I most certainly cannot read your mind, and it’s likely that no one else on earth can either. However, if you happen to be seeking reinstatement into a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and are here on JWStruggle reading an article like this, then it becomes quite easy to guess what’s on your mind: You have begun to awaken to the serious problems within the Watchtower Organization and religion, and you are thinking about how to get reinstated so as to again have access to asleep JW family members and friends. We here at the Struggle “get it”, and you are not alone. In fact our good friend Londo (who wrote the article The Myths of Disfellowshipping) successfully gained reinstatement recently for that very reason, and his experience and impressions will be shared in a later portion of the article. To be sure though, the elders that sit in judgement when a person seeks reinstatement can’t read minds either. Nor can they read a person’s heart.
So to delve into the meat of this topic then, we first wonder how many brothers and sisters that have been shunned and cast out of a Jehovah’s Witness congregation are seeking reinstatement? How many thousands are currently right now seeking to regain their former status? A simple estimate can be made from published statistics which are freely available through Watchtower literature. These tell us:
• About 70,000 are disfellowshiped every year.
• About 1/3 of that number eventually gain their membership status back.
• This means that an estimated 23,000 individuals annually get reinstated.
One brother told me that he never would have done an internet search while he was in “good standing” in the congregation, but once he was disfellowshiped and hurting terribly he decided to do some keyword searches to see what had been hidden from him. After he typed in terms such as “Watchtower Society”, “Jehovah’s Witnesses”, etc. He quickly found links to two books: Crisis of Conscience by Raymond Franz, and Captives of a Concept by Don Cameron. (If you have not yet read these books do so as soon as possible, especially with regard to the former) They helped him immensely on his path to reinstatement, but also most importantly they helped him gain spiritual liberation from the Watchtower Society.
Again we seek to whittle this number down: So out of this 23,000 or so brothers and sisters there are a percentage that have mustered up the courage to search and research Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so have awakened to TTATT. They now know that the Watchtower leadership is a man-made organization and cannot possibly have God’s exclusive backing. They also know that JW.org is not the only website where they can get information on the activities and beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Honest, objective research is part of the key that will help a person unravel all the disparate ideas and thoughts in their head at this time. Go on the offensive if you have not already; study The Truth About The Truth as it is so imperative!
Let’s stop now for a moment and reflect on the plight these ones find themselves in. Their friends and family members are virtually dead to them. Their entire support system has been destroyed. Most are still mentally veiled (2 Corinthians 4:3-4) when it comes to the truth about our Lord Jesus and how HE is their true mediator, not the eight men of the Governing Body located in Patterson, New York. They have been tossed and thrown about like sheep without a shepherd and are hurting. (Matthew 9:36) In addition to this, month after month they attend Kingdom Hall meetings silently, arriving right when it starts, and leaving immediately afterward, and are ignored and treated as if they were invisible by virtually all the congregation members.
After many months or even a year or more they may meet with the elders, oftentimes only to be told that they need to “wait on Jehovah” even longer. They may be told that they need to “look more repentant” or that they have to accept their discipline, attend more meetings, etc. Or even worse, they may not receive a response at all for weeks and even months at a time because the elders get busy or simply forget about their request. This occurred on more than one occasion in the years I served as an elder. We would contact a previous judicial committee from the congregation that the disfellowshiped person had been from, and it might be weeks or more before they ever get back to us. In the meantime the disfellowshiped person is in mental agony, on pins and needles waiting to hear some news. Sometimes we had to call them again and remind them that they had not given us a decision yet, since WT policy states that only the original committee has the authority to reinstate a person even if they have moved to the other side of the country and attend meetings somewhere else. If all of the original three elders have died or are no longer serving as elders in that congregation, then three new elders are chosen by the elder body- ones that may not have ever even met the person seeking reinstatement. And they are the ones that decide if the person should be let back in or not, sight unseen!
Brother Londo experienced an entire gamut of feelings and frustrations in going through this long and ardous process. He was gracious enough to answer some questions I put to him about his experience and share his feelings and testimony of what it was like enduring this trial with us:
I used to believe the disfellowshiped had it easy…all they had to do was come and attend the meeting for a few months. How difficult is that? Well, it turns out: Very! What an utter lack of empathy I had back then.
