The Trump Card of Christian Discipline

As an ultimate trump card of congregation discipline, to be applied when lesser measures have failed, is disfellowshipping cruel? It certainly could be, and increasingly is, argued that way. Undeniably it triggers pain to those who refuse to yield to it, “kicking against the goads,” as was told Paul.  That said, suffice it to say that no group has been able maintain its deeply-held moral principles over decades of time without it.

I vividly remember circuit ministers of my faith saying: “Fifty years ago, the difference between Jehovah’s Witnesses and people in general was doctrinal. Conduct on moral matters, sexual or  otherwise, was pretty much the same.” Today the chasm is huge. Can internal discipline not be a factor?

The book 'Secular Faith - How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics' attempts to reassure its secular audience through examining the changing moral stands of churches on five key issues. The book points out that today's church members have more in common with atheists than they do with members of their own denominations of decades past. Essentially, the reassurance to those who would mold societal views is: 'Don't worry about it. They will come around. They always do. It may take a bit longer, but it is inevitable.' Jehovah's Witnesses have thwarted this model by not coming around. Can internal discipline not be a factor?

In the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses, members voluntarily sign on to a program that reinforces goals they have already chosen. Sometimes it is not enough to say that you want to diet. You must padlock the fridge. It is not an infringement of freedom to those who have willingly signed aboard. They are always free to attempt to diet some place where they do not padlock the fridge. Experience shows, however, that not padlocking the fridge results in overweight people, for not everyone has extraordinary willpower.

If people want to padlock the fridge but they can’t do it because malcontents forbid that course and they get big and fat, as in the United States, for example, where the level of obesity is breathtaking, how is that not a violation of their individual rights? It is all a difference over the basic nature of people and what makes them tick. It is the individualists of today who would hold that you can’t even padlock your own fridge. No. Full freedom of choice must always be in front of each one of us, they say, notwithstanding that history demonstrates we do nothing but sway with the wind in the absence of a firm anchor.

 

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He Enjoys Disseminating Inflammatory Narratives and Hate Speech

I tweeted, with photo included, that all Regional Conventions had witnessed scenes of Russian police breaking up Christian meetings.

Instantly, the tweet was liked from three entirely separate parts of the world, none of them in English. There is nothing like the worldwide brotherhood. Admittedly, three is not a million, but the diverse background of the likers partly offsets this.

A prominent human rights person, frequently quoted in the media, picked up the tweet and retweeted it.

If you spend any time on the music video section of JW.org—not the choir part, but the convention interludes and original songs, you cannot but be struck by the international flavor, so different from the general world which too often views anyone significantly different as one of “those people.” For some odd reason, I almost prefer lyrics sung in languages I don’t understand. It adds to the appeal of unity despite differences. Can you view such videos, ranging from small groups to international conventions, and view participants as addled victims of a cult? You have to work at it. You really do.

Online is an enemy that I keep tabs on because he reliably informs me of things I might like to address. To say ‘enemy’ might seems a little mean. I have no doubt that he has to his credit some good qualities, as do most people. But spiritually speaking, we are at 180 degree opposite poles, and it is not through any miscommunication. It is through deliberate choice on both of our parts.

The spiritual component of a person comprises two thirds, at least, of his or her total makeup. Everything else is but so much window-dressing. It is why I wrote of Prince: “I would have enjoyed jamming with Prince. Not musically, of course - I can’t play guitar – but spiritually, in the ministry. We would have been seamless together; we’re on the same page – all Witnesses are. But it wasn’t to be in this system of things. Prince was always busy. And I was – well, no – I would have found the time.”

We would have instantly hit it off. It may be that I might have discovered differences in preferences, it almost certainly would have happened, even on matters of substance, but it wouldn’t have mattered. All Witnesses know how to keep such matters in their place and not allow them to disrupt the peace of the congregation.

My online enemy hears of Russian punishment of Jehovah’s Witnesses for being Jehovah’s Witnesses, this week’s arrest including persons in their 70s, as reported in Newsweek, and feigns sympathy. He does more than ‘feign’ it. I have no doubt he genuinely disapproves of it. But as a dedicated “anti-cultist,” he is sorry for it in the same sense that the arsonist is sorry to see California burning to the ground. We must not be obtuse. Once you release the hounds of hell, you find that you cannot control just how many they maul.

