4 Feb 2011

Jehovah's Witnesses practice of shunning reveals spiritual abuse in a religion of cruel rules

BBC News - UK January 24, 2011

Family ties cut for ex-Jehovah's Witness from Wells

A 24-year-old man has spoken of his sadness and frustration leaving the Jehovah's Witness which has resulted in him losing all contact with his family.

Nathan said he struggled to be cut off from his family

When Nathan Phillips decided to leave he was told by the elders that he would be disfellowshipped immediately.

He said: "It does make me feel very angry, not with the people so much and not with mum but the way the religion works."

The elders in Wells and his family have refused to comment about the issue.

Smoking and drinking

Nathan was disfellowshipped by the Jehovah's Witness in May 2009. Prior to this, he had stopped attending meetings for six months because he had stopped believing in the faith.

"My beliefs had changed; my views had changed - it just wasn't for me."

He had also taken up smoking and drinking.

Smoking goes against the rulings of the faith and although drinking alcohol is permitted, it is only allowed in moderation.

Each congregation of the Jehovah's Witness has a group of elders who are regarded as spiritually mature and are responsible for leading the congregation.

"I was called into a judicial committee of three elders.

"They sit in front of you like a panel and asked me questions to see if I had been smoking or drinking - basically they sent me out the room and when I came back in they said they'd decided to disfellowship me.

"Obviously I did explain to them about the impact this would have on my family but none of that was taken into consideration.

"It was a shock to begin with, and I hoped it would turn itself around, but they believe it so much I don't think it ever will."'

Upside down'

Nathan was brought up in the Jehovah's Witness faith and had been baptised at the age of 15.

After being disfellowshipped, all contact with his friends and his mother's side of the family ceased despite his efforts to stay in contact with them.

"It's turned my life upside down really. It's like losing your mum in a way because I have no contact at all.

"It affected my work and it took me quite a few months to get back on track but I've kind of got my head around the fact that's what it's going to be."

Now Nathan hopes to shed light about the religion.

"There's a lot of nice people in the witnesses, I'd never bad mouth them. Jehovah's Witnesses are very well-known for knocking on people's doors and for speaking to people out in the streets and they always come across as being very nice people.

"But what people don't realise is this part of it [disfellowshipping process] and how it goes on behind closed doors."

Wrong reasons

Nathan said he did not believe the situation would change and recently met with the elders.

"About three months ago I arranged a meeting with the judicial committee again and pleaded with them really that I was finding it very hard and thought that I could cope with it but couldn't and they said the only thing I could do was come back.

"Again I explained to them I was coming back for the wrong reasons and the only reason I wanted to come back was to be able to see my family but they said there was nothing they could do."

BBC Somerset asked his mother and family for a comment but they refused, as did the elders in Wells.

A spokesman for the Jehovah's Witness headquarters in London said Nathan's situation was a "private matter" between him and his mother.

This article was found at:



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  1. Amish Beard Cutting Case: Shunning In Religious Community Is Central To Hate Crime Trial

    By JOHN SEEWER, Huffington Post September 15, 2012

    CLEVELAND -- In the stern, self-regulating world of the Amish, those who act out time and again by wearing the wrong clothing, going to movies or otherwise flouting the church's doctrine can find themselves utterly alone.

    Fellow Amish in rare instances won't break bread with them at the same table, won't work with them and won't worship with them under the religion's centuries-old practice of shunning. In stricter settlements, shunning can break apart families, cutting off all contact between parents and their children.

    Saloma Furlong was shunned, or ex-communicated, after she left her church the first time over a family issue, and she was barred from attending her cousin's wedding after she returned home. "It was a very lonely two weeks," said Furlong, who eventually left behind her home in northeast Ohio for good and was permanently shunned.

    The Amish take the tradition so seriously that most churches won't accept someone who has been shunned until they make it right with those who've disciplined them.

    At the root of Amish hair-cutting attacks in Ohio and the federal hate crime trial that followed, prosecutors say, was a dispute over religious differences and a decision by Amish bishops to overrule the leader of a breakaway group who had shunned his former followers. Amish scholars say taking away a bishop's edict was unheard of and stunned communities far and wide.

    Six years ago, about 300 Amish bishops gathered in Pennsylvania to discuss the group's leader, Sam Mullet Sr., who had ordered the shunning of families that left his settlement near the West Virginia panhandle.

