Can It Be?

This is my 16th Easter.

For the first 38 years of my life I did not celebrate Easter because I was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a pseudo- Christian group with a very strange economy of salvation. It is not easy to describe life in a cult like Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is very dark. Even their light is darkness.

Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in the Trinity, so they do not believe in the deity of Christ.  They believe that Jesus was Michael the Archangel before he came to earth, and that after he was resurrected, he went back to being Michael the Archangel — but with the name “Jesus.”  They do believe Jesus died (but not on a cross) to save mankind from sin and death by atoning for the disobedience of Adam.  Jesus had to be a perfect man, to match Adam in every respect, and thus he takes Adam’s place as our father.  I know this is weird — not to mention the whole ontological problem of how he is an angel, then a human, and then an angel again — but I’m telling you about it because I want you to know that I had an idea that I could call myself a Christian and believe Jesus died for me, without conceiving of Jesus as God.

Most of you reading this are like my grandchildren who have heard all their lives that Jesus died for you and that Jesus is God the Son –- true God from true God.  It has never dawned on you, because it was always the light that you lived in.

But it dawned on me.

In 1993, after a long and harrowing period of life disruption, searching for the peace and transformative power that I read about in the New Testament, I had an encounter with Christ.

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

I did not know then that he was Deity, but I knew that he was not who the Jehovah’s Witnesses said he was.  I knew that I would have to leave the religion that I had grown up in and known all my life.  I would have to walk away from every relationship of my adult life. I went to a church.

Now to you, that might seem like the most natural thing in the world for me to do. You want to know about Jesus, you go to a church. But for me it was terrifying. I had always been told that churches housed demons.  Jehovah’s Witnesses do not even like to turn their cars around in a church parking lot. But that visit to a church set me on the road to learning the truth about Jesus.  It became pretty clear, pretty quickly that Christians worshiped Jesus. The fundamental fact of my religious upbringing had been that you only worshiped God (Jehovah), who is Jesus’ father. To worship anything or anyone else was to be guilty of idolatry.  But there was a tractor beam on my heart. I had to figure out who Jesus really was.

Having left what I recognized to be a religion of error, I was very leery about falling into error or being misled once again. But I knew that I had to open my mind to the witness and the arguments of Christians around me in order to untwist the distorted way I had learned to read scripture.

A humorous skit put on one time at a meeting of ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses illustrated what I was facing. It featured a  “Christian” trying to “help” a recently-exited Witness.  When the ex-JW expressed confusion about Christian doctrine,  the Christian said, “Oh, it’s easy. Just believe everything the opposite.”

“What are you talking about?” the baffled ex-JW asked.

“Well, you didn’t used to believe in the Trinity, and now you do. You didn’t used to believe in the deity of Christ, and now you do. You didn’t used to believe in the immortal soul, and now you do. You didn’t used to believe in going to heaven, and now you do.  You didn’t used to believe in celebrating Christmas, and now you do. See, everything is the opposite. It’s easy.”

The appreciative laughter with which this was greeted gave testament to the fact that it is not easy! And the more you care, really care, about the truth, the harder your struggle is.  If you have always lived in the truth, you can’t imagine how hard it is.

For a while I lived in a partial shadow. I was in love with Jesus, but still didn’t know what to make of all the Christian adoration of Him? How could I explain this phenomenon if he were not God?

I found some relief by latching onto the biblical image of the Church as the Bride of Christ. After all, what would be more natural than for a bride to be focused on her bridegroom? Of course Christians sang love songs to Jesus! It was the Jehovah’s Witnesses who were strange — like a bride who ignored her groom and tried to give all her affection to her father-in-law instead.

Meanwhile, I was participating in Christian prayer and worship to the best of my limited understanding. I also asked questions, and I studied…  and studied and studied.  Finally I was turned on to reading the Early Church Fathers. It started to became clear to me that this teaching — that Jesus was Divine, was God in the flesh — was really Christian teaching from the beginning, was the apostolic witness.

There was just one problem left in my mind: If Jesus was God, then that man on the Cross was God.

It would mean that God had died.

It would mean that God had died… for me.

For all time, there will be no more astounding, no more elevating, no more humbling proposal to a human soul than this.

And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Savior’s blood!
Died he for me — who caused his pain –
For me who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

He left his Father’s throne above
(so free, so infinite his grace!),
emptied himself of all but love,
and bled for Adam’s helpless race.
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
for O my God, it found out me!

Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

The sun had come up in my life.

[The lyrics are from the hymn, “And Can it Be (Amazing Love)”, by Charles Wesley. Enjoy the lovely rendition here.]

