[This experience was contributed by Jim, alias Jubilant Man]

“You are talking too much about Jesus. You are confusing the brothers!”

It was 2014. Here I was, age 63, a Witness since the age of 5, drawn into the “back room” by two fellow elders. I assumed some problem had arisen in the congregation that needed some discussion. There was – me!

I had been serving as an elder for over 40 years, a regular Pioneer for 30 of those, but it was obvious that a hornet’s nest had been stirred up and a swarm of their relentless stinging allegations would only intensify over the next three years (Psalm 118:12-14).

Why am I writing this synoptic account? Is it to bitterly express anger, retaliate at injustice, or proudly draw attention to myself as some special case? No, not at all; for I am just one tiny voice among tens of thousands in recent years who have escaped from different controlling, legalistic, works-based religions, particularly this one – the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Rather, the reason for writing these few highlights is to provide reassurance to fellow escapees that, though it can be an extremely emotional roller coaster, you can survive and do so with dignity and happiness.

Just how could a person like me have been captive for a lifetime? What factors led me to, not just turn to a new chapter in my life, but close the book of my old life and start a new one?

Some Background

First, permit me to reminisce – it’s sort of obligatory, isn’t it? Have you noticed in reading similar stories that it seems to be almost a standard requirement to provide one’s pedigree and “theocratic CV” of privileges? So, somewhat reluctantly I will follow suit.

My kind, spiritually-minded parents raised me “in the Truth” from the age of 5. Like many others of that era, I was subjected to a strict weekly “theocratic routine” of family study (Mon), meetings (Tues), ministry after school (Wed), group house meeting (Thurs), ministry (Sat), ministry and meetings (Sun). Then, Circuit Servant visits three times annually (which included Saturday night meetings). I almost left out mention of the three-day Circuit Assemblies held twice annually as well as the annual 4-to-8 days District Conventions.

I recall as a 6-year-old at the end of a school term when our class was asked to stand up in front of the school to recite short alphabetically arranged rhyming sentences. Being the 7th in the row, I was asked to display a letter “G” on a large placard and recite: “G is for God, His goodness and grace, the gift that he gave to the whole human race.” I asked my mother, “What does grace mean?” Originally having a Church of England background, she explained it means God’s free blessings through Jesus. This was my early introduction to grace. This theme kept re-entering my life at intervals, until one day God’s grace (Jesus) captured and captivated my life.

Vivid memories spring to mind of having to stand outside daily school assemblies with a handful of Jews, feeling like a cowering Peter in the courtyard trying to skirt around awkward questions; shrinking during the National Anthem played at special school events; trying to think up plausible sounding excuses for avoiding all “worldly” parties, sports or after school clubs. I remember having two so-called “worldly school friends”. Yet never once during the 12 years of basic education could they be invited to my home and only twice was I allowed to spend time with them in their home.

I was baptised in 1966 in my mid-teens. In 1960’s Britain it was the ‘done thing’ for all school-leavers to start pioneering. This was pushed at conventions with the challenging question, “Can you justify before Jehovah right now why you are not pioneering?”

Additionally, for a decade came the unrelenting, escalating emphasis on 1975, with direct statements which brought pressure to expend yourself in the very, very short time remaining. For example, a District Servant visiting our congregation in early 1974 categorically stated, “Brothers we have no more than 18 months to go before Armageddon.” Then he ominously added, “you can tell the householders from now on that that this could be their last conversation with Jehovah’s Witnesses at their door!” This allowed for the householder being “not at home” for a few times during the regular annual quarterly coverage of the territory. Then he continued, “Simply offer them the 6-month Bible Study course; finish now any unproductive studies who are not attending meetings regularly.[1] So started my career of 30 years regular pioneering – at that time there was a minimum annual quota of 1200 hours and 35 “back calls” every month (reported when the Bible was used not merely a magazine delivery). Over those years, I helped over 30 people to baptism.

Then eventually in the 1970’s came marriage to a wonderful pioneer girl. Four amazing children followed. I invested much time teaching the family, making sure they abided within the Organisation’s strict parameters but with a degree of reasonableness where possible.

In fact, all the children grew up to become pioneers and elders here in the UK and overseas with their partners.

In 1974 at age 23, I was appointed as an elder and served in this capacity for the next 42 years. The best part about being an elder was not in delivering public talks locally or in the circuit but in serving others, particularly visiting the dear brothers in their homes. Eventually, I was given various assignments (so-called “privileges”) which thankfully were mostly ministry related. For example, I organised and enjoyed regularly participating in local Port Witnessing for 20 years (writing the UK Ports Witnessing Guidelines in 2005 and some years later helping to edit the GB version for use in the UK).  I conducted a number of 20-week language courses in Russian and later the Chinese language.  I received WT training in a PR media campaign which included initiating contact with journalists and local radio stations, and organising visits to every school in the circuit with Holocaust material.[2] Aside from these preaching roles in which I found quite a measure of self-expression, I was expected to supervise different departments at conventions which required implementing stringent detailed “theocratic” procedures.  Nevertheless, I attempted to carry these out with human kindness and understanding. (2 Cor 1:24)

Why a lifetime working for the Organisation?  I have thought over this question many times. Why was it that, whether having nagging doubts as a teenager or when receiving a tidal wave of “new instructions” as an elder, I was prepared to shelve any ambiguities, any uncomfortableness? Perhaps it was simply because I adopted a throwaway clichéd rationalisation that “it always remains Jehovah’s Organisation regardless. The only unchanging thing in the Truth is change! Walk in present light. Maybe things will change. Just wait on Jehovah.”

I was schooled all my life to accept no other way, everything was unequivocal, clear-cut, black and white. My Bible-trained conscience was filtered through the micro-mesh filter of the WT. I was preconditioned from childhood that we were Jehovah’s unique people; therefore, any doubts were mostly suppressed and unexpressed; a thorough objective investigation suspended. I felt reassured that no challenge to the “Truth” could successfully overturn the organization’s self-assessment that it was God’s true organisation on earth. No Satanic “weapon formed against us will have any success” because, although scriptural understandings may change, only we have the unassailable holy triad foundation of true teaching (eg. no trinity, no hellfire, God’s name elevated, Bible prophecy revealed) true love (the only united, moral, neutral, international brotherhood) and true preaching (no other religion is preaching the same kingdom message to the ends of the earth, free of constant appeals for money).

After all, I had invested so much time, effort – my very life – into this one way, and what’s more, had successfully drawn my family deep into the organisational vortex. You are kept constantly busy serving the organisation and therefore on that basis – on the premise of serving others – a sense of superficial happiness can be experienced.

Psychologists may refer to this as cognitive immunisation – the denial, rationalisation and cherry-picking of any contrary factual evidence which would otherwise create an internal conflict in a person’s mind.[3] So, all this being said, what led me to the realisation that Christ plus nothing was everything? Also, what led to that 2014 meeting in the back room and my eventual disfellowshipping in 2017? I should briefly mention six influences that gradually changed me.

Six Influences Leading to Freedom

1) WT publications:

From my early teens, having acquired a late brother’s library, I was well aware of the organisation’s eccentric ideas from reading such publications as The Finished Mystery, Millions book, the Light books, Vindication books, etc. However, I put such shallow, outlandish, dogmatic teachings in the nebulous LBWJ (“Light gets Brighter; Wait on Jehovah”) box in my mind. Not only the early teachings on pyramidology, the changing identity of the Faithful and Discreet Slave (Mt 24:45-47), the gradual diminished distorted views of Christ (as Michael, a restricted mediatorship role, an invisible presence), but also the 150-year perpetual heralding of the imminence of Armageddon – which would invariably occur within the next 3 to 9 years. All this, despite A H Macmillan’s Bethel talk in October 1914 based on Psalm 74:9 “We see not our signs: there is no more any prophet: neither is there among us any that knoweth how long.” (KJV) and more importantly, Jesus own words in Acts 1:7.[4]

2) Non-Theocratic Sources:

By “non-theocratic”, [5] I’m not referring t  o any exJW material. Rather, I mean a collection of different Bible translations which shed more light on certain texts and also assisted in learning the basics of biblical Hebrew and Greek. Among these were The Expanded Translation by K Wuest, the Amplified Bible and later the NET Bible. Additionally, every month I would sneak into a local evangelical bookshop – checking to see that there were no passing elders in sight – and gradually built up a small library of textbooks, including well-known authors such as C H Spurgeon, Watchman Nee, William Barclay, Derek Prince, Jerry Bridges, W Wiersbe, etc. Over the years, as a JW on a spiritual starvation program, I truly enjoyed many of their spiritual insights. It’s true that certain expressions jarred at first – “grace”, “election” “justification” or “deity”, but I would lightly gloss over such evangelical-sounding vocabulary and concepts by adjusting my “watchtower glasses” theology. Nevertheless, I was coming to clearly see the difference between the shallowness, and often unapologetic assertive dogmatism of JW writings, as starkly contrasted with the so-called “worldly”, well researched, and referenced books and articles. The “non-theocratic” textbooks were humbly willing to admit that there were no definitive answers to some questions. These written works eventually gave me the confidence to actually listen to or watch recordings of pastors like John Piper, Bob Sorge, Andrew Farley, Brennan Manning, Joseph Prince, etc.

3) Ministry Experiences:

There were certain encounters with sincere members of other religious denominations which temporarily struck discordant notes. I clearly remember extensive evangelical initiatives of the 1990s, especially the “Jesus In Me” campaign, which appropriately for me was abbreviated to the acronym JIM! This was a veritable heyday for a number of born-again Christians I encountered in the course of the house-to-house ministry who openly testified about their faith in Christ. Sometimes I was asked directly, “Have you been saved by the Lord Jesus Christ, by grace alone? Have you been born again?” I would simply answer, “What a privilege it is for anyone to be born again…” and “Thus far I have been saved…”, and refer them to Matthew 24:13 and Philippians 2:13. But I knew that my answers were deviously ducking the real issue of salvation through allegiance to an organisation by works versus salvation by faith in Christ by grace alone. Such encounters left me a little discontented when simply echoing WT’s trite answers with a scripture or two plucked out of context. Putting these ministry experiences together over a period of time, it was becoming increasingly difficult to dissonantly suppress the following ‘unspoken’ conclusions starting to buzz around in my mind. It was becoming more obvious that other religious groups had certain traits, such as:

  1. Not only a relatively common usage of the name Yahweh (or Jehovah) by many pastors and clergy in both their churches and writings but their obvious love for Jesus, in a personal relationship with him as their Lord and Saviour.
  2. A humble assurance of eternal salvation, not by works but His grace alone, by faith alone.
  3. Their unadvertised genuine practical Christian love for all people unconditionally, especially the poor and sick outside their own group.
  4. Avoidance of war, religious conscientious objectors: Quakers, Unitarians, Amish, Christadelphians, Seventh-Day Adventists, Catholic Workers movement, etc.
  5. They also could relate ‘angelic-directed’ experiences in their witnessing outreach campaigns; a million or at least tens of thousands baptised annually in some religions.[6]
  6. Every year thousands of persecuted Christians killed “on account of his (Christ’s) name”, refusing to renounce their belief in Christ.

