Freedom of thought is a right that many people take for granted. There are many people who believe they have freedom of thought, but are mistaken. I was one of those. My name is Wayne Rogers. I was raised in the religious organization known as Jehovah’s Witnesses governed by the Watchtower Society. As I sit down to write the story, I have just finished reading some passages from the February 22nd 1999 issue of Awake magazine. In it are some powerful statements in support of free thought and inquiry. Consider these quotes:
“Francis bacon, a seventeenth century English philosopher, essayist, jurist, and statesman, advised searchers for truth to weigh and consider. And an early U.S. president, Thomas Jefferson, said: reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agents against error….They are the natural enemies of error. So if we are genuinely searching for truth, we will ‘weigh and consider’ and pursue ‘reason and free inquiry’.” “Identifying why such an approach is vital, British scientist Sir Hermann Bondi noted: ’Since at most one faith can be true, it follows that human beings are extremely liable to believe firmly and honestly in the field of revealed religion. One would have expected this obvious fact to lead to some humility, to some thought that however deep one’s faith, one may conceivably be mistaken’.”
Sadly, my experience tells me that these noble ideals are given lip service, but freedom of inquiry is denied to members of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness since 1966, the son of an elder. I was convinced all my life that I was in God’s organization where there existed true freedom in Christ and brotherly love. I was baptized in 1983 at an international convention at the Oakland coliseum. I married a fellow believer in 1987 and strived to let Bible principles guide our marriage for 12 years. I served as a Ministerial Servant in the Highland Oaks/Pleasanton congregation where I was given many responsibilities and occasionally auxiliary pioneered in support of the Watchtower’s preaching work.
Slowly over the years, I began to develop a different view on blood transfusions than the official policy. Many points of scriptural research and personal experience molded my viewpoint. Studies in bible based literature such as “The Greatest Man” book, impressed upon me the contrast between Jesus’ love of people, and the strict, oppressive rule-keeping of the religious leaders of the time. I noticed how Christ approved of setting aside certain restrictions in the Law Covenant when human life or suffering was on the line, much to the dismay of the Pharisees.
I noticed that even the Law covenant given by God had certain exemptions so as not to be a danger to the life and well-being of its adherents. For instance, on the issue of the command to abstain from eating blood, the “Insight on the Scriptures” makes this observation: “At Deuteronomy 14:21 allowance was made for selling to an alien resident or a foreigner an animal that had died of itself or that had been torn by a beast. Thus, a distinction was made between the blood of such animals and that of animals that a person slaughtered for food”.
I learned that the scriptures allowed a Jew to eat of the unbled flesh of an animal not slaughtered by human hands if necessary, with no penalties other than a requirement to perform a ritual bathing. Thus, while a starving Jew might not desire to feed on the unbled flesh of a dead animal, such was allowed if necessary. The Levitical priestly class, who had all of their food supplied by the citizens, were restricted from eating such unbled animals.
I recall back in 1981 when one of my best friends was suffering from kidney failure. He may have been among the first of Jehovah’s Witnesses to get on the list for an organ transplant. (His story can be found in the Nov 22, 1996 Awake article entitled “Its only temporary”) The WTS had JUST changed their ruling on the matter, and my friend and his family had decided that it would not violate their consciences. I recall that I had no thought, whatsoever that he was a “cannibal” that sustained his life by feeding on human flesh, although the WTS had taught this up until then. I am firmly convinced that JWs would not be viewing blood transplants as a serious sin if the WTS had not been vilifying the procedure for so many years.
But, being a loyal Witness who wanted to do the right thing, I suppressed my thoughts on the matter of blood transfusions, and conformed to the WTS policies. I hoped that eventually there would come to be “new light” on the matter, the same as there was on organ transplants. When the Durable Power Of Attorney forms were starting to be promoted by the WTS, I was concerned about the implications of handing over my health decisions to someone else. I procrastinated on signing this form, even though my wife kept pushing me to do so.
In late 1998, my wife became more insistent that we sign the DPA forms, and had also started ordering things like “no-blood” key chains. I could not hold back any longer. I broke down and told her that I did not agree with the WTS views on blood. Needless to say, my wife was stunned! She then stopped me and refused to hear any reasons WHY I disagreed. I started a renewed effort to find information that I could share with her to explain my position. I went to the local hospital library to find information on blood fractions. In the medical journal database I found references to the AJWRB (Associated Jehovah’s Witnesses for Reform on Blood). Intrigued, I visited their website.
