When one of Jehovah’s Witnesses decides to “come out” as a nonbeliever to members of his family, he knows that they will cut him off for good. Yet many ex-Witnesses come out anyway because they can’t stand living a lie. (For the record, I really do think that coming out is almost always better than fading in the long run.) Some ex-Witnesses make serious mistakes when revealing their lack of faith in the Society to their families, mistakes that create needless complications for everyone involved. I have some tips on how these can be avoided below.
Note, in this case, I’m referring to Jehovah’s Witnesses who are “nonbelievers” because they don’t believe in the Society’s truth anymore. Nonbelieving ex-Witnesses may still believe in God or favor another religion, so they aren’t necessarily atheists as I’m using the word here.
So what’s the best way to come out as a nonbeliever to your relatives? And why should you consider coming out instead of fading?
Isn’t Fading A Better Solution Than Coming Out?
In most cases, I would say no. But before I go any further, remember that the decision to fade or come out is entirely yours. I can’t tell you what to do. You’re the one who has to live with the consequences, not me. The decision, and the responsibility, must be yours. The emotional connection people have with their families can be very strong, and I wouldn’t recommend coming out if you can’t handle the consequences. If you still want to fade after you’ve read this article, I have suggestions on how to fade, too.
That being said, here are some reasons why I think it’s better to come out than it is to fade. Most of them will depend on your circumstances, but they’re worth thinking about.
I don’t want to make it sound like faders are deluding themselves. Many truly plan to fade. But many more merely say they’re fading. The rest just sort of linger in their own misery while telling themselves that they’ll leave … some day.
The problem isn’t just that this day never comes for many faders. At most Kingdom Halls, Witnesses who fade are seen as black sheep because they aren’t making enough meetings or getting out in field service as much as others think they should. Having a congregation of Witnesses – including your own family – look down on you is not a healthy way to build self-esteem. Faders can spend years fading and dealing with the derision of others. When they finally reach their goal of leaving their old Kingdom Hall for good, they can walk away feeling like dirt. In the end, fading is often just a way of prolonging a nonbeliever’s misery for a family that will only love him so long as he plays by their rules. I don’t think that’s a very healthy way to live.
Granted, your family may still speak to you if you fade, but many relatives will only talk to you about one thing: why aren’t you making more meetings! To them, you will never be good enough unless you do what they want. Is that a healthy relationship, or one that will slowly beat you down?
Worse, if you do finish your fade, your relatives may still cut you off because you aren’t going to the meetings anymore. If the point of fading is to escape the Watchtower Society without losing your family in the process, then being treated as a bad associate who must be avoided anyway defeats the point entirely. Faders often suffer through years of verbal abuse only to find that it was all for nothing if they’re caught in the end. Nonbelievers who come out have the benefit of moving on with their lives instead of being trapped in some limbo.
The worst part of fading – or even just pretending that you still believe – is that it puts your family, your congregation, and the Watchtower Society in control of your life. In my opinion, no one – not even your relatives – have the right to ask you to live a lie so they can keep loving you. To put it mildly, that’s seriously messed up. If that’s the family you’re trying to keep, I’m not sure they’re worth it. As always, your mileage may vary.
So what should you do if you decide to come out as a nonbeliever instead of fading?
Don’t Be In A Hurry To Come Out.
Don’t be in a hurry to drop the bomb. Decide what you want “coming out” to do for you and plan accordingly.
The first thing you should do is make sure you can support yourself financially. If you are dependant on your relatives or other Witnesses in any way, then now’s the time to start building new channels to get bills paid or other things done. Even if it means finding a new job or a new place to live, start setting those goals now. Sadly, you simply can’t count on any Witnesses – even your relatives – to be there once you come out as a nonbeliever. If you need them for work or to provide a roof over your head, then that gives them power over you. Many Witnesses will feel that they are betraying their beliefs if they let you leave their faith without a fight and will use that power to force you back into their Kingdom Hall. Bottom line, if you can’t make a clean break, then you need to work toward greater independence before coming out.
Second, make sure you have new friends waiting for you before you come out as a nonbeliever. This way, you aren’t left hanging without emotional support when your relatives cut you off. Take the time to make real friends you can count on. Your new friends will become part of your new family once you come out. They can also make the transition for Jehovah’s Witness to non-Witness much easier.
