field he loved and still have time to be a good Witness.

            Robert’s father was the youngest in a large family where everyone except him went to college.  The Depression hit just as he was to begin college.  Consequently, he envied his brothers’ steady work with good pay while he was often laid off from work and was unable to meet his financial obligations.  He was determined that at least one of his sons finished college.

            None of Robert’s brothers were interested in schooling beyond high school, or had the ability to survive in a college atmosphere. However, when Robert’s mother discovered his college plans, she forbid him to enroll.  Robert asked me to talk with her, which I did, pointing out the Society taught that his father’s wishes should be obeyed.  However, this dominant woman, devout though as she was, was not interested in this advise and was not ready to let her husband’s desires prevail in this situation.

            Robert submitted to his mother, never went to college, and is now in a semi-stable, average-paying job far below his capabilities.  During most of the six years I knew him, I saw him as a lonely somewhat depressed young man without goals or direction.  The attitude prevalent among many Witnesses then towards both higher education and professional careers fosters such unhappy persons.

Growing in the Congregation

            I gradually became aware of the many interpersonal conflicts among the Witnesses, problems that reflected the lack of education and immaturity of the congregation leadership.  I often wondered how “God’s organization” could have so many problems, and this realization was a major factor that forced me to examine my view about the Watchtower.

            Resentment towards me by some local Witnesses grew as I assumed leadership positions in the congregation.  Because of the problems in our congregation, the circuit overseer removed several Witnesses from their positions and I was appointed in place of one of them.  This caused resentment towards me on the part of this person and his friends.  They felt that the circuit overseer had overstepped his bounds, and was interfering where he didn’t belong, bringing “upstarts” (me) into the congregation's ruling elite.

            Interested primarily in doing the best job I could, I was at first largely oblivious to these criticisms.  I often asked for constructive criticism from the overseer.  His visits to my book study group, and meetings with me concerning my ministry school duties were usually positive.  I asked the overseer during one of our meetings if it were possible for the book study assignments to be rotated so that different brothers could become acquainted.  This suggestion was adopted and, ironically, even further resentment towards me was the result.

            At this time, I began a master’s degree at the university to obtain my permanent teaching certification.  I had a great wife, was able to successfully juggle a full teaching load, graduate school, and my expanding ministry as well.  Life then seemed to be treating me well.

Then, after two years teaching in one school district, I was laid off along with several other new teachers when our school enrollment dipped.  I had just finished my master’s work and was, therefore, able to qualify for a position in research at the local circuit court.

            About this time the Watchtower restructured the congregation organizational system, installing the now – to some, at least-- infamous elder system.  Excited at this new opportunity to “serve Jehovah,” I talked to several brothers who were on the recommendation committee to learn what I could do to better prepare myself to be an elder.  These brothers told me that, on the whole, they were pleased with my work, and encouraged me to keep up my good performance.  They constructively suggested only that I spend less time on the review section of the book study and to tailor my counseling to an individual’s specific needs.  I was assured that I would be recommended and confident that I would soon be serving the Society as an elder.

            The new elders were announced several weeks later, and I was not among them.  Needless to say, several others and I were disappointed, and we asked for a meeting to learn why.  None of the members of the committee presented us with cogent reasons, and several showed by their indifference that they were not very concerned about our spiritual growth.  My education was clearly a concern (I was, though, appointed as a ministerial servant).

            The only reason I was given seemed to me to be inconsequential and, frankly, trumped up as an excuse.  For example, I was told that some statements I made were ridiculous – such as in my voracious reading I learned that chickens can actually run around for a time after their heads were cut off.  They concluded ideas such as this were a result of the foolishness I learned at college.  The brothers were not interested in my substantiation, which I later presented, and were unable to show me how this related to being an elder.  The committee also complained that I sometimes did not arrive early enough for the meetings.  It was difficult for me, my wife, and our baby to all get ready after I came home from work.  I later noticed that several of the elders who were chosen came just as late (or even later) than I had been arriving!  If this was an important disqualification, I should have been told of its importance so that I could work on arriving earlier.

