Jehovah's Witnesses From the Inside Out
Preview of Chapter 1
In The Beginning…
“History is a set of lies agreed upon”
The year was 1975, and I was walking side by side with my mother in what we called the “door to door ministry work”, otherwise known to outsiders as the “routine Saturday morning wakeup call” by Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was frightened as I was expected to present the topic of the day, by reading a prepared scripture from the Bible. The very act of knocking at an individual’s home springs forth all sorts of visions during the lingering seconds you await, listening to the weary sounds of someone stumbling to meet you at the door. Who shall answer……. male, female, mother, father, a child? What shall their temperament be? Will they be receptive, or shall they be rude? There are stories told of very angry people, will this be one of them? For once the door was knocked upon or the doorbell rang, you were obligated to speak to whoever answered: and therein lies the intensity of emotion with each and every footstep. This time it was a man, a large man in comparison with my small size, and I uttered my introduction in barely audible tones.
“I am here to share a scripture with you, and, uh, its Revelation 21 verse 4, which says: ‘And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.’ ” (Society, 2010)
I was fortunate in that he displayed a smile of courtesy, which gently spread into laughter. I was waiting patiently for the adult: my mother to speak, as that was what was planned ahead of time. She was to speak now….and I was to simply stand still for however long he permitted us to remain on his doorstep. But laughter? Why laughter? That wasn’t in the plan, nor did we rehearse how to respond to such a reaction. I was embarrassed, and didn’t know why.
It turned out that since I was far too young to actually know how to read, I had memorized the text, and had marked the page in the Bible from which it came. I performed quite nicely, holding the Bible so he could see it, and reading the words so very carefully….all the while my finger was pointing to the wrong place on the page. I had been pointing and dragging my finger across words that belonged to a completely different verse of the book of Revelation.
This occasion marks the beginning of my long journey within the walls of the organization known today as “Jehovah’s Witnesses”. Generations past were known also by the name of “Russellites”, as followers of Charles Taze Russell. My grandparents recalled the earliest days of the movement, when they used “sandwich signs”, or two large boards which hung over each shoulder by straps declaring “Religion is a Snare and a Racket”.
The origin of the Jehovah’s Witness movement is properly summarized by Beth Davies-Stofka: “American evangelist William Miller predicted that Christ would return in 1844. When that second coming failed to materialize, many believers drifted away in the "Great Disappointment." Others kept Adventist aspirations alive through new interpretations of doctrine….The movement of Jehovah's Witnesses emerged in part because of key doctrinal disagreements with similar Adventist groups, all of which were deeply influenced by the pre-millennialism of the mid-19th century….Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916) established the Witnesses circa 1870 in Pennsylvania, and the second president, Joseph F. Rutherford (1869-1942), gave the group much of its present administrative structure.” (Davies-Stofka, 2011)
My mother had been raised off and on again within the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Her mother before her had been raised the same, as my maternal great-grandparents were also members of the early portion of this religious group. My grandmother left at a young age, due to the fact that she had become pregnant out of wedlock, and had given birth to my uncle: James Edward Devine. My grandmother’s brother left the “organization” by joining a traveling circus and marrying the trapeze artist, never to return again. My mother and younger uncle came along as the years passed by, as well as the multiple marriages she had. Occasionally she would join a local Baptist church, or send my mother to it, and at other times, she would attend the local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Those were the days when you could walk in and out, rather mamby pamby, as the organization was not nearly as strict as the generation I was born into. My generation was unique, for we were the generation that was to see a “New World”, one in which only the most devoted of Jehovah’s true servants would be permitted entrance.
I was born in 1971, to two parents who were 18 and 19 at the time, and very much involved within the Hippy movement of the San Francisco Bay Area. My mother’s older brother was also involved to some degree, but decided to return to the Kingdom Hall for reasons unknown to me. My mother followed suit shortly thereafter, and was baptized during her final term of pregnancy with my middle brother. In a way, I am what is considered “born into the truth”, or the true teachings of the Bible as interpreted by Jehovah’s Witnesses, since I was so young at the time. My brother was literally born into the “truth”, and my youngest brother had no choice in the matter, as my mother had become quite devout by the time of his arrival.
My father, on the other hand, remained in what was termed “the world” for many more years, actively engaging in both drugs and alcohol. This brought a great deal of disappointment to my mother, for as an ambitious woman, she could rise only so high within the ranks of the organization as a single parent. It didn’t matter that she had a spouse, she had a “worldly spouse” and that was far worse than no spouse at all. She was locked in place, and only thru his conversion could she gain further acceptance.
