I got banned at the apostate website! Can you believe it? I was the very personification of respect and good manners. Of course, I was also the very personification of tenacity, but it was still me against a dozen others. Now that I have been muzzled, it may be me against 100. Lloyd—let us call this fellow Lloyd—worked so hard to get me to engage with him and as soon as I did, he tossed me out!
Actually, he wanted me to engage on his podcast, where you shoot from the hip. Again and again, he invited me there. I thought a forum in which you can think out your remarks beforehand was better. I put a human face on an outfit he is trying very hard to demonize. It finally pushed him to his limit. After making six or eight comments on his site, I found this:
Lloyd: “I simply want to present the other point of view,” well, that’s partly true, Tom. You want to present “the other point of view” on your own terms – i.e. by trolling me in comments and tweets. You don’t quite have the guts to come on my YouTube channel for a conversation where you can express “the other point of view” (Watchtower’s point of view, which everyone is already aware of) in front of thousands of people. You’d much rather selectively violate the command to refrain from engaging with apostates as it suits you. Again, I wonder if there are any other commands from your masters “the Slave” regarding which you feel it’s ok to pick and choose? Or is your hypocrisy confined solely to this particular area of Watchtower’s rulebook?”
When I tried to reply, I found I was blocked. There was nothing to do but take it to the Twitter street, where I found the same response:
He: “My point is you are already violating the rules by engaging with me (some would say trolling)....You may as well go the whole hog and come on my YouTube channel for an interview if you have something to say, but I doubt you have the backbone.”
Tom: “I don’t. Better thought-out written remarks than shoot-from-the-hip debate. Did I really just get banned at your site? Despite 2 tries, my last reply to you did not stick. All were polite, respectful, and on-topic. None repeated. (1)
“If that is ‘trolling,’ it is not like the liar who pretended to be GB, even tweeting “Pray for our brothers in Russia” before finally revealing he didn’t give a hoot in hell for “our brothers in Russia.” It was all a ruse to draw in the guileless ones. (2)
“Let me post my blocked remark here and then call it quits for now: “Lloyd, if I am misbehaving, you can toss me, and let persons reflect of the irony of that, since you repeatedly asked to me debate in the first place. ‘Trolling’ is in the eye of the beholder. (3)
“I have not insulted anyone, On the contrary, I have gone out of my way not to on several occasions. For example, when someone here said: ‘Are you calling us liars who exaggerate?’ I made clear that I was not. (4)
“On forums where there is a comment section, I have never blocked anyone that I can recall. I would if someone became an abusive and unrelenting pest, but I have not yet had to. (5)
“In debate classes you are given an argument and assigned to take this side and then that. The clear message is that it is technique over substance. Better to write, where one can compose words with thought. Let both points of view be presented honestly, (6)
“Jesus never debated. In fact, he routinely did things that would infuriate devotees of debate. He used hyperbole. He answered questions with counter-questions. He spun involved parables that he rarely explained as a means of reaching the heart. (7)”
My opponent was not impressed with this exchange: “I’m amazed at your continuing excuses for refusing to come on my channel for a conversation (not debate, necessarily) when the real reason is: you are afraid you will be pulled into the backroom by your elders.”
Tom: “You are young and vigorous. I am older who perhaps must take care that my teeth do not fall out or my cane trip me up. Or like Paul (2 Cor 10:10) whose letters are weighty but whose personal presence is weak. Or slow of speech like Moses. I believe I did not misrepresent anything. (1)
“(2) I disagreed, which is not the same, always respectfully, and stood up for a group that you continually attack without check, and whose similar attacks have resulted in Russian machine guns literally pointed at the heads of some.
“(3) A substantial blow for free speech on a site that purports to celebrate freedom. [I tagged a couple of journalists at this point] Of course, I take no comments on my site either, but in doing so forsake the flood of accolades and attaboys from my chums, which you clearly do not with yours, now as tight as the Russian press.”
He did not take this lying down. There was a flurry of back and forth tweets:
He: “It has nothing to do with free speech. It has to do with you knowingly misrepresenting my views and opinions. You can do that on here [Twitter] as much as you like, but on my website, nope.
“You get only one chance to not misrepresent/twist my words into something other than I meant or intended. You did this at least twice, hence you are blocked from commenting on [my site], so please don’t expect sympathy.”
