Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t celebrate Father’s Day. Today is particularly miserable for their members and families
The right-wing protestant sect is more likely to participate in the break up of a family than holding it together contrary to their public relations messages.
Holidays that most people associate with family – Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Birthdays – are acutely painful for ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are reminded each year that their family does not want them. In time, they learn to form new relationships and family groups but there is always a place in their hearts that hurts.
On Friday night at Churchill’s I ran into a young friend who was still nursing the hurt of being brought up in a Jehovah’s Witness family. When he decided to strike out on his own, his mother and father ostracized him. To add insult to injury, a Montague elder Gerry Deveau disfellowshipped him.
Disfellowshipping is the Jehovah’s Witness version of shunning or excommunication. A person who is disfellowshipped is cut off from their family unless they recant whatever slight an elder like Deveau concocts. I know this character. Deveau stalked me for two years trying to find something to accuse me, like a modern Javert from Les Misérables.
Jehovah’s Witnesses leave out the Middle Ages Catholic burning at the stake; however, the effect is no less devastating. Imagine yourself cut off from your parents, brothers sisters, cousins, aunts uncles, grandparents and former friends. The reasons can be as diverse as not upholding their Victorian ideas of sex to expressing doubts about the Watch Tower magazine.
My friend didn’t know that 30 years ago I left the JWs. He was so relieved to find a kindred spirit. The relief that came over his face was like lifting a weight off his shoulders. He has been suffering the loneliness of losing all family contacts for years.
Since he was disfellowshipped he has been living in an emotional vacuum, trying to reconcile his independent life as a adult with the demands of his family that he return to the fold.
The number of disfellowshipped JW’s is staggering, more than 60,000 per year. “Two out of every three are never reinstated. Being disfellowshipped can result in serious emotional side affects because those that continue to believe Watchtower doctrine are told that whilst disfellowshipped they are condemned to everlasting destruction.” JW Facts. It is estimated there are more disfellowshipped JW’s than actual members. Every JW family has one or more disfellowshipped members.
The reasons for someone to convert to the JW faith are generally personal and don’t apply to the succeeding generations. A study in England showed the prime target for conversion were females who had become detached from their social supports through a recent death in the family, birth of a 2nd or 3rd child while living away from their traditional home. This is why Jehovah’s Witnesses canvas homes constantly looking for disaffected women who are their prime targets.
A parent’s need for social supports from a religious cult aren’t there in the children. They tend to drift back into society. Fear of disfellowshipping is the main reason children remain in the faith. My mother converted to JW after her 4th of 5 children. My father was working two jobs to support us and she got lonely. I was the first to leave the fold. My older brother left but returned when the emotional stress got to him. A sister left, two other siblings remain JW today.
Like my friend, the price disfellowshipped children pay is ostracism. While some JW parents are ambivalent to the Watch Tower rules on disfellowshipping, self-policing that would make the Gestapo proud keeps most families adhering to the rules. When Deveau was trying to concoct a case against me, he tried using my 8 year old son to spy for him. “Is he swearing at home? Does he drink a lot?” The whole process is very intrusive but they are relentless. He should have asked me himself since I clearly didn’t believe the world was going to end in a big hurry, sufficient grounds in itself for the being DF’d.
Parents can be disfellowshipped themselves for not keeping disfellowshipped children at a distance.