Slamming the door on Jehovah Witnesses, et al….


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From THE AGE
Australia

She is an apostate, which sounds like a strange disease, and in many ways it is. According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Bec Taylor of Traralgon, since she escaped from them, is unable to have a life worth living.

In 2011, The Watch-tower, the scripture magazine for the bizarre yet outwardly benign Christian sect, described those who abandon the church as “mentally diseased” outcasts, or apostates, who “seek to infect others with their disloyal teachings”.

They can be “shunned” – cut off from their families and, according to ex-members, subjected to bullying, threats, harassment and stalking to lure them back. Families are told that if they mix with their apostate children, they are traitors too.

Even minor infringements within the Jehovah’s Witnesses such as smoking can result in “disfellowshipping”, and disfellowshipped people can also be shunned.

Critics of the religion call the practice psychologically and emotionally harmful.

Many ex-members do not speak publicly for fear of reprisals. But not Taylor, 29. She was a Jehovah’s Witness in South Australia and then Queensland for most of her life until just a few months ago. She was born into them. Now she cannot speak to her family and was not invited to her late mother’s wedding.

Her story covers two most troubling aspects of the religion she calls the “Jo-Ho’s” – shunning and the harm it can cause and, more disturbing still, persistent allegations of sexual abuse and even paedophilia by church elders and members.

Victoria’s current state inquiry into how churches handle child sex abuse has submissions from former Jehovah’s Witnesses.

One includes allegations from four states including rape, sexual assault, blackmail and death threats. There will also be a national royal commission.

“I don’t need an apology from them,” says Taylor, “and I don’t need their love or forgiveness.”

She has started an arts degree in anthropology. Education is discouraged within the sect. “It is my final victory over them,” she says. “It is a giant f— you.”

Taylor says she grew up in a dysfunctional family and was sexually abused as a child by a teenage boy who was not a Jehovah’s Witness. This was in remote South Australia. She says her mother, a devout but erratic Witness – she never knew her father – was also abused as a child and nothing was done or reported, so the pattern continued.

The church’s rule for dealing with complaints or suspicions of sexual abuse is that generally there must be two witnesses. The Jehovah’s Witnesses consider they are the only ones who know the truth, or “The Truth”; they are suspicious of government, police and media when it conflicts with their doctrine.

British sociologist and author Andrew Holden, who has written books on the religion’s culture, calls this a “world-renouncing” approach. Members are not allowed to vote, celebrate Christmas or birthdays, get blood transfusions, sing the national anthem or salute a flag.

But, also, if a member or an elder hears of illegal behaviour, such as abuse or violence, it is usually kept internal. “To protect Jehovah’s name,” says an insider.

Taylor says in her teens she was again sexually assaulted, this time by a devout Witness. Nothing was ever reported to police. Taylor says she stayed with the church because she had low self-esteem and the Jehovah’s Witnesses offered her some hope: “the illusion of a better life,” she says. “I didn’t want to break Jehovah’s heart.”

She began caring for her ill mother, was baptised as a Witness and doorknocked every day to fulfil a quota set for her of 90 hours a month. Doorknocking, also known as “pioneering” or “publishing”, is the recruitment front line; most Australians have answered their door to a pair of Witnesses offering The Watchtower or Awake! magazines.

By the age of 18, Taylor, a smart and feisty young woman, had begun working as a South Australian advocate for Young Carers Australia and had contributed to policy developed by senator Amanda Vanstone, the then Minister for Family and Community Services. Taylor was also offered work experience and training as a journalist with ABC radio in Renmark. But she says “pressure and hatred” from her fellow Witnesses, and suspicion of her being too educated or upwardly mobile, forced her to turn down the offers in order to stay door-to-door preaching. She got a part-time job cleaning toilets instead.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses are puritanical Christians who think they have God’s messages to themselves. Only they are “in the Truth”. They have 8 million members worldwide and 64,000 in Australia, in 800 “congregations” or parishes located in “Kingdom Halls”.

The religion’s proper name is the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. It was founded by American draper Charles Russell in 1872. They believe in the end of the world and also the paradise beyond and have predicted five times that Christ would come again to signal it. The last time this happened was 1975. More than 1 million devotees abandoned them in the following six years. In America the Jehovah’s Witness have the lowest retention rate of all religions.

They also believe Satan has ruled the earth since 1914. The only way to make things better is by creating a heavenly kingdom on earth of a small number of believers. The Jehovah’s Witness’ trait of being aloof and “separate” comes from this idea that Satan runs things, so the best way to survive is to avoid society.

