Over the past couple of years whilst writing and publishing my novel, Leaving Gilead, I have been reconnecting with the ex-JW scene. Something which has become very apparent is the extent to which the Watchtower Society, an extreme high-control movement, continues to exert pressure upon people who have completely rejected their religious dogmas.
What happens is that former Jehovah’s Witnesses who openly disagree with the WT Society’s teachings are almost invariably “disfellowshipped.” Faithful Jws are under pressure to cut off all contact with disfellowshipped persons, even to the point of ceasing to exchange a greeting with them if ever their paths should cross. This shunning often extends to close family members and frequently leads to family breakdown and parents losing contact with their children.
To avoid the worst form of shunning, many disillusioned Witnesses will try to slip away from the religion quietly without making an issue of anything and hence avoid being disfellowshipped. This enables families and friends to keep in contact, though the contact can become minimal.
Maintaining the position of a “faded” JW without being brought before a judicial committee and disfellowshipped can be very tricky. It means such folk need to avoid having to say why they no longer attend meetings – even close family members are likely to report them to the elders if they express any doubts about WT teachings.
For many ex-JWs the fading process works quite well. They are eventually forgotten about by elders and former friends and are able to maintain a sometimes rather cool relationship with close family. Keeping this up can be tricky, though. For example, if an ex-JW plans to marry and their partner wants a church wedding, it could cause the final break with JW family. Looking up an old friend who is also an ex could cause problems if it became known, especially is that person is disfellowshipped. Reading “apostate” literature (like my own books) is something to keep under wraps.
Trying to engage any family members who will still allow some contact, in conversation about religious matters will very likely bring the shutters down. But what this means is that is an ex-JW who feels there may be reason to think an old friend or relation is breaking free, they cannot ask about it in case they are wrong. Or even if they are right, that person will need to move at their own pace and dare not be put in a position where things could become difficult with the elders.
The result of this is that even though the ex-JW scene is far more open and well informed than ever before because of the internet, their effectiveness as a voice of reason for open-minded Jws is considerably muted. And the Watchtower Society rumbles on desperately trying to patch up its doctrinal failures and errors and growing ever more strident and harsh in its attempts to control the membership. How much longer before it collapses in on its own emptiness?