In October of 2000, I faded away from the Watchtower. Like most people, I have family and friends who are JW's (including my wife and parents). Fading is generally the best method for people in that situation. With the recent exposure of the Watchtower's coverup of child abuse, I think that there might be many JW's who will now be convinced that the WT is not the true religion, but a high-control cult. They may be ready to take the final step of moving away from the Watchtower, but be held in by family and social ties.
So, for those who have gone through the process of fading, what worked and what didn't work?. Here are my thoughts on fading techniques. Some of these I used successfully, and some I wish I had thought of in hindsight. Feel free to add and disagree!
Preparation for fading.
Firstly, it must be acknowledged that fading is not a rapid process. We are talking years rather than months for the entire process. In fact, certain aspects of fading may never end. Some preparation can lessen the stress and hassle later.
Avoid a hostage situation
Therefore, before beginning to fade away, it is important to start cutting as many ties as possible. Most JW's are heavily involved with other JW's socially and sometimes in business ventures too. Obviously, the more ties of this nature, the harder to fade without others chasing you or checking up on you, or using these ties to hold you hostage within the organisation against your will. So a gradual process of withdrawal from business ventures with JW's, and replacing these with non-JW arrangements will give you far greater freedom. It will mean that you are not a financial hostage to a JW boss or partner.
Socially, it is important to begin building a new non-JW network of friends and acquaintances before losing your JW network. So joining clubs or hobby groups, going out with people at work, and generally increasing contact with people is a good idea. This will make it harder to make you an emotional hostage when the time comes.
The general rule is always to operate from a position of strength, and never advance unless these flanks are covered. Even your JW family are included in this. Reducing some contact with them now, lessening conversations about spiritual things now, will pay dividends later.
You must also come to terms with the fact that your fade may not work, and this will have serious consequences. Bringing yourself to accept the possibility of these consequences can take a long time. I knew by the end of 1996 that Watchtower doctrines were a bunch of dingo's kidneys, yet it took several years to accept that leaving the Jehovah's Witnesses might mean losing my wife, my family and most of my current lifestyle. Only once I was sure that I could survive such an eventuality did I feel ready to commence the fade.
All of this must be done gradually, so as not to arouse suspicions and concerns in local elders or JW family members. It could take months or years, depending on individual circumstances. Naturally, there will be a lot of frustration involved. After all, you don't believe the WT is God's organisation any more, or you wouldn't be wanting to leave. I found it extremely difficult to sit through meetings, go in service, give talks etc, not believing in any of it any more. I felt a hypocrite. Often I would go home from meetings with a stomach twisted by the frustration of not being able to say what I really felt. But this is necessary to a successful fade, and so must be accepted. Often I would spend the long meetings planning and reviewing the next steps of my exit, so as to emphasize to myself that this was not a permanent process, and that the frustration served a purpose.
Once you have your other life in place, then the real fade can begin.
The hollow person
Again a general rule is that the better you are known, the harder it is to fade. This is why many people, including myself, have found that moving location is a great help to fading. The best scenario here of course is just to disappear, but if you are in a position to do that you probably don't need to fade out slowly anyway. Occasionally, people have managed to get hold of their record cards, or arranged to have them sent to the address of a helpful friend. This way the new congregation secretary has no idea that you are now in his territory.
Even if this is not possible, there are advantages to moving location. In my case, we moved into another territory. I could have stopped going immediately, but I felt that this would merely have aroused more curiousity in the local elders. They would have called around to see the new publishers to encourage them. What I did was to attend meetings and service for a month in a lacklustre fashion, being there but not really getting involved. After that, I made meeting attendance sporadic for a couple of months, and then stopped altogether. This meant that I had introduced myself to the elders and made the impression in their minds of being semi-weak and therefore not worthy of much attention. The idea being that, by the time they noticed I was gone, some time had passed and it was much easier for them to let it go than chase me. Given that I have had only one halfhearted visit in the two years since, it seems that this has indeed been the case.
Remember that elders are busy people, and use that to your advantage. It may be possible to wait for an advantageous time when there are other problems in the congregation or with their own families distracting the most pro-active elders.
If you cannot move, then the fade should be stretched out. Again, you must create the impression in the minds of the JW's that you are weak, bordering on bad association (without actually going so far as to attract unwelcome attention). Make it a mild relief for them when you dont turn up for service because of your slightly worldly talk. Become unreliable with ministry school talks and any other duties. Slowly resign these duties, but don't give any concrete doctrinal reasons for doing so. Using poor health is a good excuse. Another is hinting at personal problems with other individuals in the congregation (without letting on who they actually are).
Play the Watchtower's game, but not by their rules
What about family? If you live with them it will be virtually impossible to do all this without them asking questions. Again, disagreeing with doctrine or expressing doubts about the governing body will be counterproductive and may result in your family involving the elders. I made the mistake of having several intense discussions with my wife about the changed generation doctrine and my doubts concerning the Watchtower's competence in science and history. It accomplished nothing but bad feeling. Fortunately we were distracted with moving at the time, or she may well have involved the elders.
