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Brenda Lee: An Author’s Reflection on Mother’s Day

On Mother’s Day: A condensed version of Things I would tell my mom…if only I could










That’s me at age 12 at the Kingdom Hall and very depressed (suicidal). Here’s my Mother’s Day dedication:

by Brenda Lee

When I was nine, I tragically lost my mother. Growing up without her was difficult, but those struggles barely register in the scheme of all we’ve lost. If I could give a voice to the hollow canyon of my memory, it would surely echo:

As a teen, I longed to share my hopes and dreams with you, mom, but couldn’t. As an adult, I wanted to ask: “Can you help me pick out my wedding dress?” But there was only silence. When I became a mother, I cradled my infant son and whispered, “I love you,” imagining how it might feel to hear you offer the same glorious gift to me, just one more time.

Yet, there is no grave to visit, no body that rests in peace, for you symbolically died. When I didn’t adopt your new found faith, shunning seemed your only option. And so you shunned me. No calls, no letters, no love.

Sometimes I catch glimpses of you in pictures, frail and wrinkled but full of conviction. I embrace you—alive in my memory, yet untouchable. This Mother’s Day I hope you will feel incredibly proud of the woman—the mother—I’ve become. After all, I am who I am because of you.


Brenda Lee wrote her inspiring memoir Out of the Cocoon: A Young Woman’s Courageous Flight from the Grip of a Religious Cult (RDR Publishers, 2006) after losing her mother to a divisive religious sect. In 1981 her mother, brother, sister and other relatives were forbidden by Jehovah’s Witnesses to ever speak to her again. That was 28 years ago and she was only eighteen years old at the time. As a result, Brenda has lived her entire adult life without her family.

Through her courageous story, she wants to help others cope with loss and hopes to underscore the devastating effects of intolerance as well as the power of forgiveness. Lee offers free cult seminars in Denver and has been interviewed all over the world. Additionally, this summer she will be one of four cult survivors featured on “The Secret Lives of Women” (WE TV).

For more information about ordering an autographed copy of her book Out of the Cocoon, to receive free cult education, to listen to some of her radio interviews, or to read her complete Mother’s Day dedication, please visit: www.outofthecocoon.net.











Brenda Lee
“Out of the Cocoon:
A Young Woman’s Courageous Flight
From the Grip of a Religious Cult”

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10 Comments on "Brenda Lee: An Author’s Reflection on Mother’s Day"

  1. I clearly will not try and say that Jehovah's Witnesses do not stray away from ones on the congregation that have been disfellowshiped for various bibically reasons. As a person who grew up as a Jehovah's Witness, I saw it first hand with my mother, who had been baptized. It hurt me at the time. She later went back into the truth and was never happier – it had been a long time that she was away from the congregation.

    I, who had not been baptized, but was also young at the time, so it was not forced on me, did not go back to the meetings. I was a young adult and did things that young adults do. My family never shunned me or the ones in the congregation. I think as with any religion, you will get those who take the words of the scriptures and either destort or take it for all it's worth and more – part of that reason is because we are ALL imperfect.

    There seems to be many, who like Brenda Lee, believe the Witnesses are a cult. I have to say that even though I do not attend the Kingdom Hall often and go out in service, attend the meetings, I still believe in the teachings. Any issues I may have because of not taking the time to talk to my uncle perhaps,since he is an elder, to ask questions that have risen as I've gotten older….I was strongly affected and hurt at the thought that Brenda Lee was on that show, just last night (9/8) featuring Cults and she was talking about Jehovah's Witnesses.

    Whatever opinion she has about her family and how they handled things, like so many families in the congregation, I feel it is a strong exaggeration. To compare Jehovah's Witnesses to the likes of Jim Jones, who was a cult leader and killed his own people. She didn't compare the Witnesses to Jim Jones, but that is what I think of a Cult being, to the extreme as it may be, that is what I think.

    Hope your 5 minutes of fame Brenda Lee has helped you defame a religion you are upset with. I know first hand they are not a Cult religion – organized, if that is what you want to call it, like Catholisism, Baptist, Protestant, etc., etc, but not a Cult!!!!!!

