Cliff The Fifth shares his story.
Shalom all! I interviewed Cliff Henderson V, who was a Jehovah’s Witness, born into The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Cliff was baptized at the tender age of nine. Cliff was climbing up the hierarchy of The Watchtower, becoming a regular pioneer, ministerial servant, and Bethelite.
How did you become a Jehovah’s Witness? Were you born into the Watchtower Society, or did a Jehovah’s Witness knock at your door?
So I was born into the Watchtower Society. My parents, when I was born they were already baptized Jehovah’s Witnesses. My Dad got baptized when he was seventeen, my Mom got baptized when she seven. I’m the fourth of five children, so by the time I was born, my three older sisters and everybody had already been raised into the religion.
Would you say the Watchtower Society made you a better person spiritually and mentally?
I would say no, because The Watchtower Society only allowed me to see things through a certain lens. A lens that had been predetermined by the leaders of the religion.
So anytime I were to have a thought about whether it was the essence of a god or just whatever else I believed in. My ancestors, or whatever else that I was learning. My ancestors or nature or whatever. It always had to be… history, that’s another good one, archaeology, it always had to be seen through the lens of The Watchtower Society. So I would say it was more of a hindrance. Spiritually, again, your relationship with God, if you will, can only be seen through the lens that they provide.
What event or events transpired in 2016, that made you question, or have the epiphany, that The Watchtower was not “the truth”?
This one is a harder one to answer, because it was more actually a series of events and some things that just happened over a period of time, which I guess to give you some of the highlights. Just some of the changes in doctrine, constant changes in doctrine, made me question how sure the leaders were, as far as what they were teaching us. And whether or not an All Knowing, All Mighty God, would be giving them incorrect information at one point, and then giving us updated information later. That just stopped seeming logical to me. The idea that everybody was going to be destroyed that was not a Jehovah’s Witness, or that turned down the opportunity to become a Jehovah’s Witness. That seemed illogical to me.
I also saw the Australian Royal Commission which was held in 2015, which was the investigation into the institutions response to child sexual abuse. They looked into the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and even had a member from the Governing Body, Geoffrey Jackson, testify on the witness stand. Once I saw that testimony and realized how people are dealt with that have experienced child sexual abuse within the religion, and even those who haven’t experienced that, they decide to leave later, and how they’re shunned with everybody else; through the disfellowshipping or the disassociation procedure. I began to realize how cruel that was. I really started to question whether I wanted to align myself with that type of organization.
There were other things as well, but eventually I got a point where I just stopped going to the religious services, going the meetings, and I fell into a depression, and eventually after like, trying to talk to the elders to get some help, because for a period I wasn’t going to meetings. I wasn’t living according to the Jehovah’s Witness guidelines.
So after a while I ended up getting disfellwoshipped, getting excommunicated after meeting with the elders in which I told them that I hadn’t been living in according to the Jehovah’s Witness guidelines, and that I was having doubts about the religion. So those few things are pretty much a recipe for getting kicked out, and so that’s what happened with me. Then once I was officially disfellowshipped, I started doing research online, and was able to see that this was not the truth I was told it was.
May you please walk us through your the early stages of disassociation? How did you feel being shunned by your family, friends, and the Watchtower Society? Did you develop any coping mechanisms?
I’m not 100% sure I understand what you mean by the early stages of my disassociation, but like I said, I was disfellowshipped in April 2016, and after that point…by the time I was disfellowshipped, I hadn’t done any research about the religion, outside the religious publications, but I was starting to having some serious questions. So once I got disfellowshipped, I started doing research. I read Conscious of Crisis by Raymond Franz, started looking online, watching videos and all that kind of stuff. That helped me to kind of come to that conclusion.
Then initially, getting shunned by friends, family, and The Watchtower Society, is very difficult. Mainly my family and my friends, because no communication with my parents or siblings. I’m one of five children. I have a younger brother and three older sisters so, none of them have spoken to me or know anything about me or anything, and I don’t know anything about their lives, so yeah. It’s very difficult because I spent the first 28 years of my life as a very devoted Jehovah’s Witness. I was a Bethelite at one point, I went to serve at the World Headquarters in New York for over a year. I had achieved other positions within the religion, and so I was well known. Had a lot of friends, social life. So I lost pretty much everybody I ever knew. That was a very difficult experience for me. Very depressing and very helpless.