Third, if they are devout Jehovah’s Witnesses, accept the fact that your family will cut you off once and for all after you come out. Especially if you end up disfellowshipped (excommunicated and shunned) by your local elders. There’s nothing wrong with hoping for the best, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that family loyalty will trump faith. And never forget that any ex-Witness who lacks faith in the Governing Body, the anointed, Jehovah God, the Watchtower Society, the literature, or the Society’s truth in general, is technically considered an apostate. (Many Witnesses don’t realize that this is so. Read the article at the link if you want to know more.) Simply revealing your lack of faith to another Witness could be enough to get you disfellowshipped even if you’ve done nothing else wrong by their standards. Don’t assume that you will be an exception to the rules1! Chances are that your family will view this as a test of their loyalty to Jehovah God. And Jehovah usually wins.
Prepare Your Exit
Once you’re ready to come out as a nonbeliever, think about how you want to leave things with your relatives. Do you want their final memories of you to be happy or painful? Act accordingly.
I would suggest taking some time – a few months or longer – to contact your dearest relatives and do your best to make some positive connection with them before you come out. Try to settle old differences or correct past slights if you’re able. Then do something grand, like throw a party or plan some special event. Make it something they can all enjoy. You could also do something small with each and every one of them. Whatever you do, make it something that they’ll remember fondly. If you do, then that’s how they’ll remember you, too.
Ultimately, this is about finding a sense of closure and your peace of mind. Once you feel that you’ve reached a point where emotional closure is possible, it’s time to start thinking about how to tell your relatives that you don’t want to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses anymore. Make no mistake – this will not be easy. This is the part where many ex-Witnesses get it seriously wrong. But you don’t have to.
For nonbelievers who find it impossible to walk away from their family because their family is … well, family … please consider this post for help overcoming this issue.
Mistakes To Avoid
As I mentioned earlier, don’t be in a hurry to come out to your family as a nonbeliever. Take your time and prepare. But once the moment comes, don’t make it any harder on yourself – or on them – than you have to.
To that end, I don’t recommend that you gather all of your relatives together in a single place to announce your decision to leave their truth. Emotions will run high once you’ve made your announcement, and you don’t want a big fight on your hands with all of them against you. That would be too much for anyone to handle. Worse, the angriest, loudest members of the family will quickly take over the discussion. Their rage could spread like a poison to other family members who might have reacted better if you had told them your true feelings in private. Do yourself a favor and don’t go there. It will only complicate matters.
I wouldn’t come out during an otherwise happy event, either. I know a gathering might feel like a chance to get the thing over with while everyone is together, but you will only ruin the happy moment and walk away feeling like a jerk. Everyone will probably be angrier than they would have been otherwise, too. Worst of all, this last act will define the end of your relationship with your relatives for years to come. Don’t do that to yourself or to them. Try to let them down in the classiest, most respectful way possible, even if you think they won’t treat you half as well in return.
I recommend speaking to your family one on one or in small groups. For instance, talk to your parents as a couple, then tell one or two of your siblings, and so forth. You can do it over the phone if you want, but be ready for someone to knock on your door later that night. I know a phone call may seem cowardly, but dialing someone’s number doesn’t mean you can’t meet them face to face later. One good thing about making a phone call is that either of you can cut off the conversation by simply hanging up the line. In other words, neither of you will feel trapped in a conversation that isn’t going well.
Whatever you do, do not come out to your relatives in a place or situation where no one can leave the scene. If things get tense, someone – maybe you – might need to get out before he or she gets upset. Likewise, don’t try to come out to your relatives in a public setting. This will make everything needlessly awkward and difficult. Some of your relatives may even feel cheated, as if you rigged the situation to make them look bad if they get upset at you in front of an audience. If you’re expecting a bad reaction, don’t assume that an audience will stop them from behaving badly, either.
Some of your relatives may try to make it all about them and start making malicious accusations. They may blame you for “making” them shun you, or other things that are – if we’re honest – less than fair. Remember, this is all a temporary part of moving on. The classier your exit, the better you’ll feel about it once everything is done. The worse their reaction, the worse your relatives will feel about their own behavior later. And remember, after this hurdle, your new life can begin. That means no more lies or failing to measure up.
Again, is this worth it? I think it is, but the real answer is up to you.
How Should You Break The News To Your Family?
There are lots of ways to come out as a nonbeliever. I wouldn’t suggest writing a letter unless that’s the only way you can bring yourself to do it. If you do write a letter, try delivering it in person if you can. Phone calls are a better alternative to letters or emails. Please don’t tell your family you’re leaving their truth by way of Facebook or Twitter.
