Cult & Fear: Interview with Ms. Dorothy Henshaw

Source. Pexels.Okasana Kuz, Photographer

 Interviewer:  Sue DeGregorio-Rosen, RN, CLNC, Contributing Editor

Introduction: The word Cult conceptually has a very old history. However, etymologically the word cult itself, is rooted in homage and worship dating back to 1617.  Depending on the source material e.g., The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, with modern meanings involving loyalty to an authoritarian.  The English writer and religious thinker William Penn in his writings in 1679 used the word cult to refer to a system of religious worship. The word was borrowed from French writings using the word Culte and directly from the Latin Cultus – cultivation, care, attention, worship. During the 18th century, cult was attached to non-religious devotion, primarily to a person or idea. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries witnessed an expansion of its characteristics toward the unorthodox, specious, false and fraudulent.

Background: Dorothy Henshaw is a 43 year old artist who resides in Greenwood Lake, New Jersey with her partner, Allen. She is one of two children with an older brother David. Dorothy was born into the teachings of The Jehovah Witnesses. Her father was an alcoholic and is deceased and her mother, a very active interior decorator resides in Naples, Florida.  Her mother is also known as what is called an “apostate” has left the organization and is currently shunned by the Jehovah Witness Community.  Dorothy was born in New England and was raised and lived in Naples until 2017.  This is her story.

 NP: What was the name of the religious cult you were in?

Henshaw:  From what I was told two Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on my parent’s door when I was just a baby in 1979. My mother showed no interest but my father with his long braid and Willy Nelson bandanna asked them a lot of questions. He had gone to college to study theology with my grandmother’s encouragement.  My father could captivate an audience and keep them mesmerized as I would learn years later. He found solace in the message that was offered and convinced my mother to go to attend their Kingdom Hall.

I was a free spirit and my parents very rarely disciplined me. That all changed right after their first introduction into the beliefs of the Jehovah Witnesses. The women/sisters took my mother aside and told her that I was “demonized”. They shared a scripture about sparing the rod and withholding discipline, what they believed was a strict disciplinary code to follow. My mother was horrified but my father insisted that this had to be The Truth. He was convinced, and I believe brainwashed, and she understood that part, but she believed that if anything in the very least I would be safe among the other members.

Jehovah’s Witnesses pride themselves in being clean cut and well behaved in public. It was a competition in our congregation to see who disciplined their children more.

When I was four years old, I was left with an older couple. People that my parents had been studying with were watching my parents getting baptized along with my older brother. They had been studying for three years without celebrating holidays that we would normally observe. All of that came to a stop within the first two years. Once my family was baptized my father climbed the ladder quickly. He was very charismatic and had a large presence everywhere that he went. He was an elder, along with 5 or 6 other men that lead this congregation, and within the first two years of being baptized and was given the task of overseeing a larger congregation along with a few others.

NP:  How old were you when you became a member?

Henshaw:  I started to get pressured into baptism around the age of 10. Both of my parents were spiritually active and very involved. Once a year the cult holds a district convention that thousands attend. I was permitted to take part on a live stage in front of those thousands at convention. As a woman you are only permitted to put on a reenactment of how you would approach a potential convert.  You cannot go any further in advancement as a woman.  At the age of 12, I became a baptized member of The Jehovah Witness org. which I now refer to as a cult.

I didn’t know what I was doing other than making others happy and that I loved Jehovah God and didn’t want to be destroyed. The fear is real and there is no time to be a child.

I knew that once I was baptized, I had to really work hard at being a good servant because we were taught that Satan would be waiting like a roaring lion waiting to devour us. It is a fear-based organization, capitalizing on fear.

NP: How did you come to leave the organization?

