The Shunned Speak Out

Former Members On Life in the Jehovah's Witnesses and After

Leon Cowan

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Age: 38

Years Out: 4

Leon Cowan was raised in a devout Jehovah’s Witness family. He remembers waking up early with his father to save seats for his family at the annual three-day convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

To his parents, insulation was an important part of the faith. "The worst JW is still better than the best person on the outside," his mother frequently said. Leon believed almost immediately.

When he was disfellowshipped the first time, he did everything to get back in. His father was an elder and his mother was a pioneer and he didn’t want to shame them. He was reinstated within a year. The second time he was disfellowshipped, he decided to take his time.

He didn’t realize it, but during his time out his faith had slowly begun to crumble. "I began to believe things like evolution but I would rationalize it and say ‘Maybe they just don’t realize God also uses evolution," he said.

But when he met his girlfriend, who is now his wife, she challenged his beliefs in ways he couldn’t refute. She knew he was an excommunicated Jehovah’s Witness who toyed with the idea of returning. She attended a few meetings at the Kingdom Hall and even had a Bible study with a witness to try and learn more about her boyfriend’s faith but, to her, the doctrine didn’t hold up.

"It was really hard for my wife. She saw me going back into something that was potentially dangerous." - Leon Cowan

After they were married, Leon decided to make a serious effort to return. But the answers to questions that had built up in his 10-year absence just didn’t make sense anymore.

When Leon’s wife asked him to explain a complicated teaching about 1914, he floundered. The organization once taught that the generation alive in 1914 would be around to see Armageddon, but had since changed the definition of the word "generation." As Leon spoke, he began to see things that struck him as logical fallacies.

"It felt like I was wearing too many clothes on a hot day, and as I spoke, I took off a layer of clothing." - Leon Cowan

Some former Jehovah’s Witnesses experienced the lapse of their belief system in stages. Others, like Leon, describe one epiphanous moment.

"I started to explain it to her, and all of it crumbled. As I'm trying to explain this doctrine, it all fell apart." - Leon Cowan

Leon initially felt relieved, but then memories of how he treated people when he was a Jehovah’s Witness began to haunt him.

"Jehovah's Witnesses don't really talk about mental illness." - Leon Cowan