Freedom From An Unsafe Haven
By Caleb (in Africa)
Initiation – Watchtower Style
Mom, my younger brother, and I were baptized on a cold day in September 1999, my final year at school. It was a day of uncertainty. I had recently gotten my unbearable bouts of depression under control, and I finally made the decision to dedicate my life to Jehovah and Jesus…and their organization.
To me that day was bitter-sweet. It was a day filled with fear; fear of failure, fear of not measuring up, fear of whether what I did was right, and fear of the unknown. You see, I had a very turbulent childhood - the impact of which I only recently discovered. My mother was my everything; nature was my playground, and a dad’s acceptance was the elusive mirage I tirelessly sought. Needless to say, this rough and tumble, yet sensitive boy was the unsuspecting pray of men and older boys whose sexual thirst got the better of them. Their seductions and traps left me confused and overwhelmed by the contradictory kaleidoscope of images of myself, of life, of masculinity …and of God.
It will come as no surprise that honesty and truth were the virtues I often took refuge in, since they gave me a certain assurance and calmness I so desperately needed in times of confusion and contradiction. I always felt a connection with God and Jesus. At times they were distant and berating; at other times they were near and comforting. I soon recognized the errors in orthodox Christianity and started to voice my personal conviction as contrary to the Church’s, which made me an excellent candidate for the Watchtower’s mission.
Friends of ours were Witnesses. It took one weekend of fellowship with them to convince us of their truth. Or should I say, the bait was Biblically accurate; the switch was the catch…Yes, the Witnesses pointed out all the errors of the other churches. They prepared me for persecution, since that identifies true Christianity and martyrdom as an honor we owe God.
I quickly progressed after my baptism. I’m blessed with a photographic memory and a propensity for art, languages, music as well as science and mathematics. My unsocial behavior soon started to surface when my energetic bliss turned into morbid defensiveness and pent-up aggression. I was known to be a theological time-bomb and everybody – teachers included – feared my merciless condemnations and irrefutable judgments upon them, their hypocrisy and their God. In the meantime I savored my moments of victory at debates and speech contests. Excelling at academics, my mind was my trusted weapon which never ever failed me.
I excelled in the Watchtower world, too. I was appointed as a Ministerial Servant (MS) shortly after I turned 20. I was well-known and many of those who knew me I didn’t even know. Word spread about me. I was the brother who gave those great talks, with the unbelievable knowledge of Scripture, even able to read and understand Greek. I was a hero…I was my own hero…the hero I wanted to have in a dad.
I quickly realized how ignorant even the elders were of science, psychology, Biblical history, and even plain and simple reality. Theirs is a re-cultured Watchtoweresque world-view completely out of touch with logic and reality. Whatever one’s conviction, however crooked and unreasonable it is, if you had a Watchtower quote to back you up, you are right!
My brother slowly but surely faded, and finally cooled off completely during his first year at University. I was the pillar of our home, the one to encourage and console, while I was more shattered and broken than anyone could have imagined. The year we got baptized was also the year Mom and Dad remarried. What a victory it was for the Watchtower who brought this family together – was what everyone thought. My dad had been sober for more than a year and was also studying, and we were the proof of Holy Spirit at work through the Watchtower. Yes, I was glad in a way, but, one morning at school I got a surprise visit from the gentleman who studied with us, telling me that my father agreed to go for alcohol rehabilitation. He asked me why I wasn’t excited and I said that, contrary to what they thought, it was not Jehovah who helped my dad to quit drinking…it was a rehab institution. Why the fuss? Well, he didn’t think so.
A year or so after our baptism, just before my appointment as an MS, my folks decided to quit their jobs. Dad had started drinking on-and-off again, he was over-worked and miserable, and thought that going into what he did best – pencil drawing – would be a solution to the stress at work and at home. The period that followed proved to be nearly as devastating as my childhood experiences. My father was as drunk as ever. My mother lost her blissful beauty in old and torn clothes, while I just tried to keep everyone spiritually and emotionally adrift. I will never forget how my dad called me one evening as he was lying on his little bed, asking me through his tears why wicked people flourish. I got up, took my Black Companion, and read him Psalm 73. I was 21/22 back then. This family’s survival depended on my keeping my cool – through my pains, my recurring bouts of depression and the uncertainty of what life was holding for us in the future.
