[Translated from Spanish by Vivi]
By Felix of South America. (Names are changed to avoid retaliation.)
My family and the organization
I grew up in what was known as “the truth” since my parents began studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses when I was approximately 4 years old in the late 1980s. At the time, we were a family of 6, since we were 4 brothers of 8, 6, 4 and 2 years respectively (eventually we became 8 brothers although one died with two months of life), and I clearly remember that we met in a Kingdom Hall that was located about 20 blocks from my house. And since we were of humble economic condition whenever we attended the meetings we all walked together. I remember that we had to go through a very dangerous neighborhood and a busy avenue in order to get to our meetings. Yet, we never missed a meeting, walking through torrential rain fall or suffocating 40-centigrade heat in the summer. I remember that clearly. We arrived at the meeting drenched by the perspiration from the heat, but we were always present at the meetings.
My mother progressed and was baptized quickly, and very soon began serving as a regular pioneer when they had a requirement to meet a minimum of 90 hours average of reported activity per month or 1,000 hours per year, meaning that my mother spent a lot of time preaching away from home. So, there were many occasions when she left my 3 brothers and me locked up alone in a space with 2 rooms, a hallway and a bathroom for many hours because she had to go out to fulfill her commitment to Jehovah.
Now, I consider that it was wrong for my mother to leave 4 minors alone locked up, exposed to many dangers and without being able to go out to ask for help. I also understand. But that was what an indoctrinated person is led by the organization to do due to “the urgency of the times we live in”.
About my mother, I can say that for many years she was a very active regular pioneer in every way: commenting, preaching, and conducting Bible studies. My family was the typical family of the 1980s, when the education and training of children was carried out by the mother; and mine always had a very strong character to defend what seemed fair, and she fervently followed what the Bible teaches. And that was what, on many, many occasions, led her to be called to room B of the Kingdom Hall to be rebuked by the elders.
Although we were humble, my mother always helped when any member of the congregation needed support of any kind and that was also a reason for her to be called to room B, for not respecting the leadership order and not waiting for the elders to take over. I remember once that a brother was going through a serious situation and my mother was preaching very near an elder’s house, and it occurred to her to go to the elder’s house to let him know the situation. I remember that it was approximately 2 o’clock when she knocked on the door of his house and the door was answered by the elder’s wife. When my mother asked the wife to be allowed speak to her husband due to another brother’s serious situation, the elder’s wife’s response was, “Come back later sister, because my husband is taking a nap at this time, and he doesn’t want anyone to disturb him. ” I don’t think true shepherds, who must care for the flock, would show such little interest in their sheep, that’s for sure.
My mom became a huge fanatic of the organization. In those days, the point of view of discipline through physical correction was not frowned upon by the organization, but was considered natural and to some extent necessary. So, it was very common that my mom beat us. If some brother or sister told her that we had been running in the Hall, or that we were outside the Hall at the time of the meeting, or that we inadvertently pushed someone, or if we just approached one of my brothers to say something, or we would laugh during the meeting, she would pinch our ears or give us a hair pull or take us to the Kingdom Hall bathroom to spank us. It did not matter if we were in front of friends, brothers, or whoever. I remember that when we studied “My Book of Bible Stories”, my mom would sit us down around the table, showing her hands on the table, and would put a belt next to her on the table, too. If we answered badly or we laughed or we didn’t pay attention, she hit us on our hands with the belt. Craziness.
I can’t say that the blame for all this was entirely on the organization, but time after time articles came out in The Watchtower, Awake! or themes from the brother’s talks that encouraged the use of the “rod” of discipline, that the one who does not discipline his son does not love him, etc … but those kinds of things were what the organization taught parents back then.