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  • Cooky642

    Mind-blowing, isn’t it? Thank you, Mary, for sharing more of your story. What a lovely Easter gift.

  • http://www.tell-usa.org Robert Struble, Jr.

    Beautiful testimony. What a spiritual Odyssey!

  • Claire

    Great article Mary. Thank you for sharing your journey.

    I read your comment regarding Patrice’s most recent article, and I wanted to respond, but there was no capacity to leave a comment. I hope you (and she) didn’t interpret my comment as a criticism of her article. I was responding to one of the commenters, rather than to the article itself, and actually my comment supported much of what she was getting at in her article. I regret that I didn’t address the article itself and tell her how valuable I thought it was. However, in the past I have given her positive feedback on many of her other articles, as well as on her book, so hopefully she knows how I feel about her.

  • crazyivan

    >>I knew that I would have to leave the religion that I had grown up in and known all my life. I would have to walk away from every relationship of my adult life.

    I really appreciate your perspective on this journey. I am receiving confirmation and first communion tonight at the Easter Vigil, but I will say that I don’t feel nearly as triumphant as most conversion stories make out this journey to be. Mostly, I feel sad, because like you I am walking “away from every relationship of my adult life.” It is even more difficult because many of my friends and family love Jesus, so I almost feel like I am judging their faith to be deficient. Yet these are the people who taught me to love Jesus and nurtured my faith…

    Thank God my wife and I are doing this together – I don’t know how I could do it without her.

    For those so inclined, please say a prayer for those of us entering the church today, that we might be strengthened to complete the journey.

  • http://schefter.org PrairieHawk

    Mary: Thank you. Yours is a beautiful and powerful story.

    We tell people in our RCIA process, mostly Protestants from mainline denominations, that they are not abandoning their denomination; they are growing into the fullness of the Truth that their former denomination is pointing toward. They are saying “yes” to everything that Martin Luther (for example) taught that was true, and only saying “no” to things that they have arrived at a fuller understanding of.

    Unfortunately, it appears that some sects have very little to say “yes” to, and simply need to be left behind. Bless everyone who has found the courage to do just that.

  • Christi Derr

    What an amazing story, Mary! Your courageous search for truth is inspirational!

    “Most of you reading this are like my grandchildren who have heard all their lives that Jesus died for you and that Jesus is God the Son –- true God from true God. It has never dawned on you, because it was always the light that you lived in.”

    This is indeed the case – a story like yours allows us to view the crucifixtion and resurrection of Our Savior with new and loving appreciation!

  • http://www.catholicexchange.com Mary Kochan

    Well, Prairiehawk, the JWs reject every bit of the Nicene creed and do not have valid baptism. So, yes, everything has to go. They are not pointing towards some truth. However, the conflict on a personal level doesn’t come from our side. Anyone who leaves is considered “dead,” they are called apostates and the JW’s teach that they are to be hated and not even prayed for. And that includeds even members of your family. They are a cult, not a Protestant denomination.

  • http://www.catholicexchange.com Mary Kochan

    crazyivan, you will be ok. I know how you feel too, because after I left the JW’s I became an evangelical before I became Catholic. Just keep the peace and pray for them. The mutual love for Christ will win in the end, and the family ties, too. Welcome to the Catholic church. It is a never ending feast. You can never exhaust its spiritual and cultural riches.

  • http://feminine-genius.typepad.com/ Genevieve S. Kineke

    Thank you, Mary. Very enlightening. Your astonishment at the truths we take for granted remind me of a little Jewish neighbour who stepped into our house to wait for my son to go outside and play. His jaw dropped at seeing the crucifix by the door — which we passed constantly with hardly a glance. He nearly shook, he was so shocked, and only gulped and fled when his friend materialised.

    Now, what do I say to the kind ladies who have targeted me and stop in regularly with tracts and smiles? Should I bother trying to make an argument, or just smile back?

  • http://stblogsparish.com John

    Mary, thank you – I’m a cradle Catholic and only just now, after many, many years, coming to the beginning of a true understanding of my Faith, Holy Mother Church – it’s a beautiful gift.

    crazyivan – be assured of the prayers of millions of Catholics around the globe specifically for you and your wife – welcome Home! May God bless you and all His children.

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  • http://www.catholicexchange.com Mary Kochan

    Oh, Genevieve, I think your question will have to be the topic of another article… or two… or three.

  • http://www.cybercatholics.com Joshua R. LeBlanc

    Mary,

    Thank you for this. My personal experience with the JW’s is a sad one. My Godparents converted to the JW’s a long time ago and this has always been a sad reality for me. I pray for them often that they may see the light as you did. God Bless You!

