They’ve searched for you. They’ve come to your door and knocked. Oh, you might not have answered. Maybe you hid in your bedroom, or peaked through the curtains, but they came nonetheless. You’ve seen them walking up to your door in their cheap suits, clip-on ties, and clean-shaven faces. In 2008, they spent 1,488,658,249 hours doing just that. Indeed, with the possible exception of their constantly evolving policy on blood transfusions, Jehovah’s Witnesses are probably better known for their door-to-door proselytizing than for anything else.
It might come as a surprise to learn, then, that for as intensely as Witnesses try to recruit new members, they try even more intensely to get rid of some of their members.
In 2006, my wife and I left the Witness religion. We did so of our own accord, without creating any enemies. We held no ill-will towards anyone. We simply disagreed with some of their teachings and policies and quietly discontinued our religious activity with the North Monticello congregation. Over the year that followed, Witnesses occasionally stopped by our door to visit. The visits were brief, amicable, and even friendly.
In May 2007, we celebrated our son’s second birthday. Witnesses view such celebrations as a sin, but, since we weren’t Witnesses, we saw no reason not to celebrate his birthday; much as, say, a non-Muslim sees no reason to fast during Ramadan.
But word of our small celebration traveled through the Witness gossip chain, and eventually came to the attention of the North Monticello elders. In August, 2007 (over a year since we had last considered ourselves Witnesses), I received a call from an elder from my former congregation. He requested to meet with my wife and me, but I declined his offer, on the basis that I saw no benefit in holding such a meeting.
But Witnesses are not so easily deterred. The elder called two weeks later, insistent that we meet. He explained that he knew about our birthday celebration, and that the elders needed to deal with our sin. This seemed odd to me; since I was no longer a Witness, why would the elders hold me to their rules? It was as if I had quit a job and then, over a year later, received a call from my ex-boss accusing me of violating company policy.
He had me in a difficult spot. Had I simply declined the meeting again, the elders would have disfellowshipped my wife and me, meaning that all of our Witness friends and family would be barred from speaking to us ever again. On the other hand, had I accepted the meeting, the elders would have seen that we were not remorseful for our ‘sin’ and likewise disfellowshipped us.
So, instead, I asked him to give me a few days to ponder the matter. He agreed and, in the meantime, my wife and I sent a letter to the elders wherein we agreed to meet with them as long as we would be permitted to bring legal counsel and record the meetings. We asked them to respect any ecclesiastically privileged information they may have had about us, and to not defame us to the congregation. These are reasonable requests, as the Witnesses claim to follow the bible, and the bible records several disciplinary meetings. And since the elders would undoubtedly be in contact with the Watchtower Society’s (the Witnesses’ governing organization) team of lawyers, we felt it was only fair we be afforded the same rights.
The elders did not respond to our letter.
But this put them in a difficult spot. My wife and I were free to associate with any Witness we wanted to, yet, as non-believers, the elders worried that we would convince our friends and family that the religion was not true. They wished to silence us, but their hands were tied.
The elders corresponded with the Watchtower Society numerous times and, eventually, devised a plan to excommunicate us without having to go through the legal trouble of ‘disfellowshipping’ us without due process. Instead, they concocted a new form of expulsion: removal. Without informing us of their decision, the elders ‘removed’ us from being Witnesses over two years after we had already left the religion. This satisfied their need to label us as persons to be avoided. Our names were defamed to the entire congregation and, when people called the elders requesting more information, they offered up details of our private conversations. In short order, our family and friends informed us they would henceforth be ceasing all association with us.
The next time a Witness, comes to your door with Watchtower in hand inviting you to join the Witnesses, ask them: If you join, will you be allowed hold dissenting opinions? Will you be allowed to commemorate the birth of your children? Should you ever decide to leave the religion, will you be allowed to do so freely, and without harassment? If you leave, will the friends you made in the religion continue to treat you as Jesus treated the Samaritans, in a kind and Christian manner? On second thought, don’t even answer the door. I’ll save you the time and trouble. The answer to all those questions is No.