Briar W. is a 22-year-old lesbian living in Johnson City, Tennessee with her partner. She grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness in a devoutly religious home. Jehovah’s Witnesses is a millenarian restorationist Christian denomination with nontrinitarian beliefs distinct from mainstream Christianity. Like many other denominations of Christianity, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe being gay is a sin and that all those with “homosexual desires” should repent.
Tell me a little bit about what a Jehovah’s Witness believes, what are some of their practices?
Jehovah’s Witnesses’ beliefs have a lot of parallels to other Christian practices, but there are quite a few stark differences. For one, Jehovah’s Witnesses reject the idea of the Holy Trinity: the idea that Jesus, Jehovah (God), and the Holy Spirit are one being. Rather, they view Jesus as the actual son of God, separate from God himself. It is taught that Jesus was not equal to Jehovah, but instead worshipped him, as Jesus was the lesser being. The “Holy Spirit” is not taught as being a person, but an active force of God. Jehovah’s Witnesses also reject the idea of an eternal hellfire, and instead insist the ultimate punishment is non-existence. They also believe that only 144,000 people will go to Heaven (they are called “the Anointed”), and that the “meek will inherit the Earth,” so rather than going to Heaven, the majority of people will be resurrected onto a “paradise Earth,” where there is no sickness, hunger, or pain to worship Jehovah for all eternity.
As for practices, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate holidays, because many (if not all of them) can be traced back to “Pagan” origins (Jehovah’s Witnesses tend to use the word “Pagan” very loosely, but it’s always negative). Jehovah’s Witnesses also refuse to practice the 4th of July, because patriotism is seen as morally wrong and looked down upon. Even birthdays are not to be celebrated, because it shows an “obsession with oneself” and the only thing in life you should be celebrating is Jehovah and the gifts he has given you. A practice Jehovah’s Witnesses are very well known for is the door-to-door preaching; these people are called “pioneers,” they are full-time evangelizers, and you typically have to go through years of training to be recognized as one.
The practice I despise the most though is disfellowshipping. Jehovah’s Witnesses strongly encourage that you only befriend and communicate with other Jehovah’s Witnesses, to the point that many, many of these people are only in regular contact with other Jehovah’s Witnesses. When a “brother or sister” commits a “grievous sin,” they are shunned. This shunning is known as disfellowshipping, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are not to interact with those who are disfellowshipped. While the accepted notion is that once a family member is disfellowshipped, normal family contact will continue outside of the Kingdom Hall (the church), but this is not usually the case. People will ignore their disfellowshipped spouse, parents will shun their disfellowshipped children, siblings will stop speaking with you. It’s horrible. Disfellowshipping is punishment via complete isolation. It also carries an unspoken blow of pride to the family, which leads to many families hiding and protecting their abusive, predatory family members. They claim you have to be “unrepentant” of your sins to be disfellowshipped, and that’s true, if you were a man. Women were usually immediately disfellowshipped, whether they were “repentant” or not. Finally, and probably the worst of all, those that do the shunning consider themselves the victims. The website even says, “Few things can hurt us more deeply than the pain we suffer when a relative or a close friend is expelled from the congregation for unrepentant sin.”( “How to Treat A Disfellowshipped Person.” Keep Yourselves in God’s Love. Jw.org )
How long were you a Jehovah’s Witness, and how devout were you?
I was born into a Jehovah’s Witness family. I used to carry a Bible with me at all times, and frequently had publications like the Watchtower on my person. (The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom is an illustrated religious magazine, published monthly by Jehovah’s Witnesses.) I also tended to preach at people a lot, it’s embarrassing to think about. So, it took me a long time to realize I was attracted to girls. I always had trouble accepting that same-sex couples were “an abomination.” I couldn’t see anything wrong with it, I didn’t see why it was a big deal, and I was advised to “examine the weakness in my heart” when I told an Elder (a head preacher) about these feelings. Over time, I was told again and again “it was normal to think girls were pretty, because they are,” and “that’s just how everyone feels around pretty girls.” I misconstrued these feelings for just “really looking up to her,” or “really wanting to be her friend,” and for a long time I thought I just wasn’t interested in anyone. I couldn’t imagine having a future with a man. This was encouraged by my mother and other Jehovah’s Witnesses, because they told me those who didn’t experience attraction could become even closer to God. I took this to heart and I think it drove me deeper under; feeling this way meant I was closer to God! Right? But when I was 15, at the latter part of my freshman year, I found out this girl at school had a crush on me. A note was passed to me, she told me she liked me, and then when I’d see her in the hallway I’d get really nervous and it wasn’t a negative thing. That’s when I went from “devout” to “desperate,” because I’d never even considered being with women in my life, and now that it was presented to me as an option I was forced to recognize this huge confliction between my feelings and beliefs. Plus, I’d been reading up on biology books, geography books, etc. Science made me feel more stable than God, so honestly this was a long time coming.
Are you religious in any way now?
Not really. I wasn’t at all by the time I was a Junior in high school. The most religious or spiritual thing I do now is just try to vibe with the universe or something. Go on walks outside, look at trees, collect rocks, try to better myself as a person.
Did you ever experience homophobia from your parents because of their beliefs?
Oh yes, once I told them. It started out with what I expected: my family members flipping back and forth between making snide comments and then oh so humbly offering me targeted literature about how to stay in Jehovah’s love and how to resist the temptations of Satan. It got significantly worse once I entered a committed relationship with my partner. They kicked me out, told me not to come back, and cut off contact with me for some time. Since then they’ve been speaking to me (I cannot be disfellowshipped because I was not baptized) but usually only for short amounts of time or for business. I don’t bring it up around any of them, at all. I can’t. For example, once, my mom asked me what I did the day before, and when I said I went to the park with my partner, she asked if I was trying to start a fight. My stepfather’s parents accused me of being a pedophile when they found out, that I must have “done something” to my younger sisters. I am forbidden from bringing my partner around my family and overall my relationship with them has been very strained since they can’t decide if they should treat me with hostility or pity. That being said, it’s not always completely bad, as long as I don’t talk about most aspects of my life or ambitions, we can hold a conversation.
What about from other Jehovah’s Witnesses?
Honestly, not really. I spent a while pulling myself away from them before I came out, so at that point the only Jehovah’s Witnesses I was in contact with was my immediate family or close family friends. I do know that other Witnesses know, but I never sought out what they have to say.
Thank you for reading! If you are interested in learning more about homophobia and Jehovah’s Witnesses, watch this anti-gay marriage advertisement from JW.org.