Henshaw: When I was 18, I married someone that was not a member of the organization. I decided early on that I would never marry within the Org. because of the conditioning to tell on one another…which would include your husband, wife, mother, or anyone that you think is bringing reproach to the organization.  Anything you do that is not within their rules can be a reason to go before the elders. ALONE! You are not allowed to have anyone with you for support…even if you are a child.  Your life is in their hands right down to having children and what toys are approved for them to play with. The rules are endless and when I was growing up there were 5 meetings a week to remind us that we were to be faithful to The Organization so that we weren’t “destroyed” in The End…which they have been predicting since the cult was founded.

I spent 22 years being inactive and only going to their meetings occasionally but still believed everything that I was taught.  The shame and guilt that they had instilled into me as a child was lurking and I had to do something about it. They love to bomb you when you are inactive or if they are trying to get you into or back into their practice. For many years I would see people around town or would receive texts or Facebook messages encouraging me to return to Jehovah while laying on the guilt.

In 2018 I moved to New Jersey and decided to call The World Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses to request a bible study and go back to the meetings. I had left my husband 6 years prior and at this time in 2018 was with a new partner who was not a Jehovah Witness. I smoked cigarettes and was not considered moral, but I was willing to do anything to get on God’s good side and this was the only way I knew how.

I started studying their publications with two “sisters” and was on a weekly if not daily reminder that what I was doing was wrong in God’s eyes and that I must not be praying hard enough to gain his trust. I prayed harder for help to quit smoking and to leave my wonderful boyfriend so that I would be accepted back.

It was planned that I would have an important bible study with a very prominent man’s wife one week. I sat and waited for an hour. Finally, a zoom call came, and I was informed that they had to investigate me, and they could no longer study with me as I knew better because I was raised and baptized at the age of 12.

Receiving any rejection is terrible but when it is directed from God, as they said and as I believed, it’s mind blowing. They directed me to keep praying and wait for their instruction which would come soon.  I agreed. I then spent a week in a major depression and was considering suicide. This may seem extreme but if you are raised in this cult, you understand the depth of these kinds of negative behaviors.

I used to kneel-down on my hands and knees begging God for some answers. I hadn’t remembered anyone being investigated or even hearing that word in the organization when I was growing up. I had to research this but was not permitted to read anything about them that isn’t published by The Kingdom Halls. This behavior carries a very heavy consequence. You become labelled an apostate and will be shunned (they call it disfellowshipping) with no acceptance from God or other members ever again.

The day that I finally googled them, I remember being very scared just as they wanted me to be. I was crossing the biggest line. I was going to read apostate information and it must all be lies. That’s what they teach and that’s why I believed them. The things I found out were sick and just kept getting worse as I read on.

NP: What are your thoughts on the role of the leadership in this organization?

Henshaw:  Scam artists and power-hungry men that use God to take advantage of their members. They take and take and never give you a thing in return except the promise of everlasting life which isn’t theirs to give. They hide their pedophiles and think that they are above the law. They can’t be trusted.

it’s a real estate company that uses religion for tax exemptions. I think they need to be brought to justice.  The suicide rate is high and alcoholism is prevalent. They mislead based on my experience. It’s all fear based. I can relate to government, news media, and so forth, in how people are controlled by their fear.

The leaders at the very top are called, The Governing Body. That consists of eight MEN (there will never and has never been a woman as a governing body member) that oversee eight million Jehovah’s Witnesses all over the world. They claim to be inspired by Jehovah God himself and the members are required to take everything that they say to heart and follow all instructions. They counsel their members constantly about not “murmuring” and doing everything that they are told to do without question! They are constantly asking for money and even have it set up to come directly out of your bank account.

We are to be no part of this world or to be friends with anyone in it that is not a Jehovah Witness.

The governing body members are viewed as celebrities and a direct line to God. Questioning them or anything that they say is a gross sin.

Until last year I looked at them the same way. I truly believed that they were there for our best interest and listening to them would insure me everlasting life in God’s New Order which is at hand and coming any minute. They used Covid as a fear Tactic. Surely this was God’s way of telling us that The End is near.

