Who am I? What do I believe to be true?
Those basic questions are the impetus for faith deconstruction.
Who are you?
If you had asked me this while I was in my teens or in early adulthood, I would have answered with cult buzzwords – linguistic coding known to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Who am I? I am an elder’s daughter. A pioneer. An elder’s wife. Yes, I recognize the irony that 2 of those 3 roles did not even describe me or anything that I did; they simply denoted my relationship to the man in charge of me.
Ah, the insidiousness of identity foreclosure, esp. for those of us born into fundamentalist families. Identity foreclosure is defined as the premature commitment to an identity, the unquestioning acceptance by individuals of the role, values, and goals that others have chosen for them. Most healthy adolescents have identity crises as they discover their roles in society. They try on any number of roles in an attempt to develop their own identity. Adolescents who are given the freedom to explore identities and given unconditional love during this process are lucky kids indeed.
How many of us as Witnesses were voluntold what our roles would be? Pioneer. Bethelite. Ministerial servant. Each title was imbued with societal expectations and conduct restrictions. Deviate from those expectations and disapproval and criticism would be meted out. Shepherding calls. Judicial committee meetings. Public reproof. Disfellowshipping.
Conform or be damned.
Each role that I was assigned fit about as comfortably as a turtleneck that was three sizes too small. For others, I am sure that it was much, much harder. For example, I cannot imagine trying to navigate one's sexual orientation or gender identity in an insular religious community as homophobic and transphobic as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Imagine hearing:
For true Christians this [homosexual] lifestyle is totally unacceptable. The insidious propaganda now flooding out on its behalf must be shunned like the plague it is. Awake, March 22, 1986
The remedy for those with such [transsexual] inclinations is not surgery but a change in outlook, ‘being made new in the force actuating their minds’ with the aid of God’s Word. Watchtower, June 15, 1974
To all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender former Jehovah's Witnesses, I am sorry for the way that we treated you. I am sorry that I was so trapped in the sunken place that I could not be an ally. You deserve to live authentically and to be loved and accepted while doing so.
And to anyone who is navigating faith deconstruction or deconversion, remember the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, "To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment."