Quick bio: Born-in, third gen JW, devout family, Dad an elder/PO, Mom pioneered off/on, baptized at age 10 (my elder dad asked me to wait but I didn’t), had overall good childhood, toured Bethel, aux pio off/on, finished HS early, reg pio for a year then pio school, met amazing JW girl (also third gen devout), spent a year in community college (paid for by fairly conservative JW parents), got a good job, married amazing JW girl, appointed as MS, delivered public talks and parts on CA/DC, wife and I had first child. It was a near-storybook JW life (except no Bethel). I had a couple of normal “issues” in teenage years, but sought the assistance from the elders and ironed it out. But I was very sheltered and pretty much led the life my parents wanted me to lead. And then… [queue dramatic music]
While doing some in-depth study to conduct a Daniel’s Prophecy book study, I cracked an encyclopedia and stumbled upon the 607-586/587-destruction of Babylon chronology problem. Like many born-ins my age and younger, I had NO IDEA the Society had its own unique timetable that contradicted secular hiostory. Further research using other reference works (which had been quoted in the WT!) led me to question the 607 dating and, in turn, the validity of WT events surrounding 1914… which undermined my confidence in the F&DS. I finally discussed it with my wife, who was distraught by my doubts, so I agreed to meet with elders. While meeting with these men who knew me as a child, I felt the need to ‘humble myself’, actually broke down from sincere guilt for doubting and peeking into “apostate” writings regarding 607 (yeah, that’s embarrassing now), and agreed to ‘wait on Jah and focus on the good fruits’.
Now, I know some of you have had ugly experiences with elders but I came from a pretty close-knit congregation. I would never deny the love I felt from/for most, though I see the organization for what it really is. Still I believe many individuals in my home congregation have genuine love but are misguided. While I also experienced the sharp end of judgmental spirit and holier than thou attitudes, I truly care about the genuine folks and I don’t doubt the feeling is mutual. (And for the sake of candor, I was judgmental/holier than thou as a JW, too.)
Over the course of at least three visits with elders, my chronology issue was hardly discussed. In one meeting, the CO (a good man) humbly admitted he had no answer and suggested I write the Society but I never did since by that time I’d discovered Carl Olof Jonnson’s correspondence with headquarters. I knew arguing with them would be pointless. The Society’s stance was clear: “we won’t budge regardless of any evidence presented.” (Actually, there was ONE elder who pulled me to the side a few weeks after that meeting with CO, asked how I was doing, and told me I was NOT to read anymore apostate material in a VERY authoritative manner. That just made me mad.)
So I continued going to most meetings, mostly for my wife, but grew to dislike the whole air of religious superiority and spiritual high-five-fests. I saw humility among individuals but felt it lacked as a collective whole. The religious pride was a source of real prejudice against non-JWs. The more my single doubt grew, the more I realized I had never considered any viewpoint but the one that I was indoctrinated with as a child. How could I possibly make an objective decision by studying only one perspective? The JW doctrine was ingrained in me but I wondered about all the other sincere people who were devout in their religion and believed they had “the truth”, and yet not all could be right.
A year later I was inactive but making 2/3 of the meetings. I couldn’t stomach the Revelation Climax book and the audience comments were just gut-wrenching to me: “Oh, how grateful we are to understand these complicated visions when other religions haven’t a clue!” (Audience nods and laughs approvingly… meanwhile, I throw up in my mouth a little.)
Then one weekend, a cousin - one of my best friends from childhood on into married life - visited us with his family. As kids, he was the crazy one who didn’t take much seriously, whose parents weren’t really “strong”. But in recent years, he’d made a determination to give it his all, pioneer, and “reach out”. I think one goal of his visit was to get me back on track. So one night we started drinking beer and talking and my doubts came up but I couldn’t bring myself to discuss my issues as I was thinking, “Wrong or not, this faith seems to be good for him and his family, so why try to change that?” (Plus, I feared judicial action for saying too much.)
Oddly enough, that led me to start wondering what life would be like if I gave it my all like he did and just swept my doubts under the rug. It occurred to me that might also give my family a better environment. (At the time, our family suffered the strain of regular arguments over my doubts. Because she was truly concerned about our daughter’s future, she would insist we discuss it, and I just knew it meant a battle of will so I tried to avoid it. Other than that, our marriage was great.)
