Most of us have had the experience of our Saturday morning coffee time interrupted by a ring of the doorbell. You are greeted by two conservatively suited gentlemen or a pair of well-coiffed women, possibly accompanied by a child, kindly smiling at you. The guests will quickly move into a well-rehearsed speech about how the world is declining toward doom and gloom, followed by a more direct question about your readiness for the end times. You might have agreed to receive their little newsprint and outdated magazine in the hopes that your visitors will quickly move on to your neighbor’s doorstep.
Growing up as a member of the Watchtower Society or the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW), Amber Scorah, author of Leaving the Witness, spent her youth witnessing in the neighborhoods of Vancouver. As young adults, Scorah and her husband found themselves serving as pioneer missionaries in China, where the Watchtower Society is a forbidden ‘religion.’ Under the guise of teaching English, they plan their witness to their students and new friends. Scorah has a chance online encounter with someone who patiently asks her hard and self-reflecting questions over the course of many months. And so begins Scorah’s journey of wondering about and questioning her long-held truths. The Societies’ response to Scorah’s move away from the beliefs of her religion is decisive, cruel, and isolating. Scorah’s courage in the face of alienation and ex-communication is admirable.
After reading Leaving the Witness, by the New York writer and podcaster, you might have second thoughts about the JW’s at your door. Scorah takes the reader through her own painful journey of release from the unrelenting grip of the eight-membered Governing Body of the Watch Tower Society, a group whose tentacles reach out to the 8 million worldwide members: This decision-making group of men dictates every aspect of JW’s lives in sinister and mind-numbing ways. The control they have is very carefully manipulated.
One is left with a feeling of anger and sadness; anger at the manipulation that keeps most witnesses attaining only a high school education and living an imposed life of insulation, and sadness at their hopeless, ever-waiting-for-Armageddon lives.
Scorah’s memoir is a worthwhile read, particularly for someone who might have family or acquaintances who are JWs. It also gave me pause to reflect on how my own life is or is not influenced by social pressure and moral impositions, rather than the life-giving and flourishing gospel of Jesus Christ. (Penguin Random House)