This is my story.
My mother began studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses when I was only two and by the time I was three she had already made the decision to get baptized into the organization. That sealed it for me, my brother, and my two sisters to follow. My father, who had been raised a Southern Baptist, had a typically shallow knowledge of the scriptures and was dragged into the group over time. He was baptized in 1973. I was later baptized in 1976 at the ripe old age of twelve.
My story isn’t particularly exciting. My father was a Ministerial Servant (someone who basically does “grunt work” for the elders) and was very well respected by everyone in the Kingdom Hall. He was a mild and good man and a very honest person of high integrity. He would always say to me…”Even if it isn’t the truth it is the best way to live.” He valued the high moral principles espoused by the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society and this more than anything else is what kept him in the organization until his untimely death in 1989 at the age of 53.
In my teens I struggled with the meetings. We had to attend five hour long meetings per week and then go “out in service” as we called it for a minimum of two hours on Saturday mornings. Sometimes, when my parents were in an especially zealous mood we would also go out in service the following Sunday after the meeting. Going “out in service” is the activity of going door to door and talking to people about “the good news of the kingdom.” In spite of my hatred for having to attend meetings I became quite skilled in witnessing to people, especially those who had some biblical knowledge. Being naturally shy I found that going door to door broke me out of my shell and allowed me to talk to a perfect stranger with ease and poise. I enjoyed the verbal “fencing” that would invariably play out with biblical experts and those that were with me were always impressed by my strong command of the scriptures. I was also an excellent speaker having been groomed for that at an early age. I could handle a “part” as they called it “on the fly” with only a few minutes notice and provide an engaging presentation of the material that looked like I had prepared it for weeks. I was strongly encouraged to apply my talents as a “pioneer” (Someone who serves a minimum of 60 to 80 hours of witnessing time going door to door per month.) Having a good memory also helped as I held an arsenal of scriptures that I could recite by memory that were specifically chosen to prove that the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ doctrines were correct and that the mainstream Christians were completely wrong on topics such as the divinity of Christ, the existence of hellfire, the trinity, as well as a host of other doctrinal novelties unique to Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I would say that as a teen I eventually became a little “cocky” and took great pride in showing someone the “error of their ways”. Now as I look back on that I can honestly say that I am least proud of my prideful tendency. I was all set and groomed to go to Bethel (more or less a “finishing school” for young people who are being groomed for higher levels of service in the organization) when I graduated high school and spend several years in Brooklyn rounding out my “higher education” in the organization. When an eligible young man came from Bethel he was considered by all the available young ladies in the congregation as a “catch”. The daughters of powerful overseers in the congregation were especially likely to catch a “Bethelite” as they were called.
When I turned eighteen I was still in high school and took a part time job with a printing company in Clinton, MS. One of the “sisters” that attended the Kingdom Hall had a husband who was studying and he pulled a favor and got me hired on with the company working in another department.
I was on the fast track to Bethel and really had no other aims at that point in my life until I met someone at my work that would change the course of my life completely…
I was eighteen and working part time at a printer in Cllnton, MS. I was happy. I had my life mapped out and I was going to Bethel soon after graduation from high school. While “the society” (another catch phrase that describes the mother organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses) strongly discouraged attending college and higher education in general it did encourage finishing high school.
One of the things that I noticed immediately upon going to work there, was that many of the employees were fully aware of my religious affiliation. Not only that but many of them initially resented the fact that I was a “church buddy” of the manager that got me hired. As time progressed that became less of a problem but at first it was quite noticeable in their treatment of me and some of the snide remarks made by many of them.
I worked hard and when I wasn’t working I was either going to school or spending time “in service” going door to door. I eventually gained the respect and even admiration of many of the employees there and I made many friends.
One of the guys that I worked with in my department, Jerry Hunsinger, was particularly helpful to me and showed me the ropes. Many of the other employees considered him to be a little odd but he was always nice to me. Eventually, after many months of working there, the subject of religion came up. He was a traditional Christian but non-denominational. He was always reading the bible or studying Greek or Hebrew. I asked him about that and he informed me that he was attending seminary in his spare time. This initiated many deep religious conversations covering many ideas in traditional Christianity including the deity of Christ. I was quite the “pistol” with him and would immediately snap down on him with one of my well polished scriptures that I had in my arsenal. Rather than becoming agitated or confrontational he would reply calmly and rationally. He stressed the importance of reading a scripture “in context” rather than simply quoting a scripture that seemed to fit. This infuriated me. How dare this guy tell me what the bible said. After all, I was an expert on the bible (or so I thought). I had spent most of my life going to the meetings and studying the bible. What could he teach me that I didn’t already know?
