Changing the Watchtower: A Hopeless Task?

When reading various ex-Jehovah’s Witness forums you will often see comments like “I want to see the Tower come crumbling down” – referring to the religious publishing giant the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.

While its destruction may be a dream for many who have been severely damaged by the Watchtower’s policies, is it practical and useful for us to invest our energies in that task? Instead, wouldn’t it be more useful to use those energies to effect changes that will prevent others from being damaged? Or better yet, try to prevent others from ever joining the ranks of the Witnesses?

One example is the work being done by Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) to expose pedophilia within the Catholic Church. Without SNAP’s tenacious efforts it would have been nearly impossible for a few outspoken abuse victims to garner enough attention to create any meaningful change within the church. By banding together, however, their voice became bigger and louder. There are few stories in the media about this topic that won’t mention SNAP’s involvement in some way to gain attention to the pedophilia issue.

Change is happening within churches, and it’s happening because people are speaking out about damaging policies. In the Statesman Journal, writer Hank Arends recently wrote, “It is a historical truth that the influence of religion changes culture and, conversely, that culture changes religious organizations.” Likewise, scholar Phyllis Tickel, author of  The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why, often reflects on the 500 year cycles of church reform which she likens to a giant garage sale in which a lot of junk is tossed, but also that much treasure is uncovered. According to Tickel, we are now in the midst of one of these time periods.

Change has even been seen within the Watch Tower Society. It matters not that they do not give credit for this change to those bold victims who have spoken out over the years, instead, claiming their own enlightenment. At one time they required their Jehovah’s Witnesses to reject any kind of blood transfusions and organ transplants, and yet today they allow members to accept some blood fractions.[foot]The Watchtower, 2004, 04 6/15 pp. 29-31, [/foot] While that could mean fewer lost lives among the Witnesses, they do not allow members to donate blood on behalf of others, relying on the general public to generously provide the blood needed for those fractions.

Watchtower leaders have a long way to go in their thinking and rules on this topic. We still read about Witnesses who have been so confused by the Watchtower’s ever-fluctuating rules that they end up losing their lives for refusing a blood transfusion – or even allowed blood fractions.

Trying to get Watchtower policy changed is tantamount to turning the Titanic – it is slow and arduous work, but is possible. It’s often like taking “two steps forward and one step back.” In recent years the Witnesses have severely ramped up their rhetoric about “shunning” former members who refuse to return to their ranks, even going so far as to say they should not send emails to family members.[foot]The Watchtower, 2013, 1/15 pp. 12-16, [/foot]  When they do change one policy for the better, they often tighten their reins on others for fear of losing the fragile control they have over their membership.

Yes We CanThis is like a gang tackle in football. It will take efforts by everyone who wants to put an end to the damaging policies of the Watch Tower Society. While some actions may seem small things – signing petitions, mailing letters, talking with our friends and neighbors, sharing stories and articles via social media – those efforts will all add up. Advocates for Awareness of Watchtower Abuses (AAWA) is a group of volunteers who have banded together to try to effect changes in peaceful ways – lasting changes that will save lives and keep families together. Together, AAWA volunteers and supporters are making a difference.

“Anyone who thinks that they are too small to make a difference has never tried to fall asleep with a mosquito in the room.”
~ Christine Todd Whitman

Posted on by February 1, 2014

About Steph Le Gardener

I'm a former 4th generation JW who's been out since 1992, re-creating my world and family of the heart. I keep busy with my work for a not-for-profit organization which specializes in education for senior leadership in healthcare, as well as my many hobbies, including: gardening, crafting, nature photography, reading, and writing. For nearly eight years, I've been an active voice in the ex-JW community, supporting those who have found their way out of cult life, and now I add my voice with others as an active volunteer for Advocates of Awareness of Watchtower Abuses (AAWA). I can be reached at


Changing the Watchtower: A Hopeless Task? — 37 Comments

  1. I believe change WILL happen. The Watchtower society has created a kind of “VICTIM BLAME” environment! Those who leave the organization in most cases feel guilty destroyed emotionally are helpless and can have enough energy and confidence to help others.
    Those outside do not know what is happening within members of the religion (they have created a kind of a separate unnoticed society)!! CHANGE will be slow but it WILL happen. We may not see it but our children will see it. We need people to speak out!!!! I have tried it and it is working!!

    • I think that’s a hope many have–the crumbling of all the nasty high-control groups in the world. My take is that as long as there are humans and egos, they will continue to spring up. If we teach people to identify them quicker and avoid them altogether, hopefully, they’ll be short-lived and not wreak havoc on society. With all of us pulling in the same direction, it’ll happen.

