Couple's faith tested

The Yarmouth Mercury, UK/September 28, 2006
By Miles Jermy

They were once devoted believers - but a husband and wife say their faith has been tested and their family torn apart after they were thrown out of the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Members of the Bradwell congregation - including their only child, a daughter - are now forbidden from speaking to David and Brenda Gibbons since they were forced to leave.

They were thrown out by a judicial committee at Great Yarmouth Kingdom Hall in July, after writing a letter containing personal criticism to another member of the congregation.

Declared “revilers”, people who speak ill of others, the decision to “disfellowship” the couple was upheld on appeal to the Jehovah's Witnesses' British branch in London.

They have not seen daughter Leah, 25, since being forced to leave the organisation.

Retired merchant seaman

Mr Gibbons, 62, and Mrs Gibbons, 64, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, are devastated by the experience.

Mrs Gibbons told the Mercury: “It is heartbreaking that Leah is not allowed to speak to us because of a scriptural point of view.

“I do regret joining the Jehovah's Witnesses because then we would still have our daughter.

“We were renowned for being a close family; to love a child who has died is bad, to lose a child who does not want to talk to you is quite heartbreaking.

“People need to know the consequences of stepping out of line - so many families have been split up and now we have lost a dear daughter.”

She added: “No religion should impose that on people, but there is very precise manipulation of the way believers think and feel.”

Jehovah's Witnesses are instructed to shun expelled members, who are allowed to attend services and receive spiritual guidance, but cannot be welcomed back into the congregation until they apologise for their actions.

Mr and Mrs Gibbons are adamant they have done nothing wrong and cannot return to the movement that was, until recently, central to their lives.

Mr Gibbons said: “The elders could have helped resolve the situation, but I believe they wanted me out because I was outspoken and this was an opportunity to remove me.

“Our Christian brothers and sisters would like to speak to us, but are fearful of what action might be taken against them.

“We were loved by so many people, but now when they see us in the street they turn away The body of elders has created a climate of fear amid the congregation, which is divided into cliques.

“Even if I had committed a crime I would expect my family's support, but Brenda and I have done nothing wrong and yet we are completely isolated.

“What is the good of any religion that takes your daughter away from you and does what has been done to us.”

Mr Gibbons was stripped of his position as a ministerial servant in June; he and his wife had been worshipping with the Gorleston congregation until their expulsion.

Worshippers are not told why a member is removed and Mr Gibbons, who had managed the accounts at Bradwell Kingdom Hall, feared they would think he had been thrown out for stealing money.

The last few months have been an ordeal for the couple after losing contact with a daughter they had been so close to and who encouraged them to join the Jehovah's Witnesses 14 years ago.

All they are left with now is memories of their time with Leah and a gallery of family photos at their home in Kingfisher Close.

Mr Gibbons added: “It was really Leah who got us into the church as she had a friend at school who was a Witness.

“Her father came round to visit us; we had a Bible study and joined after going along to worship for a year.

“We were renowned for being a close-knit family and well known for riding around together on a tandem cycle. We shared so many jokes and good times.

“This is tearing us apart, we were always so full of fun, laughter and life but now just do not feel whole anymore.”

The Gibbons' daughter, Leah, refused to talk to the Mercury when she was approached, and Trevor Gaskin, the presiding Jehovah's Witness also declined the comment.

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