I was born the youngest of seven children in what (although I didn’t know it at the time) was a Theocratic Dynasty. I do not say this lightly, so by means of explanation a bit of family history…
My father was a most remarkable man. He grew up dirt poor in Chehalis, Washington, the oldest of three with a mother who was an elementary school teacher and a father who was a drunk, lay about, and occasional farmer. He spent his childhood on the farm, and also fishing and exploring the wildernesses in Southwest WA on foot and bicycle. When he was in the single digit years, his mother “came into The Truth” and dragged her children in tooth and nail. It’s hard to know why now, since all of these people have long since passed, but I suspect it had to do with protesting the abusive relationship with her husband and her love of reading and education. This was during WWII, so it was right at the height of the Knorr days…
When my dad was around 18 he contracted Rheumatic fever and almost died. His Doctor told him that he would never be able to work a physical job again. He could not leave his family to go to school, so he sent off for a correspondence course and taught himself Civil Engineering. By the time he was 24, he had impressed a licensed engineer in Olympia enough to take him on as partner, even though he did not have a day of college in his life. Around age 30 he qualified to get his PE licensed and became a recognized expert on reinforced concrete design.
Meanwhile he met my Mother, who was the youngest child of a family who similarly had a mother in “the Truth” and a deadbeat alcoholic father. My maternal grandmother, who was a second generation witness herself, was born in 1901 and became a believer by listening to Pastor Russell and Judge Rutherford radio broadcasts prior to 1920. The story is that they knew they weren’t destined for Heaven, but considered themselves “Jonadabs” and were part of the group that joyfully recognized themselves as “Great Crowd” when the new understanding came in 1925.
Anyway, by the time my Mother was born they were in Olympia, and for whatever reason Grandma was married to a hothead Scotsman unbeliever who was quite pissed that my Grandma was teaching her kids to be Witnesses. He divorced her and threatened to take my Mom away. Apparently it ended up in a trial where my Grandma’s qualifications as a mother were the main topic of contention (because of her being a Witness) and the famous Brother Covington came out from NY to represent my grandmother at the trial. Another notable thing about my Mom’s family is that she had two older brothers, Tom and Ralph. Tom lived with my grandfather and was so patriotic during WWII that he lied about his age to enlist, and ended up as a radio operator in the Pacific Fleet. Ralph stayed with my Grandmother, was a Pioneer, and spent the War in prison at McNeil Island as a conscientious objector. This kind of extreme dichotomy was an eerie foreshadowing of what was to follow in my life.
After my parents got married, my father was assigned to the role of Congregation Servant of a nearby rural congregation that was having trouble. Apparently many families in the hall had turned apostate and had to be forcible removed. Keep in mind that he was 23 or 24 around this time, still basically a kid, with a newborn son and just starting his career as a Civil Engineer! Apparently he succeeded quite well in his assignment, because for the rest of his life he had an unshakable reputation as a straight shooter and an authoritative voice in the Congregation.
By the time I was born in 1980, my parents already had six children and all of them were making names for themselves in the Truth. My oldest two brothers were already at Bethel, my sisters were regular pioneers, etc. As I grew up as a young child, I saw all my siblings (except for one of my sisters who married relatively young) “go to work” at Dad’s office, learn drafting and basic engineering skills, with the expectation that after high school they would pioneer and work part time until they were accepted as Bethelites. And it worked. My sister that remained single joined my two older brothers in around 1986, and my other two brothers went in 1988, and 1990 respectively. My last sister married a brother from a well-respected family in Centralia, they learned Spanish shortly after getting married, and were instrumental in forming some of the first Spanish halls in the area.
Meanwhile my father’s skills were being put to good use by “The Organization”. I remember going with him and Mom to Brooklyn several times and even to the Canada branch to consult on new construction, as well as him playing a key role in the RBC when the local Assembly Hall was built. This came to a culmination in 1990 when my parents were invited to go back to Bethel for an undetermined time so he could help out with Patterson. Keep in mind how rare this was! I was 10, my parents were 50 and 55, and all 3 of us were invited to go back to Bethel! So we packed up and went, and for almost two years I was one of the infamous “Bethel Brats”.
There were around half a dozen of us, minors who were not technically Bethelites but allowed to live, eat, and worship at Bethel because our dads were indispensable doctors, lawyers, and engineers. I spent half of each day doing busy work in the Laundry department, and half homeschooling with my mom back in our apartment. Unlike most Bethelites, we were assigned to an outbuilding brownstone, where we had the top floor to ourselves. Although it wasn’t luxurious by any means, it was still a two bedroom apartment in one of the highest rent districts in NYC bought and paid for by the Watchtower, with more space and freedom than most young single brothers dream of.
