Brother, sister, why are you stumbling me???

The concept of “stumbling” your fellow Christian is not something many sermons or talks tend to discuss.  If it is mentioned at all, it’s usually in the context of not drinking alcohol in front of others with a dependency problem, or something similar.

In fact, very few people really have a good understanding of what it means to be respectful and empathetic towards the phobias, fears and deep seated prejudices of Jehovah’s Witnesses or former members.  Somewhere along the way, it has even become socially acceptable to ridicule these people, minimize their inner chaos and take pot shots at their beliefs and worldview.

I have recently been watching videos of testimonies from the “Witnesses Now for Jesus” Convention.  These accounts are moving and show the power of God in action.  Unfortunately however, some of the speakers appear in front of a large, wooden cross.  Now, if you’ve never been a JW, you will not understand this at all, but the truth is that members of this religion cannot look at a cross without feeling some kind of strong emotion, such as fear, confusion, prejudice or terror.  We could judge these people for these feelings, calling them heretical or anti-Christian, but the fact is that they are not to blame for their reaction; it was the Watchtower Society who planted these fears in their minds.

People don’t choose to hold onto phobias, they get trapped against their will.  If you listen to ex-JW’s accounts of going into churches or attending any building that is adorned with a cross, you will often hear of them experiencing extreme reactions.  Many people simply run away, overwhelmed by the flight or fight instinct.dreamstime_m_25789662

And it’s not just wooden crosses; it could be a Christmas tree or another decoration, an Easter egg, or even a harmless birthday cake.  We need to be gentle and understanding with these people, giving them time to adapt to life outside the Watchtower before expecting them to be ok with all these things.  Similarly, if you have an active Jehovah’s Witness friend or loved one, the respectful and most effective way you can reach out to them is by understanding what will trigger them and cause anguish.

If you insist on pushing things in their face that they feel uncomfortable with, they will  either run away or attack you and your beliefs.  The ensuing conflict will make them feel misunderstood or even persecuted, thereby reinforcing their feeling that they are “God’s special people”.

Often, people who have been influenced by the JW Organization are faced with criticism and contempt when they choose to tell their story.  The reason why so many ex-JWs consider it extremely difficult to find a welcoming, non-judgmental place of worship with other believers is that they feel pushed to believe in things that go against their own Biblical knowledge and conscience.

So, what do you do?  In my experience, many Christian ex-JWs end up hiding their true beliefs from the other members of their church, out of fear of rejection.  People say that F.E.A.R. spells out “False Evidence Appearing Real” but the reality for many of us is that when we have tried to open up about our personal beliefs regarding God and the Bible, we are faced with a barrage of criticism, suspicion and / or debate.  It seems that some Church-going believers feel they can argue us out of our “false” beliefs, just as we used to “reason” with householders on the doors.

All this arguing and debating and proving each other wrong has now become distasteful to me.  I do not consider myself a teacher, and instead trust that each believer will open themselves to the God’s power under the Holy Spirit, to be taught directly from the Source.  That’s why I avoid telling people about my own understanding of things such as God’s nature, our eternal destination or holiday celebrations etc etc.

Nevertheless, in an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding, I would be very happy to speak to others about my convictions and beliefs, but only in a face-to-face conversation or video conference call.   Otherwise, you can risk being attacked by malicious online “trolls”, who have no interest in hearing what you have to say.

In conclusion, the main point I want to make here is RESPECT.  If you’re going to hold an event for ex-JWs, don’t put up a massive cross on the stage and expect everyone to be ok with it, especially if you’re then going to broadcast the videos publicly on Youtube.

The Apostle Paul knew that some believers would be stumbled by seeing other Christians eating meat sacrificed to idols, so he cautioned them to be respectful and empathetic.  He didn’t ridicule or criticize the “weak” members of the body of Christ for their phobias, but showed a more excellent way,  a way of love.