            None of the other vague objections were sufficient in my eyes to disqualify a person from consideration as an elder.  The most ludicrous reason broached came from a brother who felt my wife exerted too much control over me because she selected the clothes I wore!  As a good, dominant husband, I should be doing this myself, they thought.  (I am colorblind and my wife always helped me to select clothes that match, an important consideration, especially when one is going door-to-door and wanted to make a good impression.)  What could this have to do with my role as the head of the family?

            If these matters were important, why were they not brought up earlier?  I asked the Witness brothers for suggestions to improve long before the appointments were made so as to be considered for more responsibilities.  It was convenient that these “reasons” were not brought up until after the elders were selected.  I did not then understand why some brothers resented me.  I later found out that one reason was they had been angry since I had been installed by the circuit overseer in a leadership position to help resolve the many problems in our congregation.  Why could they not forget the past and work with me as a fellow worker for God’s Kingdom?

            Gossip became rampant, and I found that the elders were not uncommonly the cause of it.  Information that was confidentially related to an elder was sometimes spread to the other elders and then, eventually, to the entire congregation.  This gossip damaged many people personally and taught me that I could not confide in the men that had been chosen for their supposed spiritual maturity. 

            Other events soon followed that fueled my disenchantment.  For example, I was asked by my Sister-in-law to officiate at her wedding.  The elders said that they would have to write to the Society before they could give me permission (I have no idea why because I was a ministerial servant).  They later told me that I did not have the permission necessary to perform the ceremony.  Then they later told me that I did have the Society’s permission to perform the wedding ceremony!  Although the elders told me that they had received a letter of instruction from the Society each of the three times they talked with me, I later found that the only letter from the Society they had was the one received just before they last spoke with me, the letter that gave approval.

Boring Meetings

            A common complaint of outspoken Witnesses concerns the many weekly meetings at the Kingdom Hall.  Honest and open Witnesses admit that most meetings are incredibly boring.  Since the Society is concerned with absolute and complete obedience among its followers, the meetings are often specifically geared to drill their message into the faithful.  In addition, those Witness brothers who present the major portions of the meetings are largely unschooled in theology and do little original thinking concerning the message they present.  Consequently, their presentations are usually boring and repetitive.

            Once, when the stagnancy of the meeting problem was brought to the elder’s attention, a solution was attempted.  However, refusing to deal with the material and its presentation, they blindly concluded that the inattentive listener problem was due to the awkward transitions between the various parts of the meetings!  I tried to argue that the main problem was the content and delivery, not the transitions, but the elders ignored my suggestions.

            The rigidity and ignorance of many Witness elders has fostered (and encouraged) many problems among congregation members.  At one elders’ meeting, it was decided that no brother of any age was to go out in service alone with a sister of any age, no matter what the circumstances.  The elders literally divided the Kingdom Hall into two separate Halls, “female” and “male.”  The elder’s discouraged association between the sexes, yet not uncommonly accused Witness males who spend too much time together of homosexuality!

            Another example of the elder’s lack of ability to deal with problems involved a thirteen-year-old Witness sister.  She touched a Witness male on the arm and asked him how he liked another pioneer’s motorcycle.  An elder noticed this touching and he admonished her not to sexually tempt the young Witness.  He stated that, as a consequence of her touching him, the man may have become “sexually aroused” and, as a consequence, might have a “wet dream.”  This young girl was naive regarding male sexual responses, and the elder’s warning confused her, causing her to become apprehensive about her role as a female and her own sexual feelings.  This added to her other problems; she eventually became more unstable, quit school, and has since become very withdrawn.  Fortunately, she has a very understanding, non-Witness father who has been able to help her to some extent.

            A Witness grandmother went to see a young Witness man (who had been like a son to her) who was ill and despondent over personal problems.  Grace (not her real name) went into the young man’s room to comfort him and encourage him to join her in the Witness work because she felt the contact with other people would make him feel better (Grace was a regular pioneer for the past four years and had brought many people into the “truth”).  In spite of her impeccable reputation in the congregation, the elders used this innocent situation to “investigate” her.  The harassment disturbed Grace greatly and her conflicts with them eventually prevented her from pioneering.

            Elders at times treated the sheep very poorly and routinely looked to disfellowshipping (expelling one from the church like excommunication) as the solution instead of helpful encouragement for those with problems.  Rarely did the elders visit these persons and “disfellowshipping” became a convenient tool employed by the elders to deal with members that have problems.  Rather than having compassion for Witnesses who had difficulties, they were more apt to find an excuse to disfellowship the unhappy member, conveniently solving the elder’s problem by doing nothing (but often compounding the individual Witness’s problems).  I found that a sincere intelligent expression of concern for sinners is not common.

