But Tough Love Isn’t The Same Thing As Abuse!
I realize that some readers will never be convinced that Jehovah’s Witnesses are mistreating former members, even ones who behave just as I have described. Many who believe the Watchtower Society is the one and only “True Religion” will accuse ex-Witnesses of being overly sensitive or insist that the actions of so-called “abusive” Witnesses are both selfless and justified. I’ll agree that we sometimes need to push loved ones into doing what’s best for them – even if that something is painful at first. This is what’s called “tough love.” I have little doubt that this is how some Jehovah’s Witnesses see their attempts to pressure former believers into compliance with the Society’s teachings. But like the subtitle says, there are differences between tough love and plain old abuse. It’s tough love if we try to push someone into doing something that’s painful when we know the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. However, we should always leave tough choices to the individual when the benefits are in doubt. We also need to realize that we might be the ones who are wrong instead of assigning ourselves the role of moral superiority. This is a mistake that many Jehovah’s Witnesses seem to make.
Witnesses need to remember that they can’t prove that their religion is any more “true” than the thousands of other belief systems out there. They certainly have evidence which they find compelling, and that’s fine. But – like it or not – that evidence comes up short for everyone else. This means that their faith in the Watchtower Society is just a matter of opinion. So the abusive Witness isn’t really pressuring the former believer into doing what’s right or even into doing what’s best for them – they are simply pressuring the ex-Witness into doing what they want them to do!
Forcing others to do what we want through peer pressure, shaming them, or harassing them is more about control than tough love. This sort of bullying may feed the Witness’s ego and even reaffirm their faith, but they need to realize that it isn’t about the victim. It’s about the needs and insecurities of the abuser. Ex-Witnesses must also accept this if they’re to move on.
But We’re Just Trying To Convince Them To See Things Our Way!
There’s nothing wrong with trying to convince someone that your point of view is right. (I hear politicians used to do this back in the good old days) But you can only bring so much pressure to bear on someone before you’ve gone too far. Abusive Witnesses have a habit of crossing the line. They don’t simply provide a list of facts and arguments that support their case, they use abusive, controlling tactics like peer pressure, inducing shame, and objectifying others to get what they want from them. This is exactly the sort of behavior that often convinces ex-Witnesses that the Watchtower Society is a cult. After all, isn’t that the sort of thing that cults are known for? That’s why the mistreatment of former Jehovah’s Witnesses often makes them glad they left the Society and more determined than ever to stay as far away from it as they can. No one wants to be associated with a group they see as overly controlling or fanatical. This is especially true of former members who were miserable when they were part of that group.
If you’re one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, then I ask you to be honest with yourself. Wouldn’t you resent this sort of treatment? Or would it truly make you see the error of your ways? (Assuming you had made an error to begin with.) If you agree that this approach wouldn’t work, then why continue to use it? Bullying ex-Witnesses only reaffirms their doubts.
So How Should Witnesses Treat Former Members If They Really Want To Convert Them?
Showing them how respectful, honorable, and selfless Jehovah’s Witnesses can be would certainly be a good start. Instead of hassling or bullying ex-Witnesses about teachings they are already familiar with, they should go out of their way to set a good example. They should try to remind the former believer of the good things about being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses with their actions. By contrast, abusive Witnesses who don’t know when to quit only remind us of the bad.
Another quality that Witnesses must have is patience and a willingness to wait on their god, Jehovah. Getting anxious about an unbelieving loved one because the Society’s latest article made it sound like Armageddon was only days away won’t help anything. Either your loved one will decide to convert back or they won’t. Panicking won’t help.
How Should Jehovah’s Witnesses Treat Former Witnesses They Want To Convert?
- Respect our rights, our dignity, and our feelings.
- Avoid setting a bad example by bullying us, harassing us, or making snide remarks to shame us.
- Don’t ignore us when we tell you how we really feel or think. (“I don’t believe the Society has ‘The Truth.'”)(“Yeah, but anyway, we both know the Society has ‘The Truth,’ right?”)
- Avoid the kind of assumptions most fundamentalists make. (“Anyway, we both know it’s ‘The Truth’ and that Armageddon could happen any minute, right?”)
- Avoid conditional love or blackmail. (“I’ll help you with that problem all right … but only if you attend the meeting this Sunday.”)
- Avoid treating us as if we’ve forgotten the Society’s teachings or standards just because we don’t believe the same things you do any more.
- Avoid sweeping generalizations or making arrogant presumptions. (“You’re just blaming Jehovah for the actions of a few imperfect men!”)
- Don’t come after us in droves or go out of your way to confront us in awkward situations.
- Avoid being too judgmental.
- Know when to lay off!
Don’t Forget That Abusive Witnesses Have Other Motives
I’ve spent a lot of time explaining how aggressive evangelism can be about controlling others. But ex-Witnesses shouldn’t forget that Jehovah’s Witnesses have many reasons for mistreating them. Most of them we’ve already talked about or mentioned. Here’s a summary.