Were all these devoted scattered Christians simply frauds, unacceptable to God, doomed to destruction?

4) Authoritarian control:

Sadly, an assertive “Eight” have increasingly controlled the critical thinking – and thereby the emotions and actions – of an accepting eight million. They preside over their regimented crowd of suppressed supporters who struggle in weary loyal conformity with their unrelieved heavy loads of private guilt and inadequacy up the wrong mountain – Sinai, rather than Zion – under threat of being thrown over the edge into “shunned-apostate” valley (Heb 12:22-24; 13:12-14; Gal 4:21-5:10).

Perhaps I can provide a couple of brief examples of such control:

In 1974, shortly after smoking became a disfellowshipping offence, I had to participate on a Judicial Committee. Here was a sister struggling with serious irresolvable family problems along with clinical depression. The Committee “mercifully” allowed her the permissible 6-month period to overcome her evil “spiritistic” addiction, with the customary counsel to pray more, study more, preach more and not miss any meetings. With the Sword-of-Damocles threat of her being cut off from family and “friends”, she plunged into a spiral of deepening depression. I argued with the Committee for leniency but they would only allow a further extension of two weeks. A few weeks after the death sentence of disfellowshipping was announced, her husband sent me a private letter in which he vented his anger against such an uncompassionate, judgmental attitude which was leading to his wife’s nervous breakdown and talk of suicide. I kept this hard-hitting letter in a hidden place for more than 40 years as a reminder of how Pharisaical men feel duty-bound to enforce strict Draconian policies on suffering sheep with such a lack of natural affection, and often with dire consequences.

On a more personal level, in the late 1980s, I was taken to task by fellow elders for occasionally using encouraging background information from a few “non-theocratic” reference books. This was exploded out of all proportion and made an issue before the Circuit Overseer. During his final Sunday talk, he delivered a warning of someone “ferreting through the dustbins of Babylon the Great” in an attempt to find scraps of information when we already have been provided a banquet of spiritual food by the Faithful and Discreet Slave (FDS). Later that year the CO (circuit overseer), in response to a letter I had written to the Branch, actually apologised to me personally but refused to do so publicly. At that time, I was more taken aback by the intrigue and indignation of the local body of elders, which I was to increasingly experience in the future. One Kingdom Ministry School (Elders semester) in the early 2000s stood out particularly. The elders were all strongly counselled, in line with Amos 7:8, “Here I am putting a plumb line among my people Israel. I will no longer pardon them”.  That application was that if any elder noticed the slightest failure in fully applying the Society’s highest standards, such as laxity regarding dress and grooming, higher education, or reporting field service, it should be discussed by the elders and an approach made to that weak person as soon as possible.   We were told that “we must be willing to grasp the nettles” in a more hands-on approach.

5) Prayerful Bible Reading:

This was by far the major factor in my totally waking up to a new life in Christ. By 2010 my personal reading and study took me to the book of Romans. As I read through the early chapters, it became blindingly clear from the context that it was all about Jesus. The Father had put him centre stage and was so happy to let his dear Son take the limelight, as any proud parent would. As I continued prayerfully reading, I was moved to tears as I started to see certain passages jump off the page into my life. “This includes me!” I was flabbergasted. Everywhere in the Scriptures, there was Jesus. Had I been glossing over and misreading scriptures for decades? (John 5:39) Questions quickly came to my previously Watchtower-preconditioned mind about these scriptures in Romans:

Romans 1:17: Is righteousness a goal or a gift? (Rom 5:17)

Romans 4:3-5: God declares the “ungodly” righteous. Does this describe working hard for a year or two to attain a higher level of moral “godliness”, or conforming to a monthly hour quota for house-to-house preaching, or to answering 100 questions to qualify for baptism? (11:6) Why has the Organization avoided an adequate explanation of Romans 4:4-5 for over 50 years (Awake 1963)?

Romans 6:7: “For he who has died is freed from sin”? Is this discussing literal death and future resurrection or has the Watchtower misapplied it? (Insight 2 p. 138; w16/12 p. 9) Could this mean all true Christians NOW have no condemnation at all? (8:1)

I had known God as sovereign creator but not as my beloved Abba Father. I had known Jesus as the model but not as my personal Saviour. Where was mention or evidence of the indwelling Holy Spirit in the members of the Org? Had I been locked into a prison of cognitive dissonance, lost in religious space? This was all to change one day when Jesus found me as one of his lost sheep and carried me. I repented, accepting Christ as my personal Lord and Saviour and privately partook regularly, realising that this hope is our “common salvation” and not just for a limited higher calling of a few elite Christians (Jude 3). Later in 2015, I publicly did so as I conducted the Memorial in front of the Chinese group and my family. I had come to appreciate the powerful words of the apostle Paul,  ‘Jesus Christ and his masterful redemption define me now. Religion is like dog pooh; and it stinks, avoid stepping in it!’

