Former Jehovah's Witness says she was turned away from the religion for having doubts

Amber Scorah's new book explores how she lost her faith, and found a new life

CBC Radio/June 5, 2019

When former Jehovah's Witness Amber Scorah began to have doubts about her faith, she kept them private, even from her husband.

Until one night, she couldn't contain her questions anymore.

Scorah and her husband were reading about a new trend in the Jehovah's Witness community: learning Hebrew and Greek to study the bible in its original language.

"[That] seemed like a really great idea to me ... because I thought, like, what would we be afraid of?" Scorah told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

However the article went on to condemn the trend, and said "that the only place that we should be getting our understanding from was from what we called the governing body, who are essentially the leaders of the Jehovah's Witnesses."

Scorah suddenly blurted out: "Is this some kind of a cult or something?"

"My husband looked at me and was like, 'what did you just say?'

Scorah says that exclamation was a step in leaving her faith, being shunned by many of the people in her life, and trying to find her own way in the world. Originally from Vancouver, she now works as a writer and editor in New York, and has documented experience in Leaving The Witness: Exiting a Religion and Finding a Life.

'The worst sin you can commit'

Scorah was a third-generation Jehovah's Witness. As her beliefs dictated, she had not gone to college and had only ever worked part time, to devote her time instead to trying to convert people to her faith.

Like others in her religion, Scorah believed that the apocalypse was imminent, and that at the end of the world, only those who devote themselves to the Jehovah's Witness faith would be saved.

"When you have that mentality, if you think you're a person who cares about people, you just want to try and save people's lives," she said.

But as the years went by, she began to doubt the absolute truth of her faith. However, she didn't dare tell anyone.

"It's a very dangerous thing to admit that you have doubts about the faith, because in our religion that's basically the worst sin you can commit," she said.

If a Jehovah's Witness does something that goes against the core rules of the church, they are asked to confess to a panel of elders, who then decide if they are repentant enough.

If they are deemed not to be, the church member can be "disfellowshipped," meaning other members of the congregation will no longer speak to them, or even acknowledge them if they pass them on the street.

When Scorah's congregation found out about her doubts — through one of her Bible students — she was shunned, though not officially disfellowshipped.

"I was told that if I talk about this stuff, I will be disfellowshipped," she told Tremonti. "In fact, they just told me to stay away ... if I wasn't willing to reform my thoughts back to where they should be."

The Current requested interviews with the Jehovah's Witnesses International Organization, as well as its Canadian branch. Both declined, directing us to their website, which describes disfellowshipping as "a loving provision."

"Disfellowshipping may bring the wrongdoer to his senses," the site says, adding that it also "protects the clean, Christian congregation."  

The website also addresses the question of whether the Jehovah's Witnesses are a cult, saying, in part, "Far from being a dangerous cult, Jehovah's Witnesses practice a religion that benefits its members and others in the community."

Scorah said that the word cult is "very charged," but thinks she received "retribution" for what she calls a "very moderate doubt."

"It wasn't like I was ranting and raving in the congregation," she said. "The reaction I got did not feel right, did not feel normal."

Scorah was living in China when she left the church, and lost contact with a lot of the people in her life.

"I just didn't feel like I belonged anywhere. I didn't know how to live in the real world because I had been taught that that world was scary," she said.

Leaving showed her 'life is actually very beautiful'

Scorah left the church, and lost contact with her now former husband. She ended up living and working in the U.S.

Building a new life for herself was a long, lonely and difficult process, she said.

"I had to become outgoing even though I'm kind of a shy person, and just make friends, one at a time.

"Figure out how I would support myself, where I was going to live, it was basically just like starting a new life."

She doesn't regret her decision, and said she would encourage former friends to ask questions about their beliefs, though the decision on whether to stay in the religion is up to them.

For her, leaving the certainties of her religion has given her a new take on life.

"Life is actually very beautiful," she told Tremonti.

"And when you realize it's not going to go on forever, even the day-to-day becomes more meaningful."

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