    Mullet had come to the attention of the bishops because, according to witnesses at his trial, there were concerns he was brain-washing community members. Prosecutors would later say he forced men to sleep in chicken coops as punishment, and one woman testified that Mullet coerced women at his settlement into having sex with him so he could turn them into better wives.

    The bishops eventually vetoed Mullet's shunning of the others, infuriating him to the point that he sought revenge last fall in a series of five hair-cutting attacks, prosecutors say.

    They charged Mullet and 15 of his followers with hate crimes because they contend they acted over religious differences and targeted the hair and beards of the Amish because of its spiritual significance in the faith. All could face lengthy prison terms if convicted on the charges that also include conspiracy and obstructing justice.

    Jurors began deliberating in the trial Thursday morning.

    None of the defendants has denied that the hair-cuttings took place, but Mullet has insisted that he didn't plan what happened. In an interview last fall, he defended what he thinks is his right to punish people who break church laws.

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  2. continued from previous comment...

    Shunning – also known as avoidance _is a rare happening in the Amish community. While outsiders might view it as punishment, the Amish consider it an act of love to help those who have strayed from their beliefs.

    Each individual church decides when to shun others and what kind of punishment they face. "It's not like there's a rulebook," said Steve Nolt, a history professor at Goshen College in Indiana.

    Only baptized church members can be shunned. And it almost always starts with a warning to stop breaking church rules – whether it's to quit drinking or stop talking on the telephone – and weeks or months of discussion.

    "Shunning is something the individual does to themselves," said Karen Johnson-Weiner, a professor at the State University of New York in Potsdam who has written extensively about the Amish. "It's community-wide tough love."

    There also has to be agreement within the congregation, but the bishop has the most influence in revoking someone's church membership.

    "That's a hard thing for a bishop to do," said Andy Hershberger, who testified in the trial that Mullet's son was among a group that cut his father's hair last fall. His father was one of the bishops who overruled Mullet's shunning order.

    Furlong, who left her home church for good after a dispute with a bishop, said shunning gives Amish leaders too much control. "They can use it like a hammer," she said.

    Because the Amish identify so closely with their faith, being shunned and faced with the loss of their salvation is extremely painful.

    "It's such an intense thing. Nobody can really explain it," said Furlong, who wrote a book called "Why I Left the Amish" in 2011. "That's a pretty tough thing to reckon with."

    Matthew Schrock, who left Holmes County's Amish community in Ohio during the mid-1990s, wasn't formally shunned, but no one would hire him because he was fighting with his father, who was the bishop. "There were a lot of people who wouldn't talk to me," he said. "No one was willing to risk the appearance of them siding with me."

    Shunning has its roots in biblical teachings and is used in some Mennonite churches as well. Jehovah's Witnesses also practice a form of shunning. But it's essential to Amish beliefs.

    "They want the person to see their error," Schrock said. "But under that, I think, is this desire to maintain the integrity of the group."


  3. The Silence of Shunning: A Conversation with Kipling William

    Shunning is an act of control and aggression, with powerful consequences.

    by Janice Harper, Ph.D. in Beyond Bullying Psychology Today September 4, 2013

    I’ve written a number of pieces about mobbing, which is group bullying against an individual. Yet one of the most painful aspects of mobbing may be the least discussed—the deliberate ostracizing and shunning of a person who was once a member of the group. In the workplace, ostracizing a coworker means excluding them from the social events, work activities, committees and decision-making that make work meaningful and provide the resources and opportunities necessary to succeed. Shunning a worker goes a step further, to ignoring the worker’s very presence, and sometimes even their efforts to simply speak.

    In families a family member may be shunned or ostracized by a single person—the angry spouse, parent or child who refuses to speak or engage with them—or they may be shunned by the entire family—something that happens to many gay children when they come out, or can happen to a family member who leaves the family religion or political affiliation or marries the wrong person. Some religions—such as Scientologists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and even the Amish—have formal policies to shun those who question or leave the religion. And in communities a person or whole family can be shunned for having the wrong skin color, supporting the wrong political candidate, or painting their front door the wrong shade of yellow. In short, shunning is a common practice that many people have suffered or perpetuated, yet it is surprising how little attention has been paid to this ubiquitous form of aggression.

    One person who has paid attention is Purdue psychologist Kipling Williams. In his book, Ostracism: The Power of Silence (The Guilford Press, 2001), Williams suggests that shunning and ostracism are particularly prevalent in the workplace when a worker has reported wrongdoing, because it is more difficult to prove retaliation when the aggressive act is a non-act. Yet the power of that non-action to wound a worker is profound, as Williams’ research has shown.

