How Do I Feel About The Ban on Jehovah's Witnesses as a Former Believer?

by Meg Slaymaker

Jehovah's witnesses and their likely ban in Russia; where should we stand on this issue? How should we feel as ex members about this? At first glance, you might think it's a great idea! Stopping a cult that holds such harmful policies and practices seems like a definite win. Upon further reflection though, would that actually be the case?

Let's explore this further. Imagine with me, if you will, that you are still a believing Jehovah's Witness. What was that like for you? I for one, was a sincere believer. I felt certain that I had been so lucky as to have parents who found the 'truth' and converted when I was just two years old. I learned from a very young age that myself and my fellow Jehovah's Witnesses would be persecuted for our stand for the "truth". In fact, I remember at the tender age of  5, my mother telling me that if it came down to it, she would let me die at the hands of governmental authorities rather than resign as a Jehovah's Witness. I will never forget hearing those words, as it crushed my little heart. The one person I trusted most in the world, and whom I thought loved me more than anything, has just said she would let me die rather than give up her religion. Did this make me hate the beliefs I was raised with? Not at all, this reaffirmed the truth of them. If my own mother would allow me to die for this, it must be true.

Going to school as a Jehovah's Witness youth was very difficult. I was bold about my beliefs, and there was never a time that I ever caved into 'peer pressure' to do anything I felt was wrong. I never joined in any holiday celebrations. I never sang happy birthday. I never joined in the Lord's Prayer. I never stood for or sang the national anthem. I never even ate hot dogs on "hot dog day" because of possible "by-products" (blood) in the meat. I never took sexual education. I never participated in extra curricular activities. And I never resigned my faith. As you can imagine, every day this drew unnecessary attention toward me.

I was constantly bullied in school, especially in the younger grades. In grade 4, I even had a teacher who was intolerant of my beliefs, and would physically lay her hands on me to try and force me to stand for the national anthem. I would retaliate by using all my strength and weight to plump my butt on the ground in protest. There was no way she was going to force me to show any reverence for my country or the flag! Her unnecessary hurtful treatment of me, and encouragement towards the class to behave the same way, only acted as proof in my mind that I had the truth.

If I was still a Jehovah's Witness today, and my government was planning a possible ban for my beliefs, this would only serve as more evidence for me. And I can't imagine how much worse my school life would have been had my beliefs been under ban! I feel terribly sad for the poor children in Russia who have no other choice but to believe what their parents tell them. Would you believe any differently? As a child, didn't you trust your parents explicitly? What would be worse for you to do as a child: rebel against your parents and risk the disappointment of letting them down? Or stand up for their, and consequently your beliefs, at risk of extreme bullying, all the while knowing that your parents would be so proud of you for your stand?

Let's examine some of the harmful policies and practices within the organization of Jehovah's witnesses, and place ourselves back in our witness shoes when it comes to this ban.

 1. Shunning. Witnesses practice shunning of former believers and people whom they deem 'bad association', whether they're formally disassociated or disfellowshipped, or just inactive. This is probably the more permeating of their harmful practices, as anyone who has been involved with the witnesses at some point in their life might personally feel the effect of being shunned. If the ban goes through, will current witnesses stop shunning former members? Will parents suddenly call their children whom they've been shunning for years and seek to rekindle the bond with them as they'd no longer be under the authority of the watchtower? Well, the obvious answer to that question is no! If anything, I believe the ban will make the shunning even more problematic then it was before. How so? Well, again, let's think about this as if we were a witness. This time, let's pretend we're a jw parent, and our child is inactive and not living in accord with their upbringing. Our child hasn't been disfellowshipped or disassociated, so we decide that we want to maintain contact with him, as there's no written rule that forbids us from doing so. We start to hear rumors that our religion might be banned. We tell our child, who is inactive, that "it's so close now, they're even about to ban us, it's exactly as the governing body said!" Our inactive child might not act with any urgency to "return to Jehovah", and this causes us to be paranoid of them, and want to put some distance between us and them. Once the ban has gone through, we see no reason to maintain any contact, and as they're not in support of our beliefs anymore, maintaining any contact only puts us and fellow jw's at risk of being discovered as practicing a banned religion.

2. Shielding pedophiles from the authorities. The witnesses have a two-witness rule, which effectively shuts down any accusations of child abuse that comes to the attention of the elders. This means if a child has been abused by a fellow member in the congregation, and summons the courage to go to the elders for help (as they're encouraged to do in all matters) the elders will not seriously consider the accusation unless the abuser confesses, or there was a second witness to his abuse besides the victim. Will there ever be a spectator of a child being abused or raped? That's very unlikely. So it's very rare that the pedophile ever receives justice, even on a congregational level. If he never admits to the abuse, and the parents or child never seek the proper authorities, then he is free to keep preying on children in the congregation or otherwise. Will the Russian ban stop this from happening? I would say, definitely not! In fact, in this instance also I believe it would exacerbate the problem. Imagine you're a child being sexually molested by a member of the congregation. You want to tell your parents, but you feel so ashamed. You feel dirty. Your abuser keeps telling you how bad you were for giving into their advances. They keep telling you that you're going to die at Armageddon now for participating in the abuse. Of course, they don't call it abuse, they allege that you're a willing participant. Inside, you want to scream out and ask for help. You don't want to keep doing this, but you don't know how to stop it. And then, your religion is banned. Your parents are reminding you to remain faithful under persecution. They're constantly worried about where the next meeting will be and how they will get there undetected. You don't want to burden them with this news of your immorality. Your abuser keeps telling you it's even more important to keep this a secret, you don't want to get your parents thrown in jail, do you? You don't want to go to jail, do you? Imagine you're an elder, and a child manages to come to you and tell you they were abused. At first, there's not much you can do, but not long after a second child accuses the same person of sexually abusing them also. The elders now have two witnesses (or victims) of his abuse, and they disfellowship him. But you feel like there wasn't enough done to stop him from further abusing more unsuspecting children. You want to go to the police, but, you know if you do you'll expose yourself and many others as being a part of a banned religion. So you don't go the police, and this pedophile remains free to abuse many others outside the congregation.

3. The blood doctrine. Jehovah's witnesses believe it is a sin to accept a blood transfusion. They base this on a scripture from the book of acts in the bible. They are blatantly taking the scripture out of context, but regardless of this fact, if a jw accepts a life saving blood transfusion, they will be ousted from the congregation. In such a situation, jw's believe it is better to die for their beliefs, than to risk missing out on everlasting life in the new world if they save their life now. Parents have, under the manipulation of elders and their own mind control, let their own children die for their leaders interpretation of scripture. Will this change under a ban? Well, this is again a situation that can only get worse when banned. How? Let me explain. Imagine you're a Jehovah's Witness whose recently discovered you have leukemia, or some other rare disease that requires you have blood transfusions to survive. Then, your religion is banned. You know that refusing the medical treatment will out you as a jw, and therefore you decide it's safer for you to just die slowly and painfully at home than it is to risk being forced to have a transfusion and outing yourself and your loved ones as being Jehovah's witnesses. There's many other scenarios where the blood doctrine can cause a whole lot of problems for witnesses in a country that's under ban. At least jw's in countries that aren't under ban do accept most medical treatment. (There are many cults that disallow all medical intervention and that have caused many unnecessary deaths in the process.) However, banning jw's as a religion can lead to some very flawed reasoning on the part of the brainwashed members, and cause them to forgo medical treatment all together to remain out of the public eye and not risk being exposed. I for one cannot see this as a productive move, but can only feel sorry for the mind controlled victims and even more so the children in this terrible situation.

There are many other things we can delve into about some of the problems associated with being a Jehovah's Witness. Things like the abuse of wives, mentally and in some cases physically. In most cases, if not all, women are not helped by fellow members out of their abusive households, but encouraged to be "more submissive, more supportive, more 'quiet and mild tempered.'" Women don't even understand that they're in abusive relationships, and they subject themselves to more unnecessary abuse of them and their children by their husband under the headship principal found in the Bible.

What about the people who commit suicide? Most of us as former members know someone or know of someone who committed suicide as a Jehovah's Witness. Many of these people were repressed in almost every way, in some cases from birth, and come to a point where they can no longer put up with it anymore. They are constantly beating themselves up for not being a good enough witness. They hear their authentic self inside screaming as loud as possible to let them out, and yet they are terribly afraid of being who they are because it is a sin for them to be. It is easier to take their own life than to live in a world where they're going to sin and be destroyed, or have to suppress everything about who they are to maintain contact with their loved ones.

As I've said, there are many things that can be touched on. I think that it's important to remember a few things when looking at all of this.

1. The Jehovah's Witnesses are not the only cult/religion out there that causes this kind of harm. I encourage anyone to look into other cults and religions, and you will quickly see a pattern. They all have harmful practices and policies and cause unnecessary strife and death to their mind controlled masses. Many Christian religious cults practice shunning.  The jw's may have a written policy in place, but they are not the only ones, and they are not the most insular of cults. However, under ban I believe they would become even more insular, and even more cult like in their worship. They're not the only ones who harbor pedophiles. Even the largest Christian religion, Catholicism, has covered up much child abuse. Christians apart of the 'quiverfull movement' will also treat child abuse as a sin, and not a crime, and will try to handle things without involving the proper authorities, but relying on their Bibles. Jw's are not the only ones who refuse medical treatment. Christian Science believers refuse ALL medical treatment and encourage members not to see a medical doctor, but to trust their "physicians", who do nothing but pray over the sick people. They have caused countless children to die for lack of routine medical treatment. Certain branches of Amish/Hutterites believe when a member gets sick, it's gods will, and if they're dying it is a sin to prevent it. And many "faith healers" of Pentecostal denominations have convinced people to throw away their medications, which may be the only thing regulating their disease, to their detriment or even their death. Jw's are not the only ones who have men that are prone to be abusive and that use the bible as their reason for doing so. Many fundamentalist Christians take the patriarchal view of the bible to an extreme extent, and are nothing more than just wife and child beaters. Jw's are not the only ones to have committed suicide. I don't think I need to explain to you how many other religions/cults out there look down on homosexuals and how many countless people have committed suicide rather than accept who they are.
2. Banning the Jehovah's Witnesses will not fix any of the aforementioned problems within their group or the many other groups that are practicing similar things in the name of their god. 

So what can help? What can a government do, not just in communist Russia, but in more democratic countries like the U.S., Canada, U.K., or Australia? One major thing that all of these countries need to do is to educate its members. Use the media to expose the terrible policies and practices within these high control groups. This is already being done but can be done on a much larger scale. Cults tend to have a lot of money and control over the media and certain sources, and this needs to be seen and recognized by our governments. Do not cut these groups any monetary breaks. They should be forced to pay exactly as any other business would pay for their properties/etc. They should be constantly under scrutiny to make sure that they are not abusing their authority as a religion in the name of religious freedom. If any of their policies or practices cause harm, they should be exposed for it so openly in the media that anyone who comes in contact with the group is fully aware of the dangers of joining. Any individuals directly covering up any forms of abuse, or coercing someone to refuse medical treatment, should be fined and/or jailed for their participation in anothers' suffering. There is only so many things someone should get away with in the name of "religious freedom." Governments can show balance in this regard, by not throwing people in prison for their strange or unorthodox beliefs, but making sure anyone committing or covering up a crime receives justice for it, whether  or not they're adhering to their leaders. It's also important to differentiate between the members of a cult and the cult leaders. The cult leaders and anyone using coercion or undue influence should be held equally responsible for the harm caused as a result of their doctrines. This may still make the members or leaders of these cults cry persecution, but it would significantly reduce their reach upon anyone outside of their respective groups. If people are still allowed to believe as they wish, so long as those beliefs are not hurting any other humans, eventually they might see the many harmful aspects of their religion/political group/meditation course/etc  that wasn't fully disclosed to them upon joining. It's much easier to open peoples eyes with love, logic and reason than with harsh persecution.

