Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Kindness of a Stranger

I was half a block away from the corner when the bus rolled up to the stop. "Oh, darn," I thought dejectedly. "There goes my bus."
 
It was Monday morning and I was feeling sorry for myself. I looked up again and noticed the bus was still sitting at the corner. I picked up my pace, being reminded about a similar day last week when I had not yet reached the corner, yet the kindly bus driver waited for me. Smiling gently he said, "I know who my regulars are."
 
I thanked him. His kindness was appreciated. But, for me to think he would again be waiting this morning seemed preposterous. I was just too far away. Nevertheless, I picked up my pace. By the time I reached the corner I was running. Surprisingly, the bus remained stationary. I rounded the corner and caught the smiling eyes of the same bus driver. "I can't believe you waited for me, again! You are so kind!" I was breathless, as I gratefully climbed aboard.
 
"I know you are one of my regulars," he responded gently, and again I thanked him.
 
I found a seat and quite unexpectedly became filled with emotion. Tears flooded my eyes and I wondered why it is so easy for some people — strangers — to be naturally kind, yet relatives could express cruelty with equal vengeance. My mind flashed back to the past weekend. I had asked my brother a simple question, "Do you ever hear from my kids?"
 
He did not respond. My brother and my two grown children are Jehovah's Witnesses. They are obliged by a "disfellowship order" to shun me because I chose to leave the family religion. My own children have cut off all association from me. They could only express kindness conditionally—if I "repented of my gross sins." Until such time I must be punished by their cruel practice of shunning.
 
One might reason, "Phoenix, you must have committed some vile deed for them to treat you so badly."
 
I confess, I sought a divorce from my philandering husband. I confess, I began taking dance lessons. I confess, I made many new friends who the religion labelled "worldly" because they were not Jehovah's Witnesses. I confess, I had an affair with my exciting new dance partner. I confess, I loved every minute of my new life.
 
Subsequently, I was judged by a tribunal of three elders. My faith had been found to be defective and I was "disfellowshipped" from the congregation. In other words, I was "kicked out." But, being "kicked out" seemed like a fine idea because I did not want to be a part of the family religion any longer. Unfortunately, the religion does not leave the matter at being "kicked out." The punishment must be severe and on-going, to their way of thinking.
 
Since leaving, I have deliberately purged the beliefs with which I had been raised. It was my only chance to be healthy, I felt. Members of the religion are taught that "upon leaving, you will be taken over by the devil." Or, "there is no place for you to hide from the wrath of Jehovah." Surely, if I retained any of those beliefs, I would self-destruct.
 
Religions keep crying for more freedom. Subsequently, they would exercise their freedom license to do what?
  • to practice bigotry and hatred in the name of God?
  • to use children as weapons against ex-members in a type of emotional blackmail?
  • to pressure ex-members to conform to a bygone standard of "righteousness"?
  • to judge the faith of another human being and condemn it?
 
Many ex-members who find themselves on the "wrong" side of the elder tribunals do not survive their harsh discipline; they commit suicide. Likely, they recalled the teachings of the Old Testament where the Israelite elders stoned "sinners" to death. The Jehovah's Witness members were taught this story in application to the "disfellowship order"[1] as a lesson in fear. Such "sinners deserved to die" the elders explained, in order to not contaminate the rest of the clan. The religion teaches its members to hate. "A Christian must hate the person with whom the badness is inseparably linked."—Watchtower 1961 Jul. 15, p. 420.[2]
 
Recently, the Watchtower Society has made a public announcement about familial shunning, "Our organization does not interfere with family matters." Yes, that is the official statement to the press. After all, they would like to present themselves as a "moderate" Christian religion. Meanwhile, behind the scenes a completely different story emerges. I, for one, am feeling the effects of their strict enforcement of the shunning rule. Members who leave are demonized, "Satan's influence…will be to cause the other…members of the family to…join…his course…To do this would be disastrous, and so the faithful family member must recognize and conform to the disfellowship order."—Watchtower 1952 Nov. 15, p. 703. My children have been taught to fear me. Apparently, I have been taken over by the devil and am no longer the loving mom they used to know.
 
When a person leaves the Jehovah's Witness faith, the other assumption of the elder tribunal is that the person "[does] not love Christ."—Watchtower 1952 Mar. 1, pp. 131, 134. To that I would respond, "Love for a religious theology is completely separate from love for Christ. Christ's philosophy was one based in love; the Jehovah's Witnesses are steeped in fear. Love and fear are opposites."
 
What happens to a member in good standing if they do not conform to a "disfellowship order" or "shunning order" against a "defective" member? Their very own theological magazine states, "If a [member]…ignores the prohibition on associating with the disfellowshipped one, that [member] is rebelling against the congregation of Jehovah,…he also should be disfellowshipped."—Watchtower 1955 Oct. 1, p. 607. Yes, members are threatened with expulsion if they continue to associate with a disfellowshipped or ex member. I am in possession of such an elder threat—a letter.
 
Why did the kindly bus driver show up in my life? I believe the Universe brings these stark lessons in contrast to illustrate the religious bigotry and abuse that I have been subjected to since leaving the Jehovah's Witness religion. It seems to me the tribunal of elders do not want me ever to forget that I have "left Jehovah." Yes, it is true, I have left a god who teaches fear, bigotry, and hatred. The kindly bus driver has brought me a spiritual lesson to show me that there are many kind people in the "world" that the Jehovah's Witnesses believe will be soon destroyed at Armageddon.
 
I thank the kindly bus driver for reminding me to be firm in my resolve to be true to myself, even if it means never seeing my children again. Being true to me is the only way to heal from religious bigotry. Integrity to my principles enables the Universe to fill my life with caring and loving people for whom I am truly grateful.
 
[1] As defined by the Watchtower Society in their 
official theological magazine, The Watchtower.
[2] The large page numbers (402) are a result of the 
24 annual journals being bound into one volume upon 
year-end. The practice of page continuation between 
journals has been discontinued in recent years. 

Visit website "Phoenix of Faith" the memoir. Follow on Twitter: _Phoenixoffaith Copyright © 2011. Permission is granted to copy and re-distribute this transmission on the condition that it is distributed freely.

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