By Sheryl Bogolin Email email@example.com
The first congregational meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses that I attended with my family was held in the basement of a home filled with many, many chairs. Although I was only 10 years old, I found it to be rather intriguing. The young woman I sat next to raised her hand and answered a question from the Watchtower magazine. I whispered to her, “Do it again.” She did. Thus began my complete immersion into the religion known as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
My father was the first one in our family to pursue an interest in the religion, probably because his older brother was already one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. My mother agreed to a home Bible study only to prove the Witnesses wrong. We four kids were dragged in from our playtime outside and reluctantly sat in on the weekly study, although the discussions were often beyond our understanding and sometimes we nodded off.
But I must have gotten something out of those studies. Because I began talking with my friends about Bible topics on a regular basis. In fact, I wrote a term paper in 8th grade entitled: “Are You Afraid of Hell?” That caused quite a stir among my classmates.
It was also when I was about 13 years old that I got into a debate with a householder, who obviously knew more about the Bible than I did. Finally, in frustration, I said: “Well, we might not get everything right, but at least we’re out here preaching!”
All six of us in the family were baptized within a couple years of each other. My baptism date was April 26, 1958. I was not quite 13 years of age. As my whole family was quite outgoing and gregarious, it was almost easy for us to knock on doors and start up conversations with people about the Bible.
My sister and I both started regular pioneering as soon as we graduated from High School in the early ’60s. In view of the fact that I would have made the eighth regular pioneer in our home congregation, we decided to go where the “need was greater”. The Circuit Servant recommended that we assist a congregation in Illinois about 30 miles away from our childhood home.
We initially lived with a dear Witness family of five, which soon became six. So we found an apartment and invited two sisters from our original congregation to live and pioneer with us. And help us with expenses! We jokingly called ourselves ‘Jephthah’s Daughters’. (Because we figured we might all remain single.) We had good times together. Though it was necessary to count our pennies, I never felt like we were poor.
Back in the early ’60’s, I think about 75% of the householders in our territory actually were at home and would answer their door. Most were religious and willing to talk to us. Many were anxious to defend their own religious beliefs. As were we! We took our ministry very seriously. We each had a few regular Bible studies. We used either the “Good News” booklet or the “Let God Be True” book. In addition, I tried to include a 5-10 minute segment at the end of each study which was nicknamed “DITTO”.–.Direct Interest To The Organization.
Within the congregation, we were also busy. Since our new congregation was small with a limited number of qualified brothers, both my sister and I were assigned to fill positions of “servants”, such as the “Territory Servant”. We even had to conduct the Congregation Book Study sometimes although a baptized brother was present. That was a little uncomfortable.
In 1966, my sister and I applied for the special pioneer work and were assigned to a small congregation in Wisconsin. About that same time my parents sold their house and bakery and moved to Minnesota as pioneers. Later they entered the Circuit work. With the last name of Sovereign. they fit right in.
Our congregation in Wisconsin was also small, about 35 publishers. As special pioneers, we spent 150 hours a month in the field service and each received $50 a month from the Society, which had to cover rent, food, transportation and basic necessities. We also found that it was necessary to clean houses half a day each week to supplement our income.
At times I reported 8 or 9 Bible studies each month. That was both a privilege and quite a challenge. I can remember that during one stretch of my ministry several of my students were victims of domestic violence. Years later, the majority of my students were older women with onset dementia. It was during that latter period that five of my Bible students agreed one year to come to our observance of the Lord’s Evening Meal at the Kingdom Hall. As I was not able to have all five of the ladies sit near me, I asked one of our older sisters to befriend and assist one of the students. Imagine my dismay when someone whispered in my ear that my student had partaken of the bread and our elderly sister was all in a dither.
As the years passed, I was used on several assembly parts and interviewed as to my pioneering experiences and long life as a Witness. These parts were special privileges and I enjoyed them. I look back now and realize that they are an effective means of reinforcing one’s desire to ‘stay the course’. Even if that means neglecting family obligations like cooking nutritious meals, attending to necessary household maintenance, and paying careful attention to what is going on in your marriage, the lives of your children, or even one’s own health.
