Rachel Jackson

Rachel Jackson: Shunning Experience


My name is Rachel Jackson. I was baptised at the Palmerston North District Convention in New Zealand, at the age of 25 back in 1990. I was young, naive and somewhat of an idealist. Coming from a Catholic background, I was ripe for indoctrination. Little did I realise then, how my life would be turned upside down 22 years later. 

About five years in I began experiencing doubts about the teachings of the organisation but it took me another eighteen years to confront them. Why so long? Suspension of critical thinking, and an instilled phobia about “apostasy”. I was taught independent thinking is of the devil, and is evidence of pride amongst other undesirable traits. I was trained to ignore my gut and my conscience. For fourteen years I suffered from daily intractable headaches which I believe was partly due to repression and inability to give voice to my doubts. I didn’t know then what cognitive dissonance is. Now I know that’s what I suffered, as I believe all Jehovah’s Witnesses do.

While sitting in the front row waiting for the announcement that I was no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I received a text message on my phone. It was from the person I had been closest to in the congregation. I expect she didn’t want to break the rules by messaging me after the announcement. It would be amusing if it were not so tragic. How is it that you can go from being a loved sister with a reputation for being kind, compassionate and loving, to being a persona non grata, with one simple announcement? 

Becoming invisible, and worse, being suddenly looked at as something defective or dangerous leaves you questioning your reality and your sanity. It leaves you adrift, shakes your foundations, and makes you question your validity as a person. 

I remember the first time being shunned outside the kingdom hall. It was at the supermarket. Normally there would be smiles and greetings, perhaps a hug, but now just a blank stare past me. I was in disbelief. In shock I suppose. I felt dirty and evil. This was completely irrational, but these were feelings I had to fight constantly. I had to keep reminding myself I was a good person and that their label, “apostate”, was just a label.

I’ve had ten years of this now. I’m sure they never think of me unless they catch a glimpse of me, but I still think of my former friends every day and occasionally dream about them. Will it be like this for the next ten years? Will I go to my grave still thinking about them? It seems ridiculous to me, but I guess it shows how deep the hurt and the injustice goes.

For the first year after being disfellowshipped, for what amounted to a difference in opinion, I lived on adrenalin. My mind was consumed with bible study and trying to rectify and cement my evolving biblical beliefs. (I never could.) I spent hours and hours daily on the internet with those with similar experiences and feelings. I found “there is nothing new under the sun”. There were thousands of people before me, and after, who were just like me. That’s when I started to feel I was not the crazy one after all. The online community of ex-JWs saved my sanity.

I was one of the lucky ones. I was not a born-in Jehovah’s Witness. I joined after I had married and my husband was never in the religion. My two children whom I raised in the religion were never baptised and left with me. They are my world and we are very close. I think it’s because of the love I have for my family that I have spent the last ten years in activism trying to raise awareness about mandated shunning and how it violates the protected human rights to family and private life. In my country, even those who have been incarcerated for crime have more rights to family than Jehovah’s Witnesses do. Where is the protection of their rights? I want to see governments step up. That’s why I am supporting Stop Mandated Shunning.