May you please elucidate your current thoughts on the Holy Bible now? Do you believe the Bible is the pristine, perfect Word of Yahweh? Do you still believe in Yahweh, The God of Abraham, Yitschaq, and Yisrael?
Mr. Henderson opted to not answer this question, so I respect and honor his decision.
The Ex-Jehovah’s Witness community is interesting to me. Cliff, my good sir, how did you discover this community, meeting people like Amber Scorah, Lloyd Evans, and the like?
So that was part of my waking up process, if you will. After I was disfellowshipped and had decided to start doing my own research, one of the things that I looked up was YouTube. So on YouTube, probably one of the most well know ex-Jehovah’s Witness activist is Llyod Evans. I began watching his videos and everything. Then maybe about five months later I made my own video. I happened to mention Lloyd Evans name, in that video, and that video ended up doing very well. It’s now been seen by tens of thousands of people, and Llyod eventually caught wind of it. Then we got in contact and now we’re friends as well.
I’ve been on Llyod’s channel now on more than one occasion. He had a book signing event in Northern California that I hosted for him, for his book The Reluctant Apostate. We were on the Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath special episode on Jehovah’s Witnesses together. I’ve participated in the documentary that he’s shooting with Juan Escobedo and Javier Ortiz called The Truth About The Truth. I’m a musician in that documentary, and just was kind of an unskilled member of the camera crew, with that project. So that’s kind of our relationship.
Like I said, I consider him a friend of mine, for sure. Then Amber Scorah, she saw me on the Leah Remini show as well, and then she reached out. We’re friends now too. We’ve been in contact and when I released my song, Cost Of Doing Business, she was very supportive of that. We’ve talked on several occasions. I saw her when she did her TED Talk in Northern California. I went to go and support that after she invited me, so we have a relationship as well. Many other people who are part of the ex-Jehovah’s Witness community. Jay The Comedian is a friend of mine.There’s probably many others. Keith, also known as K-Duece and his wife Shannon. They have the channel called True Faced. Those are friends of mine.
Kameron Fader. If I try to name everyone I’ll end up forgetting. Jason Wynne. Anyway, I’ve met a lot of people within the ex-Jehovah’s Witness community. I have a relationship with pretty much all of them, which is nice. We have different opinions on certain things, especially after we leave, but we all come from the same environment, so we have that all in common.
Via means of your Instagram page, I see you attended the Live From Sydney, Australia, Ex-J.W. Event, in June 2019. How would you describe your experience there?
So my experience in Australia was really good. We were filming part of the Truth About The Truth documentary. I had a chance to meet Angus Stewart. He was the counsel assisting the Australian The Royal Commission, that I said was very instrumental in helping me realize that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were not the true organization, and I had a chance to meet other individuals who worked on that. I got a chance to meet Paul Grundy. He’s kind of legendary in the ex-Jehovah’s Witness community. He’s the person behind J.W. Facts, which is a compilation of a lot of the articles from the organization, that basically serve to shed light on some of the abusive practices in the organization, failed prophecies, and a lot of the other things that prove that it is not the truth, as it is purported to be.
As far as the Live Ex-J.W. event, that was really nice. It’s kind of nice to meet some of the people who have told me that they have been positively impacted by my activism. That I helped them to find their way out and to come to their own conclusions about God and about The Bible, and about their families and everything like that, and not just accept what the religion told them. To be able to move on and try and find support after some of them had been disfellowshipped. After they had disassociated from the religion and were cut off from their families. So that was very nice. To kind of meet people who have been through similar struggle and find out that in some cases I, through my efforts, had assisted them in finding their freedom, so to speak.
What is the inspiration behind your song, Cost Of Doing Business? Also, what would you say is the main message you aspire to convey, to both Jehovah’s Witnesses and non-Jehovah’s Witnesses alike?
I had gotten to a point where, I was feeling very depressed and feeling very down about the fact that I had been lied to my whole life, by this religion, and that at the end of it I lost my family. After making all of those sacrifices, it just felt like I had gotten a raw deal. Then I started to think about it and say, although it’s not fair, this is kind of the price that I paid, to be able to live in my own truth. So the price I paid was losing my family, losing my friends, losing my faith, all of that kind of stuff. Which is terrible, and I will continue to speak out against that because I think it’s one of the worst things that humans can do to one another.
