Jake Reinert

Jake Reinert: A Lifetime of Pain


My name is Jake Reinert and I am a 25-year-old ex-Jehovah’s Witness from Spokane, WA, USA. I was born and raised in the religion and was a 3rd to 4th generation Jehovah’s Witness. Shunning was a theme of the religion that I learned from a young age, and I myself was shunned from every single person I knew at the age of 18. 

Growing up, we lived in a small rural farm town in North Dakota. My father was an alcoholic and that impacted his relationship with the religion, and it introduced me to the concept of shunning. He was a ministerial servant prior to being disfellowshipped, just one step down from an elder of the congregation, but battling his addiction, he lost his position and was disfellowshipped from the congregation when I was four years old. I was taught about the implications of this action taken by the congregation, and was told that people were no longer able to talk to him, but since we lived with him, we were able to still have contact. Even at such a young age, I remember having such an icky feeling around the idea of the congregation all of a sudden not being able to see or speak to my father. It confused me. 

That was not my only interaction with shunning as a child, as every one of my father’s siblings had been disfellowshipped, including a cousin of mine. This further revealed cracks in my own household as my father was okay and encouraged my brother and I to still be involved with his side of the family. My mother however wanted us to adhere to the shunning policy and not speak to a disfellowshipped member whom you are not living with. This led to a real awkward and guilty relationship with his side of the family. My mother was so sure about shunning them, she even went as far as to explain to me that when I move out of the house someday, it will be a matter of my conscience whether or not I still spoke to my father, heavily alluding to the fact that I ought not to have a relationship with him once leaving the home, should he still be disfellowshipped. She even went on to add that people who do not attend meetings or do not act in accordance to god’s will, regardless of status in the congregation, I should not mingle with them. 

My relationship to shunning became a lot more personal once I discovered and accepted my sexuality, and the fact that I am gay. I was sixteen, so lost and confused. I knew I was attracted to men, but knew that I could not remain a witness and would lose my whole family should I come out and live that lifestyle. I had been baptized at the age of twelve, and believed it was the truth until around age fifteen where the cognitive dissonance between my sexuality and religious views was too much to bear. I was signing up to auxiliary pioneer, quite often donating 50+ hours of time a month to the door-to-door ministry. Yet by this time, I had begun to become apathetic. 

One Sunday during the watchtower study, we were having a discussion on apostasy and how the internet has been a way for it to spread like weeds. They urged us to never, under any circumstance Google, and read articles about the religion that were not on the official JW.org. That caught my attention. They reasoned that if you wanted to know about something/someone, you would go to the source and not waste your time on frivolous findings when you can get the information directly from what or whom you are looking into. I strongly disagreed with the latter. Sure, going to the source is great, but I would also want to cross check outside sources to be sure, especially if I was going to dedicate the rest of my life to this religion and suppress my homosexuality. 

That night I went home and Googled the religion and was shocked at what I found. Investigations into and lawsuits against the organization for protecting child predators. I was disgusted. To add insult to injury, I also found several things that completely discredited their beliefs. This was it, my ticket to accepting who I was, and the ability to outwardly embrace it, as surely my parents would leave a church that protects pedophiles, especially since they talked so much smack about other religions for the same issue. 

I confidently presented this information to my parents and told them I no longer believed in the organization, nor did I believe in god anymore. To my surprise, they took the news terribly. The conversation ended in my parents crying and my mother eventually throwing a bible at me saying I was “messing everything up and just needed faith”.  While I kept the secret of me being gay hidden, I was now an open atheist – this is where the shunning began. 

My parents stopped paying for my bassoon lessons and any extracurricular activities. They would often go out to eat without telling me and would often leave me out of family events. Word had spread across the congregation and I could feel the distance between me and everyone else grow. I would not be invited to certain events and could feel the daggers of peoples’ stares in the congregation. 

Some time passes and I come out as gay to my parents at seventeen. It was not planned, and came out in a fit of tears in the car with my mother and brother as my father and I had just gotten into a heated argument and tensions were high. I told my mother in the car she and my father will never love me. She asked me why. I answered it was because I was gay. She asked how I knew, and I said I always have just known. The rest of the car ride was silent. A week goes by and nothing is said of this. I finally bring it back up because I was surprised it wasn’t made into a big deal. My mother said she talked with my father and said that there are many gay people in the organization who choose to not act on their feelings. I told her I felt it was terribly unfair for god to forbid a person from love. Obviously, we did not agree. I asked her point blank if my parents would still talk to me if I moved out, since at that time I had planned on “fading”, or just slowly stop attending meetings. My mother told me that even if I was not disfellowshipped, if I were to even just date a man, they would shun me.

At this point, the writing was on the wall. There was a timer on my relationship with my family, and the timer was running out. Over the course of a month or two, my home becomes increasingly hostile. My parents were constantly arguing over me. My father would not hold back what he thought of me, often calling me the ‘f’ slur and asking if I liked it up the butt. My father accused me of being possessed. He would get so heated there were often times I would be worried if I’d be able to even sleep in my own bed. During this time, I had been working at Starbucks, and my coworkers were aware of the situation. A coworker approached me and offered me her basement to rent from her. I took her up on her offer and moved out asap. 