Idyllic Lifestyle Shattered
This idyllic lifestyle was shattered in 1992 when my dad was diagnosed with congestive heart disease and colon cancer, almost simultaneously. He had some heart operations, and a cancer removal operation, and WT pulled the plug. It made sense, he was in no state of health to do his job anymore and I think that he secretly hated living in NY and missed the green wilds of Washington. So back we went. The next 3 years were more or less a living hell for me. I had been homeschooled since fourth grade, and although I was very intelligent and well read, I had almost zero social skills of dealing with kids my own age. (Why should I, when I had spent years tagging along with my Dad in theocratic company and at Bethel?) So I entered public school at age 13 as a large, socially awkward, bright teenager, with a father who was slowly dying of cancer and a mother who was increasingly distraught and unable to cope.
My father passed away in 1994. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this was a life shattering event for me, an earthquake with rippling aftershocks that echo in my life all the way down to this day. My Mother was inches away from nervous breakdown for years, but somehow we survived, going from upper middle class to being broke almost overnight (my dad’s one major weakness is that he did almost no financial planning, and although he left my Mom with some savings he had no life insurance or investments to speak of). We had to leave our family house, Mom had to go to Community College to get an AA degree to do clerical work, and we definitely had our rough patches. My goals at that time, nonetheless, were to follow in Dad’s footsteps: become an engineer and a pioneer, go to Bethel, get married, and live the ultimate Theocratic life. I really and sincerely believed it was my destiny to do so. How could I not? This is exactly the path that 5 out of my 6 elder siblings had successfully followed after all. Little did I know…
Mom was very supportive of this plan, and even though we read the warnings about how bad college was for Witness kids, there was a local 4 year school in town that had accredited Engineering degrees so I could remain living at home while at school. This actually turned out to be a long term blessing, since I graduated college with minimal debt compared to what I could have accrued going to an out of town or out of state school. I also participated in a program that allowed me to take college classes at the Community College while in High School, so I ended up graduating one year early, on September 7, 2001 (I had to take summer classes to make up a lab course that I had skipped earlier).
Earlier that year I had dutifully turned in my Bethel application, after having auxiliary pioneered several times a year and having been a ministerial servant since I was 18. Even then, though, there were early signs that all was not well with me and the Truth. I had gotten into serious trouble a couple of times for just being in the “wrong place at the wrong time” while other teens in the hall had done typical stupid things (like watching rated R movies, pranking someone into thinking they were doing a circle jerk, violent BB gun wars in the woods, etc.). Also, although I was a servant I had a reputation as having an “uppity” attitude and the body had assigned the most authoritative, hard bitten elder in the hall to “watch over me”, which chafed to no end. The kicker actually came earlier when I was 17. The Seattle Symphony had an arrangement where they would go to local High School and pick kids out to play with them in a onetime event, and I was chosen for my school (I’m quite gifted in music although that’s only really tangential to this story). Anyway, what was an incredible uplifting experience turned sour as a couple of weeks later I was challenged by a distant relative who had a part on a Circuit Assembly. You see, I was supposed to be interviewed as an “example youth”, but because my name appeared in the newspaper as being part of this event, and the event happened to coincide with the 50th anniversary or some such of the building the concert was in, it was written up as a “Birthday Bash”. So you could see this would definitely offend others and set a bad example if I was allowed to be pointed to as an example (or so he most “reluctantly” told me). So I was yanked, and instead he interviewed his own son (!), my second cousin, as the example youth instead of me. This was the beginning of a pattern of my coming to dread assemblies and conventions, through negatively comparing my own life to the people on stage.
Anyway, back to graduating with my Bethel App in. I was so sure that I was going to get in (I had actually done temp work already in the department) that I had made no effort to get a “worldly” job and told everyone in school that I had a rock solid offer back in New York (a convenient lie, but frankly the truth (ha!) would have dumbfounded them, so an appropriate one). 9-11 happened four days after I got my diploma. You can read elsewhere the effects it had on people at Bethel (PTSD was super common and one of my best friends who was there then is still affected), but the flip side is that they immediately suspended all pending applications, and sent out word that they wouldn’t be accepting any new Bethelites for the foreseeable future!
