My name is Sean Heywood. I am 42 years old, gainfully employed, and happily married to my wife, Robin, for 18 years. I am a Christian. In short, I am just a regular Joe.
Although I was never baptized into the Jehovah’s Witness’ organization, I have had a life-long relationship with it. I went from believing that this organization was God’s arrangement on earth for his pure worship to becoming totally disillusioned with it and its teachings. My reasons for finally breaking my connection with Jehovah’s Witnesses is the story that follows:
My parents became Witnesses in the late 1970’s. My dad was zealous, even serving as a ministerial servant; but I doubt my mother was ever really in it, though she played the part of a faithful Witness wife and mother. Up until I was age seven, mom and dad were active members of the congregation in Lyndonville, Vermont. Our family had a fair amount of Witness association outside of the Kingdom Hall, sharing meals with others in their homes. In 1983, we hosted construction volunteers who came to help build the new Lyndonville Kingdom Hall. There were a couple of single mothers in the congregation then, and my dad would kindly volunteer his time and expertise to maintain their vehicles. I found meetings to be long and boring, but I had Witness friends and was happy. There was a lot of camaraderie among Witnesses back then.
In December of 1983, our family moved to McIndoe Falls, Vermont. The move did not prove to be helpful for our family spiritually. Our meeting attendance and field service activity became less regular. My mother, in particular, was less supportive of the Witness lifestyle. Then she had a nervous breakdown. These factors probably led to my dad being removed as a ministerial servant. Over several years, my dad became inactive, only attending a few Sunday morning meetings a year and the Memorial of Christ’s death.
When I was just out of high school, I made a halfhearted attempt to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I attended meetings on my own and accepted a weekly Bible study for a time. However, I was too scared to join the Theocratic Ministry School and was not interested in going out in the field ministry. And so, things just fizzled out.
My life followed the normal path of a maturing young adult. When I married Robin, I was still thinking about the Witness way of life, but Robin was not a religious person, and was most unhappy about my interest in Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, I never completely lost my love of God, and I even sent away for a free copy of the book, What Does the Bible Really Teach?. I have always kept a Bible in my home.
Fast forward to 2012. My mother began an extramarital affair with an old high school beau. This resulted in a bitter divorce between my parents and my mom was disfellowshipped.. The divorce devastated my dad, and his physical health was failing as well. He did, however, become spiritually rejuvenated as a member of the Lancaster, New Hampshire congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This congregation gave my dad the love and support that he desperately needed, for which I am eternally grateful. My dad passed away in May of 2014.
My dad’s death and my parents’ divorce devastated me. Dad was my best friend, and I was still furious with mom. I felt that I had lost both of my parents. I needed the comfort of God’s promises. My thoughts turned to the Witnesses once again, in spite of Robin’s objections. Two events strengthened my resolve to serve Jehovah, come what may.
The first event was a chance encounter with Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2015. I was sitting in my car reading the book, Live with Jehovah’s Day In Mind, from my dad’s Witness library. A couple approached me, noticed the book, and asked if I was a Witness. I said no, and explained that I considered myself a lost cause. They were both very kind and the brother encouraged me to read the account in Matthew of the eleventh-hour worker.
The second event happened because I was reading the August 15, 2015 Watchtower on the jw.org site. Although I had previously thought I could “get on board” when world conditions worsened, this article, “Keep in Expectation”, caught my attention. It said: “Thus, the Scriptures indicate that world conditions during the last days would not become so extreme that people would be forced to believe that the end is near.”
So much for waiting until the last minute! I made up my mind. Within the week, I started going back to the Kingdom Hall. I was not at all sure if Robin would still be living in our home when I returned. Happily, she was.
My progress was slow, but steady. Well into the year 2017, I finally agreed to a weekly Bible study with a fine, fine elder named Wayne. He and his wife Jean were very kind and hospitable. As time went on, Robin and I were invited to other Witnesses’ homes for meals and socializing. I thought to myself: Jehovah is giving me another chance, and I was determined to make the most of it.
The Bible study I had with Wayne progressed well. There were, however, a few things that concerned me. To begin with, I noticed that far too much reverence was being given to the “faithful “and discreet slave”, aka the Governing Body. That phrase was mentioned far too often in prayers, talks, and comments. All that I could think of was the angel telling John in the book of Revelation to be careful because he (the angel) was only a fellow slave of God. Coincidentally, this morning I was reading in the KJV 2 Corinthians 12:7 where Paul says, “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.” I certainly felt that the “faithful and discreet slave” was being “exalted above measure”.
Another change I noticed that differed from past years of my association with the Witnesses was the current emphasis on the need to give financial support to the organization. Their claim that the organization is totally funded by voluntary donations seemed to me to be disingenuous, in view of JW broadcasts’ steady stream of reminders about the different ways one could donate. A person criticizing a similar Christian denomination described the hierarchy’s expectation of the church membership to ‘pray, pay, and obey’. This is an accurate description of what is expected of Jehovah’s Witnesses as well.