  2. Witnesses and race, well Chris that’s an interesting and revealing topic. You and I have discussed this many times over the years and here are a few points worth noting.
    1.There was a time when JW’s didn’t even preach to blacks, period.
    2.The hirearchy of the organization; the governing body, the faithful and discreet slave class, (who proclaimed armageddon was coming in 1975 as well as at least 30 other dates and who also claims to have direct contact with the Holy Spirit), the writing committee, etc. was all white.
    3.White men were given positions within the organization, such as ministerial servants, elders and overseers much more rapidly that black brothers and sometimes at the exclusion of black men.
    4.Infractions by white youth, especially the sons and daughters of ranking white men, have been given leniency like you would not beleive. I’ve seen elder’s children get abortions, be involved with drugs,crime and homosexuality, while non-white youths would be reproved for seeing an “r” rated movie, marked as bad association if they had any interest in going to college instead of pioneering (because this would mean that they were attempting to be a part of the world and worldly pursuits and not putting God first according to the society) and disfellowshiped for masturbation or any sexual infraction, even if it did not envolve intercourse.
    5.How many blacks or non-whites are of the “anointed class”? Remember, only 144,000 are going to heaven. Guess there’s not much to be said for diversity up there.
    6.With regard to blacks gravitating to the organization, that is a simple matter of false acceptance. This organization calls its members brothers and sisters just like any other religion, but they also use the term “friends”. Anyone who is a “friend” is guaranteed acceptance and love and supposedly embraced as an equal (as long as they are in good standing of course). So quite naturally it would appeal to masses of people who’ve been racially oppressed and ostracized. On the surface people are greeting you and welcoming you, smiling in your face and it’s an experiance you’re not used to, because so many of these people are white. But you don’t realize this is only a surface perception. A veneer of who they truly are, which brings me to the next point.
    7.Why were brothers in Zimbabwe and Mozambique force to endure torture and even death because the society would not allow them to carry a party card? Yet the brothers in Mexico were permitted to carry a party card. I remember the stories of unbearable torture and the letter writing campaign we were asked to support on behalf of these brothers. And that’s the extent of support the African brothers got from the society. There are copies of documents and verification of this matter in the book Crisis of Conscience, written by the nephew of Brother Franz. Brother Franz was of witness pedigree, one of the leaders of the organization, like Brother Knorr and of course Charles Taze Russell (witnesses used to be known as Russellites). When the young brother Franz came out with this and other explosive information regarding the organization, it was shaken to its core and splinter groups formed. I would love to have a conversation with him about… well everything!

    Racism within the organization is but one of many topics that I have wrestled with over the years. You have personally witnessed my anguish, confusion, frustration and tears regarding this organization that I devoted my life to and made so many sacrifices for.

    The lesson I have learned is that my devotion was to an organization, an organization that mercilessly exercised total control through fear (the threat of dying at armageddon and fear of alienation by disfellowshipping) when my devotion should have been to God and only God. Now, I look at scriptures and see them for what they really mean and the thing is, I’m reading them from the New World Translation. There are things recorded in their own Bible that are skewed by their teachings, so you don’t get the benefit of scripture because you are so programmed to think the way you’ve been indoctrinated to. There are things that are as plain as day that witnesses don’t see or believe.

    One day I will finish my book.I know you are still waiting for more chapters. Actually this blog has inspired me to get back to it. But as you know, reliving the experiences has been extrodinarily painful and I can only force myself but so much. Let me say now, the reason I’m writing the book and participating in the blog is not to slam the JW’s, because goodness knows if that were the case what I’m saying would have a completely different tone. But rather it’s a way to heal and exorcise so many profound and detrimental experiences and the mental programming that has had a crippling grip on me for years. Hopefully it and this blog will benefit others as well.

  3. Actually Jim I don’t know, but that’s a great question if you’re inquiring about the racial breakdown of black JW’s, white JW’s etc. I wouldn’t doubt that the Society has those figures as well as the racial/ethnic breakdown of which members are disfellowshipped in terms of actual number and percentage-wise. You’d probably have better luck breaking into Fort Knox.

    I’ve known female members take it on the chin in general when it comes to discipline, but black female JW’s? Believe me, go through hell over simple infractions. I recall a white Missionary sister who was away for years, one week she and her partner came back from Honduras and everyone was so excited to see her. The Ministry School that week was extended just so she and her partner could come up to the stage and field questions. Her father was one of our Elders.

    Well they returned to their assignment and roughly a year or two later wouldn’t you know it. She returned home for another visit, she still had another person with her… only this time inside her stomach. Word spread so fast I forget who told me, but it was before the meeting. She still attended. Trying to smile as if nothing happened.

    I call it the case of the missionary who preached while in missionary. I think she got confused about her job description at some point. I can just hear her screaming Jesus. I was a Ministerial Servant then, I went to see the Presiding Overseer the next evening and he told me he was going to cut her a break “she just made a mistake.” Understand this is the same guy, who wanted me to spy on a black sister who he suspected of fornicating. One publically reproved another for sleeping with a “worldly man” without having sex (her claim).