But what about preaching? Jehovah's Witnesses are active in preaching and are converting many new people every year, you might say. They certainly do take their recruiting very seriously, but does that mean they're successful? If you look in the yearbooks, they are significantly decreasing in the membership. In Russia, they have lost over 2000 members alone since last year. I would say that their preaching work is becoming very unsuccessful in the Information Age, and banning them wouldn't halt their failing attempts to convert new members.  They will still try, and fail, regardless of a ban. In fact, they might even be more successful under ban than they were before, preaching more covertly, using informal witnessing instead of door to door or standing at carts. Unfortunately, too, its important to remember that children are the main reason for the growth we are currently seeing amidst the jw's. Will they stop baptizing children during a ban? I believe we all know the answer to this. They will still baptize children, doing so in bathtubs in private homes if need be. Virtually nothing will change for the better as a result of this ban. In fact, the ban might come as such a scare to faded members who have not yet had a chance to learn "the truth about the truth," that many might run right back to the cult to maintain contact with family members and to avoid imminent destruction at Armageddon.

So, if you've read all this, are you still convinced that a ban is the best route to take? If so, then I don't believe you care about the victims under mind control in the jw's or in any cult. I have gone through many injustices as a former Jehovah's Witness that I wouldn't wish on anyone (though I'm sure many have experienced similar things) but that doesn't make me want hundreds of thousands of innocent people to be held accountable for the abuses I suffered as a result of the leadership. I would much rather see the leadership in the United States come under scrutiny. I would much rather for the United States to not be so lenient towards religions and allowing them to spread so much of their blatant lies and harmful propaganda. Religions shouldn't be allowed to publish 'science' books that are filled with lies designed to indoctrinate children into believing things that can't be substantiated with facts or evidence. Schools shouldn't  promote religious belief, but be a force for education. They should tolerate religion, but not teach it as facts. Fundamentalist religious parents shouldn't be allowed to take their children out of school solely for the purpose of shielding them from learning the facts about our planet. Homeschooling in general should be better monitored to ensure children are receiving proper education at home. There are also many organizations/activists out there who are doing their part to inform government officials and law makers about the harmful abuses that are taking place at the hands of cults and as a result of religious indoctrination. If you are on the side of helping all victims of any form of cult or religious abuse, I suggest you look for more beneficial routes of helping people other than trying to tear down activists who don't agree with you.

Charles Taze Russell’s Modern Day Bible Students: A History of The Watchtower From the Perspective of A Former Bible Student

Part 2

The Dark Years

Of course the most significant event in Watchtower history is the premature death of its founder at 64 years of age in October 1916.  Bible Students were shocked when their beloved Pastor had been “taken home” by God before his time.  There is much information on the internet and in published books about the events that transpired immediately following Russell’s death in October 1916.  One could write volumes on the events that took place over the control of the Watchtower following Russell’s death.  It seems that some of Russell’s closest associates at that time, for example Paul S.L. Johnson, Russell’s Secretary, appeared to have had ambitions to step into Russell’s shoes.  According to MacMillian, Rutherford, who did end up succeeding Russell, did not really want to become the President at that time but felt a responsibility to do so. Bible Students on the other hand see Rutherford as a conspirator who usurped Russell and hijacked the Society with its evil goals.  MacMillan was a close friend of Russell’s and even claims to have been offered the position of President by Russell just weeks before his death.

Rutherford appears as a difficult man with poor social skills who bullied people to get his way.  On the other hand, MacMillan suggested that Rutherford did not act out according to his own personal ambitions but did what he thought was best for the Society once he assume control over the Watchtower.  The fact that Bible Students were completely devoted to Russell’s memory presented a barrier to Rutherford’s belief that it was the Watchtower’s role to provide a Witness to the World.  Rutherford may have been sincere but he was ruthless against those who would not support him exactly the way he wanted.  Rutherford had a black and white world view, was a nasty bully, and a deluded eccentric.  However, his lack of likeability and positive character qualities do not mean that he was insincere.  He had a sense of righteous indignation, and for those who opposed what he believed to be Jehovah’s intent, he would treat with no mercy.  During the 1920s the very movement that had been associated with and supported Watchtower for over forty years became Rutherford’s main obstacle.  So with a surgeon’s skill, he removed what he viewed as the necrotic flesh of the Society using the scalpel of doctrine change to excise the opposing mindset.    
In January 1917, less than three months after Russell’s death, a special convention was convened in which Joseph Rutherford was unanimously elected President.  Bible Students today claim a conspiracy on the part of Rutherford, Macmillan and VanAmburgh that placed Rutherford in the Presidency.  Bible Students complain that nominations were closed by Macmillan, who was chair of the business meeting to elect Watchtower officers.  MacMillan discusses this period in his book and indicates that no impropriety was committed.   Whether or not Bible Student assertions are true, one must remember that despite any improprieties committed by MacMillan or Rutherford, the movement did not object to the proceedings and voted Rutherford in with a unanimous show of support.  No member was forced to raise their hand, yet it was a unanimous vote.  In this sense Bible Students only have themselves to blame over Rutherford’s ascension to the movement’s most powerful position. 

Rutherford’s early presidency was rocky. There was no way Rutherford could ever replace Russell in the hearts of the majority of Bible Students.  A few months into his presidency, Rutherford faced a coup.  Four Directors influenced by PSL Johnson, former secretary to Russell, planned to change the bylaws to curtail the powers of the Society’s office of President.  This coup was sloppily planned and word leaked out to Rutherford.  Rutherford got a legal reading of the Society’s bylaws and found a technicality he used to oust the four dissenting Directors.  Rutherford then replaced these four with MacMillan, Van Amburgh and two other supporters.

A bitter feud broke out within the movement with the ousted Directors and Rutherford publishing arguments and accusations against one another, in an attempt to win over the movement.  At the end of this controversy, a schism resulted in the formation of three independent Bible Student groups: 1) Layman’s Home Missionary under PSL Johnson; 2) Pastoral Bible Institute (PBI) formed by R.E. Streeter; 3) and the Pacific Northwest Movement called Standfasters.  While many hundreds of Bible Students left Watchtower to join these new organizations, others like my maternal great-grandparents had become so disenchanted with the leadership of the movement they dropped out altogether.  These events occurred early on between 1917 and 1919.  

Probably the most significant event was the fallout from the publishing of the 7th Volume, a treatise on Revelation and Ezekiel, claimed to be the posthumous work of CT Russell.  The publication of this volume alone caused much controversy.  Many Bible Students, like my paternal grandfather, never accepted this last volume as a true work of Russell.  Many Bible Students, however, did accept it.  Having read parts of this volume, I recognized many things that I was taught growing up.  Regardless of the fact that while Bible Students eventually rejected this book, many of the things taught in it made their way into Bible Student thinking.  Most significant about the publication of the 7th Volume was that its publication ultimately led to the jailing of Watchtower’s entire Board of Directors.  

This last Volume of the Studies in the Scriptures series made strong denunciations against the Great War that was raging in Europe at the time of the book’s publication.  United States Government officials based charges of treason by using the strong anti-government statements made within the pages of the 7th Volume.  The Society’s Board was convicted to serve some 20 years each in Federal Prison.  This experience had a profound effect on Rutherford, both in his health (he lost the use of a lung) and in his outlook on the “world.”  For the rest of Rutherford’s life, he used the Watchtower as a weapon to rail against government and the nominal church system. The movement stalled during the time Watchtower’s Directors were jailed.  In early 1919, the US government overturned their decision of treason and released the Directors from Atlanta Federal Prison where they had been held for nine months.

Rutherford realized that he needed to reinvigorate the movement.  Watchtower initiated a number of key conventions in the early years to motivate and re-task the movement.  The Cedar Point Ohio Conventions of 1920 and especially 1922 were cited in several early Yearbooks as turning points for the Bible Students.  Throughout this time Rutherford had designs to enlarge the scope of Watchtower efforts.  While Russell had reached millions with his syndicated sermons published in (as some claim) some 4000 newspapers across the United States and overseas, Rutherford believed that a greater effort had to be made to witness the Kingdom to the world in general.  This ambition would require growing the Watchtower membership.  In 1922 Rutherford began the “Advertise the King and his Kingdom” campaign.   

Rutherford also realized that many Bible Students did not support his goals.   These were becoming increasingly discontent with the direction Rutherford was taking the Watchtower.  Rutherford knew that he could never achieve his goals without the full support of the movement.  He needed tighter control.  Watchtower representatives began to be assigned to each ecclesia to track the Witness effort.  This was one of the first steps made by Watchtower to gain control over Bible Student classes.  

The Channel

Many Bible Students were wary about Rutherford’s intentions.  My grandfather talked about his own personal mistrust in Rutherford during this time.  I well remember my grandfather very passionately recounting the concept of the Channel.  Rutherford knew that he could never gain the hearts and loyalty of the Bible Students like Russell had, so he directed as much attention to the organization as being God’s one true organization through the channel concept.  In this view, Watchtower was Jehovah God’s single instrument in bringing the truth to the human race.  By focusing the devotion of the movement to God’s channel of truth, Rutherford could institute changes in doctrine design to sift out those whose minds and loyalty couldn’t be directed to the channel model. 

One critical doctrinal change came around 1923 when Rutherford published an article in Watchtower stating that Adam and Eve would not receive a resurrection.  This one doctrinal change shook many Bible Students.  This was a profound change to what most Bible Students considered to be the foundation doctrine of the truth.   My grandfather was an elder in the Roseburg Oregon Bible Students at the time.  He would recount that he had given a number of talks contending this Watchtower doctrinal change.  This matter split the Roseburg class into two opposing ecclesias, one supporting Watchtower and the other retaining the original belief as taught by Russell.  The two classes never met together again from thereon after.

As early as 1923 Bible Student defectors lamented the direction taken by the Society.  W.M. Wisdom wrote The Laodicea Messenger, a bizarre yet strangely familiar biography of and tribute to CT Russell. The forward of this very strange book provides a glimpse of what many Bible Students were feeling at that time.  Embittered by the hijacking of what had once been “their” Society, they lamented the changes that were taking place and yearned for the days of their beloved Pastor.

“WHEN the news was flashed over the wire soon after Oct. 31st, 1916, “Pastor Russell is Dead,” the Truth Friends all over the world received the shock of their lives. Never did more unwelcome news reach loyal, loving Brethren; never, apparently, were there more heartaches; never more sorrow; never did more hot tears of grief flow from human eyes than when this sad news was received. The writer believes that this grief was genuine, sincere, that the sorrow was from the heart. The Funeral Services in the New York Temple, the gloominess of the Bethel Home, left their impress upon his heart and brain. Time can never efface that memory; the lesson learned has been enduring: “It is the Lord; let Him do what seemeth Him good.” Since that date a cycle of seven years has been almost completed. With what sadness we note the change which a few short years have wrought in the attitude of so many of the dear Friends everywhere. The first glow of love is cooling to an alarming degree; devotion to the principals underlying the Divine Law are being ignored to a great extent, while a wave of unrighteousness is rapidly sweeping over the Church, threatening to drive the Bark of Faith on the Rock of Disaster.”

