A young man named Joel Engardio produced a documentary about Jehovah’s Witnesses called “Knocking” which aired nationally on PBS. I purchased the DVD from Joel before it was even released and we exchanged emails. Joel had been raised by his JW mother and had been active in JW activities during his adolescence, but he was never baptized as a JW. He told me that he realized from an early age that he was homosexual. He said he would love to be a JW but that homosexuals cannot become JWs. I replied to him, “You might be surprised how many JWs are homosexual but who follow the scriptural admonition to flee from fornication.”
I had learned that the terms heterosexual and homosexual had been coined in the nineteenth century and primarily denoted orientation as opposed to behavior. Many dictionaries list the primary definition of both terms as denoting sexual DESIRE regardless of whether such desire is acted upon. (Similarly, dictionaries define an alcoholic as one having an unnatural desire for alcohol, and many who consider themselves to be alcoholics abstain from imbibing alcohol altogether.)
I related my conversation with Joel in an assigned talk on the Theocratic Ministry School in my local Kingdom Hall since it was relevant to the theme I had been assigned to discuss. One elder was upset by my suggestion that many JWs are homosexuals who remain scripturally chaste, whereas the Presiding Overseer (my brother-in-law, along with his regular pioneer wife) assured me that I had spoken correctly. The offended elder persuaded the rest of the elder body that I had expressed a personal opinion which conflicted with published Watchtower teaching. No correction of my comment was ever made by the elders, as is normal when an unapproved viewpoint is expressed from a Kingdom Hall platform. The Presiding Overseer never informed me of his change of opinion.
Two elders were assigned to speak with me regarding my views on homosexuality, and they made it clear that they held the view that one is homosexual only if one practices homosexual behavior. The congregation was never aware of this controversy, and no one else had been offended by my comments. The elder body asked me to put my reasoning in a letter to the Watchtower Branch office, and they sent a cover letter stating the position of the elder body. (Keep in mind, this was a non-doctrinal issue.) The Branch office responded, referencing the 1983 Watchtower article which provided the basis for the comment I had made in my talk. One elder told me that when they read the Branch’s letter, he commented to the other elders that the Branch had vindicated me. Yet the elder body decided to reject the Branch’s letter (which I learned local elder bodies are at liberty to do regarding non-doctrinal issues), and they informed me that if I persisted in expressing my view of homosexuality they would consider me to be an apostate. To say that I was stunned would be an understatement.
In retrospect, I consider that my local elders did me a favor, because that incident helped me change the way I viewed JWs, and, as Dr. Wayne Dyer used to say, “when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” When I realized I could be labeled an apostate for expressing a viewpoint which had been published in the Watchtower (and which continues to be the official teaching to this day), I also changed the way I viewed ones who had been labeled by JWs as apostates in the past, most notably the late Raymond Franz, former member of the JW Governing Body. I purchased and read his phenomenal book, “Crisis of Conscience,” and I learned just how corrupt the Watchtower organization truly is, and it is all a matter of record. No wonder JWs are forbidden to read that book and others written by former JWs.
That is when I became inactive for the final time. The problem with simply becoming an inactive JW and not officially disassociating from the organization is that one is unable to move forward in one’s spiritual journey. If an inactive JW seeks spiritual fellowship outside the Watchtower organization, one is subject to being disfellowshipped (excommunicated) for apostasy. Even after five years of being inactive, my Facebook posts were scrutinized by my local elders, and I was visited by two elders when I posted clippings from past Watchtower articles which, in the words of those elders, brought “reproach on the organization.” That is when I decided to write my letter of disassociation.
I had learned that after a 1991 Watchtower article denounced as apostate religious organizations which had become accredited to the United Nations as non-governmental organizations, the Watchtower Society also became accredited to the UN as an NGO from 1992 until 2001, and withdrew its membership only after the Guardian newspaper published an expose. My disassociation letter made it clear that my conscience would no longer permit me to be associated with a religion which, by its own standards, had become an apostate religious organization.
My wife of 42 years had been okay with my simply being inactive, as I had been inactive for years at a time throughout our marriage. Yet, when I officially disassociated, her attitude toward me immediately changed, and she soon informed me that she intended to divorce me. Subsequently, she consulted a life coach who had helped her best friend work through a rough period in her marriage, and I assumed that my wife was having second thoughts about divorcing me. However, she told me that the difference was that her best friend’s husband still desired to be a JW and I did not, confirming the fact that my disassociation was the cause of her seeking a divorce. While JWs are mandated by the Watchtower organization to avoid any contact with ex-JWs, neither the Bible nor the Watchtower encourage JWs to divorce or shun their mates who leave the religion. Yet, my wife intends to divorce me and to shun me because she WANTS to do so. I feel that this illustrates the destructive effect oppressive religious cults have on the thinking and reasoning abilities of their adherents. As my 36-year old son said regarding his mother’s decision, “Isn’t it interesting how witnesses can seem to overlook obvious scriptural principles that conflict with their ideas when they want to ease their own conscience!”
At 1 Corinthians chapter 7, verses 12, 13 and 15, the apostle Paul counsels Christians, “If any brother has an unbelieving wife, and yet she is agreeable to dwelling with him, let him not leave her; and if a woman has an unbelieving husband, and yet he is agreeable to dwelling with her, let her not leave her husband. But if the unbelieving one proceeds to depart, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under servitude under such circumstances, but God has called you to peace.” Since I have not renounced my Christian faith, I wondered who, in my situation, was acting as the unbeliever. Then, a friend asked, “Well, who is the one that is ignoring scriptural counsel and leaving?” It became obvious to me at that point that, by my wife’s leaving, God has called me to peace.
– Roger Kirkpatrick