    Williams has studied ostracism for decades, and has created a game of cyber-ball, in which research participants sit at a computer and toss a ball back and forth with unknown players. When the ball is no longer tossed to them, and they can no longer interact with the unknown players, the results have been remarkably consistent—within minutes of being excluded from the game, feelings of control, belonging, self-esteem and meaningful existence are reduced. This sense of loss holds true across all personality types, and is even found when participants know it is a computer they are playing against, and not a real person (something most anyone can relate to if they have tried getting Siri, the automated personal assistant, to pay attention to what they are saying).

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  4. In a recent conversation I posed several questions to Professor Williams, and his answers illuminate just how challenging it is to control the human proclivity to shun as a form of punishment. “I think that when people read the literature, they become a little bit more aware. They’ll say, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize that that sort of thing could have severe consequences.’ . . . But I don’t think that you can eliminate it. On the other side of this same coin, if somebody knows how powerful it is, and they want to hurt somebody, knowing how powerful it is motivates them to do it. . . Letting people know how bad it hurts doesn’t just get rid of it.”

    So just how bad is shunning and ostracism? Williams has found that people who are ostracized suffer deeply, including the obvious loss of self-esteem and depression, but also including physiological symptoms such as ulcers, suppression of the immune system, anxiety, psychosis (in prolonged isolation, such as prisoners kept in solitary confinement), and a loss of feeling valued or having any meaningful existence. But perhaps more troubling is the rage that is associated with being ostracized.

    People who are ostracized may not initially realize what is happening, only having a vague sense that something is wrong, that maybe people are mad at them, and they are often unsure of their perceptions and wonder if they are imaging it. But once it is undeniable that they are being shunned, their pain first intensifies, then turns to anger and rage. People feel rage when they have lost all sense of control, and no one will intervene to help them, while going to great lengths to keep the person excluded and deprived of control. Moreover, the human need for inclusion and recognition is so great, that when a person has lost all sense of control over their social environment through shunning, they may resort to anti-social acts of aggression just to regain it. And so I asked Williams if shunning someone for bullying behaviors might have the unintended consequences of escalating their aggression.

    “They might become retaliatory to get a response. They might escalate what they’re doing just to get someone’s acknowledgment, even if it’s a negative response. We can see that with a lot of the interviews we do; when people get the silent treatment from their partners it can lead to violence. Basically they don’t even care if their partner doesn’t like them, because what they’re doing is trying to get their partner to notice them. So they’ll keep poking and jabbing them or throwing things or saying things more and more hurtful just to get them to say something.”

    Yet the targets of workplace ostracism are not necessarily “bullies;” if anything, ostracism is itself a form of bullying. “One of the advantages to bullying through ostracism is that it’s a non-behavior and it’s harder to get in trouble for not doing something . . . It’s certainly a more disguised form of aggression.”

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  5. What, then, can management do to prevent workers from being ostracized, if it increases the suffering of the target, and increases their potential for rage or violence? Williams points to whistleblowers as people who are almost always shunned, with up to one hundred percent of respondents who have engaged in whistleblowing experiencing shunning as a result. “It’s interesting but one of the rules about how institutions react to whistleblowers,” he says, “is they aren’t allowed to relocate them, or they can be sued. But in some ways, I think it could be more humane to be moved to another unit. Of course, being relocated can have a stigma, but I think it’s very difficult to maintain your productivity [when being ostracized] without some distance.”

    He continues, “I think that if upper management is aware of the powerful effect of ostracism in the workplace and elsewhere, when someone makes the complaint, then they might intervene and do something about it, make a change, bring people together, arbitrate, mediate, whatever. . . if management is aware that it is painful and hurtful and has these psychological and physiological, emotional and behavioral effects, they might use other intervention strategies, and suggest to people who are having conflicts, that that’s not a way to deal with it. You need to talk it out. You need to see that person’s perspective, and to see that this is not a good option, this is not a healthy option. If managers knew this, they might be more proactive and come up with alternatives.”