  2. I agree. It’s safe not to hold your breath waiting on any of these wacky cults calling themselves a religion to crumble, they will just laugh at you and keep it moving. You can however chip away at them by implementing author David A. Reed’s suggestion (Blood On The Alter), attack their validity by challenging their claim of being God’s only channel of communication on earth. This is more effective and less exhaustive than arguing with family and other believers you know on blood, pedophilia, shunning and once you convince them or make them start to doubt the Watchtower, everything else will start to crumble in the mind of the individual.

  3. The Watchtower has changed a great deal since its inception, framing such changes as a greater understanding of God’s will or simply “new light”. This was one of the things that attracted me to the WT in the first place. Traditional religions seemed so rigid in their doctrine. After 38 years of their flickering light it has become clear that their changes have always been for their own benefit. Will the Watchtower continue to change? Let’s keep working so some of those changes will benefit those who are locked within its walls as well as those who have found their way out.

    • I’ve been thinking about this a lot these days too. I’d rather work for change than for destruction. Mainly though, it just boggles my mind why the society hasn’t reasoned out a way to make reporting sexual abuse mandatory. They did it with blood, it was confusing, even incomprehensible, but they put t through. The pedophilia issue is hurting them badly yet they aren’t changing. It seems self-destructive.

  4. I married a mormon and joined that church, then we both escaped after 18 years back in 1989. While a member, if someone left the church or even just stopped attending, it hurt. It felt like a painful breakup of a relationship. It even felt like a personal rejection. I am guessing it feels similar to JW’s when someone leaves their ranks. I am single now and have been in a JW study for 3 1/2 years. They found me just after I lost both my father and my beloved cat in death and was in a terrible state of mourning and greatly depressed. I had recently moved, knew only a couple of people and those two men at the door were so nice. One of them asked me if he could have his wife come see me and that was how it all started. I have some cousins who are members but didn’t know very much about it other than they didn’t do Christmas. I enjoy the study but find myself disagreeing with things like shunning, men not being able to have beards, women having to wear a hat in deference to the man if he is present during the study but not giving it, not taking communion, no birthdays (although the one giving me the study celebrated her wedding anniversary last month), no voting, the medical restricitons and, claiming they are the only true way of reaching God (just like the mormons). I am sure there are more. These things don’t seem Biblical to me. Last month I ran across this site and read about the pedophilia. I had no idea that was an issue in this church. My Witness friend told me the properties were being sold because the end is almost here and they are preparing for it, not that they had to pay lawsuits. That didn’t make any sense to me but I didn’t question her. She and the other woman who comes with her to my home are the nicest women I have ever met. I have done a few things with them other than the study but I am afraid if I stop the study I won’t ever see them again. I have gone to two meetings, one was the equivalent of Easter or perhaps Good Friday and the other was a weeknight meeting. I didn’t like either one. When the microphone was passed around I heard children saying things that sounded like they had been brainwashed – just like in the mormon church. Sometimes I feel like the adults sound the same way. I feel afraid – just like I did in the mormon church – thinking “What if they are right bit I can’t believe in it? What is going to happen to me? I don’t want to join the JW church and I feel like my friends think I am lost forever because I feel this way and they are still trying to convince me. Someone on this site referred to Raymond Franz’s book. I wonder if that book would make me feel better about not becoming a member. There is something so compelling about joining but there is also something very creepy and scary too. It brings back memories of how I felt when I left the mormon church all those years ago. I am afraid I would be repeating the same horrible experience I had before. If anyone has some advice or insight for me I would appreciate it. Thanks in advance.

    • My reply to Robin, please do yourself a favor and read Crisis of Conscience, one of the best books to open ones mind and heart to the real truth about the Watchtower. Also there are so many testimonies of former members which highlight the grave dangers of becoming a member of this cult. Yes the ones that call are lovely people, but sadly under the spell of delusion. Use your God given thinking ability to decern by objective reasoning and fact finding, the grave dangers of this cult. Don’t repeat your former mistake, take my life example if you wish, I spent 55 years as a Watchtower slave, and my advice is to run and don’t look back.

    • Hardy Schmidt thank you for your reply. I have tried to find the book on Kindle but I can’t and it looks like it is a very expensive book in hardback or paperback. One price I saw was over $600! What on earth could make it worth that much? I also tried to find it at my local library but they don’t have it. Maybe a bigger city’s library would have a copy. I have been looking at some anti Watch Tower websites. Some of them are so nasty that they are a turn off. Why are there so many churches? It is so confusing! It is hard to trust any of them. Maybe just studying the Bible on my own, by myself is the best choice. This whole thing makes my head hurt. I feel very discouraged.

