Yesterday afternoon I met with a group of ex Jehovah's Witnesses.
We talked a lot about what it's like being in the faith, and how it is to leave. You can either leave of your own accord (disassociate), be pushed (via disfellowship) or fade. Whatever the route taken to leaving the church, it seems that the church's policy is to then shun the person who has left. To aid the shunning, announcements are made at church that a person has left the church, and that announcement comes with an implication that nobody is allowed to communicate with the person who has left.
The topic of masturbation came up - apparently Jehovah's Witnesses aren't allowed to masturbate. Everyone had a good laugh about that, and talked about PillowGate - a video that went viral recently because of its weird ideas about young men and what they do with their pillows:
This video comes from Bethel - the name given to any of the regional JW headquarters around the world. It appears that the Elders decided that there were issues at this particular bethel that needed to be publicly addressed. The ex JWs I was talking to joked about how, of course, they masturbated just like anyone else, but that they felt guilty about it afterwards.
There are also warnings in that Bethel video about promoting and normalising homosexuality.
In an effort to be fair, there's a video for women at Bethel:
It's not surprising to see the Jehovah's Witnesses trying to control every aspects of their members' lives. This is the kind of thing cults do, and the JWs certainly seem to fit the bill of being a cult.
I was impressed with just how well these people are doing, despite what the church has put them through. This included the heart-breaking story from one ex member who was sexually abused as a child by a senior church member. All of the people at the meeting were genuinely caring and kind, and seem to have found solace in the community they have built together.
The important message from these people to others who are still in the Jehovah's Witnesses in New Zealand is that life is good outside of the church. Leaving a faith that takes up your whole world can be daunting, but there are people who have done it already and are there to help you through the tough times - and none of them regret their decision to leave.
There are resources online, such as the local ex JW Facebook group, that can help you leave. One useful piece of advice I read recently was to keep your head down in the church and start working on building a circle of friends outside the church before you leave. That way you're not stranded and alone when it comes to crunch time.