While my brother was at University, I studied through correspondence. In 2004, my folks finally separated. This was the beginning of much relief for all of us. I was more clued-up than ever with Scripture and organizational procedure. My depression improved, and I finally graduated with a science degree. Need I add that had it not been for student loans and my working while studying, none of this would have been possible.
One morning, the Presiding Overseer of our congregation gave me a few pages he printed off the Watchtower’s official website. It was about child abuse. I remember reading the article one Saturday evening. That Sunday morning, while walking toward our Kingdom Hall, it suddenly occurred to me that, regardless of how pious, regardless of how “Scriptural,” or how sanctimoniously valid, as a survivor of child abuse myself – more often than I could even remember – I could not get myself to accept this policy of child abuse described in those pages that were given me. That thought was a cul-de-sac I dared not explore any further.
In 2007, I moved away to a town 100 kilometers away from home. It was a tough move, but one I had to do. My mother was taken care of; my brother and dad were fine, and so I could start to focus on myself. I had already come across grave misconduct among Witnesses. I had heard of hypocrisy, concealed sins, crimes, and other bad stuff happening to other people. But what was in store for me would turn my world upside down and make me take a course of life forever away from an organization I believed would provide me with the safety, structure, and stability from my previously turbulent life.
I lived in a bachelor’s flat between a brother’s house and his son-in-law’s. I knew this brother from the talks he used to give at my previous congregation. Brother Dan was the Secretary of that congregation, and his son-in-law, Jason, was a ministerial servant. I remember the morning I arrived there. That congregation had been invited to an assembly that day, but Jason left a little later than the others, so he opened the gate for us. I remember the dead, secretive, even dangerous look in his eyes. As a child I had to learn what facial expressions meant, since ignoring them would have had me end-up bruised and crying…or sexually violated. But I was a good Witness. I did what every good Witness was supposed to do. I had always sought to “put on the new personality which was created according to God’s will in true righteousness and loyalty.” (Eph. 4:24) This loyalty required loyalty toward the organization and its gifts in men, among others, its spirit-appointed Ministerial Servants and Elders. As with other matters of awareness, I had to deny what I saw, and convince myself of the opposite, for, to me, this was Jehovah’s organization.
I befriended Jason and his family. Jason was almost 20 years older than I was. He was attractive, apparently successful, and somewhat bombastic. Not a popular fellow, though. I had gathered that he had been in and out of the organization although no one dared to tell me what the reasons were. Also sensitive and acting out a macho façade, he quickly felt more and more at ease in my company. I came to know the Jason nobody else but his wife knew better.
Somehow Jason came to know of my family history. No one knew of the abuse I had suffered, although I think he suspected it. One night he invited me for pizza and red wine. I remember how his face and demeanor changed after a glass or two. He asked me whether I had a rough life before I became a Witness. I told him that my life wasn’t easy and that my dad was an alcoholic. He replied and said that he didn’t know his dad and when he was in his teens, a guy much older than he was sodomized him. His face was calm. He told me that so easily. His face suddenly lit up and with pleasurable memory told me that his experience was only mutual fondling. I was dumb-struck by what I saw and heard. I asked him why he told me this. He took a sip of his wine at told me, because for some reason I trust you. I was somewhat uneasy, but I thought that, since this brother was a ministerial servant, he must have changed. I suddenly felt a feeling of trust coming over me; the feeling of finally finding someone who might understand me, of someone who suffered and survived childhood trauma himself.
I told Jason I also had similar experiences, but that was something of the past. He looked at me and said, whenever you feel like talking, like when you need a dad, I am here for you. I never felt that good in my life! For all my life I wanted a dad. I wanted to be able to trust one, to love one, one whom I can feel safe with, one who could understand my past and my pain. And here he was; I found him and it was so easy. That night I fell asleep while repeating in my mind, “Thank you, Jehovah, thank you for a dad” over and over again. This “dad” would eventually turn out to be no less different than the ones of my past; only that this one nearly cost me my life.