Membership has flatlined against population growth in most developed countries. The reach of the internet has had a big impact as whistleblower groups, ex-Witness forums, websites, “leaks” sites and negative publicity abounds.

The church is run by a “governing body” in Brooklyn, New York. In Australia there is a headquarters for the “branch committee” where all the senior officials live, in Ingleburn in the southern suburbs of Sydney. It is known as “Bethel”.

Former “ministerial servant” (a trainee church elder) Paul Grundy, of Sydney, lived there for four years in the 1990s. “It’s like a big four-star hotel,” he says. Another former member who visited Bethel says: “It’s nice, but it’s like a bubble. They walk around like robots.” People involved in the church’s administration, publishing business and legal affairs live there too, about 400 people in total. The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Australia is a public company; the directors are president Harold “Viv” Mouritz, vice-president Donald MacLean, Gordon King, Terrence O’Brien and Winston Payne.

Mouritz, who was born in Nagambie in country Victoria, is aged 86. MacLean, a Canadian, is 90. Company records show the company’s income for the 2011 tax year was nearly $19 million and mostly came from donations. It earned nearly $350,000 in interest.

There is no suggestion the directors directly profited. Insiders say they live frugally and money is spent on investment properties. Every country’s branch committee is answerable to the cabal in Brooklyn, who they believe God communicates through, but within each country the national branch committee, local elders and more senior men called overseers are authoritative. Elders can form judicial committees to investigate either each other or members of the congregation.

Kingdom Halls are plainly decorated, like school classrooms, with no iconography or adornment. Congregations meet twice a week to listen to Biblical passages. The structure for disciples to live by is uniform and rigid. Moral conservatism (anti-gay, anti-abortion, no sex before marriage) is strictly enforced.

The British sociologist Andrew Holden says the church has a “quasi-totalitarian” approach in which converts “defer unquestioningly to the authority of those who are appointed to enforce its doctrine”. The individual, he says, “becomes the property of the whole community”.

To defect is to embrace Satan because Satan lurks outside the church’s insular micro-communities. Homosexuality, drug addiction and disease are used as warnings of what can become of the apostate. It is considered a betrayal and heresy to want to leave, which is why the practice of “shunning” plays such a large and controversial part in the lives of those, like Traralgon’s Bec Taylor, who are connected to the religion.

The director of Cult Counselling Australia, Raphael Aron, a psychologist, says the Jehovah’s Witnesses are not a cult. However, they “display symptoms common to numerous cults” with “a warped view” of family.

From his office in the Melbourne suburb of Caulfield, he counsels ex-members and also families trying to regain contact with those lost to the sect. He says the Witnesses appear as “almost mainstream” but some of their practices appear to be “draconian, cruel and callous”.

For a Christian religion, he says, they lack a “spiritual touch” and also lack tolerance and acceptance. “Shunning means that any member who chooses to leave the church for their own personal reasons will be totally cut off from the family that remains there – zero contact with parents, children, siblings, aunts, uncles or grandparents for the rest of their lives.”

Aron says new recruits are often unaware they will go without birthdays and Christmas. “It’s a religion without a soul.” A young person flirting with the religion can suddenly find him or herself offered accommodation – a sharehouse or a flat – with Witnesses. Young disciples can be physically moved far from their parents, interstate or overseas.

Shunning comes in many guises. I met a man in his mid-40s now living in country Victoria who says when he was a teenage Jehovah’s Witness in Queensland in the 1980s, he confessed to having the beginnings of a consensual but frowned-upon sexual relationship – fondling – with a teenage girl in the same congregation.

An elder ordered that he sit in a glass room at the back of the Kingdom Hall at every meeting, twice a week, for four months, for two hours at a time. The glass room was called the fish bowl and members of the congregation were allowed to humiliate him while he was in there. The man says the same elder had sexually assaulted both him and his brother.

Another middle-aged woman, from Melbourne, says that among people she grew up with in the church there was a “conscious class” – she knows about 40 – who only attend so they can keep seeing their families.

They do not believe in the teachings any more but live a complex lie in order to maintain family ties. The woman, who would not give her name for fear of retribution, wants to ‘‘break the cycle’’ for her own children and last year held a secret Christmas at her home for them.

She was baptised into a congregation in Melbourne’s south-east despite that congregation later being exposed by Channel Nine for harbouring men – one later convicted of paedophilia offences –  involved in sexual abuse and domestic violence.

Another country Victorian man (and ex-Witness) says when two young girls were abused by the older son of a local elder, the elder was moved to another congregation on the fringes of Melbourne.