So here I am, found in Christ! I was looking in the wrong place all along! My own duty and guilt-driven religious endeavour snared me in the cul-de-sac maze of self-righteousness, sponsored by the law of works! The faith of Christ reveals my identity; righteousness defines who God knows that I really am. This righteousness is sourced in God and endorses the authority of faith. (Faith is a fairy tale if Jesus is not the substance of it!” – Phil 3:8-9 Mirror Bible) You see, I came to this realisation not by investigating the wrongness of the Organisation through different websites and exJW material – as helpful as they can be at times – but by understanding by Spirit who Christ is and finding my identity in him. My salvation was not dependent on working for a religious organisation – whichever one it was – but it rested in Christ alone.

6) ExJW information:

At one stage I became aware of increasing media attention on the issue of child sexual abuse, including JWs. Previously as a devout Witness I would reject such reports as overly exaggerated journalism or from some apostate source, but here I was watching the entire proceedings of the Australia Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (ARC) for myself. I came then to discover a plethora of exJW sites and YouTube videos which I personally still don’t feel very comfortable in viewing excessively because they can easily supplant time in personal prayer and His Word. Yet this very site, Beroean Pickets, presented a more balanced and reasoned appraisal of the Watchtower Organization whilst maintaining a focus on the Christ.

My Own A to G

Without covering ground that most readers will be familiar with, as a simple memory aid, I came to have my own reduced A to G summary of matters that most perturbed me.

Abuse: Particularly sexual abuse of children and domestic abuse in its various forms. Why is any organisation allowed to obstruct justice, even passively, by failure to report abuse (including hidden records) to the “superior authorities” who bear the sword? (Rom 13:1-7) How does such non-disclosure show loving protection for their community, even where there is only one human witness? (Ge 31:49-50; Ex 2:14; Nu 5:11-15; De 22:23-29; John 8: 13-18).

Blood: Are transfusions equivalent to eating blood? They are not practically or morally equivalent. Thankfully Jesus, the one who gave his own blood for us, taught that saving life transcended obedience to religious law. (Matthew 12:11-13; Mark 2: 23-28; consider the Jewish law Pikuach Nefesh.[7]

Control: Asserting self-proclaimed authority, the FDS[8] enforced micro-management of their members lives. “Christ defines your faith; he is your freedom from anything from which the law could never free you! Find your footing in this freedom. Do not let religion trip you up again and harness you to a system of rules and obligations.” (Gal 5:1 Mirror Bible; Col 2:20-23)

Disfellowshipping: Leading to absolute shunning based on a misinterpretation and thus misapplication of a few scriptures. “Return to Jehovah” is their call.  Repent and sit at the feet of an octo-papacy in the tentacles of blind submission, even adoration, while stubbornly refusing to hear the call of the Holy Spirit to come to the feet of Christ in true worship.

Education: We know that JWs reject higher education. They are told to rely solely on “theocratic education”.  Yet at the same time, they put out the call for skilled members who have secular qualifications in building, technology, legal and financial matters.

Finances: Whereas the finger was wagged critically at various methods in “Christendom” to raise money – the use of credit cards, promissory notes, tithing, television appeals for different building programs and lack of transparency – now similar but relabelled methods have been adopted by the Watchtower organization.

Grace: Their salvation largely depends on their self-righteous works and obedience to organisational laws and policies, with the ransom being relegated to some sort of safety net for repentant offenders. Jesus has a diminished role as the Great Teacher, as Michael the archangel, and a lesser god. When was God’s free gift of Christ’s imputed righteousness explained at a meeting? (Rom 5:19; 10:1-4).

Confrontations with Elders, 2014 – 2017

Let’s now go back to the introduction when in 2014 two elders gave me strong counsel about “talking too much about Jesus Christ”.

They were concerned that I was running ahead of Jehovah’s Organisation by emphasising Christ too much rather than the name Jehovah or the organisation’s central role. The taste of grace was flavouring my public talks, frequent meetings for field service and informal visits to many brothers. Of course, the elders couldn’t stand nor understand such “Christ-centric” talk, particularly from their longest serving fellow elder on the body.

Over the next three years I was challenged by different pairs of elders and on a few occasions  “interviewed” by the whole body. By and large, the body of elders was willing to listen but it is very easy for any such body to be overly influenced by one or two policy-minded elders who in turn can be controlled by an overly righteous Circuit Overseer. It was such an honour to humbly present the message of grace from numerous scriptures to these elders although they were trapped mentally and emotionally in this confining Organisation, which sadly is one of many legalistic religions.

Then in 2016 the whole body convened again to discuss my qualifications as an Elder. They were very disturbed that I had been visiting the brothers even outside the Chinese group that I was overseeing, without the other elders been asked in advance or informed afterwards. In point of fact, by this time I had visited well over 100 brothers and sisters throughout different congregations in the city, preaching Christ by reasoning on Scripture and using simple illustrations. They asserted that by over-emphasising Jesus I was confusing the brothers! Further, it had been reported that some were becoming unsettled by discussing scriptures about the assurance of salvation. (Rom 8:35-39; Heb 10:10,14,17)

They felt as Service Overseer, I should be encouraging the brother to work harder to get God’s approval rather than talk so much about “undeserved kindness”. Thereupon, the Secretary pulled out a long list of inactive and irregular publishers from one of his files and with a flourish blamed me for the irregularity and inactivity in the congregation. This gave me an opportunity to invite the body to open their Bibles (or in their case, tablets) to read 1 Corinthians 15:10 and Acts 20:24,32 showing that “undeserved kindness” (grace) is the main motivation for our ministry and the way for us, as elders, to be built up. The reality was that as one of the regular pioneers, I was likely spending more time than many in setting the lead in the ministry. Could it be, I suggested, that the problem of irregularity was related to a lack of truly upbuilding shepherding which had often been overshadowed by emergency counselling after some crisis had arisen?