I was finally free, finally openly me in every way, but I was not fully free from the religion. The elders knew I was openly identifying as a gay man. They wanted to meet with me for a judicial committee, even though I had not committed any actual wrongdoings this time. They would reach out to me via phone, and I tried to ignore them. They started showing up at my new home, asking my roommates if I was home. Thankfully they had my back and would always tell them no. 

A few weeks pass and I receive a text from one elder saying I needed to meet with them or I would be disfellowshipped. Sadly, fading was no longer an option. I scheduled a time to meet with the elders to discuss the matter. It was such a weird day. I had told my parents about what was going to happen, and my father offered me a ride there, but not back. The meeting was maybe an hour. I met with three elders, two of which I knew half my life, one of them an old neighbor, and the other a close family friend. These were people I had once trusted with my life. They proceeded to ask me questions, and I answered honestly. I had not dated anyone at the time, not had any sexual relations, no wrongdoing had been done. That didn’t stop them from asking me provocative questions such as “You really don’t like breasts?” and the classic “Do you like it up the butt?”. After an hour of grilling me with some choice questions, they grilled me about my living situation. I told them I was living with an unmarried couple, one of which was a coworker of mine. This is information they knew all along, but suddenly used it as the catalyst for my disfellowshipping since there was no formal wrong doing. They viewed my living with them as my condoning of unmarried sex, and they asked if I would renounce that I was gay, and I was a firm no, I would not renounce it as I did not understand how I could not simply recognize this about me yet not act on it. However with those two things combined, they decided to disfellowship me on the grounds of condoning adultery and apostasy. 

I cried the whole Uber ride home. I knew this moment was going come. Part of me knew that for a long, long time – but now that it was happening, it felt like I could suddenly feel the world spin. I called my parents and told them, and they said they would get back to me. They called me the week prior to it being announced that I was being disfellowshipped, and let me know that they wanted nothing to do with me and that all communication between us would cease to exist. They even went so far as to say that if I needed to contact them, I was to do so via a notarized letter.

A week passed and the night prior to my disfellowshipping, they took me out to dinner to say goodbye. It was the most awkward dinner of my life. We then went back to their home to gather the last of a few of my items, and my mother drove me home. We hugged and we both knew it’d be the last hug since we talked about how she knew I would never come back. I told her I was going to have a good life, she told me she knows I will. It was the hardest goodbye I have ever said in my life. I waited for hours and hours. I felt so alone and betrayed. 

The next night it was announced. I called in to listen to them announcing, “Jake Reinert is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” I don’t really know why I called in, perhaps it was a form of closure for me. I started receiving messages of disconnection and my friend count on Facebook dropped to only my coworkers at the Starbucks I worked at, and a couple of close cousins who lived far away in Australia. At that moment, I had lost every single person I had knew prior to the age of the 18. My best friend kept contact for a while but then eventually shunned me. 

I had a trip planned to Europe that happened to coincide with my disfellowshipping, so by the Monday after being announced as no longer being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I was in Denmark drinking a glass of white wine while people watching in the town square. I tried weed for the first time in Amsterdam, lost my virginity, drank wine on the Seine river in Paris. I was free. And it felt so good. I could see the good of the world and of people, and I am so grateful the two events in my life lined up so perfectly. 

The next year was dark however. I turned to weed to help me cope and started smoking daily. I contemplated returning. I was lost. I started therapy and my therapist introduced me to yoga and meditation. Having that spiritual and physical practice saved my life, genuinely. I was suicidal. Life felt impossible without them. 

Seven years have passed now at the time of writing this. Seven years without my parents. Seven years of learning to survive on my own. Only now, after years of psychotherapy, psychiatrists, mental health facilities, etc. can I say I truly have hope for myself and my future outside of the cult. I’ve been able to reconnect with my childhood best friend, and even though we don’t talk unless we are in each other’s city’s, it’s nice to have her back in my life. A few family members followed my leaving. My uncle left after he found out about the child sex abuse. So did my younger brother, and thankfully we are closer now than ever. 

That doesn’t mean that the grief is no longer with me. I carry it with me every day. Every time I hear my parent’s names or am passing their street, I can’t help but think of them. It hurts. The pain is like having your heart ripped out and cremated. But you really have two options – you can mope around feeling sorry for yourself or you can realize you are free and have an amazing life to live. 

If there were laws on the books to prevent mandatory shunning, a life time of pain would have been prevented, along with hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of mental health treatment. I was lucky to have a job and health insurance, otherwise I would probably be dead or homeless. Governments need to step in to stop religions from implementing draconian policies that do untold harm. If excommunication is to still be permitted, there needs to be bars set in place to prevent the shunning, especially when it comes to family. It’s one thing for the ‘church’ to stop inviting this person to things, however it’s another to act as if they were dead. 

I believe in freedom of religion, but I also believe in the individual freedom of liberty in the pursuit of happiness, and these shunning policies rob millions of that freedom.