It was with great indignation that i watched the pointer-ncrv broadcast this morning about “shunning” of former Jehovah’s Witnesses. As a former JW, i also have my opinion about the organisation. But now that there are petitions in the Second Chamber to interpret the law in such a way that exclusion can be prohibited, i feel compelled to leave my opinion for what it is and write this piece to bring a much-needed nuance to this story.
In the programme, the expression ‘stasi practices’ was mentioned. Only a few months ago, people spoke with indignation about references to the holocaust. Today these believers, who were deported by the thousands to concentration camps and murdered during the holocaust, are being compared to Nazis. What a shame!
The bible texts that were quoted were very selectively chosen. The Bible is full of firm language. Just like the Koran. The current opinion on the Koran is that the texts should be interpreted in the context of the time in which they were written. Quoting Bible texts in which apostates are compared to swine and the plague is no different. The Bible is also full of stories of forgiveness, the story of the prodigal son being the most famous of these.
In the broadcast, the belief in Armageddon is touched upon briefly. Not because it was relevant, but to make a link to doomsday cults. In this way they mislead the viewer. Everyone has heard of cults where people committed mass suicide. By not explaining it but only mentioning it, the viewer gets the feeling that Jehovah’s witnesses fall into the same category. It would have been honest if they had mentioned that the coming of Armageddon is a reason to reach and convert as many people as possible so that they may also live eternally. That is what witnesses believe.
Then the personal stories. Two former JW’s spoke of suicide. Their lives were destroyed, the lady described it as if she had been given a life sentence. I can understand why they feel this way.
But no matter how great their suffering, it should never be a reason to restrict faith with legal measures. We are talking about free will and freedom of religion.
As a witness, you learn that God has given man free will. Each person may live as he or she sees fit. But it is strongly encouraged to live your life in a way that pleases God. If you choose not to be a part of the faith anymore, you are free to do so. As free as those who choose to believe that apostates are not a good influence and should be shunned. People who leave the congregation are aware of this. They know the Bible and how the organisation interprets it.
That it is a terrible choice to make is absolutely true. If you have to choose between your own beliefs and your entire social environment, that is a terrible consideration. I do understand that it will affect the rest of your life. But that is the case with all choices in life. No choice is without consequences.
I have never been baptised. I turned away from the faith in my adolescence. The years that followed must have been abominable in the eyes of my family and brothers and sisters. I literally did everything that the bible speaks of as shameful. That is why I was labelled ‘a bad influence’. That is almost the same as being excluded. Witnesses are advised to avoid contact. And that advice is logically followed.
But, and this is a very big but, the door is always open. If you regain your faith and want to live to God’s glory, Jehovah’s Witnesses are the most forgiving Christians in this world.
You could say that this is a form of manipulation and coercion. As if you are faced with a devilish dilemma. Your life as a non-believer in exchange for acceptance from your family and friends. Or if it is on the basis of your sexual preferences, even the choice between who you are and your family. But that is far too short-sighted. That idea only takes into consideration the former JW’s beliefs and not the beliefs of those around him.
The family members who do continue to believe are also torn apart by grief. They believe that their brother, sister or child has fallen into the hands of Satan and that they cannot welcome their loved one into paradise. But because they believe that man has a free will, they let them go.
The same happens daily in society. When a friend or relative becomes an addict, one does everything to help. Until a certain limit is reached and they pull their hands away. There have been countless tv shows about addiction interventions. And in every show the message is; Let go of the addict, don’t let someone else’s bad choices ruin your life. An addict can only be cured when the addict makes the choice to kick the habit. And the best way to make someone make that choice is to take your hands off them and give them an ultimatum; Either you quit or you don’t see us anymore.
So why is it that based on faith, that is suddenly criminal or abominable? Why is it then an impossible dilemma, choosing between your faith or yourself when we agree that we must make the same choice for our loved ones who are doing wrong?
That there is much sadness, pain and powerlessness involved is inevitable. But it is no reason to regulate it by law. They are the choices of all involved. All involved are free to make them. It is a matter of faith. And fortunately in the Netherlands we are free to believe.
Pointer has published an incredibly one-sided story with this broadcast. They have spoken to dozens of former Jehovah’s witnesses about this subject. The reason for this one-sidedness was that the organisation did not want to be in the broadcast. That is a fallacy. You can find enough former witnesses with a different opinion than these people. It was a conscious choice not to approach these people.
In these times of war and pandemics, the press has a great responsibility. To demonise a religious community now is, to paraphrase the words of the broadcast, poisonous.
In Ukraine, thousands of witnesses are in danger because they will not join the fight against Russia. They were already in danger in Russia. If we support Ukraine, put flags and sunflowers in our profile picture, it is only logical for the press to decide not to demonise a large group of people now. That can cost lives. As we saw 80 years ago.
Watch the broadcast of Pointer: