As this school year draws to a close I am able to sit back and ponder on the progress I have made with my girls and I’ll be honest……I am pretty proud of how far we’ve come. But there are still things I agonize over. Yesterday was a good example of one of them. I was volunteering in my youngest daughter’s kindergarten class for the final time, as the official Lego block bean bag toss moderator for the year end party. (it was more labor intensive than one might think) Most parents in my position would sign themselves up to help out and not even give it a second thought. I don’t have that luxury. I thought long and hard about whether I should go at all.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog, there is a student in my daughter’s class who is being raised as a Jehovah’s Witness by his parents. There is no doubt in my mind that his parents have already shared with him how he is supposed to feel towards me, since I am a disfellowshipped former member. Worse yet…..I was disfellowshipped for the unspeakable…..unforgivable sin of apostasy (failure to accept teachings as handed down by leadership). The following are samples of the rhetoric shared with small children regarding the proper way to view ex-JWs.
The April 15, 2013 edition of the Watchtower, page 11 (JW Publication) describes such former members as “gangrenous”. The August 18, 2011 entry in Examining the Scriptures Daily, page 83, says “apostates display characteristics similar to those of the devil.” The July 15, 2011 edition of the Watchtower, page 11, says “apostates are mentally diseased…….we do not speak to them”. The February 15, 2004 edition of the Watchtower, page 28, describes former members as having “twisted, poisonous reasoning”. The November 1, 1993 Watchtower, page 19, says that current JWs should “feel a loathing” toward former members because they “have made themselves God’s enemies.” The July 1, 1994 Watchtower, page 12, says that these former members sit “at the table of demons” and that soon at Armageddon, these ones “will be forced to attend a literal meal, no, not as partakers, but as the main course to their destruction.” Finally, the 2008 publication Keep Yourself in God’s Love, pages 207-208 explains how Jehovah’s Witnesses should react to such ones. It says “Is strict avoidance really necessary? Yes”.
It is no secret that former Jehovah’s Witnesses are vilified by the organization. The above quotes show both how a current Jehovah’s Witness should view such a person and how he/she should treat the person as well. He/she should avoid and loathe such individuals……and why? Because they are told to by leadership. Leadership does a masterful job of inducing the rank and file to apply mass, generalized libel and slander, as heard in sermons and as read in publications, on an individualized basis congregation by congregation……person to person. This is how they maintain retention. This is how they maintain control.
Think about it. If you are a JW child (or adult for that matter) and you have heard for your entire life that former members are bad…..demonic…..and seek to destroy you……are you going to want to strike a friendship with one? Likely not. If leadership can convince the masses (and they have so far) to have a superstitious fear of former members……a fear that is driven by lies and perpetuated by exaggerations……they stand a much better chance of continuing to control those members…..thus maintaining retention. Most former members are former members for a reason. They’ve managed to cut through the doublespeak. They’ve taken notice of the hypocrisy. They’re fed up with the scholarly and intellectual dishonesty routinely displayed in JW publications. Their tired of JWs unnecessarily dying due to leadership’s rigid stance on blood. They won’t allow leadership to bury their mounds of failed prophecies anymore. And they are sickened by the way leadership handles child abuse situations. They’ve done their research, and the facts expose this religion to be a dangerous and controlling cult. Leadership knows this…..which is why former members are vilified so much. If they can make current members so afraid of ex-JWs that they refuse to speak to them……then current members will never know what the former member has found out. It’s a silencing technique. It’s genius. It’s insidious.
And this all brings me back to my conundrum. I worried about whether or not I should help out at school. Not because I didn’t want to. But because I knew what would happen. When I came to read stories to the class months earlier…….this poor JW child panicked and asked to be dismissed from story time because of his fear of me. A fear created by the leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses…….instilled by his parents……and perpetuated by their teachings and publications.
I feared the same thing would happen this time. But my fear wasn’t for poor old me. Yes, honestly, it hurts to be shunned. We all have a need for human contact and conversation. The more it is denied to us…..the more vulnerable and less loved we feel. And for me….it is especially hurts when it is coming from a child. Simply put…..I love being a dad. I love passing out popsicles to all the neighborhood kids on a hot summer day. I love spontaneous water fights. I love being the “big bad wolf” at the playground and chasing all the kids (I inevitably make one cry each time). So yeah…..when you come to the realization that there are children out there that truly think you are a dangerous monster……it kinda hurts.
My fear was for him. As I was setting up my station for the big party, I made eye contact with him. Up until that point, he had no idea I was there. I watched as he went directly to the teachers to discuss the situation of what my presence in the classroom meant for him. At least I think that’s what was talked about because I never saw him again after that. At the very least…..he skipped my station that day. At the very worst, he skipped the whole party. And why? To avoid contamination from me.
What’s agonizing is the knowledge I have that the decisions I make in regard to how involved I am in my daughter’s class will have an impact on the rest of HIS childhood. How so? Consider this. If I had stayed at work that day and NOT volunteered to help out…….this young boy would have been able to enjoy the entire party. He would not have felt the need to separate himself away to avoid contact with me. That’s what is so hard. He will be in my daughter’s grade until they graduate. And contrary to what JWs teach about me……I am not an evil ogre. I enjoy helping out when I can and my daughter deserves to have me there for her at school. She is only going to be young once. Yet every time I volunteer……it’s one less time this poor little boy gets to be normal. Every time I volunteer, it is one more time he has to go ostracize himself to get away from me.
It’s hard for me because I was that boy 30 years ago. I was raised as a JW. I had that superstitious fear of former members. I am today……the person I was warned about as a child……..the person I was afraid of as a kid……..the person I would have ostracized myself from others to get away from. So I know what he is going through. I know the automatic distrust he has. And I know that nobody understands him. It is hard enough as a JW child to excuse yourself from birthdays…..holidays…..the pledge of allegiance etc. The older your school mates get, the more questions they have. And the more questions they have the more abnormal you feel. When my school mates would ask why I wasn’t participating in something at school I never knew how to react. Sometimes I would lie and say I was in trouble. Sometimes I would just blame my parents and say they won’t let me. Sometimes I would try explaining what I was and was not allowed to believe. Sometimes the other kids would understand. Sometimes they would just shrug their shoulders and walk away.
But imagine being a child who STILL can’t participate in school activities that have no connection to holidays, birthdays or patriotism…..simply because I am there. NOW what do you tell your school mates? Those kids already know that I am not the poisonous danger he thinks I am. His fear of me and his shunning of me will only serve to make him look bad in front of others. His class mates simply won’t understand. “You have to excuse yourself because xxxxx’s dad is here? Seriously?” It’s just one more thing to add to an already full plate of quirks that make a JW child seem weird and anti-social. And sadly, it’s just what JW leadership wants. They stack the deck against a child from the very beginning with their teachings and mandates. Then they say “only true worshippers of God will be persecuted in the time of the end”. Then the small child gets flooded with questions from school mates because of his/her peculiarities. These questions are interpreted by the child as the foretold “persecution”, which helps to solidify the child’s trust in leadership. At no point does the child reason that it was the trusted leadership of the organization that created the “persecution” to begin with.
This is why I struggle. Every time I want to feel good about volunteering…….I am met with the realization that by doing so, this poor JW boy will be forced to 1 – not participate and 2- face questioning from his school mates as to why. It breaks my heart to know that I have to choose between being a part of my daughter’s life at school and making this little boy’s life BETTER by NOT being there. The fact that I truly struggle with these decisions shows me that I’m not quite the vicious ogre the JWs make me out to be. Now if only I could get them to see that.