When news broke of ex-Scientologist and actress Leah Remini expanding on her A&E project Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath to explore other “cult-like” religions, fans couldn’t wait to see what she had in store.
The network recently announced Leah Remini would be speaking in depth about Jehovah’s Witnesses and interviewing many of the religion's former followers, during a two-hour special set to precede the premiere of the third season of Scientology and the Aftermath.
“I thought Jehovah’s Witnesses were just nice people knocking on doors,” she teases in a trailer. “We have received many letters [saying], ‘Please look into the Jehovah’s Witnesses.’” Her producers seem to agree their show has a responsibility to offer insight and support to people who feel like they’ve been victimized by the religion — “it’s the same formula: mind control,” says one about the similarities between Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientology. Another adds, “We owe the people who have asked for our help to actually do something.”
So, is Jehovah’s Witnesses a cult? What do they believe in?
According to their official website, the group insists it is “far from being a dangerous cult.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses, which boast 8.3 million followers and nearly 120,000 congregations, are mainly known to the mainstream for their door-to-door attempts at evangelizing and converting non-believers.
Others associate the faith with their lack of parties and celebrations. Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t observe national holidays, Christian holidays based around Jesus, or even birthdays. They also don't pledge allegiance to the flag and look down on celebrations of "apostasy," i.e., elevating worldly occurrences to the same level as God.
Many others note their controversial views about medical help, for example how they “don’t accept blood transfusions because the Bible forbids taking in blood to sustain the body” — even when the situation is life or death — a matter that recently caused the group to be banned as an extremist organization in Russia. They also don't eat food with blood for this reason, and many devout Jehovah's Witnesses are consequently vegetarian.
But there’s more to this religious group that branched off from orthodox Christianity in the late 1800s. For one, it came out of the Bible Student movement, when founder Charles Taze Russell began to dispute some of Christianity’s traditional views and published a magazine called Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence to flesh out his concepts. In fact, before settling on a name taken from the Tetragrammaton (YHWH/JHVH), the group was originally called the Watch Tower Society after Charles’ publication.
Today, Jehovah’s Witnesses use a Bible different from other Christians called the New World Translation and believe, at the core of their faith, that Jesus was created by God and is not equal or coexistent with him. Therefore they neither worship Jesus, the Trinity, or the Holy Spirit. They also hold a central tenant of the 144,000 anointed, meaning that there are only that many spots (to account for all of history!) in heaven while the remaining devout would live out eternity on Earth after Armageddon. However, that Earth would resemble a restoration of the Garden of Eden.
There are many celebrity Scientologists. Are there any famous Jehovah’s Witnesses?
Though Scientology pretty much has dibs on celebrities and has even opened “Celebrity Center” churches for their most famous members, Jehovah’s Witnesses also have devout members whose names may ring a bell.
Most famously, Michael Jackson was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, and though most of his siblings are no longer practicing, the Jackson family matriarch has been raising Michael’s children in the religion.
“Purple Rain” musician Prince is also known for his association with Jehovah’s Witnesses, having converted in 2001 following his mother’s death. Other notable Jehovah’s Witnesses are Serena Williams and sister Venus, who were raised in the faith, as well as Naomi Campbell, Patti Smith, Michelle Rodriguez, The Notorious B.I.G, and even Dwight D. Eisenhower, who were all born into the religion but later left it.
What aspects of the Jehovah's Witnesses will Leah Remini explore in her show?
While Leah will most likely look at Jehovah’s Witnesses through her personal lens of having left Scientology, a press release for her special describes Jehovah’s Witnesses as working to “subvert and exploit belief.” We imagine she’ll probably look into the religion’s unconventional practices, some of which are similar to Scientology’s, and expose some of the alleged cover-ups of sexual abuse the group has been recently marred by.
And former Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as some current practitioners, can hardly wait until November 13th.
“My Jehovah’s Witness mom is actually the one who told me about the show,” said one woman on CrassYoungPeople’s podcast, “Reclaiming Our Time with Leah Remini.” She continues, “She said, ‘I’m very interested because I want to know what the actual issues are.’ Even regular witnesses, somebody like my mom who is very removed from the internal politics, who is not interested in the disputes about doctrine … even she is becoming more and more privy to what’s going on, the more dangerous aspects, which is really interesting … Shows like this are really important for … people who don’t really understand Jehovah’s Witnesses, who don’t understand their teaching and how dangerous and life-threatening their doctrine is.”
An EX-JW who participates in the very active reddit group for former Jehovah’s Witnesses members wrote of their excitement about the upcoming special: “It will be movie night at our house. Can’t wait for Leah Remini’s special to air, and yes my children will be watching with me. I will help them understand how this FAMILY BREAKING CORPORATION operates and they will understand why certain family members do not talk to me and just act like my kids don’t exist. Got popcorn ready. We are waiting for November. And my glass of [wine], of course.”
Don’t miss Leah Remini’s special on Jehovah’s Witnesses on November 13th at 9PM on A&E.