I don’t have a good track record of my dealings with members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion.
First story. During my seminary years, while pastoring a small church on a Louisiana bayou, a man in my congregation asked me to accompany him on a visit with a neighbor who used to be a member of the JWs and was not going to church. I was green, eager, and clueless. Even though that man was no longer a member in good standing of the JWs–for reasons I have long since forgotten–he knew all their arguments, bought into their philosophy, and was a master of their combative attacks on what we might call traditional Christianity. He was brutal in the way he mauled me.
I was savaged.
As we left, my companion, a fellow who was to put a few grey hairs in my head over the decades for other reasons, tossed it all in my lap. “You have to answer him, Joe. If you don’t answer him, I’m never going to believe in you again.” Something like that.
Thanks a lot, friend.
My problem was that I was a fulltime seminary student, a young husband of one and father of two, and a pastor of a growing church. I had no clue where to start with the attacks of that ex-Witness, no real motivation to research this, and no desire to tackle the project. I let it all lapse.
Now, fast forward ten years. I’m pastoring a good size church in a county seat town in Mississippi. We’re growing, we’re reaching people, I’m ministering to college students and members of the military at the local Air Force base, and now the father of three while still the husband of one. My plate was full.
One day, a young man stopped me after church.
He was being approached by some friend in the Jehovah’s Witnesses and did not know how to answer them. He was torn. Would I be willing to meet with him and his father?
I had done something similar with the Mormons with some success. So, always willing to help, I agreed. We would meet in our church conference room on Thursday evening.
It was a set-up. An ambush.
The young man was accompanied by his father and two men from the local Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Had I known then what I know now, I would have canceled the meeting on the spot. This was not what I had expected; I was completely unprepared.
But, we went into the meeting in our church conference room. I tried to be a good host.
The leader of the JWs took me apart.
It wasn’t fair and it was anything but funny.
One thing I was later to learn about the JWs is that they look upon preachers like me as deceivers and thus the enemy. The leader of that group certainly took that approach. He scoffed at my answers, was ugly in his spirit, and taunted me.
I recall my pain to this day. The puzzle is why I didn’t cancel the meeting on the spot. I didn’t; it went on for an hour or two.
When we finally ended the meeting, I felt I had been hit by an 18-wheeler with every bone in my body shattered.
Afterwards, I began reading all I could on Jehovah’s Witnesses, determined never to be caught off guard again.
Third event. Ten years after that. I was in my late 40s and pastoring a large church in a huge North Carolina city. We were on live television, which meant that sometimes complete strangers would come to us for counsel.
The woman who sat in my office that day identified herself as one of a million people who had abandoned the JWs after their prophecy of the return of Jesus for 1975 did not prove out. She had no religion, was disgusted with the JWs, and was unsure she could trust anyone, including me. Why had she come to me? Good question.
She had been poisoned against believing anything I had to say, had been poisoned against believing any Holy Bible I would hand her could be depended on for the truth, and had been poisoned against connecting with Christians, no matter how solid and faithful.
The woman would make an appointment occasionally and we would talk. I prayed for her relentlessly. I have no idea what became of her. I worry that she remained the tortured soul she was during our visits.
The Jehovah’s Witness people have a lot to account for when they stand before the righteous Judge one day. They have imprisoned their people, have poisoned their minds, have shackled them with burdens and rules and hardships. Their leaders lie to them and teach them to lie to outsiders.
So, when I heard on NPR that a third-generation Jehovah’s Witness had written a book after leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses, I ordered it. Amber Scorah’s book is titled Leaving the Witness: Exiting a Religion and Finding a Life.
While in their twenties, Amber and her husband traveled to China to do witness work–what she calls preaching–for the JWs. She learned the language, found work doing podcasts to earn a living, and began walking the streets and dropping into coffee shops in a relentless search for prospects. All of this was illegal in China, so they developed a cover story and pretended to be simply Americans who loved that country.
In time, Amber connected with a man named Jonathan who pushed her to examine her faith for the first time.
Jonathan was a pod-cast listener living in the States, and their exchange was via email. In time, they had an affair. But before the relationship ended (badly), he confronted her with a number of questions—
–Why do you need that religion?
–Where do you get your faith?
–Why do you need that organization? (When she answered, “God has always had an organization,” Jonathan said, “Is that what they told you?”)
–“Why does your organization tell you not to read anything over the internet and nothing written by Apostates?” (i.e., former JWs) “What are they afraid of?”
–When Amber said she could not walk away from JW unless she had something to make her feel equally secure in her beliefs, Jonathan said, “Try to use the portion of your mind that hasn’t been indoctrinated into the cult and imagine life without being a JW.”
And so forth. Their exchange over a period of months caused Amber to question so much: The Governing Body of the JWs (eight men in a building in Brooklyn); Why did God give us a brain if He doesn’t expect us to use it; why the Governing Body would not allow groups in Kingdom Halls to study the Bible on their own, but had to read only the materials they sent from headquarters; and why JWs were not allowed to from study Hebrew and Greek in order to read the Bible in the original languages.
What were they afraid of?
Freedom is a frightening thing for someone who has been in a closed system all her life, being told how to dress and talk, with whom to associate, what to do with her life. As Amber began to think for herself, she dared not share her questions or doubts with her husband, an elder in the JWs, or any of her friends in the Witnesses.
Eventually Amber Scorah confessed to the local leaders her questions about their religion and as she had expected, was ostracized. No member was allowed to talk with her. She was now a leper and they had to protect themselves from contagion.
So now–as the title of her book implies–she had to find a new life.
The sad thing is that, like millions of other disaffected JWs, she has not been able to believe in any God since leaving. She lives in limbo and has been involved in so many of the behaviors she had been warned against and now had to try out for herself. Her book is getting rave reviews and is being promoted by Oprah Winfrey and others. (I suspect one reason they like it so much is that she ends up with no answers about God, but plenty of questions in a vacuum. My impression is that post-moderns like that because it frees them to do as they please with no accountability. But maybe that’s just my prejudice.)
I pray for Amber Scorah, that she will continue her journey of searching until she has come all the way to the Lord.
The fact that there are counterfeit faiths–and Jehovah’s Witnesses is that if anything–does not mean there is no true faith, as some maintain. If anything, the multiplicity of religious faiths in the world should speak to us about man’s thirst for God. What I wish for those inoculated against the simple faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is that they will continue their search.
Read the Bible on your own, think about what you have read. Ask questions. Ask God to lead you. And listen for His voice.
I pray that the Jehovah’s Witnesses cult will die, will dry up, that people will no longer believe their lies, buy into their bondage, and support their false religion.