After my appeal failed and the decision was made final, I attended one meeting, about a week before the announcement. The elders who were cruel and merciless in my judicial committee got up on stage and acted all lubby-dubby—this dichotomy made it difficult to bear their talks. I’ve fought with extreme social anxiety for years and I envisioned myself coming into this throng, week in and week out: a pariah, a leper, pondscum, all alone. I said to myself over and over, “I can’t do this.” I shook and sweated and trembled—it was a panic attack. So it was a long, long time before I could go back to that Hall.
Isaiah 32:2 says, “And each one must prove to be like a hiding place from the wind and a place of concealment from the rainstorm, like streams of water in a waterless country, like the shadow of a heavy crag in an exhausted land.”But these three men had exposed me to the elements and took away the very support system I needed most. They had hearts of steel and heads as thick as granite.
I had come to the elders for spiritual help and they destroyed my faith. I couldn’t even look at the Bible. I lived my judicial committee over and over again. At times, I thought about death. I sympathize with anyone who has PTSD, because I believe I had a mild form, for the experience left me with psychological trauma. Besides, I was a functional agnostic and could not in good conscience seek reinstatement, because my indoctrination said it would be for the “wrong reasons”.
It took me nine months to get back on the path to reinstatement. Once I learned the truth about the truth and had a burning desire to share what I knew, I no longer saw any hindrance. I had been deceived for many years, kept under mind control, and therefore, my path to reinstatement would be one of “theocratic warfare”. After all, I was repentant for what I had done…this is the reason I came to the elders and confessed in the first place. I could honestly say, “I repent!” With renewed faith and the Lord as my helper, I could face the challenge.
During the interim, I helped my ex-wife, who was also disfellowshiped, learn TTATT. She got reinstated soon after I started the process and she would on occasion attend meetings with me and that did much to ease some of the anxiety of entering into the Hall.
Being a disfellowshiped person entering and exiting the meeting is a production. Often I would sit in the parking lot and time things just right so I could come in during the song, and then I would leave during the final verse of the song. Sometimes I would sit in the lobby. It was very nerve-wracking and sometimes my anxiety got the better of me.
It needs to be understood there IS a minimum sentence that nearly all disfellowshiped persons must serve: a year. And it seems that to get reinstated, there is a minimum of six months of meeting attendance. It is not based on repentance. Nor is there any sort of “extra credit” or begging that can speed up the process. Circuit overseers have been known to berate a body of elders for letting a person in too soon and “making a mockery of the judicial system.”
It was encouraged for me to write a request for reinstatement every three months, but when I did, the elders were not in much of a hurry to respond. Unlike Ezekiel’s Celestial Chariot, the wheels of this bureaucracy move real slow.
The first time I sat down with the elders was mind boggling. They never once opened the Bible. I began to detail my repentance and I talked about the Prodigal Son, I talked the about need for a support system and about Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree and how all the shunning of the Pharisees hadn’t helped him repent, but all it took was for Jesus to sit down and eat with him, and he turned his life around. They said, “Understand, this is what we are told to do. You don’t have to agree with it. Just understand. Try again in three months.”
A month after my second letter and more prodding, they sat down with me. They said they noticed how downcast I was at the meetings and read Hebrews 12:12, 13. They said a repentant person was not like this. Basically, they said I was too sad to be repentant.
Finally, all three of them sat down with me and told me they decided it was time for reinstatement. The night before the announcement, they had another quick meeting before the book study, in which they reviewed what I had to do to get my “privileges” back and so forth.
But during the book study, they tapped me on the shoulder and had me come back in. They began to tell me that they noticed my ex-wife was sitting with me and since I’m still technically disfellowshiped that gave the wrong appearance. During the first reinstatement check-in, they thought that her sitting beside me was a good thing, now they tell me it was not. I told them I could move. They said, “Well, that ship has sailed. Some observed that the two of you were talking during the meeting.” I truthfully denied that. They said, “You need to be mindful of appearances!”
So I went back to my seat but moved one space down from my ex-wife. Five minutes later, they tapped me on the shoulder again and called me in back. They said, “Where does your ex-wife live?” I said, “With her mother.” They said, “Well her records just arrived and they have your address and we asked her where she lived before the meeting she said, ‘Off of so-and-so road’—you live off of so-and-so road!” I told them, “She obviously forgot to update her address from years back and she lives only five minutes away.” The three continued to interrogate me and I said, “Where is this coming from? Why are you doing this?” Eventually the line of questions came to an end and they told me that two of them would question her after the meeting, which they did.
