Excommunication from Jehovah’s Witnesses can result in trauma. Maybe that was why a man opened fire in Hamburg last week.
We know them from public spaces, we recognize their magazines Watchtower and Awake! They engage with people in conversations at train stations and in public spaces. Dressed in a suit or a rather old-fashioned conservative length skirt they knock on our doors on Saturday mornings to proselytize God’s paradise and Armageddon. Maybe you feel sorry for them, especially their kids, when you see them knocking on door after door, preaching their “joyous” faith.
Most people have formed an opinion of them, but very few know what actually goes on in their churches, their Kingdom Halls, and about the indoctrination that pervades everyday life of these witnesses.
A few months back there was a shooting in the US in a parking lot outside a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Thursday, the shootings in and around places of Jehovah’s Witness´ worship came to Europe with a shooting in Hamburg, Germany. Reporters in the US and in Europe have reported the Kingdom Hall shootings and compared them to other right-wing, radicalized perpetrators. But this parallel is problematic. Former Jehovah’s Witnesses who end up as perpetrators of mass shootings do not belong to the same group as racists and anti-Semites who run amok outside mosques and synagogues.
On Thursday, a perpetrator shot and killed six people and injured eight in a Kingdom Hall in Hamburg before turning his weapon on himself.
Violence is never a solution, no matter how much one understands why a person is suffering. Still, I would like to address and offer an explanation to the shootings within the sphere of Jehovah´s Witnesses.
Imagine that you met some incredibly nice people. Maybe you are at a vulnerable state, maybe you are experiencing a personal crisis. You feel lost, rootless, lonely, lacking a sense of purpose in life. A group of people welcomes you into their midst with open arms. You are invited for a cup of coffee, dinner parties, and conversations about the meaning of life. You are invited to talk about your frustrations with humanity, your viewpoints are met with understanding and empathy. Being met with openness and understanding is liberating.
Little by little, almost without you noticing, new ways are introduced to you. When you are invited to a dinner, they say grace before eating. This seems quite harmless, and you are after all their guest plus you want to be accommodating, so you fold your hands and look down at the tablecloth while the man of the house leads his family in prayer. What is said in the prayers may not be entirely to your liking, but you ignore that, there is no reason to spoil the atmosphere. Jehovah’s Witnesses are such nice, well-groomed and smiling people. All their talk of death to unbelievers is far from who you normally think voice such death and destruction-obsessed topics.
You notice that the important presentations in the Kingdom Hall, where you now come regularly, are given by men. Women are on the sidelines with supplementary roles on the podium, but the microphone time goes to the men, who are also heads of the family. You hear of a great war in the last day, when all who do not share the faith will be annihilated. This includes children. It’s scary, but luckily it doesn’t apply to you, because you saw the light and managed to get the right faith before God’s Armageddon war. You learn that Christmas, birthdays, Easter, indeed all holidays do not have God’s favor, so you must stop celebrating them. And you are told that you should cut off all contact with those in your social circle who do not share your views. And you do that, because you want to be part of your new club, right?
And then the trap snaps. The warmth is still there, if you follow the narrow path defined by the religious community. But if you “stumble”, you will be given a warning behind closed doors after a meeting with three serious-looking elders, who will find Bible scripters showing you that you have committed a great sin – something that, of course, must be punished.
The congregation has a certain number of “elders” who know about the actions and behavior of the individual members – this is known to all members, and this naturally means that you do everything you can to follow the sect’s rules. The “elders” have eyes and ears everywhere, because everyone has a duty to report if they see or hear something unregulated. Excommunication hangs over all members as the supreme shame and fear that pervades every action – the consequences are unfathomable, especially since everything now in your social life takes place exclusively within the sphere of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Critical questions are unacceptable and will, if they persist, lead to excommunication. They were welcomed before you became a member, not after. If you get drunk, smoke a cigarette, have sex without being married, swear, lie, cheat on your taxes… the list is long – you will be excommunicated. The path of virtue is extremely narrow.
There are many reasons why one can be disfellowshipped from Jehovah’s Witnesses. But for the sake of simplicity, let’s follow our imaginary example above. When hormones are raging and a baptized Jehovah’s Witness meets someone (of the opposite sex, naturally) he or she develops feelings for, and if they follow that desire and end up having sex, he or she is excommunicated and loses everything.
Everyone treats the excommunicated person as if he or she had a dangerous virus – the only way to get your life back is to repent, do penance and spend a year in the back row of the Kingdom Hall without being allowed to greet your family, without being allowed to participate, and without the right to seek eye contact with anyone. I know this, I went through it myself in the hope that I would be reunited with my family.
Should you have seen the clear light that makes you doubt whether Jehovah’s Witnesses really have The Truth, you are doomed forever. Even the most peace-loving family-deprived person can be driven to the brink of desperation.
Is this what brought the former member of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Hamburg to his action, which tragically cost the lives of members of the religious community and himself their lives?
Hvorfor skød han?
Udstødelse fra Jehovas Vidner kan resultere i umenneskelige traumer. Det var muligvis grunden til skyderiet i Hamborg i sidste uge.