Joe B. Hewitt – When his mind was locked up in Watchtower legalism, he left to find true freedom in Christ.
Raised as a Jehovah’s Witness from the tender age of 8, Joe experienced persecution from his peers who considered his beliefs un-American. Why couldn’t I be a loyal, patriotic American, and loyal to God at the same time? It wasn’t fair, he thought. My mind was locked up in the cold stone walls of the Watchtower. I now am free. I know hundreds of other Ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses who are now Christians. They are the most joyful Christians I know. One who has been locked up really appreciates freedom.
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When I was eight years old, my mother was in the midst of a crisis. Her marriage of 21 years was coming apart. She needed a word from God, the “Bread of Life.” Rather she got “sawdust,” something that filled but did not nourish. A woman visitor had walked down the sandy road of our Arkansas Ozark home in the woods and convinced Mom that Jehovah’s Witnesses believed the same as her father. He had been a follower of Charles Taze Russell and his Watchtower Society.
After Dad deserted us, Mom’s brother, Al Gordon, who claimed to be among the exclusive 144,000 going to heaven, moved us to Wichita, Kansas. There we became firmly involved with the JW congregation that met in a second story meeting hall in the seedy side of downtown.
At the age of 9, I carried a card that proclaimed me to be “an ordained minister of the Gospel, ordained by Jehovah Himself.” My mother married Ray Alexander, a life-long Jehovah’s Witness who was held in high regard at the Kingdom Hall. Our home was dominated by anxiety.
“Measure up. Be faithful to the end. Study your Watchtower lesson. Do your book study. Don’t be close friends with anyone ‘worldly.’” (Anyone who was not a Jehovah’s Witness was worldly.) “Get your field service time in (At least 10 hours a month knocking on doors). Turn in your weekly field service report. Be ready for Armageddon; it will happen any day.”
Armageddon was on our minds and voices continually. Mom and Ray never encouraged me in my schoolwork but drove me in the Witness Work. They placed no value on education. They attended five meetings a week for the Watchtower, but never attended one meeting or conference at my school.
World War II was raging. I stood on downtown street corners hawking the Watchtower and Awake magazines. People sneered, and said such things as, “Jap, Nazi. If you don’t like this country, why don’t you leave?” All this confused me. I loved my country. The Watchtower doctrine would not allow me to salute the flag, but I still felt great patriotism in my heart.
I was 15 when a crisis of faith caused a dramatic change in my life. At a neighborhood convenience store a group of six boys stopped me in the gravel driveway. One carried a dirty little flag stapled to a little stick.
“You’re gonna salute this flag.” They surrounded me and all shouted for me to salute the flag, and damned me because Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to serve in the armed forces. I did my usual canned speech: “I am a Jehovah’s Witness. We respect the flag and what it stands for, but we cannot salute it because that would be bowing down to a graven image.” That made no impression on the gang of boys. They beat me down into the gravel and stomped on me. When I regained consciousness, I hurt all over, and my mouth was full of blood and gravel.
I limped home broken in heart as well as body, angry at God. Why couldn’t I be a loyal, patriotic American, and loyal to God at the same time? It wasn’t fair.
Determined to strengthen my faith as a Jehovah’s Witness, I began to study the Bible. I looked up our proof text for refusing military service: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight” (John 18:36). There it was in black and white, Biblical proof of why we refused military service. Then I read it in context for the very first time. “Then would my servants fight that I not be taken.” Jesus was talking about being arrested, and why his servants did not fight to keep him from being taken. It had nothing to do with military service.
Then I looked up what John the Baptist said about the subject, then Peter, then Paul. None of them agrees with the Watchtower doctrine. I had been lied to by the Watchtower Society and I had been telling lies for it.
I continued to look up Watchtower proof texts and, one by one, saw that they were taken out of context and misapplied. That ended my tenure as a Jehovah’s Witness. It took six more years before I realized that God loved me and gave His Son Jesus to die in my place on a cross. I trusted in Him and received the gift of His grace. I finally understood that I couldn’t earn salvation, it was an undeserved gift.
On instruction from the Watchtower elders, my mother declared me as dead and had no contact with me until shortly before she died. Then she got special permission allowing me to visit her because she was near death.