  • LarryW2LJ

    To all the catechumens and candidates who are entering the fullness of the Church tonight – I only have one thing to say:

    Welcome Home!

    A Happy and Blessed Easter to everyone!

  • dennisofraleigh

    Thanks for reminding us, once again, that men and women whom God has bestowed His grace upon to leave heretical sects and embrace, not just generic “orthodox” Christianity, but the most Christian of Christianities, Catholicism, often have a particularly arduous adjustment.
    In spite of the fact that my wife and I were raised Catholic, having spent the better part of our adulthood immersed in the “culture” of a cultic sect, it still took a lot of emotional adjusting and social reorientation before we felt like we really “belonged.” In that regard God was extremely gracious in that as we immersed ourselves in the life of the parish we discovered a whole new world of Catholic friends, and a sacramental spirituality that we would have recoiled from a decade before.

  • dkpalaska

    What a powerful story! Thank you so much for sharing it, and what a blessing you (and all converts and “reverts”) are to the Catholic Church! I feel so much renewal happening in the Church and I think a large part of it is due to the great gifts being brought in by its newer members. God bless you!

    I hope you do write more about why you converted from the JW cult. I have been having a long-term conversation with two JWs in particular. I have no idea if I have helped them see things in a different light – I almost immediately gave that up to the Holy Spirit, fledgling apologist that I was/am – but I know why God led (or pushed!) me into doing it: nothing has inspired in me a better, stronger, holier appreciation for our blessed Magisterium. Holding the Truth constant for 2000 years and counting! Trying to explain my beliefs to others deepened my own faith and made me fall in love with it even more.

    But still, I’d like to hear your take on the best way to open and continue a conversation with JWs and perhaps others, like the Mormons, when they come to your door. My faith was unshakable, so I had no qualms about not being able to answer their challenges right away. Although it is true that we have little common ground in basic aspects of faith, my focus has always been on pointing out the similarities as well as explaining our differences. For example, when they question the Magisterium, I pointed out how similar their own hierarchical structure is to ours. So I pray the Holy Spirit inspires you to continue on this topic! Thank you again.

  • patti

    Thanks for a very interesting article. I find it amazing and very telling that those that leave JW are considered dead and should not even be prayed for. What’s that about? Revenge? Is it an unforgivable sin? Why would they teach not to pray for those that left?

  • http://www.catholicexchange.com Mary Kochan

    Patti, I could go into their justification, which makes use of various imprecatory Psalms and scriptural arcana, but it doesn’t mean anything. You see the real reason behind everything they do and teach has to do with the control. Ultimately it is a control mechanism to create fear and dependency among the members. That’s how cults work.

    Oh, and I guess I should tell all of you NOT to mention to any JW you know that you have read something by an ex-JW (“wicked, demon-possessed apostate”), because they might stop speaking to you also. That is bad because one thing that is really important is to keep the lines of communication open with them — that way if they do start to doubt or if they come out, they have someone to reach out to. When I left I didn’t know any Christians. That made it harder. I have a whole life that is chopped off. There is no one in my life (except my sister, who also came out) who knew me when I was younger. It’s like I came here as a refugee from some other country.

  • SeanReynoldsNZ

    Great article Mary, but I do still have major challenges with the use of the term “cult”. Numerous people in society assert that the Catholic Church is a mind control cult too, and there are aspects about the Catholic Church that on first glance appear to be plausible as far as that goes. How does one demonstrate that the Catholic Church is not a cult, without making a prior assumption that it is not?

    To the minds of people outside the Church, the Church is a cult because:
    > The Church exercises mind control over her members. After all, there are settled doctrines that no member of the Church can disagree with. Then there is the issue of confession.
    > There is the issue of paying to support the leaders of the Church such as giving money for the priests, bishops, and naturally for the Holy Father.
    > Of course numerous people will point out some of the evils that have been perpetrated by members of the Church too, such as the recent sex abuse scandal, and the Inquisition.

    I’m also coming out of this as someone who is working his way out of the Regnum Christi Movement, something that numerous Catholics describe as a cult … and in this case I have now come to realise were right. (Sorry to those of you who were hurt by Fr Maciel: I thought he was treated unfairly in 2006, and now I see that the Holy Father was right, and that the organisation should have moved then to distance itself from him. After all, trusting the Holy Father’s judgement would have actually been more love for the Holy Father rather than saying that B16 mistreated Maciel).

    But if someone could help me in terms of showing that the Church is not a cult, it would be appreciated.

  • http://www.catholicexchange.com Mary Kochan

    Cults use deception in recruiting memebers and coercive control (thought reform methods) to retain and control members. That an organization has settled docrines has nothing to do with it. If the settled doctrines were kept secret from you until after you joined, that would be cause to call it a cult. Paying to support leaders is not an issue unless there is some sort of ranking system in your parish where being in good standing depends on how much you give, so that people feel socially pressured to give a certain amount.

