In response to the questions regarding why I am not in favour of any sort of announcement being made at the Kingdom Hall, below is a copy of the letter I sent the elders.(Courtesy of Robert F Smith of Vermont,USA)
Body of Elders
XXXX Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Dear Jack, Jon, etc.;
This letter is in regard to the recent visit of Jack and the other elder (sorry, can’t remember his name at all!) with me, on Saturday, February 2 2008 at my place of residence.
This letter is my response to that visit and you telling me that an announcement will have to be made at the local congregation after you asked me if I still view myself as a Jehovah’s Witness. As I’ve made clear to you, I long ago stopped being a Jehovah’s Witness, and I don’t consider that you or the Jehovah’s Witness organization, also known as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WTS) have any authority in my life.
I also am not in anyway disassociating myself, and this letter should not be viewed as a letter of disassociation.I find the entire disfellowshipping, disassociation and shunning policy of the Watchtower Society a despicable practice, one that fundamental religions of all stripes, Christian, Moslem and Jewish, use to keep the rank and file in line. I know all the arguments for the practice – I’ve used them myself in years past when I was an active believer. But once you step out of the insular world and mindset of a high control religion like the Witnesses, you see how manipulative and fear-based this whole arrangement is. I will have no part of it.
That having been said, you, as a body of elders, should still read this letter very thoroughly and carefully before you proceed any further.
If you, as a body, decide to take judicial action and disfellowship me, and make any announcement to that end, I will feel at that time that I have no recourse but to take legal action against you as individual members of the body of elders of the XXXX Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Understand that clearly – I am not talking about suing the Watchtower Society. The lawsuits will be against you elders individually. I so don’t want to do this, but I’ve given you an opportunity to reconsider your actions, and if you decide to proceed, you need to understand that it could cost you a great deal in both time and money.
You also need to understand the basis for a lawsuit in this instance, and that this is not frivolous. First, in that you are taking action against me that will result in alienating me from family members who are still Witnesses, due to the Witness shunning policy, while I am not a Jehovah’s Witness and have not claimed to be for close to a decade, and that such action is a form of harassment. Second, that you as a body of elders are failing to follow “theocratic procedures” laid out by the WTS with regard to “baptized persons who have not associated for some time” as laid out in the elder’s manual, Paying Attention to the Needs of the Flock
In regard to that first point, I make it very clear that I hadn’t viewed myself as a Jehovah’s Witness for many years, and that I was not viewed as a Witness by any in the community who have had dealings with me over the past decade. Jack you yourself said that there are no publishers records of us at the kingdom hall. Seems as if we were phantoms all these years. All of a sudden you choose to pursue my whereabouts after news has come about of the publication of my book. Where have you been all these years “brothers”? I shudder at the thought of how you came to know my place of residence. You really must have gone to great lengths to find that out. Sounds like harassment to me don’t you think? I’ve refused to go out in the house to house ministry since the change in the 1914 generation teaching, which was in 1995. I’ve talked with dozens and dozens of people in this area and in other cities, probably hundreds by now, about my leaving the Witnesses, and why.
With regard to the second point, that you have failed to follow the directions from the Society in the elder’s manual on how to handle a situation like mine, let me quote directly from that manual:
Baptized persons who have not associated for some time.
If you learn of serious wrongdoing on the part of such a person, the matter
should be investigated if it poses a threat to the congregation’s cleanness and welfare or causes a public scandal.
Consider the following:
Does he still profess to be a Witness?
Is he generally recognized as such in the congregation and/or the community?
Does the person have a measure of contact or association with the congregation so that a leavening, or corrupting, influence exists?
How did the matter become known to the elders?
UNIT 5 (a) 99
Is the person willing to meet with a committee, thus admitting accountability to the Christian congregation?
Depending upon length of inactivity and other factors suggested above, elders may determine to hold the matter in abeyance.
In such a case, a record of the person’s questionable conduct should be made for the congregation file so that everything noted might be clarified when the person shows interest in becoming active again.
If the sinful conduct is known only to believing family members and no congregation action is taken because of the factors outlined above, believing relatives will likely determine to curtail family association severely, viewing the relative as bad association. ( I Cor. 15:33)
If the individual still professes to be a Witness and is willing to meet with the judicial committee, the matter should be handled in the normal way. However, when factors such as possible legal action exist, it is best to consult the Society before proceeding. (w87 9/1 p. 14)
From where I sit, you’ve failed to follow these guidelines. Let me tell you why:
Does he still profess to be a Witness? No, and I haven’t for close to a decade.