During the 1920s and 1930s, it seemed one by one Rutherford would denounce or change something in the original Bible Student canon.  Rutherford denounced the Pyramid, which Russell claimed to be the “Bible in Stone,” as having been a deception from the devil.  Rutherford condemned the teaching that the nation of Israel would play a role in God’s Kingdom.  Rutherford began censuring celebrations such as Christmas proclaiming them as having pagan, hence Satanic, origins.  Each of these alterations in Bible Student beliefs had its effect of causing disillusionment and there was a steady decline in the membership.  Despite the seeming endless stream of doctrinal changes, many Bible Students remained loyal to the organization hoping that God would intervene to change the direction and restore the truth to the Watchtower.

By 1928 most Bible Students had either left Watchtower or had been disfellowshipped.  Rutherford identified these as being the “evil servant” who opposed the “good and faithful servant.”  In the 1920s there was no activism as exists today.  Bible Students did not campaign to expose Watchtower wrongdoings or to reform Watchtower practices.  Much of what Watchtower did to those who left the organization was not even necessarily seen as being immoral as they would today (such as the practice of shunning former members).  Many individuals believe that Watchtower’s shunning practice dates to the early 1950s citing a 1947 Awake Magazine article where Watchtower condemns the practice of excommunication as morally wrong.  Contrary to what many believe, shunning was practiced by Watchtower as far back as the 1920s and early 1930s.

My grandfather told stories of his experience of having been shunned by those in the Roseburg Oregon Class who remained loyal to Watchtower.  On occasion he encountered old friends on the street or in a store and they acted as if he didn’t exist.  Other Bible Students I knew well told similar tales of being shunned.  Norman Woodworth, founder of the Dawn Bible Students Association, described a chance encounter with former old colleagues and friends from his days at Bethel.  Dawn Bible Students at its founding was located in Brooklyn on Fulton Street not far from Bethel.  One day walking through Brooklyn, Woodworth could see old close friends of his coming up the sidewalk in his direction.  Two of the individuals were W.M Van Amburgh and A.H. MacMillan.  As he approached and then passed by them they did not acknowledge his presence.  Disheartened that they would not stop and say just a quick hello, he turned around and noticed MacMillan who was holding his hands behind his back, was waving discreetly back at Woodworth!  Some Bible Students had learned that Rutherford had given Jehovah’s Witnesses strict orders not to interact or acknowledge former Bible Student friends and associates.

Expelled and Disenfranchised Bible Students

By the 1930s the majority of the original Bible Students were no longer associated with Watchtower.  The figures most often referred to are those presented by William Schnell in his book Thirty Years a Watchtower Slave. These numbers indicate that in the early to mid-1920s memorial attendance had been upwards around 90,000 individuals worldwide.  By 1927 this figure shrank to around 17,000.  This drop evidences a general Exodus from the Society.  Many Bible Students were disillusioned and many of these were completely disenfranchised and had nowhere to meet once they left the Society.  There were some independent Bible Student groups forming during the 1920s, but by far and large most individuals found themselves on their own.

In the 1932 Watchtower Yearbook Rutherford wrote to explain the rationale for the name of the Society’s movement.  In this Yearbook he acknowledged the existence of other groups who identified themselves as Bible Students.  He gives this fact as one of the reasons why he chose the movement’s new name, “Jehovah’s Witnesses”.  Rutherford explained that other Russellite groups such as Millennial Dawnists, PBI, or Standfasters identified themselves as Bible Students and he didn’t want the public to confuse those associated with Watchtower with these other groups.  By 1931, Watchtower membership was just beginning to rebound from a low point in numbers.  By the late 1920s more individuals had been disfellowshipped or disassociated from Watchtower than remained as suggested by Schnell’s numbers.  In composite there were more independent individuals who identified as Bible Students outside of the Society than those who remained and this could certainly cause confusion among people in the “world” who could not differentiate between these various groups. 

For many disenfranchised Bible Students after they left Watchtower, there was no place for them to meet until Bible Students such as Norman Woodworth and Russell Pollack had joined the ranks of Watchtower dissenters.  Within a few years of Woodworth’s leaving the Society he formed the Dawn Bible Students Association.  Dawn’s main mission for twenty years after it formed was to seek out alienated Bible Students, organize them into functioning ecclesias modeled after the congregations of Russell’s time, and to organize conventions.  

It appears that the Dawn through the 1930s and 1940s was fairly successful in its work.  Of the estimated 73,000 Bible Students expelled from Watchtower as suggested by Schnell, some 56,000, or some 75% of the Bible Students who left Watchtower were re-gathered and organized by the Dawn. The estimate of 56,000 has come from an unexpected and reliable source.  In 1947, the Dawn Bible Students Association was called into Superior Court over a law suit disputing a tax exemption claimed by the Dawn.  Woodworth represented the Dawn in this legal dispute as did my grandfather and grandmother, who both testified in the trial.  Asked by the Superior Court Judge about the nature of the organization, Woodworth exclaimed that the movement supporting the work of the Dawn numbered over 56,000 people worldwide. Thus Schnell’s numbers hold together, and are consistent with Woodworth’s estimate.  Because of circumstances in which the figure 56,000 was given, i.e. Superior Court testimony, It is unlikely Woodworth would have risked perjuring himself over such a trivial matter.

The Jonadab Class (aka Other Sheep)

By the early 1930s Rutherford’s plans to grow the Watchtower were pretty well set.  There was one last doctrinal obstacle to overcome before Watchtower was unencumbered from unlimited growth potential.  As mentioned previously, Bible Students into the early 1930s believed that God was only calling people out from the world for the High Calling, i.e. to be a part of the 144,000.  It would be difficult to grow an organization that could accommodate no more people than that relatively restricted number.  In the early 1930s Rutherford overcame that barrier with the teaching of the Jonadab class.   According to Rutherford this class would constitute, Revelation the 7th Chapter’s Great Company (aka Great Crowd class, or Other Sheep) as an Earthly group as opposed to a heavenly body as taught by Russell.  With this single stroke, the door was opened for organizational growth without any potential limit.  Jonadabs, as explained by 1930s Watchtower, would be those drawn to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses with the hope of inheriting the perfect Earth.  All the remainder of mankind who do not respond to the message put forth by Jehovah’s Witnesses were judged by Jehovah and doomed to die in Armageddon.  Only the Jonadab class would be saved.

This message and the emphasis on members to go out into the door to door ministry reached a good deal of people.  By 1942 when Joseph Rutherford died there were close to 100,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Watchtower continued to experience exponential growth through the 1940s and 50s so that by around 1960, less than twenty years after the Jonadabs were conceived, there were roughly one million Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Rutherford had finished his job of reshaping the Society to accomplish what he had envisioned for the Society in the years just following Russell’s death.  In addition, Rutherford had also succeeded in establishing the Society’s autocratic hierarchal (he called it theocratic) control over all body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and positioned the organization for expansion into a global Society.

Charles Taze Russell’s Modern Day Bible Students: A History of The Watchtower From the Perspective of A Former Bible Student

Part 1

Why Activism?

I can understand why a former Jehovah’s Witness would ask the question, why should a former Bible Student be interested in Jehovah’s Witness activism?  Hopefully this little history will provide some answer to this question.  Contrary to the implications of Watchtower’s revisionist representation of its beginnings and growth, there was no smooth transition from Bible Students into Jehovah’s Witnesses as the organization matured.  This is far from the truth.  Many Witnesses, even those few who are aware that the Bible Students movement still exists as a separate religious sect from Watchtower, are not aware of the closely entangled, turbulent and lurid history as Watchtower gradually expelled the very sect that started the Society, and replaced them with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Over the course of the last year or so I have taken a strong interest in former Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activism.  My interest stems from my own struggle to free my mind from the imposition of doctrines and culture that originated with Charles Taze Russell, the founder of Bible Students movement and Watchtower, Bible and Tract Society.  I was born a fourth generation Bible Student in the mid-1950s. 

After a lifetime of severe inner conflict and confusion, I was finally able to extract myself from the dangerous shame based religious system that had devastated my childhood family.  A dogmatic system of twisted beliefs and culture that had also come too close to destroying the beautiful little family I had started with my wife.  Visiting activist websites and listening to YouTube accounts of former Jehovah’s Witnesses resonated strongly with me regarding my own hard fought battle for freedom.  I probably would not have been drawn into Watchtower activism however, if it were not for the fact that Watchtower’s headquarters are moving practically into my backyard. 

Around 2009 I read a small news article in our community newspaper announcing Watchtower’s plans to move its world headquarters out of Brooklyn to Warwick New York.  However, this news hadn’t become real to my wife and me until around 2011 when Watchtower began construction of its new World Headquarters just four miles from my home.  In the years since, my wife and I have seen long caravans of large Greyhound sized buses and smaller transport vehicles running in a continuous circuit back and forth from volunteer living quarters to the construction site, like bees in a hive. We watched as the forest was plowed to bare earth, concrete foundations poured, and steel beams erected. Now that the site is nearing completion Watchtower stands to me as a permanent reminder of the organization historically behind the smothering religion I only too recently escaped.

Having become involved in some of the Ex-Jehovah’s Witness activism, I came to realize that many Jehovah’s Witnesses do not know that Bible Students still exist.  While Watchtower today is proud to parade their nearly 140 year heritage before their followers, it presents a biased revisionist history that leaves many gaps.  In particular, Watchtower omits most of the shadowy events that took place in the years subsequent to the death of the Watchtower’s founder.  Watchtower cannot dodge its early connection to the Bible Student movement in the organization’s formative years, but contrary to the events that actually occurred, the Society portrays a seamless transition from Bible Students into Jehovah’s Witnesses.  

Early Family History

My family became entangled with Watchtower around the turn of the 19th century.  I have both paternal and maternal great grandparents that became Bible Students as far back as the mid-1890s. My parents and all four of my grandparents were Bible Students. In fact all of my extended family, aunts, uncles, cousins etc. were Bible Students.   I had no close family that were not Bible Students.   Having grown up in a Bible Student family I heard many stories about how the family “came into the truth.”  My paternal grandfather was a Bible Student elder in the 1920s, the tumultuous critical years leading up to the formation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  I heard his bitter tales of how Judge Rutherford stole the movement away from the Bible Students, and of his experience in challenging what he considered to be heretical doctrinal changes that had been introduced by the Judge during that period.   

My maternal grandmother emigrated from Scotland with her parents in 1909, and moved to Brooklyn near the newly relocated Bethel.  She told tales of riding with “Pastor” Russell on the train from Brooklyn to the New York Temple where meetings were held.  When Russell died my great grandparents did not accept Judge Rutherford’s election to the Society’s Presidency, and stopped meeting with the Bible Students shortly after Russell died.  

Russell’s death hit the movement hard. While the Watchtower today downplays Russell’s position within the organization, Bible Students nearly worshipped the man, and bitterly lamented the loss of their beloved Pastor and unchallenged leader of the movement. Between 1916 and 1931 when Jehovah’s Witnesses came into being, the majority of the original Bible Students had either cut ties with Watchtower or were disfellowshipped for dissenting against the doctrinal changes that had been introduced into the organization.

