I'm an Active Jehovah's Witness! - What Now?
Editor's Note: This essay is written specifically for active Jehovah's Witnesses who are visiting this site who are self-identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or who are questioning their sexual orientation. While most of this web site is geared towards the individual who has left or been expelled from the Organization, we felt the need to build a page specifically geared for active Witnesses. Several chapters of A Common Bond have attendees who are active Witnesses. The purpose of this essay is not to try to persuade you to leave the Organization, but rather to present you with facts and give you the opportunity to formulate your own decision. We always welcome private correspondence from active Witnesses, which will be held in strict confidence.
What Is A Homosexual?
The University of Chicago's Educational Dictionary defines "homosexual" as follows:
While the dictionary definition of homosexual is clinically correct, there is considerably more involved in being gay. Homosexuality is also a state of mind. Gay people fall in love with and enter into relationships with another member of the same sex. Just as their heterosexual counterparts' relationships are more complex than based purely on sex desires, the same is true for the homosexual. This fact is generally overlooked by anti-gay fundamentalist religious and political groups. Their opposition to homosexuality is based purely on the sex desires and activity (eros) of the gay person. One can be celibate and still be a homosexual. Many Jehovah's Witnesses fit into this category. Jehovah's Witnesses are taught that certain Bible scriptures condemn homosexuality. For an in-depth examination of these scriptures, please visit our essay on homosexuality and the Bible.
Why Am I Gay?
This is a complicated topic, and there are no clear answers. There are several camps that believe they have the true and correct answer. Let's look at each one:
Homosexuality is genetic. This is probably the most widely accepted explanation of homosexuality. The scientific community is still searching for the elusive "gay gene". Scientific studies are generally pointing in this direction. One such study, by the N.I.H. is linked here.
Homosexuality is triggered by environment. This explanation is rarely used by fundamentalists. Some geneticists promote this theory in tandem with the genetic theory. Genetics, triggered by environmental factors, may explain why some "come out" at different stages of their lives. A similar theory, although becoming obsolete, is that homosexuality is caused exclusively by environment, i.e.: an overprotective mother, lack of a father figure in one's formative years, a dysfunctional family environment, living in a major metropolitan area with a large visible gay population (such as San Francisco), etc.. The majority of the psychological community discounts these theories as the exclusive cause for homosexuality.
Homosexuality is caused by molestation as a youth. Fundamentalist religions (including Jehovah's Witnesses) frequently refer to this train of thought. Medical, anthropological and psychological studies, however, have concluded that pedophilia does not cause homosexuality. Furthering this line of reasoning, studies have proven that, while some same-sex child molesters are self-identified homosexuals, the majority indiscriminately attack their victims regardless of sex, many of whom attack members of both sexes. Furthermore, many victims of molestation who identify themselves as gay report having been attacked by a member of the opposite sex in their youth. For further information, please look at the essay concerning homosexuality and pedophilia elsewhere on this site.
Homosexuality is a choice. Many who do not understand the nature of homosexuality believe one's sexual orientation is a sexual preference; in other words, a conscious or subconscious choice. This belief has caused many troubled by their same sex desires to seek out reparative therapy, which teaches that one can be "cured" of homosexuality. While the Watchtower Society does not endorse any reparative therapy methods, we know of some gay active Witnesses who have sought out this avenue in a desperate attempt to curtail their same-sex attractions. More on this topic below.
Watchtower Teachings About Homosexuality
The Watchtower magazine has stated that Satan and his demons are causative factors of homosexuality. (See the quote from the July 15, 1997 Watchtower on the homosexuality and the Bible essay on this site. A Watchtower publication from the 1970s (the Youth book) stated that masturbation can cause homosexuality. Watchtower articles frequently equate homosexuality with pedophilia, leading readers to believe that gay people are child molesters. Please see our eassay on homosexuality and pedophilia for an in-depth discussion on this issue. Whatever their reasoning for the cause, they teach through the citing of certain Bible scriptures that homosexuality is "sinful" and "detestable."
But I Can Be Gay and a J.W., Can't I?
Yes. The official stance of the Watchtower Society is that homosexuals are accepted in their midst, provided that the individual does not act upon their sexual urges. Same-sex celibacy is demanded, and often times heterosexual marriage is encouraged in an effort to help the individual rid themselves of same-sex attraction. While the "marriage cure" is not an official edict of the Society, many elders will strongly encourage the gay member to marry a member of the opposite sex. Experiences within the Common Bond fellowship have shown that not only does marriage not "cure"one's homosexuality -- it unfairly burdens an unsuspecting partner, and can create severe marital difficulties. Further complications often arise when children are also involved.
Should I "Come Out" To My Congregation?