Of course, the routine test question was posed, “Do you believe that the Governing Body (GB) is the only channel for our spiritual food?”

I answered, “That presents no problem, I have always accepted all true spiritual food from the Faithful and Discreet Slave (FDS)”, knowing of course that there was never any true genuine spiritual food (manna about the real Christ) but would have accepted it, had there been.

They emphasised that it was all about loyalty to the organisational leadership and never disagreeing with them or saying anything negative. I readily agreed that absolute loyalty was due to our God and his Son but surely didn’t they agree that all other loyalty has to be “relative” – as for example, to the “superior authorities”, our parents, even elders or the organisation? (Isaiah 2:22).[9] I referred to Jonathan who disobeyed his own father, the King appointed by Jehovah, by protecting David; Elijah and many true prophets who condemned Israel for syncretising their worship, which was promoted and commanded by their “theocratically appointed” kings and priests; Obadiah, the steward of King Ahab, who secretly hid and fed 100 outcast prophets; Christians who withstood the Sanhedrin’s authority –  the recognised centralised governing collective of Jehovah’s people of that time. In addition to this, I read a paragraph from the May 15, 1986 The Watchtower (p. 25) to show that as elders we don’t desire to adopt the tactics of Christendom. The article stated: “H. G. Wells held that the spirit of Constantine dominated church affairs, and he observed: “The idea of stamping out all controversy and division, stamping out all thought, by imposing one dogmatic creed upon all believers, … is the idea of the single-handed man who feels that to work at all he must be free from opposition and criticism. … Any who expressed differing opinions or even attempted to present Scriptural proof refuting the dogmas and canons (church laws) of the councils were branded as heretics.”[10]

After waiting 45 minutes in the small back room used as a kitchen, I was called back to face the array of nine solemn faces. They told me of their predictable decision to remove me as an elder because I was unsettling the brothers with confusing speech. I replied that Jesus regularly and deliberately made confusing statements to arouse thinking ability – e.g. being born again, first will be last, rebuild the temple in three days, eat my flesh, dead bury dead, you must be perfect, hate your parents, a rich man in fiery torment, etc.; also, Paul’s writings (2 Peter 3:15-16). Did they agree that we should imitate the methods of our Great Teacher to stir thinking ability?

At that point I opened my phone and played them a 3-minute clip on YouTube of GB Member Geoffrey Jackson before the Australia Royal Commission (Case 29) when he made a number of puzzling replies under oath. There was stunned silence. I waited while the uncomfortable silence continued with blank stares around the room. After almost a minute had elapsed, I continued saying, “This is the first time I have ever shown this to anyone. My issue is not with what Brother Jackson said or didn’t say, whether right or wrong, but simply over the fact that this brother, publicly and under oath, has created an obvious confusion in the minds of untold tens of thousands of loyal brothers – even among us here now – yet this brother remains as a qualified elder and even one of the GB. Yet I, who it is claimed may have confused a handful of local brothers in private conversations, am judged to be disqualified as an elder.

Regarding any so-called negative comments concerning the organisation, I reasserted that my goal has always been to positively proclaim Christ, turning their attention to Col 1:28-29 (KIT). I stated that some brothers, even elders, had from time to time in private conversations made some comments about feeling uncomfortable regarding certain recent changes such as the increasing reliance on videos in the ministry over handling a copy of the Bible itself; a few where puzzled by the  suspension of building projects; others, without prompting, had mentioned the much more direct ways of asking for financial support; there was some puzzlement regarding child abuse policies; and even the “overlapping generation” teaching. I would admit to such brothers and elders that I didn’t have all the answers to these matters either but felt it was important for any brother to be able to freely express their concerns and feelings in privacy.

After permitting me to give this spontaneous defence, I was required to leave the room again for another 45 minutes. When I was invited to go back, it was my turn to be surprised. They had reversed their decision, by a majority vote, to remove me as an elder, but with the proviso that the secretary would refer the matter in writing to the Branch for more guidance. I paused for a moment then informed them that I chose to resign as an elder and regular pioneer. This confused them, but I knew I could not continue to serve alongside them, subjecting myself to their increasing monitoring.

Over the next year, they gradually removed all so-called “privileges” including being instructed to hand over all my Bible studies and to stop emphasising Christ! They withdrew permission for me to engage in any Port Witnessing, then prayer and reading at the meetings and as I continued to visit some of the depressed and sick brothers, they told me to stop this too. No group meetings for service at our home which had been used as a frequent venue for the past 40 years. Then any attendance with the Chinese group was removed, although my wife was allowed to still be part of that arrangement. For a year I complied – almost – continuing to meet Chinese students on campus by myself, contacting seafarers online and encouraging the sick and elderly in various discreet ways.