Watchtower’s Early Bible Student Years

For about forty years Charles Taze Russell was the indomitable force behind Watchtower.  Russell’s charisma and drive forged a movement that by the time of his death, was beginning to pick up momentum.  From a single small Bible Study group that included his father and sister, there were tens of thousands of Bible Students and thousands of ecclesias by the time of his death (congregations were known as classes or ecclesias, and are still called by that name today by the Bible Students).
Russell’s magnetism and prolific writing endeared him to this following.  By the time of his death the majority of Bible Students were convinced that he was a special messenger from Jehovah God himself, i.e. the Laodicean Messenger.  Within this early movement, devotion to this man bordered worship which Rutherford came to denounce as “creature worship.”  A.H. Macmillan in his 1957 history, Faith on the March, indicated that this level of reverence became repugnant to Rutherford.  So strong was Rutherford’s feelings over the movement’s idealization of Russell, when he finally achieved unchallenged doctrinal control over the movement, Rutherford denounced celebrating customary individual milestones as being “creature worship,”  and forbade members from commemorating birthdays, mother’s day, etc.  There are many documented sources that speak about the character of Joseph Franklin Rutherford, and nearly all show him to be a dominating, ill-tempered and bitter man. While the mark of Rutherford has been clearly impressed upon the current organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, even the Watchtower today avoids putting his face too far forward publicly over the bad reputation that resides over this miserable man. 

Looking back at Rutherford’s legacy and seeing the type of man he was, one would naturally wonder why the movement permitted him to rule over them.  To understand this one has to understand more about the events transpiring in the movement in the years that followed Russell’s death. The fifteen years between Russell’s passing and the institution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1931 were known to those Bible Students living through them as “the dark years.”  While Watchtower might tend to whitewash over many of the events occurring in the movement through  the 1920s, Bible Students on the other hand have their own bias over what transpired, and the truth of the events must lie somewhere in between the two accounts.

On the one hand the Society implies that as the organization grew and matured, the members of the movement associated with Watchtower took on a new name by which to be identified. This then begs the question: then why, after over half a century calling themselves Bible Students, should the membership see the need to take on a new name?  Watchtower today never gives an explanation for the change from Bible Students to Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Bible Students on the other hand, bitterly accuse Rutherford as corruptly conspiring to take control over the movement.  That as soon as he had taken over the Watchtower’s Presidency he immediately began to wrench the Society from the Bible Students to serve his own nefarious self-serving objectives.  Bible Students view themselves as helpless victims of a Stalinist tyrant who wholesale purged the Bible Students from their entitlement. 

One may never be able to know the exact truth of what truly happened in those years.  All the individuals who lived through that period have long passed away. However, the aftermath of those events is with us today and Watchtower’s modern presentation of those events has not been an honest one to their followers.  This is evidenced by the fact that the Bible Students continue to exist today as an organized movement.

There are several histories written from Watchtower’s perspective.  In 1993 Watchtower published its Proclaimer’s Book.  Most Jehovah’s Witnesses today are familiar with this book, which appears to be comprehensive but is missing many important facts.  Another recounting of Watchtower’s early history is A.H. Macmillan’s Faith on the March, published in 1957. This book is interesting since its author, A.H. MacMillan, was both a close personal associate of Charles Taze Russell and Joseph Rutherford during both their presidencies.  MacMillan remained loyal to the Society until his death and presents Rutherford as a man misunderstood by many who saw only his external eccentricities and brute personality.

Another strange history is documented in a rare book, The Laodicean Messenger, written and published in 1923 by A.H. Wisdom, a Bible Student who practically worshipped to Russell.  This last publication is essentially the only major publication of that critical transition period presenting a Bible Student’s historical perspective.  Much of the Bible Student’s side of the events transpiring in the 1920s was passed down by word of mouth to subsequent generations.  There are a few minor histories that can be found on Bible Student websites but most of these are anecdotally based.  One important Bible Student, Norman Woodworth, first cousin to Clayton J. Woodworth, editor of the Golden Age magazine, provided his reflections of the early years of the movement and his personal interactions with C.T. Russell, along with other key players during Watchtower’s evolution (i.e. key individuals to Watchtower’s formation including A.H. MacMillan, W.M. VanAmburgh, and Woodworth’s own cousin C.J. Woodworth).  I knew “Brother” Woodworth personally - the most respected Bible Student elder in the Bible Student’s post-Watchtower years, and my grandfather’s best friend for fifty years.  Woodworth passed away in 1976 and was an elder in the New York ecclesia, the Bible Student class I was born and raised in.

Norman Woodworth left (actually was disfellowshipped from) the Society in 1928 along with many other Bible Students I personally knew.  I look through some of the old Watchtower Yearbooks from the 1920s and see familiar names of individuals who played an important part in the Bible Student’s fellowship in which I grew up.  Again many of the facts of the events occurring in the 1920s have been lost with a past generation. 

The fact that all those directly involved with that period are now deceased makes it nearly impossible to know the exact truth of what happened during those years. However, I will recount some of what I learned from available written material, but also from my experience with family members who lived through that time, as well as from the accounts of early Bible Students I knew such as Norman Woodworth and Russell Pollack.

Key Doctrines

Before diving into what some Bible Students deemed “the dark years”, I think it is important to understand a few key doctrines that the Bible Students and Watchtower promoted prior to Russell’s death in 1916.  It should be noted that the early Bible Students movement in every sense of the word qualified as a high control group, despite the lack of Watchtower control over individual eccelsia.  Bible Students at that time unquestionably revered Pastor Russell and his teachings.  A very distinct culture developed within the movement that isolated and uniquely distinguished this new religion.  Mental and emotional coercion techniques (such as guilt tripping and emotional blackmail) were used extensively against members.  With the emphasis that Satan had been cast out of heaven into the Earth, members emphasized separating themselves from the “world.”  By 1910 Russell discouraged independent Bible Study and accentuated the need to study only his writings or else lose the truth.  Bible Students developed a black and white view of the world, and held to a set of standards, values, and expectations for behavior that would be nearly impossible for any human being to meet.  

The Vow

Bible Students employed a shame based culture and imposed these unrealistic values on their children who were expected to accept the truth for their own.  One example of the type of coercion used by Watchtower even in its earliest years concerns “the Vow” Russell imposed on the movement in 1909.  In this circumstance, Russell used strong shaming tactics to induce elders and general membership to take the Vow.  This is an interesting piece of Watchtower history as it was intended to prevent improper interaction between the sexes and to enforce a puritanical degree of morality upon Bible Students.  The Vow also emphasized the need for members to avoid occultism, which has always been a hallmark of Watchtower paranoia from its inception.  The Vow came into being as a result of the controversy that churned over Russell’s divorce from his estranged wife Maria. Maria had alleged sexual and moral improprieties against her husband as a basis of her divorce suit. It wasn’t long after the court proceedings that the Vow came into being.  Russell pushed hard to have Bible Students adopt and commit to the Vow.  He compiled a list of those willing to take the Vow in an attempt to coerce the “friends” into taking it themselves.  Russell in short argued that if one is committed to living a pure life, why should they have any problem taking the Vow and adding their name to the public list of those who had taken it?
Interestingly, the Vow continued to be a matter of controversy within the Bible Students as late as the 1980s, and was read at many conventions, including the Bible Student General Convention where it was read every morning as part of each day’s daily opening ceremony.


For decades Bible Students looked forward to 1914 as the end of Gentile rule over Israel.  Christendom was to be destroyed through a “Great Time of Trouble,” and Armageddon.  Society in general would break down into utter chaos and depravity and “lest those days be cut short no flesh would be saved.”  Following the destruction of Earth’s religious, social and governmental institutions (i.e. the Present Evil World), God would establish Christ’s glorious one thousand year Kingdom of Righteousness.  All of this was to happen before the ending of the year 1914.  As that year began to approach, Russell began to balk somewhat over the predictions he had made.
Bible Students believed that sin had entered into the world by Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden. All of humanity therefore inherited sin through Adam and Eve’s fall from grace and perfection.  However, Christ offered himself as a substitute for Adam’s transgression and being made human from an angelic plane of existence, offered himself in sacrifice to God and thus ransomed and redeemed the human race.  Adam and Eve, and every human who had lived and died would be entitled to a resurrection in Christ’s Kingdom, and given an opportunity to live forever.  This teaching is the doctrine of the “Ransom.”  Of all the teachings adhered to by Bible Students, this doctrine is the one most revered as being the cornerstone of the faith. 

Unlike Watchtower’s teachings today, Armageddon was not Jehovah’s righteous indignation to punish and destroy all of humanity that do not become Jehovah’s Witnesses. Bible Students believed that God’s intent was mainly to destroy institutions and governments, not people per se.  They believed that many if not most “worldly” people would live though Armageddon into the Kingdom, and receive an opportunity for perfect life.  
Russell and Watchtower only preached a single call, Bible Students knew as the “high calling.”   Those responding to Watchtower’s message, and who were consecrating and baptizing themselves to do God’s will, believed that if faithful to their call would comprise the 144,000 heavenly associates of Jesus.  Those who failed to make their “calling and election sure,” would make up the Great Company.  They believed that once an individual sacrificed his life to God, symbolized by baptism, this person had forfeited their right for an “Earthly” resurrection.  So according to Russell, the Great Company was also a heavenly class, except not on as high a plane of existence as the immortal anointed class. 

During the thousand year Kingdom if anyone did not accept the principles of righteousness, they’d be sent to the “second death” by God.  Bible Students did not teach eternal torment and dispensed with the notion of an eternal torment in Hell as unscriptural.  They believed however, that incorrigible were to enter into the “sleep of death” forever and thereby go forever into a state of non-existence.  Those running for the high calling were also in jeopardy of the second death.  If a consecrated and baptized individual did not qualify for either the 144,000 or the Great Company, because they sacrificed their right to a human resurrection, they would “go into second death.”   When I was baptized as a Bible Student at age 23, no sooner than I raised my head from the water and I heard the fellow who dunked me, “now you have to watch your Ps & Qs, or it’s the second death!”  My first thought was “wow, thanks bud.” 

Another important Watchtower teaching during the years prior to Russell’s death included the notion that Jesus was invisibly present in Earth’s atmosphere beginning in 1874.  Why discuss what Bible Students believed?  The main reason why these teachings are mentioned is that there are the things that Bible Students were convinced were the absolute truth when Russell passed away. So strongly did most Bible Students venerate Russell, they would not accept any deviations from anything he had taught.  Rutherford used Bible Student’s rigid belief system against them in his design to redirect Watchtower’s purpose.  By altering a few of the core beliefs,  Rutherford could “sift” out those Bible Students who stood fast in their loyalty to Russell from those whose loyalty was more centered on the organization. This “sifting” process transpired throughout the 1920s and early 1930s.


Forever Awoken

by NR.

This year marks the tenth year since I attended my last meeting at the local Kingdom Hall and I feel it is the perfect time to give some support to the community.

Why “Forever Awoken”?  Let’s first have a walk down memory lane. I was born and raised as one of Jehovah’s Witness until I was fourteen. I was born in a multilingual family where we use to speak French, Spanish or even sometimes Portuguese at home, and Spanish at the Kingdom Hall. My father became familiar with the “truth” in his thirties and rapidly became an elder until he passed away almost twenty years ago. My mom became a JW at the same time, but she always believed more in God than in the “Organization”.

As many JW families, we came across different problems, some concerning directly the organization: disfellowshipping and so forth (lot of those happened after my father’s death). However, in my personal case, my Mom always considered family ties stronger than the commands of the Governing Body, so at the moment, I feel no need talk that much about that.

Even though we went through some difficult times, my Mom always insisted that we (her and I) had to go to the Kingdom Hall. When I was a kid, as for many kids, the two-hour Sunday meeting was the worst part of my weekend, and I was always wondering why was I trapped there. Of course, my Mom would always tell me it was important to please Jehovah in order to be reunited one day with my father and the fact that as some people go to Church, we, we would go to the Kingdom Hall (I would always agree with the third one, which seemed quite logical).

