How Jesus rescued me from a religious cult
Door knocking was just a normal Saturday for Dylan House.
The practice was a standard part of spreading the message of the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion.
He’d don a nice pair of slacks with a shirt and a tie and go house to house, magazines in hand, hoping someone would open the door to an opportunity to explain his beliefs.
Most people didn’t answer the doorbell or his knocks. Some were polite but unwilling to talk. Every once in a while, he’d get some interest from a potential convert.
Then there was that small, reliable number of committed Christians who would take the time to challenge him.
What about John 1:1?
Do you believe Jesus is God? Why do you say hell is not real?
“They are telling me something different at the door, and I can’t answer the questions,” Dylan says.
In August, Dylan celebrates his baptism as a Christian at NewSpring after leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Seeds of Doubt
At first, Dylan would get frustrated. Then, he began to wonder if there was more to God than he was hearing on Sundays.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have their own version of the Bible, which changes key Scriptures to reflect their view that Jesus was created by God but not actually God.
Among other departures from Christian belief, Jehovah’s Witnesses say the Holy Spirit is a force, not a person; that Jesus didn’t die on a cross; and hell doesn’t exist.
Dylan was specifically forbidden to read any other version of the Bible, such as the New International Version or the King James Version, because the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe their translation is the only true Bible.
With every little doorstep confrontation on what the Bible actually says about Jesus, questions began to burrow themselves into Dylan’s conscience.
“I was trying to preach to people, but people were preaching to me,” he says. “They would reveal stuff to me, and it would just stick.”
Dylan and a friend dress up in a shirt and tie to go door knocking in the hope of winning converts.
Dylan, 19, was raised in a Jehovah’s Witnesses family on both sides, and he spent two years in his late teens immersing himself in Jehovah’s Witnesses teaching to make the religion his own — what’s called “full indoctrination.”
“I put my heart into it,” he says.
Before he was baptized as a Jehovah’s Witnesses in the summer of 2016, Dylan passed three stages of questioning to qualify. Dylan thought he knew everything he needed to know about God.
“I felt strong in that faith. I was prideful,” he says.
Then, door knocking, he was hearing that he didn’t know who God really was — that God was Jesus.
With each doubt that would rise up, dread rose up with it.
“I remember nights I couldn’t sleep because I felt like I didn’t know God. I was scared for my life now and in eternity. I didn’t really have anybody else to talk about God with me,” Dylan says.
The fear of questioning Jehovah’s Witnesses teaching — or anything, really — was ingrained in him. He knew there was no one to voice his doubts to.
“When I’m told I am not pleasing God because I’m not believing a certain way, I feared hurting my family. I feared hurting my friends.”
Dylan, right, smiles in a family photo. Many family members on both his mother and father's side are Jehovah's Witnesses.
Faith and Fear
Being a Jehovah’s Witnesses was more than a set of beliefs. His whole life, identity, and belonging were on the line.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses still practice shunning, based on their interpretation of Scripture in 2 John 1:10. No conversation or association is permitted with those who reject the teaching of their religion or whose lives don’t measure up to the standards set by the organization.
Turning his back on the religion meant losing his friends, his family, his community.
Dylan didn’t need to imagine the pain that would cause. Two years before, he was required to shun his own mother when she divorced.
Looking back, he says, the hurt caused during that six-month season was one of the reasons his conscience was troubled.
“I’m over here believing I am right, but it doesn’t feel right,” he says. “There’s this fight in me when I am told not to talk to her. When I turned my back on her, that prompted me to find Jesus. Man had always told me things, and I wanted God’s answers.”
Dylan, his grandmother and father hand out literature at a flea market.
Dylan was living a tug of war between faith and fear every day.
Eventually, Dylan turned to YouTube to find videos of ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses who had left the religion because they had come to know Jesus.
“I started to realize that I wasn’t crazy to believe Jesus was God,” Dylan says.
Through a family friend, Dylan was put in touch with a staff member at NewSpring Church in February.
As the two talked, and Dylan shared his new convictions about the truth of the real Bible, it was clear he needed to take the step of asking Jesus into his life.
“He said, ‘You need to be saved,’ and I said, ‘I think I do.’”
So they prayed together in his office.
But the fear of leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses loomed stronger than ever.
Doubts about whether he was right about what he now believed about Jesus would creep in.
"If I leave [the Jehovah’s Witnesses] and I’m wrong, I’m going to be an idiot, and God’s going to punish me, too,” Dylan would think.
The emotions were so thick Dylan decided to take a week’s vacation in Florida to quiet his mind and spirit.
In a Goodwill store, he found a used copy of the NIV and bought it for $4. God used that Bible to confirm Jesus was the only way to God. In John 14, Dylan read Jesus’ words, that “if you know me, you know the Father.”
After reading those words for the first time, Dylan felt a renewed peace.
“There is no other God; no other power,” Dylan thought. “This is totally Him. This is totally God.’”
Reading Jesus words in an NIV Bible confirmed to Dylan that Jesus’ identity as God was concealed to him by the Jehovah's Witnesses.
A Scary Decision
Dylan continued to waver for months about going public with his new Christian faith.
Should I leave the Jehovah’s Witnesses or not?
What would happen if people in my family or community knew I believed in Jesus?
“I’m living in fear every day. If they come around and see a different Bible on my table or a cross around my neck, what is going to happen?” Dylan recalls thinking. “I can’t express myself. I’m scared all the time.”
Dylan imagined disappearing into a dark hole of depression, having lost everyone he loved.
Whether he left the religion silently, or whether he was expelled for an offense, or whether he declared his opposition publicly, it was all the same.
“Either way, you lose your family and friends. There’s no winning,” Dylan says.
Then, during NewSpring’s "No Ordinary Family" series, Dylan realized God not only called him to be His child and but also adopted him into His family.
Faith was the only way to break the hold of fear.
“Whatever family I’m going to have, I have to get it from following God. I have to be obedient,” Dylan says about living out his faith openly. “I really had to find that inner strength from Jesus because I couldn’t have done it alone.”
After leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Dylan has found freedom in wearing a cross, the symbol of his Christian faith.
Finally, in August, Dylan took his next step: He wrote a formal letter announcing he had left the Jehovah’s Witnesses. When his decision was made public at the next worship gathering, he was labeled “unfaithful and sick“ as the religion requires.
“I felt I didn’t owe a reason or explanation, but I did owe my love, and I openly expressed that towards them,” Dylan says. “I felt like Jesus wanted me to leave in peace.”
The following Sunday, Dylan was baptized at NewSpring to declare his faith in Jesus and make NewSpring his new family.
“It’s like going from prison to freedom,” Dylan says. “I don’t have to be ashamed anymore. I don’t have to live in fear. Jesus is not ashamed of me, and I’m not ashamed of him. I absolutely love Jesus. I want to bring everyone to Jesus. I want people to know grace. What I have seen changed my life.”
Since his decision, Dylan was indeed shunned by friends, cousins, uncles, aunts, and a grandmother.
Dylan’s mother, who rejoined the Jehovah’s Witnesses, is one of a few people in the organization who has refused to shun him, even though Dylan had previously shunned her.
His mom swore to him she would never turn her back on him. His brothers, who are not Jehovah’s Witnesses, also have stood by his side.
“The fear. The guilt. The obligations. Jesus doesn’t want that for people,” he says. “The desire to set people free burns in me. Jesus did it for me, and he can do it for anybody.”