    • Hi Robin, if you google Crisis of Conscience pdf format you will be able to download it for free. Also check websites like jwfacts. freeminds. jwstruggle, and jwsurvey, they have provided me with invaluable information andd support.

    • Thank you for your post, Robin. You are indeed correct that Mormonism and JWs are very similar–they’re both high-control groups. I have family in both. Your guts are telling you not to commit to them for a reason…trust those guts. “Crisis of Conscience” is a very eye-opening book told from the vantage point of a former member of the governing body of the Watch Tower Society. Like others, I highly recommend this read. Also, another book that will be very enlightening is Steven Hassan’s “Combatting Cult Mind Control.”

    • Steph, thank you for your reply. I read your story and find I have a little bit in common with you. I was abducted and raped by a stranger a long time ago when I was in the Air Force. I told my mother about it. I later found out from my cousin that she was blabbing to the world my personal private stuff to everybody without my consent, and to make matters worse, she embellished it. I confronted her and she told me me her version of my story was “juicier”. It happened 40 years ago and I still feel sick to my stomach when I think about what she said. I was never good enough for her and even my rape wasn’t good enough, or should I say bad enough for her. When I was younger this woman was very abusive and used to hit me so hard in my face that I would get a bloody nose about once a week. My step father seemed to be oblivious of what was going on even though she was also abusing his daughter, my step sister. Today is my mother’s 89th birthday. I called and talked to her and promised to come see her soon but I don’t want to. I have forgiven her, I am not holding a grudge and I feel something for her, I guess it is love. How can you not love your own mother? She tells outrageous lies to people about me and herself, I don’t enjoy being with her but I force myself to because at age 89, she might not be around much longer and I don’t want to have a cloud of guilt hanging over me for neglecting her. A friend went with me to visit her last year and told me she couldn’t stand the woman. My step sister will have nothing to do with her. Her own mother died when she was about 8 years old so it was probably worse for her than me. I wonder if there is a support group for people with nasty mothers. Or maybe that would be wallowing in the gunk and not be helpful at all. Anyway, I wanted you to know that while our stories are different, I understand how it feels to be betrayed by your own mother.

    • simple adivice in two words: Run away!! If they are not Elders, ask them if they know anything about Elder’s secret book “shepherd the flock of God”! Observe how they respond and run away before it too late!!

    • The husband of the woman who I have the Bible study with is an elder. I guess they must be aware of the secret book. This is so hard, I like this woman so much and I will miss her if I discontinue the Bible study. I am afraid she will ever go out to lunch or shopping with me ever again.

  5. Most of the time we have no idea the impact we are making. But people are reading and watching. One drip can be an annoyance. A waterfall made up of billions of drops is something to contend with. I am determined to be one drop in the waterfall.

  6. I have mixed feelings about this.

    First of all, the changes required are fundamental changes. Basically, this would required the organization to be a whole different one.

    Secondly, for an organization stating a mission to steer people towards God, the “wisdom” for such changes and reforms coming from human associations, who realize the problems rather than the organization itself, heavily compromizes the organization’s credibility. We wouldn’t read something like “in response to various association’s actions, we decided that …” in any Watchtower. It would always be presented as the organization’s own decisions, should there be any changes, and this lack of transparence would be just another problem.

    Although such an outcome is my most sincere wish, I cannot help but seeing challenges, an it raises some doubts and questions in my mind. But, maybe it would work.

    I think anything better and positive is worth wishing for, and acting for. Then time would tell how this turns out.

    • I agree that these changes will morph the organization into something different, however, they have been doing that for 100 years. I’d just like to see the next changes they make actually benefit their members, instead of harm them. It matters not to me if they claim it’s due to “new light,” just as long as they change for the better. Thanks for your thoughts, JB 🙂

  7. Does anyone have a current link to the Crisis of Conscience PDF file? I found one that gives a couple of chapters of the book but all the other links I have found so far do not work. I don’t mind paying something for it – but not hundreds of dollars for the hard back book. Thanks!

    • Hi Robin, I just typed in crisis of conscience pdf on google and at the very top of the search there is (pdf) Ray Franz, click that link and simply download file, I just tried it and it worked for me, got the complete book.

    • Hi stillshocked, if you google interview with an apostate hillfy54321 you will see my story. It isn’t extensive but gives a brief overview. Sometime in the future I hope to write a more detailed account.

  8. Great article! I always love to read your beautiful and eloquent writing. Change is possible, and it is slowly happening right before our eyes.

  9. I Really appreciate all of your work your doing a grand job of helping people who are in fear and trapped in this awful cult. Please do not ever give up!