A tactic I found useful when under interogation from my parents was simply to say that "I needed a break to re-examine my beliefs and study to make sure I knew the truth." This is suitably vague. It uses JW trigger phrases like "the truth" which reassures them you still are still part of the collective (and how could you ever discover that The Truth is not the truth?). It also gives them hope for the future which allows them to postpone forcing an unpleasant confrontation now, and as you know, JW's are highly conditioned to indefinite waiting for the fulfillment of their hopes for the future.
Another thing that has worked for me is to say that "everyone should have the freedom to practice or not practice a particular religion without being persecuted for it, which is what the Watchtower has often fought for." Turning Watchtower techniques and buzzwords around in this way will often head off pressure.
Recognise that it is extremely unlikely that your family will follow you out. There are success stories of this kind, but the majority of the time this is not the case. Not only that, but be prepared for some unpleasant and hurtful comments. For instance, it is likely you will be accused of being "materialistic" or "arrogant" or "bitter". You might be told that you will never be truly happy or successful outside of The Truth. Developing a thick skin is absolutely necessary when this happens. Responding in kind will merely lead to the failure of your fade.
After the fade
You must accordingly be perfect
It is entirely possible that after you leave the Watchtower you will be periodically unhappy and bitter. And for good reasons! You are dealing with enormous changes and stresses! Fortunately these negatives tend to be shortlived, and more than offset by the freedom you now enjoy from continual fear and guilt conditioning. But, it is a sad fact that allowing your family or former JW friends to see your down times will not be a good thing. For them, it spells o-p-p-o-r-t-u-n-i-t-y. They will see an opportunity to try and get you back into the Watchtower, and will use emotional leverage to this end. If you're depressed, they'll remind you how you can only have true happiness in The Truth. Lonely? Satan's world is a cold place full of hate. Sad? Think how sad Jehovah is not to see you at the meetings! Fed up at something in the news? Don't you want to see all these problems solved? All of these have been used by my family when they think they spot a chink in my armour, and the fact that such comments merely added to my temporary negativity didn't even enter their minds.
To avoid this emotional manipulativeness, you cannot be anything but happy, purposeful and confident around your JW family. Instead, use your new worldly friends (who hopefully have a far more benign agenda) as your ranting board. Even better, join an xJW board like this one and rant away to people who understand!
A final reason to be Superperson is to prevent your family getting their Watchtower conditioning enforced. If they see you unhappy, they will think it confirms what the Watchtower tells them about people who leave. On the other hand, when they see that you do not turn into a spitting, raging, psychopathic delinquent, it may just introduce a little independent thought into their heads that "maybe people can be happy outside."
I am married to a staunch JW. Even the child abuse scandal has made little impression. How is it possible to have a tolerable and even happy relationship in that situation? A very important thing I've discovered is to enforce a no-fly zone over certain subjects i.e. the Watchtower. I don't try to pressure her to leave if she doesn't try and pressure me to go back. I will respect her choice if she respects mine. When the subject is mentioned, it will be mentioned impersonally as a matter of general knowledge or interest e.g. I have told her about the Panorama programme and showed her the BBC website, but went only so far as "there it is if you want to watch it". Not "you have to watch this expose of the paedophile paradise in Brooklyn!" Is this sweeping the whole thing under the carpet and not dealing with it? Probably, but so what? If it's comfortable under the carpet, why not leave it there?
What if, for whatever reason, the elders chase? My personal conviction is not to see them. They have no authority over me that I do not give them. If I happen to see them in everyday life I smile and move on, and do not get drawn into conversation. If they call I will be not-at-home. If they phone, I screen all calls through my answering service and will not reply. They will need to put forth considerable effort to get me, and since I am not being overtly "opposed" it is simply not worth their limited time. All elder bodies are different of course, and at the end of the day, if they decide to DF or DA you, there's not much that can be done. But, if there has been an obvious witchhunt, your family will see it. I have seen several cases where a JW family recognised the injustice of the witchhunt, and consequently maintained contact despite the WT's shunning directives.
This does not mean that there is nothing you can do to try and make your family think. Some gentle involvement in activities with pleasant "worldly" people will show them that most non-JW's are nice people, not as the WT illustrations make them out to be. Recommend some interesting books and articles (I subscribe to The Economist, an excellent magazine) that do not mention the Watchtower specifically, but happen to touch upon well established historic or scientific knowledge that shows the Watchtower's teachings to be a crock. I've found that my wife has an amusing liking for Arnold Schwarzenegger action movies, most of which are R rated. We enjoy them together! We go to see movies like Harry Potter and enjoy them, and I know that the irrational demon-hysteria about such movies irritates the heck out of her. In time, I'm hopeful that my family will start to think for themselves, but I will not force the issue, because to do so will lead to slamming doors.
Finally, these are my thoughts only, based on my own experiences. Obviously, there are far too many variables to cover everything. But so far my fade has been a definite success, and I'm now starting to build a rewarding non-WT life while maintaining relationships with my JW family. While not tormenting myself with unfulfilled expectations, I have some hopes of my family leaving the WT one day. One thing I do know for certain: leaving the Watchtower is worth all the effort. Life in the Watchtower is not life, it is a wasteland they have labelled peace.