Is he generally recognized as such in the congregation and/or the community? This is where we see things differently, but not having been out in the ministry since at least 1995, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would think of me as a Witness.
As far as how I’m viewed in the congregation, no one in the congregation has had anything to do with me for years. I’ve stopped attending meetings on any kind of regular basis since . I found the 1914 generation change so disturbing that I decided I couldn’t possibly go out in the ministry again. An elder that is no longer in your congregation may remember inviting me out in service around that time, and my telling him that I was so disturbed that I’d essentially been going house to house telling people something (“this system will end before the people who saw the events of 1914 die off”) that was now certainly a lie, that I felt we should go house to house apologizing for lying to them for the past 50 years! I never went house to house again after that – which is a full decade ago.
How the Society made the ‘1914 generation’ change seemed so cynical and self-serving to me, I was simply disgusted by how they handled it. A perfect example of that is how, in 1995, the Watchtower Society so very quietly changed the ‘Why Awake! is Published’ statement at the front of the magazine, from this: “Most important, this magazine builds confidence in the Creator’s promise of a peaceful and secure new world before the generation that saw the events of 1914 passes away…” (published in the Awake! for seven and a half years, up to October 22, 1995), to this: “Most important, this magazine builds confidence in the Creator’s promise of a peaceful and secure world that is about to replace the present wicked, lawless system of things…” (in the November 8, 1995 issue of Awake!).
There’s a very strong biblical point about what you are if you say something in Jehovah’s name, as in “the Creator’s promise of a peaceful and secure new world before the generation that saw the events of 1914 passes away…” and it fails to come true. Check it out at Deut. 18:20-21. To say I found this really disturbing is an understatement. My conscience just revolted. It’s sort of ironic that, in the greater world outside the WTS, the organization is most famous for having made more claims about more events and more dates than any other religion, and for having been dead wrong every single time. Seen that old King of the North lately? When the Soviet Union just simply disappeared in the early 1990s, I don’t remember seeing a Witness prophecy go up in smoke any faster! Poof!
Now that statement in the front of the Awake! that I quoted above may have already been changed in the reprints of those magazines from the Society. I’m not sure if you’re aware of it, but the Society does a good deal of “revisionist” printing. That is, they’ll print a statement that proves to be completely false, and then in later printings of that magazine or book, they’ll “revise” it to take out the embarrassing parts. ( A classic example is the statement in the Jan. 1, 1989 Watchtower on page12, the article “The Hand of Jehovah Was With Them.” As originally published it says: “The apostle Paul was spearheading the Christian missionary activity. He was also laying a foundation for a work that would be completed in our 20th century.”[My emphasis.] [Oops, where are we now? Oh yes! 2008, in the 21st Century, and the preaching work is far, far from done. BIG mistake there!! ]
But as it appears on Watchtower bound volumes and CD-ROMs, it says “The apostle Paul was spearheading the Christian missionary activity. He was also laying a foundation for a work that would be completed in our day.” Do you have any idea how intellectually dishonest it is considered to revise out errors and blunders like that? Unfortunately for you guys, the Society is notorious for it’s revisionism.
Finally on this point, anyone with any belief or sense of obligation toward the congregation attends the Memorial, if nothing else, but I intentionally have not gone to the Memorial for years to make as strong a statement as possible to the congregation that I am no longer a Witness.
Does the person have a measure of contact or association with the congregation so that a leavening, or corrupting, influence exists? None what-so-ever. If anyone wants to approach me, they’re free to, but I’ve never approached a Witness to try to change anything about their thinking. I see quite a few former Witnesses, who, like myself, have left this congregation and others around it. We tend to see the “corrupting influence” as coming from the secretive and fear-based organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses itself, not from the outside. It’s an easy out to just label someone as a “corrupting influence” – labels take away the need to really think about a thing. You can just label it and move on.
I know that the standard procedure is to label anyone who leaves as full of pride, or they were stumbled, or they are arrogant, or they fell to the ways of the flesh. I’ve heard that a thousand times over the years. Again, it’s just a way of using labels so you don’t have to really think about things. It’s so easy to say, “Oh, he’s full of pride,” “He thinks he’s so much smarter than everyone else,” or “Satan deceived him.” That way you don’t really have to think about why so many thoughtful, intelligent, sincere men and women have left the Witnesses. You see, it always has to be because of a weakness or lack on their part. It can never be for a good reason, a failure of the WTS, or that the teachings of the WTS simply don’t make sense to a genuinely thinking person.