            Once a concerned sister came to me with a problem.  She did not want to talk to the elders because she was afraid that they would gossip about her and may institute disfellowshipping proceedings.  Mary (not her real name) had a severe personality disorder that can, however, be treated.  She has a tendency to withdraw from people and is unable to maintain her train of thought for any length of time.  When one talks to her, her eye contact was erratic, indicating internal stress.  In addition, there are indications that she has a fixation known as pedophilia.  A pedophiliac tries to have a sexual love relationship with a younger person, partly because they are less of a threat and more likely to become a willing victim because of naiveté.  Mary often visits younger brothers, associates exclusively with them in the service work, and has had them in her home many times.  Although she does not directly admit to these feelings, her behavior is typical of some pedophiliacs I have worked with.

            A pedophiliac can be dangerous when the sexual love object is very young because the threat of exposure can cause the deviate to kill the child.  Although I know of no evidence that she has a propensity to violence to protect herself, I was especially concerned because I worked with a case in my secular work that eventually led to the murder of two people and the maintaining of another to the extent that she will remain a vegetable for the rest of her life.

            I encouraged Mary to discuss her problems with her elders.  She reluctantly agreed, but received no help from them.  I later discovered that the elders had tried to find enough evidence to have her disfellowshipped, the very thing she feared most.  When I suggested to the elders that Mary needed professional help, they criticized me for “getting involved with her problems,” and refused to discuss the situation.  As far as I know, she is not receiving any help, either from the congregation or from professionals.

            Another elder has a family member who has been in serious trouble with the law.  This man, Steve, a former pioneer, recently received a twenty to forty year sentence for murder and rape.  He has three prior felony convictions, and has been on probation several times.  The police investigation report stated that he is:

"a basically unstable person, whose inadequate emotional life has given him a low tolerance level for frustration and thus the likelihood that he could commit other crimes of violence.  All his defenses are characterized by little or no insight or remorse and in most cases by complete denial that he has committed them."

It was recommended that “a very long period of incarceration is needed in order to protect society from possible further sexual offenses . . .” Steve was also involved in numerous previous offenses, but each time was released because of insufficient evidence.  A committee that was formed in the community to work for his removal stated, “our children . . . are never safe as long as men like him are loose.”  Most of his offenses are aggressive sexual offenses against young children.

            The elders did not at this time promote the use of professionals to help Witnesses who have severe emotional problems.  One family of Witnesses refused psychiatric help for one of their twelve children, stating that it was “against their religion” and even denied that he had serious problems.  The school eventually transferred him to a center for mentally retarded children because of his low IQ.  Soon after the boy was released from the home, one of his brothers robbed a newspaper boy at gunpoint.  The newspaper boy identified the man, and he was arrested.  His friends rallied together and took it upon themselves to murder the newspaper boy so that he could not testify at the Witness boy’s trial.  The Witness mother evidently felt that it was Jehovah’s will for her son to go to prison so that the inmates could hear the Witnesses’ “good news.”  It was well known both to the court and the neighborhood that the family were Witnesses.  What happened may have been prevented if the elders promoted mental health in the congregation and had taken it upon themselves to help the family.

            In my first months working for the court, I was shocked to find out how many convicted offenders were raised as Witnesses.  I realized how high the number was when I did a study on homicides, comparing first- and second-degree murder cases.  Among the offenders I counted, only nine different religions were represented.  My statistics read as follows:

Total murders: Baptist 32.9%; Catholic 18.6%; General Protestant 14.3%; Pentecostal 8.6%; Church of God 7.1%; Methodist 7.1%; Lutheran 4.3%; Jehovah’s Witness 2.9%; Presbyterian 2.9%; and no religious affiliation 1.4%.