On many occasions the elders abused their authority. I remember that when I was approximately 12 years old, my mother sent me to cut my hair in a way that, at that time, was called “shell cut” or “mushroom cut”. Well, in the first meeting we attended, the elders took my mother to room B to tell her that if she didn’t change my haircut, I could lose the privilege of being a microphone handler, because cutting my hair like that was fashionable, according to the elder, and that we did not have to be part of the world acquiring the fashions of the world. Although my mom didn’t think it was reasonable because there was no proof of that statement, she was tired of being reprimanded over and over, so she cut my hair off very short. I did not agree with that either, but I was 12 years old. What could I do more than complain and get angry? What fault of mine was it that the elders rebuked my mother?
Well, the most humiliating thing of all was that a week later this same elder’s son, who was my age, came to the Hall with the same haircut that could have caused me to have lost my privileges. Evidently, the haircut was no longer in fashion, because he could use the desirable cut. Nothing happened to him or to his microphone privilege. It is evident that the elder abused his authority. This type of thing happened on many occasions. It seems that what I have told so far are trivial things, but they show the degree of control that the elders exercise in the private life and decisions of the brothers.
My childhood and that of my brothers revolved around what the witnesses call “spiritual activities” such as meetings and preaching. (Over time, as our friends grew older, one by one, they were disfellowshipped or became disassociated.) Our whole life revolved around the organization. We grew up hearing that the end was around the corner; that it had already turned the corner; that it had already reached the door; that it was already knocking on the door—the end was always coming, so why would we study secularly if the end was coming. This is what my mother believed.
My two older brothers only finished elementary school. When my sister finished, she became a regular pioneer. And my 13-year-old brother started working to help the family. When the time came for me to finish primary school, my mother was no longer so sure of living in such urgent times, so I was the first to study secondary school. (At the same time, my two older brothers decided to start studying secondary although it cost them a lot more effort to complete it.) Over time, my mom had 4 more children and they were given a different upbringing, without having to go through so many penalties, but with the same pressures from the organization. I could recount many things that happened in the congregation—injustices and abuses of power—but I want to tell just one more.
My younger brother was always a very spiritual Jehovah’s Witness in his conduct and manner. This led him from a young age to participate in assemblies, share experiences, give demonstrations and interviews. So, he became a ministerial servant at the young age of 18 (an extraordinary thing, since you had to be very exemplary in a congregation to be named at 19 years old) and he continued to assume responsibilities in the congregation and completely fulfilled them.
My brother came to be in charge of the Accounting area in the congregation, and he knew that in this department he had to be very careful, because any mistake could have consequences and misinterpretations. Well, the instructions he had were that every 2 months a different elder had to review the accounts; that is, the elders had to go and check that everything was carried out in an orderly manner and if there were things to improve, feedback was given to the person in charge in written form.
The first two months passed and no elder asked to review the accounts. When he reached 4 months, no one came to review the accounts either. So, my brother asked an elder if they were going to review the accounts and the elder said, “Yes”. But time went by and no one reviewed the accounts, until the day the arrival of the Circuit Overseer’s visit was announced.
A day before the visit my brother was asked to review the accounts. My brother told them that that was no problem and gave them a folder in which he reported everything related to the accounts of the last six months. On the first day of the visit, the Circuit Overseer asked to speak to my brother in private and told him that the work he was doing was very good, but that when the elders made recommendations for things to improve, he had to stick to it humbly. My brother did not understand to what he was referring, so he asked him to what suggestion he was referring. And the Circuit Overseer replied that my brother had not made the changes that the elders suggested in writing in the three reviews they made (the elders not only lied on the dates of when they made the interventions, they also dared to make false recommendations that my brother did not know about, because they were not made when appropriate, trying to blame my brother for whatever error had occurred).
My brother explained to the Circuit Overseer that the elders had asked him to review the accounts the day before his visit and that, if the reviews had been made when they should have been made, he would have made the suggested changes, but that was not the case. The Circuit Overseer told him that he was going to tell the elders this and asked my brother if he had any problem confronting the elders about the alleged reviews. My brother replied that he had no problem with this. After a few days, the traveling Overseer told my brother that he had spoken to the elders and they confessed that they did not have time to review the accounts, and that what my brother said was true. So, it was not necessary for my brother to be confronted by the elders.
