TRIGGER WARNING: A fictional story about child abuse, mental health, suicide, and the bloody aftermath of mandated shunning within Jehovah’s Witnesses. Viewer discretion advised.
IT WAS SUNDAY MORNING. Jim woke at six and made his way to the bathroom. As he cleaned his teeth he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. Jim didn’t like to look at himself. He looked away in shame and finished brushing his teeth. Then he walked to the kitchen and poured a bowl of cornflakes. As he crunched away he thought of the day ahead. This Sunday would be Jim’s first spiritual day in a long time. He would read his Bible for a while, get showered and dressed up in his best Sunday suit, and then head down to his local Kingdom Hall. Jim was a Jehovah’s Witness. Or, at least, he used to be.
Jim arrived early at the Kingdom Hall carrying his Bible and iPad. Only a few of the brothers and sisters were there when he arrived. He went to his usual seat at the back of the hall and sat down, keeping himself to himself. One of the brothers approached him. He was wearing a badge that read “Attendant” and he looked the part. Towering over Jim he said in a cold, disconnected manner, “You can’t sit there yet. You have to wait outside.” Jim collected his things and left the hall, passing a few other brothers and sisters as they arrived. He walked to the far side of the car park and sat on the wall, staring into space thinking about how he got to this place in his life.
Jim had been raised a Jehovah’s Witness from birth. He’d accompanied his Witness parents to meetings from as early as he could remember. When he was only four years old he gave his first Bible reading from the platform. Jim was a good boy. Everybody loved Jim, some a little too much. When Jim was six years old one of the elders called Uncle Tom took him into the Kingdom Hall library to help him tidy the books up, only that’s not what happened. Things were done to Jim that day that would forever shape his life.
Growing up, Jim had temper tantrums. His parents put it down to him being a naughty boy. Jim’s dad hit him with a slipper and told him he would die at Armageddon if he didn’t behave. Jim’s mum read Bible stories to him before bedtime. Jim found the artwork in the books fascinating, and just a little bit scary—pictures of the ground opening up and swallowing people, even a little dog; fire raining down from the skies and burning people alive. These were the worldly people Jim’s parents hoped he would never become like.
In his teens, Jim’s tantrums turned into what the doctor called mood swings. Jim was given tablets to keep him stable. In time, people at the Kingdom Hall actually began to think of him as a spiritual young man. After he got baptised at fourteen years old he was given privileges like handing members of the audience a microphone so they could repeat what had just been said from the platform. This made Jim feel special, but there was a problem. Uncle Tom was still in the congregation.
Uncle Tom never spoke to Jim, but that changed when Jim was appointed as a ministerial servant. Jim was just 17 years old when Uncle Tom approached him and asked him to accompany him to the back room. Jim was scared, but he did as he was told. When he entered the room he saw there was another elder there. They asked him if he would like to be a ministerial servant. “Yes”, he said. Then Uncle Tom asked him a question. “Have you ever been involved in any form of child abuse?” Jim froze. Flashbacks! For a brief moment, he felt like breaking something, but he controlled himself. “No”, he said, “I haven’t”. The elders looked pleased. Uncle Tom looked relieved. They told him he was now a ministerial servant and it would be announced at the next Thursday night meeting. Until then, Jim had to keep his appointment secret, just like the other secret that he and Uncle Tom shared.
A few years later, Uncle Tom died. He was given a lovely sendoff by the congregation. The speaker said he was a faithful man, with many years of service under his belt. Everyone cried but comforted each other by saying Uncle Tom would be resurrected when paradise came. Not long now! Uncle Tom was a bit of a legend. All of the appointed men in the congregation attended his funeral, except Jim. Jim couldn’t bring himself to go. Jim felt angry. Why did Uncle Tom get to go to paradise?
Jim stopped taking his medication. He started getting depressed. He missed a few meetings and even one or two assignments he’d been given. Weeks turned into months. No meetings. No door-to-door preaching from Jim. After six months, a couple of elders came around to see him. They started by counselling him. As a ministerial servant, he had to set an example. Missing meetings wasn’t a good look. The elders asked Jim if he has anything he wanted to tell them. Was he committing a secret sin? Did he feel guilty? Was that why he was missing meetings?
Jim broke down in tears. He told the elders what had happened to him when he was six years old. They couldn’t believe what they were hearing. Uncle Tom was a legend. Everyone knew that! Surely Uncle Tom wouldn’t do that kind of thing, would he? Jim assured them he wasn’t lying, and that he still loved Jehovah, but they weren’t convinced. Uncle Tom had served faithfully for almost sixty years as an elder. Jim, on the other hand, was missing meetings. Jim was depressed. Jim had a mental health problem. Jim clearly didn’t have the holy spirit anymore. Jim was spiritually weak. The elders told Jim not to say anything about Uncle Tom. After all, he was dead, so what was the point?