Any organization that has to constantly warn its members against using the Internet, or looking at any information that might be negative about the organization, has a lot to hide. The Society certainly does. Do a Google search on “Jehovah’s Witnesses” and you’ll find a thousand negative websites for every one positive one. No wonder the Society is scared to death of the Internet! That’s got to be very discouraging for you guys, such a huge amount of accurate, negative information about the Witnesses, available at the fingertips of a couple of billion people.
No wonder the growth of the Witnesses has been stagnant for the past decade in Europe, the US, Canada, Japan, Australia, Korea – all of the developed world with widespread access to the Net for the last 10 years. Open and full access to information is the Society’s greatest danger, and greatest fear. And if you think that these JW sites are all full of bitterness and lies, guess again.
Tons of them are written by former (and even current!!) elders and Bethelites and COs and DOs, men and women who are really in the know about the inner workings of the Organization, and who are deeply disturbed by what they see. With my background, I can tell you that the vast majority of the info on-line is dead accurate. Perhaps the most devastating site simply contains quotes from Witness publications! I know that you guys, or at least you Jack, are well aware of some of the stuff the Society has written over the years that is just deadly.
How many times we used to be warned to not get too deeply into the older literature, and to just throw out any WTS literature that was over 10 years old! I know all sorts of congregations that hauled all their older literature out of the Kingdom Hall library and took it to the dump. How odd is that, for a religion to be so ashamed of its past? And are they still telling everyone to keep up with “current truth?” If that isn’t just a masterpiece of Orwellian doublespeak! No wonder the Society doesn’t want anyone going to college. Try using that phrase in a college class on logic! Corrupting influence, indeed!
How did the matter become known to the elders? Guess what? Some naughty Witness has been surfing the net and typing Jehovah’s Witnesses in a search engine.
Is the person willing to meet with a committee, thus admitting accountability to the Christian congregation? No. I don’t feel any accountability toward the Witnesses.
Depending upon length of inactivity and other factors suggested above, elders may determine to hold the matter in abeyance. In such a case, a record of the person’s questionable conduct should be made for the congregation file so that everything noted might be clarified when the person shows interest in becoming active again. There you go, brothers. That’s the Society’s direction to you. A decade of inactivity, combined with you not even having any records of me at the hall, and total lack of belief in the Witnesses, should be more than enough time and reason to hold this thing in abeyance. Write it down, seal it up and discuss it with me when I want to become active again. That’ll save us all a lot of time, energy and money.
And then there’s this final point with regard to someone who is willing to meet with a judicial committee, which I am not:
However, when factors such as possible legal action exist, it is best to consult the Society before proceeding. (w87 9/1 p. 14) So now you’ve got that complicating factor, lawsuits against you brothers individually for harassing me years after I left the Witnesses, and for your failing to follow the Society’s guidelines in handling a situation like mine. And you’ll find something interesting when you call the Society on this – you’re pretty much on your own here. The Society is very unlikely to provide you with lawyers or legal advice, and the cost of any legal defense will come out of your pockets, not the Society’s.
If this case goes to court, my lawyer and I will want to know if you’ve gotten any outside legal advice, as in advice from the WTS, and exactly what that advice was, so please take good notes if you talk to Bethel. My guess is that they will tell you to say they didn’t give you any legal counsel about how to deal with this, whether they did or not, and you’ll have to conscientiously decide whether you could lie like that under oath or not. The Society used to call that “theocratic strategy,” stretching the truth or omitting it.
I have a copy of a letter from one of the Society’s lawyers (they’ve got quite a legal team at Bethel now, which I’m sure you know), and she wrote that lawsuits, like the one I’m proposing, tend to be successful only under a couple of circumstances, and one of those is where the body of elders fails to follow theocratic procedure, that is, specific directions from the Society on how to deal with a situation. I think I can make a pretty clear case that you’re not following the written direction in the elder’s manual about how to deal with a former Witness who is engaged in what the Witnesses view as serious wrongdoing. Combine that with the fact that you’ve singled me out and went to great lengths to find out where I live(which by the way only one person in that congregation knows where I live.), and you’re going to have a serious problem proving that this isn’t a case of harassment against a former Witness.