Only you can decide if this would be advisable. Here are some realistic facts to consider: Private correspondence with many gay J.W.'s who have "outed" themselves shows time and again that most in the Organization do not understand the nature of homosexuality. Individuals who have approached others in their congregation -- even in the confidence of a well-meaning elder --have suffered disastrous results. The Watchtower Society's official stance on homosexuality is that it is "an abomination". If one reveals their sexual orientation within the congregation, many will likely confuse the state of mind of being homosexual with actual same-sex activity. The average Witness can be expected to respond with incredulity and skepticism, if not outright condemnation. Occasionally, a zealous gay Witness will submit an article for a Watchtower publication in hopes that their story will be published as an encouragement to other gays in the Organization. These articles are rarely published. Instead, we have heard time and again of incidents where the Watchtower headquarters will give these articles to the Circuit Overseer, who will bring it to the attention of the local body of elders. Self-proclaimed gay individuals in most cases will be "marked", and even though officially still a member in good standing in the congregation, will be watched with great scrutiny. Some such individuals will be deliberately excluded from Witness social gatherings, thanks to underlying prejudices most Witnesses harbor against gays and Lesbians. Due to the Witnesses' teaching that "bad associations spoil useful habits", the self-identified gay Witness can often expect a life of loneliness and congregational ostracism. Coming out to anyone in the congregation is a matter that should be thought through very carefully before any action is taken. This includes one's own family.
Should I "Come Out" To My Family?
We know of some active Witnesses who have identified their sexual orientation to their Witness families without any difficulty. Occasionally, the family will support the gay Witness regardless of the teachings of the Watchtower, even if the gay one has decided to leave the organization or has been disfellowshipped. This is not common, but it does happen. Unfortunately, we know of an equal number of gay Witnesses who have been asked to leave their homes by families who do not understand the nature of homosexuality, even though the gay Witness may not have committed an offense against the congregation that is reprovable or disfellowshippable. As mentioned above, it is very difficult to provide guidance in this area. You do not know how individual members of the family will react unless they are actually told. Furthermore, while one member of the family may respond favorably, this does not guarantee acceptance by all family members, nor does it guarantee confidentiality within the congregation. Think this matter through very carefully before taking action.
Can Homosexuality Be Cured?
As discussed above, many gays and lesbians in the Organization may seek out "reparative therapy" in an effort to "cure" their homosexuality. Some well-meaning elders (or other congregation members) may recommend various methods of attempting to alter one's orientation, including, but not limited to, aversion therapy, heterosexual marriage, medication to diminish one's sex drive, and psychotherapy. Does such therapy work? Research and individual testimony have shown that not only does such therapy not work, but it can cause psychological scars on the individual, leaving them confused and often in need of years of competent psychotherapy. This has been documented by the American Psychiatric Association. Additionally, the official stance of the American Medical Association "opposes, the use of 'reparative' or 'conversion' therapy that is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation."
What Does the Watchtower Teach About Homosexuality?
There's no denying the fact that the Watchtower Society condemns homosexuality. Jehovah's Witnesses are taught that homosexuality is a sin and a disfellowshippable offense. Watchtower publications have equated homosexuality with masturbation, pedophilia and demonic activity. While the Society claims to "love the homosexual in their midst", such an individual must remain celibate for life, marry heterosexually, or face immediate expulsion.
Should I Join "A Common Bond"?
This is a decision only you can make. We do have active and semi-active JW's who have attended our gatherings before. Some attend regularly, while others have visited only once or twice and not returned. Many who have contacted us do not live in an area where there is currently an active Common Bond chapter. We can often help such individuals get in contact with others in their area for support (although most of our contacts are usually not active in the Organization any longer). The important thing to keep in mind is that your anonymity will never be compromised, especially in light of the fact that you will be voluntarily associating with disassociated and disfellowshipped members. Realistically, you must be prepared to hear about others who have had unpleasant experiences inside the Organization. This is a reality for many gay Witnesses and ex-Witnesses. While some well-meaning group members may encourage you to leave the Organization, it has been our experience that no one is ever pressured to do so. The final decision is yours. Several active gay J.W.'s have posted web sites on the internet:
"Support for Jehovah's Witnesses Who Are 'Heterosexually Challenged'"
"How Can You Be a JW & Be Gay?"
This is not an endorsement of these sites, and are provided for informational purposes only. As stated on our FAQ Page, we do not condemn these individuals for wanting to offer support to one another. However, while their motives are in earnest, we believe that encouraging individuals to remain in an organization that blatantly condemns them is unrealistic.
The path of the active Jehovah's Witness who is gay is a difficult one. If you decide to stay in the Organization, you face the options of living a life of forced celibacy in order to conform to the edicts of your faith, remaining single or getting heterosexually married while concealing your sexuality, or living a "double life" as an active J.W. as well as a sexually active gay person. On the other hand, if you decide to walk away, disassociate, or are brought before a judicial committee and disfellowshipped, you leave behind your entire belief system, your support environment, and probable alienation from family and friends. No path is an easy one to follow for the gay Witness. As stated above, the final decision rests with you, your conscience, and your ability to accept yourself for who you are. We wish you well and are here to offer you support. We understand, sympathize, and know what you are going through!