Have you ever
tried to take a broken or dangerous toy away from a little child? What a
struggle it was!—until it finally occurred to you to offer something else more
appealing. Then the child happily dropped the object that had been held in a
grip of iron only seconds before.
The same principle applies to an adult’s dearly held but
erroneous religious belief. Asking the person simply to let it go, without
providing an alternative, is like asking the child to release the toy and sit
there empty-handed. For the one holding onto the treasured possession, it is an
invitation to embrace emptiness. It is unthinkable, but when a more attractive
substitute arrives on the scene, the former treasure becomes trash and is
easily discarded without regrets.
The situation of the cult adherent is of course
infinitely more complex than that of the child clinging to a harmful toy. For
the child the toy is a momentary center of attention, but for the cultist his
religious organization is everything. It holds within itself not only
his relationship with God and his hope for the future, but also the things he
needs for day-to-day survival: a worldview that brings order out of chaos, a
circle of friends who accept him as part of their “in” group, and a weekly
schedule of activities that fill what might otherwise be empty hours. How can
you ask someone to abandon all this without assuring him of a more real
relationship with God, a more dependable hope for the future, a more reasonable
worldview, a more loving circle of friends, and a more interesting schedule of
People who leave the Watchtower without finding an
acceptable alternative typically go into spiritual and emotional shock. This
happens when a Jehovah’s Witness is suddenly ensnared in a practice forbidden
by the organization and is expelled. He or a family member may be injured in an
automobile accident, and in a moment of “spiritual weakness,” the Witness
agrees to a blood transfusion. Or perhaps he impulsively buys a lottery ticket,
goes too far physically with his fiancée, or takes up cigarette smoking. The
result is often a speedy trial before a judicial committee of elders, followed
by expulsion from the organization. In this “disfellowshiped” state the Witness
now finds himself shunned by all his JW friends, relatives, and acquaintances.
He is no longer welcome in their homes, and they refuse to greet him or even to
acknowledge his presence if they pass him on the street.
Tens of thousands are expelled in this manner every
year. I have had personal contact with hundreds of them. Such an individual is
out of the Watchtower with nowhere to go. Until provided an acceptable
alternative, the former Witness may wander for years in a spiritual vacuum,
feeling condemned by God and without hope in the world. These Watchtower
castaways often have difficulty making other than surface friendships,
hesitating to open their wounded heart to further abuse. Still influenced by
their Kingdom Hall training, they look down on so-called worldly people as
unclean—even though they themselves now fall into that category by JW
standards. In this condition they are prime candidates for reinstatement in the
Jehovah’s Witnesses or recruitment by another cult. Many in fact do return to
the Watchtower or fall victim to a different deception.
So not only is it difficult
to draw someone out of the Watchtower without offering a sound religious
alternative, but it is also dangerous.
Like thrusting a victim of hypothermia into a hot tub or suddenly depriving an
addict of his drug, much harm can come to the person abruptly yanked out of a
But providing a sound religious alternative involves
much more than simply saying, “Come to church with me! You’ll like it better
than Kingdom Hall.” To understand how comfortable a Jehovah’s Witness feels
about such an invitation, just imagine yourself being invited by a Hare Krishna
devotee to “Shave your head, put on this saffron robe, and come to the temple
with me! You’ll like it better than church.” To a JW, a church is just as
foreign as a Hindu temple. In his mind a church is a demon-infested building
surmounted by a pagan emblem (the cross) atop a phallic symbol (the steeple),
and filled with immoral people who worship a three-headed false god (the
Trinity) and salute an idol made of cloth (the national flag). In order to rid
the Witness of such notions, it is necessary to consider how he or she came to
accept them in the first place.
Many people are reasoned into the Watchtower. They may
have been perfectly content the way they were, but then comes a knock at the
door. A Jehovah’s Witness starts a “free home Bible study” with them, adeptly
replaces the Bible with a Watchtower Society book, and spends an hour or two
each week reasoning point by point with them on subjects such as deity, prayer,
holidays, military service, the cross, modern fulfillment of biblical prophecy,
acceptable and unacceptable forms of medical treatment, and so on. By the time
the indoctrination program has been concluded, virtually every aspect of life
has been covered, and the convert’s thinking has been entirely restructured.
This process must be reversed when leaving the
organization. Otherwise, as the saying goes, “You can get the boy off the farm,
but you can’t get the farm out of the boy.” Only in this case it becomes, “You
can get the boy out of the Watchtower, but you can’t get the Watchtower out of
the boy.” The former Witness will retain the automatic thought patterns that
had been programmed into his brain. Although not attending Kingdom Hall
meetings, he will still think, feel, and act like a Jehovah’s Witness.