Congregations in NSW and SA have also held convicted paedophiles. Meanwhile, in Melbourne, a former elder, Richard Hill, recently faced court charged with two counts of indecent assault on a six-year-old girl in 1981.Police and ex-Jehovah’s Witness sources say congregations on the Gold Coast and Adelaide and in Cranbourne, Skye, Traralgon and Langwarrin in Victoria remain a concern.

The church’s spokesman in Australia, solicitor Vincent Toole, says if the church knew of an elder committing or covering up child sexual abuse he would be removed ‘‘from serving in that capacity’’.

‘‘Witnesses abhor child abuse and consider the protection of children to be of the utmost importance,’’ he says. He also says shunning is a myth and that baptised members who drift away are not treated badly.

Toole supplied a statement from the Frequently Asked Questions on the Jehovah’s Witnesses website which reads in part: ‘‘We reach out to them and try to rekindle their spiritual interest.’’

He said the religion did not have a distrust of the wider community but that ‘‘the permanent solution to humankind’s problems ultimately rests with God’s government’’.

A Victoria Police taskforce, Sano, is investigating allegations of abuse and cover-ups within church groups on behalf of the Victorian government inquiry into the church’s handling of such allegations.

One allegation before Sano and also the Victorian Health Services Commissioner is that a Traralgon elder was  allegedly able to get into a young girl’s hospital ward at Latrobe Regional Hospital in Gippsland without the permission of the girl’s parents and without the right access cards.

‘‘The complaint raised with us by the Health Services Commissioner in connection with the Latrobe Regional Hospital has nothing to do with sexual abuse,’’  Toole said.

‘‘We have never heard of taskforce Sano.’’

Whistleblower Steven Unthank, meanwhile, a carpenter and ex-Witness from Toongabbie in Gippsland, has given the Victorian parliamentary inquiry a submission claiming his family were persecuted after he tried to tackle child abuse. He says the church has covered up widespread abuse and violence over four decades.

‘‘It is a paedophiles’ paradise,’’ he says. Unthank has also waged a long campaign to make elders and door-to-door preachers get Working With Children police checks, which the church has now begun to comply with.

In Traralgon, Bec Taylor says she is now a ‘‘work in progress’’ after cutting all ties late last year with her ‘‘brainwashed’’ family and with the church she once loved and pledged loyalty to. She had found herself living in Brisbane, worshipping at the Newfarm congregation and working in a call centre.

She was mugged early one morning walking to work. It took a month for anyone from her congregation to telephone, she says. Then when she finally went back to the church and had a massive panic attack, an elder drove her to hospital and dropped her at the door.

Suffering from post-traumatic stress and the effects of being abused as a child, she ideated suicide alongside the Brisbane River several times. Again, no support from her fellow Witnesses. And that was that. She began to quit, was ostracised further by her family, then quit entirely and moved states.

Too many cover-ups, she says, too little compassion.

‘‘At least  now I can say what I hear in my head is actually coming from my own head. I just hope others start to speak out too.’’
~~

11 Comments

My sincere condolences for any and all people who suffer under illegitimate authority, be it religious, governmental, academic or any of the rest of the many sources for opportunity for sociopathic ambitious. When I was in private practice many physicians in Southern California banned Witnesses from their practices. My wife and I did not. OTOH, we would have a little talk with these families at the first visit to be sure they understood that if a conflict occurred with the church, around blood transfusion typically, then the matter would be promptly turned over to the courts to decide what to do. Witness families we dealt with were fine with this and we never, fortunately, had problems. You could never tell who was a Witness by seeing them in the waiting room, they were indistinguishable from the rest of our practice, and treated that way.

I am a closet totalitarian I guess. When I see organizations doing criminal and unconscionable things I want them stopped. That implies that I want to live in a society that has the power to do that. If you posit the continued existence of massive societies then these societies need to be able to step in and stop heinous behavior, or abandon the pretense of being a society. In a “pluralistic society” (in quotes because there is noting plural about societies like ours) there is the idea that freedom of association means that any group can calve off and isolate itself and treat its members however it wants, commit all the crimes it can get away with and prey on vulnerable individuals. Ultimately it matters little what sort of authoritarian group is involved in the abuse. Many giant corporations do terrible things to people on a scale that dwarfs any abuses by churches. Functionally any closed authoritarian group is a source of the same sort of abuse of individuals that the religious groups impose. Therefore such societies, if they are to maintain a humanitarian standard of care and relationship, if they are going to claim sovereignty as more than a pretense, have to treat organizations that present a pattern of criminal behavior in a manner similar to individual criminals. While I am not a believer in capital punishment for individuals I am A BIG FAN of capital punishment for criminal organizations. They need to be destroyed root and branch. I shouldn’t leave this discussion without mentioning the grand daddy of all abusive authoritarian organizations, the standing army. Societies that maintain standing armies generally see those military organizations become criminal and dominant, as we have seen here in the US.

