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A Family Divided but Not Conquered

A Family Divided but Not Conquered

Marilyn Maxfield King & Sharon Kennedy 

David and Sharon Kennedy

My name is Sharon McDaniel Kennedy. I am (as of 1999) 57 years old. I was raised, for most of my life, as one of Jehovahís Witnesses. My story is about an awakening to truth, and a realization that the things that I held precious for 47 years were not what I thought they were. I will begin at the beginning:

My mother was the youngest of three children, born to a warm loving family, with wonderful nurturing parents. My grandfather was the eldest son of early homesteaders in Washington State, his mother being half-Indian, from Wisconsin. He had been raised as a Quaker, his familyís heritage for 200 years; but in his young manhood, he became interested in the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, and turned to Christian Science teachings. Since the late 1800ís the entire extended family had also been involved in a lodge, the I.O.O.F. (International Order of Odd Fellows). My grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and all the friends of the family, were part of the lodge. I have many fond memories of lodge trips, picnics, and events for the entire family. It was a real community of love that we all enjoyed very much. By 1950 my grandfather had risen to a very high position in the lodge and was the Brigadier General, Departmental Commander of Washington, Patriarch's militia, and had been the top man, in the State of Washington for 12 years. He was due to be nominated for the same position for the entire United States in 1950, when things began to change in our family.

My uncle Cy was a World War 2 veteran, retired from the navy, and now had a very successful practice as a chiropractor in Seattle, Washington. His daughter, Marilyn, is three years younger than myself. She and I had always been very close, and would become even closer as we grew to womanhood. Neither of us had a sister and we always felt that we were more sisters than cousins. Uncle Cy was my motherís brother, the eldest child, and only son. He and his wife, Aunt Dot, had begun to study the Bible with Jehovahís Witnesses in 1950. Never did I, as an eight-year old child, begin to comprehend what this would mean to all of us in the family, then and for the next nearly 50 years.

Uncle Cy and Aunt Dot embraced the teachings of Jehovahís Witnesses and were baptized in 1950. They continually "witnessed to" my grandparents and my mother, who had divorced my physically abusive father, encouraging them to study the Bible with the Witnesses in their area. Eventually they did do this, and my mother began to study with Aunt Dot. In time, my grandparents, my mother, and Marilynís elder brother, Lonnie, were also baptized. In 1954, at the age of 12, I was baptized too. Marilyn was baptized the following year, at the age of 9, and then my brother, Mike, in 1958, at the International Convention in New York City. Now all of us were Jehovahís Witnesses. All, that is, except my Aunt Lanette and her three children.

My father was an Air Force Officer. He often beat my mother, who had to be hospitalized several times as a result. Eventually, my mother divorced him, and we moved "home" to live with grandma and grandpa in the house grandpa had built for his family when they were young. We lived there from 1953 until my mother remarried in 1960, but my brother and I eventually moved back to live with our grandparents, and I lived there until my own marriage.

During the years I was growing up, we made two cross-country road trips to New York City, in 1953 and 1958, to attend the large International conventions that Jehovahís Witnesses were able to hold in those years. The organization grew too large after 1958 to hold a convention for everyone in just one location, ever again. Those trips were wonderful and educational for all of us. We have many fine memories of the fun we had together as a family on those six-week trips, camping and being tourists, and driving from Coast to Coast. Even the conventions were exciting to all of us; and, as children, we were excited to see people from all over the world, even if the sessions were long, and the talks at the convention, were lost on us.

Growing up as Jehovahís Witnesses, none of us felt deprived of anything that other kids had in their lives. We had our family that got together all the time, and we got presents throughout the year, so never felt that we were missing anything by not celebrating birthdays or Christmas. The family continued to have big holiday dinners on Thanksgiving and Christmas. We always said it was because everyone had the day off anyway, and turkeys were cheap at holiday time. We never felt we were making a compromise. Grandma made her fruitcakes, fudge, and divinity, as she always had at that time of year. It was a tradition that none of us felt it necessary to give up. And so the years went by.

One thing, though, was always missing. That was the association with my Aunt Lanette and her children. Her oldest son, Danny, was close in age to my brother and had always been with us much of the time, so Mike would have a buddy. Mike and I both were very close to him. After we became witnesses, we saw less and less of Danny; and, as the years passed, the only time we saw him was on our summer camping trips. Aunt Net always said that the witnesses took her family away from her. I have so many regrets about this now.

