When I left the Jehovah’s Witnesses I was presented with some “options”: keep quiet or suffer a character assassination along with total ostracism. It didn’t really feel like a choice, because I was compelled to speak out due to the things I experienced. But in the Watchtower world the cardinal sin isn’t just leaving them behind, but getting vocal after your exit.
The situation is very reminiscent of a common occurrence within any organization called whistleblowing. There are laws that have been enacted in many countries to protect whistleblowers. This is because they are often met with brutal hostility. Whistleblowers are often made examples of by way of termination, suspension, demotion or simply harsh mistreatment – all because they had the guts to expose wrongdoing within their organization.
If you leave the Watchtower, and you remain quiet, they will still shun you, but you will retain some of their respect. Because, from their perspective at least you didn’t speak out against them and “moved on with your life.”
A perfect example of this is when a man named Montague Baker took the stand on the 151st day of the Australian Royal Commission. Notice what he had to say when asked to explain his experience of being shunned by Jehovah’s Witnesses:
“Well, I fully expected it and it wasn’t really a problem for me.”
The Watchtower used Baker’s testimony in an attempt to refute Angus Stewart’s findings that the practice of shunning made it extremely hard to leave the religion:
“One of the persons who gave evidence before the Commission, Mr Baker, formerly one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and called by Counsel Assisting, did not suggest he had a problem in leaving the organisation. Mr. Baker was frank in his reasons for leaving (emphasis added):
“He sought to pursue a lifestyle that was incompatible with the way of life of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Notwithstanding, Mr Baker expressed no hostility towards Jehovah’s Witnesses, he did not seek to denigrate their beliefs, nor did he seek to belittle the faith. On the contrary, he expressed his disbelief at the number of and basis for the allegations.”
The Watchtower doesn’t believe they ever do anything overtly wrong and therefore never require anyone within their organization to blow a whistle. When anyone does, they are accused as “being hostile”, “denigrating their beliefs” and “belittling their faith.” Never do they even entertain the idea that maybe their policies and practices really are worthy of people speaking out against them and raising awareness.
If you do speak out against their harmful policies and practices you can expect to immediately become their enemy. Perhaps that’s why Mr. Baker didn’t rock the boat.
Shooting the messenger
Whistleblowers generally act on a principle they believe is higher than the authority they are challenging. It could be a sense of truth, justice, for the public good or even religious beliefs. I know this was the case with me and many other ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses I have encountered all throughout the world.
Contrary to what the Watchtower prints, people who speak out against them are mostly people operating on what they believe to be right. Unfortunately, going after a religion for persecuting whistleblowers isn’t as easy as non-religious corporations. Otherwise, the Watchtower would have been indicted long ago. They have a long history of slander against those who wish to enact change in their practices and policies that are demonstrably harmful.
Jean Lennane, a psychiatrist, and former president of Whistleblowers of Australia had this to say on how they are treated (emphasis added):
“The aims of the organisation’s response are to isolate the whistleblower by removal from the accepted “in group” (one of us) to “out group” status, by representing the whistleblower as: incompetent; disloyal; a ratbag; mentally unbalanced/ill…”
If you are a former Jehovah’s Witness you will no doubt see the clear parallel in what Lennane is stating and how the Watchtower deals with vocal ex-members. They inundate them with a barrage of slander that meets all the criteria she spells out.
Notably, however, is her reference to mental illness.
In 2011 the Watchtower published an article that had this to say on so-called “apostates” (emphasis added):
“…apostates are ‘mentally diseased,’ and they seek to infect others with their disloyal teachings. (1 Tim. 6:3, 4) Jehovah, the Great Physician, tells us to avoid contact with them. We know what he means, but are we determined to heed his warning in all respects?”
It’s crystal clear that the way the Watchtower responds to vocal ex-members is akin to how other organizations often respond to whistleblowers. “Apostates” are not people with an axe to grind; they are largely people in a dramatic moral dilemma and the Watchtower is putting them in a precarious situation. Notice what Lennane says about the purpose of the slander:
“…to frighten others who might otherwise support the whistleblower…to avoid examining or remedying the issue the whistleblower is complaining about…”
The destructive manner in which the Watchtower responds to dissidents is because they want to frighten the membership as well as avoid the issue. Both of these aims have been accomplished. Simply put, punishing whistleblowers is highly effective at protecting the organization. But we live in a different world now, one where accountability has a greater value.
The more the merrier
Does this mean Jehovah’s Witnesses should be afraid to speak out? As long as the number of people who do remains low, then the Watchtower will continue to bully them. But if an influx of members start to stand up to them, they will crumble and real change can be brought to the organization. It’s really all about the numbers.
If you are a Jehovah’s Witness who has had first-hand experience of the corruption within the organization I urge you to bring your story to the limelight. Speak to anyone you can, write blogs, make videos and go to your local news outlets. There are people out there willing to listen and to help you create the change Jehovah’s Witnesses so desperately need.
Because, in the end, that’s what whistleblowing is all about:
In the year 2013, Jehovah’s Witness leadership in Victoria Australia was called to testify on the matter of child abuse reporting. During questioning, the matter of whistleblowing was addressed. Specifically, the following question was raised by barrister David O’Brien:
What is the situation in relation to what I might call whistleblowers or people who wish to report on any deficiencies or systemic practices in your church, including people who wish to depart from the church? How are they treated?
The response from Watchtower came from acting Australian Branch overseer Terry O’Brien, who stated:
People are free to be Jehovah’s Witnesses, or if at any time they wish to discontinue for whatever reason, that is a personal choice. If the person simply decides to become inactive and no longer associate with Jehovah’s Witnesses, then they are just viewed as they were before they became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In the very animated exchange which followed, Watchtower representative O’Brien evaded the line of questioning with the intent to confuse and mislead the elected representatives of this hearing. As every Jehovah’s Witness is aware, speaking out publicly (or privately to another JW) against the teachings or policies of the organization will result in disfellowshipping on the grounds of apostasy, which causes the immediate banning of all communication and association with the offending person. All family members and friends are to cease any contact with the individual, and face punishment themselves should they fail to shun the guilty party.
Thus, the statement from Watchtower overseer O’Brien was completely false and misleading. There is absolutely no way to reverse the clock and return to a time when a person was a non-Witness, or a “worldly” person. Once baptized, there is no turning back. Whistleblowing is banned.
The complete transcript of the 2013 Victorian commission can be viewed here