Now, you’ll think I was crazy - and you’re probably right - but in my emotional, semi-inebriated state, I decided to give it a second chance. The very next day I shaved my beard and started doing everything exactly as the WT prescribed. Man, you should’ve seen the love-bombing at the next meeting! Anyway, my hope was to build faith and just plaster over my doubts for the sake of my family. And I can promise you this: I gave it EVERYTHING I had. My heart was fully in it. My dad and uncle met with me each week for ‘assist inactive ones’ study sessions and loved it. I swallowed my pride and poured my heart out to them, even concluding that the real source of my problems must’ve been materialism. After that it was study, service, prayer, meditation, meetings, comments… I committed to all of it. I laid out a schedule for the family and we operated like a well-oiled machine. And I must say I had a certain satisfaction in doing so. Plus my wife and I weren’t arguing and the stability returned. Field service was even different than before. I actually enjoyed talking to people as I felt a more genuine desire to help them instead of counting hours. I felt like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing, and this time whole-souled. My friends and family (esp parents) had so much love, pride, and happiness in their eyes, how could I NOT feel better about what I was doing? No more being judged negatively by those I loved! Kool-aid is tasty! Get some!
But we all know what happens when you try to patch a cracked wall if the foundation is still faulty, right? The doubts resurfaced a few months into my return, despite all of my efforts. During one particular 2hr study with my wife, we were covering a WT article in the Jan 07 issue about the 'second resurrection - now under way', which contained some new light. That enlightenment was an entire sub-heading, crafted with the most speculative wording I’d ever seen to date (I was still pretty naïve back then). We went over and over the information in that subheading and it raised numerous questions in my mind. “Why even try to pinpoint dates for modern fulfillment if you have to use such speculative wording to support it? Does my faith in God really hinge on such assumptions? And why must a parallel be drawn for almost every Bible account? Do we really have to read into EVERYTHING and determine how it this or that foreshadows the F&DS today?” My wife said she was mentally exhausted so we quickly finished the article and went to bed.
After that meeting, I could no longer keep my other doubts from resurfacing. My conscience wouldn’t allow me to tell others to critically examine their beliefs when I refused to do so myself. I decided to peel back my faith until I reached a solid foundation on which to build.
During this time, my wife and I resumed our arguments. Fortunately, we were able to maintain our love for each other, despite the strain, and eventually she started to see the Society’s fundamental flaws on her own. I can’t tell you how glad I am to have such a great wife after hearing some stories on here about families breaking up. I’m truly thankful for her.
Fast forward almost 5 years since my discovery of the 607 issue and we are now both inactive (she just made the list last month) with two beautiful kids and we haven’t been to a meeting since the Memorial this past March. That was our independence day.
Amazingly, our family life is still happy! Yeah, we currently have more questions than answers but we haven’t fallen into any pit of despair like we were told. We are now aware that we only had a false sense of security before. I also recently discovered the term that seems to fit my current state of faith: Deism. I couldn't have defined it for you 5 years ago and now it makes the most sense to me. I've started reading Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason and I must say his logic is very close to conclusions I'd already drawn. But who knows? The main thing is we believe we were created but we don't believe that creator has a special group representing him today.
Of course, there’s a sadness that comes from family members who are disappointed in us and our decisions but that is more of a sadness that they’re still locked into a cult. We’re trying to live our lives without being so concerned about what others think that we are untrue to ourselves. I’d love to sever ties with the organization completely but things are too complicated to do that.
Both sets of our parents are devout and have quite a bit of responsibility/privilege. My wife’s parents are not completely aware of our inactivity (they live in another state). They know a little but assume we’re making meetings (I think). We have reasons for not being open with them right now – primarily because one of them was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness and we don’t want to bring her down emotionally.
We live in the same city as my parents and earlier this year I asked them some legitimate questions and almost got shunned completely so I’m keeping my mouth shut now just to keep peace. Occasionally my mother will break down and tell me that I’m screwing up my kids' hope for the future (in gist) and we’ll have to have a long talk, which upsets my dad since he doesn’t want us discussing religion at all. They’re good people, though. I’d love to have a normal relationship with my parents that doesn’t involve religion but they’re soooo caught up in it, it’s impossible. I then face the dilemma of trying to help them see the truth or letting them be since they are getting up in years.
One question: Does anyone have an experience in which they helped a very devout family member - not spouses, but like a parent or sibling - escape the WTB&TS?
Well, that's pretty much my story. Sorry to be so long-winded! I look forward to getting to know all of you and, hopefully, being able to help others who are on the way out, too. This site has definitely been a source of support for me recently. Thanks to all of you for that but especially Simon and mods!