Exploring the company we keep at UCI and beyond

Roller derby girls. God Without Religion. Harry Potter enthusiasts (fanatics?). These are a small sampling of the groups and organizations that have formed at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and around Orange County. Members share a devotion to their cause and a desire to pursue it in collaboration with others, which are the subjects we examine in this blog.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Day in the Life: The Mystery Behind Jehovah’s Witnesses

By: Melody Erhuy

Once a deep, clean black now tarnished gold and bronze, the overused small, marble-like fixture glistens against its stark white border in the midday sun. Holding its surroundings close to its heart, it keeps a barrier between the safe and the unknown. Elizabeth flicks her wrist at the large obstruction in front of her, looking for a way in to speak to those living on the other side. The glass eye darkens as a woman decides to open her door, using the darkened doorknob to reveal herself. The woman, thirty-three at most, with transparent blue eyes and frazzled curly hair, asks what she can do for us, leading Elizabeth to reveal her intent of arrival – faith.

“Have you seen the light?,” Elizabeth asks the now quizzical woman. She politely declines with an edge to her voice, leaving an uncomfortable settling in the conversation. “I’m from the Orange County parish of Jehovah’s Witnesses, have you heard of our faith? There is a church only five minutes away from your house.” Elizabeth shifts her eyes down to her side, her white skirt billows in the wind against her tanned, toned frame. She then looks up at the woman as she respectfully declines her offer, pressing her with questions – “I only want what is best for you and your family. Please take one of these.” Elizabeth draws out a thick pamphlet, strewn with the words “The Watchtower”, the name of their national organization, on the cover. This how-to guide on becoming a Jehovah’s Witness is riddled with lovely images of family, happiness, and spirituality, with surround quotes like “Jehovah can bring the light into your life again.” It looks like a vacation packet, those filled with fun images of the life you could have, but this vacation was not a temporary escape – commitment in Jehovah lasts forever.

Elizabeth was used to being turned down. “Our ways are sane, the media breaks the good in our name.” She usually reads verses of the Bible to those whom she meets going house-to-house, but she felt uncomfortable doing so with someone not of the faith.

Her belief is in the God Jehovah, whom only true worship can only be achieved through. Never does she call him Lord or any other entity title – “the name of God is Jehovah and so it shall remain,” she explains as she steadily cruises her maroon 1999 Honda Civic. Any sort of holiday – birthdays, Halloween, Christmas even – were not holidays of Jehovah, rather they were dubbed pagan festivals of no importance to those of their parish. Blood transfusions or any sort of drinking of blood is a sin, as is sex before marriage, homosexuality and adultery. (Helen Morrogh) Military service? No way. Going to Holocaust museums? Nope. Tattoos? Oh hell no. “I was told to avoid singing the national anthem at school during a sermon,” Elizabeth clarified without any repent, “because my only allegiance is to God, not to my nation.”

Origination in Brooklyn, New York, Charles Taze Russell began the first Jehovah’s Witness church with his formation of the Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society through his group entitled the Bible Student Movement in the late 19th century. The actual name, Jehovah’s Witness, was adopted in 1931, after the verse Issiah 43:10-12. Today, Awake! is the monthly publication to all Watchtower members. Since its inception, the Watch Tower Society has taught that the present world order is in its last days. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the current world order will be destroyed at Armageddon. “In the years leading up to 1914, 1925 and 1975, the Society's publications expressed strong expectations of Armageddon or the establishment of Christ's kingdom over the earth occurring in those years.” (John Downes) They have stated that only they “have any Scriptural hope of surviving the impending end of this doomed system", but that God decides who will survive. Those whom God chooses to save, moreover the survivors and resurrected individuals, will have the opportunity to live forever under Jehovah in an earthly paradise, ruled by Christ and some odd other hundred and forty-four thousand humans raised to the perfect heaven. Sound like an excellent promise? Today, seven million members across the globe think so.

Churches have exponentially grown in the past ten years, with a Jehovah following found in almost every Orange County city - Fullerton, Westminster, Capistrano Beach, Garden Grove, Buena Park, Santa Ana, Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Orange, Yorba Linda, Tustin and Anaheim. In 1976, when the first high school was built in Anaheim Hills, California, nearby Jehovah’s families felt so threatened for their children that by 1979 the North Congregation Church of Orange, California was up and running. The building they used for their church is stark white in many places, dull khaki in others. The walls have hints of red in the moldings, while the floors match the drab beige on the walls. The church consists of one floor, four or five rooms at most. The main auditorium for service is as bland as the rest of the rooms, but there is one noticeable figure placed in the center of the room. A chart of devoted followers was placed on the front mantle with members’ pictures and words of inspiration from the Bible are written below. Sect meetings in the North Congregation Church are generally three hours, one for prayer in the middle of two hours of planning on opposite ends. Services are about two hours, depending on the speakers planned to arrive and potential recruits attend.