Growing up, obviously, I would understand better the messages given during the different talks at the meetings and assemblies, and I would say that by the age of ten I would struggle with every “spiritual food” that was given to us at the Kingdom Hall. For example, the fact that we couldn’t celebrate birthdays or Christmas (those were the very first thing I can recall, even before the age of ten), the fact that God would slaughter so many people just because they were not JW’s or the fact that we should shun people, even family members.  Also the fact that it was not possible to question anything and on the other hand we had to go door to door to make people question their own believes. I felt those things, among others, were not right for the “Christian” people we were.

Until this moment on, I could say that I was Awoken, even though if at the time I didn’t know how to call my situation. As the Awoken person that I was, I would always do two things during the meetings: the first one was to take notes regarding the things I thought to be “bizarre” and not linked to my idea of being a “Christian”. Of course I have never showed those to anyone, and as many other things linked to my “JW life”, I have put those away from me. If you happen do the same thing, don’t make the same mistake as I did, keep them!

The second one, when it was too much for me to hear all these deluded things, was closing my mind by thinking in a different language than the one used at the Kingdom Hall. You might think this is weird, but if you’re bilingual you might have a glimpse of what I am talking about. I use to think in French whilst the talk was given in Spanish, and in my case this turned out pretty well. 

Being Awoken allowed me to keep a critical mind and prevented me from getting baptized when asked many times to do so. Moreover, I always tried to talk to my Mom about the things that I thought were disturbing in a precise, non-confrontational way.  Simply pointing to them innocently. 
Later I also told her that when I would reach the age to make my own decisions I would stop going to the Kingdom Hall. And by the age of fourteen we went less and less to the meetings. My Mom is considered now as an inactive person and I still have siblings who are JW’s.

Now, I am 24 years old, atheist, graduated from college and ready to begin the rest of my life. I would have much more to say about the time I was raised as a Witness and even after, but this might be for another article, who knows.

In conclusion, I would tell you that if you are currently an Awake person of young age or not, it is always possible to manage not getting trapped in the “Organization”. Stand by what you think is right and never give up. It might be hard, but bear in mind that your well-being and your freedom (mental and physical) are at stake! If you have a chance to raise awareness among your friends or family, try to do so. If not, the online community might be a real “refuge” for you and there will always be people to remind you that this world is good and beautiful.

“Rien au monde ne peut empêcher l'homme de se sentir né pour la liberté. Jamais, quoi qu'il advienne, il ne peut accepter la servitude; car il pense.”
(Simone Weil)

War of the Whiskers Part Two

by "The Extreme"

     A number of years had passed since I donned a suit and tie in Their Majesties' Sacred Service as a ministerial servant (kinda like a deacon in other churches, but with more responsibilities and less respect), but I knew the gent on the other end of the phone line wasn't going to know that. Sure, I was lying, but there was no way in Hades someone from the Writing Department was going to speak with me in a more informative fashion if I presented myself as simply one of the rank and file publishers.

     Why the Writing Department? Short answer: When I called Bethel and explained that I had a query concerning a lack of subject matter on the topic of beards, that was the department the operator connected me with to hopefully direct me to any pertinent material I might have missed. Had I inquired about procedure, I would have undoubtedly been given the Service Department, but that was some next-level s**t which required a lot more politicking to navigate a discussion than I was prepared to deal with at the time (or any time for that matter; I was never a good politician, rendering me a less-than-ideal candidate for a MS, but that's a story for another day).

     The representative that took my call was all pleasant greetings and familiar platitudes upon answering. Once I had him convinced I was who I SAID I was (they screen you with a mini-interrogation, also handled with pleasantries), we got into our discussion about Whiskers: Harmless Entertainment? I related the situation at hand involving my nephew, Oliver (I left names and locations out of the conversation), and of this I was quite truthful. The rep did his best to affect an affable tone as he addressed my questions and concerns.

     It didn't take long to morph into something more akin to imperious condescension.

     “As a ministerial servant, you should know that we don't dictate to anyone what type of dress or grooming they should have, unless, of course, it is in regard to someone who is supposed to be setting an example in the congregation in which case it would merely be reminders for that one. Is your nephew currently serving a position of responsibility?”

     “He might be handling the mikes [microphones used for commenting during meetings], “ I replied, “but that's probably it.”

     BETHEL: “Then it's up to his conscience about his side burns.”
     ME: “Then why is it a problem with his elders? They certainly don't see it that way.”
     BETHEL: “It all depends on how such an appearance affects the community.”
     ME: “I doubt there's a problem there; the world in general doesn't have any issues with such things.”
     BETHEL: “The congregation shepherds usually know more about the attitudes of their own communities.”
     ME: “How can that even be true? Outsiders don't know to report their grievances to the elders like we do.”
     BETHEL: “Publishers report to them that there's an issue.”
     ME: “But that's just it – if anyone, the publishers would be hearing complaints, but they're not! They're hearing nothing on this subject.”
     BETHEL: “You know this yourself for certain? Elders do not make decisions lightly, certainly not based on nothing.”
     ME: “I'm not saying that. But maybe these decisions are based on some personal perception of what they think is an issue.”
     BETHEL: “Then they would be speaking in behalf of the community.”
     ME: “But where in the world would they be getting their ideas if the community itself is silent?”
     BETHEL: “But it's NOT silent – not if members of the congregation are becoming upset.”
     ME: “That's not the community, though.”
     BETHEL: “Are you saying you don't feel that the PEOPLE who make up the CONGREGATION are PART of their OWN COMMUNITY?”
     ME: “You're twisting my meaning.”
     BETHEL: “I have no reason to twist your meaning, brother.”
     ME: “That's debatable.”
     BETHEL: “Excuse me?”
     ME: “Look – sorry – I' not trying to start an argument here. I am simply trying to understand where these perceptions on facial hair are coming from that the friends find so upsetting if there's nothing of substance actually in writing on the matter.”
     BETHEL: “I already told you: Everything stems from the community of the congregation.”
     ME: “Yes, I get that, but at best that makes it a BIASED community.”
     BETHEL: “Biased by God's Word and teachings, you mean.”
     ME: “But, there again, there's nothing WRITTEN of any real substance. And the Bible says in Leviticus 19: 27 that 'you should not destroy the extremity of your beard, [nor] cut your sidelocks short.' Why is THAT not the standard to go by with this stuff? We act on less than that to avoid celebrating birthdays! Even the Head of the Congregation – Jesus – had a beard.”
     BETHEL: “The Faithful and Discreet Slave has obviously not been motivated by Jehovah's Holy Spirit to shed greater light on this. That is why it has been left as a matter of conscience; the person has a choice.”
     ME: “But does he really? If you or I choose to grow a beard because our individual consciences allow for it, but we lose our congregation privileges as a result – or worse – then there's only one choice, which really isn't a choice at all.”
     BETHEL: “Sorry you see it that way.”
     ME: “How else can I see it? Help me understand this. If one choice leads to favor in the congregation based on nothing more than personal opinions, and the other leads to reprisal – the losing of privileges or, in this case, something more severe, then how is there any choice at all? The person must conform or else.”
     BETHEL: “That is YOUR way of looking at it.”
     ME: “How can it not be yours too? How do YOU see this?”
     BETHEL: “As a matter of humility and spiritual maturity. By choosing to not grow a beard, the brother recognizes and accounts for the consciences of others; he wishes to stumble no one and does not insist on his own rights, thereby becoming puffed up with pride.”
     ME: “But these other consciences have been influenced by an unspoken understanding of how things have always been, at least for quite some time, anyway. Maybe at one time the lack of a beard could have been a visual point of clarification to householders that we are not part of some cause or movement, but now it is becoming increasingly acceptable – even within the business community – to grow a beard. Doctors, lawyers, CEO's... many of them have one.”
     BETHEL: “Are you saying we should start looking MORE like the WORLD?”
     ME: “What I'm saying is that this facet of male personal grooming no longer holds the weight of distinction from the world it might have held at one time.”
     BETHEL: “That is how YOU see it. It appears to still hold weight – as you say – because some of the friends are quite upset at seeing it on brothers in the congregation, especially on ones who are assigned privileges. I see this even in my congregation.”
     ME: “Again – that's the issue! Why is this so upsetting to people when there is so little basis for how to feel about facial hair in both the scriptures and in our literature? How can ministerial servants like myself and elders make a defense of our actions if we remove privileges from brothers with beards or thick side burns if there is nothing concrete to back us up?”
     BETHEL: “The regained harmony and accord of the congregation will back it up; that would be your proof that you did the right thing in removing that brother.”
     ME: “Still, that's a peace based on a perception, not a reality.”
     BETHEL: “Sorry you see it that way.”
     ME: “I'm trying to see it a different way, I really am. But the harsh reality of the situation keeps getting in the way.”
     BETHEL: “Harsh? Come now. Really?”
     ME: “Well, remember the reason I brought this up in the first place: My nephew stands to be disfellowshipped over a matter of an inch of hair on his face. Yet if he came to Northeast Pennsylvania – or even just back to his dad's congregation, which shares the same hall – he wouldn't have to worry about this at all! Why the inconsistency?”
     BETHEL: “As I told you earlier, it all depends on the views of the community. As far as your nephew, I am quite certain – even without knowing all the details of his case – that there is more accountability in regards to his attitude and behavior to warrant a judicial committee than just the length of his side burns. Am I wrong on this?”
     ME: “No, you're not. There are other factors. But that is not the point.”
     BETHEL (with an incredulous chuckle): “It's not?”
     ME: “No! Not at all. The point is this should have never come up at all, let alone as the focal point for declaring that my nephew is exhibiting loose conduct and therefore providing the elders with enough reason to demand a judicial committee.”
     BETHEL: “I doubt the elders demanded anything.”
     ME: “Poor word choice. Sorry. But let's not play semantics here. My concern over this subject being a sticking point for judicial proceedings still stands. This is definitely a case of judging one another over matters that are beyond what it written, plain and simple.”
     BETHEL: “As a ministerial servant, you really should know better. Do you really believe it to be wise to stir up so much contention over this issue just because you happen to disagree with a certain body of elders, not even your own? Is it really worth risking discord among the friends over such a trivial matter?”
     ME: “Since you put it that way, let me put it to you like this: Why can't anyone who is offended over facial hair just DROP IT and overlook the matter – covering over with love – if it is such a small thing anyway?”
     BETHEL: “Because it affects the spirit of the whole congregation, not just that of an individual.”
     ME: “But the spirit wouldn't be affected so adversely if the friends weren't allowed to run wild with an idea and attitude that has no basis in any Christian teaching, nor from anything in the Bible.”
     BETHEL: “I'm sorry you see it that way. Perhaps you need to pray on the matter for further enlightenment.”
     ME: “Oh, I have prayed. I've prayed a lot! For the friends. For my nephew. For the elders that will be meeting with him shortly to hopefully extend mercy. For deeper understanding on my part. For finding something – anything! – that could help my sister's son, or at least help me understand why things are the way they are. And then I studied. I wanted to meditate on what I had studied, but there was nothing to meditate on! That's because – as I've stated repeatedly at this point – that there is nothing on this subject yet, despite the fact there is no material officially written on it, not even a Young People Ask article – it's something worth getting upset over, even disciplined for. How can that be in Jehovah's Organization? If I decided to grow a beard myself starting right now, you and I both know that would be the end of my spiritual career as a ministerial servant. And why? Because the friends are upset but can't explain why they are upset – they just are! How does any of this actually help anyone?"
     BETHEL: “I can tell you are upset over this, but that is no doubt because you are so close to the situation with your nephew. I hear what you are saying, brother, but again, it really is just your way of looking at this matter. I would remind you to cultivate a waiting spirit of Jehovah; perhaps some day he will see fit to shine new light on this subject with the Faithful and Discreet Slave.”
     ME: “Look – I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me, but this conversation has become rather cyclic, so I'm just going to go now.”
     BETHEL: “It was my pleasure to speak with you, brother. Thank you for contact the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society with your concerns. May Jehovah bless your continued efforts in aiding his elders to shepherd his --”


     Gymnastic reasoning. Ad hominem arguments. Verbal judo. Nearly-chanted scripted responses. By-the-numbers advice. All chased down with a well-rehearsed, monochromatic sign-off speech that was drowned in treacle but dry on sincerity.