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Freedom from abuse (chapter 6)

One of the most common ways in which people are psychologically traumatized whilst in a cult or religious high control group, is the extreme pressure to “forgive” people who have abused them.  I use the word “forgive” in quotes, because the concept often goes way beyond the Biblical mandate.  Anyone who has read the Bible knows that we are commanded to forgive those who hurt us, which can lead to freedom from bitterness, inner darkness and turmoil.

However, there can only be true reconciliation between two parties when the one who has hurt or offended the other person realizes what he/she has done and apologizes.  Why is it that some people seem incapable of taking this step?  In all probability, they are Narcissists; which means that they believe themselves to be the center of the universe. They have real trouble understanding how their behaviour impacts others.  In fact, their consciences don’t function in the same way as other people; simply speaking – they lack empathy.

Imagine a situation in which a woman is married to an abusive husband.  Or, a man is shackled to a woman who psychologically or even physically abuses him.  They are both members of a religious congregation.  Week after week, they hear sermons about forgiveness and self-sacrifice.  The person who has a fully functioning conscience takes these concepts on board, and tries to implement them into their life.  However, the Narcissist does nothing of the sort.  Instead; he/she sees an opportunity to emotionally manipulate his/her spouse even further.  After beating his wife black and blue once again, he comes back with flowers and a “repentant” attitude, demanding forgiveness.  These abusers can quote Scripture like Satan did to Jesus in the desert, twisting it to their own benefit.

If the person who is the victim manages to share with a friend or the leader of his/her congregation about the abuse they are suffering, they are often bombarded with the same kind of rhetoric.  Rather than being told: “You need to get out!  How can I help you do that safely?” many victims are encouraged to stay, pray and remain in extremely harmful situations.

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A concrete example of this kind of toxic advice is found in one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Watchtower magazines, from February 15, 2012:

“Consider the case of Selma. When she began to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses, her husband, Steve, was not pleased. He admits, “I became angry, jealous, possessive, and insecure.” Selma observes: “Even before I got the truth, living with Steve was like walking on eggshells. He was hot-tempered. When I started studying the Bible, this characteristic intensified.” What helped?

Selma recalls a lesson she learned from the Witness who studied with her. “On one particular day,” says Selma, “I didn’t want to have a Bible study. The night before, Steve had hit me as I had tried to prove a point, and I was feeling sad and sorry for myself. After I told the sister what had happened and how I felt, she asked me to read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. As I did, I began to reason, ‘Steve never does any of these loving things for me.’ But the sister made me think differently by asking, ‘How many of those acts of love do you show toward your husband?’ My answer was, ‘None, for he is so difficult to live with.’ The sister softly said, ‘Selma, who is trying to be a Christian here? You or Steve?’ Realizing that I needed to adjust my thinking, I prayed to Jehovah to help me be more loving toward Steve. Slowly, things started to change.” After 17 years, Steve accepted the truth.”

Poor Selma had to endure 17 more years of excruciating abuse, before her husband became a fully indoctrinated cult member!!!

Once you start to get to know survivors of cults and spiritual abuse, you will notice that cases of domestic violence are extremely common.  Spousal abuse, corporal punishment, child sexual abuse; it’s everywhere.  Why is it allowed to carry on and proliferate?  Because instead of being empowered to stand up to and break free from their abusers, victims are actively encouraged to remain in a state of passivity and servitude, at great danger to themselves, their children and others, such as elderly relatives.

Many vulnerable people in these groups are shielded from proper protection, due to these kinds of attitudes.   They are not told that that they can forgive their abusers and protect themselves at the same time.  Forgiving someone does not mean putting yourself in danger.  It means letting go of hatred and bitterness and moving towards a brighter future.

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Freedom of expression… after leaving a cult

Where do you find yourself able to be fully self-expressed, fully YOU and also practice your faith and religious beliefs? What makes this possible?

Where do you find yourself feeling “held back” or “reserved” from being fully self-expressed in your faith communities, beliefs, or religious institutions? What is it that is holding you back?

I would like to thank a new member of the Faith after Deception Facebook Group for voicing these questions.  Being able to interact with others who have come out of a cult or high control group can lead us to consider and explore things in a whole different way; which is an incredibly valuable and precious experience.