            Other research indicates that the level of offenders raised (or actively involved) with Witnesses on parole from prison is around two to three percent throughout the nation, partially confirming my findings.  Adjusting the figures for the general population finds for first- and second-degree murders, Pentecostals have 43 times as many murders as the general population.  Jehovah’s Witnesses rank second, with 14.5 more murders than the general population.  Baptist are next with 2.63, followed by Church of God, 1.48; Presbyterian, 1.38; Methodists, 1.6; Lutheran, 1.02; and Catholic .80.  For non-homicidal general crime, Jehovah’s Witnesses are number one, with 32.50 times the rate of crime as the general population.  Baptists are number two with 2.96 times; and Presbyterians are next with 1.50.

            These statistics upset me greatly.  I was still an active Witness then and when I completed my report I tried to “explain them away” by noting that there was such a small percent of Witnesses in America that even two murders could dramatically affect the statistics, and that most of these were (obviously) not exemplary Witnesses, at least when they committed the crimes.  Of course, the other small religious bodies could make the same claim.

            However, I realized that this was not a totally adequate explanation.  I was deeply concerned that such a large number of people who were raised Witnesses became criminals.  I would have liked to honestly state that people who were raised Witnesses, and those associated with them, were not involved with criminal activities as the “world” does.  Conversely, I could not deny the results of my study.

            The behavior by some Witness parents gave clues as to why not just a few Witnesses were maladjusted.  For example, one elder told a mother that she should put her young child in a chair and require him to sit there for an hour as “practice” for the meetings.  They advised the mother to “spank him very hard and require him to continue to sit in the chair” if he got up.  When this was tried, the child cried for over an hour.  In my experience, treatment such as this often makes children more difficult to handle.

            I have seen Witnesses “beat” on a child that is little more than an infant with a tightly rolled up Watchtower during the meeting.  A favorite scripture among Witnesses is the caution “not to withhold the rod and spoil the child”, but they rarely quote the scripture that states, “Fathers, do not be exasperating your children” (Col. 3:21, New World Translation).  It is not rare for Witnesses to beat their children to the point of physical harm.  Psychological abuse is also a problem, and seems to be one of the factors that produce the high homicide rate among Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as their high rate of mental illness.

Condemning the Mental Health Profession

            The Watchtower’s long history of wholesale condemnation of all psychologists and psychiatrists is extremely damaging.  I pointed out at an elder’s meeting that the May 12, 1963 Watchtower, p. 319-320 stated that it was proper for a Witness to be a psychologist.  The elders were skeptical – they believed I was wrong even after they looked up the reference.  They reasoned it may be ok to be one, just not to go to a worldly one. 

Witnesses as a whole were then very negative regarding both psychology and psychiatry, an attitude arrived at in complete ignorance of both fields.  Although I certainly do not agree with all that is taught in these fields, I have found that my own study of the mind reveals the marvelous laws that God internalized in humans.  He has created hundreds of other laws in all areas of the physical universe, and is the creator of all the laws of the human mind; we just discover them!  I also believe that the Bible has a great deal of counsel for helping people with their problems.  A therapist who has a thorough command of the Scriptures is even better prepared to help patients then one who does not.

The Case of Gail

            Another case I observed vividly illustrated the irresponsibility of the elders.  A young women pioneer in our congregation, Gail, began manifesting several signs of incipient schizophrenia.  She tended to follow her own “private logic” in her thinking, common to schizophrenia.  There was a tendency for her to isolate herself and develop peculiar mannerisms.  Her non-verbal communication was severely disturbed and she had a tendency to react inappropriately to outside stimuli.

            As she became increasingly withdrawn she developed obvious abnormal mannerisms.  The elders did spend many hours trying to help her, but their “help” amounted to telling her that, to get well, she should read the Bible and Witness literature more, and also pray more.  Taking heed of their admonition, she prayed almost constantly, even carrying her Watchtower around with her until it became ragged.  The result was little or no improvement.  When I mentioned to the elders that I felt she needed some type of professional help, they severely criticized me for my “interference”.  The elders stressed that “a Christian (Witness) should never seek any type of worldly counselor, especially psychiatrists.” 

            Eventually, Gail’s condition worsened to the point that she became totally non-communicative.  She was now unable to attend congregation meetings, could no longer read, had extreme difficulty sleeping, and developed a mild astasia-abasia condition.  She repetitively waved her hand across her face, attempting to cover up (or change) whatever she hallucinated was in front of her eyes, and stared at the ceiling for hours on end.  At this time it was evident that her condition was serious enough that she should have the care of a professional.  The elders then raised the possibility that she was “demonized”, a suggestion that caused more problems.