A month after this, a restructuring was done in the congregation and my brother suddenly went from having many simultaneous privileges like accounts, scheduling preaching, managing the sound equipment, and speaking very often on the platform, to just managing the microphone. At that time, we were all wondering what had happened.
One day we went with my brother to eat at the home of some friends. And then they told him that they had to talk to him, and we didn’t know what it was about. But I remember that talk very well.
They said: “You know that we love you very much, and so we are forced to tell you this. A month ago with my wife, we were at the entrance to the Kingdom Hall and we listened to two elders (he told us the names, coincidentally they were the elders that appeared in the review reports to the unrealized accounts) that were talking about what they had to do with you. We don’t know for what reason, but they said that they had to start, little by little, to remove you from the privileges of the congregation, so that you begin to feel displaced and alone, and afterwards to remove you from ministerial duties. We do not know why they said this but it seems to us that this is not the way to deal with anyone. If you did something wrong, they would have to call you and tell you why they are going to take away your privileges. This does not seem to us to be the Christian way of doing things ”.
Then my brother told them about the situation that had happened with the accounts.
Personally, I understood that they did not like that my brother defended himself against the bad behavior of the elders. The error was theirs, and instead of humbly recognizing the error, they conspired to eliminate the person who did what he was supposed to do. Did the elders follow the example of the Lord Jesus? Regrettably, no.
I suggested that my brother speak to the Circuit Overseer, since he was aware of the situation, and so that when the time came, my brother would know the reason why his removal as a ministerial servant was suggested. My brother spoke to the Overseer and told him about the conversation those elders had and the brothers who heard it. The Overseer told him that he did not believe that the elders acted that way, but that he would be alert to see what happened on the next visit to the congregation. Relieved to have told the Overseer of the situation, my brother continued complying with the few assignments that they gave him.
As time progressed, they assigned him to give fewer talks; they called on him less frequently to give comments at the meetings; and more pressure was put on him. For example, they criticized him because the elders did not see him in the preaching work on Saturdays. (My brother worked with me, but went out to preach many afternoons during the week. But on Saturdays, it was impossible to go out to preach, because most of our clients were home on Saturdays, and they said that they could only hire us on Saturdays.) The elders went out to preach in the territory on Saturdays and Sundays, but during the week they were conspicuous by their absence. So, since they did not see my brother on Saturdays in the preaching work, and despite his monthly report being always above double digits, and despite his explaining the situation to them, they were unreasonable.
In fact, two months before the Overseer’s visit, my brother had an accident while playing soccer, hit his head against a wall and cracked his skull. Also, he had a stroke that caused temporary memory loss, photophobia, and migraines. For one month he didn’t go to the meetings, … a month in which the elders were aware of the situation (because my mother made sure she told the elders, one by one, what happened), but none of them stopped by to visit him, neither in the hospital nor at home. They did not call him on the phone or write a card or letter of encouragement. They were never interested in him. When he was able to attend the meetings again, the headaches and photophobia caused him to have to leave the meetings before they ended.
The visit of the Circuit Overseer arrived and the elders requested the removal as ministerial servant of my brother. Two elders (the same who conspired against him) and the Overseer met to tell him that he was not going to be a ministerial servant anymore. My brother did not understand why. They only explained to him that it was because he did not have “frankness of expression”, because he did not go out to preach on Saturdays, and because he did not attend the meetings frequently. What example was he to get on the platform and tell the brothers to go out and preach and to attend the meetings if he did not? They asked him for frankness of expression when neither they were frank nor could they be frank. With what frankness could they say from the platform that they should be humble and recognize their mistakes if they did not do it themselves? How could they speak of love towards the brothers if they didn’t show it? How could they encourage the congregation to be fair if they weren’t? How could they tell others that we have to be reasonable if they weren’t? It sounded like a joke.