I know that many of us struggle with the challenge of expressing ourselves fully after being in a group in which this was strongly prohibited.   We effectively learned to hide our true thoughts and feelings when we knew they would not be acceptable to the other cult members or leaders.  Out of fear, we practiced “self-censorship”, to protect ourselves from criticism, condemnation and punishment.

Even after leaving the cult, I carried on with this behaviour for many years.  I was convinced that no one would understand or be able to empathize with my experiences.  Deep down, I felt so ashamed for getting involved with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, that I attempted to “turn the page” and remain silent about everything that had happened.

Unsurprisingly, this led to a great sense of isolation and estrangement.  In a previous blog post I have shared my story, about how my husband and I came to break free from the bonds of the Watchtower, but the truth is that freedom is a gradual process.  First you break away from the group in a physical way, by stopping attending meetings, writing a letter of disassociation or being “disfellowshipped”.  However, the next step can take months or even years: the process of unraveling the toxic thought patterns that have been instilled in us over time.

That’s why I love the questions at the beginning of this article, as they reach down into the heart of that process; challenging us to move forwards towards true and unashamed self-expression.  How can we grow in maturity, leaving fear behind, learning to “speak the truth in love”[1]?

I confess that I don’t have any answers to this right now.  I still struggle with the desire to “fit in” and be liked.  The people pleaser in me wishes to avoid rocking the boat, offending others or causing conflict.  I suppose this is just part of my personality; something I will always find hard.

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A large part of me longs for a community in which I will be understood, accepted for who I am, and not judged for my beliefs or past involvement with a cult.  Although I have not been able to find this in a face-to-face setting in my local environment, I have made lasting, deep friendships with other ex-cult members online.

Sadly, none of these people live near our home in Northern Chile, but this summer we were able to visit two of our “virtual” friends in the UK.  Words cannot express how special it was to finally experience true freedom of expression and mutual understanding when meeting up with these dear friends.  Now, we continue to keep in touch on the telephone and via chat; it’s amazing to know that they are just a click of a button away!!

If you are feeling isolated, I encourage you to reach out to others.  Being a Christian and leaving a cult is doubly difficult, because many people in religious institutions are ridiculously ignorant about what life is like for us.  Many of them feel that we were “gullible” or “stupid” to have been ensnared by the group we belonged to, and then want to interrogate us about our current beliefs to ensure that we are “doctrinally sound”.  I’m not saying that this is true for everyone, or that being part of a faith community is impossible, just that we face specific and very real challenges.

That’s why we need each other.  Having someone to chat to who truly understands what we’re going through is priceless and all important in our journey towards wholeness and healing.

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[1] Ephesians 4:15

 

Review of “Broken Trust” by F. Remy Diederich

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It is unusual for pastors to speak out with compassion on the subject of spiritual abuse.  More often than not, church leaders and members prefer to defend their own denomination fiercely, unable to hear the cries of those who have been wounded by it.  This book will be an invaluable tool to enable congregation members and those in authority to understand the reality of toxic groups and cults and reach out in love to their victims.

As well as offering comfort to people who have suffered abuse in a religious context, this book provides practical guidelines for pastors who seek to cultivate healthy congregations.  By educating church leaders in this way and equipping them to root out the causes of “toxic faith”, F. Remy Diederich is showing them “a more excellent way”, based on love and grace, rather than fear and shame.

I was very moved by the author’s own candid experience of spiritual abuse, which led him to abandon church altogether for a period of 5 years.  During this “exile”, he was confronted with God’s unconditional love, which challenged him to fall into his Father’s arms in gratefulness.

As an ex-cult member, I must admit that it was a little hard for me to bring myself to read a book written by an evangelical pastor.  When I was in the Jehovah’s Witnesses, we were taught to view all other religions and denominations as “The Great Whore of Babylon”.  Although this is no longer my standpoint, the temptation to look down on churches and pastors and regard them with criticism and scorn is very great.  It’s like I have an inner Pharisee in me, which pops out at the most inappropriate times, ready to deal out contempt & derision.