            Not able to stomach anymore of the elders’ irresponsible behavior, I attended a congregation committee meeting to reason with them.  I brought as my “ammunition,” the March 8, 1960, Awake! that stated, in answer to “should a Christian consult a psychiatrist?” that “The answer depends upon the circumstances and the psychiatrist.  Serious cases and mental balance or breakdown of nerves may make it necessary to do so”.

            The chairman of the committee stressed that they could not encourage Gail to consult a worldly psychiatrist or any other worldly mental health specialists.  Ironically, this same elder once had serious emotional problems and was greatly helped by a medical doctor who specialized in psychiatry!  This elder’s own brother (also a Witness) also developed emotional problems, ran away from home and ended up in serious legal trouble.  As an obedient Witness then, I dropped the matter.

            Later, my mother-in-law talked to Gail’s mother who related that she was frightened by her daughter’s condition.  Her symptoms indicated hebephrenic schizophrenia, although she was also often catatonic.  Catatonia is a generalized inhibition of motor activity and, at times, excessive motor activity is expressed in contradistinction to stuporous behavior.  The person may sit or stand in one position for hours, seemingly not paying attention to anything in the environment (Gail spent hours staring at the ceiling in her room, not moving or sleeping).  Catatonia patients may develop attacks of rage during which they, without warning, are extremely destructive and may violently explode, attacking people (as Gail did later).

            My mother-in-law recognized the severity of the problem in part because she had also experienced some psychological problems when she was younger.  Another sister in the congregation, who had a master’s degree in psychology, felt as I did about Gail.  These two women contacted another Witness, a former circuit overseer who had been helped after a nervous breakdown by a psychiatrist.  We all arranged a meeting between Gail’s mother and the Witness who had been helped through therapy.  He encouraged Gail’s mother to obtain whatever professional help she felt necessary and gave her several recommendations for doctors and a book on psychology.

            The result was Gail’s mother had her committed.  She was assigned a doctor who accepted her religious involvement.  Many psychologists are opposed to all theistic religion, but many therapists can be of immense help in restoring emotional stability.  After less than two months, she was permitted a home visit, and even began attending meetings, something she had long been unable to do.  Although making good progress, the problems she had were severe and would take years to treat.  She had been seriously ill for over a year without any competent help or even much concern.

            After further progress, Gail was released and continued treatment on an outpatient basis.  When I commented on her progress, the elders responded that it was not the psychologist who had helped her, but the drugs that they were giving her!  When I asked if they knew what drugs were helping, they answered, “No, but we know it was the drugs that helped her.”

            Unfortunately, Gail’s story did not end happily.  Once she returned to her family and the congregation environment, her condition worsened.  As a temporary reaction to therapy, a catatonic schizophrenic often externalizes problems in a manner opposite to their previously internalizing them.  During this temporary reaction, Gail often seemed abrupt, outspoken, and critical.  Witnesses who did not understand her problems responded very negatively, sometimes aggressively, towards her.  Shortly after she was released from the hospital, one of the elders visited her family and began speaking very negatively about several other Witnesses.  Gail became very upset, openly defending these brothers and sisters, and told the elder in no uncertain terms that he had no right to talk this way about other Witnesses.  The elder, the presiding overseer, retaliated by convincing the committee to put Gail on probation and revoking most of her congregational privileges!  It was publicly announced that she was not to commit at congregational meetings, have parts in the Ministry School or Service meetings, and could not participate in other congregational affairs.  They displayed no understanding, concern, or empathy for her emotional experiences and problems.

            After another congregation heard what had occurred, they threatened the first congregation with exposure if they did not reconsider their actions.  Gail’s privileges were then restored, but much of the damage had already been done. When I talked to the family two years later, I found that they had made progress emotionally, but were very disenchanted with the Society.  In contrast, they had nothing but praise for their psychiatrist.  The psychiatrist was always helpful and even offered to work with the elders to help the whole family.  Unfortunately, the elders wanted nothing to do with them, causing the psychiatrist to develop a negative attitude towards the Witnesses.  The family now has negative feelings towards all of the elders.  One said, “They did much more harm than good ... I’d never go to them again for any advice.”  Several in the family were mentally ill, including Gail’s mother and her sister (who had spent 20 years in a mental hospital).  Gail attended Watchtower meetings for a few years, then left the Witnesses.  Most of her love for what she thought was the truth is gone, and she is quite bitter.  She has found a Witness in another congregation that she can talk to, but avoids most of her old friends from her local hall.