In mid-2017 the congregation was visited not by just one CO, but two. This was no training visit, as became readily apparent from the subject of the first talk which was a reinforcement of loyalty to the Governing Body, “the ever-so faithful and discreet slave” of whom everyone is so proud. The talk concluded with the announcement “that anyone, including family members, who had heard anything that had been said negatively about the organisation in the past should report it to the elders this week, in this way showing their absolute loyalty to Jehovah and His wonderful organisation.” The witch-hunt campaign to round up and “execute” WT dissenters on the pretext of safeguarding the purity of the congregations was intensifying. It had already affected one of two others in the circuit who had already been thrown out and shunned for so-called apostasy. In subsequent months, there would be a row of five local needs talks on the subject of apostasy on the heels of more disfellowshippings.

The Judicial Hearing

Inevitably, a few months later in September, 2017, I was called to attend a judicial hearing. “Why bother?”, some may ask. Isn’t it just “throwing pearls before swine”, before men who have no authority over you? Yes, agreed.  Grace falls on the deaf ears of irritating narrow-minded legalists.  Only the Holy Spirit can open hearts. (Acts 13:38-41,52 The Power NT). I fully respect the reasons why many have refused to attend such secret “star chamber” trials.[11] Yet, I attended for four reasons:

  1. For some years, I had been concentrating on spreading the real good news of Jesus, not trying to deliberately undermine the organisation. Who could know whether a seed of grace planted at this meeting could one future day germinate in one of the three elders or the couple of witnesses (Mark 4:26-29).
  2. I didn’t want to be cut off from my family without a final effort to stay PIMO (Physically In, Mentally Out).
  3. The proceedings would undoubtedly be over in double quick time, perhaps less than an hour.
  4. I had come to rely entirely on our Lord in a new deeper way. Jesus himself faced an illegal trial as did Stephen, Paul and many others. Yes, everyone has their own path to walk and I viewed this as possibly my final opportunity to speak out as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses (1 Pet 3:14-17 Passion Translation).

Opening the door, I was faced with a four-elder Judicial Committee and then a succession of eight witnesses who testified against me for a period of over seven hours. These witnesses were confined to the main hall for the rest of that day, subjected to numerous episodes of JW.org broadcasting on a loop.  Poor souls!

The chairman of the committee was a hard-nosed ex-Bethelite sitting as chief prosecutor behind his laptop screen viewing all the witness statements and typing in additional comments during the “court proceedings”. On a few occasions, he would hand over to a witness a paper copy of their signed statement as they entered the room. In hindsight, I could have phrased some replies a little differently but the outcome would have undoubtedly been the same. Unlike a legal law court where you would have prior indication of evidence to be presented, this was a relentless kangaroo court session – a secret investigation and hearing – with the presumption of guilt. Space only allows me to give a few highlights.

My opening statement

I reassured the committee that I had no axe to grind against anyone, no bitterness, no agenda nor program to sound off about the FDS, nor was I meeting with any groups of apostates either online or locally. Rather, my purpose was to exalt Christ to his Father’s glory (Phil 2:9-11). Surely, any genuine Christian having received a new heart, a new life in Christ, naturally enthuses about his Lord Jesus Christ, wanting to declare his sure hope as based upon John 15:26-27 and Heb 10:19-23, which I read. I felt honoured to be dishonoured on basis of his name.

I posed this question to the four-man courtroom: “Imagine you were in the door-to-door ministry with Jehovah Himself and it was his door.  What would His message, His witness, be? I suggested they follow along as I read 1 John 5:9. No one would answer, so I read it again more slowly but this time verses 9-13. Blank faces, blank minds. I further mentioned that in the Revised New World Translation of the Greek Scriptures, the name Jesus outstripped mention of God 1366 versus 1339 times.[12]  Here follows just a few of the points raised as each of the six brothers (five were elders) and two sisters in turn testified against me.

Witness 1: One of the local body testified that I had shown the clip of Geoffrey Jackson the previous year and had been shepherding in others elders’ groups without their permission. He was perplexed by talk of being saved without works. I gave a brief rebuttal of these issues which included inviting the witness and the Committee to open their Bibles/tablets to Ephesians 2:8-10 and 2 Timothy 1:8-9. I was pleased to be cross-examined on these scriptures.

Witness 2: Another Elder raised exactly the same issues, adding that if the brothers started to feel certain of their salvation, what was to stop them sinning more?  There would be no restraint on their behaviour. This message could spread like gangrene!

I asked the elder if he would read Romans 6:1, 2 for us from the Revised New World Translation to see that Paul faced the same allegation. The context shows Paul arguing that all true Christians have died (placed in Christ’s death) to law and sin and have now been raised to a new “not guilty” life.  That’s why verse 7 continues “the one who has died (in Christ) has been acquitted from his sin” (vs 14, 15). Furthermore, Titus 2:11, 12 asserts that it is this very “undeserved kindness”, not more obedience to policies and principles, that “trains us” in right living. (Ro 8:9-11) The chairman at this point requested that I stop using “confusing flowery” language. (1 Co 2:14-16)

Witness 3: Another elder was worried that I didn’t emphasise the name Jehovah or the Governing Body in my preaching and prayers. Also, that over a year previously I discussed with him Psalm 139:17, 18 and happened to say as an aside, “Could it be that God’s precious thoughts are his loving thoughts about us individually, not just God’s thoughts in general?” This, he felt was running ahead of the WT explanation. I replied I was just making a possible suggestion based on the context of verses 1-6 along with Ps 40:5 and Is 43:4. It was obvious that the Committee had strung together as many bits and pieces of negative sounding evidence as possible, all from over a year or two earlier. I was already guilty in their eyes. Nevertheless, as the witnesses entered, it gave me a wonderful opportunity to use the Scriptures in front of each one.