The best remedy for this is personal contact with former
Witnesses who have become Christians. They have already gone through the process
of untwisting the twisted reasonings they had been taught, but they still
remember how they used to think as a JW, so they are in the best position to
help a member or new ex-member. However, at first it may not be possible to put
your loved one in touch with ex-Witnesses, perhaps because he or she is not yet
ready to deal with apostates, or perhaps due to geographical isolation. In this
case you can train yourself to provide the necessary help by familiarizing
yourself with the testimonies of former JWs. Also, my books Jehovah ’s Witnesses Answered Verse by Verse and Answering Jehovah's Witnesses Subject by Subject will enable you to
overcome the twisted reasonings and aid your relative or friend to cross the
gap from cultic error to traditional Christianity.
On the other hand, some people were never reasoned into
the Watchtower, and so reason alone will not be sufficient to get them out.
These are individuals who were originally drawn to the organization because it
filled an emotional need. That emotional need must now be identified and dealt
with in order to help that person leave the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
You can be fairly certain that someone became a Witness
to satisfy an emotional need, if any
of the following are true: (1) He or she joined shortly after experiencing a
divorce, a betrothal breakup, the death of a close family member, or other
similar loss. (2) The person had just moved from another city or town and had
not yet made new friends when the Witnesses called. (3) The individual began
attending all Kingdom Hall meetings shortly after the Witnesses made their
initial call, rather than after a lengthy study course.
Cults tend to attract lonely people. Newcomers are given
a warm welcome, fawned over with lots of affection, invited back, and asked to
share in other gatherings and activities; one or more members are assigned
(without the newcomer’s knowledge) to serve as a personal teacher, guide, or
“friend.” Such attention given to a lonely person is difficult to resist. One
can easily do whatever mental gymnastics are needed to accept or at least go
along with the teachings of a group where one starved for love and acceptance
finds that need fulfilled.
A factor unique to men can be an emotional decision
based on the organization’s power structure. A man visiting a Kingdom Hall may
observe the authority and prestige of the elders, desire it for himself, and
discover that it is within his reach if only he will conform to the
organizational requirements. This factor often comes into play in the case of
black men who have found their advancement blocked at their place of employment
or in the community at large, but who are able to become elders in the local
Kingdom Hall (although blacks are seldom allowed to rise higher than that in
the JW hierarchy). A similar motivation to join or remain with the sect
sometimes occurs in the case of a henpecked husband; the male-dominated
organization opens to him an area where he can step out from under his wife’s
control—much like a men’s club or lodge.
Whatever the emotional need may be—whether for
acceptance, companionship, prestige, or any other need—if the fulfillment of
that need is the main force holding an individual in the Watchtower, that fact
must be recognized by anyone attempting to effect liberation from the sect.
Arguing doctrine or theology—even with the most persuasive logic—produces no
results, because it is neither logic nor reason that is truly motivating the
Witness. Like a love-struck teenage girl who hangs on her boyfriend’s every
word, the Witness who has found such emotional fulfillment in the organization
is happy to applaud whatever the sect says.
In such cases the spell can usually be broken only when
the honeymoon is over. After a while—perhaps a year or two after baptism—the
new JW will come to be viewed as an ordinary member of the congregation. The
courtship consisting of special treatment given to “students” and “new ones”
will end. No longer will the other Witnesses go out of their way to be
especially friendly, kind, and loving. In fact some of them may become hostile,
mean and nasty—due to the pressure-cooker environment at Kingdom Hall. More
than that, the organization will gradually reveal itself as a cold, demanding
taskmaster. The new Witness may feel like a newlywed who wakes up one morning
to the realization that her husband no longer opens doors, brings flowers, or
spends time holding her hand, but in fact has become harsh and abusive. Or the
man who has attained a certain level of prestige may find that further
advancement is blocked by prejudice or internal politics, or he may even find
himself demoted due to some minor infraction of the rules.
If it happens abruptly, this change in itself may be
enough to shock the individual into rethinking his or her religious
connections. Usually, however, all outside ties have been broken before this,
so the unhappy Witness has nowhere else to go and no one to turn to. Like the
disillusioned newlywed who resigns herself to the drudgery of keeping house for
an unloving husband, the JW feels compelled to keep up meeting attendance and
door-to-door magazine sales for the organizational master.
But this need not be the case. The Witness is not
legally married to the organization. And there can indeed be somewhere else to
go and someone to turn to—if you have
lovingly stuck by your JW wife, friend, or relative until now.
The earlier discussions may not have worked, the proofs
you presented may have been ignored, and the evidence you produced may have
been discounted. The JW may have closed a blind eye and a deaf ear to every
appeal to reason that you had to offer, because the sect’s drawing power was
emotional rather than reasonable. But now the emotional tables have turned. The
Witness begins to realize that the organization is unloving and unlovable,
while, by way of contrast, you have remained a loyal and faithful friend
through it all.
If it is your wife who is in the Watchtower, she will
begin to see things in a different perspective: You lost arguments, but did not
lose your temper; you respected her beliefs, although she did not respect
yours; you put up with her spending all that time at Kingdom Hall meetings and
in the house-to-house work; while she dutifully repeated what the organization
was saying about God’s love, you were actually demonstrating it in the way you treated her. This can carry more
weight than volumes of theological arguments or historical discussions. And,
when the organization eventually does become abusive, the disillusioned Witness
knows that she can turn to you.