Did I do that, misrepresent him? He gave two examples, offered here with my own words in quotes: (Let the reader use discernment.)
1) “Lloyd’s outrageous video assertion that elders visit patients in their hospital room to make sure they toe the line on blood policy.” - An oversimplification. I am sure some elders visit patients on compassionate grounds, but that is not the sole thinking behind the HLC system.
2) “Lloyd’s assertion that when persons apply for reinstatement they do so just to reestablish social ties” - I never asserted that people only get reinstated to be reunited. I am sure many do so because, like you, they are simply indoctrinated and know no other way of living.
He didn’t like me tying him in with the Russian persecution, either: “You cannot blame me for what’s going on in Russia, which I have spoken out against unequivocally. Backward regimes have been persecuting religious minorities long before there was Google or YouTube.”
I declared war on these guys after the three (now four) incendiary anti-Witness articles in the Philadelphia Inquirer and I learned that the reporter checked in at one such anti-Witness site between articles. It is the only reason I would engage: journalists hang out there. Maybe just one, but who can say? One is enough. So I weighed in to offer such ones context that they will not get otherwise. A journalist wants that. It is an abundance of anecdotal evidence at the anti-Witness site, and anecdotal evidence must always be given context so as to mean anything. There must be context so that you know what you are looking at, and this is what I tried to supply until I was shoved over the trap door. I mean, it’s his site. He can do what he wants with it. But there is reason to hope no reporter will rely on it solely.
Here is the context I offered, all remarks made on his site before the window slammed shut on my fingers, with introduction in brackets. At every comment, a click on my name would link to a short justification for the disfellowshipping arrangement, which will be explored further in chapter 16.
[The subject of his original web post was disfellowshipping. Many of the participants presumably had undergone it. They didn’t like it.]
Tom: “In any forum where participants simply reinforce the prevailing view, matters become skewed over time and therefore inaccurate. So, I add the counterpoint, which I present for consideration and leave it at that. You have been after me for debate since you became aware of my existence, and this is as close as you are going to get. You are correct that Witnesses generally decline debates. Should I debate on your podcast, with all your chums cheering when you land a punch & wincing into damage control when I land one, while my chums don’t go in for that sort of thing in the first place? I don’t think so.
“The GB does not ‘tell’ people to shun family members. Instead, it says that if one has triggered what would cause disfellowshipping, there is no reason to say that because he or she is family, matters are necessarily different. Members apply that counsel as they see fit, but whatever they do, they do not have the sense that someone is telling, much less ordering them, to do so—only that someone alerted them long ago to relevant Bible passages on the subject, after which the Bible passages themselves guide them in what to do, as they consider whatever mitigating circumstances there are in their own family, often finding none, but not inevitably so.
“The idea that Witnesses can turn off love for a family member is incorrect (given that there are variations in families). A separation causes deep pain in those remaining ‘faithful.’ It is not just the departing one who suffers. However, they tell themselves that the family member did bring it on him or herself, that Jesus said his words could cause division in the family, and should that happen, loyalty to God trumps that for even family members. The door that was closed as a last-ditch attempt at discipline was never locked and it is always possible to return.
“It is the notion of Christianity as a movement separate from the world, trying to serve as a beacon to it, pointing to something better, that is under attack, especially when people have gone atheist, all the rage today and a marked divergence from all previous history. The concept of ‘separateness’ from the greater world inevitably brings about situations such as the topic of this thread, yet it is a concept integral to Christianity. It is only by staying ‘clean’ that Christians feel able to lend a helping hand to others. I understand that may come across as self-righteous, but it is not meant that way. Members freely confess that they botch up all the time, but that to the extent they are able to adhere to God’s standards, their lives improve, and their abilities to help others.”
[I apologized subsequently for saying: “Many participants here are thinking people,” which implies that many are not.]
[One participant got ahold of a private elders’ book and waved it as though it was the smoking gun. In fact, it undermined his argument that at the drop of a pin members are dealt with harshly.]
