Kicked out of the church

I didn’t even look back at my dad, waiting in the car, as I walked toward the Kingdom Hall to my dreaded Elders meeting. Anxiety was nestled in the top of my chest like a poisonous plant, a big brown pit burrowed in with tendrils stretching up to my throat, closing in. It was the kind of stress that brought physical pain, a lump swelling up in my throat and threatening to explode in a flood of uncontrollable sobs. I swallowed it back; time to face the wrath of the Elders.

On one hand, it was so unfair. I was restricted so tightly from experiencing adolescence that I was forced to snap. I had no other choice. It was either make myself fit in this little box the church had presented me with all of its rules and demands, or burst free with all of the hysterical, raging anger of a 17-year-old girl who was never allowed to grow up.

On the other hand, I knew that what I did was wrong. I lied. I led a double life. There were two Naomis – the one who dressed in modest skirts and didn’t talk to boys on the phone and knocked on people’s doors, asking if they would like to talk about Jehovah. Then there was the secret Naomi that very few knew of: the one who snuck out at night to make out with a boyfriend in a parked car; the one who filled juice bottles half full of vodka and drank them at church gatherings; the one who smoked weed in the parking lot during intermission of a full-day convention. The one who got caught having sex before marriage. That Naomi was now on trial.

The real Naomi was somewhere in between. I was raised with good morals and ethics, I had loving parents and I tried to be caring and generous. But I knew there was more to who I wanted to be than this. I was determined to be more than just another submissive Jehovah Witness wife, with no goals of my own to work toward.

Brother Shaffer held the door open, his brows furrowed into a disappointed scowl. I wasn’t going to let him shake me. I held my head as high as the tightening lump in my throat would let me and walked in. I followed him to the back room where Brother Hawkins, Brother Sherwood and Brother Wilshusen were all waiting for me.

Brother Sherwood was the kindest. He had always been one of the nicest Elders, very gentle and slow to speak. He began the meeting by reading a few scriptures regarding modesty and fornication. I did my best to nod at him, fighting the urge to roll my eyes and snort at the archaic, outdated scriptures. Don’t braid your hair, don’t adorn your body with jewelry, wives be submissive to your husbands, women are the weaker sex, and on and on. If he was trying to remind me why I wanted out of this religion so badly, he was doing a great job.

Brother Shaffer and Brother Hawkins were up next. They barely let me talk, tripping over each others words, practically salivating at the chance to tell me what a bad thing I did.

“Do you think anyone’s ever going to want you again?” I remember Brother Hawkins asking. “You won’t ever be able to get a good Jehovah Witness husband, once they find out what you’ve done.”

I didn’t even know how to respond to that one. The tendrils wrapped themselves tighter in my throat and I blinked back burning tears. I let his horrible words seep into my brain – he was right, nobody would ever want me.

“We know your mom has severe anxiety issues,” Brother Shaffer said to me. “If you were a better daughter, if you’d behaved, if you did what you were told, she wouldn’t be dealing with things like that.”

I could hardly fathom what he was trying to say. She was battling these issues because of ME? I started to get sick to my stomach. Was he right? Was I too much stress for her? The self-doubt and guilt were creeping up.

Back and forth the two went, hurling accusations at me: I was manipulative; a liar; a bad friend; a terrible daughter; a bad influence. I tried to wedge my defense in just to be shut down again and again by the big, old bullies of men who were volleying insults and abuse about me over the table at each other like it was some sick game. The room started to close in and I sank further and further into my chair,  grasping the table to stay upright. Finally, Brother Wilshusen spoke up for the first time, sighing and rolling his eyes, pulling me out of it. He just had one question, “Are you pregnant?” I answered indignantly, of course not. He was quiet for the rest of the meeting, staring at the wall.

Brother Shaffer asked if I was sorry. I said yes, I was sorry that I lied and I was sorry that I broke the rules. He asked if I would do it again, I said no. He asked if I would keep seeing my boyfriend, I said no. Things were looking okay, at this point. I thought I stood a chance to remain in the church, still able to talk to my friends and family. After all, I was a week away from turning 18, and then I could make my own decision to walk away, without the humiliation of having it broadcast from the stage of the church.

Then, they lost me. They said my best friend was a bad influence, that she and I caused each other to do bad things and that we couldn’t be friends anymore. They asked if I was willing to cut her off completely. I considered, briefly, lying and saying yes, but I’d had enough of that. I looked Brother Shaffer in the eye and gave him a firm “No. She’s my best friend.” They all looked at each other and Brother Hawkins cleared his throat. He excused me and said they would call me back in when they reached a decision.