But it has allowed me to be mentally free, to be spiritually free. To be able to determine emotionally, as well as be able to determine for myself what I believe, without having beliefs imposed upon me by anybody else. So I say it’s the Cost Of Doing Business because in order to be able to live in that free state, so to speak, I had to pay these very difficult prices.
The main message that I want to convey to both Jehovah’s Witnesses and non-Jehovah Witnesses alike is it is very important to live in your own truth. To be authentic to who you are. To not have someone else dictate to you what your beliefs are. I feel very strongly about that. I’m very open-minded as far as whatever people want to believe. People can believe whatever they want, whatever it is. My thing is just make sure it’s authentic, and make sure it’s what you actually believe, and not because of some sort of pressure or fear of being separated from your family; because it’s just a more authentic existence, in my opinion.
Also, I want to get the message out that there’s shunning. That there’s cutting off and separation of families is happening within the community. So that’s the message I want to get to non-Witnesses, of course, Jehovah’s Witnesses already know that.
Also, yes, the song is for current Jehovah’s Witnesses, realize the current situation that they’re in. Realize that is not, in my opinion, what it is presented to be. So I want to just encourage people to use their own minds and use their own brain. Yeah, That’s it.
Would you encourage people, like myself, who have made their exodus from the Watchtower Society, to be more vocal about our respective testimonies? Or should we silently pray for people to know the truth about “the truth”?
As far as the prayer, that’s up to each individual. People have different beliefs on prayer and the effectiveness of it. That part, I will leave to everyone to decide on their own. As far as being vocal about their testimony, I definitely encourage anybody who can to do that. I do understand and I am sensitive to the fact that not everybody is in a position to speak out, because perhaps, they can’t reveal their identity for fear of being outed by the Jehovah’s Witnesses and losing their family, you know, different things like that.
But if someone is in a position to do so, I would definitely encourage them to do that because when I told my story, I realized all the thousands of people around the world that it benefited. I was benefiting prior to that, by hearing other people’s testimonies. It’s a very good thing to do if you’re in a position to share because you never know who you may be able to help. Also, I think one of the other things is, when you are getting disfellowshipped or disassociated or whatever, from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, one of the worst things about that whole process is that you’re silenced. The announcement is made that, “So and so is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses”, then you’re basically never to be heard from again. Nobody can really find out what your story is or anything. So to me, it’s kind of a way to take back your power and reclaim your voice that has been silenced, because they want to get rid of you, and nobody is even allowed to ask any questions.
For those who are still in the Watchtower Society, beloved family members, friends, people in general, who are truly sincere/zealous in their faith, what would you like to say to them, Cliff?
I would like to say that, I have been there. I was a very devout and sincere Jehovah’s Witness. Anytime I even did anything or thought anything that I thought was out of line, even minor things, I would always go to the elders and try to seek help. I was very sincere, very serious, about my beliefs. I really walked the walk as much as I possibly could, during the whole time I was a Witness. So I can identify with you, you that are still active Jehovah’s Witnesses and believe in Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I would just ask you if you are happy? If you are genuinely happy?
If you really feel free to make your own decisions and determine your own beliefs? Do you think that a religion or group, should, kind of hold family members hostage and separate families in this way? Do you think that your religion, for example, should threaten you with disassociation/disfellowshipping for getting a blood transfusion to save your life? Do you think that’s reasonable? Do you think that’s something that God would want?
I would say to my family and friends in the religion that, I love them.
The reason I am speaking out is because this is my story. I believe it is very helpful to other people to hear it, and I do hope one day that I can regain a relationship with those people, that I no longer am in communication with.
I would like to just encourage everybody to, again, just use their own minds. Don’t be afraid of information.
If you went to buy a car, you would look up online and you would look up unbiased reviews on the car. Why should your standard be less when choosing a religion and a belief system that’s going to determine your life? Who you talk to and who you don’t talk to?
I personally want to thank Mr. Henderson for taking time to entertain my interview questions. As a former Jehovah’s Witness myself, who is now wholly embracing my Israelite identity, I richly treasure this.