  10. I was two weeks old when my mom started studying as a Jehovah Witness. Never celebrated anything. I got baptized in 1994. I’m inactive. My father beat me like a slave. He made me take all my clothes off until I was naked and began beating me at the age 17. After that I ran away from home. Now I’m confused…..can someone please tell me what to do. I got disfellowshiped for adultry. I wrote my letter to return but was denied because my chilren didn’t answer during the bibli study classes. … one talked to me until I moved out of state…..I just feel abused all way round

    • You have been abused all the way around. It saddens me to hear stories like this. Have you checked out the AAWA forum? Great folks in there. Also, if you’re on Facebook, check out the ex-Jehovah’s Witness Recovery Group. Lots of caring souls in there.

  11. I’ve escaped the JWs and want to share some positive thoughts. I’m now 48 years old. I questioned from the age of 14, and knew pretty much from age 30 that I wanted out, and finally left at age 39. Rather than hate everything about it, I am grateful for those “nice people” and good principles that I grew up with. The JW care-for-others way of life brought me my sister, who has left the church, along with my mother and I. My sister was a teenager in our congregation who needed care, and came into our lives (and my bedroom) when she was 16 and I was 9. We feel very sorry for my JW father, who has not only missed out on seeing our children grow up, he recently was not even invited to the wedding of my beautiful daughter, to whom he was very close in infancy. Having said all that – I do firmly believe JWs are a cult, with their constant mind control by always making sure you are too busy to have time for non-JW reading and non-JW associates. I would strongly advise anybody who is interested, to “run a country mile”, and those who have left, to focus on the good in their past instead of the bad. Life is a wonderful thing and I’m glad to have it these days.

  12. I wonder why those in charge are so compelled to keep members from having non-JW friends and read non-JW material. I had a similar experience in the Mormon church but not as extreme as this. My JW cousin told me she does not read anything but the Bible and JW publications, she said that is all she needs.. What is she afraid of? What are the people who run the church afraid of? If they sincere in believing that they have the truth, why do they need to control their people like that? It seems like you are not encouraged to think for yourself. The lady I study with told me I can not trust my own feelings when I told her a point of doctrine didn’t feel right to me. She said I need to trust Jehovah and ignore my feelings. But isn’t Jehovah the source of those feelings? She said I can be tricked by a demon. You could use that excuse for everything. I suppose since I feel I don’t want to go to meetings it is because of a demon controlling me. Very spooky and creepy!

  13. Forgetting all the right and wrong, scriptural or unscriptural teachings, hidden secrets or well known abuses, I just want to say this one thing. . .

    We sang a song at the Kingdom Hall called ‘Make the Truth Your Own.” It was actually one of the more emotive songs among all the songs we sung. There is a line in it that says, “the way of the Truth is the best way of living, no better way can there be found.”

    One doesn’t have to step away for too long to see whether or not this is true. I have been out for 12 years now. Since then my JW next door neighbor with a wife and child took his own life. One of the elders on my judicial committee that was my age as well as a good friend died mysteriously in his sleep. Another friend I was close to died from poor health, I believe because he was an incredibly heavy drinker.

    In the four times I have been back to the Kingdom Hall since my being disfellowshipped, it becomes more and more clear to me: these are not Jehovah’s happy people living in a spiritual paradise. I knew these people well for a period of 19 years. They are not thriving. They are miserable and they are dying. There is nothing at all that is drawing me back there. My life is so much more rich and full now. I am so much happier than I could have ever imagined. You can see this when you are with me and they know this too.

    Bringing down the Watchtower is not necessary. Exposure of the truth is all it will take. Remember when the International Bible Students stood in front of churches with placards that said, “Religion is a snare and a racket!” What greater trap has a religion set than the Watchtower with it’s disfellowshipping and shunning policy. Russell would be appalled today I believe. In any case, it most certainly is NOT the best way of living for anyone I personally know or have known.

  14. I would like to share my story of mental and emotional abuse in this ‘spiritual paradise’.My story is long and complicated, but I will try to give you a condensed review of it. It is a story I would like to proclaim from the rooftops.

    I am a fourth generation Witness whose father was an elder and presiding overseer. In my early 20’s I went to serve where the need is greater in Asia, had tremendous success, I helped about 20 people into the truth, 4 of whom became elders. All together my time in Asia comes to around 20 years.