    Yet management is often at the helm of ostracism, encouraging it in order to force an employee out. Indeed, Williams recognizes the human proclivity to ostracize as a way to enforce order and maintain control over subordinates. “Anthropologically this has been done for eons; burdensome members of groups are ostracized. And it’s that threat of ostracism that everybody knows about that keeps people in tow, and is the glue of civilization, so it’s functional. But almost everything that’s functional can be abused. There are times that somebody is so obstructive and burdensome that ostracism is an answer. I would prefer sort of an explicit form of ostracism, where the person is told what’s going to happen, rather than it just sort of happens without explanation.”

    On the other hand, targets of workplace mobbing well know that a worker need not be obstructive or burdensome to feel the full force of shunning; indeed, I would argue that most workplace shunning is aimed not at the worker who has been the most disruptive or aggressive, but at the worker who has most displeased management—often for valid reasons, such as reporting misconduct or expressing an unpopular view. In these cases, the natural response of the target to feel anguish followed by anger, may lead otherwise peaceful and mentally stable people to appear anything but peaceful or mentally stable. Indeed, shunning is a form of “crazy-making,” which so damages the target that it can take years to recover and rebuild a social and professional life.

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  6. What, then, can targets do? In addition to the obvious suggestions of find social support elsewhere, get a pet or bond with the one you do have, and remind yourself of your strengths, Williams points to an unexpected action: become decisive. By becoming decisive in small matters outside the shunning environment, such as choosing which movie to go to with your partner, targets feel a small sense of control. The more a person who is ostracized takes control of their life in small matters, the more confident they will feel in their social world.

    “There are many ways to get a sense of control. One is to become aggressive and violent, but that’s not a very good way to be in control. But you can gain control through being decisive and directing your course through knowing what you’re going to do and what’s going to be helpful to you.”

    But the most important thing is to maintain bonds with people. “Social support, I think, is probably the number one thing; you don’t need to have a ton of friends . . . what you really need is one or two people. . . just form strong social bonds somewhere and then you can distance yourself [from the ostracizers] a little bit, think of the workplace as a sociological experience . . . it distances you a little bit from the pain and allows you to be more analytical about it. . . it’s not going to get rid of the ostracism; it’s still going to be awful to be around them at work, but it gives you something to look forward to.”

    And that’s something that targets of shunning need to remember. No matter how awful it is, there is always something to look forward to, and that is the world beyond the ostracizers. Make no mistake, shunning is not a noble act. It is an act of aggression, and can be every bit as damaging, if not deadly, to the person who is targeted—and it damages those who engage in shunning, because the longer they maintain it, the harder it is to end it. So if you’ve been a member of the crowd shunning a person who failed to please your leader, rethink your “non-actions” and reach out to the person you’ve erased and are so painfully hurting. And if you are a person who has been shunned, don’t turn to your ostracizers for approval. Move on to a kinder, gentler environment, where you are valued, and treated with the humanity you deserve.

    Notice to readers: I recently released a new, 216 page ebook on Amazon called “Mobbed! A Survival Guide to Adult Bullying and Mobbing.” In addition to discussing shunning, it features several chapters on what you can do to control and cope with mobbing, as well as a detailed look at how and why mobbing happens. You can get it here: http://www.amazon.com/Mobbed-Survival-Bullying-Mobbing-ebook/dp/B...

    Janice Harper, Ph.D., is a cultural anthropologist specializing in conflict and organizational cultures.


  7. Plaster Rock on edge over allegations about Family Worship Center

    Former church member says he's had a strong reaction to online posts about local church

    By Redmond Shannon, CBC News February 01, 2016

    The Family Worship Center church in Plaster Rock is the focus of allegations posted on social media by a former congregation member.

    Many of the stories, posted by Trevor Argue, talk about the deterioration of family relationships when people join or leave the church.

    Argue alleges church leadership uses its influence with congregation members to have them shun family members who are not also members of the church, and in particular, family members who were previously members of the church and left.

    Argue says he began writing long posts on Facebook last fall after former members of the church reached out to him with their stories.

    "I, once, was in their shoes and I know the pain and I know the suffering that happens," said Argue.

    Argue has long been a critic of the leadership at the Family Worship Center; Pastor Daniel McKillop, and his father, former pastor Dana McKillop.

    Argue and his father, Fletcher, left the church 16 years ago, a move that split them from their family that remained with the church.

    Trevor and his father later sued church leaders and say they reached an undisclosed settlement out of court.

    Argue, who now lives in Alberta, says he's had a huge reaction since he began writing the posts.

    "The support and the outcry has been overwhelming. It's been a lot more than I had ever anticipated that it ever would be," said Argue.