But what should you actually say to your family? You can try telling them you have something important to change about your life because you are unhappy and that you need to tell them about it. Assure them that you aren’t doing this to hurt anyone, but living the lie is hurting you. You could also tell them that leaving their truth isn’t about them, but staying in it was never about Jehovah either because you stopped believing in their truth long ago. You don’t have to volunteer every doubt you’ve ever had about the organization when you come out, but the more honest your answers, the more sincere you will seem.
Once the words are out there, you may discover that they already knew this moment was coming despite your best efforts to hide your doubts. Others may have been in denial even if it was painfully obvious you weren’t a believer in their truth anymore.
Choose the first person you come out to carefully. If there’s someone in your family who will stand by you through this, that person is probably the first one you should talk to. If there is someone who will understand, even though they may not approve, consider coming out to them early on as well.
Once you’ve made that first announcement to a Witness who is very fervent in his belief, the news will travel ahead of you. You might tell your sister, then call your parents and discover they already heard about it from her. If this happens, so be it. Just start explaining your reasons for leaving. Don’t be too brutal about it, but be resolute. Everyone needs to understand that this isn’t just a phase you’re going through. Remember, your relatives need to find a way to let you go just as you have to let them go.
Note that while some relatives might get angry, others will try to talk you out of leaving. Explain to them that their reasons for staying with the organization aren’t good enough to keep you coming back to the Hall. They may even try to buy your loyalty to the Society with promises or offers of support in some endeavor. If leaving their truth is really your goal, then you need to put these offers aside right away and make it clear that you can’t live a lie any longer. If you accept the bribe now, it will be even harder to leave later on.
If you have a dear friend or significant other who can support you emotionally during this time, then you can try asking them to stand by you for moral support while you come out. Even if you aren’t planning on meeting with any of your relatives face to face, just knowing that someone is at your side can give you strength while you’re on the phone. It may also come in handy if someone decides to come looking for a face to face confrontation. (You could ask your friend to park his car out of sight in case you have relatives waiting to catch you alone.)
Never forget that there’s a reason Jehovah’s Witnesses like to work in pairs; there is strength in numbers. If you’re expecting a major confrontation with someone in your family over this, then a good friend might be just the thing you need to hold your ground.
If you don’t have someone in your life that you can count on in this situation, then you probably aren’t ready to come out yet. You need to work harder at forming new relationships first. Coming out should wait until you have done that.
By the way, don’t be afraid to tell your “worldly” friends that you used to be a Jehovah’s Witness. It’s part of who you are and many will feel sympathetic once you share some of your experiences. So called “worldly people” can be far more understanding than you may have been raised to believe. Consider this: they aren’t the ones preparing to shun you just because you had a change of heart about your faith, are they? Don’t sell non-Witnesses short, regardless of their faith or lifestyle.
So what should you take away from this article?
- Some nonbelieving Witnesses may still prefer to fade from their Kingdom Halls. But there are long-term advantages to coming out and ripping off the band-aid, so to speak.
- Don’t assume that your relatives will ignore the rules of their faith and continue speaking to you after you come out as a nonbeliever.
- Don’t be in a rush to come out or make rash decisions about how to do it.
- Make your peace with your relatives before you come out to them.
- Make sure you’re financially independent before you come out!
- Make sure you’ve already started building a life outside of the Society’s truth before you come out.
- Find an ally who can support you emotionally through this. Maybe a good friend or a relative who will be sympathetic (another ex-Witness perhaps?) and calm throughout the process of coming out. If you don’t have someone like that, work harder at forming solid relationships before you come out.
- Don’t come out to the whole family at once or during a special event. Do so privately; one on one if possible.
- Make sure everyone knows you are serious and that this decision has already been made. It’s happening. You’re just here to show them the respect of letting them know about it.
- Make it clear why you are leaving their truth. If it’s because you don’t believe the Society has the truth anymore, tell them about it. Don’t try to justify your reasons. Just tell them what the reasons are.
- After that, if they choose to ignore your reasons for leaving and make up their own, it’s on them.
- The goal is to achieve some kind of closure with your relatives. Don’t come out to them, then beg them to take you back later on. Things will get ugly if you do this. Remember, your relatives don’t have to be your only family. Contrary to popular belief, your relatives aren’t “all you have.”
- Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to speak out against the Society or its teachings to be an apostate. Even if your local elders don’t disfellowship you, there’s a chance that your family will cut you off anyway. It is, after all, what they’ve been taught to do when a Witness leaves the faith. ↩