    He also disfellowshipped another when he found out she was doin’ one of her return visits (he should have asked these women if they were counting this time?). All these sisters were black, not that it mattered except I still strongly believe what good for the goose is good for the Missionary simply because (drumroll please) she held an important position and therefore was looked up to as an example.

    Our PO voluntarily made himself naive, I reasoned that in order for him to believe her pitch that it was “a mistake” she must have told him she only did it once. This was a middle-aged black brother from a large family in the south, you can’t pitch doing potato chips and masturbation once and he fell for her shit hook line and sinker. If that were me I would’ve made like a baseball umpire and said “yerouttahere!” I’m not saying a woman can’t get pregnant on just one time. I’m saying, the likelyhood, in Honduras. No.

    Now that’s just one example of a gross disparity over congregational judicial treatment based in no small part on race. If there are figure out there, somebody please let us know.

  4. Good point about the black JW’s.
    Anyone have a count how many are Jw’s?


  5. If I may weigh-in on this issue, there's an old saying, “if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.” The Watchtower Bible & Tract Society didn't just start and run “anything.” They created and continue to run the most thorough mind-control program possibly in the history of religion and politics. Several of your testimonies above bear this out.

    The lifeblood of their philosophy is much more powerful than their law against taking blood. It is the way they can instantly convince millions at any given moment to change direction on any given issue and how their members will follow them with a smile on their face without the slightest hint of critical thought.

    Many people in the world-at-large dislike the witnesses without doing their homework; in other words they hate them for petty reasons (“They knocked on my door and woke me up,” “they don't celebrate Christmas,” blah, blah, blah). You had better thank the stars they aren't like the Palistenians overseas (brandeshing M16s, bombing buildings, school buses & airplanes etc.) otherwise they would show you some shit live in 3D and have your ass waking up for real.

    Fortunalty in recent decades their Governing Body-at one time too old and sheltered to see beyond five parking meters-were never up to defending their dogma with arms. Yes I too have come up in that organization, I've seen a few shun-happy elders from my growing up years to early adulthood. Of course this doesn't apply to all of them, just a few. But as with the police department (an analogy I use almost for everything), too often the few bad apples seek to define the whole, thereby dragging the whole company down. I'm at the point now where I feel no single faith can exclusively claim to be God's personal pipeline. But members of overly strict religions (cults as many put it) can learn to work to reform their faith.

    The Watchtower for example especially loves older members, especially older black members. Why? The old south did most of their work for that Watchtower by making them afraid, humble, and submissive through their being eye-witness to lynchings, murders, or experiencing beatings themselves and the fear taught to them by their families or surroundings. During the great migration to the north, the Watchtower gained a lot of these transplants between the '50 and '70's. These new witnesses were already wide open for the skillful teachings of the Watchtower and it's publications (including the Bible)and it's power-of-suggestion buzz terms suchas: “obediance,” “obey,” “humble,” “humility,”be like children.” It didn't hurt to have one or two mental issues either.

    Another damaging thing about the Watchtower is it's big-boys-club mentality. I say this because I believe this enabling is what led to the largest skeleton in their spiritual closet; the countless allegations of child molestations committed by a large percentage of Elders and Minsterial Servants (Deacons) throughout the JW congregations in the world (reportedly 37,000 by a former member of their Watchtower writing staff and author of some of their books and articles). Some of these cases have gone to court and been settled for millions upon agreement to a media-gag-order. Most of the victims are little children (mostly boys it seems) who have been denied medical assistance and/or prohibition from reporting this to the authorities. Those who have or whose families have sought out law enforement involvement were… yes disfellowshiped.

    This is a manifestation of their control-freak factor that should do them in, but it's not. So tight is Witness control, that members-especially new menbers aren't allowed to check that organization's history. What the Watchtower is good at doing is convincing people to voluntarily become Manchurian Candidates. The examles posted above tells horrible stories of previously close families torn apart at the scriptural manipulation of some old naive, senile, white men living over a print factory in New York. How dumb is that? I've had family members ousted by the Watchtower and my relationship went unchanged, even at a young age. I felt I knew better than Knorr or Franz etc. whether or not to associate with my sibling.
    The same was true of non-witness family, of which I could not due without.

    Those of you like my friend Brenda Lee, I hurt for you. You lost something I can't begin to understand; your mother. Not through death, but through as Mark Furman once put it: “voluntarily having their brain sucked out of their heads.” Some of these mothers apparently joined the “Friends” because they secretly seized upon an opportunity to become a defacto head, while in a traditional family setting. Over time they become dangerous with their little power. I'm proud to admitt you couldn't turn my mom against me even with CIA torture. To expect the same of me is putting your life in danger. Literally.