I thought the meeting itself was long, but the wait outside was interminable. I fought the sobs from bubbling up by digging my fingernails into my palms. I chewed on the inside of my cheeks. I bit my lips so hard I drew blood. The door finally opened and they told me to come in.

“We’ve reached a unanimous decision, Naomi. Based on your answers and actions, we feel that you are a bad influence on the members of this congregation. You will be disfellowshipped immediately. It will be announced at next week’s meeting.”

Five days later, two days before my 18th birthday, I was publicly kicked out of my church. I was ostracized from everyone I knew. I lost my best friends; I lost my family. The only community I had ever known was gone. I felt it all as I sat in the first row, where my mom made me sit that Sunday. The final prayer was done, and the praying Elder, Brother Shaffer, asked if everyone would stay for one final announcement.

“Naomi Hagelund has been disfellowshipped.”

Gasps followed and all eyes turned to me. I left my bible sitting on the floor and I blindly got up, unable to see past the embarrassment and shame. I caught a few pitied glances out of the corner of my eye but I looked straight ahead as I beelined for the front door. I got in my little silver car, put it in first gear, and peeled the hell out of there, flipping off the Kingdom Hall as I finally let the sobs rack through my body. I let the humiliation and shame wash through me, and then what I felt gave me hope that I had made the right decision – I felt relief, and I felt free.

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20 thoughts on “Kicked out of the church

  1. zirrusv December 3, 2015 / 2:51 am

    And now look at you, tiger. Rowwrrr!
    You are a sweet and noble person. It’s sickening and sad how manipulative such patriarchal religions can be…. But you already knew that.

  2. Jane Haigh December 3, 2015 / 3:05 pm

    you are so brave. you should read the piece in the New Yorker by one of the Phelps clan of the Westboro Baptist Church of haters about how she dropped out of that church.

  3. Anthony December 3, 2015 / 4:34 pm

    Boy am I glad I was never baptized. I just don’t think I could have handled all of that warm, Christian love.

    I’ve been away from it going on 16 years. It’s fantastic. I hope it’s going well for you too.

    • Naomi Hagelund December 3, 2015 / 5:03 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Anthony. It’s been a lot of work to tear myself away from the religion completely, they get so deep into your head, but I think I’m finally done with all of that. I think the final push was getting this story out. I’m glad things are going well for you.

  4. Tim Drake December 3, 2015 / 5:36 pm

    Very well written. As a JW, I understand completely the scenario. Hell, I used to be one of those elders, until I myself woke up to the truth about the JW religion. If one is not afraid to seek the truth, one will find that JWs are nothing more than a mind control cult, just like Scientologists and Mormons. Steve Hassan writes extensively about cults in his book Combatting Cult Mind Control. Any JW, Scientologist or Mormon should read that book to see how these organizations use undue influence/mind control techniques to keep their adherents in line through fear, guilt and group intimidation tactics.

    Your experience describes very well the psychological consequences of being under the control of a totalitarian organization like the Witnesses. If you or any other Jehovah’s Witness would like to connect with others who can understand and support you, I recommend visiting sites such as http://www.jehovahs-witnesses.com or http://www.reddit.com/r/exjw. There you will find online communities that can help you understand the mental abuse you have suffered, and they can help you continue to free your mind of the damage the indoctrination leaves behind, even after you physically leave.

  5. Lizze December 3, 2015 / 6:44 pm

    Thanks for sharing Naomi, I think there are a lot of people (including myself) who can relate to making these large decisions about leaving worlds we hold as familiar, but worlds that were never ours to belong to in the first place. And that often leaves us feeling alien, but in the grand scheme of things there is an immense amount of weight lifted from our lives when we accept our own hearts. You’re courageous, and you painted the scene like I was there. Powerful. Keep sharing please 🙂

    • Caryl September 19, 2016 / 1:52 pm

      Yes, Lizze. She painted the scene perfectly! I was right there with her!

  6. fav December 3, 2015 / 7:32 pm

    I appreciate your story, thanks for sharing. I was also disfellowshipped and once the stress and anxiety of the process was gone, i felt incredibly free.

  7. Cesar ARguelles December 3, 2015 / 9:45 pm

    WOW, you are a very brave woman. God bless you. Stay well and live life to the fulles.

  8. Nancy December 3, 2015 / 9:50 pm

    Your story rings bells of truth and pain. Better yet it sends peals of joy in the fact that you survived, and you have flourished. Congratulations on becoming the real you!

  9. Natalie Forbis December 4, 2015 / 7:23 pm

    Welcome to freedom! I was kicked out years ago and I don’t look back. I was a teenager in the Kenai church as well.