In 1961 I married David Kennedy, a wonderful man, who has been my husband for 38 years. We have three sons who were raised to be Jehovahís Witnesses too. Our eldest son, Scott, rebelled against "the truth" and ran away from home at the age of 14. Now, 37 years old, he is still in and out of our lives, but has never gone back to being a Witness.

Our second son, Sean, was every Witness motherís dream son. After graduating from High School in 1982, he became a regular pioneer, and was an outstanding example of a fine young Christian man to all of the young people in our congregation and to the entire circuit. He was used on many assembly programs, and progressed beautifully according to Witness teachings. In 1984 he was invited to join the Bethel family at Watchtower Farm, in Wallkill, New York. He truly enjoyed the more than two years he spent as part of the Bethel Family. Of course, David and I were very proud of him. In 1986 he left Bethel, when he became engaged to a young sister he had met at the congregation he had been assigned to attend, in Shokan, New York. They were married in 1987.

Our youngest son, Brian, also remained faithful to the organization and itís teachings. In 1993 he married a woman he had met at a Kingdom Hall building project in South Dakota. She was from Wisconsin. Brian and his wife now live in that state, and have given us our only grandchildren, two beautiful little girls. Sophie was born in 1997. Her sister Phoebe was born in September, 1999.

Because two of our sons and their wives are Jehovahís witnesses, the ramifications of my story become more painful. But I will come to that later.

About 1993 my husband began intensive study of the teachings and history of Jehovahís Witnesses. He had been "in the truth" since infancy, but was now beginning to deeply examine and research the Bible itself, to try and get answers for nagging questions he had always had in his life. Since his mother had become a Witness when he was just a baby, it was all he had ever known; and, for the most part, he never questioned anything. He would always put troublesome questions on the shelf, as we all seemed to be doing. After about a year of research, he no longer felt comfortable associating with the congregation, but continued to go to some of the meetings because I wanted him to come with me very much. I refused to listen to him when he tried to tell me what he had learned about Witness doctrines in light of Bible truth. To me, he was not thinking rationally, and just needed to be at the meetings where he would straighten out eventually. That never happened. He got to the point of not being able to handle it anymore, so I let him off the hook and continued going alone. At least Marilyn and her husband, Dave, were there, so I wasnít all by myself.

Marilynís husband, a highly respected and prominent elder, also had been researching "the truth" and discussing it with her. Marilyn and I had many discussions about our situation, because we worked together on Fridays cleaning houses, and she felt as I did, that this was the truth, and that they were on dangerous ground with Jehovah God and the congregation. We wanted to protect them and keep them from being disfellowshipped for their beliefs.

Much to my horror, Marilyn began to see their viewpoint. I was devastated to see this happening. Up to then, we both had continued to study and to reinforce our beliefs as Witnesses. Determined to disprove what the two Davids were saying, she got on the Internet and went to the library; but she was disappointed and frustrated that all she was able to accomplish was to prove them right. She tells me now how she would cry and rage, and be so angry to realize how she had been so fooled for most of her life, since she was five years old. She felt she had wasted her entire life, and had raised her four children to believe something that was all a lie. It seemed a terrible waste of many lives to her. She even began to doubt whether God existed at all, and knows that she even blamed him for allowing so many people to be taken in by the lies. She stopped going in field service and very seldom went to the Kingdom Hall anymore.

That year, Marilynís husband resigned as an elder, stating reasons other than his changed beliefs, so as not to arouse suspicion. Since his wife, a former regular pioneer, was not taking an active role in the congregation anymore, he told the body that he needed to devote more time to her and her "spiritual illness." He had been a prominent elder for over 25 years, and he knew that resigning could be a problem for him if he didnít do it the right way. At that time he wanted to remain part of the congregation, feeling that it was important to associate with fellow Christians, as a family of faith; but that became more and more difficult for him to do.