Jehovah’s consider themselves a Millenarian Restorationist Hierarchical society of individuals that rejects Trinitarianism and anything with the influence of Satan (including secular societies) with a cause for truth. What does all that mean? Jehovah’s do not believe in hellfire, reincarnation of the soul, and a multitude of interaction with non-witnesses. “Keeping the faith” is the motto of many, but not all, of Jehovah’s families when they tell their children that school friends are not allowed if they are not believers. “My best friend and I never really talked about religion – classes, homework, and Arrested Development made up our daily mantra. We had a group assignment in English class of junior year – she had the video camera, but she would not let us use her house. It was confusing, frustrating, and difficult to be given a decline without an explanation, but later I found out that her mother specifically did not want any non-Jehovah students in her household. She said we would ‘muck up’ the flow of spirituality in her house. No kidding.” Kayleigh, a short petite girl with light brown hair as straight as a book’s edge, shifted her skirt as she continued, “and I eventually lost contact with her. In between her sneaking out to see me once every month or so, the lies that she’s too busy to hang out when she’s just getting lattes with people in her church, after everything, I lost faith in her. And is that not ironic?” Her eyes beamed a tad bit as she comes to her conclusion.

The mother at question in Kayleigh’s anecdote is Melissa Tait, a fifty-four year old mother of three children who resides in Orange, California. The side wisps of her pixie-cut, blonde hair meet just on the edge of her forehead, while her wide smile accounts for the rest of her face. She spends time with her kids, watches sports, runs errands and most of all, takes care of her family. The only thing keeping her from her achieving the modern American family image is her faith; Melissa, and the rest of her family, are devoted Jehovah’s Witnesses, trying living without sin one day at a time. She spends three to five days at church a week, and would never let any of her children miss a Sunday with God.

“I would complain to my mother, Morgan, about the other kids and how they got to play with their friends. I was not allowed to be friends with anyone that was not a Jehovah disciple (child),” Tait explained as she went on about her own childhood. “I learned to love my church with all of my heart, but it was not easy at first. I wanted to be like everyone else, but then I realized I was higher than the rest of non-disciples, making me part of something special and real. My church gave me a higher purpose from birth, and I am better than everyone for it.” From rebellious and motivated to submissive and accepting, Melissa transformed her outlook on faith at the tender age of seven to appease her mother, just as she is now doing to her own children, but she takes it father than many Jehovah’s. “I do not want them fraternizing with enemies, so they are not allowed on school trips and such. Chase, my oldest son, cried when I did not let him go to Disneyland for his sixth grade trip, but I do not want him worshipping Disney characters like he does Jehovah. He cannot read sinned books either – Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Catcher in the Rye, they are filled with revolutionary ideas of bad men,” Tait recounted. “He does not need friends of other races or religions, because he has us and God. He doesn’t need birthday parties and Christmas with gifts like us. With a family and God, no one needs drinking, partying, drugs or sweets.” Her strict policy was apparent in Jehovah culture, but not mandatory for all followers.

“It’s not easy being Jehovah in such a modern society, but you make it what you can;” Dr. Howes of the Lakeview Kaiser Permanente Hospital was born a Jehovah, but he performs blood transfusions for his patients because he knows it can save their lives. “It is difficult being medically trained and a Jehovah – one contradicts the other almost daily, so it’s very difficult to decide what is right for me and what is not. […] I do like to attend conventions from time to time, it is fun seeing people baptized into the faith.” Witnesses conventions occur across the country, with five to six thousand attendees usually present for the three-day “educational” learning experience. (David O’Reilly) The theme of these conventions varies from “Keep on the Watch” and “Waking Up”, all of which are constant refrains of the original Witnesses from Brooklyn and Pennsylvania.
Melissa exits her car, pamphlets in one hand, her purse and car keys in the other. It is an unusually bright Tuesday afternoon being the month of January, giving way to her yellow smocked skirt and white dress shirt, tucked in at the seams. As she walks up to a large house, she focuses on the doorknob, slowly inching her fingers to grasp the dark object. She pauses, getting ahead of herself, and clenches her fingers into a fist to politely rapp on the door. She shakes her head from silence, turns to her side and exhales - “You can always find forgiveness for your sins through Jehovah. He forgives those who deserve his love. There is nothing more rewarding than dedicating your life to God. I would be nowhere without Him and His guidance, I have a happy husband and family thanks to Him. He is great, He is love, and I thank Him.”

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