Lettera 43 – 26th December 2018
Journey among Jehovah’s Witnesses
Prohibitions. Including not celebrating Christmas and birthdays and not studying at university. But also fear of being isolated and ostracized. Three ex tell their experience.
Spreading “the good news of the kingdom” is the mission , Watchtower and Awake! the official journals . They are Jehovah’s Witnesses , an organization founded in Pennsylvania in 1870 by Charles Taze Russell , a former Presbyterian and then Adventist, who preached the imminent end of this world and the advent of Jehovah’s kingdom on earth. Hence their motto, taken from the book of the Apocalypse : “I stand at the door and knock”. Today, the organization has almost 8 and a half million followers in the world, for a total of over 120 thousand congregations . At least this is what results from the data provided by their official website, Jw.org , available in hundreds of languages. In Italy the organization has been present since 1903 and groups, again according to the site, 250,431 witnesses. The oldest congregation is in Pinerolo , in the Turin area, where, in 1908, the first community of Bible Students was formed , as Jehovah’s Witnesses were called at the time. Today, the Italian regions where the community is most present are Lombardy (over 37 thousand); Campania (over 27 thousand); Sicily (over 22 thousand).
A CONFESSION RECOGNIZED BY THE STATE
Jehovah’s Witnesses often ended up in the eye of the storm. Even the cinema has dedicated to this faith various films that denounce its rigid lifestyle and prohibitions. The last was Il Verdetto , a film that focuses on the debate between religious principles (Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse transfusions ) and the protection of the health of the faithful. But there have been others in the past: Apostasy (2017); The girl of the world (2016); Worlds Apart (2008); Knocking (2006). Despite the attacks , however, remember from their press office, this religious confession “has enjoyed legal recognition by the state for several decades. The Council of State, in its opinion favorable to the juridical recognition of the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (DPR 10/31/86, ed.), Stressed that this religious confession “has been working in Italy for many years without giving rise to surveys of sorts by the administration “».
But what are the hardest rules imposed by this confession? For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate Christmas because they claim that Jesus’ exact date of birth is not known, Easter , because they consider eggs and rabbits symbols of the pagan fertility festival and birthdays because they are associated with astrology, paganism and to polytheistic religions. Not only. Premarital relationships , adultery and abortion are condemned . But also blood transfusions , weapons, tobacco and alcohol abuse. The most critical of the Witnesses are among those who came out of it. The former describe a claustrophobic and castrating reality “a real psycho-sect that plagiarizes consciences “. Their experiences have been told in newspapers, on television or through books. They founded Facebook groups , websites and associations aimed at helping cult victims. In short, they do not hide.
THE J’ACCUSE OF MIRKO MELLACCA
This is the case of Mirko Mellacca , who wrote a book entitled Il Ricomincio from here: from the New World to a new world . Mirko is a former elder , the equivalent of the bishop for Catholics. “I was born in the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, in fact my parents became one when I was one year old,” says Mellacca. «Then I joined in all respects at the age of 15, with baptism». Although it makes clear, we can not say that the decision to associate is really voluntary because “the psychological pressure is a lot, especially for a boy who has parents, relatives and friends in the organization”.
The decision to abandon Jehovah Mellacca’s witnesses took her in 2008, when he had become an elder . His role, so important in the community , led him to get in touch with “special” organizational procedures that left him “very perplexed”. These situations, slowly, made him lose confidence in the organization. In particular he came across, he says, in three cases of pedophilia,that troubled him to such an extent that it unleashed a great internal conflict: “When I asked my superiors if we were to report abuses to authority, there was never an answer …”, he recalls. In one case the accused was even an elder of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who would have abused his 12-year-old sister-in-law. “On that occasion I did not sleep for a whole week,” continues Mellacca. «On the one hand I realized that the way in which the question was dealt with was not correct, on the other I was under significant pressurebecause I would have raised a fuss and faced consequences too ». This climate of tensions helped to determine its crisis. Mellacca was full of doubts, fought, but at first he did not decide to leave because he feared the ostracism of which he would be the victim.
THE VERDICT OF THE SHEPHERDS AND THE EXPULSION
Eventually the moment to leave came. But not by his will. Mirko was disfellowshipped and expelled for having had contacts within the community with a woman who was not his wife. “They were not real sexual relationships,” he explains to Lettera43.it , “but actions that I still consider wrong today. I confessed it because it was requested and I had to face eight hours of interrogation by the internal court . In the end they decided to expel me ». The judiciary committee of which he speaks is composed of pastors , the expression of Jehovah, meets behind closed doors and does not foresee that the accused has a defender. To get an idea of how the session takes place, just look at Marco Danieli’s The World Girl .