However, in this case my prejudices were very much unfounded.   F. Remy Diederich is a fellow survivor of spiritual abuse, who is bravely speaking out against this cancer which rears its ugly head in so many congregations and churches throughout the world.  By tackling this issue head on, he is taking a stand against the status quo, just as Jesus did when he criticized the Pharisees and their hypocrisy in the first Century.

 

Freedom from loneliness (Chapter 5)

Human beings are essentially tribal; built to live in close-knit communities.  Sadly, most “developed” societies have become so individualistic that we no longer know how to live alongside each other in a meaningful way.  Many people join cults and fundamentalist groups in search of friendship and community, because modern life breeds loneliness For the same reason, leaving can seem terrifying, because of the risk of losing everyone that is dear to you.  Suicide rates among ex-cult members are worryingly high, primarily due to social isolation and mental illness.

One of the most agonizing situations is to be awake to the fact that you’re in a cult or high control group, but paralyzed by the fear of becoming absolutely alone if you leave. Thankfully, with the advent of the internet, opportunities to build new friendships now abound.  I have made some of my closest friends online, most of whom I have yet to meet in person.  It’s amazing how liberating it can feel to be able to chat with someone who has been through similar hurts and can understand what you’re going through in a unique way.

However, it’s also possible to get trapped in a web of angry bitterness, by joining your voices to those who are also hurting and want revenge or “justice”.  As you participate online in forums and social networks, you’ll start to notice people who are kind and reasonable, and those who seem to have rather large chips on their shoulders. Tragically, some ex-cult members who claim to follow Jesus can turn out to be judgmental Pharisees who don’t want to hear how you’re doing or open their heart to you; they just want to prove a point and show off their “superior knowledge”.

Of course, it goes without saying that it’s better to avoid such people.   You’ll quickly find that debating with them online is like banging your head against the wall, and although you may end up with a splitting headache, they’re probably thrilled to have successfully drawn you into their argumentative web.

Whenever I discover another ex-cult member online who seems to be a warm, genuine and reasonable person, I send them a friendship request.  At the same time, protecting my privacy online is important, and when developing friendships with people I’ve never met, this is paramount.  I’ve learned to trust my instincts; if I “smell a rat”, or notice something incongruous or out of place, I take steps to avoid making myself vulnerable.  In my personal opinion, blocking, muting, unfollowing or “unfriending” people shouldn’t be seen as “rude”, but a wise move at times, when necessary.

Like any other human interaction, reaching out to others online to form supportive friendships requires give and take.  I’m always aware that if I contact people regularly to complain to them about all my problems and woes, I may end up becoming a burden or a nuisance.   It’s best to attempt to be “slow to speak and quick to listen” (James 1:19), taking an interest in how other people are doing and what they’re going through, in order to build up an honest and genuine friendship.

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On the other hand, it’s not a good idea to play the amateur psychologist, listening to people and giving advice when it’s obviously over one’s  head.  Of course, if you ever hear someone mention a desire to end their life or take other such drastic measures, you need to encourage them to get professional help immediately.

You will meet some people who are happy to talk for hours about themselves and never ask you how you are.  This is a sign that they may have a narcissistic personality, which means that they only care about themselves, and are incapable of taking responsibility for their actions or feeling empathy for others.  This will make them very unreliable and draining friends.  They will want you to solve their problems for them, listen to them at all hours of day and night, while ignoring your needs, concerns and inner pain.  Make sure you set strict boundaries with them, so that they don’t start to become a problem.

In some cities there are support groups for people coming out of cults or High Control Groups.  You may want to investigate these and see if you can find one which is a good fit for you.  If you go along and don’t feel comfortable, don’t feel bad or obliged to continue; it’s understandable that some of these groups are led by inexperienced or immature people who haven’t studied Mind Control or come to a place of peace in their lives.

If you only surround yourself with other ex-members, you may risk getting a little emotionally burnt out or obsessed with the Cult.  You’ll probably go through seasons of seeking out the company of these friends, and other periods of wanting to get away from it all.  That’s why it’s also important to cultivate meaningful relationships with people who have nothing to do with the group.