Witness 4: An Elder, a colleague from Port ministry, raised a catalogue of accusations, starting with my passing mention of Jackson (not showing the film clip) two years previously in connection with the growing media interest in child abuse cases. Among his other peeves were that preaching with Jim was, in his words, “like preaching with no other Jehovah’s Witness.” That really uplifted me! I was castigated for “always talking about being reconciled to God through Jesus Christ; as though `Jesus was enough!’” I had even seemed to have given the impression that Jesus could receive worship – based on John 5:23; Hebrews 1:6; Revelvation 5:11-14. He also felt I had been less than generous in my praise of the RNWT back in 2013; that I had commented that a few brothers in 2015 had expressed difficulty and doubt about the “over-lapping generation” teaching – which incidentally, as I reminded him, had included this very elder! – and that I had even mentioned some brothers seemed uncomfortable over the increasing emphasis on donations – yet the building work was slowing down at the same time.

Witness 5: Another elder who added nothing new to my “apostate pot” but felt compelled to speak out in loyalty to the FDS that I was definitely drawing “too much attention to Jesus”. I responded with Hebrews 12:2 “look intently at him” and Colossians 3:4 “Christ is our life”, not just our example.

After about three hours of inquisition, while the Committee and the eight witnesses ate their fill of ordered-in pizza, I grabbed a cup of tea and adjourned from their chatting camaraderie to be alone in prayer in the washroom and praised God for the Spirit’s help.

Witness 6: This was a sister who felt her security in the organisation had been unsettled when I had previously used some scripture reference to having been saved not by works but “undeserved kindness”. Also, I had suggested she read through the book of Galatians in one sitting, even using a paraphrase Bible for a change if she wished. Immediately, the chairman asked why I would ever suggest any other Bible translation apart from our “wonderfully accurate” New World Translation which was “uniquely written by the anointed”?

Witness 7: A pioneer sister who had heard me comment that Matthew 24 was largely fulfilled on the Jewish system, including the words of Matthew 24:14. She was obviously not keeping up to date with her study of The Watchtower issues.

Witness 8: A brother I had “brought into the truth” about 20 years ago. When I visited him 18 months earlier, he felt so relieved to hear that all our sins had been placed on Christ and that we were not held guilty or to be judged anymore. I remember our discussion had been based on John 3:14-15; 5:24 and 19:30. He later reverted back to his striving for God’s approval through morality and works. The Chairman at this point accused me of being a proud person.

By this time, I was surprised to learn it was about 10:30 pm. The committee said they could not deliberate that night on any decision, and it was very late for all the witnesses. It was two nights later that I was called back to hear the very predictable verdict during which they followed formal textbook procedure. They said that I had been disfellowshipped for apostasy (no scripture used);  “had not shown sufficient repentance”. And that was it! I thanked them for giving me the joy of being dishonoured for Christ’s name and that I would continue to “sanctify the Christ as Lord in my heart … so that I am enabled to give a defence of the sure Christian hope to be with him eternally … yet with a mild temper and deep respect.” I simply stood up and walked quietly out of the room.

And my new life? For the next six months I attended the meetings, quietly sitting next to my wife in the middle of the Hall, to provide a temporary support for her and my grown family. I sat there in what I came to call my “grace bubble”, viewing my attendance somewhat like a visitor to those locked in a prison. When the Memorial arrived in the springtime of 2018, I did not attend the Kingdom Hall but visited a wonderful Christian man who had left the organisation many years ago. We celebrated communion together in his home along with a visiting pastor. I knew that by attending the Kingdom Hall any longer, it would give my wife, family and the local congregation the wrong message – that I may want to return to the stifling confines of the cult.

“Can you see how stupid it would be to start in the spirit and then for some crazy reason to switch back to DIY again! As if your own works could add anything to what God has already done in Christ.” (Gal 3:3 Mirror Bible)

I am well aware of Jesus’ words at John 16:1-3. “I have told you these things so you will not be ashamed of Me and leave Me. They will put you out of the places of worship. The time will come when anyone who kills you will think he is helping God. They will do these things to you because they do not know the Father or Me.” (NLV)

To adapt a quotation from Mark Twain “[The Organisation] is a moon, and has a dark side which [it] never shows to anybody.” (The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg)[13] Yet I feel no bitterness or need to consume excessive time and emotional energy in hitting back in anger but rather a deep feeling of pity for the many individuals captive in the cult, especially my family and so-called  “old friends” who have shunned me over the past year. In fact, in regard to my family, I feel as the father that I am setting a correct, firm spiritual lead for them in leaving behind authoritarian religion and showing how Jesus is the real joy of my purposeful new life.

Were all those years wasted years? In one sense yes, but in another sense, it has been a positive journey – from darkness to the brilliant light of Christ for all eternity. (Ga 1:14-17; Is 49:4)

I continue to humbly learn many lessons, actively yielding to His leading. Now I enjoy my freedom in Christ! Every day I “keep on growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” (2 Pe 3:18) For example, most mornings after prayerful worship and study of Scripture, I spend some time writing. To my surprise an e-book came together which I published in 2018 – a good way of celebrating a year of freedom! It is called Lost in Grace[14] which isn’t so much into “Witness bashing” as it is my experience as a Christian from being lost in religion to being lost in wonder at God’s grace. I am filled with gratitude for what Christ has done for me and in me.