    And it's not that any of us are that strong-willed, hell it's common sense. It's good to believe, but you better know how to think for yourself. Otherwise you'll fall completely for the Watchtower/Witness program; which is more than just anything. Keep on the Watch.

  6. i am not even disfellowshipped, but my family “feels” i should have been, and none of my seven siblings or father speak to me at all, i saw them at my uncle’s funeral last year, and two of my sisters literally turned their backs on me, and my dad gave me a lecture about being disrespectful, my oldest sister asked for my address, which i thought was nice until i received all childhood photos of me in the mail – they don’t want to be reminded that i even exist – their cruelty seems to know no bounds, and it’s all in the name of love for christ!!

  7. Anonymous:

    Let’s clear up your distortion.
    If you actually believe JW’s don’t prohibit their members from speaking to those who have been disfellowshiped and or disassociated then you are either delusional or not a JW yourself.

    I remember when I had nearly completed the “Truth” book (do you remember studying from that book or are you a nubie) and was looking forward to baptism, someone at our hall got disfellowshiped. There was the standard reading of the announcement regarding that person’s status. We were told that a judicial committee had found it necessary to disfellowship brother so-in-so for conduct unbecoming a Christian and that the hand of Christian fellowship was not to be extended to him. Immediately we were told to open our Bibles to 1 Corinthians 5:11 which states, “Quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man.” (This is from the New World Translation, the official Bible of JWs. I have one do you?) Following that scripture, we were emphatically told that this included any contact with this person inside or outside of the kingdom hall and it included not speaking to him. We were told that the elders had an obligation to keep the congregation clean and that not speaking to this person was not only in harmony with scripture but it safeguarded us. Furthermore, we were told that if we did not comply with this action and chose to associate with anyone who was disfellowshiped, then that was grounds for our own disfellowshipping. (Therefore, witnesses live under the threat that they themselves will end up on the outside if they are caught violating this practice.)

    At the reading of this announcement, there were deep sighs of sadness, some people groaned “oh no”, some even started crying. I had no clue what this was all about and had numerous questions. After all, this wasn’t covered in the “truth” book and I felt a sudden sense of panic, as no one bothered to tell me this was the consequence for transgressions BEFORE I committed myself to this religion. I had no intention of ever doing any of the things Paul spoke of in his letter to the Corinthians, but what if I did make a mistake one day, would this happen to me?

    I took some solace in the fact that at least whatever this brother did was not announced from the platform as well. But immediately following said announcement was a very stern talk about fornication, thereby revealing what this person had done to the entire congregation. (Over the years I learned a talk regarding the disfellowshipping offence followed a disfellowshiping announcement.)

    Now for your edification, I will tell you, over decades of associastion with this organization, I have come to know thousands of JW’s including; unbaptized publishers, baptized publishers, auxiliary pioneers, regular pioneers, ministerial servants, elders, presiding overseers, city overseers, circuit overseers, bethelites, missionaries, those of “the anointed” class (that would be the 144,000 in case you didn’t know), someone from the “governing body” AND I have attended regular meetings, special meetings, circuit assemblies, district assemblies, international assemblies as well as having spent thousands of hours in the preaching work. Therefore I am more than qualified to state unequivocally that JW’s do forbid their members to speak to anyone who’s in a disfellowshiped status (which applies to those who’ve been baptized) and those who are disassociated (which applies to anyone unbaptized in which judicial action was taken) or someone who disassociates themselves from the organization by their own choice.

    Disfellowshiping and the consequences that result are a fundamental teaching and practice of this religion and for anyone to state that it doesn’t happen, is either profoundly ignorant or a blatant liar.

    Just making sure there’s no distortion.

  8. I am an ex-JW and everyone I knew who still is a JW, refuses to talk to me, acknowledge me, etc. This has been going on for over 20 years. I still feel the effects of the brainwashing that organization did to me!

    Joyce T.

  9. To Anonymous,

    You are sadly mistaken! Some JW’s go overboard and don’t have anything to do with relatives, friends, or whoever that leaves (willingly or unwillingy) the religion.
    Thankfully my XJW wife still speaks with me as she is not a crazy Jw fanatic.

    I have a sister that I haven’t heard from in a few years, and some of my best “friends” while I was a JW won’t have anything to do with me.
    If I call my sister she will be nice but other than that she will not go out of her way to speak to me.

    So what you have here is…some Jw’s are pretty decent in dealing with xjw’s and some are fanatics.

    All in all the Jw religion is a cult and has destroyed may lives.

    Jim Rizoli

  10. Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t forbid their members from ever speaking to anyone again. if you’re going to tell a story don’t lace it with such distortion!

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