The official magazine for Jehovah’s Witnesses has described those who leave the church as “mentally diseased”, prompting an outcry from former members and insiders concerned about the shunning of those who question official doctrine.
An article published in July’s edition of The Watchtower warns followers to stay clear of “false teachers” who are condemned as being “mentally diseased” apostates who should be avoided at all costs. “Suppose that a doctor told you to avoid contact with someone who is infected with a contagious, deadly disease,” the article reads. “You would know what the doctor means, and you would strictly heed his warning. Well, apostates are ‘mentally diseased’, and they seek to infect others with their disloyal teachings.”
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A copy of the magazine, distributed by Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world, was given to The Independent by a current member of the church who has become unhappy with official teaching but is afraid to leave for fear of losing his family.
“Many like me remain associated with the Witnesses out of fear of being uncovered as an ‘apostate’ and ousted, not just from the organisation, but from their own friends and families,” said the man, who would only give the name John. “I find I am now branded as ‘mentally diseased’ — giving any who discover my true beliefs free licence to treat me with disdain.”
As a faith with a centralised leadership, many forms of discipline are used to counter criticism of doctrine, with punishments ranging from restriction of official duties to excommunication. Those who have been thrown out of the church often find themselves ostracised by fellow believers.
A growing number of former and current Witnesses have begun to argue that the church’s use of the word “mentally diseased” to describe defectors could be in breach of Britain’s religious hatred laws.
Jehovah’s Witnesses serve the Watch Tower Society, an organization that is theologically a cult of Christianity.
Sociologically the organization has many cult-like elements as well.