I had always tried to avoid what I thought were “apostate sites” before, but I could not view AJWRB as apostate. I was ecstatic that there were other JWs who felt the same as me on this issue! I read it all in amazement and found that I had already arrived at many of the conclusions presented. I sent Lee Elder an email expressing my support for the work that he was doing, and to send some information to a Circuit Overseer I knew. My wife found the letter I had sent on my computer, printed it out, and gave it to my elders. I was called in to a judicial hearing for the first time in my life.
Looking back, I guess I was rather naïve, and thought that my elders were there to help me. I quickly realized that wasn’t the case. The first order of business at the hearings was to make sure I had brought no recording devices. I thought this was strange that if the purpose were to protect MY privacy, why would I bring one? It became apparent that these hearings were more for interrogation than for helping the individual. It all boiled down to the question of whether I accepted that all of the current understandings of the WTS were “food at the proper time” from the “faithful and discreet slave”.
I pleaded that I could not agree to that idea, given the changeable nature of WTS doctrine. How could the ban on organ transplants be viewed as truth from God, only to later be dropped? I told them that I believed that this teaching was nothing more than someone’s personal opinion that got put into the WT for millions of trusting people to view as “absolute truth”. Incredibly, one of the elders actually said that blood transfusions were really a conscience matter anyway!
Amazingly, the Bible was not opened until after a decision was made. They used the Bible to try to accuse me of being a man trying to cause divisions. I protested that I had not been spreading my views around the congregation, indeed, the elders admitted that they did not feel that I was even trying to push my views on THEM. They replied that I could not be allowed to be in the congregation if in my mind I was supporting the AJWRB. They read some quotes from the elder’s manual that if a brother persists in believing something contrary to the current teachings of the organization, then he has committed apostasy, even if he does not spread his views publicly.
They told me that I was a spiritually dead branch that needed to be cut off. At the previous meeting with them, at my request for what I could do to show my repentance, they had suggested that I cancel my internet service provider, which I did immediately. I now reminded them that I had “cut off what was making me stumble”, to which I was told: “well, now we are cutting you off”. I was sentenced to be disfellowshipped.
I went home that night in a daze to tell my wife of the outcome. We were not expecting the worst to happen. I was given a week to appeal the decision, and finally decided I would. My wife was furious, and felt that an appeal was like slapping the elders in the face. But I knew that I could not let this happen to me without trying to do something to prevent it. The circuit overseer then handpicked three more elders from other cities.
Again, I was asked at the appeal hearing if I had any recording devices, which I did not. Again, I did not try to be argumentative, as I instinctively knew that if I argued with them I would be viewed as unrepentant. I did present some of my case that other doctrines had been changed in the past, and that we should follow the Bible over the words of men. They told me that in order to have unity, witnesses could not interpret the Bible for themselves.
I asked them if they believed that the ban on organ transplants was from God, or from man’s opinion. They replied that they were not there to change my mind, and I wasn’t there to change theirs. Disheartened, I realized that my fate was sealed even before they dismissed us to make their decision. I was pronounced disfellowshipped on Jan 11, 1999 on the basis that my beliefs “separate me from Jehovah’s Witnesses”.
My wife immediately distanced herself from me, and treated me with great distrust and suspicion. She refused to even hear the reasons why I had taken my stand. She told me that she could not stop viewing me as an enemy of God. She met with the elders without my presence, and would not tell me what counsel was given to her, for fear, she said, that I would just use it against the Society. She decided to leave me and obtain a separation. I was not allowed to reason with her. If I even brought out the Bible, she would run from the house with her hands over her ears.
In March, the stress finally overcame me, and I wound up in the hospital for a week with a severely painful case of meningitis and shingles. My parents finally came to see me. My mother immediately started condemning me, that I was “worse than an adulterer”, and demon-possessed, and “brainwashed by apostates”. She said that if my father had done what I did, she would leave him too. My father has admitted to me that he has noticed a “totalitarian” element in the Organization, and that he has had doubts himself, but “you don’t go and tell the elders!” Since then I have been cut off from my family and all my life-long friends, who believe they have no choice but to shun me.
Yes, this account portrays the sad results of myself and countless others who would dare to use “reason and free inquiry” within the Watchtower organization. Yet, even worse than the thousands of broken families, is the needless deaths of thousands of trusting Jehovah’s Witnesses who have loyally followed the deceptive medical policies of the Watchtower Society.
Wayne M. Rogers
Wayne Rogers served as the Public Affairs Director for AJWRB from 2000-2006. We hope to post an update to the story in the near future. His story, as well as others, well illustrate why members of AJWRB require anonymity to carry out their reform activities in the Watchtower Society.
That they [Jehovah’s Witness] must adhere absolutely to the decisions and scriptural understandings of the Society because God has given it this authority over his people. Watchtower, May 1, 1972, p. 272 [paraphrased]