It is his fellow ‘anti-cultists’ who have driven the model to cast Jehovah’s Witnesses in such a bad light before the Russian Supreme Court (in combination with some nationalistic factors), with even some former members of the faith giving testimony, knowing that, if acted upon, innocent people would go to jail. My enemy’s allies push and push the narrative that Jehovah’s Witnesses manipulate people and break up families. Religion writer Joshua Gill has outlined how a French NGO dedicated to protecting people from ideas considered socially destructive by the NGO sent a well-known emissary to Russia who spread that view with missionary zeal, maximizing his existing status with the Russian Orthodox Church.

It worth noting that the European Court of Human Rights didn't buy either charge. It wrote in 2010: “It is the resistance and unwillingness of non-religious family members to accept and to respect their religious relative’s freedom to manifest and practice his or her religion that is the source of conflict.”

As to a charge of "mind control," it wrote: “The Court finds it remarkable that the [Russian] courts did not cite the name of a single individual whose right to freedom of conscience had allegedly been violated by means of those techniques.”

The Russian Supreme Court in 2017 was not chastened by this rebuke and saw no need to cite a name for the April 20th trial, either. They did, however, find every need to not hear representatives of foreign embassies who might, for all they knew, have sided with the European Court.

The NGO itself has come in for censure more recently, in that it “has benefitted from abusive grants that they have used to disseminate hate speech targeting some minority religious groups in the countries of the European Union and beyond.” The occasion was a side event to the Universal Periodic Review of France in Geneva (January 15th, 2018) where several NGOs and an international law expert called upon President Emmanuel Macron and his Prime Minister to revise the financing of the NGO that sends a clear “open hunting season” on religious minorities. 

Of the emissary, a Mr. Dvorkin, it is written that he “enjoys disseminating inflammatory narratives and hate speech. Last year, in the capital city of India, Hindus have held a demonstration outside the Russian embassy to protest against the persecution of their religion and burnt an effigy of Dvorkin.” Nonetheless, his views have carried the day in Russia, the same as they do with my enemy closer to home.

 

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In Defense of Shunning

When my pal Keith, became interested in Jehovah's Witnesses, he thought he'd test them out. So he thought up a series of questions and posed them to someone in the local congregation. Why does God permit this, what is He going to do about that, what happens at such-and-such, why do you say this is true and that is not true? Those kinds of questions.

Noting the answers, he went across town to another congregation, and posed the same questions. He got the same answers. He traveled cross-state a few weeks later to visit family. Again, the same questions and the same answers. He came away satisfied that Jehovah's Witnesses really are united in beliefs.....it wasn't just talk. In fact, he could have gone anywhere in the world, and discovered the same. Over the years, he has.

"Big deal!" says Tom Barfendogs, not a bit impressed. Of course Witnesses are all in agreement! They disfellowship (shun) anyone who disagrees! Barfendongs runs one of those web sitesthat scours the globe for bad JW reports. If one of our people so much as farts, there's the link on his site. There's a lot of us: 7 to 17 million, depending upon how you count, so he never lacks for links.

But it's a cheap shot he takes on unity "coercion."  Sure, a surgeon has the option of cutting out cancerous cells. Is that the reason the other cells behave?

Still, it's no fun being disfellowshipped,  and Barfendogs would have you believe it can happen at the drop of a pin. Just disagree, that's all you have to do, he says. Almost like that scene from the Gulag Archipelago, in which the party boss makes a speech and gets nonstop applause. On and on it goes. People's hands start turning to mush. Nobody dares be the first one to stop clapping! Bigwigs are watching.