He explained to them again that if they did not see him in the preaching work on Saturdays, it was because he worked, but he preached during the week in the afternoon. And, that he could not attend the meetings regularly because of the accident that they themselves knew about. Any reasonable person would understand the situation. Besides this, the Circuit Overseer, who was present and with them, knew perfectly well that this was not the real reason why he was being removed. To my brother’s surprise, the C.O. supported the elders and recommended removal. The next day, the C.O. asked to go out to preach with my brother and explained that he knew the real reason why the elders recommended the removal, which was what had happened on the previous visit, but that he could not go against the elders. (Personally I think he did nothing because he didn’t want to. He had the authority.) He told my brother to take it as an experience, and that in the future when he is old, he will remember what the elders did to him, and that he will laugh, and as we always say, to “Leave things in Jehovah’s hands.”
On the day of the announcement, all the brothers (the whole congregation except the elders) who knew very well how unfair the situation was, came to my brother to tell him to stay calm, that they knew what had really happened. That act of love by the brothers left him with a clear conscience that all that had happened was because of his doing what was right in Jehovah’s eyes.
Personally, I was outraged when I found out about this—how the elders, “loving shepherds who always want the best for the flock”, could do these things and go unpunished? How could the traveling overseer, who has the responsibility to see that the elders do the right thing, and being aware of the situation, do nothing to defend the righteous one, to make Jehovah’s justice prevail, to show everyone that no one is above God’s righteous standards? How could this happen within the “people of God”? The worst thing of all was that when other people from other congregations found out that my brother was no longer a ministerial servant and asked the elders, they told some that it was because he played violent video games, others said that it was because my brother was addicted to pornography and that my brother had rejected the “help they offered him”. Vile lies invented by the elders! When we know a removal is supposed to be handled confidentially. What about the love and adherence to the organization’s procedures that the elders were supposed to demonstrate? This was something that greatly influenced my point of view regarding the organization.
Hi, The famous football coach Bill Parcels said, “You are what your record says you are.” I can understand human imperfection causing the occasional problem here and there and I can excuse that. The problem for me is that I have personally witnessed on more than one occasion and have the testimony of so many people of far to many instances of hypocrisy, cronyism, manipulation, bullying, unreasonableness, etc. I do not just mean personnel matters either. Much of the organizations teachings are so clearly calculated to mislead that some of it borders on outright lying. These are not simple mistakes;… Read more »
Excellent arguments, New Englander.
Dear beloved brother,thank you for telling us your story. When reading your experience , I could feel your pain in my heart, because I have for myself experienced such a treatement from local elders. And it’s true that the circuit-officer, and. Other organisational-managers(how I call him) don’t do anything. This reminds me the Watch-Tower Study of this weekend , that Eli did not really correct his sons : Ofni and Fineaz. Sadly, the thing happens in the JW organisation. But I am happy to hear that these experiences made you think seriously, about the system of organisational procedures versus what… Read more »
Thank you Felix for the outpouring of your feelings and emotions around this experience that you shared with us. I know exactly the feelings you experienced through those many years. Thinking that you were in Jehovah’s organisation, that it had God’s spirit, that the elders and everyone else that you were dealing with had God’s spirit and therefore you and your family had certain expectations that fell far short from what should have been expected. I can imagine your frustration at not understanding why things were happening the way that they were. Praying earnestly for an answer to your prayers,… Read more »
When you have an arrangement like watchtower that measures progress by numbers then sadly, the little cogs in the machine get crunched, they’re stripped of their teeth yet the machine just keeps rolling along. The oil of love and kindness is seldom checked, as it would be in an auto, so problems build up. As an elder in various parts of the world I have seen this cruelty happen often to a number of victims, and also happening to myself. When I realized, like most of us here, that I was able to worship God without the Society as a… Read more »
Felix, the experience your brother had with the elders is not rare. Some who read this may think that this was an exception, but in 40 years of service as an elder in three countries I know that it is very rare for the circuit overseer or the branch office to stand up for the little one against the elders. In fact, I cannot think of a single instance where this has taken place, but I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of times I’ve see situations very similar to what your brother experienced.