After doing a little research I discovered something that any human being would be horrified over as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse this sent me over the edge. They have a pedophile database going back to the 70’s with names and details that they refuse to turn over to the police.

They are their own judge and jury. Police are never to be called. Everything goes through the elders then to “HEADQUARTERS” where they deal with it themselves. Women and children have no voice, and they are sent back to their abusers and told to be more submissive as the man is the head of the household and to be respected no matter what. The only reason for divorce is if adultery is committed or if the mate should become an apostate and speak out against the organization.

These men are ill equipped to handle such matters of child abuse, domestic abuse or whatever issues that need professional help.

I now look at them as money hungry criminals that are misleading their flock and only out for themselves.

NP: What have you learned from this experience?

Henshaw: Learning that your whole life was based on a lie would be upsetting to anyone but when it involves your faith and belief system in God, it leaves you empty and with a question of now what.  I liken it to being in the wilderness for years with a map to an oasis that you are constantly assured and promised is there. Then you find out one day that it was all a hoax, there is no oasis, and you have no map to get out of the wilderness. Being taught that you are an alien in this world and not to be any part of it creates issues with having normal relationships. By speaking out though I have learned that there are many still in this cult that want to get out but are afraid to lose their family. I have lost a few people in my family that are still members.  I was able to get my mother to finally investigate the Jehovah Witness Organization and leave as well.

I am learning not to take everything that I read or hear as truth. Always investigate and use critical thinking. I’ve also learned that being a woman is a blessing and to be honored not used and abused by men or anyone!

I have found my voice and love speaking out against injustices. All the money that is donated to them goes to child sexual abuse court cases. They have never helped starving people or homeless people. If any member asks for help, they turn their backs or tell you that you must not be praying hard enough.

NP:  Have you told others about the experience that you have shared here?

Henshaw: I applaud anyone that can stand up to this organization. It’s like coming out of the closet and finally being able to be YOU. You know that you will lose people over this so it’s a tough decision and life changing to say the least!  The problem with finally becoming YOU is that most of us that have left don’t know who we are because we weren’t allowed to attend school education or learn how to express ourselves. We are afraid and open wounds when leaving this cult. I share true and unconditional love and empathy along with a little of my story. I share no judgment whatsoever. Only love and support is needed.  I have a few friends that grew up in this cult with me and by them leaving they have lost everyone they’ve ever known. I give them the most credit. It takes courage and strength to put up with the ramifications of leaving and being called terrible names and that you are dead to them and God.

No one has any right to take your faith or God from you. This is such a personal matter and if you have history with Him, that’s yours and not “theirs” to take!

The good side to this is that you can now start over and have a new life. Being deprogrammed is something that many need and there are a few professionals all over the world  that are former JW’s that offer their help to start over

NP:  Are you happy now that are no longer a member of this organization?

Henshaw: t’s a bittersweet feeling. At times I feel sadness and a weight of disappointment in that I’ve hurt and will hurt former friends by speaking out against what they are still involved in and that I can’t speak to them anymore but that can’t ruin my happiness of being free from a lie and from fear of the world ending. I can move forward with MY life and find all the beauty in this world and not wait for it to end.

As a member of this cult – every decision made is based around Armageddon coming. It’s been a weight lifted little by little the more I learn. This gives me hope that one day I will be totally free from the intense brainwashing and control of the Governing Body’s voices of shame and guilt.

To anyone reading this that is still believing or thinking of joining this cult..do your research, follow the money trail and just look at all of the child sexual abuse cases that they refuse to cooperate in and spend millions to  defend the organization’s name.

I will always speak out against the leaders of this cult. I can only hope that my words will reach just one person and help them or motivate them to action and to find their voice in every aspect of their lives.

I will end with the last lines from a poem written by Max Ehrman for his daughter as practical advice to live by and that I try to live by now.

“KEEP PEACE IN YOUR SOUL.  With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still A BEAUTIFUL WORLD. Be cheerful. STRIVE TO BE HAPPY”.