Thursday, April 5, 2007

Does the Watchtower know?

Jehova Witness Kingdom Halls are a hellish memory for me. I grew up as a Jehovah Witness from the age of 9 until I fought my way to freedom at age 18. I recall children as young as a year old being beaten repeatedly for not sitting still during services. Some sessions, called religious assemblies, were 6 hours long and lasted for 3-5 days in succession.

My nephew was one of many who felt the literal sting of the Watchtower's stance of "spare the rod, spoil the child." I still remember the sick, accepting smiles on the faces of other Jehovah's Witnesses when my nephew(s) were being dragged off to the bathroom by their father.

Here's an excerpt from my book, Out of the Cocoon: A Young Woman's Courageous Flight from the Grip of a Religious Cult. As disturbing as it is, it really happened--for years on end:

"When I was twelve years old, my nineteen-year-old sister married a Jehovah’s Witness, and one year later she delivered a beautiful baby boy. From the time Jon was old enough to walk, he adoringly followed me everywhere. I called him my shadow, and when I did, he giggled hysterically and repeated back to me in his gleeful innocence, “I’m Brenna’s shadow!”

During summer break I sometimes spent a week visiting my sister. Sadly, Jon would come to know at a tender age of one the frustration I experienced sitting on that anthill during those long sermons in the Kingdom Hall. Since there wasn’t a Sunday school atmosphere at these meetings; young children weren’t allowed to amuse themselves with toys or coloring books. When Jon started fidgeting, I did everything in my power to try to keep him still...When I ran out of tricks and could no longer contain his energy, his father grabbed him by the arm and literally dragged him to the restroom to beat him. Jon’s beating became such a ritual that when his daddy reached for him during a meeting, he knew it meant a beating. He cried and pleaded “No, Daddy” as he buckled his legs, refusing to walk willingly to meet his fate.

Everyone in the Kingdom Hall could hear his screams. The sound that echoed from the blow varied; sometimes Jon’s father used his hand, sometimes a belt. After ten or fifteen minutes, they would return with Jon hyperventilating, desperately trying to catch his breath. Beaten into composure, he would sit still for a while longer. Usually he stared motionless into space, his eyes bloodshot from crying. If fate smiled on him, Jon fell asleep in my arms for the duration of the meeting. If not, then back again to the restroom he would go for another beating and the cycle continued, until the closing prayer. It broke my heart. I wanted desperately to stop the abuse, but I was a child myself and didn’t know what to do to save him, or me.

One heart-wrenching day in particular is forever seared into my memory. My sister confided in my mother, father, and me that Jon, then two years old, had asked his father to hit him on his hands with the belt instead of his buttocks. When asked why he wanted to be punished that way, he replied, “Because my butt is too sore.” It sickened all of us. But none of the adults—my sister, my mother nor my father—did anything about it.

The Witnesses seemed to condone it with the “spare the rod and spoil the child” scripture. Within a year, my sister had another child and his fate, sadly, was no different than Jon’s. Meanwhile, my sister’s husband was rewarded for his devotion to the faith. He was made an Elder."

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