These and some other minor matters caught my attention, but I still believed that the Witness teachings were the truth and none of these issues were deal breakers at the time.
As the study continued, however, a statement came up that really bothered me. We were covering the chapter about death where it states that most anointed Christians have already been resurrected to heavenly life and that those who die in our day are instantly resurrected to heavenly life. I had heard this stated in the past, and simply accepted it. I found comfort in this teaching, perhaps because I had recently lost my dad. Suddenly, though, I had a real “light bulb” moment. I realized that this doctrine was not supported by scripture.
I pressed for proof. Wayne showed me 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52, but I was not satisfied. I decided that I needed to dig further. I did. I even wrote to headquarters about this matter, more than once.
A few weeks went by when a second elder named Dan joined us on the study. Wayne had a handout for each of us consisting of three Watchtower articles from the 1970’s. Wayne and Dan did their best using these three articles to explain the correctness of this doctrine. It was a very friendly meeting, but I was still not convinced. I am not sure that the Bible was ever opened during this meeting. They suggested that when I had sufficient time I should review these articles some more.
I picked these articles apart. I still believed that there was no basis for the conclusions drawn, and reported my findings to Wayne and Dan. Shortly afterward, Dan told me concisely that he had spoken to a member of the writing committee who said more or less that the explanation was the explanation until the Governing Body says otherwise. I could not believe what I was hearing. Evidently, it no longer mattered what the Bible actually said. Rather, whatever the Governing Body decreed was the way that it was!
I could not let this matter rest. I continued to research extensively and came upon 1 Peter 5:4. Here was the answer that I was looking for in clear, simple English. It says: “And when the chief shepherd has been made manifest, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” Most Bible translations say, “when the chief shepherd appears”. Jesus has not ‘appeared’ or been ‘made manifest’. Jehovah’s Witnesses maintain that Jesus returned invisibly in 1914. Something that I do not believe. That is not the same thing as being made manifest.
I continued with my personal Bible study and my attendance at the Kingdom Hall, but the more I compared what was being taught with what I understood the Bible to say, the divide just got deeper and deeper. I wrote another letter. Many letters. Duplicate letters to both the United States branch and the Governing Body. I personally received no reply. However, I knew the branch had received the letters because they contacted the local elders. But I had not received an answer to my sincere Bible questions.
Matters came to a head when I was invited to a meeting with the coordinator of the body of elders and a second elder. The COBE suggested that I review the Watchtower article, “The First Resurrection-Now Under Way!” We had been through this before, and I told them that the article was deeply flawed. The elders told me that they were not there to debate scripture with me. They attacked my character and questioned my motives. They also told me that this was the only response that I was going to get and that the Governing Body was too busy to deal with the likes of me.
I went to Wayne’s house the next day to ask about the study, since the two elders of my special meeting had suggested that the study would likely be terminated. Wayne confirmed that he had received that recommendation, so, yes, the study was over. I believe that was hard for him to say, but the Witness hierarchy has done a masterful job of silencing dissent and thoroughly suppressing honest and sincere Bible discussion and reasoning.
And so my association with Jehovah’s Witnesses came to an end in the summer of 2018. All of this has liberated me. I now believe that the Christian ‘wheat’ will come from nearly all Christian denominations. And so will the ‘weeds’. It is very, very easy to lose sight of the fact that we are all sinners and to develop a “holier than thou” attitude. I believe that the Jehovah’s Witness organization has developed this attitude.
Worse than that, though, is the Watchtower’s insistence on promoting 1914 as the year that Jesus became King invisibly.
Jesus himself said as recorded in Luke 21:8: “Look out that you are not misled; for many will come on the basis of my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The due time has approached.’ Do not go after them.”
Do you know how many entries there are for this verse in the scriptural index in the Watchtower online library? Exactly one, from the year 1964. It appears that the organization has little interest in Jesus’ own words here. What is noteworthy, however, is that in the final paragraph of that single article the author gave some advice that all Christians would be wise to consider. It says, “You do not want to become prey to unscrupulous men who will only use you for the advancement of their own power and position, and without any regard for your eternal welfare and happiness. So check the credentials of those who come on the basis of Christ’s name, or who claim to be Christian teachers, and, if they do not prove to be authentic, then by all means obey the Lord’s warning: ‘Do not go after them.’”
The Lord works in mysterious ways. I was lost for many years and I was also a prisoner for many years. I was confined by the notion that my Christian salvation was directly tied to my being a Jehovah’s Witness. It was my belief that the chance encounter with Jehovah’s Witnesses years ago in a McDonald’s parking lot was an invitation from God to return to him. It was; though not at all in the manner that I thought. I have found my Lord Jesus. I am happy. I have relationships with my sister, brother and mother, all of whom are not Jehovah’s Witnesses. I am making new friends. I have a happy marriage. I feel closer to the Lord now more than I ever have at any other time in my life. Life is good.