As one might guess, this prompted many more discussions and heated (at least I was heated) arguments. Yet through it all Jerry never lost his composure although he did shed some tears when trying to help me see past my self inflicted blinders. He was a very sensitive and kind Christian and his sole focus was to help me understand the bible. Eventually Jerry gave me a copy of the New Testament and asked me to do him a big favor: “Read it.” I replied: “I’ve read the New Testament many many times. Why should I read it again?” His reply: “You need to see it from another perspective and without help from the Watchtower.”
I took it from him and promised that I would read it. It sat on my shelf for a long time. However when I make a promise I do my best to keep it. Eventually I took the time to read it. It was “The Good News New Testament”. The amazing thing about this bible was that it read like a novel. I read it in a week’s time seemingly without any effort. This caused me some real problems. Firstly I could tell from the reading that there were many passages in the New World Translation (the bible that the Jehovah’s Witnesses wrote and use) that were different from this one. This launched a flurry of questions for me. How could I know which was correct? Jerry’s answer: “You’ll have to learn Greek.” I started studying Greek like a madman. Then I got a comprehensive concordance for the American Standard Version. I began seeing glaring errors in the translation of key scriptures in the New World Translation. This was all prior to the internet and all I had were books. I read everything I could get my hands on. I even went to the elders with some scriptural questions about what they meant. Specifically I asked about the 24 elders in Revelation.
“And round about the throne were four and twenty thrones: and upon the thrones I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.”
My question was “Who are they?” They couldn’t be the 144,000 as they hadn’t been brought to heaven yet and they couldn’t be angels because they wouldn’t have crowns. Instead of answering my question the elders asked: “Who have you been talking with?”
Another intriguing situation arose when I was meeting for “field service” (another catch phrase description of the door to door ministry) at a congregation in Flowood, MS. The scripture text was Matthew 22:30 and the elder read the scripture. I, having been exposed to the fact that the gospels mirror each other closely and yet add “tidbits” of information not necessarily included in the other text, commented on the scripture and read the mirrored text to this one at Luke 20:34-36. After the closing prayer one of the elder’s wives came at me as angry as I’d ever seen her and she treated me like I had committed treason. She berated me up and down for reading that scripture. I asked her why she had a problem with it and her reply was “That scripture isn’t in MY bible!” and stormed out. I tried to show her as well as the other elder the scripture in the New World Translation just as I had read it but they weren’t interested in hearing anything else. What scripture was it you ask? This was when Jesus was asked by the Pharisees about a woman who ended up having seven husbands each dying in succession. The question, designed to trip Jesus up was: “Which one will she be married to in the resurrection?”
I read aloud in a service meeting the following scripture:
Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.
What this ”sister” and the elder took exception to was that this scripture plainly laid out in no uncertain terms that those who are in the resurrection cannot die. This is in total disagreement with the Watchtower’s belief that all of those who are in the resurrection on earth can die until they have finally proven themselves after Satan is let loose “for a little while.” (Rev. 20) The other two passages which are similar to this one both in Matthew 22 and Mark 12 do not mention the part about not being able to die.
That was when it really sank in that I was in a group that wasn’t interested in the real truth. They were only interested in perpetuating their doctrine.
Then, later on, after much trepidation, I read “Crisis of Conscience” by Raymond Franz. I would read it in my truck over my lunch hour and wouldn’t even bring it into my house for fear of being caught with it. If reading the New Testament without the Watchtower filters on was a “kick in the head”, reading “Crisis of Conscience” was earth shattering! It gave me a bird’s eye view of the inner workings of the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society. It showed me in no uncertain terms that the organization was run by men and not by God. I was both elated and horrified at the same time.