Since I felt I couldnít talk to my husband about this, I contacted my son Sean in New York and would pour out my heart to him. He was very helpful to me and very understanding, too. I would also talk to Marilyn and her husband and try to get comfort and some spiritual guidance. They were understanding and would encourage me to continue reading the Bible and to pray for the truth to be known to me. I did that very diligently, and still do. During the whole time that my husband was "falling away," no elders ever came to inquire as to where he was now, or if there was anything they could do to help me, since my husband no longer attended meetings or went out in field service.

My husband had several books in our home that I had avoided even looking at for about three years. Now I started looking at them. I read Raymond Franzís books, Crisis of Conscience, and The Search For Christian Freedom. I also read a book by a Swedish man named Carl Olof Jonnson, called The Sign of the Last Days, When? We had been warned at the congregation meetings not to read these books, or any like them, because they were written by apostates and, by their clever wording, could sway us to apostate teachings. I felt that I was secure in my beliefs and had nothing to fear by reading them. The irrefutable documentation presented in these books completely shattered my belief in the system of Jehovahís Witnesses and their entire organization. I knew, after reading the Franz books, that this was not a spirit-directed organization at all, but a highly organized business, an International corporation that was in deep trouble, taking desperate steps to protect itself from destruction. The Jonnson book made me realize that the chronology I had believed and taught for most of my life, was based on an incorrect date and that the "sign of the last days" was not a sign at all. In fact people in previous time periods had lived through much more difficult times than this time frame. There was no longer any doubt in my mind as to what was true.

By the winter of 1996 I had answers to all my fervent prayers, and I now knew that, without a doubt, all the things the two Davids had been saying were absolutely true. It was wonderful to have this burden lifted from my shoulders. I believe with all my heart that Jehovah is the Hearer of prayers, and that he answered mine with the truth about "the truth". It became very clear, as I would read scriptures, what the real and correct meaning was, rather than what the Societyís interpretation said was the meaning.

My husband had begun to write a very long copyrighted thesis he called "In Spirit and Truth," where he wrote in his own words much of what he had learned in his years of renewed Bible study, since leaving the organization. He suggested I read it, and I did. It was an eye opener for me, on top of all the other things I had read.

My mother, a faithful Witness, was devastated by my change of belief, and told me how hurt she was and that she just didnít understand what had happened to change me. I was sure that she blamed my husband for "persuading" me to believe differently than what she had taught me in my childhood. During one of our emotional conversations I suggested she read my husbandís papers. At first she said "no" but after a few minutes, she said she would do it, but couldnít guarantee that she would read the whole thing. We gave her a copy of it, and waited.

Several weeks later, on a Saturday, in February, 1999, as my husband was getting ready for work, two elders, Fred and Tom, came to our door. David invited them in, and was very gracious to them, inviting them to sit and visit. They began asking him questions about his book, In Spirit and Truth. He asked if they had read it, and Fred, the father, said that he had not and would not read any apostate material. David wondered how he would know whether it was "apostate" if he had never read it, but didnít ask the question. Fred then asked my husband to come to a Judicial hearing at the Kingdom Hall scheduled for the next week. David declined, saying he had no intention of taking any overt action at all. Whatever they decided to do would be their own responsibility. They asked if I felt the same way too. David said that he could not speak for me, that I had a mind of my own, and if they wanted to know what I thought, they would have to ask me.

The next day, Sunday, they came to the door again. This time I was home and answered the door. My cousin Marilyn and her husband happened to be visiting us at the time. They overheard the conversation I had with these same elders who now invited me to come to their judicial hearing. I said I would not attend. Fred stressed the importance of answering the "accusations" against me. They did not say just who my accusers were. Eventually I found out that my mother had been very disturbed by what she read in the papers we gave to her, and showed them to some of her elders and to the Circuit overseer when they called on her one evening. They asked if they could take the "book" and she gave her permission, thinking that they would do research and help her to "help her daughter correct her thinking." Apparently, the elders construed this as an accusation, and decided to act upon it.