     The Bethelite – no newby, apparent by the aged timbre of his voice – simply hit the reset button at the end, cheerfully vacuous and totally uncaring at that point of my opinion of him nor the spiritual fate of my nephew. He had done his job handling my call and, no doubt, felt he had done a good job. After all, I was the one with the faulty point of view, was I not? Only a fool would require directives that could be found in writing, even though that is precisely what every servant of Jah is told to expect when it comes to theocratic procedure. Not in this case, it would seem, but like the faithful drone said, I should have “known better” than to make a ruckus. My bad.

     I was quite certain that Bethel Bob was glad to be rid of me so that he could move on to the next caller, hopefully someone with more sense than to question the basis for rules that lacked sufficient scriptural backing. He had no worries over the conversation that had just transpired. And he definitely didn't know how helpful he had been to me to see yet another “microbe under the microscope” that had infected the “body” of the Organization...


     As you, dear reader, probably anticipated, the inevitable took place: Oliver, along with his brother, Cain, were both summarily disfellowshipped. A rebellious spirit and loose conduct were among the big reasons cited by the elders (at least to those they felt could be trusted with specifics, but then there was always the “local needs” part on the meeting that brought this out to the congregation, allowing its more perceptive members to recognize the tangential nature of the talk and put the pieces together).

     Unbeknownst to most at the time – and certainly never spoken of in the open – there was another more sinister and very political reason for the boys being put on 'spiritual ice': The event was a building block in a concentrated effort to remove Oliver and Cain's father as an elder, since the man bullied not only his wife and children but also every elder body he had served on, and many of the elders in Oliver's congregation had an ax to grind with dear ol' Daddy. It should be noted that their scheme eventually worked, and Davis was eventually removed as an elder by a new circuit overseer who felt my brother-in-law had “no true authority over his family” (I was still connected enough back then to persuade a few people “in the know” to let me in on a secret or two... in spite of all the warnings to the contrary by the Society, elders' wives made great confidants, but they could be coerced into revealing what they knew in a very cryptic fashion, if you knew how to direct the conversation accordingly and then 'read between the lines').

     I have to say that for all of his MANY faults, I never doubted Davis' sincerity in trying to lead whatever flock he had been assigned, even if it meant turning elders' meetings into screaming matches and teaching his children that they would always come second to any other kid in the congregation their father felt needed more attention and guidance... but that was and still is the fault of how the Society conditions its overseers (now coordinators or some 'easier on the ears' crap title) to take on more and more responsibility and, despite any flowery language in the Watchtower, place their own families dead last on the list of congregational priorities (after all, isn't family worship enough for those clingy ingrates?). Davis was just being a dutiful officer in God's Army of the Damned. And he paid a steep price for it.

     That circuit overseer never knew how close he came to having his face pounded to pulp out in the hall parking lot had not Davis physically restrained me. Where did this traveling manager get off passing such quick judgment on a man who had given almost his entire life in service to Jah, only to be dismissed without even a thank you for all the years of hard work and sacrifice? I knew the pain of being chewed-up and spat out by the theo-corporatized Organization, and my heart went out to Davis despite all he had done (or not done) to and for his family. Such goodwill on my part would not last very long, however, and as bitter irony would have it, I came even closer to doing to Davis what I had wanted to do to that circuit overseer, at the side of my father's death bed, no less. But, again, a story for another time...

     Of course, none of these back room conspiracies and Game of Podiums antics meant much to Oliver and his brother at this point. Cut off and cast out, depressed and filled with rage and resentment, they fell into bad groups of associates and equally bad situations, one after another, until they were chain-smoking heroin pushers that were addicted to their own product. Fronting a death metal band called Live To Hate, attempting suicide by shotgun, lashing out at anyone that dared to care for them, becoming informants for narcotics detectives in order to reduce prison sentences... this had become their lives. The upturned faces at the meetings, their gaze never leaving the Holiest of the Holy stage, smiled and nodded at regurgitated material from Mother, their thoughts never straying to wonder about the young former occupants of the now empty seats in their aisle, and if they did wonder, it was only for the briefest of moments. When any news of the boys happened to come to the congregation, the “friends” couldn't wait to gather in the back and discuss the latest juicy details on the two elder's sons' descent into moral oblivion. Serves them right for leaving! What further proof do we need that Satan's world destroys all that leave the bosom of God's Loving Organization? And besides, this doesn't qualify as gossip if they're disfellowshipped... After the announcement, it's open season on anyone who dares to turn their back on US! Now, don't we feel better about ourselves? Of course we do! So let's go sing some Kingdom Melodies with each other and pretend like we've never even masturbated!

     Such attitudes no doubt prevented many former “friends” of Oliver and Cain from feeling a normal human pang of distress when it was learned that Oliver was in the hospital fighting for his life after a fight with a Mexican gang outside of a Seven Eleven.

     As per usual, it was Cain who started the fight, mouthing off to a group of tattooed, rag-topped, wife-beater- shirted fellow patrons as he got a late night coffee with his brother. Chaos ensued in the parking lot, with Cain sent to the ground after a single punch. This was when bull-sized Oliver dove into the melee, tossing gang-bangers off his inert sibling's brutally savaged body. Oliver was still swinging at foes he had originally never intended to fight when he noticed he was losing strength and his feet were slipping on something wet. Looking down, he discovered ropes of blood leaping from his torso, timed perfect with every pound of his heart, his white tee shirt now a strange shade of dark red under the glare of the lot lights.

     Oliver went down into a deep pool of his own blood, reaching for his brother, thinking only of saving him as his sad world grew dim and quickly surrendered to total blackness.


     I raced to New York as soon as I heard the news...

     I found Oliver alive, barely awake but very glad and genuinely surprised to see me in his hospital room (he had become convinced no one from the extended family was going to pay HIM a visit, especially after what had taken place and why). “But you're still IN, Uncle Jason,” he croaked in a heart-breaking rasp. “I'm not worth all the fuss of running over here just for me.”

     “Stop that. You're family, no matter what. Besides, I'm more out than in these days.”

     Oliver had been stabbed in a lung. The doctors had not expected him to live through the night.

     A series of blood transfusions had saved his life (he had lost a typically lethal amount of blood, so there was no other way – not that anyone was there to protest in his “behalf”). Even now, after everything, Oliver couldn't fully shake the indoctrination of his youth: He felt a little ashamed that he had received blood. I assured him he had nothing to worry about with me.

     Cain, it turned out, walked away with some bruises and scratches and little recall of what started the whole mess (Oliver still bristles at this, as well as what a light-weight glass jaw his brother consistently proved to be – always starting fights then getting knocked out immediately, leaving Oliver to finish the feud and save his butt... Oliver began to suspect Cain of feigning unconsciousness, and this was not beyond the realm of possibility when it came to that sociopathic serial antagonist, himself a product of many put-downs from hectoring elders and fatherly punches to the head, as I found out about later). He never dropped in on his valiantly protective bro.

     Davis had come by to see his son. He let Oliver know that HE was disappointed about the blood.

     He also made it clear that none of Oliver's brothers and sisters were going to be allowed to visit him since he was still disfellowshipped and showing no signs of trying to return to Jehovah. Oliver loved and missed his many siblings, having cared for them over the years the best he could as the eldest son, and this hurt him deeply. He felt he had let them down and was being punished for his sins.

     “They know you, Oliver, who you really are. They will never forget that.”

     “I just wish I could have seen them again. I think it would have really picked up my spirits, y'know? Helped me heal faster or something. I don't know.”

     “I can't speak for them. I know it hurts, and maybe some day we'll talk about how wrong all of this is. But you at least have me here. Not much, I know, but I guess I'll have to do.”

     “No, Uncle Jason, it means a lot that you're here... thanks so much for coming...”

     Oliver began to drift off, still very weak from his injury, with many weeks of recovery ahead of him. Before fully falling asleep, he smirked. “Huh.”

     “What is it, Oliver?”

     “I just noticed... you got a beard now...”


     It was a long road for Oliver, with more than a few stories yet to tell about it, but he has done quite well for himself. Married to a loving and loyal woman (a Born-Again Christian! The horror!) who saved both his and Cain's lives on more than one occasion, he has been clean for over five years ( mostly thanks to her, but also to his steadfast determination to avoid relapses with co-workers who were users – and seemingly impossible to avoid!), as well as having completed trade school and is now gainfully employed, which allows him to finally feel like he's “contributing” to his marriage's financial needs.

     We stay in touch, as much as possible for two busy guys in two different states. I always let him know what his father (and mine) never revealed: That he makes me proud, and that he could never disappoint me. This helps his damaged sense of self-worth, but it doesn't change how out of alignment the whole family dynamic has become.

     He still misses his brothers and sisters.

     They (those still in the 'truth') still run and hide whenever they see him. And they're all adults now!

     Could have all been avoided if Oliver had just shaved those darn side burns, right?

     Some would say yes (and you know who you are! Shame on you for reading apostate literature!).

     But the rest of us need to look at this with bigger eyes than that, especially if you've just started spotting all those rusty bolts and sparking wires around you in the Organization...


     It would appear that anywhere from 30 – 50 % of men these days have chosen to sport some form of beard. Why should this concern the Organization? Well, when so many already have facial hair and live and work in environments where this is perfectly acceptable, the few that decide to pop in on a Witness meeting to 'see what it's all about' are bound to notice so many gleaming, bare cheeks and chins in comparison to their own and what they're used to seeing around them; in fact, they have noticed, and learning that they would eventually be required to remove their beards in the name of furthering their service to the All Mighty (sure, there's a lot of hemming and hawing on the subject initially by the 'friends', but these ones find out in time) is quite often a real deal-breaker. Why is that, if it is such a 'small matter'?

     Because most people recognize infringement on their personal choices when they see it.

     If for no other reason than just trying to stop scaring away potential converts, it would behoove the Society to change its manner and attitude of handling this issue.

     Interestingly, the incredibly imperfect leaders at Watchtower HQ have chosen to do absolutely nothing about their stand on beards, continuing their peculiar balancing act of trying to create the impression they are of an accommodating spirit and respectful of anyone's personal tastes, while establishing a strident approach to handling choosers of hirsute hackles, yet couching all their rhetoric in maddeningly cryptic terminology.

    Just recently, a brother 'of standing' inquired of the Society why there was such disparity in all the congregations in various countries, not to mention how wildly differing the views were right here in the States, when it came to facial hair. A three page letter was sent in response. The content of this missive demonstrated how little had changed since I had spoken to the Bethel Writing Department rep. It also continued the call to avoid upsetting the “community” of the congregation, and to note how the local 'friends' tend to react to the sight of bearded brothers (or even the mere thought of them) and proceed accordingly. How could so little have changed on this in an organization that switched up its protocols and positions more times than an entire football league? And how could so many of the rank and file publishers (not even mentioning the control-freak elders out there) have such strong opinions on the matter when there is still anything but clarity being offered from the Top Brass?

