A Former Jehovah's Witness and Reading Apostate Literature
God's Amazing Grace
By Lisa A. Gilmer
Today, as a Christian, I look back on my life as one of Jehovah's Witnesses, and I realize how very, very blessed I am to be free from the chains that once held me captive to the Watchtower Society and its doctrines. I also realize how fortunate I am, many third-generation Witnesses spend countless years in "the truth" even after they've been shown undeniable proof that the Society's teachings and its leaders are terribly wrong. I now realize that the truth is not just someone's skewed interpretation of scripture; it's much more objective than that. Furthermore, it's not only a "what," but it's a "who." Today, I really am in The Truth because I have a personal relationship with Jesus, not with an organization. He alone is my Lord, and not the Society.
A Long Tradition
My grandmother, who was the first one in our family to become a JW, began studying with the Witnesses in 1940. Interestingly enough, even though my mother was raised from childhood as a JW, my grandmother often allowed her to take part in several school activities that were usually frowned upon by the Society. She even allowed my mom to date a young man who wasn't a JW. Later, she gave my mom permission to marry this young man in 1955. This "unbeliever" would become my dad five years later.
My mother wasn't a real active Witness when she married. After I was born, however, she decided it was time to get back to the Kingdom Hall. I now realize why she went back. She returned to the Kingdom Hall because she loved me and my younger brother, and she wanted us to have the chance of salvation. Since she had been a Witness all her life, it was only natural for her to turn to the Society for salvation, as all JWs do. The Society was the only spiritual "way" or answer she had ever known.
As time passed, however, religious differences between mom and dad began to cause problems in their marriage. Some of my most vivid memories are of my parents fighting over religious issues. As I got older, my father fought harder against the way my mom was raising me and my younger brother. What my dad didn't realize was that the more he opposed us being JWs, the more I wanted to devote myself to attending meetings and becoming a better Witness.
Even though Witnesses aren't allowed to celebrate Christmas, or practically any other holiday, I was allowed to experience it a couple of times as a child. These rare occasions would come only when my father would "put his foot down" and we would go to visit his non-JW family at Christmas. (I found out later that they were real Christians.) Even today, those few Christmas mornings are such special memories. Oddly enough, my mom eventually would end up buying us gifts--that she would give us on Christmas day--during our adolescent years when we didn't really celebrate Christmas. She did it so that my brother and I wouldn't feel left out. She also gave us gifts on our birthdays for the same reason. Now that I can look back, I realize how very much I hated growing up. I wasn't allowed to salute the flag, stand during the National Anthem, participate in school activities that focused on particular holidays, sing certain songs, or be friends with "worldly" people (even though God so loved the "world" that he gave his only begotten Son.)
I can remember attending music classes and "mouthing" words of songs that I wasn't supposed to sing. It was natural for any child my age. In my own Witness way of thinking, I rationalized that it was okay since I wasn't really singing the words. I just wanted to fit in.
My mother didn't enforce the rule strictly about not having any worldly friends, but I knew that I should keep them to a minimum. That may be one of the reasons that I had very few friends.
A turning point
At my mother's insistence, I was baptized in 1974 at an assembly in Lakeland, FL. I thought that making this type of commitment and getting baptized would make me feel more secure about my own salvation. Of course, being baptized changed nothing. I still felt unworthy, and really didn't think I would make it through Armageddon, which we were told would be happening very soon. I just couldn't seem to put enough hours in service or attend enough bible studies. Even worse, I dreaded the thought of enduring the boredom of going to the Kingdom Hall. For me, the highlight of these meetings was going to the bathroom, anything to break the monotony.
As a result, I knew I would die in 1975. After all, we were told that Armageddon was coming that year. I remember thinking that I had three more years to live, then two more years to live, etc. etc. As the fall of 1975 approached, I was terrified (along with many other Witnesses). The dread was overwhelming. When 1975 came and went, however, it never occurred to me that maybe the Society was wrong. I just thought that they may have misjudged on their calculations. I kept this belief for many years.
High school was probably my most difficult time. I was such an introvert that every day was absolutely miserable. Ironically, the only thing that kept me sane was a "worldly" girlfriend and my JW boyfriend who attended a different school. By the time I was 17 years old, my JW boyfriend and I decided it would be better to "be together" (and I don't mean get married) for the very short time we had left before Armageddon. We had been sweethearts since I was 12 and he was 14, and we both felt like we would never have the opportunity to marry, to have children, or to even live much longer. Neither one of us believed we would make it through Armageddon, so what difference did it make if we got sexually involved. The outcome would be the same for both of us regardless of what we did: total unconsciousness for eternity.
Well of course we reaped what we sowed. We didn't die in Armageddon, but I did get pregnant. At the time, I didn't know which would be worse, dying in Armageddon, or experiencing the wrath of my parents and the elders. Being an unmarried JW girl and being pregnant at the same time is a terrifying experience. Not only do you have to contend with your parents, but you have to worry about how your "brothers" and "sisters" are going to react.