Time had passed and I had given up my ideas of going to Bethel. I had also gotten married to a Jehovah’s Witness girl and she was expecting. What would I do? I knew the Watchtower was wrong. Yet my wife, my parents and my siblings all were “strong” Jehovah’s Witnesses. If I broke ranks and went into “Christendom” (the Watchtower’s word for any religion claiming Christianity outside of Jehovah’s Witnesses) then I could lose my wife, my daughter, and my family. It is interesting that Raymond Franz used the title “Crisis of Conscience” for his book because that was exactly what I was experiencing!
I did what most any other Jehovah’s Witness in my shoes would do. I decided to wait. I wasn’t going to have some other Jehovah’s Witness raise my daughter for me and I was pretty sure my wife would end up leaving me over my decision. My daughter was everything to me and I would be damned if I would allow her to be brainwashed the way I had for most of my life.
It was during this tumultuous time that my father had been diagnosed with an advanced case of prostate cancer and subsequently passed away when my daughter was just one year old. My rock, my best friend, and my anchor in the Jehovah’s Witnesses was gone and life was coming at me ninety miles an hour…
Where to now?
I was living in Jackson, MS and working full-time to take care of my wife and daughter. I was still attending meetings at the Kingdom Hall but all of the meaning of being a Jehovah’s Witness was gone. I was living a lie and I was lost.
I decided to stop attending the meetings and basically lived a life without any religion to speak of. I was still deathly afraid of my wife leaving me if I chose to attend another church.
That was when I began my search for truth wherever I could find it.
I studied everything I could get my hands on. Specifically I was drawn to Freemasonry and groups that were similar in scope to the Freemasons like The Golden Dawn. I found that they too used the name Jehovah in their work and that the Jewish name for God was a supremely important feature of their belief system and their work. I studied eastern philosophy, Pyramidology, the Tao, the Kabbalah, reincarnation, and karma. I was as thirsty for knowledge, any knowledge as I had ever been.
I didn’t realize it then but I was in a deeply depressed state and was searching for meaning to my life and also for my father’s death. I didn’t realize then how deeply troubled my father’s untimely death had made me but I was determined to find some meaning, some power to be able to make it all better. It was simply not to be…at least not yet.
In the end none of this newfound knowledge made me any happier. If anything my life was even more empty than before.
I eventually decided to go back to the meetings to try to find some solace there and also to appease my wife. I was reinstated six months afterward. Yet I still wasn’t happy. I couldn’t find peace and every time something was said from “the platform” (another catch phrase in the Jehovah’s Witnesses that describes something being spoken from the pulpit) that I knew wasn’t right I’d be flipping my bible to find the scripture that contradicted it. I shared them with my wife. She was totally disinterested and told me to just be quiet. Long story short I was back out of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in short order although I wasn’t disassociated or disfellowshipped. I was simply inactive. I then decided to just live my life without God in it and to try to make the best of my career.
Fast forward to the year 2000.
I was doing well. I had a good job and was living with my family in Chandler, AZ. I had done nothing about religion in general for many years. My wife had ceased to go to the meetings entirely. She blamed me in no small way for that although I had always told her that she could do as she pleased with regard to religion.
I thought I was happy or at least as happy as I could be under the circumstances. Yet there was still an “itch” that I couldn’t scratch. There was something missing in my life. I began reading my bible again. It reawakened my need for God. I also read a book that was extremely beneficial to me. The name of the book was: “Combating Cult Mind Control” by Stephen Hassan. It chronicled his time in the Moonies and while it never mentioned Jehovah’s Witnesses at all it was remarkable how their programming techniques closely mirrored those used by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. If you haven’t read this book I strongly recommend it to anyone in any cult anywhere!
The issue with Jehovah’s Witnesses is that they have been subjected to repetitive psychological programming, sometimes for decades. While blissfully unaware that this was going on I had been programmed from a very early age with mental “loops” that worked their way deeply into my psyche. Every time some major world event would happen I would hear the old whisper in my ear: “Better get right with Jehovah! Better get back to the meetings!” That fact is borne out by the corresponding massive growth in the organization during times of world or national crisis. It isn’t so much “new” people coming into the organization as it is people who have left for a variety of reasons but were still carrying around those same mental “loops” that I had. They would, as programmed, immediately start going back to the meetings to get right with Jehovah because Armageddon was “just around the corner”.