    My troubles began mainly when I got married in the Lord. After showing the elders (on the instructions of the CO) love letters sent from a single elder (who was an MTS graduate and special pioneer) to my young brother-in-law, the elders dismissed the expressions of love and heartbreak and instead instructed me to get over whatever problems I had with the single elder, and to have no further contact with the CO regarding the matter. The CO was not impressed, and the end result was that the love letters were sent to the branch with a request to help the single elder, and the single elder then stood down as an elder and pioneer.

    Not long after this my wife and I had a disagreement and she ran away back to her parents. She contacted the elders, who then invited me to a reconciliation meeting. During the reconciliation meeting a committee meeting was started, resulting in me being stood down as a pioneer and publicly reproved, with my wife for unexplainable reasons being privately reproved. When the CO visited he called it a kangaroo court and advised me to appeal the decision. I met up a further three times with the elders, where prayers were again said each time, to try to sort this out, before I appealled. The end result was that the appeal committee found the issue was not a committee matter, my wife and I were given apologies by the elders and my discipline was rescinded.

    After that abuse I returned to Australia as a Regular Pioneer, only to be told by the elders in Oz that I would not be allowed to RP because I spoke negatively about the elders (no examples of what I said were offered). After a year I qualified to AP (the 2nd time in my life it had taken me a year to qualify to AP) and then some months later I was allowed to RP (previously it had taken another year to qualify to RP). So, I was regular pioneering, but I only got 839 hours that year, not the necessary 840. Well, the COBE and Secretary came to my front door and said they wanted me to quit pioneering cos I couldn’t get the hours, and when I said I would appeal they lost their temper and shouted at me, with my family inside the house hearing them. I appealled and was allowed to continue pioneering in a different congregation.

    After my son became a publisher and my wife had been AP every 2nd month for a couple of years in the new cong, we returned to Asia.

    In the area where I had spent so many years pioneering there were now 2 new Kingdom Halls ready to be dedicated. Old timers who I had pioneered with were invited from the US and neighbouring countries, and there I was, still an RP, in the area where I had been very fruitful. Well, guess what? My family was not invited to either dedications. I was the only RP not invited, my wife the only witness in her village not invited. This caused incredible loss of face for my wife. When I complained to an elder about it, he told me to get over it. When I met with the elder who arranged the invitations (let’s call him Des), together with the CO, Des admitted he didn’t invite us as he didn’t like us. He said we should have been invited but he purposely didn’t invite us.

    Well, my wife had had enough. She didn’t want to be a witness anymore, or a wife or a mother. So she got her father to kick us out of the family home and stopped coming to the meetings. Bro. Des blamed me, the elders in the local cong blamed me. My wife had no further contact with her son, not answering his calls, and because the spouse visa had ran out, my son and I returned to Australia. Not long afterwards my wife jumped into bed with a passerby, got pregnant and got disfellowshipped. Bro Des was the chairman of the committee, and he refused to inform me that she had been disfellowshipped.

    I wrote a letter of request to the body of elders in my congregation in Oz, where I am now, to find out when my wife got disfellowshipped. That was one and a half years ago. They tell me they have a letter (they received it about a year ago) but they won’t give it to me or tell me the date she got disfellowshipped. Why?

    The elder in charge of my group criticized me publicly from the stage the other day in front of my son.

    And back in the cong in Asia, my friend who has been seeking justice due to his elders lying to him, has just been informed by the CO after investigation that the letter the elders read to him telling him it came from the GB is really a forged letter the 3 elders put together.

    These experiences, and others I have left out are only part of what I have experienced. These experiences expose a culture of bullying that runs through our organization. Rather than a spirit of love, there is a spirit of bullying and oppression coming from our leadership.

    Before you contradict that, ask yourself:
    How many brothers do you know that have had to wait 1 year to qualify to AP? This happened to me twice.
    How many brothers have then had to wait one year to qualify to RP?
    How many brothers do you know have been in a judicial meeting and disciplined in error?
    How many brothers do you know who have been yelled at by the elders seeking to step him down because he got 839 RP hours?
    How many RP’s do you know who are not invited to the dedication of their local hall?
    How many brothers do you know who are not informed of their wife being disfellowshipped?
    And although I regularly attend meetings with my son, go preaching and do rv’s with him, prepare the study article and we answer at the meetings, not one elder has given commendation, saying “Well done”. How many brothers do you know like that?
    And yet, how many brothers do you know who have studied with 4 guys who have become elders?

    This abuse I have sustained for years from our ‘loving’ shepherds is what makes me fearful of what next the elders will do, probably targetting my son.

    True Christians were not only to do the preaching work. They are also supposed to love one another. How can we claim this organization has love? How can it be headed by a loving compassionate Jesus?

    I believe in Jehovah and Jesus and I love them. But I no longer believe this is God’s organization.

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