Hailing from Leipzig, at only 18 years of age, Sophie Jones first had to learn how to lead a self-determined life after leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Today she supports an association that helps sect dropouts and takes part in the Miss Germany election.
“What do I want from life? Do I want everything to be prescribed for me? Am I only doing this because it’s easy? Or because my family expects it from me?” Sophie Jones had these thoughts before she succeeded in leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses and this is exactly what she would like to pass on to other people in a similar situation.
“My life was shaped by external control, mental and physical abuse, until I finally managed to quit at the age of 18.”
The 25-year-old was born into – as she herself emphasized – the “extremist community” of Jehovah’s Witnesses, to which more than 8.6 million people worldwide belong. In Austria there are over 21,000 members of the religious society, which has been officially recognized since 2009. “Everyone considers the Witnesses to be harmless. You may smile at those who stand in the pedestrian zone and offer the ‘Watchtower’ newspaper. But that’s not true – they are no less dangerous than Scientology,” says the woman from Leipzig. That is why a rethink in society is so important to her.
Born into Jehovah’s Witnesses
Sophie’s parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses. When she was eight years old, they divorced – this is actually impossible in the religious community, because according to the statutes, the only valid reason for divorce is literally “fornication”, ie adultery. Her father was excluded from the community in the course of the divorce and was no longer allowed to have contact with any member. Sophie wasn’t baptized then, so she was allowed to see her father on the weekends. But when she was baptized at the age of 17, she too had to break off contact completely.
“I couldn’t cope with this break very well and just cried. I couldn’t understand why I had to suffer so much when I’m doing God’s will. God created the family, why should I deny my father?” so Sophie had her first doubts. In addition, one of her best friends was disfellowshipped at the same time so she had to cut off all contact.
As a 17-year-old, other worries arose: Sex before marriage is strictly forbidden. That is why many Witnesses marry very early – and rashly. However, a marriage has to last a lifetime. The thought of children caused even more unease: “If my child had an accident, would I have the heart to ban a life-saving blood transfusion? I want to say to my children: Don’t do a high school graduation so you have more time to do To go preaching? ” Because one is encouraged not to pursue any higher education or career and ideally only to take a part-time job so that one has time for faith. Every day includes the study of the Bible, belief is the purpose of life and everything is aligned accordingly. Just being a Jehovah’s Witness “on the side” is definitely not possible.
“What do I want in this paradise if the people I care about can’t come in?”
First Doubts During Puberty
At school, Sophie met other children and was able to gain an insight into their world – even if friendships were hardly possible: “While my school colleagues were listening to music, going to the cinema or reading magazines, I only had the ‘Watchtower’, the Bible or the field service. I asked myself: Am I the one who is weird or is it everyone else who lives in Satan’s world? “
At that time she tried to dispel the concerns so that she would not be considered weak. Because that is the principle: if you doubt, your belief is not strong – then it is your own fault. The only solution to combat these feelings of guilt is to pray to regain faith.
“I couldn’t talk to outsiders because everyone found my bible gossip funny anyway.”
The young girl could not confide in anyone about her fears and doubts. “If you talked about it with other Jehovah’s Witnesses, you would be under even more surveillance. Constant control among all members is one of the most important means of pressure”, says Sophie today. Among other things, she says that she once told a friend in front of everyone else because she smoked. Every sin must be repented immediately and confessed to the elders in the church. So you have to confess yourself or be “lucky” that someone else betrays you.
Exiting Jehovah’s Witnesses
After finding more and more issues, she went to the religious meetings one last time. And never went back after that. This decision was made easier for her because she already lived in her own apartment – 100 kilometers away from her mother and the community she had known from birth. Again and again members of the “religious community” stood in front of the door to change her mind, but she did not let anyone near her. At this point in time she had long known questions like “Do you really want to die when the end of the world comes?” or “Is that how you want to disappoint God?” They would not change her mind.
After active members are no longer allowed to talk to those who have been excluded, the pressure to return stopped at some point. But that also meant that the entire social environment was lost. Sophie was completely alone from one day to the next. To this day, she has no contact with her mother either.
Her life has changed completely since then. She had to learn to break away from the drama of her past in order to be happy and self-determined: “I never had the opportunity to try it out before. Who do I want to be anyway? What are my goals?” The exit offered her completely new opportunities, which of course also overwhelmed her. Sophie knows many people who left slipped into a bad life and started taking drugs.
The formative experiences often result in mental illnesses that affect all areas of life: “I know some who left 10 or 20 years ago and cannot find a job, have no relationships or are at risk of suicide. They are so psychologically destroyed that thugs have no need to stand in front of the door,” says Sophie.
Sect dropout, activist, model, librarian, author:
Sophie can no longer be limited to one role
Five years after her departure, she made her story public for the first time: “At first I was ashamed to talk about it and just wanted everyone to think I was a normal person. But at some point I had to come out and speak about it so that I could be right with myself. And there are so many who have experienced similar or worse stories than mine.”
“I don’t think much of religion anymore. The majority just take advantage of members, it’s about money and power. I believe in karma: when you give good, good comes back. But not to an old man with a beard who sits on a cloud and takes care of everything.”
She now has a very different view of Jehovah’s Witnesses: She describes the prohibition of blood transfusions, discrimination against lesbians and gays or women, domestic violence and the ostracism of excluded (family) members as clearly violating human rights. In addition, cases of child sexual abuse within this organization have come to light in recent years, which have been covered up for decades.
Raising awareness for your message through a Miss Germany election
Sophie is confident today and knows her strengths very well. She wants to help and encourage young people in the same situation. In order to reach many with her message, she publishes educational videos on YouTube, is a member of the “JZ Opferhilfe” association and even registered for the “Miss Germany” election. Its concept was changed two years ago and is no longer based on how good you look in a bikini on the catwalk. Instead, women with a history and personality are sought who want to make a difference. As “Miss Saxony 2021” she wants to prove that you can achieve anything you set your mind to and that there are no limits – no matter what you have experienced.
Since then, Sophie has received daily messages from people who need help. Not only from people who want to get out of a cult, but also from relatives or friends of those affected. For example, recently a fellow who fell in love with a Jehovah’s Witness sought advice. And another from a 15-year-old who had some Witnesses in her circle of friends and was considering becoming a member: “I was very reassured when she wrote that she had decided against it. I am happy if I only see one person saved from the fate that I lived through,” affirmed the 25-year-old.
Sophie Jones’ autobiography “Deliver Me From Evil: My Childhood Serving Jehovah’s Witnesses” will be available in stores on March 26, 2021.