     Ex-JW Critical Thinker has opined that this is all a result of the Witness CULTURE, and has gone on to present a thorough yet concise explanation of this on one of his You Tube videos. I do not disagree with this. However, I must point out that culture of any kind can and often will become a source of divisiveness among people, and this is definitely no exception. Where this particular culture stands out from others is the way it leads otherwise rational persons into a very irrational way of thinking that they feel very strongly about yet can't articulate why, nor do they even bother to question its validity. So why become alarmed? Because it is a clear sign of CULTISM.

     Mind control of this kind is the most pernicious of all, taking effect gradually, usually without becoming noticed, until it is too late.

     Now the person is susceptible to almost any command or suggestion, as long as it comes from the source they have been conditioned to accept. It no longer matters if the source is wrong, or if the source doesn't even provide a clear policy; the victim of indoctrination will uphold allegiance to the source regardless of circumstance, and can even make decisions that are sure to be approved by the source, based on nothing more than a carefully trained view of the world and everything in it, whether it be Bible prophecies on events, the general spirit of mankind, or the minutiae of details that comprise every day life.

     Additionally, the source cultivates a sense of esprit de corps among its recipients, getting followers to feel a sense of belonging to one another, recognizing that there is safety in numbers, and ultimately that it's “US against THEM.” Now if one stumbles in the indoctrination process, another can be there to pick that one up, so to speak. And if another errs... That one is pointed to, singled out and handed over to the authorities. Fear for one's self becoming found out and caught over anything that might stumble is inculcated in the individual until it becomes a paramount driving force in the person's entire existence. Personal rights get surrendered out of a sense of self-preservation, an attempt to avoid becoming a source of agitation to this now desperately needed group. The so-called “herd mentality” takes over, until there are no more individuals, only a mass of bodies and minds that function as one.

     Care for a side of red pill with your Borg, anyone? (It is quite amazing how many sci-fi analogies there are for this situation and lifestyle!)

COGNITIVE DISSONANCE is often a resulting condition of many subjected to enslavement to a cult way of living. This is a topic covered often by ex-JW's, and covered well, especially by the creators of this web site that features my articles. For this reason, I will not continue at length so as to not beat a perished equine, but I need to highlight how cognitive dissonance can be both a bane and a boon – the former a cause for mental anguish and, more frequent than not, mental breakdown... and the latter a catalyst for “waking up” when a person stops looking away from the contradictions and disappointments and starts staring directly at them, seeing them for what they truly are: The cracks, the poor welds, the rusty bolts, the sparking wires, the wriggling microbes under the magnifying lens...

     The person gains a clarity long missed in that one's life, and with clarity comes recall...

     Of all the other duly-noted yet invariably dismissed systemic weaknesses, miniscule on their own, but together...

     A powerful and urgent reason to pause and reconsider.

     For me, the secret War of the Whiskers was my “thing that made me go, hmmm...”(one of many)

     Such a small matter. Yet so revealing of the unwieldiness of the tightly-controlled operation the Governing Body has set upon unsuspecting people who wanted nothing more than to have a hope of never dying and seeing long lost loved ones once again. Thanks to these power-obsessed mortals, we have all dreamed a beautiful dream...

     And like the best dreams, it pretty much sucked to wake up from.

     But just like in real life, if we never woke up, we'd miss out on doing anything worthwhile, being with people who truly love us, gaining actual knowledge about how the world works, as well as the universe it is a part of. Waking up is a true good, a great thing. It is essential to our survival. As a people.

     More importantly, as individuals.

     So go on – keep asking those questions, looking for answers NO MATTER WHERE they come from; think your own thoughts for a change, and DON'T STOP; stay on the look-out for and help others who are taking the same journey back to wakefulness, not being afraid to share your stories of entrapment within the Watch-Dark-Tower, just like I and many others are willing to share our thoughts, discoveries and experiences to help YOU.

     Even grow a beard if you feel like it (and if you can).

     As cliched as it sounds, just make sure to BE YOURSELF, from now on.

     You might find it suits you.

     Thanks for reading! This is “The Extreme”, reminding everyone to keep it down the middle!

     “The Extreme” has only shaved his beard off once since the disfellowshipping of Oliver.

     Stay hirsute my friends!

War of the Whiskers Part One

by "The Extreme"

Marvels of Man:

A skyscraper. A transcontinental airliner. A suspension bridge. The space shuttle. Our own bodies...

Each of them a wonder of the physical realm.

And each of them capable of being destroyed by the most minute of weaknesses: A hairline crack in the foundation; a shoddy weld joint; a rust-corroded bolt; a defective wire; a disease-carrying microbe.

One small problem that adds to another, then another, until...


Hi there.

          My name is Jason. I faded quite some time ago – before that was even a term, to my knowledge – from the rank and file of the Jehovah's Witnesses Organization. At the time, my seemingly casual confidence in my position as one who had become “inactive” apparently rattled the typically brittle resolve of certain “faithful” relatives and they began to warn each other of my “extreme apostasy”, despite the fact I had never tried to influence anyone's belief or disbelief. Hearing of this, my son was reminded of a certain storm-chasing character in the movie Twister who had been dubbed “The Extreme” for his reckless nature and methods; hence, the appellation at the top of this article (you will find that irony comes free and easy here in my world).

          In the years leading up to my departure from full-time indoctrination (I had once served as a regular pioneer*, a ministerial servant*, preached where “the need was greater”* – twice! – performed as a villainous bible character in a convention drama*, participated as a tradesman in several “quick-build” Kingdom Hall projects*, was a close associate to three members of the “anointed class”* – best friend and nearly best man to and for one of them –, and was born into a large JW family that had powerful connections to BETHEL*, as well as to the GOVERNING BODY* itself), I discovered rather quickly that the Body of Elders, the Circuit and District Overseers, the Bethel Family, and pretty much anyone who was determined to never “wake up” from the dangerous fantasy of Kingdom Good News were rabidly fearful of two things:

          Logic                                                                                               *Easily looked up JW terms if unfamiliar

          ...and questions that required straight answers which were, in themselves, logical.

          Of this I have many, many, many examples, but for the purpose of this article, I will limit the scope of the discussion to a single topic: Facial Hair (yes, wiseacre, I'm referring to men only).

          An innocuous subject, right? Maybe for the rest of the world. But in the JW community, this is a cause for both great confusion and contention, largely due to the fact the rules concerning beards, mustaches, sideburns and any variation of them are deliberately obscure. It is a head (and face) scratching anomaly for an administrative body (its collective whole known by the rather sinister-sounding moniker, the Society) that has otherwise shown a predilection to control its followers with edict-laden codes of conduct, choosing instead – for this one topic in particular – to allow the rules to be inferred rather than beaten into conditioned-to-accept minds through normal channels of indoctrination, namely the “straight from God” yet consistently overturned teachings found in the printed word, and the currently preferred tool of brain bludgeoning, the queasily guilt-inducing video presentation.

          Even when the subject is brought up by appointed leaders in the congregations, the Society – with its Writing and Service Departments – seems content to present responses to concerns that could be considered at best hollow and evasive, filling their missives and phone conversations with rhetoric that achieve – to paraphrase Bill Shakespeare – a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, as well as placing the onus for decision-making on the matter squarely on the often unqualified shoulders of local elders; in other words, the ol' “I'm rubber and you're glue” treatment of culpability when the Society is too overwhelmed by the complexities inherent in a certain subject but want to appear like they've got a handle on things, thus retaining their iron-fisted authority in all fields of thought and discussion, regardless of how mundane.

          Yes, folks, the Governing Body and its hench-scribes have essentially hedged their bets on this one, counting on all members of their organization to carry on in the way they themselves are willing to, not taking the subject too seriously and just following suit with indigenous customs, never insisting on personal preferences but blindly submitting to the whims and tastes of their Society-assigned middle-management types. Unfortunately, like most things in life, this is something that truly isn't very serious... until it is.

          Like when congregation leaders start “straining the gnat” and “gulping the camel” ad nauseam, their limited power left unchecked and unchallenged until oversized egos and idiosyncratic tics dominate all decisions made in behalf of the “flock”, resulting in a young man's spiritual life becoming tossed upon the excommunication chopping block over an extra inch of whiskers about the ear.

          It would be silly, if it was silly. But it was not.

          This was the case with my nephew, whom we shall refer to as “Oliver.” My examination of this issue – which, by all rights, should have been a non-issue – led to my exposing a fatal flaw in the Society's managerial mindset and control mechanism tactics, a small problem with the potential to lead the Organization to disaster in every way possible by shining glaring illumination upon the hubris found within the self-appointed masters over “God's things”, a haughty attitude of “untouchableness” that will cause them to ignore the storm surge of disquiet that is rushing over their expensively Florsheimed feet.

          So here is my study of the short and long-term effects of a facet of worship that, in the spirit of my preamble, could be viewed as a small link in an inevitable chain reaction toward organizational destruction, originally delved into for the purpose of trying to help one of God's allegedly beloved “little sheep” stay in the “fold” of the equally alleged united “worldwide brotherhood”...


          Oliver was the oldest of eight. He often spent copious amounts of time with his rambunctious and manipulative third-born brother, Cain (another name change, natch). Getting in trouble within the congregation inevitably ensued with these two, with Oliver splitting his time looking after and being influenced by his younger sibling. A move to a neighboring congregation to “spiritually strike out on their own” did little to alleviate matters; in fact, it made things worse for the boys.

          Cain was always his own worst enemy, and still is. Oliver, on the other hand, had a sweet, sensitive nature about him, one that shown through no matter how much he tried to hide it with urban-styled clothing and loud, angry music.

          And facial hair,

          His elders, of course, focused on only his outside appearance, fearing how his unkempt grooming habits might in some way bring reproach upon God's congregation. Needless to say, summons to the back room were aplenty. Showing an interest with one of the local young sisters also served to complicate Oliver's situation, subjecting him to more counsel and discipline whenever TEAM TATTLE from among his peers thought they saw him alone with his quasi-girlfriend (a big courtship no-no with JW's).

          To his credit, Oliver tried to “clean up his act” as it were, donning suits and footwear that were less baggy and casual in the estimation of the congregation shepherds. He also decided upon the radical act of burning his “hate-filled” music, and even got Cain to join him. SIDEBAR: It should be noted that this particular pyrotechnical action had taken place some time before the events of which I am now writing, but is included here to show the lengths my nephew would go to in trying to please the elders, specifically his own father... a man who would go on to denounce the music-burning as a “non-serious display of youthful folly” owed to the fact that Oliver had supposedly made a “mockery” of the “sacrifice to God” when he chose to dance with his brother around the album pyre (more on this delightful individual later).

          Oliver got himself a “respectable” haircut. He even shaved.

          It would appear he missed a couple spots in the eyes of the elders, and they were keen to notice.

          Taking full advantage of the Society's vague guidelines (esp. at that time, circa 2001), the elders sought to expand the definition of “loose conduct” (as mentioned in the Bible, a very UN-Christian trait) to include “inappropriate” dress and grooming; in this case, the issue of sideburns being below the edge of the earlobe instead of above.

          At this point, Oliver was too disgusted and beat-down to have the energy or will to comply, honestly arriving at the conclusion that nothing he did mattered; these men were going to find something wrong with him regardless of any efforts on his part to placate them. Of course, he was absolutely correct, and very soon the formation of a judicial committee loomed large – not for any of the real Bible-based “serious sins” they merely suspected him of committing (e.g. fornication), but for the “serious sin” they had invented, relishing their imminent conquest with all the gusto of accountants that had just discovered Al Capone's felonious tax records. Oliver's life in theocratic service to Jehovah hung by a whisker. Literally.

          This was where I came in.