Similarly, when it is a relative or friend who is
involved, this assurance of finding love and acceptance somewhere outside the
JW community is an important factor in their deciding to leave.
Besides reasoning a person out of false teachings and
offering a different source for the fulfillment of emotional needs, it is also
vital to provide a spiritual alternative. The average person who joined the
Jehovah’s Witnesses did so, at least in part, because he or she had been
reaching out for God. In the Beatitudes Jesus referred to such people as “the
poor in spirit” or “those who feel their spiritual need” or “those who know
their need of God” (Matt. 5:3 KJV, GOODSPEED, NEB).
But, before they could come into a fulfilling relationship with God through
Jesus Christ, someone came along and directed them to the Watchtower instead.
So, the new Witness came to see himself in a
relationship with God illustrated by the organizational chart reproduced in
chapter 11. Jehovah God was at the top of the corporate structure, and the
individual was at the bottom. In between were multiple layers of committees and
overseers—a hierarchy too vast to number. Personal prayer was allowed, but
God’s direction, instruction, and salvation could come only through the
Watchtower Society. So the Witness was convinced of having a relationship with
the Almighty through “God’s visible organization.” Commanding his unquestioning
obedience, the organization became his lord;
promising him salvation, it became his savior;
and giving him a relationship with God, it was his mediator.
It was, however, a counterfeit. All of these titles and
functions properly belong to Jesus Christ. He is the Lord and Savior and the
Mediator revealed in the Bible. He is the One who said, “I am the way, the
truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6 KJV).
So, the way to fill a JWs spiritual need is to point him to Jesus Christ.
How can this be accomplished? Unfortunately some
well-meaning Christians try to do it by arguing the deity of Christ and the
doctrine of the Trinity. But that puts a nearly insurmountable obstacle in the
way. Also, imparting these scriptural truths falls more under the category of
reasoning with the Witness to fulfill his rational needs and to correct his
doctrines. His spiritual need for a
relationship with God is a different matter and should be considered
For example, there are unsaved clergymen and theologians
who can explain Christ’s deity and trinitarian doctrine with great precision,
but who are spiritually empty because they lack a personal relationship with the
Lord. Many who were once in that condition have surprised laymen with their
testimonies after coming to Christ. We want to avoid the mistake of teaching
theology instead of leading the ex-JW to Christ.
Start out showing how the Watchtower Society has usurped
the place of the Messiah in his role as Lord, Savior and Mediator. Persuade
your loved one to put aside the Watchtower books and start reading the New
Testament, especially the Gospels containing the words of Christ—preferably in
a version other than the New World
Translation. Encourage looking to Jesus for direction, instruction, and
salvation. Show from Scripture that Christians can talk to Jesus, confident of
his loving concern for them (Acts ,
60; 1 Cor. 1:2, 2 Cor. 12:7–9; John –14).
In this area your own example may carry more weight than anything you could
The important thing is to help your loved one decide to
follow Jesus Christ instead of continuing to follow a man-made organization.
Correcting his or her theology is a separate issue. Remember that the twelve
apostles were all Jewish when they began to follow Jesus. They started out
holding various opinions as to who he was, but they all learned as they
observed and interacted with him. It took doubting Thomas months—perhaps a
couple of years as a follower of Jesus—before he could finally confess the
resurrected Christ as “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Since it may take
your JW loved one as long as it took Thomas, ask God’s help for you to be as
patient with your loved one as He is.
Yes, patience is needed, because it takes time for
people to rethink their entire religious outlook. But time is on your side.
Statistics reveal that many who join the Jehovah’s Witnesses drop out again
after a few years. Tens of thousands are ‘disfellowshiped’ annually for
violating some rule or policy. Some disassociate themselves by formally
resigning from the sect. And others simply stop attending meetings and drift
away. When I was an elder, I can remember fellow elders discussing the “revolving-door
effect”; converts were coming in the front door, while others went out the back
door of the Kingdom Hall. (But, since the influx was greater than the outflow,
the group continued to grow.) The Watchtower’s published statistics for 1971
through 1981 showed over 1,700,000 new members added through baptism, but a net
gain of only 737,241 active Witnesses. So, roughly one million quit during that
ten-year period (Los
Times, 1/30/82). The
organization has tightened its control since then, making it more difficult for
members to leave. But there is still good reason to hope that a loved one who
joins the Watchtower will not be in it for a lifetime.
But a lot will depend on your being there at the right
time—not only with the right words to say and with convincing evidence to back
you up, but also with a loving heart and a personal relationship with God. You
will need to offer an alternative that will satisfy the individual’s rational,
emotional, and spiritual needs.
(See chapter 16 and the Appendix for further discussion
of rehabilitation and a list of helpful resources.)