I’ve written a lot of stories about the Jehovah’s Witnesses over the course of several years, but a new piece in The Atlantic by Douglas Quenqua does an incredible job of tying together so many horrible things about the religion into a single powerful narrative.
Quenqua focuses on Mark O’Donnell, who grew up in the faith and ultimately left it. O’Donnell has since become a centerpiece for ex-JWs, collecting their stories, connecting them with each other, and helping expose the abuse scandal within the faith.
Remember: This is a religion that doesn’t take abuse claims seriously unless there were two witnesses who can attest to it… which means many claims are ignored. It’s a religion that keeps postponing the date for the end of the world — when those outside the religion will die while the righteous live on in a new paradise — and leaders use that to scare people into obedience. It’s a religion that requires you to shun family members if they leave or get kicked out of the fold.
O’Donnell only realized how insane all of that was in 2013:
… Left alone with his thoughts, he began to admit to himself that he no longer believed Armageddon was imminent. The Jehovah’s Witnesses he knew were no more deserving of God’s mercy than the nonbelievers he’d met. And here he was, 45 years old and facing a health crisis. How much more of his life was he willing to waste inside the bubble?
The story also profiles his wife Kimmy. She an ex-JW now, too, but she left long after her husband did. It wasn’t until she looked deeper into a high-profile abuse case that she realized a similar kind of gaslighting had happened to her after she reported how her own mother was abusive.
As a 12-year-old, she went to the elders in her congregation for help. They told her she couldn’t report her mother to the police, “because it would make the organization look bad,” she recalled. They discouraged her from seeking counseling, because a therapist might blame the religion or get the authorities involved. Finally, the elders asked Kimmy a question: If her mother did end up killing her, could that prevent Jehovah from resurrecting her at Armageddon? “Of course, I said no,” Kimmy said, rolling her eyes. “They told me, ‘Go home and obey your mother.’”
It’s seriously messed up. But because ex-JWs have found a community online, they’ve been able to bring these stories out into the open. They’ve also been able to expose some of the Witnesses’ biggest secrets.
Read the entire story if you can. It’s worth your time, and it’ll infuriate you.
(Image via Shutterstock)