          I had come to learn of Oliver's predicament during a visit with my family on Long Island, NY. I knew that Oliver and Cain had been exhibiting “rebellious tendencies” of late, but I had assumed their move to another congregation (and away from their father, himself an elder for many years) had been a sign of perhaps a trend toward the positive. I was quite stunned to find out how hard the local elders were working to throw out my kin instead of trying to save them (or maybe they were just using the most punitive methods available to them to save my nephews and felt it necessary to eschew the more loving ones, if I was to give the elders any credit for caring at all, albeit in a twisted way, but of course, that would have been a stretch with these characters).

          I was even more shocked to learn that Oliver's father STOOD BY the counsel of his fellow elders next door. I failed to see how they were being anything like “a shadowy crag in a desert” or a life-saving “stream in a waterless region” (wording of these scriptural quotes may vary depending on which Bible translation you use). Far more baffling and disconcerting to me was watching a father who could not be bothered to even make a plea for mercy in behalf of his son, let alone two sons.

          “The elders don't come to the point of initiating judicial protocols lightly,” he said. “I'm sure my boy gave them sufficient cause. I trust them. Not him.”

          Talk about “no natural affection”! I honestly did not know how to respond to this. All I knew was that if my own son would ever have had to face a similar situation, he would have been able to count on a FIGHT against such rank pedantry from his father!

          Then there was the item of the charge that was about to serve as a catalyst to theocratic capital punishment: The length of sideburns. On this, I was able to find my voice: “It would seem the leaders of the congregation are looking for more ways to kick people out than to keep them in!” I railed. “How could it have possibly come down to this: Sideburns! Am I the only one that can see how crazy this is? Back in Pennsylvania the brothers serving there have MUTTONCHOPS for crying out loud! Why such a severe disparity? But you don't even have to travel that far... YOU guys have longer sideburns right here in YOUR congregation. YOU have sideburns at least as long as your son's! How can those elders justify coming up with this as proof of wickedness? Wouldn't that mean all of you other elders and especially the ones back at my home congregation are all serious sinners too?”

          “Every elder body has the right to determine what's best for its flock. It all depends on the views of the community.”

          “But you're in the same community! You share the same [Kingdom] hall!”

          “We have different territories.”

          “I seriously doubt the opinions of people over side burn length change that radically depending on which side of William Floyd Parkway they live on.”

          “None of that matters. It comes down to modesty. The elders know more about what's going on in their communities than anyone else, and therefore know what would be appropriate dress and grooming for the friends they preside over. We simply have to trust and support their decisions. THAT is our only theocratic imperative here – to obey.”

           “But YOU'RE and elder! Would this be how you and the rest of your congregation elders would handle this situation?”

          “I can't speak for everybody, nor would I want to.”

          “Humor me, Davis.” (Yet another name change)

          “Well... Probably not. Still doesn't matter. I'm not going to use my position to influence a judicial committee.”

          “Why does it even have to come down to judicial proceedings? You've known these guys for years.

          "Can't you reason with them before this goes too far?”

          “It's not my place, elder or not.”

          “But your Oliver's FATHER!”

          “And now he's in his heavenly father's hands.”

I was getting nowhere with my brother-in-law. I didn't fare much better with anyone else I spoke to during my visit, including Oliver: They were all resigned to whatever fate God had laid out, He of inconsistent regulations.

          But I wasn't giving up yet. I couldn't; it just wasn't in my nature, as evidenced by the word choices of others used in describing my personality: relentless, tenacious, unreasonable (i.e. "He's the MOST unreasonable man I have ever met in all my years as an elder!” – true quote), and intellectually arrogant. I had to find some clarifying scripture or at least a differing point of view from the Society in an earlier publication to help these brothers see a more loving and merciful route to take in their attempts to 'adjust' my nephew. After all, Oliver and his brother were really just kids – fully grown, yes, but completely illiterate in the ways of the world and therefore grievously unprepared for life outside of the Organization. If no one else would, I had to do something in their behalf, especially for poor Oliver, whose only real “sin” was that he loved his errant sibling so much that he couldn't resist looking after him, which often meant following him right into whatever trouble Cain had cooked up, and in this case, it was flouting the authority of the elders. Oliver's attempts to do an about-face appeared to have come too late. Was I also out of time? When it came to poring over the archives found in my (then) vast theocratic library, one thing was certain: Speed was of the essence.


          As soon as I got home, I hit the books, the Bible included.

          After hours of flipping pages, scrolling down margin notes, and cross-referencing (computers with their interNETS were considered too much a part of Satan's world back then), I had come up with only two things, both in connection to BEARDS:

          First, an article in the August 15 Watchtower of 1975 that included an anecdote involving typically nameless and therefore unresearchable individuals, which focused on a young newcomer to the door-to-door preaching work who met with some cantankerous old crone that perceived him as part of an equally unidentified student revolt. This was apparently due to the hapless fellah's beard, and no amount of reasoning and reassurance could convince her otherwise, resulting in a closed door and, presumably, a life lost forever because of a misunderstanding about cheeks carpeted with curly-cue hairs. The “parable” finished with the man realizing the need to shave his shame, having seen the “practical” need to do so out of godly duty and to avoid further “bloodguilt”.

          Second, a single scripture, Leviticus 19:27: “You must not cut your sidelocks short around, and you must not destroy the extremity of your beard.” (NWT) Today, it seems, only the most Orthodox of the Jewish faith adhere to this rule. (It is interesting to note that the very next scripture is the one that forbids tattoos, a topic that the Society has been very vocal on, thus illustrating yet another fissure in the proverbial foundation: The Governing Body's reckless habit of “cherry-picking” which Old Testament examples and Mosaic Law precepts it chooses to consider as valid and relevant under the Law of Christ).

          But that was it... That was all I could come up with: An ominously implied rule presented via a fuzzily constructed object lesson, accompanied by a passive-aggressive query to the reader unfortunate enough to have opened that particular issue of the Watchtower: “Would you be willing to do the same [shaving your Satan scruff] or to make similar adjustments if your appearance gave the wrong impression in a certain community?”... and a very clearly specified rule from God's Word to NOT shave your beard, a rule that was undoubtedly enforced at the time of the writing under the pain of death. 

          I couldn't report back to anyone with just this paltry amount of info; I was really no better off from my research than when I was first arguing the case without any backing whatsoever from theocratic material. Sure, there had been a few other references to beards in the publications, but they mostly dwelt on the why's and wherefore's of beard appropriateness back in Bible times (including a notably bizarre argument in 1954 against Jesus having a beard, pertaining in part to there being no record of Romans plucking mercilessly at the Messiah's cheeks (a form of torture on record during the reign of Caesars) but instead the holy face plates had been merely slapped – ergo, pristine skin; and then a 1968 argument for the complete opposite, detailing the reasons for why Jesus MUST have had a beard, that there was no other way to think on the matter, and let's just pretend that 1954 thing never happened... in any case, New Light! So there. Nyah.)

          But the 1975 WT article contained, in my opinion, the strongest suggestion for keeping strict watch on woolliness, at least at the time I was digging into my bound volumes and such. As for the scripture cited – if anything, that just served to contradict any negative stance on growing beards, let alone long side burns, but that couldn't be right... could it?

          I realized there and then that the only way I was going to gain full understanding and clarification on the subject of facial hair was to go to the “well-spring” and “fount” of “accurate knowledge” itself:

          I had to call BETHEL.

          Then it would all make sense to me...

          Read the provocative details of my conversation with a member of the Writing Department in the exciting conclusion of, “WAR OF THE WHISKERS”. The transcript – taken from my extensive notes on the incident – will be sure to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. And, of course, on your face too!

Do your blinders still fit?

by Anonymous Recovering EX-JW

 Imagine a world in which you have resided in from birth, but you never allowed to participate in it. Imagine a state of mind in which you are told you are free, but yet you have this palpable pall of disconnection hanging over you internally. Imagine an entire community support system of friends and family that is solely contingent on your acceptance of their religious world view. Imagine a mindset since your earliest memories where you are convinced an earthly Armageddon waged by an invisible God is never more than a few years away. Imagine having been given special knowledge, but not understanding why so few are given it. Imagine being told you are apart of the “Happiest people on the planet”, but not understanding why you feel so stifled, unfulfilled and unhappy inside. What is wrong with me you ask yourself?

    However, imagine one day taking off the blinders that have been custom fitted to your face since before your birth and gradually ever-so-gently tightened by your parents as you’ve grown. Only to realize after 35yrs you’ve been staring at the same microscopic corner of a much bigger painting known as life.  

    If this sounds familiar to you, you are not alone. While we all have our own stories to tell, personality differences, genetic makeup, unique childhoods and countless other factors that guarantees an infinite array of possibilities as to why each of us are here at this very moment. But there are also many similarities. Being apart of a religion that is really better defined as a totalitarian, group doctrine over person, world view construct that completely defines you as a person will tend to bring out similar mental states of it’s participants regardless of our differences. Feelings of loss of our individuality, loss of our ability to make our own decisions, overriding feelings of internal guilt, never feeling we can do enough, never attaining any lasting sense of inner peace, never feeling we can truly be ourselves, not knowing who we really are in the first place, constantly critiquing our every thought & action, feeling we can’t do this anymore but yet decades of time pass and we’re still at the same place. Mentally & emotionally stagnated. Physically exhausted. But yet this is all you’ve ever known, this is familiar to you. Thoughts of anything other than this are scary. We feel stuck.  

    This is the human commonality of being a Jehovah’s Witness more often than not. It’s even more true at deeper level if you were born into a Jehovah’s Witness family. Country boundaries, polictical boundaries, differing continents or varied cultures make no difference. The human mind can be imprisoned regardless of any of these factors. 

     Just for example, consider the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights bestowed upon every man, woman and child on the planet as basic, minimum, individual human rights. And contrast that with what you know from your experience to your world view as being a JW. Simply Google the UN human rights list and read all 30 articles. Then take a moment and consider if being a JW allows you at least this much personal freedom and rights at a minimum. Then also consider how much a perfect, loving, creator would no doubt be far superior with his earthly organization and people than Satan’s evil world governments regarding these basic human rights. Cognitive dissonance anyone?

    This is just one simple exercise. This is called allowing your mind to think. If you’re a long time  JW, this is some scary stuff! It’s scary because we’re not used to being able to think for ourselves. Independent thinking is Satanic per the Watchtower. We are told the entire world is conspiring with the dark lord to try to confuse us and get us to stray from “the truth®”(JW patent pending). Of the 7,400,000,000 Billion people on planet Earth only 8,000,000 Million JW (0.1% of earths population) have it right. The other 99.9% of humans walking around the planet can only be viewed in two possible ways: 1) as possible converts or 2) as a food source for vultures after Armageddon feasting on their dead bodies.

    Take this one JW worldview mindset and multiply that by 1000..from birth..over decades of your life… and you have someone like me. This does not even consider the Behavior controls in every aspect of your life, the Information Control, Thought Control and Emotional Control incurred by the religion. This does not take into consideration shunning by family members, ignoring your existence as a person or the loss of your entire familial support system based solely on a lack of your participation in your parents religion. This does not even scratch the surface of all the years lost dedicated to a cause that you never actually even investigated and consciously chose for yourself. This is the life you were born into and you've been on mindless automatic pilot ever since. And you’re just now realizing this for the first time.

     Perhaps it's time to remove life’s blinders who’ve been wearing and allow yourself the possibility of something more. A life of unconditional acceptance. A chance to truly examine who you are as a unique individual. A chance to explore your talents and interests. A chance to participate in life for the first time. An finally a chance to be your own authentic self.

     So again I ask you…Do your blinders still fit?