The Society tends to protect itself, and will usually let the elders face this sort of legal action on their own. They do not want to get dragged into several lawsuits like this. Twisting in the wind, with the possibility of serious financial loss, is not a nice place to be for you guys. I’m not sure if you’re aware of the time and money it will take to deal with this, whether the suit is successful or not, but it will be considerable. On my end, there are lots of lawyers and organizations (for personal and professional reasons) who are eager to make some history and attack a religion that is considered on the fringe and stepping way out of its boundaries. Remember when Jehovah’s Witnesses were known for establishing all sorts of legal civil rights with cases brought to the US Supreme Court? What a reversal, when with this case, we’ll be dealing with their unwillingness to let a member leave, violating his civil rights, because they feel the need to hunt him down years after he’s gone, due to his one-time prominence. The press will love that. Trust me.
I didn’t want to write this letter, and I didn’t want to have to start making arrangements to go to court over this, and I certainly don’t want to do any harm to you brothers or your families. I simply wanted to be left alone as a former JW who left the organization years ago and who now views it as simply a lot of silliness taken way too seriously by members who are out of touch with the real world. Having been on the outside for a decade now, I can tell you that JWs are no more special than any other group of people. You are no happier or sadder, no more righteous or content, than anyone else, despite what you tell yourselves, or hear from the platform.
I think the Witnesses can be a nice community for people who can handle the intellectually stifling atmosphere, who can answer “in their own words” what the Society has already said in the just-read paragraph of the Watchtower, and who can prevent themselves from asking any real questions. I decided long ago that I would rather have questions I can’t answer than questions I can’t ask.
I think where the Witnesses started to go off course was decades ago, when the Society felt that it had to comment on and direct the friends in everything. Education, entertainment, employment, how you should preach, how much time you should go house to house each month, what you can read and who you can have for friends, what music you can listen to, what websites you should visit, what science you should believe and what kind of sex you can have with your mate. They slowly built up an incredible edifice of dos and dont’s that all good Witnesses try their best to meet, and the rest go around feeling guilty about because they can’t meet.
And it’s often created a mess – like with the blood issue, which is in this constant state of flux. You do realize, don’t you, that 20 years ago you’d be disfellowshipped for taking blood components that are OK today? (The Society says it’s a matter of personal conscience, which of course means that when you go over the blood directive with the friends, their ‘personal conscience’ on the matter will change depending on what the Society says. I can’t tell you the number of times I’d be going over that stuff with one of the friends, and they’d say, ‘No, I don’t want to take that blood particle.’ Then they’d ask, ’Well, what does the Society say about that?’ and every time, if they were told that the Society says its OK and up to you, they’d instantly have a change of conscience. That is unbelievably sad.)
I would guess that not one in a thousand Witnesses clearly understands the current blood policy of the Society. If one of you elders wanted to explain to me, with complete accuracy, what that policy is at the moment (I realizes it changes from year to year, so the explanation would have to be up to date!), I’d treat you to dinner! And I wouldn’t even talk about anything that would discomfort you!
If you brothers would like to do some good for the organization, stepping back and letting in some fresh air and giving the friends some real use of their consciences would be a great place to start. Maybe, as the older regime on the Governing Body dies off, some of this new blood will really make some changes for the better. I’ve heard a few things from inside Bethel that give me a little hope that that will take place. But, it may just end up with more of the same, and an even more iron fist over you. We’ll see. It’s sort of funny that now that I’m out of the Org and getting my info online and from a network of current and former JWs, I know way more about what’s going on, and usually weeks or months before, than the average Witness. There are a lot of people still in the Witnesses, at Bethel and other places, who are not happy with some of the things they see happening, and are using the Net to deal with that. Ah, the power of technology.
Brothers,I won’t be back. I can’t suddenly “unlearn” everything I know that is wrong in the Organization, and I think the Witnesses and the WTS are terribly flawed in very basic ways that will never be made right. Having to blindly follow what you’re told, with no really viable input, is the price you guys are paying for the pleasure of being part of that community. You will call the Society about this letter, and you’ll do just what they tell you to do. The sad thing, is that, if they told you to do something different in this situation a year from now, you’d follow that just as blindly. I know, I’ve been there.
Leaving that comfort of being with the only “God-directed organization on earth,” took a huge amount of courage for me. Unlike what we keep being told at assemblies and the meetings, it’s staying in that comfort zone that’s easy. Leaving the organization is incredibly hard. It takes a huge amount of courage to say the emperor has no clothes on, because you’ll lose your closest friends, the respect of people who once looked up to you and often even your family.
So as the years and decades go on, most of you will stay with the Witnesses. You’ve got far too much invested, and not many of you will be willing to take a risk of such loss. Easier to stay a sheep in the fold.