Making new friends in the “real world” may seem challenging, but it’s not impossible.  It can help to discover what your passion is, so you can find opportunities to meet with others who share the same interests or talents.  Joining an evening class, learning a new language, getting into shape or doing volunteering are just a few ways to get to know potential new friends.

However, don’t feel any pressure to share your life story with them immediately; you’ll want to wait until you feel safe to open your heart to them before letting anyone about the spiritual abuse you’ve suffered at the hands of the Cult.  Don’t allow anyone to make you feel small or ignorant for what you’ve been through; if people demand to know more details about your life than you are ready to share, get some distance from them.

In any case, it’s good to be prepared for people’s total ignorance, and try not to judge them for it.  Sadly, popular culture has the impression that cult members are “gullible” or even “stupid” for belonging to the group and therefore to blame.   This is called “victim shaming”, and is extremely damaging and unfair.  If you have the chance, you can speak out to contradict these erroneous views, quietly but firmly, to educate people on the reality of Mind Control.  If people value you as a person and are willing to listen, you will have taught them an important lesson.  Unfortunately, people often repeat hurtful things without considering who is listening or could be affected by it.  Never expect total understanding or empathy from anyone, even other ex-members, as you will be sorely disappointed.

On the other hand, you will be lucky enough to meet some rare jewels; people who are highly empathetic and warm hearted, that can relate to your struggles and want to encourage and listen to you.  These people are like sparkling diamonds, to be treasured, appreciated and never lost.

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Freedom from Regret (Chapter 4)

One of the most painful things about waking up from a spiritually abusive group is the sensation that you’ve wasted so much of your life.  All the sacrifices: maybe you weren’t allowed to follow your dreams, get an education, travel, get married or have a family.  Maybe you worked for minimum wage for years and find yourself facing a very poor retirement.  Whatever it is, we all have regrets that burden our heart.

You’ll need a safe space and people you can trust to express these feelings freely.  Suppressing your doubts, fears and regrets will only make them stronger; and putting on a brave face or a positive attitude can lead to serious mental health problems, such as “Smiling Depression“.  It can seem easier to bury these concerns and put them to one side; some people feel so weighed down by all of it that they seek refuge in mind-numbing drugs and/ or alcohol.

The truth is that there are no easy answers or quick solutions to these issues; it’s normal to experience feelings of great anger and even rage towards the Group for all the years of your life that they robbed from you.  Again, it’s good to acknowledge your anger and try to give it a productive outlet.  Many of the Psalms include prayers of desperation, anger and grief.  This shows that far from “putting on a brave face”, we can cry out to God in anguish, begging Him for peace in our inner torment.

Jesus tells us: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27). 

The key to this is found in the previous verse: “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and make you remember all that I have told you” (John 14:26).

If you feel overwhelmed by feelings of regret, confusion and a general lack of direction, the best thing to do is to ask the Father to send you the Holy Spirit, to make sense of everything and guide you on your path.

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There are no “one size fits all” tips on how to move forward, as we are all at different stages in our search for wholeness.  Some people are a little further ahead on their journey, so they’re able to offer pearls of wisdom that we can learn from.

Some weeks ago, I asked an open question on an internet forum, about how we can move past these dreadful feelings of regret and pain.  Unfortunately, most people responded briefly, with comments such as: “Be bold, have faith, move forward!” and “Don’t become too busy dwelling in the past to build a future! While these words would be great for a fortune cookie,  they’re not particularly helpful here.  The issue is: how? 

When we receive this type of advice, the tendency is to feel guilty for the dark feelings inside, and attempt to cover them up to become more socially acceptable.  However, that will not help anybody.  If you find that the people around you lack empathy and are not willing to listen to what you’re going through, you need to seek out a better support system for yourself.  We will be reviewing some practical steps on how to do this in the next chapter.