Reasons Why Jehovah’s Witnesses Abuse Or Mistreat Ex-Witnesses
- The need to control others and to make them do what the Witness feels is right. (They assume that their faith really is “The Truth”)
- They’re overconfident about their position and actually assume that anyone who knows “The Truth” believes it is true; in other words, you’re doubts must be a smoke screen and they think you’re just in denial about the real reasons you’ve left their faith.
- The need for reassurance about their own faith. (Convincing you reaffirms their confidence)
- They feel that they aren’t doing their duty if they just leave you alone. (It may not be an acceptable excuse, but it is one of their reasons)
- They’re afraid that Jesus/Jehovah will hold them responsible for your loss of faith if they don’t make some effort to win you back. (“Blame Jesus for my awful behavior! Not me!”)
- Since they believe the Watchtower Society is the only way to everlasting life, they want you to get the same reward. (Another example of overconfidence)
Let me remind you that these are not acceptable reasons for abusive behavior. Former Witnesses still have the right to stand up for themselves when they are mistreated by Jehovah’s Witnesses. But understanding their motives can help ex-Witnesses cope.
What Should Ex-Witnesses Do When Confronted By Over Zealous Jehovah’s Witnesses?
I’ve written other articles about this topic, including one at Austin Cline’s web site. So I’ll just give you a few pointers. If you want to see other articles that I’ve written at my web site, click here.
Remember that many Witnesses are quick to misinterpret your body language and tone of voice. If you get angry, they’ll often take this as an affirmation that their comments have a struck a nerve, that you are in denial about a painful truth they’ve brought to light, or that you are unhappy as a “worldy person” because you’re lashing out. But if you just stand there like a deer in headlights while they preach at you, they’ll assume you’re afraid to face the reality of your situation or that you know deep down that they are right. Neither is acceptable.
Instead, make sure to remain calm and steady. Avoid pleading your case to them and keep your responses simple. Here are some examples of what I mean.
If they say: “But you know it’s ‘The Truth.’ When are you going to start fulfilling your obligation to Jehovah?”
Good Responses (when stated calmly but firmly):
- “But I’ve already told you I don’t believe it’s ‘The Truth.’ Why do you keep forgetting that?”
- “I’m sorry, but I just don’t believe the same things you do. You’re going to have to get used to that if you want us to remain friends.”
- (Smiling patiently) “You’re just full of assumptions today, aren’t you? Look, I have things to do and you’re obviously hung up on our differences of opinion. I really think you should leave while we’re still friends.”
Why are these good responses? Because they are simple statements of your true feelings made with authority. The best of them will even put the pressure of an intelligent response back on the Witness instead of leaving it on you.
There really is no point in offering Witnesses any evidence to back up what you say. They won’t believe you any way, and any attempt to convince them gives them the power to judge your rebuttles. You want to give them your conclusions, not make arguments they can reject. Debates will quickly degenerate into “their sources versus your sources.” They’ll have you running in circles in no time and earn themselves a few hours of field service. You, on the other hand, will have nothing to show for it but a headache.
Some ex-Witnesses love debating with Jehovah’s Witnesses. To each their own, I guess. Just remember that debating with them too vigorously is a good way to get disfellowshipped or ostracized by Witness family and friends.
If they say: “But you know it’s ‘The Truth.’ When are you going to start fulfilling your obligation to Jehovah?”
- “But it’s not ‘The Truth’! #$&@% Now here’s a long list of reasons why because I’m trying to convince you that I’m right…” (When you know they never will agree with you any way, which means you will always lose)
- “Why do you people keep coming around here and picking on me? Just leave me alone! Whoa is me! Whaaaaaa!!”
- “Look, you stupid little #$&@% Watchtower slave! I’ve had enough of your crap! Can’t you tell by the redness in my face that I’m about to explode and hurl chunks of bone all over the carpet?? LEAVE WHILE YOU STILL CAN!!” (There are times when telling them off may be well deserved, but they rarely connect this reaction to their own bad behavior which prompted it.)
- Your eyes start to water with pent up frustration as they read you the riot act. Then you just stand there until they go away.
They will surely misinterpretted bad responses as proof that you know they are right. In the end, these will only encourage them and make the encounter far worse for you. Stick to your true feelings without offering unnecessary reasons. Stop talking once you’ve made yourself clear and wait for the Witness to say something. If they ask for your reasons, keep it as simple as possible and make them work for it. Don’t be afraid to be vague about it, either. Remember, the main reason they have for asking you questions is to break down your responses and refute them. (It also gives them something else to talk about which pads their service time even further.) Sad to say, but the fact is that they aren’t really listening to you.
You should only try to convince them that you mean what you say and that you have no ulterior motives. Do not try to convince them that you are right. Just tell’em what you really feel, point blank, and leave no room for doubt about your convictions. This will go a long way toward discouraging further confrontations.
-the Atheist Geek-