A traditional village, such as I lived in in Viet Nam for a few years, is an inclusive organization. This inclusivity tends to moderate abuses by authoritarian individuals, if not completely prevent it. This is a much better, more biologically consistent, approach to human organization. When society invites EXCLUSIVE organizations it is surrendering a degree of sovereignty and will begin loosing control to criminals. The US is a great example of this. National sovereignty is a joke in the US as is our “representative democracy.” Human and civil rights are crumbling as corporations and other authoritarian organizations have systematically established a system of legalized bribery backed up by all sorts of criminality committed under the veil of secrecy. And the professional lying industry (Public Relations) works tirelessly to cover up the crimes and confuse people into immobility in the face of mortal threat.

Furthermore, any top down form of organization will succumb to criminal control, eventually. The first generation of leaders may be saints, but the second or third are sure to be sociopaths.The churches come in for a lot of outrage largely, I think, because folks feel that churches should operate with a higher ethical and moral standard than non-sectarian ones. But that is just silly thinking. It sets church groups aside from groups like WallMart, investment banks and the military that also act in secret according to a sacred dogma and ultimately, just like the churches, seek to concentrate power and wealth in as few hands as possible.

I totally agree that the hidden crimes of authoritarian religion are heinous, I just don’t get why we are paying attention to them to the exclusion of attention to the monster organizations that, in the balance, are doing virtually all the damage. Any mutualist society must deal with organized criminality MUCH more harshly than crimes by individuals. If an injury to one is an injury to all, then organizations that injure people need to be disbanded for the protection of everyone.

In the mean time we have this chaotic free for all where the smart move is to conspire to dispossess your neighbor, where massively wealthy criminals, like so many of our leading bankers and politicians, are celebrated as heroes and exemplary individuals worthy of emulation. We live in a pirate culture. The evil churches are just another aspect of institutionalized injustice and aren’t all that important compared to other sources of organized evil.

A society committed to justice will not tolerate any of this. Time to start organizing people power to establish a just regime and rectify all this.

ybera

There is a cult like this in our own small town odf Ukiah, but everyone acts like they have done nothing wrong at all. They have done really awful things to me and some of my closest friends. But for years I wanted this organization to forgive me. I kind of begged and pleaded. I didn’t want to be outcast from them, because my faith was really important to me. My faith still is really important to me, but I have come to realize that the blame isn’t on me. These people are not really practicing my faith or compassion. It’s really hard. I still have friends that live in the cult. Last week a friend of mine told me she was suicidal and depressed. And I tried to help her, and other cult members punished her and told her not to talk to me anymore. I wish I didn’t feel so alone, so that I could speak out more about their activities, but the truth is I am kind of scared for my life if I speak out any more. But I want people to know, that they are a bad representation of the faith. And that they don’t practice compassion, but cruelty and heartlessness.

    Good job Melanie,

    I realize that it can’t seem that important, but when people start doing what you are doing eventually the cults will wither.

    Groucho said, “Time wounds all heels.” Those who come to know compassion learn to deal with those who have not yet found it in ways that harm no one and brings blessings to many.

    So, steady on. You are a bright star in my sky.

    ybera

    You are most welcome and deserving.

    y

Cults, ALL religions, draw the psychotic, power hungry types for leadership. Absolute control opens the doors of hell on earth for members. Look at the problems now coming to light in the Catholic Church. Truth be told, few priests, or higher, could actually, truthfully say they are/were not aware of the homosexuality practiced by their fellow priests.

As for Mormons, I have personal witness to the same things happening there, but since they are still powerful in the Us, it is still being hidden. I was approached by a leader soon after I joined the Church at age 23. He was unsuccessful, but, later I found out that he had been quietly excommunicated for pedophilia with a 10 year old member. Another high priesthood leader was in the news as being a pedophile wanted by the FBI who was captured in a Central American country and was being exported to the US. And he was also a college professor at a local State College. The list goes on, but that is enough to prove my point. 2 out of 400 local members is a high percentage. Especially when they are all supposed to be “called by God through inspiration” for their posts. What God?

As for J.W.s, I’m sure they are in the same ball park. They control their members lives from birth to death. My Aunt was one, but my Uncle never joined, to my knowledge. They never talked about it. They had a small church with no windows, in my old neighborhood. Odd.