    The presence of sinners does not make it a cult, otherwise every human institution would be a cult. The attempt to cover up the abuse and put the reputation of the group over justice for the victims WAS the kind of thing that cults do however, but it is being rooted out now — cults do not have that ability to process criticism and reform themselves. In a cult, if you see a problem, YOU ARE the problem.

    Actually, I don’t know of any organization that has LESS control over members than the Catholic Church.

  • http://www.catholicexchange.com Mary Kochan

    For anyone who has need of it, a copy of this article translated into Spanish is here: http://www.primeraluz.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=791:isera-posible&catid=81:conversiones&Itemid=458

  • http://schefter.org PrairieHawk

    A pastor I had some time ago once remarked, “I don’t understand how they can call the Catholic Church a cult. They’ve obviously never been to a Parish Council meeting, where we can’t agree on anything!”

  • mhanniga

    Thank you for the article. I, like Genevieve, have a regular JW visitor who usually brings someone with her. I told her the very first time that she visited that I am Catholic and happy in my faith but yes, she could continue to stop by if she liked. Now when she comes to the door with her Bible she assures me that she is quoting from a Catholic bible. I have always wanted to challenge her beliefs but was never quite sure how to go about it so I look forward to some suggestions. Happy Easter to all!

  • Grandpa Tom

    Hi Mary. Very nice article. I am happy that you have found “the way, the truth, and the life” in Christ crucified. You now have the platform to spread the true message. I debate with the J.W.s (Russellites), and simply tell them they are Satan’s disciples who deny the very divinity of Jesus by claiming he was something of an apperation; and by attempting to separate Jesus from His Cross. The are like the ones’ who screamed at our Lord to come down off the cross. Like Bishop Fulton J. Sheen said: “anything, but not the cross.” Their bible does not contain any reference to the cross. They claim Jesus was impaled on a tree trunk like Dracula did to Islamic invaders. The have the impossible task of rewriting the greatest story known to mankind. They use text taken out of context, which results in pretext. They are not as clever as the Truth. God bless you Mary.

  • http://www.catholicexchange.com Mary Kochan

    So, Grandpa Tom, how’s that been working out for you? I mean how many JW’s have you rescued from Watchtower darkness with your blistering denounciations?

    I understand, really, I do. They are obnoxious and frustating to talk to. But when reviled, I’ll bet they usually don’t revile back. Do you know that they consider your harsh words proof that they have the truth? Same thing goes for all the other subtle tactics Christians use, like turning the sprinklers on them, siccing dogs on them, etc.

    I know an ex-JW who happened to call at the home of David Henke, founder of Watchman Fellowship, an evangelical ministry devoted to helping JWs. Debra happened to be going out door-to-door alone that day — which was unusual, and very providential. When she knocked on David’s door, he was very welcoming. “I really like Jehovah’s Witnesses,” he said. “My wife and I would love to have you step in and speak to us.” So Debra went in. David explained in a very non-threatening way, that he found the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses to be quite fascinating and that although he had never been one, nor studied with them (a point he made to assure her he was not an apostate) he had over the years, collected a lot of their historical literature. He invited Debra into his library to see it.

    There in his shelves she saw the collected writings of CT Russell and all the books that the present JW’s boast about having published but which most JW’s have never so much as seen. He invited her to sit and peruse them as long as she liked. He had some marked where he thought them particulary interesting and after getting Debra something to drink, he left her to make her own discoveries while he and his wife (unbeknowst to her) prayed. David knew that what she was reading was having shattering impact upon her, but that her years of cult training would make her adept at hiding it.

    After several hours, David told her that he and his wife had ordered a pizza and asked her to join them. As they ate, Debra asked him what line of work he was in. He repied, “This.”

    She said, “What do you mean ‘this’?”

    He said, “I help Jehovah’s Witnesses see how the Watchtower has lied to them.”

    Debra recounts that she thought to herself, “Oh, no. I am eating pizza with Satan the Devil.” If you ever met David Henke, you would laugh. Tenderness and kindess absolutely clothe him. He has to be one of the most gentle men I have ever met.

    The next morning, with the ontological rug pulled out from under her feet, Debra went to a park to think. She sat down at a picnic table and wept and said, “Jehovah, I don’t know anything. I don’t know what to believe. I don’t know what is real anymore. I don’t know where to go.” And there in that park in her distress the Lord bid her, “Come to me” and she came.

    Remember that old saying about flies and vinegar and honey?

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