As an example, not too long ago, I was rushing out the door to get to the Kingdom Hall in time. As I was backing down the driveway, I felt a thump. Although I was running late, I decided I better check if any obstacle was in the driveway. There was. My husband! He had been bending over to pick up a newspaper. (I had no idea that he had even come out of the house.) After I helped him up off of the cement, apologizing profusely, I questioned him about how he felt. He didn’t say a word. I was at a loss as to what I should do next. Go in service? Comfort him? He just kept saying, “Go. Go.” So I left him hobbling into the house and hurried off. Pathetic, wasn’t I?
So there it is: over 61 years of handing in a report every single month; 20 years in the regular and special pioneer work; as well as many, many months of vacation/auxiliary pioneering. I was able to assist about three dozen people to dedicate their lives to Jehovah. I felt very privileged to guide them in their spiritual growth. But in recent years, I came to wonder if I had misdirected them.
I believe that the majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses are devout, loving, and self-sacrificing people. I admire and love them. I did NOT come to my decision to separate from the organization lightly or casually; nor simply because my daughter and husband were already “inactive”. No, I anguished over leaving my former life behind for quite a long time. But after a great deal of study, investigation and prayer, that is what I have done. But why have I decided to make my choice public?
The reason is that truth is so very important. Jesus said at John 4:23 that “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth”. I believe strongly that truth can withstand scrutiny.
One teaching that turned out to be shockingly false was the Watchtower prediction that Armageddon would wipe out all the wicked in 1975. Did I actually believe that teaching at the time? Oh yes! I did. I remember a Circuit Servant telling us from the platform that there was only 90 months left until 1975. My mother and I rejoiced over the certainty that we would never have to buy another car; or even another slip! I also recall that in 1968, we received the book, The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. We were instructed to zip through the whole book in six months with our Bible students. If any failed to keep pace, we were to drop them and go on to the next person. Often it was I who failed to keep pace!
As we all know, the wicked system of things did not end in 1975. It wasn’t until much later that I was honest and asked myself: Was the description of a false prophet in Deuteronomy 18:20-22 to be taken seriously, or not?
Although I reassured myself that I was not serving Jehovah only up to a certain date, I see that my world view did change as 1975 ended. In January of 1976, I stopped pioneering. My reason at the time was some health issues. Also, I wanted to have children before I was too old. In September of 1979, our first child was born after 11 years of marriage. I was 34 and my husband was 42.
My first real confrontation with my beliefs came in the year 1986. My JW husband brought the book Crisis of Conscience into the house. I was very upset with him. We knew that the author, Raymond Franz, was a known apostate. Although he had been a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses for nine years.
I was actually afraid to read the book. But my curiosity got the best of me. I only read one chapter. It was entitled, “Double Standards”. It recounted the horrific persecution that the brothers suffered in the country of Malawi. It made me cry. All due to the fact that the Governing Body directed the Malawian brothers to stand firm, remain politically neutral and refuse to buy a $1 political party card.
Then the same chapter in the Franz book gives documented proof, including photocopies of Watchtower letters that the Headquarters in New York sent to Branch Office in Mexico, about this same subject of political neutrality. They wrote that the brothers in Mexico could “follow their consciences” if they wanted to follow the common practice of bribing Mexican officials to provide them with “proof” that the brothers had fulfilled the requirements necessary to obtain an Identity Certificate (Cartilla) for Military Service. The Cartilla made it possible for them to obtain better-paying jobs and passports. These letters were dated in the ’60s also.
My world turned upside down in 1986. I went into a mild depression for several weeks. I kept thinking, “This is not right. This can’t be true. But the documentation is there. Does this mean I should leave my religion??!!” At the time, I was a middle-aged mother of a baby and a 5-year old. I’m sure that this contributed to my pushing this revelation to the back of my mind and stumbling on once again in my established routine.
Time marched on. Our children grew up and married and were also serving Jehovah with their mates. As my husband had been inactive for decades, I decided to learn Spanish at age 59 and change to a Spanish congregation. It was invigorating. People were patient with my limited new vocabulary, and I loved the culture. I loved the congregation. I made progress as I learned the language, and once again took up the pioneer work. But a bumpy road lay ahead of me.