My belief is that ANY religious group that believes they have the OneTrue Right & Only Way is deeply mistaken and loses all credibility.

Kind of funny coinkedink :P, but I went to bing and searched for Time Wounds All Heels, and there were a lot of interesting things. I really like this one: http://www.pfo.org/timewounds.htm

    Melanie….I was involved with the J.Ws for quite a while a long time ago. I got a divorce from an abusive husband, who was also “in the truth”. Everyone was after me not to go through
    with this divorce. I moved away from the Midwest to So. Cal. Some relatives followed me out to Ca. to try to stop me. They told me what it would mean if I did not listen to them. I would not back down. I knew I had to be strong.
    I went through with the divorce or my own sake and the sake of my kids. My family members who were “in the truth” stopped speaking or having anything to do with me. I felt
    that it was their loss and if the degradation of women by the JW’s was preferable to their
    relationship with me, I didn’t care. I told them all where they could go. My own mother would not speak to me for over 3 years.
    She got to the point where she couldn’t hold out and came around, even though I was
    disfellowshipped. My father stood by me all the time. He was never involved in the cult.
    One of my siblings was also on my side. Another one shunned me. That brother left the
    JWs and got divorced himself. He quit the group for good and now speaks against it.
    He and I get along fine and have for a long time. The only one who stuck it out until she
    died at 95 years of age was my mother. I forgave her a long time for her actions toward
    me and spent a great deal of time with her the last few months before she died. Even the
    JWs from her congregation were polite and spoke with me.
    It was a part of my life that I put in the past. I am only sorry that I wasted so much time
    doing the ‘right thing’ according to the organization. If it were not for them, I would not have married the abusive ‘in the truth’ man in the first place.

    What I can say to you, if you further read these messages, is let your concerns be known to
    others not involved in the JW organization. Be strong and true to yourself. You will get past it.
    Good Luck and best wishes to you.

Jehovah’s Witnesses beliefs:

A) They are at your door to recruit you for enslavement to their watchtower corporation,they will say that “we are just here to share a message from the Bible” this is deception right off.

B) Their ‘message’ is a false Gospel that Jesus had his second coming in 1914.The problem with this is it’s not just a cute fairy tale,Jesus warned of the false prophets who would claim “..look he is here in the wilderness,or see here he is at the temple.”
C) Their anti-blood transfusion ban has killed hundreds if not thousands
D) once they recruit you they will “love bomb” you in cult fashion to also recruit your family & friends or cut them off.

There are many more dangers,Jehovah’s Witnesses got a bad rap for good and valid reasons.

99% of the world has rejected the teachings of the Watchtower Jehovahs Witnesses, the darker truth is they are a destructive and oppressive organization.

Danny Haszard Jehovah’s Witness X 33 years


Danny Haszard Bangor Maine

    Bangor, cool (frigid in a literal sense)! We lived for a while in Caribou. Bangor was our big city. My wife would always seem to want to go by King’s house with the gargoyle fences posts on our trips to see a movie and go to the mall. Our oldest is now studying for a PhD in Orono. Caribou was the best place I have ever lived in the US in that the decency of folks was very deep. One never heard harsh language. People were “different,” not nuts. Not that there were not hazards. Hunting season has to be experienced to be believed. And then there was the poisoning at the Lutheran Church that annihilated a nearby small Scandinavian/American town. But on the whole a gentle place where the moral climate was most amenable.

    I have lived a lot of places and always look forward to being approached by the gaggle of street saviors and other minor con people. I just love earnestness. Sadly, at each new address they would soon stop coming, ALL OF THEM ALL AT ONCE, the JWs and the Mormons and all of the sorts of entertaining con people that tend to show up on ones door step in metropolitan areas. I suspect there is a secret code, like the hobos used, to mark houses as to type. Since the experience has been repeated in several locations I am assuming that there is some universal code for danger marked subtly outside my door by an early set of visitors. I don’t think anyone gets the door to door people here in Boonville. Of course they may be keeping their heads down, but I think I would have noticed them going around in our tiny Richard Scarry’s Busytown replica. Too many folks like me that are a threat to orthodoxy of any kind and happy to con the con right back, perhaps. Maybe there is a secret mark at the entry to town.

    I wish I could offer advice that would work to keep the door to door people away, but I am unsure of exactly what I do that makes the door to door people avoid me. I show them love and compassion like I would any other wayward children. I try to get them to visit again. Maybe it is just my extraordinarily ironic bad luck. The fish refuse to bite.

    ybera

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