File 0060-0061: In the Shadows of the Kingdom Hall
In this two-part episode Nathan tells us what it was like growing up as a Jehovah's Witness, an organization that many outsiders think of as just another religion, but for survivors is more akin to a secretive cult rife with abuse of power and penchant for covering up atrocities and crimes within its own ranks
In the Shadows of the Kingdom Hall
Content Warning: the below segment was written by Nathan about some of his experiences as a child in this environment. This includes memories of childhood abuse and may be disturbing to some readers and is advised to proceed with caution
So today is a day after my 35th birthday, but to me, the more important date has already come and gone but about 2-3.5 weeks. It was the date that I was officially disfellowshiped from the Jehovah's Witness church. For those of you who have read my profile, I refer to it as a High Control religion, the reality is that there really isn't much difference been that and a cult. I had been using the term for a bit as a way of describing to people who think the word cult is too extreme, but I'm past that now. I don't have time to sugar coat the reality of what this organization is or does to people.
It's still not super easy for me talk about, and when I wrote what comes next, I had a day or two low point just thinking about friends and the people who are so obviously blind to what they are ensnared to.
Before we get into this, let's talk about 3yr old Nathan, of which he has 4 very vivid memories. These are important, I promise. It's at this point that I'm going to toss out a content warning because, I'm going talk about my dad very briefly, and violence was his language of choice in a lot of situations.
The first memory, playing NES with my mom, dad, and siblings in the basement family room. They had just brought home the new system and we played all night, I was terrible, Mario died a lot that night. He never saw his princess.
The second memory, 5 or 6 ft away, I had found the darts for the dart board. Since the popping sound of faux leather was fun, I had decided that I would fill my dad's work out bench with about 7000 tiny holes, hurting nothing and no one. This lead to, what I recall, as the worst beating I'd received in my life. I strictly remember the feeling if not being able to breath from crying so hard, but the punishment didn't stop until well after I felt like I would faint.
The third, is of my sister and I, hiding under the covers in her bedroom as my mom and dad fought over something, probably a shitty thing he did and got caught for, then tried to justify away as his right as man of the house.
The fourth memory, I'm standing in the front yard of my home, by my mom's red Pontiac. She's decided to leave my dad, he is standing on the stairs leading into the house, my sister and brother there with him. I'm ready to go, like mom, time for a car ride. My brother and sister call me over, and my mom encourages me to go to them. She didn't want us separated.
In this scenario my sister won custody of us kids for my dad. She was old enough to decide to stay, my brother had friends locally, and my mom, as I mentioned, didn't want to separate us.
I'm not sharing these stories to justify anything, but to put into context the events that I believe lead to the spiritual education of little Nathan. What brought me to the Jehovah's Witness religion in the first place.
I'm not placing blame or anything, this is what happened, but I did want to give you a bit of insight into what my dad was like, because ultimately it was him who brought myself and my siblings completely into the Cult of Jehovah.
Before my dad and mom split, he was what the JWs would call inactive. He would occasionally show, he would use the religion as his excuse for shitty behavior and wouldn't stray too far, because of he did, it meant his family would disown him. So, we were always within arms reach.
However that might be, it was the event of my mother deciding something against his wishes that I believe drove him further into the religion. When our lives spiral out of control, or from our perspective, appear to, humans tend to have 3 defaults. Freeze: inactivate, do nothing, decay, and disappear, Fight: push through the hurt, the chaos, and continue onto something new or Flight: retreat to familiar space, regroup, reconnect, and rebuild that old life.
My dad chose flight. Immediately, he dove into the religion, we were all brought o regular weekly meetings, and my dad fought hard to become that good Christian man he always knew he was. In a few years, somewhere between the ages of 4 and 6, he met my step mom. They got married at the local kingdom hall and once he had his new wife and two daughters locked in, he was viewed as the man with the ideal Christian family.
The reality is, he ran back to find a group that would champion his gross and inappropriate behavior, then he found a wife who had dealt with it in a previous marriage and wouldn't say anything if he acted like bag of garbage again.
So, with all of this out of the way, he was ripe for the picking, and was promoted to that special place in a kingdom hall, a place of power and control, which is what it all boiled down to for him, he became an elder, and thus started the real spiritual education for Nathan and his siblings.
with all of that, I feel like the next bit will be a little boring. I'm going
to give you guys an idea of what my life was like week to week this will be
more a clinical look at it all but it was exhausting:Mondays where "Family Study" nights:
My dad, stepmom, and siblings would sit down for an hour or more together to study something of relevance. If one of us had been caught doing something my dad or stepmom didn't like, it was the perfect time to pull out "Questions Young People Ask" or other things, like older watchtower articles that discuss alleged inappropriate behavior. This was obviously after the separate punishment we'd get, but never ever did my parents pass up a chance to punish us all for the wrong of one.
If we were really lucky, neither one of them would know what to study for the week and we would either just sit around for an hour doing the weekly bible readying or if we were really lucky, we would study something for one of the other meetings in the week and that would free up a night.
Tuesday Ministry school meeting: being the kid of an elder meant I had to be ready by 630, and we were out the door by 650 to be the first at the hall. Meetings started at 730
Wednesday was the day you'd study for the Thursday night book study group.
Thursdays you would suit up and go to someone else's house or people would come to yours and you would study as a small group one of the JW's publications. This was later stopped, likely due to the fact that there are some huge liability issues forcing people to use their own home as a place of worship, and none of the homes were accessible by any means. It was kind of a bad situation. The Kingdom Hall was the only accessible place, so most older or folks with disabilities went there at least.
Friday was a free day... somehow.
Saturday was service. So we would be up at 730, having breakfast and then people would show up at around 830 to gather together, we'd group up and go out knocking on doors spreading the supposed "Good" news. Around 11 we would stop for coffee, which usually meant we would stop at home, and I would pick up my work clothes, have a snack at the A&W and work until 8pm. I would come home and be expected to study the watchtower for the Sunday meeting.
Sunday we were up at 8/830, we would have breakfast and be at the Kingdom hall for about 930. The meeting started at 10. It would be an hour long talk, often from an elder from another out of town congregation, followed by an hour of a group watchtower study. Depending on the day and the feeling, some people would then go out in server for a few hours after. Luckily for me, my stepmom and dad did not participate, so it worked out pretty well for us. Sunday was mostly a day off the rest of the day.