Theological Problems

            One of the main reasons Jehovah’s Witnesses become discontented with the Society is that they are very unhappy, spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually.  Some become aware of the problems in Jehovah’s Witness theology and are frustrated because intelligent study brings them to the realization that they cannot reconcile the Society’s teachings with the Bible.  When they attempt to receive help from the elders, they are often merely told not to “question Jehovah’s organization”.  Although a feeble attempt to answer their questions may be attempted, this response usually forces them to continue questioning at an increased tempo.  And, in time, the questions pile up so high that the dam breaks, and they break free of the Watchtower.

This unhappiness is a major motivator for a Witness to look elsewhere for a spiritual home.  The Scriptures promise us that “Happy us the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding . . . her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace. . .and happy is everyone that retaineth her” (Proverbs 3:13-18, KJV).  Sooner or later, many Witnesses realize that they do not have this “wisdom and understanding.”

Christians who are aware of this can offer the kindness and concern that Christ said are the identifying mark of a Christian.  Christ eloquently expressed this concern in the Sermon on the Mount.  And remember too the shepherd who left his other 99 sheep to find the one lost sheep, rejoicing when it was found.  By showing genuine Christ-like concern and letting our light shine, we can help those who are astray to find the peace and happiness found only among those who have a personal relationship with Christ and are free from the bondage of man.

I have discussed here only a very few of my experiences that eventually motivated me to leave the Watchtower.  On the basis of the events I have recounted, and the other investigations I have competed on the Watchtower, it should be clear to the reader that God’s Spirit is lacking in the Watchtower organization.  It was my direct experience, such as those events recounted above, though, which caused me to question the entire Watchtower system.

There are usually many factors that motivate one to become involved with the Watchtower – and likewise, many that cause one to leave.  It is difficult in most cases to specify which reason is the most influential.  I have recounted several factors above that were all important in my leaving.  Although in the above discussion I focused upon specific incidents and attitudes that I found prevalent, studying about Watchtower beliefs was likewise very important.  Indeed, extensive study of both Watchtower literature and that written by outsiders has helped me to develop a balanced perspective to evaluate their beliefs.

A factor that was influential in my becoming a Christian was my association with scientists involved in the creation movement.  These individuals possessed what I felt was a balance of faith, intellectual drive, mastery of a scientific body of knowledge, and a strong thirst for knowledge and involvement in a creative quest to understand the world around them.  This was balanced with a mature spirituality and concern for their fellow humans.  They helped me to see the difference between those who followed a set of beliefs because of enslavement to an organization and those who do so because of mature scriptural knowledge and a personal relationship with Christ.

Association with these individuals and a great deal of reading both have helped me to realize that many Witnesses beliefs were poorly researched and not in harmony with the Scriptures.  In addition, they helped me to realize that many ideas perpetuated by the Watchtower were distortions, or openly false teachings.  The Society’s tendency to interpret simple Biblical phrases and expressions into a whole myriad of types, anti-types, post-types, typical types, double types, and other types of types that seemed way beyond what the statement or passage warranted, especially bothered me.  From here questions arose, many that were answered through prayer and a study of the relevant Scriptures.  This study led me to understand the reasonableness of much of what I was formerly taught was “foolishness”.

The control achieved by the Watchtower organization is often through guilt and, although this may be effective, it is not conducive to peace of mind or to enabling one to enjoy true freedom in Christ.  When one has a developed sense of values based on a thoroughly reasoned understanding of the Scriptures and reality, one’s life is guided by principles, not guilt or fear of deviating into a direction that is often pictured as tempting, but wrong.

During my times of questioning, many Christians showed me much love and concern and helped me to understand God’s will through accepting Jesus Christ as one’s personal savior, and how to develop a personal relationship with Him.  My growth in Christ was slow, but with the help of concerned Christians and God, it has been steady.  I had much indoctrination to overcome in my over twenty years worth in the Watchtower.

 

Contender Ministries

http://contenderministries.org