During the conversation I had with Fred, he asked me to write a letter saying I was no longer one of Jehovahís Witnesses, which I refused to do. Since writing a letter of that sort would label me the same as being disfellowshipped, I would not agree to that. I have daughters-in-law that have families I still wanted to be able to fellowship with when visiting my sons, so I had no desire to be cut off, the way writing a letter like that would do to me. Fred didnít understand, and I had to repeat it several times. I told them that if they disfellowshipped me, I would sue them. That got their attention. He seemed shocked and asked me why, so I had to explain once again as to the ramifications of that kind of action against myself and my family. I told them I was guilty of nothing requiring disfellowshipment, and that they had no jurisdiction over me anymore. I hadnít attended meetings at the Kingdom Hall for nearly two years. All that time we had received not so much as a phone call from any of them, and now they wanted to meet with me, not to help me, but to disfellowship me. It all made me ill. I asked why they were coming now, after all this time, since they had never once bothered to come in the past two years or more since I had begun withdrawing. His answer was poor, but he said they had just gotten the "book" and were acting on that situation. So, I asked again why no one ever called during the past two years. One of them asked, "Would it have made a difference?" as if shepherding the sheep depended on whether a certain response could be predicted beforehand. My answer was that, "It might have." In the beginning of my searching, if they had shown that they cared for David and for me, I might at least have felt that they were loving Christians and I may have continued associating for that reason alone. He seemed very uncomfortable with talking about why they didnít call on us.

During the next few weeks, David began serving process against the elders in two congregations as well as a circuit overseer for having unlawful possession and use of his copyrighted intellectual property. On the first page of the essays we had given to my mother, was a statement that they were exclusively for the personal examination of the person who had been given the authorís permission to read them, and that they were not to be passed to anyone else, and no copies were to be made of them. The process papers were sent to Fred et al. In them, David demanded the return of his copyrighted intellectual property, and also required a notarized sworn affidavit stating that no copies had been made. Over a period of weeks, Fred and his associates received an Administrative Remedy Letter, a Notice of Fault, and a Notice of Final Default, all spelling out the precise issues of the case and what the recipients of this process are required to do. Their failure to respond within a reasonable time would be deemed their stipulation as to stare decisis facts proving conclusively that they are guilty as charged and cannot show cause why they do not owe damages to David. To date, not one of the twenty or so defendants has responded in any way.

After this series of events, the elders dropped their pursuit of my husband and began, again, coming after me. We believe they declined moving against him because of the pending legal action.

A Judicial committee hearing was set and I was informed of it. Before the date of the hearing, I was visited by another elder, who was very nice and even emotional about how important it was that I come to the hearing. Tom called me on the telephone and stressed to me that it was crucial that I be there for the hearing, so as not to be disfellowshipped. I had done nothing, and no formal charges were ever brought, so I did not attend. That week, two of the elders traveled a long distance to talk to my mother and to get the facts straight as to what happened, and how she came to have the papers in her possession. She told them just what I have stated here. During the next three weeks I had many phone messages from Fred asking me to call him. We played "phone tag" for awhile, due to conflicting schedules; still, I had nothing to say to them and felt they had no jurisdiction over me, so I saw no need to discuss the matter.

On a Friday morning, in March 1999, my cousin Marilyn called me to tell me that she had been told by a friend in the congregation that a letter had been read saying I was disfellowshipped. I was never officially informed, by the elders or anyone else, of this action.

So, apparently, I am disfellowshipped. No one will call or visit, and the rumors are rampant that I was involved in some kind of immorality. I have no way to discount those rumors. So I have no choice but to leave it alone and hope the rumors stop, but my reputation is now ruined. I didnít deserve that, and every one of the elders involved knows it. All I ever wanted was for my mother to understand my decision. She agreed to read the papers, but, unfortunately, she trusted her elders to handle the papers properly, believing they would somehow be helpful to her and to me. She never expected them to use the papers against me. The question everyone is asking now, is "Why did they disfellowship Sharon, who merely handed over the papers to her mother? Why didnít they pursue the author of those writings?" The answer seems to be very clear. He has a pending lawsuit against them, and they donít want to "rock the boat" as the saying goes, yet they wanted to "get" someone in this situation, so they went after me.

My own mother says she will only associate with me if absolutely necessary. Nevertheless, she welcomes all my calls and visits. She now says she wonít eat with me, but shares coffee and goodies whenever we come to see her (a NO-NO, according to organization policy). So, obviously, she is unsettled in her mind and heart. My sons, though, have no problem with it, as they have come to see for themselves that much in the organization is in error scripturally. They have done and are doing their own research. Their wives seem to have a problem with that, and are giving their husbands some problems. It is truly an emotional thing. It has upset everyoneís paradigm, and they see it as threatening their entire world and belief system. I know. Iíve been there, done that, as the saying goes.