Jim started going to meetings again, but every time he heard Uncle Tom’s name it made him feel ill. Brothers and sisters would speak of Uncle Tom in their comments. Jim became more and more depressed. After a few more months he was removed as a ministerial servant because he still wasn’t going on the ministry. Jim was inactive. Jim felt worthless. Jim felt guilty. Jim felt dirty.
At one meeting, an elder’s wife approached Jim and asked him what was wrong with him. “Why so sad?” she asked, “We’re the happiest people on the planet. Ours is the best life ever!” Jim told her what Uncle Tom had done to him when he was six years old. That evening seven other people found out about Uncle Tom, not from Jim, but from the elder’s wife. Then she told her husband. The next day Jim had a call from a couple of elders. “We don’t think you should be talking about things like this,” they said, “It upsets the brothers and sisters.” Jim felt frustrated, angry even. He didn’t stop talking about Uncle Tom, but no one believed him. Jim was off his meds. Jim was mentally ill.
Jim got so depressed one day that he tried to kill himself. After taking an overdose of pain meds he ended up in the hospital. He survived and was assigned a psychiatrist. Jim felt uncomfortable with this. His parents had always told him that worldly psychiatrists would try to turn him away from Jehovah, so Jim didn’t keep his appointments. Instead, Jim thought if he read his Bible more it might make him feel better, so he started reading a chapter every night. When he got to the New Testament he started to think God was speaking to him personally. He thought, “I must be anointed!” So at the next memorial, he partook of the bread and wine as it was passed around. There were lots of “oohs” and “ahhs” and after the meeting, a couple of elders asked him to go to the back room with them. Jim was nervous, but he did as he was told. The elders counselled him for partaking unworthily and told him he had to stop causing divisions in the congregation.
Jim carried on going to the meetings, but when anyone asked him why he looked so sad he told them about Uncle Tom. He had some more visits from the elders, telling him to keep his mouth shut. The things he was saying were bringing reproach on Jehovah’s name, but Jim wouldn’t shut up so in the end the elders disfellowshipped him. “Jim Black is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses,” they announced from the platform.
Jim’s parents stopped talking to him. Jim’s sister from out of town blocked him on Facebook. Everyone at the Kingdom Hall began to shun him. One day he was walking down the road and an old friend he knew from childhood crossed over to the other side to avoid making eye contact. Eventually, Jim became “worldly” just like those pictures in the books his mum used to read to him. He grew a beard. He started to drink to numb the pain of being a sinner. He made friends with worldly people. Then one day he became friends with Steve. Steve ran a shooting range. Steve showed Jim how to use a gun, and for the first time in his life Jim felt in control. Somehow, despite Jim’s history of poor mental health, he even managed to buy his own gun, licensed of course. Jim carried his gun everywhere he went, concealed under his jacket, just in case he had to defend himself. After all, he was in the world now, and the world was a scary place.
Then Jim’s mum died. His dad rang him for the first time in three years. He told him the funeral would be at the Kingdom Hall next Saturday. Jim was welcome to attend, but as a disfellowshipped person he would have to sit at the back, on the naughty chair. No one spoke to Jim that day. He went. He sat. He came home, motherless. But Jim had been dead for a long time. Dead to them. Dead to the Witnesses.
After a few months, Jim decided he would give “the truth” another go. It was Sunday morning. He dug out his old suit from the back of the wardrobe, and after downing a bowl of cornflakes walked to the Kingdom Hall carrying his Bible, his iPad, and his gun concealed under his jacket. Just in case. He arrived early. He walked in and sat in his usual chair at the back. “You can’t sit there yet. You have to wait outside”, said the attendant, flashing his badge. Jim collected his things and left the hall, passing a few other brothers and sisters as they arrived. He walked to the far side of the car park and sat on the wall, staring into space thinking about how he got to this place in his life.
The church clock over the road struck ten. Jim waited for five minutes before entering the Kingdom Hall like a ghost, unseen, or so they made him feel. The song and prayer had just ended. Jim sat down and listened to the public talk. It was all about how Jehovah’s Witnesses show true love. Jim started crying during the middle song. He went out into the toilet and sobbed his heart out. The attendants heard him, but did nothing to console him. Then he came back into the auditorium and listened to the study of The Watchtower. It was the same as he had remembered it. A brother read the paragraph. The study conductor asked a question. Someone in the audience put their hand up. A boy, no older than fourteen, handed them a microphone and they repeated what the paragraph said, except in their own words. Then someone answered about Uncle Tom, and how faithful he had been.
Twelve people died that day. “A nice organisational number,” was his last thought as Jim blew his brains out in the back room. It was the first mass shooting in that area. It made the papers and Jehovah’s Witnesses published it as Breaking News on their website. The brothers and sisters said Jim was disgruntled and “That’s what happens when you leave Jehovah”. It was tragic, but the twelve who died will get a resurrection. Along with Uncle Tom.