In the year 2015, I returned home from a mid-week evening meeting and was surprised to see my husband watching Brother Geoffrey Jackson on the TV. The Australian Royal Commission was investigating the handling/mishandling by various religious institutions of the sexual abuse cases within their ranks. The ARC had subpoenaed Brother Jackson to testify in behalf of the Watchtower Society. Naturally, I sat down and listened. Initially I was impressed with Brother Jackson’s composure. But when asked by the Solicitor, Angus Stewart, if the Watchtower’s Governing Body was the only channel God was using in our day to direct mankind, Brother Jackson became less composed. After trying to dodge the question a bit, he finally said: “I think that would be presumptuous of me to say that.” I was stunned! Presumptuous?! Were we the one true religion, or not?
I learned from that Commission’s investigation that there were 1006 cases of perpetrators of child sexual abuse in Australia alone among Jehovah’s Witnesses. But that not ONE had been reported to the authorities, and that the vast majority of the accused perpetrators were not even disciplined by the congregations. That meant that other Witnesses and innocent children were at grave risk.
Something else that seemed incredible that came to my attention was an article on-line, in a London newspaper called “The Guardian”, about the Watchtower’s affiliation with the United Nations for 10 years as a NGO member! (Non-Government Organization) Whatever happened to our unyielding stance on remaining politically neutral?!
It was in 2017 that I finally gave myself permission to read Crisis of Conscience by Raymond Franz. The whole thing. And also his book, In Search of Christian Freedom.
Meanwhile, our daughter Ali had been doing her own deep investigation of the Bible. She often came charging into the house with questions of her own. I usually had a well-rehearsed Watchtower response that held her at bay—for awhile.
There is so much that could be mentioned about other Watchtower teachings. Like: the “Overlapping /Anointed! Generation”, or the confusion I still feel about rejecting a blood transfusion at all costs—even one’s life—yet, ‘blood fractions’ are okay?
It makes me angry that Kingdom Halls are being sold out from under the feet of various congregations and Circuit Assembly account reports are not transparent as to where the funds go. Really? It costs $10,000 or more to cover expenses for a 1-day assembly in a building that is already paid for??! But the worst was yet to be revealed.
Is Jesus Christ the Mediator for only the 144,000 mentioned in Revelation 14:1,3? That is what the Watchtower teaches. On the basis of this teaching, the Society argues that only the 144,000 should partake of the emblems during the celebration of the Lord’s Evening Meal. However, this teaching goes directly against Jesus’ words in John 6:53 where he says: “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”
It was this realization and accepting Jesus’ words at face value that made it unconscionable for me in the spring of 2019 to invite people to the Memorial. I thought, ‘Why would we want to invite them to come and then discourage them from accepting Jesus’ invitation?’
I just couldn’t do it any longer. That was the end of my personal house-to-house field service. In humility and gratitude, I also began partaking of the emblems.
One more of the saddest directives from the Governing Body is the set of rules that is part of the congregational judicial system. Even if a person confesses their sin to an elder for help and relief, three or more elders must sit in judgment of that person. If they conclude that the “sinner” (aren’t we all??) is not repentant, they are directed—by a very private, closely guarded book that only elders receive—to expel the person from the congregation. This is called ‘disfellowshipping’. Then a cryptic announcement is made to the congregation that “So-and-so is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Wild speculation and gossip understandably follows as the congregation in general understands nothing about the announcement except that they are no longer to have any contact with the person who was announced. The sinner must be SHUNNED.
This cruel and unloving treatment is what my daughter went through—is going through. One can hear the entire meeting of her “(non) Judicial Meeting with 4 Jehovah’s Witness Elders” on her YouTube site entitled “Ali’s Big Toe”.
Do we find this system spelled out in the Scriptures? Is this how Jesus treated the sheep? Did Jesus ever shun anyone?? One must decide for oneself.
So it is that there is a huge credibility gap between the things the Governing Body is presenting publicly and what the Bible says. A Governing Body of eight men who appointed themselves to that position in 2012. Wasn’t Jesus appointed head of the congregation 2000 years ago?
Does it even matter to Jehovah’s Witnesses that the expression “Governing Body” doesn’t even appear in the Bible? Does it matter that the well-worn phrase in WT publications, “faithful and discreet slave”, appears only once in the Bible? And that it appears as the first of four parables that Jesus gives in the 24th chapter of Matthew? Does it matter that from only one Bible text has sprung the self-serving explanation that a small group of men are God’s hand-picked instruments who expect obedience and loyalty from the worldwide flock?
