So many of the JW Broadcasting episodes feature seriously ill or disabled Jehovah’s Witnesses explaining how they are still able to “give their all” to Jehovah’s organisation, including “witnessing”. The sick, emotionally manipulative propaganda in these make me so angry for many reasons. Specifically having watched JW Broadcasting 18, I felt the need to put my thoughts into a blog. Please note that I am writing this from the perspective of a permanently disabled person with both a physical disability and permanent mental illness.
JW Broadcasting and the Watchtower publications in general, guilt-trip those within the organisation who are disabled, have serious or chronic illnesses or medical conditions into thinking that they should be doing more. It’s horrendous ableism. It’s also what I consider to be “inspiration porn”. Using disabled people as inspiration is morally reprehensible. I’m not saying that the achievements of disabled or chronically ill people shouldn’t be praised or talked about. What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t be portrayed as only worth something because we are able to do certain activities. We are reduced to being portrayed as performing seals, rather than individuals who have an intrinsic value as human beings, whether or not they are able to perform tasks set by the Watchtower organisation.
By showing someone who is completely paralysed and unable to speak being able to “witness” by blinking at his wife to share a particular magazine article or publication with his nurses, it gives the impression that no matter how ill or disabled you are there is no excuse not to be constantly preaching and attending all meetings even if it’s via video link. There are many reasons why this is totally disgusting, shames ill and disabled people and is hugely manipulative. The only beneficiary of this is Watchtower organisation not the ill and disabled Witnesses.
I will probably go into more detail in another blog but as a Jehovah’s Witnesses both my family and I had a lot of experience with illness, both physical and mental. My experience with severe health problems was that I received zero support from anyone in the congregation in a practical or even spiritual way. I was left to flounder, feeling as if it was all my fault. Many of the brothers and sisters were opening condemnatory indicating that they thought I was just being lazy and that I was exaggerating or faking it. I had friends who refused to associate with me because I wasn’t going in the field service enough and I was unable to attend many meetings, they had just shoved me into the “spiritually weak” category and, therefore, I was bad association.
The fact that I was struggling with two serious illnesses as well as juggling pioneering and a part-time job (because otherwise I had zero money to survive) didn’t even enter their head. I never received a shepherding call from the elders. Oh hang on, I was present for a meeting with my flatmate and two elders where I was told that she felt my illness was detrimentally affecting her spirituality and that I needed to move out. The elders backed her up. Yup, I kid you not. I was in floods of tears trying to explain how ill I was but I was just told to get out and find somewhere else to live because I was affecting her spirituality.
There comes a time when you have done everything, made all of the efforts physically and mentally possible, studied, prayed, asked for help. When the so-called “true” religion that you’re a part of pours nothing but judgement and scorn upon you, it’s not always possible to continue. I would have ended up taking my own life. I don’t even blame individuals for this, I blame the atmosphere of control and the micromanaging of every aspect of the Witnesses lives within the Watchtower organisation. The majority of people are sincere, but sincerity isn’t enough. Jehovah’s Witnesses are always so keen to point to where Jesus spoke in John 13:35 as proof that they are God’s “true people”.
“‘By this all will know that you are my disciples—if you have love among yourselves.‘” – John 13:35 – New World Translation
I can honestly say that I only ever received love from any congregation that I was in as long as I was seen to be fit, healthy and obeying all of the many rules and tasks set out by the Watchtower organisation. Woe betide anyone who was perceived to be spiritually weak due to normal day-to-day pressures, let alone extreme illness.
I have struggled with my health my entire life and am now permanently disabled. I had many more of these experiences, not just in connection with my health but I saw how the elders and members of various congregations treated others who were struggling due to ill-health too. If it was a bethelite who was ill, or an elder, people bent over backwards to help, but if you were just a bog standard witness, especially an old person or a woman, you were left to fend for yourself and you were condemned and gossiped about in the process. There was no loving kindness.
Several years later my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. By this point I hadn’t attended meetings for many years and didn’t consider myself a Witness. The cancer was already stage four when was diagnosed. I will always be forever grateful that my parents had never shunned me, I think mainly because I’d never formally disassociated myself and I’d never officially been disfellowshipped. I was living abroad at the time and I received a phone call from my mother’s doctor telling me that she only had a few days left.
I went to stay in the family home to spend time with her at the end. She hadn’t wanted to spend her remaining time in hospital, she wanted to be at home with family and friends around her. I remember being shocked at the lack of contact from members of the congregation. I think only two people called to visit to my recollection and they only popped in to say hello. Not one of them sat with her to talk with her or even hold her hand to comfort her. I know that she was in and out of consciousness due to the diamorphine but in her lucid moments it was so distressing to see her realise that no-one was there. I offered to read to her from one of the magazines. I’ll never forget her heartbroken face thanking me so very much for offering because no-one had offered to read her anything from the publications or the Bible. Knowing how faithfully she had served the organisation from when she was baptised as a young child, I was disgusted.
I was further horrified to discover that my mother had visited the funeral director’s all by herself to get a quote for her funeral. No-one had gone with her. She had been all alone, knowing she was dying. I’ll never quite get over the picture of my beautiful mother having to cope with so much all by herself. She gave me the quote and told me that the funeral directors knew all about it and that I’d only need to go down to confirm the details later. The only thing that the elders did was organise the funeral service. I had zero say in this other than to remind them that my mother’s favourite song was “The Shulamite Remnant”. I wasn’t allowed to speak.
So many of them turned up at the funeral to pay their respects, but it felt so hollow and hypocritical considering they’d not bothered with her in her last few weeks. I’m not sure if any of them realised that the two ladies that turned up to pay their respects at the funeral were my mother’s employers. They were a lovely lesbian couple for whom my mother was housekeeper. Contrary to the way the Watchtower portrays “worldly” people, especially anyone who is (shock, horror) homosexual, this couple were so lovely, well grounded, successful, yet kind and compassionate. To be honest, apart from a couple of the brothers and sisters that had known my mother since she was very young (literally a couple) and one other sister, the lesbian couple were the most genuine in their expressions of sympathy and sadness.
So the totally hypocritical and emotionally manipulative propaganda spewed out by JW Broadcasting turns my stomach. The false images of how “loving” the organisation is, is a total lie. Please don’t misunderstand me, I know that there are some very loving and sincere people who are Jehovah’s Witnesses, but the problem is that a person’s worth is based on how much a person does for the Watchtower organisation rather than a basic intrinsic value as a human being. This fosters a judgemental and less than supportive atmosphere for those that can’t be at the forefront of Watchtower activity. I’m actually glad that they have this abomination of a TV station now because everyone can see the downright hypocrisy and twisted thinking of the Watchtower organisation’s teachings.
Thank you for reading my blog.