In addition, I really recommend doing a quick search on Youtube for information about moving on after narcissistic abuse, as you’ll find that there are many parallels to be drawn with leaving a cult.  There are also some excellent videos on spiritual abuse and cults, by experts in the field.  In order to leave behind our regrets and move towards happiness, we need to understand what happened to us.  It can be a great idea to speak to a properly trained counselor or psychologist; which can be the key to helping make sense of everything.  Whatever route you take, know this: you are not alone.

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My Story – Choose Freedom, Choose Happiness (Chapter 3)

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I was born and brought up in the Church of England, which is part of the Anglican/Episcopalian Communion. My father, a man of great intelligence, love and integrity,  was an Anglican priest. Once I became a Christian at age 15, I would love to sit with him for hours, talking about all the different questions I had about my faith and life in general. He allowed me to develop my own views, whilst providing support and loving guidance.  Very tragically, he died when I was just 17 years old.

At that time, I had a strong but very immature faith.  I was young, idealistic and very intolerant of the flaws I saw in my church, so I started to seek fellowship elsewhere.  I ventured into Evangelical and even Roman Catholic groups, before deciding to explore the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  My path may seem unusual to many, but I was young and very impressionable; easy prey to those who sought to influence and control me.

Eventually, after associating with the Watchtower Organization for just over 3 years, I began to see the terrible mistake I had made.  I felt deeply ashamed for “allowing myself” to be indoctrinated by them, because I didn’t understand how Mind Control had been used against me.  I see now that when they discover a  young, impressionable and idealistic mind, they do everything within their power to bring you to baptism, no matter what it takes.  In my case, they “love bombed” me with seemingly genuine affection, at a time when I was extremely lonely; I was finishing my last year of University, thousands of miles away from my fiancé (now husband).

Desperate to find meaning, purpose and a sense of belonging, I was enticed into the cult.  As my heart was still grieving the loss of my father, it was no trouble for me to give up things like Christmas, Easter and birthdays, because they all reminded me of him.  Being able to skip over these celebrations meant that I could numb the grief and avoid feeling the deep pain at my core.

During my time in the cult, my personality changed notably.  I became harsh and judgmental, driving many of my closest friends away with my incessant and unrelenting attacks on their cherished beliefs and observances, such as Christmas, heaven and the Trinity.

My poor mother was at her wit’s end.  The warm and affectionate young woman she had raised had transformed into an argumentative, proud and irritating Pharisee.  I managed to ruin at least one Christmas with my toxic criticism and constant reminders of its “pagan” origins.

First my mother lost her beloved husband, then within just a few years, her own daughter slipped through her fingers to join a cult.  She quickly realized that debating with me about the Scriptures or giving me books to read was going nowhere, as I was skilled in the art of refuting Bible verses and simply refused to listen to reason.  I would hide the books she had lovingly purchased as they felt like dangerous kryptonite in my hands.   One day I filled a whole shopping cart with my old Christian books and ornaments that I believed to be “demonic”, and threw them all away.

Beyond any shadow of a doubt, this was one of the hardest periods in the whole of my mother’s life.  She felt powerless to help or influence me and simply didn’t know what to do.  She has always been a woman of faith, and one particular day back in 2007, she knelt down to pray, in desperation.  Much later, she shared with me that on that occasion, an image came into her mind while she prayed:

“I saw a very large rubbery web-like structure that Emily was stuck onto. The cables were as thick as an arm and very sticky; covered in powerful glue and crisscrossed like a web. I  knew that I had to get her out and tried very hard to pull at her but she was firmly stuck and bounced back.  I got help to cut through the thick bonds but it was impossible, as under the rubber was an extremely strong metal cable that we couldn’t cut through with anything. I was dismayed.

 A few days later, while praying with other believers, I experienced God saying that I could not pull my daughter out or cut her free but that that His mighty love could completely melt away the bonds that were holding her.

 It was an enormous weight off my shoulders and I knew my job was to join with the Lord in loving her. I did not have to worry about researching books about Jehovah’s Witnesses or arguing Bible verses with her but just love her and not worry or be afraid as God had it all in hand.”

My mother obeyed that voice, and within just 3 years I began to open my eyes.