All of the above issues are not small matters. These are issues on which a corporate-like headquarters makes decisions, print those edicts in their literature, and expects members to follow them to the letter. Millions of people, whose lives are profoundly affected in many negative ways, because they think they are doing what God wants them to do.
These are some of the issues that have forced me to question many teachings and policies that I had for decades accepted and taught as “the truth”. However, after investigation and profound Bible study and prayer, I decided to walk away from the organization that I had loved and in which I enthusiastically served God for 61 years. So where do I find myself today?
Life certainly does take strange turns. Where am I today? “Ever Learning”. And therefore, I am closer to my Lord Jesus Christ, my Father, and the Scriptures than ever in my life; Scriptures which have opened up to me in surprising and wonderful ways.
I am stepping out of the shadows of my fear of an organization that, in effect, discourages people to develop their own consciences. Worse yet, an organization where that eight men are substituting themselves for the headship of Christ Jesus. It is my hope to comfort and encourage others who are suffering because they fear to ask questions. I am reminding people that JESUS is “the way, the truth, and the life”, not an organization.
Thoughts of my old life are still with me. I miss my friends in the organization. Very few have reached out to me, and even then, only briefly.
I do not blame them. Only recently did the words in Acts 3:14-17 really shock me at the import of Peter’s words to the Jews. In verse 15 Peter bluntly said: “You killed the Chief Agent of life.” But then in verse 17 he continued, “And now, brothers, I know you acted in ignorance.” Wow! How kind was that?! Peter had real empathy for his fellow Jews.
I, too, acted in ignorance. More than 40 years ago, I shunned a sister I truly loved in the congregation. She was smart, funny, and a very capable defender of the Bible. Then, suddenly, she packed up ALL her Watchtower literature and left it behind; including her New World Translation of the Bible. I don’t know why she left. I never asked her.
Sadly, I shunned another good friend twenty years ago. She was one of the three other “Jepthah’s Daughters” with whom I pioneered many years earlier. She went on to special pioneer for five years in Iowa, and we had a lively and fun correspondence for years. Then I learned that she was no longer attending the meetings. She wrote to tell me some of her issues with Watchtower teachings. I read them. But I dismissed them without too much thought, and cut off my correspondence with her. In other words, I shunned her. 🙁
As I was awakening to so many new thoughts, I searched for her letter of explanation to me. Upon finding it, I was determined to apologize to her. With some effort, I got her phone number and called her. She readily and graciously accepted my apology. We have since had endless hours of deep Bible conversations and laughs over great memories of our years together. By the way, neither of these two friends were expelled from the congregation or disciplined in any way. But I took it upon myself to cut them off.
Worse yet, and most painful of all, I shunned my own daughter 17 years ago. Her wedding day was one of the saddest days of my life. Because I couldn’t be with her. The pain and cognitive dissonance that goes with accepting that policy haunted me for a very long time. But that is long behind us now. I am so proud of her. And we have the greatest relationship now.
Something else that brings me great joy are two weekly on-line Bible study groups with attendees from Canada, UK, Australia, Italy and various states in the U.S. In one we are reading Acts verse by verse. In the other, Romans, verse by verse. We compare Bible translations and commentaries. We don’t agree on everything. And there is no one who says we must. These participants have become my brothers and sisters, and my good friends.
I have also learned so very much from a YouTube site called Beroean Pickets. The documentation of what Jehovah’s Witnesses teach compared to what the Bible says is outstanding.
Finally, I am happily spending much more time with my husband. He came to many of the conclusions 40 years ago that I have only recently accepted. He has been inactive for those same 40 years, but he didn’t share much with me at the time about his discoveries. Probably out of respect for my continued zealous association with the organization; or perhaps because I told him many years ago while I had tears running down my cheeks that I didn’t think he would make it through Armageddon. Now it is a joy to “pick his brain” and have our own deep Bible conversations. I believe it is due to his Christian qualities more than mine that we have stayed married for 51 years.
I sincerely pray for my family and the friends who are still devoted to the “slave”. Please, everyone, do your own research and investigation. TRUTH CAN WITHSTAND SCRUTINY. It takes time, I know. However, I myself must heed the warning found in Psalms 146:3 “Do not put your trust in princes Nor in a son of man, who cannot bring salvation.” (NWT)