By my reading of Stephen Hassan’s pivotal work I realized that these loops were nothing new and that they had been used by other groups including the “Moonies”, “The Branch Dividians”, and “The People’s Temple” to great effect. Once I realized what had been done to me over the course of twenty-three years I came to terms with it. For the first time in my life I knew not just on a doctrinal level or even a conscious level but deeply within my own subconscious I knew without a doubt that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were dead wrong.
I was at first very angry. I was angry that I and my whole family had been deceived by the very same methods used by the Red Chinese on American POW’s. I learned that all mind control groups use varying degrees of these same techniques to keep the rank and file in line. I realized that the freedom, true freedom that I sought wasn’t in a group, organization or church. I realized that there wasn’t safety in numbers.
There was only one way to true peace and having read my bible countless times I knew that door was there waiting for me to open it…
After reading Stephen Hassan’s book, “Combating Cult Mind Control”, I came to several conclusions:
- I and my family had been deceived by an organization ruled by men who are expert in the control and manipulation of people. As of this writing the Jehovah’s Witnesses have over seven million adherents.
- My rejection of the Jehovah’s Witnesses wasn’t a rejection of Jehovah but rather a group of people who were either deceived or were actively deceiving others or both.
- While I had many pleasant memories of good people, kind people who I was privileged to know growing up in the Jehovah’s Witnesses that in and of itself wasn’t a valid reason to stay in the group or to go back to it.
- If I were ever to be truly happy I had to be true to myself (regardless of the cost) and true to what I knew was real and valid. I had to read my bible and form my own opinions based upon that. This was my “crisis of conscience”.
It was at this point that I prayed to Jesus Christ for the very first time in my entire life. I knew that if the scriptures were true that He would come into my life and make everything right.
Immediately I felt a peace and calm that I had never felt before in all the years of attending the Kingdom Hall meetings. I felt truly forgiven, not only for all of the things that I had done but for anything that I ever would do! I felt like the entire earth was lifted off of my soul. I wept like a child with appreciation that Jesus loved me not for how many hours of field service I gave or how many meetings I made or for the talks that I gave or for ”being good” but for me…just for me in all my sinful nature He still loved me…
I immediately started searching for a church to attend. There was a show on television that featured a pastor who preached directly from the scriptures. As a matter of fact his show was called: What The Scriptures Say. I found a small local church in Chandler of the same affiliation and began attending with the Sunday service.
When I tell you that I was scared to death it is an understatement. I was literally shaking. My stomach was in my throat and I sat in the back row of the pews trying to hide while people filed in for the service. I was looking around the room for demons to jump on me (that is literally what the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach their followers…that churches are a dwelling place of demons.)
The service started and I calmed down gradually. I noticed that people actually had their bibles with them. Not only that but many times the pastor would mention scripture and I could hear the all too familiar rattling of pages as many in attendance looked it up. The pastor also didn’t just use one version of the bible but many. How could this be? I had been taught from an early age that those outside of Jehovah’s Witnesses had a very limited knowledge of the bible! Nothing was further from the truth! After the service I left…quickly. I decided to attend another service on Wednesday evening for bible study. This was more of an open discussion of the scriptures than the Sunday service and I realized that these people not only knew their bibles but they could articulate it just as well if not better than the Jehovah’s Witnesses. My mind was completely blown!
Long story short I was baptized as a Christian for the first time in my life on January 7, 2001 and that cemented my walk with Christ in my life. That walk hasn’t been without its trials and tribulations and I’ve occasionally strayed from the path due to my own stupidity and pride-fulness. Through it all the love and the peace and the light that Jesus gave me has always seen me through whatever came against me. The more maturity I’ve gained as a Christian the more love that I have for people including the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Make no mistake:
The Watchtower Bible & Tract Society teaches falsehoods designed to enslave and lead astray those who might otherwise find the real truth. However there are very good and fine and well meaning people in their ranks that need our love and understanding. They have been conditioned to expect frontal assaults and attacks on their faith by Christians.
When you engage in that you are playing right into the hands of the Watchtower. It is a conditioned response that immediately triggers a defensive barrage of scriptures and circular thinking. However, if instead you show them love, tolerance, patience and kindness it completely disarms them. Just as Jerry Hunsinger humbly and kindly shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with me almost thirty years ago, you and I too can help those who have been led into darkness not with derision and attacks but with the love and the peace and the light that Jesus Christ has blessed us with in our Christian lives!
Yours in Christ,