    "I've had thousands and thousands of people respond to the posts," he said.

    One of Argue's posts refers to a young male member of the church who was attending university. It alleges that Pastor Daniel McKillop regularly criticized him and other university students from the pulpit for choosing to pursue a secular education. The man has confirmed this account to CBC News.

    Eventually the young man and his girlfriend left the church together. He has told CBC News he continues to have a "very strained relationship" with his family members who remain in the church. CBC News is respecting the man's wish for anonymity.

    Part of Argue's post said: "No matter how much this family believed in their preacher, and had put their everything behind him and his family, assaulting the integrity of their son broke their hearts. For the next little while they wrestled with trusting Danny McKillop, and their son."

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  8. Small town on edge

    Patty Albert, a Plaster Rock resident, is one of those who responded to the Facebook posts.

    She organized a protest outside the church on Sunday, Dec. 13. Around 30 people attended, holding signs, saying "stop the abuse" and "family comes first."

    "When Trevor started talking about it and the way it came down to families being split up, I couldn't imagine that with my children," said Albert.

    "There's things going on, things that went on, that should have been brought to light a long time ago," she said.

    Graham Eagles, a former mayor of Plaster Rock, also read the Facebook posts and attended the protest

    "I would like to see those allegations addressed. I don't understand why these people are not speaking out in defence of themselves," said Eagles.

    "Not only for themselves but for the community. The community's on edge," he said.

    Pastor Daniel McKillop of the Family Worship Center declined to be interviewed by CBC News, but provided an email statement on Sunday.

    "The Family Worship Center is a meeting place where our congregation of over 400 members, assemble to celebrate and listen to the word of God. For more than 85 years, we have promoted the unchanging message of the power of God's love and forgiveness, while simultaneously encouraging continued assistance to the communities where we serve," said McKillop.

    "We are respectful of our collective right to diversity of thought and beliefs, and we are committed to making active contributions to support our communities and our fellow residents — with a goal that family relationships be strengthened both within and without our local congregation."

    The Family Worship Center, formerly known as the Apostolic Pentecostal Church, has two other churches, in Grand Falls and Presque Isle, Me.

    United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) says the Family Worship Center was once affiliated with UPCI.

    In a statement to CBC News a spokesperson said "sometime prior to 1980, however, that church left the UPCI of its own accord."

    UPCI says it has no information relating to the allegations made in Argue's Facebook posts.


  9. Man says impact of brainwashing remains 3 years after leaving Plaster Rock church

    Greg Comeau says his family has been split since he and his wife left the church and a daughter remained

    By Redmond Shannon, CBC News February 03, 2016

    Greg Comeau left the Family Worship Center church in Plaster Rock three years ago and he says he experienced what he considers "brainwashing" that still impacts his life today.

    "Even still today, my wife and I will look at each other in amazement and say to one another, 'Can you believe we did this? Can you believe that we left?'" said Comeau, who now lives in Dieppe.

    "You have to understand the stronghold that brainwashing has on people."

    The church is at the centre of allegations that its leadership is using its influence with congregation members to have them shun family members who are not also members of the church, and in particular, family members who were previously members of the church and left.

    Comeau and his wife Jennifer left the church in April 2013, after 23 years.

    Comeau says he has had little contact with his oldest daughter, Rebekah Berry, who is still a member of the congregation, since he left the church.

    "It's like having your right hand missing. I mean because of the closeness of the family," said Comeau.

    "Part of you has been detached. It's a severance."

    Comeau says, that until a phone call last weekend, he hadn't heard from Berry since the fall. Before that he says the contact was more frequent, but "impersonal."

    CBC News spoke with Rebekah Berry. She rejects the claim that the church influenced her decision to reduce contact with her parents.

    "I am not happy that it has come to this, but I want to publicly thank mum and dad for how they raised me. I am sad that we do not walk the same road anymore, but I am thankful that they instilled it in me so strong that I have not deviated from the way that I was raised. Really, that should make any parent proud," said Berry.

    "I am tired of being made to feel like I am being forced by the leadership in the church, even by my husband. You can take all of those out of the picture and I have still God almighty that I answer to in my daily life."

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  10. Relationship worsened

    Comeau says their strained relationship worsened around the same time he began supporting the Facebook posts of former congregation member Trevor Argue.

    Argue's posts talk about the deterioration of family relationships when people join or leave the church. Argue's own mother and youngest brother remain the church.

    Argue says he has little contact with them.

    Comeau says he struggled with the church's teachings from an early stage.

    "Put it this way, Greg Comeau — then — was a zealot for [former pastor] Dana McKillop, and was very deceived, very deceived," said Comeau.

    "The one thing you never did was ever come against the preacher, never. Whether it be Dana McKillop or [current pastor] Daniel McKillop, you never went against what they said," he said.

    "You could never get it right. And regardless of how hard you tried, how much money you gave, how many services you attended, how what you thought was dedication to God, you never could get it right."

    'We are respectful'

    CBC News has spoken to three other people who have relatives in the church, some of whom are former members.

    They told similar stories of diminished relationships with family members. None of the three wish to be publicly identified.

    ​In December, members of the community held a protest outside the church on Sunday, Dec. 13.

    Around 30 people attended, holding signs, saying "stop the abuse" and "family comes first."

    Pastor Daniel McKillop of the Family Worship Center declined to be interviewed by CBC News, but provided an email statement on Sunday.

    "We are respectful of our collective right to diversity of thought and beliefs, and we are committed to making active contributions to support our communities and our fellow residents — with a goal that family relationships be strengthened both within and without our local congregation."


  11. As a gay child of fundamentalist Christians I was horrified by the new Jehovah's Witnesses video

    When my parents gently and kindly explained to me that how I was feeling could be changed, should be changed, and didn’t fit with what God wanted, I believed every single word

    by Douglas Robertson, The Independent UK May 5, 2016

    A few days ago, I read an article in one of the more LGBT-focussed online publications about the Jehovah’s Witnesses (hereafter JWs) highlighting the fact that they’ve recently put together a selection of films. In amongst them is a film entitled “One Man, One Woman”, that I’d encourage you to watch - it’s currently listed proudly in the ‘Featured’ section of their very slick website. This video purports to be about gay parenting, but it’s really a direct challenge to the first encounter many children will have with gay people - namely classmates with gay parents.

    For anyone who thinks they’ve never encountered the JWs before, you probably in fact have. You’re quite likely to have seen a pair of well-dressed inoffensive-looking middle-aged folk, Watchtower magazines in both hands (and on a magazine stand next to them), holding out both hands with a benign expression in an ostentatious gesture of assumed generous benevolence. In London they’re usually outside major train stations like Oxford Circus or Liverpool Street, but you will also find them in high streets around the country, and of course sometimes they’ll even come a-knocking. Most people dismiss them gently but firmly, although some are gentler than others.

    I didn’t grow up a JW, but I was brought up by fundamentalist Christians. We had no television, went to church twice a week, and I spent a good portion of my earlier life almost entirely unaware of popular culture. An insular environment like this can have a profound effect on a child, and gives parents a great deal of control over what the child does, thinks, and is exposed to. For me growing up, my parents were my whole world - I hung on their every word, believed it passionately. I’m sure this is the same for many children, but I think for me it was a little more extreme.

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  12. Learning how my parents felt about homosexuality (they definitely weren’t on board with the whole thing whatsoever) took me to quite a dark place, especially for an 11-year-old. My parents were very fond of that catchall quotation from 2 Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is God-breathed”, taking it to mean that every word in the Bible was literally and directly from God. As they gently and kindly explained to me that how I was feeling could be changed, should be changed, and didn’t fit with what God wanted (going so far as in fact to say that it was the moral equivalent of bestiality), I believed every single word. They were quoting from the Bible, which came from God, and so clearly everything they were saying was indubitable, incontestable and I was just wrong somehow. Sounds pretty absolute, doesn’t it?

    In this case it was clear to me that I had somehow been programmed wrong, or maybe I just didn’t understand myself properly - so for the next few years I meandered on in something of a grey, periodically suicidal daze.

    “This is ridiculous, imagine believing something like this!” is the reaction from the intellectuals, the secularists, even some mainstream Christians, no doubt. The natural way so many people deal with these messages is with dismissal and ridicule. Articles on LGBT websites reporting on the videos take pretty sardonic stances – Pink News refers to a “Creepy Cartoon Mother” and comes to simple conclusion: “Solid parenting.” Sure, it’s good to laugh – but we’re missing something important here.

    There are hundreds if not thousands of young LGBT people who are going to watch this video and believe it unquestioningly because it is putting forth a viewpoint that is explicitly endorsed by God (or Jehovah, if you will). I like to think that many will go on to discover the wider and (comparatively) more accepting world around them, but I think it’s pretty certain that not all of them will. There’s a reason the rate of suicides in gay teenagers is so high - the only reason I never actually got round to using the various weapons I had under my bed for a good few years was because I always had an outside friend to pull me back from the edge. But not everybody has that friend.

    If even one JW child is damaged by watching this video, surely that’s one too many. Just like the smiling JWs at the station, it is a cruel and damaging message, delivered in a very “nice” way. The thing is, if you say a cruel thing in a kind way, it's still cruel. And it’s important we don’t lose sight of that cruelty while we laugh from the outside.


  13. Losing her religion - How musician Laurel Sprengelmeyer also known as Little Scream traded one faith for another

    by ROBERT EVERETT-GREEN, MONTREAL — The Globe and Mail May 06, 2016

    “Falling in love and religious experiences I’ve had are often tremendously similar,” said Laurel Sprengelmeyer, the Montreal musician known to her fans as Little Scream. “You have this feeling of a huge awakening, and the surge of endorphins. Religion and the cult of love – they’re not unrelated.”

    Sprengelmeyer’s experience of the phenomenon may be deeper than most, thanks to her years as an enthusiastic Jehovah’s Witness. For her, a love song is almost bound to have a sacred undercurrent, as if finding the One and meeting the one were almost the same thing.

    “I think there’s a cult in relationships, where we have an idea of what we’re interacting with, and it’s not the reality,” she said, sitting in her bright studio in Montreal’s Plateau district. “We subscribe ourselves to an idea of what the relationship is, and then it becomes a cult, which everyone around you confirms socially. It becomes a real thing that has power over your life.”

    You can hear the fusion of romance and religion in Cult Following, her new and much-anticipated second album, though not through overt references to anything godly. It’s more in the point of view, the atmosphere and the expectation that daily experience can disclose miracles.

    “There’s something incredibly comforting about having answers for everything,” Sprengelmeyer said. She was speaking nostalgically, as someone who quit the church, but can’t renounce the experience of order and certainty that came from being part of it.

    She felt the lure of those things again, from a greater remove, while visiting a friend at a Brazilian spiritual retreat three years ago. A following had coalesced around a charismatic leader who also seemed to have answers for everything. Sprengelmeyer recognized all the signs of cult devotion, including the unspoken methods for controlling thought and behaviour.

    “It was beautiful and hilarious and profound and insane, simultaneously,” she said, laughing. It provided the spur for the current record, because she realized she still hadn’t worked through the meaning of her time inside that kind of group certainty.

    “I had the hilarious misfortune of being born into an evangelical Christian family on my mom’s side, and also being converted into it, because my mom got excommunicated when I was 8 or 9,” she said. “I was very close to my grandmother, and I wanted to keep the family together, and I became the head of the family from the Jehovah’s Witness perspective. I was a real little idealist between the ages of nine and 12.”

    Her parents split up at around the same time, and set up in different towns on either side of the northern Mississippi River. While her mother’s clan in Dubuque, Iowa, weighed its relationship with God, her father presided over a jumble of transitory things in his antique shop in Galena, Ill. “My siblings and I were the dirty little kids at the back of the store,” Sprengelmeyer said.

    But she also had to be the clean-living acolyte, devoted to the rules of the faith. “You get addicted to a certain restriction, a certain structure,” she said, though she can also shudder at how that was enforced. “It was like growing up in a totalitarian society. When you’re in that culture, when you see someone straying, it’s your responsibility to tell the elders and keep everyone in the flock.”

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  14. She was called out before the elders herself when her jeans were too ragged or her acquaintances too worldly. She wasn’t supposed to spend time with those who might lead her away from Scripture. One incident in particular sticks with her, perhaps because it showed the depth of her church’s aversion to the secular.

    “I always did well in standardized testing,” she said, “and I got chosen to go to NASA space camp. I was so excited, but the woman I was studying the Bible with said, ‘Laurel, you’re going to be hanging out with worldly people, who are going to tell you things that aren’t in the Bible. What would Jehovah want you to do?’ So of course I didn’t go to NASA space camp, and in subsequent years I dropped out of all my honours courses, because the church discouraged education and I wasn’t supposed to go to university.” She eventually did study studio visual art on a full scholarship at the University of Iowa, following in a long familial line of painters.