  10. Patrice Gitter December 4, 2015 / 8:15 pm

    Naomi, You are a sweet and kind girl that just wanted to live like any normal 17 year old not being allowed to caused you to do things you might not have done
    . Most faiths have a confession system so that you can back on track on things you need to and do NOT tell you to leave or get rid of your friends or family! True forgiveness is not part of that particular faith so you did the right thing in moving on and I am glad that I consider you one of my adopted daughters.

  11. Aunt Jodie December 4, 2015 / 8:29 pm

    I am sorry for your pain. Your mother was also one who lead a double life as a young teenage Jehovah’s Witness. Then she became what is termed today as a “fader”until she eventually went back. I am a “fader.” I believe your Uncle Jimmy would also be called a “fader.” If my mother had been a different sort of mother all three of us would have been dragged before elders and disfellowshipped. I guess we were the lucky ones. My Uncle Kinney (your great uncle) was disfellowshipped for smoking. He wasn’t so lucky. I remember how odd I thought it was that we could no longer associate with my Uncle socially but it was acceptable to sit around my grandmother’s kitchen while she chain smoked. Decades later I learned about stock that the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society owned in Phillip Morris. There is a woman, Barbara Anderson, a Witness who was disfellowshipped because she went to the media about the policies and practices of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of covering up child abuse and child molestation.You can read about her work here: http://watchtowerdocuments.org/. I do wish parents raising children as Jehovah’s Witnesses would be less anxious to have their children baptized. After all, Jesus was 30 when he was baptized.

    • Caryl September 19, 2016 / 2:17 pm

      I’m certain now, more than ever, that it was the JW rules that broke down our family tree, Cousin! Breaking free (and letting go of the guilt) was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But, I figure it was worth all of the pain so my children & grandchildren would not have to be stuck in this cult!

  12. Gargamel December 5, 2015 / 8:39 am

    Thank you for sharing your story. I know personally the difficulties of having to leave the family home before feeling ready.
    The repercussions of those beliefs can linger for many years, until properly researched. I went through the worst of it before the internet was around.
    No-one had the satisfaction of disfellowshipping me, but that was only because I resisted the pressure to be baptised.
    I’m delighted to see that you are giving your inner world a voice – that is where the real healing lies.

  13. Arthur Baldwin December 7, 2015 / 10:00 am

    Hi Naomi, it’s Brant. Great writing. It sounds a little familiar as I was disfellowshipped and my sister was excommunicated from the LDS (Mormon) religion. Me because our Bishop brought me in for an interview at 14 and was asking some pretty personal questions and I called him a pervert. My sister was for leaving her abusive husband and refused to “repent”. Keep writing, it’s great.

  14. danman December 10, 2015 / 3:56 pm

    Evil and heartless men masquerading as loving shepherds. If there is a God in heaven, he has witnessed these self righteous men destroy lives for over 100 years now….they leave a legacy of pain and sorrow, I can only beseech that God to take not only remedial action but outright direct and unmistakable condemnation of their actions. So that the entire world of mankind clearly understands he had nothing to do with ‘the truth’.

    • Caryl September 19, 2016 / 2:26 pm

      Wow! Well said Danman! It took me years after leaving to realize that those loving shepherds were in fact heartless!

  15. Erika July 24, 2016 / 6:12 pm

    I just came across your article and I had to comment as your article resounded to me so much . My parents started studying the bible with JWs when I was 8, they got baptised When I was 12/13. Next came a few years of awkwardly adjusting to my parents new way of life . Things I had always celebrated like birthdays / Christmas were gone in an instant . I didn’t make much progress until I was about 17 my parents got someone to study the bible with me anyway I thought she was really cool and I liked her a lot and I must have been brainwashed for a while or entered an alternate universe because I got baptised when I was 18. But just like any normal teenage girl I met a boy I really liked , I started dating him, I fell in love and commited ” sexual immorality.” I was unrepentant and disfellowshipped. I still find it bizarre today , I am now 26. Why was I being punished for being a normal teenager ? Why does the WT teach young people it is wrong to have sexual desires ? That it’s wrong just to be a normal adolescent having fun experiencing life ?

    I miss my family so much . I have a little brother , when I was disfellowshipped when I was 19 he was only 9 years old . I had to move out and I basically have missed out on his childhood since then .

  16. Great Cousin Caryl September 19, 2016 / 2:47 pm

    Naomi, it took a lot of courage to leave behind every friend & family member you had ever known! You have separated & can breathe a huge sigh of relief knowing you DO have real friends and loving family members ‘out there’….if your name sake were still alive she’d be so proud & welcome you to her kitchen anytime!

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