Yet, in fact, it's rather hard to get disfellowshipped on such grounds. You have to take deliberate steps. It doesn't happen by accident. Persistently and publicly challenging the governing agencies of the Christian congregation will do it, and few go so far. (Though the ones that do, accumulate. If you gather them all together, there's a lot of them.) A person can just fade if they're determined to leave. Barfendogs makes it sound as if elders are determined to catch and punish such persons, but that's not the case at all. Disfellowshipping only exists to separate an intractable, opposed person (or one who willfully and persistently violates moral tenets of the faith, but that is not under discussion here) from the congregation. If such a person does it on his/her own accord,  the measure is not necessary, and no one spends times pursuing it. Yes, you may be able to hunt around and find an exception, but in general, the principle holds.

If you're riding on the bus and you don't like where the bus is going, you can get off. Or you can stay on, figuring the driver must know the way. You can scratch your head at the strange scenery...where are we now, anyway?....discuss it with your neighbor, even ask the driver. You don't get tossed off the bus for these things. But if you grab the wheel! yes, that will do it. Or create such a ruckus that throws the bus into turmoil. That too, may land you an invitation to leave and find your own way.

Not all of Jehovah's Witnesses today are 100% behind the program. Many are puzzled over this or that aspect of theocracy and may entertain their own pet ideas of how more of this, less of that, modification of this tactic, and so forth, would be beneficial. Some make suggestions via letter or traveling overseers. There's nothing new, earthshaking, or unnatural about that. There's always been those with both suggestions and doubts, now and in the first century. [Also, continue showing mercy to some that have doubts......Jude 22] In the final analysis, though, we realize that the burden of directing things does not rest with us, but with a non-democratic channel which God has provided. We're not presumptuous. We cooperate as best we can. Both the idea of a central governing agency and the ejection of those who oppose are firmly rooted in scripture, so we play along with it.

The big picture regarding disfellowshipping surely must include the following:

Jehovah's Witnesses enjoy an unparalleled brotherhood and spiritual atmosphere.  If I KNOW that someone is a fellow Witness, I can leave my wallet with that person. And my keys. And if need be, my family. I need not know the person. They can be anywhere in the world. Race, nationality, social & economic standing means nothing to Jehovah's Witnesses, though they effectively divide most people. If war breaks out between respective nations, it has no effect on how resident JWs view ones from the other nation. Same thing for genocides.

This sort of unity makes people suspect if they haven't been there. Isn't it brainwashing? Isn't it Landru? It is neither. The Bible’s analogy is that of the human body, whose members could not be more unlike, yet are able to cooperate seamlessly for the good of the whole body. So it is with Jehovah's Witnesses today. They could not be more unlike in personalities, backgrounds and talents (besides the factors already mentioned) yet they enjoy unshakable unity. God's spirit makes it possible.

We're zealous to safeguard this unity. When a person leaves JW tenets, he begins to lose the thinking that makes such unity possible. Some lose it instantly. More often, it happens over time. But it does happen. This is a significant reason for disfellowshipping, which, as mentioned, a person can usually avoid by “fading.”

Is this to say that there are no decent people among other groups of people, either religious or non-religious? Of course not. People of integrity can be found everywhere. But are there groups where mere membership in that group virtually guarantees such integrity? No. You might come up with one or two arguable exceptions, but in general, no.

There is a price for such unity. I don't think its overly steep, but it does exist. It is the willingness to yield to authority, the willingness to not put our own personal freedoms above all else, the willingness to cooperate and not insist on our own view. These days Western nations have proved totally incapable of this. It probably accounts, in large measure, for the fact that Eastern countries, India, even parts of South America, are running rings around the West growth wise. They have not lost the ability to respect authority (granted, sometimes with little choice) and cooperate, whereas all we can do is bitch and whine and sue each other.

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Ah! Here is a last minute news item from today's paper that reinforces the paragraph above:

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao just made some unflattering observations on American workers (and got accused of racism for her frankness). "They need anger-management and conflict resolution skills, and they have to be able to accept direction. Too many young people bristle when a supervisor asks them to do something."

Pschologist Jean Twenge chimes in that today's young people are all about "focus on the self and doing what's right for you rather than following social rules or rules of the society."

That sort of says it all, doesn't it?

 

For men will be lovers of themselves.....self-assuming, haughty....not open to any agreement....headstrong, puffed up [with pride], lovers of pleasures                       2 Tim 3:2-4