I did get reinstated that night…but this type of interrogation showed me how unwelcome I was, how I would be under constant scrutiny. So I transferred to another congregation and began to attend there.
The cliché is that you can never go home again—and I feel that is very true. Those that were very close friends kept me at arm’s length. Rather than rejoicing that the Prodigal Son was back, they treated me as though I was still a leper. All the assurances that they would be there when I returned were shown to be a lie. When I finally got some honesty around this, my former best friend said, “You have a tainted legacy.”
At that point, I saw no need to attend the meetings any longer. I still associate with family, but the mindset between Christianity and the Watchtower theology are too huge of a gulf sometimes. Sometimes I can’t hold it in and say things that alarm my family. I haven’t told them I no longer attend meetings, but they seem to suspect. I try to be as honest as possible, but I don’t always reveal everything to them. To do so would be to say goodbye.
I have learned that talking to a JW about TTATT is like disarming a bomb. If you pull the wrong wire, it will explode. Once exploded, the bomb can never unexplode. It is a stressful thing to associate with JWs and I find it often exposes my heart to a lot of pain. It is a constant struggle.
As Steven Hassan says about high control groups, “There is no honorable way to walk away…” And he also details how records of past sins can be used to manipulate and control a person…there is never really any forgiveness or absolution because it is never forgiven or forgotten.
Many are able to move on with their lives and be able to forget this organization—and good for them. But I have to say: they are holding my family and former friends hostage in mind and heart. I don’t envision myself moving on until they are free. If a dictatorship were holding your loved ones hostage, would you not constantly research everything you could about this dictatorship, and try to find a way to free them? Would you not eagerly look for signs of that regime’s collapse, however false those signs might be, so you could have them back?
Reinstatement might treat some of the symptoms, but it is certainly not a cure. It is sort of like Frodo (From Tolkien’s book trilogy Lord of The Rings) returning to the Shire. He has gone through a life-changing, harrowing experience and to be really cured of his suffering and move on he has to leave his home forever and go to the Grey Havens, setting sail for a faraway land. Similarly, we may go “there and back again”, but our former spiritual home may not be able to contain nor comfort us ever again.
Christ will one day lead us Home and cure us of all the maladies of this life. In the meantime, we need to seek Him to be able to cope. He was betrayed by a close companion, his friends forsook him—so he has been there, he can identify.
Even if our friends betray us, forsake us, and break all bonds of fellowship, Christ will be our eternal Friend. He will be a “Light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”
-As related by Brother Londo
Part Two of this article will delve into the nuts and bolts of getting reinstated, giving as much practical advice on speeding up the process and successfully accomplishing it as possible. Also the article will delve into the anatomy of a reinstatement hearing. Points planned include:
• How and when to write a request for reinstatement
• Managing your expectations, as they are the key to keeping your calm and your sanity
• What to say, and what not to say to the elders
• What the elder’s handbook Shepherding The Flock tells elders to look for when gauging repentance
Additionally, highlights of a transcript from an actual reinstatement hearing will be shared, and the recorded audio will be posted on YouTube, including what the elders said in deliberation when the person was dismissed from the room. I am in contact with the sister that is currently enduring the reinstatement process with the hope of regaining a relationship with her family members. She has bravely decided to document this journey so as to protect herself and also to help others that are enduring this cruel, arbitrary process.
In the meantime, to close this consideration for now let’s pray for all the ones suffering at the hands of this harsh Watchtower policy:
Our God and Father we ask that you watch over those that have been cast out of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and are hurting. Please be with those that are suffering loneliness and feelings of abandonment. Perhaps they have lost faith or sinned in some way due to weakness. Forgive their lapses and reward their effort to regain normalcy. May they find comfort and solace in your loving care. Bless their efforts to move forward with their life no matter what obstacles they encounter.
Lord if they feel guided to seek reinstatement so they can see their grandchildren or siblings or other family members or friends give them the courage and the strength that they need to endure this trial and succeed. May we as fellow Strugglers give them our prayers and our positive words as “apples of gold in silver carvings” to aid them in their effort. We love you Lord and we thank you for your King and our Judge Christ Jesus.