by Brenda Lee Author of-
“Out of the Cocoon: A Young Woman’s Courageous Flight from the Grip of a Religious Cult”
First, I’d like to acknowledge that Jehovah’s Witnesses are people with lives and loved ones, just like you and me. They are not merely a label. I know; I used to be one, and I resented when someone called me a “Jehova.” Once I left the group and did a lot of research on thought reform and mind control, however, I realized that Jehovah’s Witnesses are being psychologically held hostage within a cult, a cult created in the late 1800’s by a single man, Charles Taze Russell. (Mr. Russell dubbed his followers the International Bible Students, who later became known as Jehovah’s Witnesses, currently run by The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in New York.)
There are also many definitions for the word “cult”; therefore, my opinion of what constitutes a cult is based upon collective definitions provided by cult experts worldwide: Cult: Any authoritarian group that uses thought reform, coercive persuasion, deception and fear to manipulate and control its members.
To the average person, the Watchtower organization appears benign, but it uses crippling fear to control its members, operating under authoritarian control, with the threat of excommunication/shunning (I have been shunned by my family and the Jehovah Witness community for the last 29 years.) In addition, the religious leaders typically have no accredited pastoral or theological schooling and the members are taught that the directions of God are received by a select few in New York and to disagree with them is to challenge God himself.
Questioning what is taught, even if it involves the sexual abuse of a child, can be grounds for excommunication and shunning. The Watchtower runs, at a minimum, a multi-million dollar tax-free international corporation utilizing a free sales force and governs nearly every aspect of its 7 million members’ lives. The long-reaching impact of association with them is felt not only by those who subscribe to their teachings but also by extended family members who never attempt to join its ranks. An example of the latter remains vivid in my mind, even today. I remember when my mother sat me down at age nine and told me I could never speak to our relatives again because “Satan might be using them to keep us from learning The Truth.” Our disassociation with them clearly impacted their lives, as well as our own, even though they never became Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Lee is a regular bullet columnist. She has written several pieces in our starting rotation but her first essay for the bullet was on Mothers Day “An Author’s Reflection on Mothers Day…” She overcame her mother’s (mis)using religion like a scalpel in a power-mad effort to break her will, only to write a powerful book of revelation and triumph.