The congregation I attended was very cliquey. I still remember my frustration at the elementary, boring, repetitive talks “mature” elders gave. I remember their fallacious generalizations, their amateurish use of Scripture, especially in field-service. I was convinced that these elders were pushed into their positions, convinced that they had better not knock on a church minister’s door. Family members were married to other family members. Of the 10 elders, 6 were related. Once again I stood out as different. I soon felt the unease and jealous inadequacy many elders experienced due to my presence. My knowledge, my abilities, the languages I spoke and the ease at which I could witness to anyone, agnostic, Muslim, Hindu; name it, I even knew their scripture. It wasn’t uncommon for elders to discuss sensitive matters with their wives. Publishers were discussed and even slandered. I knew that this organization had troubles, but this was different from what I’ve ever seen. The rivalry among the elders reminded me of Parliament sessions in our country, where one politician tried to outshine the other while they maliciously and sarcastically criticize another. This was so sick, and the publishers followed suit!
Not only Jason, but also his wife, Linda, started to confide in me. While she was very unpopular in the congregation, I sensed, and still do, a woman in search of love and acceptance. Her father, Dan, was a shiner and her mother had all kinds of bad nicknames. One day Linda looked particularly sad. That day, she told me what Jason had done 4 years before.
Jason was an elder, but had always had a problem with immorality. He had been in and out of the organization for all sorts of immoral behavior. What happened four years earlier was no exception. He was studying for some qualification and failed one of his subjects. One evening he got up form his desk and told his wife that there was trouble at work, and that they needed his help. An hour later he returned, quiet, poker-faced and shocked. He did not go to work…he got into his car, picked up two prostitutes, had unprotected sex with them and came home. Needless to say, it was heart-rending to Linda. They followed congregation procedure, told an elder named Bob, got anti-retroviral drugs, and survived. Jason was removed as an elder. Two weeks later he cheated on his wife again. This time it was with a work-colleague. Nothing happened to him. When Linda looked on Jason’s laptop, she found a disc with pornography on. Jason got this from a contractor at his workplace. In the meantime, this elder had been giving talks and doing shepherding calls, while he was preparing for his prostitute event.
I was so shocked when she told me this. I went to an elder and told him about it. He said that this was but the tip of the iceberg. A few weeks prior to the above event, Jason and Linda accused a young man of molesting their little girl. He denied the charges and nothing was done to him. What this elder told me, though, scared me even more. He said that Jason’s little girl had been obscene and provocative even before this young man appeared on the scene. With the investigation, the first question they asked Jason was whether he molested his little girl. He denied it. This elder told me that there is a dark question mark hovering over Jason’s head…I wondered why they had him appointed to be a MS again. The elder looked at me and asked me whether I had anything else to tell him. I did.
I was uneasy about one time Jason’s family and I went ten-pin bowling. On two occasions he walked past me and grabbed my genitals. The second time I nearly caused a scene when I told him to stop it. I also told the elder that Jason refused to have me drive around alone with him. He said the heart is too treacherous to allow it. There were also times when Jason used to stare and smile at me. The elder told me to move away. But I couldn’t afford it. He told me I was in danger.
Jason’s wedding anniversary was approaching. To me that was one of the greatest days of my life. My parents never celebrated their wedding anniversary – there was nothing to celebrate. Now, for the first time I can feel part of a family, be part of a family, and share in their joy. I did. That experience was unforgettable. They also had a separate get-together at a resort just outside town. I enjoyed helping them set everything up. Everyone was happy to be there. We played ball in one of the pools when Jason came up to me and grabbed my genitals again. I pushed him away and he played it off as an accident. The rest of that day he avoided me. I remember how hurt I felt.
I decided that, instead of just leaving, I was going to help him. I used his wife to get him material for recovering from sexual addiction. During that time Linda told me that, 4 months after Jason’s reappointment as MS, he went out of town for more training in his trade. One night he called her and told her that he was going to bed early. What he actually did, was, to watch porn on the Net again. He got into his car and picked up prostitutes again. He told Linda that nothing happened. Well, he eventually confessed this to the elder, Bob, who knew of the cases 4 years earlier. This elder kept it secret. I was shocked, to say the least. One, then two months passed and I felt my spirit dropping. Just after my moving there a year earlier, I went to a therapist to help me with the stress I experienced from moving away. This time she had to help me with post-traumatic stress. I never realized what an effect Jason’s inappropriate advances had on me. I was confused, apathetic, lost my appetite and started to do something I never did before: to cut myself to ease the emotional turmoil. I couldn’t accept what had been happening. It took me almost three years to accept that I would lose my second “dad.” I remembered the good times. I remembered how I felt when Jason on few other occasions affirmed his loyalty to me, and now everything would be gone. In an e-mail conversation with a support group I later contacted on the Internet, the administrator told me that, “somehow I’ll find the strength to walk away.” The thought made me cringe and cry inside, but that was final…Jason had a major problem.