    All the time she was with the church, her father quietly seeded her consciousness with a more rebellious curriculum. “He was every bohemian child’s dream dad,” who introduced her to Allen Ginsberg, took her to hear Laurie Anderson and gave her books by Jean Genet and Hunter S. Thompson. She was particularly taken with Genet’s ability to find something holy even in a squalid bar or prison cell.

    “Genet was one of my favourites, because of the emotional prison I was in,” she said. “My romantic world was shaped by that, by the emotional prison of my religious experience. I’ve never found a compelling reason to give up that perspective, and the transcendence of that romanticism and religiosity. You transform the world through your own consciousness.”

    Genet also refused to be ashamed of anything, and that too was an inspiration. Sprengelmeyer said she tried several times to remove from the new album sentiments she found too adolescent for a thirtysomething singer-songwriter. But she couldn’t drive them out, and took that as a sign that they needed to be relived and re-examined.

    “It’s this fugue that’s created in our youth, and the rest of our lives we spend iterating that in various ways, and transforming it slowly through those iterations. But you also wonder: How long do I have to keep doing this?” she said, with a laugh.

    Working over the same themes and material is a constant part of her practice, as musician and painter. In her studio, several canvases awaited the next phase of their evolution, which can often take four years to complete. Sprengelmeyer has trouble finishing things or letting them go, whichever comes first.

    “I think of every song as its own world and its own environment, like a painting,” she said. And like a painting, a song can almost always use one more dab of colour. She has spent hours trying to introduce some instrumental effect that may be barely noticeable and lasts only a few seconds.

    Music for her is social, she said, in a way that painting isn’t. Making songs is a chance to play with others, starting with her creative partner Richard Reed Parry, of Arcade Fire. Others who appear on the album include Mary Margaret O’Hara, Sufjan Stevens, Kyp Malone and Sprengelmeyer’s sister Lily, who contributed the groove to the Prince-like party song Love as a Weapon, the album’s first video and single.

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  15. Some of Sprengelmeyers current paintings belong to a series of works related to a photo-booth snapshot of an anonymous man, whom she has placed in many different visual environments – another fugue that demands to be worked out. “I’m obsessed with trying to make something with an image that’s completely devoid of context, but that can still be meaningful to you, without you having to understand any structure.”

    Her own peak experience of decontextualization came when she split with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. She was immediately ostracized by almost everyone she knew. “I didn’t even know how to make friends outside that world,” she said.

    She met someone whose family had been virtually wiped out during the Rwandan genocide, and while she doesn’t at all equate those experiences, the abrupt loss of a personal network drew them together. When he left for Montreal in 2001, she went too, relieved to leave Iowa and the church behind.

    She studied design at Concordia University, painted and continued the nearly private music-making that had begun in Dubuque with informal lessons in guitar and voice from family friends. Her first album, 2011’s The Golden Record, was widely praised and long-listed for the Polaris Music Prize in 2011. The response and subsequent touring forced her to polish up her craft as a live performer, and to become more adept at production. She pretty much had to – some of her new songs are mixed from 120 different tracks.

    The results are complex and luminous. The pinnacle may be Wishing Well, which is like passing through a series of doors into ever more magical environments. “Open up your wishing well,” Sprengelmeyer sings repeatedly, offering an image of hopeful concealment that isn’t far from the enclosed spring and sealed fountain of the Bible’s Song of Songs. You get the same feeling of open-hearted purity and splendour, embodied in a magnificent panoply of sound.

    Sprengelmeyer’s religious axis these days runs through Buddhism, which doesn’t ask you to believe that dinosaurs appeared before the seventh day. Committing to something appeals to her, she said, because that also means committing to learning about the world and yourself – as she did even as a Jehovah’s Witness.

    “I feel like I understand the fundamentalism and insanity we see in the world today,” she said. “I remember having conversations with people who were studying the Bible with me, saying, ‘Laurel, you have to be willing to be sawn asunder before you would renounce your faith.’ There was something really awesome about that, about going all the way with it.”

    Again she laughed, with amusement and wonder at having gotten out alive; but also perhaps because in spite of everything crazy and extreme that came with it, the house of God as she knew it was a beautiful place. There were many rooms there, and sometimes she can still see them in the eyes of another.

    Little Scream plays Montreal’s Fairmount Theatre on May 11 and Lee’s Palace in Toronto on May 12. Cult Following, her new album on Dine Alone Records, was released on May 6.