So new diploma in hand, no prospects, family relatively broke, and the 2001 recession getting into full swing. Hoo boy. I even “regular pioneered” until cash ran out and my siblings convinced my Mom that I needed to get full time work. The only job I could get was for a weird little Filipino con-man who made hydraulic maritime cranes and other equipment and used his business as a front for smuggling, extortion, and general immoral gamesmanship (I could tell stories about my job here, but as this is already quite long, I’ll save it for another time).
2002 was a really strange year for me. Not only was I working this insane job (literally because he was the only one who would hire me in the throes of the recession), but I also got “dumped” by the sister I was somewhat interested in, met a different sister (after all, why not date since Bethel was out of the question), and then ended up getting removed as a servant for admitting to using porn. I know, shocking, right? I mean, no upstanding young brother would ever be caught doing such a despicable, dirty, thing… And to add insult to injury, the PO who removed me was none other than the same relative of mine who had blocked me from being on the Assembly four years earlier. Talk about irony…
Although I had some major depression that year, I finally got out of it with the help of my girlfriend, who shortly became my fiancée. In a further display of cosmic irony, around May 2003 Bethel finally called back, and asked if I was interested in coming for a trial period of up to 24 months. During this call, I literally had my recently purchased engagement ring in hand, so had to tell them no (the reasons why I had to say no are fairly arcane and wouldn’t make sense to anyone but a born-in Witness, but ultimately boil down to money, as most things related to the Watchtower do).
Things Seemed to be Going Great
In 2005 I finally ditched my crummy job and got a much better one at a major Aerospace company that just happens to be centered in the Pacific NW (I’ll let you guess which). For a while things seemed to be going great. I was married, had a lot of geeky friends, finally had a decent job, and although I was not yet re-appointed it seemed imminent. The problem was, as time dragged on imminent became indefinite, and ultimately became never.
With value of hindsight I now realize that it really came down to intelligence. Frankly, the elder bodies in the halls I was in (2 English and the Japanese) were never comfortable having a college educated brother in their hall who instinctively challenged nonsense direction and prided himself on non-conformity. That being said, I still could give student talks like no one’s business (in Japanese, nonetheless), and several people had told me that my comments were CO level (whatever that meant). But as I watched brothers younger than me get appointed, and my applications to do temp work, construction work, and frankly any special assignment disappear into a virtual black hole, my time in the congregation started to seem futile.
In my mind this all came down to Jehovah. After all, he had given me my talents and intelligence, right? And he had made sure I had the family and theocratic background to use these abilities in his service right? And had I not devoted my entire life to developing these gifts specifically for his service? So, why was he not accepting my service? No answer came to mind. Of course, there were three potential explanations, but all of these were seriously unsatisfying: 1. I still occasionally used porn and watched rated R movies, but then again didn’t most (if not all) brothers? So how would this disqualify me from serving God? 2. I was proud and arrogant. Somewhat true, but I also thought I was dirt for not being used up to my potential and regularly considered suicide. So how could it be said that I was haughty? 3. My service time was low. Well, not that low (typically around 8 hours). This was usually the excuse that the elders gave when I challenged them on it, but after a while it started to ring hollow, especially when I learned that most servants and elders were putting in that amount of time or less.
These internal battles literally went on for years. It reached a point where I absolutely dreaded going to meetings and assemblies, and had fantasies of shooting myself in the hall in front of everyone else, alternating with a literal sensation of sinking through the floor. Did I even consider talking to a therapist or psychiatrist? I most definitely should have, but that would involve telling this whole convoluted story, and besides, they would probably steer me away from God’s Spirit anointed organization. Make no mistake; I was still a believer at this point, albeit a very troubled one.
Cracks Begin to Appear
The first real crack came as (generally reading science type publications and listening to NPR) I started hearing more about genetic engineering and discoveries regarding early humans and other hominids. These really put serious doubts about Genesis in my mind, and although I waffled for a while, I eventually came to the conclusion that the language in Genesis was mostly symbolic and the time scales were way off. I told my wife and some close friends about these doubts and they agreed with me in principle, but said it in no way prevented me from being a witness. So I continued on…
The second blow came when my sister in law (brother’s wife) became inactive. Briefly, she was the niece of a GB member that my brother had met at Bethel and they were poised for circuit work when she became pregnant. They ended up as a “regular” witness family at that point, although my SIL is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met and couldn’t take that as a permanent assignment. So she went back to school, eventually got her graduate degree, and ended up as an adjunct English professor at a State College in the Midwest. She had expressed severe misgivings about how the Society used quotes from academic publications and said several times that if she tried to do that in her work she would be booted out of Academia post haste. I remember when the latest Creator and Five Questions brochures were released; I was sitting next to her at the DA and said “So these look to be pretty well researched, right?” She just looked back at me and sadly shook her head. Shortly afterward I learned that she had completely stopped meetings and service. Although outwardly I expressed shock and sadness like the rest of my family, inwardly I was correlating with my earlier misgivings regarding Genesis, and thinking that if she (one of the persons I admired most in the world, frankly) could not reconcile here reasoned intellectual worldview with the Truth, how could I?