FOR 30 YEARS I BELIEVED IN A BUFFONATA
For about a month Mirko continued to attend Jehovah’s Witnesses’ meetings, but the expulsion had a high price: he was forced to arrive last and leave first, nobody could greet him and he, in turn, could not speak to the others. «Addressing a similar situation is particularly demanding, even from an emotional point of view», concludes Mirko. “So I asked myself whether I really wanted to come back or not, it was worth it. In the end, doing some research and analyzing sources other than those of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I realized that for 30 years I had believed a buffoon. ” Now Mellacca has changed life. From Salento he moved to Ravenna. “When I think back to my past, I seem to see another person. I was completely immersed in that world, the weekend was the most demanding moment of the week because I attended the meetings and I gave the speeches. Today, however, I can decide what to do ”
NOTHING CHRISTMAS, SCHOOL TRIPS AND UNIVERSITIES
Of total control of the life of the members also speaks Samuel Sammartano , escaped from his congregation for personal choice. Like Mellacca, he too was born in the organization having grandparents and parents as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Then, at about age 16, he was baptized. “Life, even if I did not realize it then, was very limited, ever since I was a teenager. They told me not to go to classmates, because they were “from the world”, they did not pray to our God and could be led astray by true worship, “explains Sammartano. “Then there are no birthdays, no Christmas presents, no Carnival. Everything was denied, even school tripsif they worked for several days. ” For each of these prohibitions there is a biblical motivation. For example, attending university is not allowed because it takes time away from preaching: it makes no sense to engage in an earthly activity, since this world is about to be destroyed. “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” reads the site , “believe that the environment of some universities or similar institutes hides moral and spiritual dangers. For this reason, many of them decide not to expose themselves or their children to an environment of this type, where among other things are often promoted erroneous ideas »
THE «SUBMISSION» OF THE WOMAN
The rules for women are even more restrictive . “Woman must be subjected to her husband, to the congregation, that is, to the elderly. He can not hold public speeches , he can not recite a prayer from the podium. The woman can not enjoy the privileges of men, she must carry on the family and obey her husband “, says the former witness of Jehovah. “He must wear the skirt , but always below the knee. If the door is shorter, the husband must take it back, because it creates scandal and can upset someone’s conscience. Cleavages or transparencies should also be avoided “.
«BRAINING THE BRAIN» AND HANDLING
Such a rigid environment was questioned by Sammartano. Until 2014 he was convinced he had voluntarily decided to join, but then realized he had been conditioned. Indeed, ” plagiarized». “Everyone associates, so you do it too, because you want to be part of the group,” he says. “If you do not, you feel excluded: it is a real brainwashing, a mental manipulation that is suffered from an early age”. Manipulation but Samuel was able to break through his research: “I discovered links between Russell, the founder of the movement, and masonry. If you go on YouTube, you will see a pyramid above Russell’s grave, with a cross inside a crown, sign of masonry. Moreover, the prophecies of Russell and his successors on the end of the world have turned out to be false, wrong. ” In addition to these findings, to influence him was reading the book Crisis of Conscience , of the Raymond Franz, a former member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “While in Europe the associates died in the concentration camps, in Australia the Watch Tower’s Americans had built a business on the Second World War,” Sammartano points out. “They sent their associates to work in the Australian munitions factories, to wash military uniforms, and so on.” As in the case of Mellacca, he was afraid of being marginalized. And being isolated, even from his family.
Faithful of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
To overflow the vase, the betrayal of his brother by the wife and nephew of an elder of the congregation. At the time of judgment, the internal court forgave the two traitors, so the brother had to keep his adulterous wife. “The elders have been very disappointed,” he admits, “because I have noticed that they are not the expression of God, but rather they decide with partiality, to keep their leadership in place”. And he adds: “if one of their family commits some mischief escapes because he has a saint in heaven. Instead the others always pay it ».
EXIT WITH A RECOMMENDED
So Sammartano decided not to go to the halls of the kingdom anymore and to not even answer the intercom. At the end he wrote a letter recommended to his congregation, declaring he did not want to leave. “They still made a phone call to ask if I was sure. But, seeing my resolve, they announced before the congregation that I was no longer a witness of Jehovah. ” The mother’s situation is different, since she has simply decided not to open the door again and not to go to the halls of the Kingdom, without ever writing a formal letter. “Frankly, I do not know how you look at it, maybe it’s inactive,” he says. “He never wanted to make his exit official, because he’s still 86 years old and my grandmother would make her ostracized.”
NO TO A TEENAGER
The case of Orietta Degaudenz is also significant. Also a witness from birth, during childhood she considered herself “superior to classmates” and “compent” and “snubbed”. But he suffered loneliness. “I would have liked to have more friends, but out of my prohibition and out of fear of displeasing Jehovah, and therefore dying during Armageddon , I avoided”, he says. L ‘ adolescencehe turned her into a rebellious girl, “at least inside the house” because in her congregation she was “an example” for all the young people. He forbade it all in his family: he often discussed with his mother for makeup, jeans, the music he listened to, the earrings, the hair, the nail polish on his nails, the film he was watching, the newspapers he secretly buys. “One evening we found ourselves at home to see Bingo bongo at home , a cinematic film by Celentano,” he recalls. “We were resumed as a group by the usual elderly, according to whom it was not a suitable film because at one point there was a hard scene, specifically a woman who nursed”. Orietta felt in a cage, the air was beginning to miss her. And so he decided to leave the organization.
These are just some of the stories that the escapees have in common. Many of them gather in groups on Facebook, or ask for help from associations like Quo vadis , former elder of Jehovah’s Witnesses Rocco Politi . The association is based in Modena and deals with morally supporting the victims of the ostracism of deviant alternative religious movements.
«THE FUORIUSES? THEY ARE NOT OSTILI, ANZI »
For their part, Jehovah’s Witnesses point out that “not all the exiles are hostile; on the contrary, hostile displaced persons are very few compared to the non-hostile leavers, yet they enjoy enormous visibility “and warn about the veracity of the stories:” The testimonies of the escapees must always be taken with the springs “. Religious ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses “nominated by the state have been celebrating marriages with civil effects for many years,” the press office said. “Our other ministers of worship give spiritual assistance to the detainees, with extraordinary results that have received various praises from the authorities”. Not only that: “The activity of evangelization and the more than 3,000 communities in Italy help thousands of people to abandon vices and harmful behavior such as smoking, drugs, gambling, family violence, vulgar language”.
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