I kept my pregnancy a secret for almost four months. Of course, once this secret came out, my boyfriend and I got married immediately. The "inquisition" by the elders took place about a week later. At the time, it was called a judicial committee meeting. But my husband, who had never been baptized, refused to attend the meeting. Since I was the baptized JW, however, I would either bow to the elders' wishes or face the possibility of being disfellowshipped, which was a terrifying option. I couldn't stand the idea of having my family treat me like an outcast. (Looking back, I know that my mother would never have turned her back on me, but at the time it was a very real fear.)
Therefore, I decided to endure the inquisition. Four much older elders took part. They wanted to know every intimate, sexual detail you can imagine. I was absolutely hysterical, and I was so afraid of being disfellowshipped. To avoid being disfellowshipped, I did the only thing I believed I could do: I lied through my teeth. It worked. Instead of being disfellowshipping, they decided to publicly reprove me. I was forced to sit in the Thursday night meeting while they made the announcement that I was being publicly reproved for "conduct unbecoming a Christian." At the time, I was very thankful for such a "light" sentence.
My punishment included taking away my "privilege" of going door to door and answering questions at the meetings. Actually, this part of my punishment was enjoyable. For the first time, I didn't have to feel guilty for not going door to door, or not wanting to answer questions at the meetings.
During my year of public reproval, several other sisters in the congregation were also pregnant. They were all given showers, which I attended. But they weren't allowed to give me a shower. This was another part of my punishment.
My husband and I continued to attend meetings and to perform all the requirements mandated by the elders. After one year, my privileges were reinstated. But even after I had been reinstated, I was never treated quite the same--even though I continued attending meeting for five more years, or until 1982.
Slowly, I began to realize that the only kind of love I had ever received or seen in the congregation was conditional love. At the same time, I still didn't feel like things were okay between me and Jehovah. I had lied to the elders during my inquisition, which I had always equated with lying to God himself. So, the years passed and the burdens I had been carrying just kept getting heavier. Eventually, I felt so much guilt that I simply stopped attending meetings.
At this point in my life, my mom and dad were also getting into some "heated" arguments over their religious differences. As a result, we all stopped attending meeting at about the same time. It was never an issue we discussed openly, we simply became "irregular" in our meeting attendance. Surprisingly, (or not surprisingly) we never had another brother or sister visit to find out what was wrong, or to see how we were getting along.
Although we stopped attending meetings physically, I was still very much attached to the Society emotionally and doctrinally. I continued to believe the Kingdom Hall was the only place I could learn "the truth," and that I simply would never be able to live up to Jehovah's requirements. In fact, I continued to believe this way for the next 12 years. During this entire time, I was terrified by every bad news report related to world peace, the Middle East, or earthquakes. At every report, I simply thought to myself, "Well, this is it." During this time, I never told anyone that I had grown up as a JW. I was very ashamed.
In 1985, I read the book Crisis of Conscience, by Ray Franz. I knew the book was considered an "apostate," book, but it helped me immensely. It enabled me to understand that there were some serious internal problems within the Society and the Governing Body. Unfortunately, I still couldn't understand why many of the Society's practices and teachings were considered cultic by many people. In fact, I never once thought that the Society's doctrines could be wrong, even though they did make some false prophecies. During my 12-year stay in spiritual "limbo," I was very anti-God--though I still thought very much like a JW and believed they really were in the truth. I also wasn't a nice person. I was rebellious, very outspoken, and had a mouth that could rival any sailor. To sum it up: I was miserable.
A Light Shines
In 1994, my husband's job took us from Florida to Tennessee. Immediately after we had settled into our new home, my husband's boss wanted to know if we were Christians. I was infuriated at his question, but I really didn't know how to answer him. At his invitation, my husband and I decided to visit his church. The idea of stepping into another church was traumatic, but we went anyway. It wasn't what I expected. I was shocked by the love I felt from these people toward me and toward each other. The first time I heard real Christian hymns, I cried and cried. I remember standing there in that small church just bawling my eyes out.
We continued going to this church and eventually I found myself looking forward to attending church meetings. I also began to realize that I could only be saved by God's grace, and not by my works. Six months later, my husband and I both publicly professed our faith in Christ. We also began to read an accurate translation of the bible--not the New World Translation. I quickly realized how much the Society had "twisted" God's words in their own version of the bible.
The period of moving beyond thinking like a JW to thinking like a Christian took about six months for me. During this time, I was very emotional. I cried almost constantly. I was dealing with so many things. First and foremost, I was comprehending what Jesus had done for me. I had such immense gratitude for what he had done on the Cross, and for the fact that he had opened my eyes to the false teachings of the Society. At the same time, however, I was very angry at the Society for everything they had put me through, and angry at myself for allowing the Society to control my life. I also felt, and continue to feel, intense compassion for all the JWs still deceived by the Society.
God has given me and my husband a lot compassion for JWs who are still trapped by the Society's deceptive teachings. Both my husband and I still have family members who are JWs, and now that Jesus has given us eyes that can see, we take every opportunity we can to show our JW family members, and others, that they are being deceived. If they could just understand that Jesus is the only Way (John 14:6), and that He alone has words of eternal life (John 6:67,68).
I am now proud to tell people that I was raised as a JW. I want them to know what Jesus can do for someone who is willing to come to Him. I only pray that God will open their eyes like He has opened mine