I ask, "What right does a group of men have to ruin peoples lives and break up families, just because we exercise our God given right to choose for ourselves what we will and will not believe?" Witnesses knock on doors and encourage everyone to examine their religion as to what it teaches, and to decide for themselves what they will believe. We shouldnít just go along with a belief system merely because that is what our parents and grandparents believed, they say. But do they encourage Witnesses to do the same? (Mankindís Search For God - pg. 8, par. 12; pg. 22, par. 8)

Well, I did follow that published advice from the Watchtower Society, and many, many worldwide are doing the same. It is our own personal choice, based on our own study and research. I have not simply acquiesced to my husbandís beliefs. My mother thinks that he has drawn me away, as if I was some naÔve little puppy dog following along. Give me a break! I am a grown woman who has a mind of her own and can think for herself. I told her this, and that she was insulting my intelligence. She seems to think she failed me somehow in my training. I assured her that was not the case. I believe she did the best she could, and firmly believed she was doing right, just as David and I did in raising our own children. Looking back, I am very thankful for my training in good family relationships and morals. From an early age, I always had a desire for spiritual things. I wanted to go to church and Sunday school. The training as a witness was not bad, but I know that I could have received the same training from one of the many other Christian religions, if that is what our family had become. There are many, many wonderful Christian people in this world who are clean, decent and moral. They donít drink to excess, smoke, or use foul language. They raise wonderful families, just as many JWs do. Who are we to cut them off as "bad association," just because they are not JWs? Isnít this judging them as unworthy? Is that our place? Are we the judge?

It is not, and never has been, my intention to convert anyone to my personal way of thinking. My mother asked questions and I endeavored to answer them honestly and show why I think the way I do. She, and our sons and their families, or anyone else, are free to go whatever direction they choose. All I ask is that I am accorded the same right and not made to feel like Iím being punished because I choose to think for myself. If we carry on our life based on whether some human approves or disapproves, then we are not living our lives based on Christian freedom. We are each responsible for every decision we make in life, and we answer only to Jesus Christ, our Master. (1 Jo 4:1, ! Cor 2:15, Eph 5:10, Phil 1:10, 1 Thes 5:21, Acts 17:11, 2 Cor 13:5, Rom 12:2, Matt 7:7, Gal 1:8)

In all my research I have discovered many discrepancies and constant changes within the Jehovahís Witnesses religion. However, I have not lost my faith in God, Jesus Christ or the ransom. It is stronger now than it ever was. My focus has become more spiritual. I want to read the Bible and I find its message to be simple - not complicated and hard to understand. If we just read what it says, there is no problem knowing what it means. I have begun to develop a much closer relationship with my Heavenly Father, and his son. I know that God does not have his spirit on any person or organization that suppresses Christian freedom. That is totally in opposition to everything he stands for, including unconditional love, forgiveness, and mercy.

The conclusions I have come to have nothing to do with what any one person did or did not do, and I was not offended by anyone. I know that humans are imperfect and make mistakes. I was in search of truth and understanding. I prayed for that, and my prayers were answered. My decision was based on knowledge and a deeply heart-felt desire to know God, not on emotion. I hope my story will somehow help others who are actively searching for truth, and that they too will find it.

Since my husband and I have left the organization, I have been asked where we go now. The question is not "Where will you go away to?" but "to whom will you go?" The answer is Jesus Christ, not any man-made religious movement. Truth is in the Bible, and in the teachings of Jesus Christ, not in a fleshly organization. I keep remembering that "Christ died for all men." He didnít die just for Jehovahís Witnesses, or any other select group, but truly for all men. That is the promise we are given in the Bible.

In April, 1999, one month after I was disfellowshipped, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I am undergoing treatment, and am doing well. I was told recently, that a "sister" in the local congregation had made a comment that itís "too bad Sharon is not in good standing with the congregation, because there is a Witness in Oregon, who has had good success in helping cure this kind of cancer, but she would never treat a disfellowshipped person." To me, that is just a disgusting thing to say. How Christian is that? It just makes it more clear to me how distant that life is to me now, and how glad I am to be separated from it.

story submitted by Marilyn Maxfield King

Sharon Kennedy

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