It’s a nice safe place to be, sort of, even if year after year and decade after decade goes by with no real difference or change. No great tribulation, no New System, the good news not any closer to being preached worldwide than it was 40 years ago. Sit down sometime with the yearly, worldwide report, and do the math. Billions of people have never heard of Jehovah’s Witnesses, because there are huge segments of the world where there are essentially no Witnesses, and that isn’t changing. Those stones better start crying out soon!
And what about here, where the preaching work, the good news of the kingdom, has been preached for just under a century? I’ve talked with hundreds of people since I left the Witnesses, and no one, I mean not one person, has any idea why you go house to house. You’re kidding yourself if you think that people equate the message of the kingdom of God with JWs. This is what people think – you’re selling magazines, you bring little kids with you to the door to get sympathy, you’re exploiting the kids to do it, and you’re someone they hide from. I’ve heard that over and over from every person I’ve talked with about it, and there have been lots. Witnesses are essentially viewed by the people I talk with as religious telemarketers. I would conservatively estimate that for every person who becomes a Witness, you piss off a hundred others, and alienate a thousand. No one seems to take you seriously.
Watch TV and you’ll see what I mean. I’ve never seen a positive depiction of a Witness. You’re either the butt of jokes on the Comedy Channel, where Witnesses are most frequently mentioned, or the focus of a very damaging expose as with the Dateline program on Witness child abuse or the recent MTV special on Michael Jackson’s childhood, in which much of the discussion was with Bill Bowen, a former Kentucky elder who is tearing the WTS to shreds on how they’ve handled child abuse.
But, as I said, many of you will stay Witnesses. It’s been your life, your parents were Witnesses, you have kids who are, and you’re not going to rock the boat, no matter how radical the cognitive dissonance (look that term up!). You’re content. It’s as good as it’s going to get for you.
Some of you will leave the Witnesses. The desire for real truth will eventually become too strong to ignore, no matter what the cost. If you want to talk about that, come see me. There are no hard feelings about this, even if I have to take you to court. It’s not personal. I love most of my former friends and your families. I always will, whether you feel you have to shun me from now on or not. It makes no difference to me. Think of how silly that is – not being able to talk with someone because their thinking is different from yours. How sad, and how fear-based.
You’re welcome, any of you, to e-mail me (my e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org), stop over and have a cup of coffee. Feel free to ask any question you want, and please, disagree with me, argue with me, take me to task for sloppy thinking, dissect my reasoning and show me where I’m wrong. I won’t shun you, I won’t think badly of you, I won’t consider you an infidel or an apostate or a corruptive influence because you find the flaws in my thinking and point them out to me.
That, my friends, is the great gift of having a mind – using it! Thinking! I think that is the saddest thing that religion does to people.Holding their minds captive. This is the life we’ve been given. Living it to the fullest, in the here and now, is the secret of life. Putting living off until some imagined better world is here is the saddest way to live. I think that all people who put off living this life, for whatever reason, are the most to be pitied, and that includes a lot of very religious people like the Witnesses.
OK, I’ve ranted enough. Just a couple of final points. This is a confidential letter from me to the individual members of the body of elders of the XXXX Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and only to them. Because every elder is subject to a lawsuit, depending on their actions every elder should have a complete copy of this letter. I will request that Jack do that for me.
Second, let me suggest a way out of this that might satisfy all of us. Skip the whole announcement/disfellowshipping thing. Stick with the Society’s ‘theocratic procedure’ on this and write it up and stick it in the file(Which you don’t have). To take care of my ‘corruptive influence,’ just give one of those talks to the congregation where you say how sometimes, someone who may have been a brother in the past might leave Jehovah’s organization, and yet he’s been out of the Org for so long that no one knows him as a Witness anymore and so the elders just put his name in the file and when the poor fool returns to his senses and wants back in to the flock, they’ll deal with it then.
You don’t even have to say that this poor ex-brother left because the “capital T Truth” completely didn’t make sense to him any more, and that he knew tons more about it than any of them do. This is where you can throw in that he was just full of pride and let his arrogance and Satan’s wily ways take him away from the one true, spirit guided organization on earth. Hell, I could give that talk blindfolded and without notes, and I’ve been gone for a decade! Then the ones that know me could nod their heads sadly and shed a tear for their poor, fallen, deceived ex-brother, and the ones that have never heard of me could go, “Who the hell are they talking about?” just like they would do if you announced that I was no longer a Jehovah’s Witness. Nice touch there by the way. One simple announcement now, covering all the bases and still with the same result (shunning). That darnn clever legal department!!
Think about that.
Lots of great memories, and I will treasure them.
All my best,