As I saw the inevitability of disfellowshipping looming, I made a definite decision to make time every day to interact socially with others, face to face wherever possible, or otherwise online. My training over the years in conversing with new people, including those of the Chinese community and dozens of previous contacts with seafarers, would continue and indeed has accelerated – without “counting time”- ha-ha! The irony is that now my contact list of friends equals or exceeds the number I had as a regular pioneer! It has been a “privilege”, in the true sense of the word, to reach out to people, especially those who may be regarded as down and out, feeling despondent, even suicidal in a few cases. John 9:34-38 describes Jesus finding a shunned ostracised disfellowshipped person to strengthen him; so it is in the spirit of Christ to reach out to help fellow shunned ones. More recently I have had some fellowship with Christian worshipers too, which on more than one occasion has led to giving my personal testimony and prayer before a small congregation.

On a practical level, I decided not to act hastily, either by immediately jumping headlong into another controlling legalistic religion or falling into disbelief. It is this very reticence to make hasty decisions that posed me the problem whether to write and post this very story you are reading. One evening in prayer I asked the Father to give me some reassurance that I was about to do the right thing. The outstanding example of the apostle Paul came to the forefront of my mind. Three times he related his conversion story – from rigid, zealous service to a strict religious system to seeing the glorious reality of Jesus (Acts chapters 9, 22 and 26). Perhaps my humble attempt to recount my conversion could perhaps help an individual or two on their way to true freedom.

I hope these few comments help you to never lose hope but to rest in Christ and his unconditional love and joy. These words give me reassurance: “I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed. I remember it all – oh, how well I remember – the feeling of hitting the bottom. But there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope: God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left. God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks. It’s a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from God.” Lamentation 3:19-26, The Message Bible

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ENDNOTES

[1] Aw 1969 May 22, “If you are a young person, you also need to face the fact that you will never grow old in this present system of things.” – also The Watchtower 1969, May 15, p. 312; regarding the date 1975 see The Watchtower 1970 May 1, p. 273.

[2] This special program included organising a group of elders from the circuit to visit to all schools and education facilities in the large catchment area with the video Jehovah’s Witnesses Stand Firm Against Nazi Assault along with its study guide and lesson plans that teachers could use during annual holocaust remembrances.

[3] After all, such opposing information could call into question one’s good judgment, or the organisation’s self-image and reputation – all of which is to be protected at all costs. Consequently, such a person or group would be unlikely to admit they are wrong. In fact, any exposure to contrary information makes them even more committed to their bias, because they feel vindicated by such attacks as victims of persecution. They become immunized against any public exposé, choosing not to listen to any contrary views.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/true-believers/201603/5-reasons-why-people-stick-their-beliefs-no-matter-what

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqONzcNbzh8

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-to-convince-someone-when-facts-fail/

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Jehovah%27s_Witnesses#cite_ref-24

https://archive.org/details/FaithOnTheMarchByAHMacmillan/page/n55

[5] As far as I am aware this term was used for the first time in Theocratic Aid to Kingdom Publishers 1946, p. 220-224 which put such publications in a relatively positive light.

[6] An example of a religion that conforms to the above criteria of adopting the name Yahweh, non-trinitarian, internationally preaching, conscientious objectors, would be the Assemblies of Yahweh. (Encyclopedia of American Religions,5th Edition, by J. Gordon Melton, (Gale Group, 1996), p. 529)

[7] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/pikuach-nefesh

[8] On what basis did Jesus choose this organisation as his organisation (FDS) when the spiritual food produced from 1917 to 1919 was focused entirely on the book The Finished Mystery? This is a crazy book which the Watchtower never quotes from. https://youtu.be/kxjrWGhNrKs

[9] The Watchtower, 1990, Nov 1, p. 26 par. 16, “Our Relative Subjection to the Superior Authorities: “As Christians, we face up to similar challenges today. We cannot take part in any modern version of idolatry—be it worshipful gestures toward an image or symbol or the imputing of salvation to a person or an organization. (1 Corinthians 10:14; 1 John 5:21)” Also note The Watchtower, April 1, 1920, p. 100 “We would not refuse to treat one as a brother because he did not believe the Society is the Lord’s channel. If others see it a different way, that is their privilege. There should be full liberty of conscience.”

[10] Also Awake! 1999 Jan. 8, p. 6: “Those daring to question the established orthodoxy, the monopoly of dogma, were branded as heretics and tracked down in the witch-hunt climate of the time.” The Watchtower, 2016, Sept p. 26 “Many ancient writers flattered their leaders and glorified their kingdoms. Jehovah’s prophets, however, always spoke the truth. They were willing to point out the shortcomings of their own people, even their kings. (2 Chron. 16:9, 10; 24:18-22) And they made plain their own failings and those of other servants of God. (2 Sam. 12:1-14; Mark 14:50)”

[11] https://rightsinfo.org/secret-trials-what-are-they-do-they-violate-human-rights/

[12] In Colossians (RNWT) God is referred to directly or indirectly 38 times whereas Christ – 60 times.

[13] https://study.com/academy/lesson/mark-twains-the-man-that-corrupted-hadleyburg-summary-analysis.html

[14] https://www.books2read.com/u/mgLPdq

Meleti Vivlon