I remember one time I had to go with him to help his younger sister move in with them. On that trip he told me in greater detail of his sexual escapades. I saw, not remorse, but excitement in his face. He finally asked me whether I had ever made love to a man. A part of me took control of the situation and I said, No, that’s something I couldn’t dare to do. He apologized later for what he said, and told me of someone inside him, a certain Mr. X, that made him do sexual perverted stuff. He said that he had to keep Mr. X from coming out, or else he doesn’t have any control over his actions.
A month later I moved away and into a flat with another Witness brother. We’re still friends, and he’s like a younger brother to me. I started to get anxiety attacks from everything that had happened. My flat-mate, Ross, stood by me throughout that time. Jason had virtually immediately withdrawn from me. It had gotten too much for me. Suicidal thoughts and self-blame occupied my mind. One night I took a packet of Prozac pills and a few tranquilizers with me and went to Jason’s place. He pretended that nothing was wrong, although I could see that he was worried about me. After I got an anxiety attack there, I left against Linda’s begging me to stay. I drove to a sports field in town, and one by one I cracked and swallowed the tranquilizers and 20 Prozac pills. I waited to lose consciousness and quietly die. I read the two letters I had written. One was for a few of my close family and friends, and one for Jason. I can honestly not remember what I wrote in that letter. Before losing consciousness, I realized what was about to happen. I phoned Ross, slurred him a few directions, and he came to pick me up.
The detoxification was terrible. Jason and Linda were notified and came to the hospital. The next day Jason and Linda took me home. They promised the doctor that they’d take me to a mental institute but I refused to go. While I was “sobering up,” the next day, Jason told me that he had read my letters. He said that two persons were responsible for my attempted suicide – the first was my dad…the second, him.
Inquisition – Watchtower Style
Investigations soon followed. I stayed over at an elder’s home and the investigation meetings were also held there. I told the brothers everything. The elders interrogated Jason also, but he denied everything. One after the other, meetings followed, until we had a face-to-face meeting with each other. I remember my aggression. I remember how he just sat there, having no accusation against me. The mighty hero I once admired turned into a pathetic worm. I had never told anyone how bad they were before as I told Jason he was that day. I honestly didn’t want it to go that far, but Jason and Linda suddenly turned against me and told the brothers what an ungrateful pest I was. I don’t know what else they told the elders, but they had no accusation against me. I had to fight, since I was on my own. There was no one for me. Jason and his wife had their family in high positions on their side. I was alone, and I honestly didn’t do anything reprehensible.
I was shocked to hear that I was to be charged before a Judicial Committee. I still don’t exactly know why. At the meeting the brothers thought that I was emotionally unable to continue serving. That night in September 2007 I was removed of my beloved privileges, privileges I earned more than any of those elders did.
I started to write letters to the Circuit Overseer, then the District Overseer, then Bethel. Every time they responded, I read the same excuse: I was the only witness to the misconduct. I gave them circumstantial evidence; I even pointed out to them Jason’s latest prostitute experience after his appointment, but nothing came of it. I explained to them that Jason suffers from possible Dissociative Identity Disorder, and that he poses a danger to young and old, male and female. I told them about Jason’s alter, Mr. X, which he told me about. They had no clue of what I was talking about – it was as if I spoke in an unintelligible language.