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‘The Awakening’

Some people are fortunate enough to have an extreme “awakening” experience, in which they suddenly become aware of the true nature of the Cult or High-Control Group they have been enslaved to.  On the other hand, it can be a much more gradual process spanning several years.  Such was my case.

The first “red flag” that I can identify was on the very day of my baptism.  I was standing in the changing rooms with the other young girls and women, getting ready to go out and take the plunge.  I remember noticing how silent everyone was, and how afraid they all looked.  There was no joy on their faces or excitement in their eyes.  Nobody even glanced at me with a smile.  It was an eerie, troublesome feeling.

Another observation that I made was regarding some of the elderly people that I had met.  I thought to myself: if this is the ‘One, True Religion’, it stands to reason that the older people, who have dedicated decades of their lives to this Organization, should be the most spiritual, holy and loving people around.  However, I found that many of them seemed to be embittered, unfriendly and prone to gossip.

Sadly, I ignored these red flags, and continued to associate with the Witnesses for an extended period.  There were other “warning signs” that should have awakened me from my indoctrinated stupor, but somehow, I couldn’t get free straightaway.  One of these was during a Congregational Book Study, back in 2007 or 2008.  We were studying a rather frightening, red book called “Revelation – its grand climax at hand!”

I found most of it to be somewhat irrelevant and even ridiculous, but one concept particularly shocked me.  I can’t remember the precise details, but it had something to do with locusts with women’s hair and stings in their tails.  The explanation of this was abhorrent to me; absolutely antithetical to a God of love, so I quietly got up and walked out.

I should never have gone back after that; why didn’t I have the sense to stay away???  The truth is that I did start attending less regularly and never returned to the Book Study, but it was a while before I could break free altogether.

There were two main reasons why my husband and I kept falling back into the arms of the Watchtower, despite becoming increasingly aware of their shortcomings.

  1. You can find yourself explaining away many things, when you’re seeking a “higher goal”. We were willing to turn a blind eye to many of the darker aspects of the Organization, because we couldn’t identify any other religion that was preaching the “Good News of the Kingdom” in the same way.  At several points on our journey, when we were sick of the Watchtower, we would venture into other churches.  We found most of them to be close-knit “social clubs”, who seemed to have no interest in seeking the God’s Kingdom.   In each place, we felt afraid to reveal our true identity as “ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses”, to avoid being judged or misunderstood.  Therefore, we were perpetually outsiders, looking in with semi-indoctrinated eyes.   This meant that it was easy to return to what was familiar and where we felt we could be useful.
  2. The instructions in Hebrews 10:25 not to “forsake meeting together” hung heavily over us for a long time. It’s incredible how these words can be used to manipulate and coerce people to go back to a Group they are deeply unhappy with.

Thankfully, I started to realize that when I was out preaching from door to door as a Jehovah’s Witness, I wasn’t actually sharing the ‘Good News’ with people.  In fact, it was an indoctrination exercise, designed to bring people into association with the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.  When that dawned on me, it was much easier to walk away for good.

Another very significant, eye-opening moment was at a large Convention, in which one of the speakers mentioned “Serving Jehovah’s Organization”.  When my husband heard that, he was deeply shocked and troubled.  Jesus’ words in Luke 4:8 came to his mind powerfully, reminding him that: “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'”

We were also encouraged by Jesus’ promise that “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20).  We finally saw that we don’t need to be part of any church or organized religion at all to be a follower of Christ.

That’s not to say that we don’t long to be part of a church family where we are loved and accepted for who we are.  As John Donne wrote in his famous poem: “No man is an island”, and we are no exception.   Some ex-cult members are lucky enough to find a congregation where they feel at home and are able to enjoy meaningful fellowship with others; this is something that we have finally discovered.  Sadly, it’s not that easy for everyone.  In addition, it can be recommendable to avoid throwing yourself into another Group before processing what happened to you and giving yourself time to heal.  Otherwise, you risk perpetuating the cycle of hurt and disappointment.

In the following chapters we’ll explore some ways we can break free from destructive thinking and habits and move towards true happiness and freedom.

Flying Eagle