What it presented to us as children was a unique and interesting first few years within the Kingdom Hall arrangement. We had an older elder who would pick us up and drop us off until my mother finally had a vehicle of her own. Meetings were mandatory, and often I would beg to remain at home with my father, particularly Sunday mornings. To be left home with dad meant at least three hours without mom, and an often hung-over father to watch “B” movies with or cartoons. But alas, most of the time I was expected to accompany mom to the “meeting”. Two hours of intense boredom, while obediently sitting very still and pretending to read the publications is what I recall most of all during those early years.
The few times that dad did accompany us were divine by my standards at the time, as I could sit next to him and felt extremely special. He was as bored, if not more so than I; and if I was particularly lucky, he would play “the game”. Really, it consisted of a slight pinch to the thigh, and I was to wiggle or whimper a wee bit. He would promptly let mom know that she didn’t need to fuss; he would take me out so that no one was disturbed during the meeting. We usually ended up sitting in his truck, parked in the sunlight of an early Sunday morning, until he fell asleep. I would listen to the sound of the bees as they sucked honeysuckle from the bush in the nearby empty lot, and wonder at the extreme growth of an ancient vine of morning glory’s. Often, I fell asleep as well….and so for me: Sunday mornings with dad at the Kingdom Hall were just grand!
My mother did not agree. She had explored Wiccan beliefs prior to her baptism, as well as a host of alternative teachings…..and believed whole heartedly that she had found the “truth”. It was sincerely heartbreaking to her that my father regarded the teachings with a rather blasé attitude, but could do little to change it.
For me: I learned very quickly that mom always carried a wooden spoon, hence the need to sit very quietly for the two hours each meeting consisted of. If I was good long enough, I was told I could earn my very own copy of The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (IQ.com, 2010), otherwise known as the “Witness Bible”. Eventually I did earn a small child size copy, and I studied the maps on the back pages with intensity. I was expected to hum along to the songs, and did so happily, as I always enjoyed watching Sister Simone’s long fingers fly across the piano. Sister Simone was especially kind to me, and would occasionally telephone my home in order to give me the opportunity to listen to her play my favorite songs. Prayers of course were to be listened to with absolute attention, as if the details were clear to me (which of course they weren’t), until the standard closing came: “in Jesus name we pray, Amen”.
Amen…..and we were now free to visit with as many of the “brothers” and “sisters” as we liked, until the Hall was empty and the elder was free to take us home. For us, the congregation we attended was the only one in town, on Lincoln Street, in Alameda, California. Many of the members were aged, most were Greek, with a few other nationalities mixed in. The questions for a child from the older ones were always the same: “What is your favorite scripture?”, “What is your favorite song?” or “Can you list all the fruits of God’s Holy Spirit?” I knew the answers to each, and delighted in their attention. Due to the fact that my mother had two younger boys, I often had the blessed opportunity to sit with different women within the congregation. I particularly relished the gentle hugs and attention from them, as it seemed as if obedience was of a higher priority when sitting with mom. For me: the visiting and dialog before and after the meetings meant the most. For mom, it was what she was learning or the “truth” as it was often referred to. Mom always left elated, high almost from the excitement of what she was learning, often singing many of the songs for hours afterwards. This became a routine I grew to know quite well….for I had no choice in the matter. I was “born into” being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, whether I chose to or not.
Chapters to come soon:
In the Beginning
And the Year is 1975….
For There is Only One True Religion
Armageddon is Coming!!!
The New Organization
Perhaps Another Year Then…..
The Oakland Auditorium and the Theocratic Ministry School
Public School as a Jehovah’s Witness
Circuit and District Conventions
No Part of This World
Time for Baptism
Auxiliary, Regular, and Special Pioneering
Regular Pioneer School
Ministerial Servants, Elders and Pioneers
Circuit and District Overseers
Move Over Chinese Laundry
Quick Built Kingdom Halls
Gremlins and Michael Jackson
The San Joaquin Valley
The Family Defined
Children in Need
Rebellion in Secret: The Blood Issue
Changes to the Structure
Husband as Head of the Household
Mental Illness and Jehovah’s Witnesses
“We’ll Sing in the Sunshine……”
No Scriptural Divorce
“Stars in the Right Hand of Christ”
The Outside World
So What is the “Truth”?
Does 9/11 Mean: “The End” is Near?
“It’ll Be A Cold Day In Hell….”
The “Silent Lambs”
Now, What Do I Tell My Children?
The Family Unit As It Is Now….
Goodbye To Pedophilia
Reactions Never Change
Some Things Can Never Be Reconciled
Let The Children Be Free