The third blow was TPT. I’m not going to describe it in detail, because it’s out there and infamous (just Google Tony Morris Tight Pants). Here was one of the GB, a spiritual “prince”, one who was going to rule in heaven over paradise earth, looking and sounding like a mean old conservative politician who was obsessed with culture wars, disregarding anything that had remotely spiritual significance. It was so shocking, that I remember trying to go out in service several months afterwards, just staring at the mirror with shaver in hand, and thinking “I can’t do this anymore. I just can’t represent an organization publicly that has this kind of homophobic image.” And indeed, I only went out in service once or twice after that point.
The last straw was the Royal Commission. Again, I’m not going to go into a lot of detail because the information is out there and should speak for itself. I first heard it on the Reveal NPR news program on the way home from work and was flabbergasted. Sure, I had heard for years rumors about the so-called sex abuse scandal, but always dismissed these as spurious. Hearing it first hand from a well-respected and well-researched reporter was just more than I could bear. Shortly afterwards I told my wife that I was going to be cooling off and that I didn’t trust the F&DS anymore. Basically it comes down to this: if this organization has God’s spirit how can they behave in such a reprehensible way? Can God be evil and unjust? No. Can God approve of their actions? No. Do they claim to be His direct representatives? Hell yes. So therefore: 1. They had his spirit at one time but it had been withdrawn and judgement was impending, or 2. They never had his spirit in the first place. There were no other logical conclusions. Unfortunately, my dear wife still does not agree with this line of reasoning.
Did I say that was the last straw? Really it was except for one other incident. So shortly after ARC, I started growing a beard. Because, why not? They’re not prohibited in the Bible, and as a PNW techie it actually gives me more respect in my profession to have facial hair, not less. I had not been to meeting for more than a month, but my six year old son and I were given talk slips for the same night. It was his first Bible Reading, after all, and I couldn’t miss it. So we practiced for weeks and he finally got it down, multi-syllabic Hebrew transcribed names and all. We get to meeting that night and he does awesome. Literally as he’s getting down from the podium (this is in the back school) our COBE yanks me aside and says “I’m sorry brother, but I can’t let you give a talk looking like that”. This floored me because I had already talked to the School Overseer and he had no problem with it. So I walked outside and stayed in the car until the meeting was over. Afterwards, I went into the backroom with the COBE and asked him why I could not give the talk. He could not give a definitive answer except that “It goes against Christian standards” and “We wouldn’t want to give the impression that this was acceptable”, and “According to the BE book, brothers may be clean shaven (which is true with that exact wording, it does not say that brothers must be clean shaven or even that they should be clean shaven. Typical JW double-speak).
So I ended up totally humiliated in front of my kid, who was somewhat distraught because he was proud as punch before the meeting that we would be giving talks together, the same night in the same school. And since then I have not been back to the hall.
So as far as my elders are concerned, I flipped out over facial hair and just suddenly went off the grid. But you know, and I know that there is so much more.
One year later, I am much happier. I’m on some pretty good antidepressants and no longer have severe mood-swings. However, the Borg still haunts my life: my wife is trying to stick with it and occasionally still drags my kids to meetings, and every time I try to discuss my reservations with her she gets really uncomfortable and shuts off all conversation. Also I know that if I ever DA or get DF’d, I will lose all contact with my large extended family, all of whom I still very much love and respect. Not to mention all of my geek friends whom I have carefully cultivated over the years. So here I am, free, but not quite free.
At the moment, that is good enough.
Please feel free to PM me on Reddit (u/NonEuclideanSyntax) if you have any questions or comments. Also, enough personal details were included in this story that my identity may be determined by people living in the area. If this is so, and I get turned in and DF’d, so be it. Hopefully my story will bring comfort and hope to others, and ultimately that is worth the sacrifice.