Several months passed and the only support I got was a few text messages (I could count them on two hands). No shepherding call, no interest in how I was doing, nothing (I kid you not!). Before I requested another meeting, I met with Bob and told him that he had to speak up, since Jason confessed to Bob of his prostitute event. I asked him what he thought of my accusations. Bob looked away and said, “I believe you. I know that guy and I know his mind.” A final meeting was scheduled. Bob turned solidly against me. At one time an elder shouted at me: “You seduced Jason into touching you! You enjoyed him touching you!” These were the words of an elder who was appointed to help me recover, but then again, he’s a diesel mechanic, not a psychologist. Another elder later told me that Bob had to cover for himself, for his privileges were also in the balance. Eighteen months passed and not one of my privileges was given back to me. In the meantime, Jason was giving talks, saying prayers, and handling other responsibilities. Several times I walked out when he gave talks, much to his embarrassment. In my final letter to Bethel I pointed to the section in the elders’ book which says:
The committee should not take action against a person
unless the evidence clearly proves this necessary…
Strong circumstantial evidence, such as pregnancy or evidence
(testified to by at least two witnesses) that the
accused stayed all night in the same house with a person of
the opposite sex (or in the same house with a known
homosexual ) under improper circumstances, is acceptable.
(ks p. 110, 111)
I thought that at least Jason’s prostitute experience could have had him removed as an MS, but no. To Bethel, having a history of fornicating with prostitutes, then watching pornography while alone in another town, and then picking up prostitutes and claiming nothing happened, are less serious than “sleeping over at another person’s house under improper circumstances.”
Bethel replied by expressing their sadness at my bad experiences, and quoting a few Bible accounts of injustice. They said nothing could be done to Jason and that these things will happen as long as we live in this system. I nearly laughed. This controversy did not arise from confrontation with “this system.” It was the Watchtower system that failed me! Neither these accusations, nor my accusations, nor his children’s involvement in sexual fondling with other kids earlier that year, prevented this man from being appointed as an elder one month after my writing to Bethel! (No kidding)
My reaction at hearing that news cannot be expressed in words. I experienced afresh the powerlessness and betrayal I experienced as a child. In my mind flashed the images of hope and joy I once experienced when I fled to this organization for stability and protection. To my own injury I endeavored to act in loyalty as a requirement for the new personality, and I thought I would be helped and supported in my ordeal against injustice and unrighteousness, but I was sorely mistaken! I suddenly felt abandoned and alone. I had no one. The two or three elders, who were on my side, eventually had to choose between the fatherless boy and their congregation privileges…they chose the latter. Eventually I was the only one to fend for myself. I was devastated.
I stopped attending meetings, but my only friends were Witnesses. Some stopped associating with me. I realized that I had to make other friends. I returned to attending meetings while discovering other morally upright “worldly friends.” Six months ago another elder tried his luck with me by accusing me of apostasy. I had him taken care of by a security guard. That was when the magic mushroom wilted. It was time to leave for good.
It amazes me to think how threatening this organization becomes when using language – sometimes subtle, and other times more direct – that leaves one with no choice than to shut up and comply. I did exactly what I was supposed to do – I was loyal to the arrangement and I did what every good Witness had to do when wrongdoing came under my attention. The brave, Scriptural thing is to speak up. I did all of that, but in the end the very ones dictating unquestioning loyalty were the ones who left me at the mercies of embittered and exposed elders. I was just a number that they could simply wash their hands off of in innocence. Many, I think, would have preferred that I died the night when I attempted suicide…at least the scandals would have died with me.
The last time I attended a meeting at a Kingdom Hall was six months ago. It has not been easy. My journey hasn’t had me end up in Catholicism, Buddhism, Islam, or atheism. I have discovered Biblical Unitarianism and a few men, Anthony Buzzard, Sean Finnegan and others I met online, were of great spiritual help to me.
I have grown in tolerance and empathy for people – something the Watchtower nearly snuffed out. My dear mother is still trapped in the Tower, but she is fine. It took a while for her to realize what I had been going through. As never before, I feel free and reconnected with that funny, familiar “Presence” I came to know as God. For the first time I feel the guardianship of my King, Christ Jesus. Sure, there are times that I feel lost and alone and there are still a lot of my past I need to resolve. I’m still in need of forgiveness, and I still have to release and forgive those who hurt me so immensely. But I’m free and I will survive.
I used to say, “Thank you Jehovah for a dad…” now I can say, “Thank you Jehovah for being my dad…”