“Though the discipline of the congregation is admittedly rough on those who will not be guided by it (like Saul ‘kicking at the goads’) ones here expand it to make it seem much harsher than it is. Yet when Maxwell actually quotes an elder’s handbook, (presumably giving it his best shot) he reveals something much less harsh than what he represents it as. Elders “counsel and reason,” not exactly the same as “ordering.” In the event that a congregation member does not respond to counsel, he is not thrown on the spit, but he “would not qualify for congregation privileges.” Is that not a big ‘Duh’? If you want to enjoy privileges anywhere, you must toe the line more than if you do not reach out for such privileges. “He would not be dealt with judicially” unless there is “persistent” [not occasional] “spiritual association” [not nuts-and-bolts association] or he “openly” criticizes the disfellowshipping decision, thus undermining the method of governance that he signed on for in the first place.
“So it is not so harsh as portrayed. Moreover, it can be avoided, and once incurred, it can be repaired. The ‘crime,’ then, is the congregation’s desire to fulfill the Christian mandate of staying ‘separate from the world,’ the only position from which it feels able to render assistance to those who feel crushed under the latter’s weight. 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. The congregation thinks it important to stick to the values that they deliberately selected, and they knew from the start God does not work through democracy. In order to preserve this unchanging model, it is necessary to have practices such as under discussion here, which can be tweaked some, as has happened per previous comment, but cannot be abandoned. No one has been able to ‘hold the line’ through decades of time without them.
“Lloyd writes that he disapproves of Witnesses being arrested and jailed in Russia. I have no doubt that he means it. However, he disapproves in the same sense that the California arsonist disapproves of the state burning to the ground. One of the driving forces of the ban in that country is one Alexander Dvorkin, who pushes the same ‘anti-cult’ narrative Lloyd endorses. He pushes it on many groups, not just Jehovah’s Witnesses, though they have been his prime target. He wants to ‘protect’ people by preventing them from hearing ideas that he thinks are ‘socially destructive,’ a goal not unlike some of the goals expressed here. The only difference is that he has seen it more fully accomplished.
“Acting on his prodding sends a clear ‘open hunting season’ on religious minorities. Various human-rights and law experts convened in France in January 2018, where one of them observed of Mr. Dvorkin: He ‘enjoys disseminating inflammatory narratives and hate speech.’ The reason that Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses have not caved under his mischief (which is added to nationalistic and dominant Church pressures) is that they do not see themselves as followers of ‘eight men,’ the meme relentlessly pushed here, but of the Bible. Acquiescing to the authority of the eight men taking the lead is little more than acquiescing to the authority of the teacher, boss, military leader, coach, parent, or consulted advisor, something that was once routine and unremarkable but is now portrayed as selling out one’s soul.”
[A journalist had ambushed one of our people, who took cover, and I addressed that]
“When a person is unexpectedly accosted by a reporter wanting an answer to something that will take more than a sound bite to answer, everyone knows it is a cheap shot. That is not to say they do not cheer if it is an enemy, but they nonetheless know. People are not AI machines. His mind is a million miles away. Still, his discomfiture is inevitably and dishonestly painted as ‘proof’ that he is a flat-out liar. That is why respected sources content themselves with: ‘So and so was contacted but declined to comment for this article.’”
I don’t know if it was a good idea or not. Like Howard Beale, I just got “mad as hell and couldn’t take it anymore.” After every comment there came a torrent of abuse. I changed no one’s mind and was routinely called a hypocrite, sometimes an a*****e. You have to expect this going in and you cannot take such things to heart. You certainly cannot get into tit for tat, nor should you be so dumb as to say someone does not correctly perceive his or her own experience. How would you know? It is the constant with all anecdotal evidence, which may (not likely) be understated, may be (more likely) overstated, or may occasionally even be made up. You have no way of knowing, so you ought not touch it. You have to realize going in that you will lose.
My engagement was all on account of the journalists, and maybe I just fool myself as to how many hang out there. Who can say? At each comment I was reminded that I am “ordered” not to engage and “not allowed” to be there. It turns out that I truly was “not allowed,” but it was not by my own people. It was by the web host himself after I pasted his ears back a little. Thereafter, do you think he would correct the impression his own readers had that Witness HQ had “ordered” me to cease and desist? “Tell them it was you” I told him. But he said that he didn’t owe me a thing. He likes softballs that he can swat out of the park.
[Someone brought up homosexuality. It is the common view today that if you do not accept another person’s tenets, you must “hate” that person, and I sought to counter that. Every comment was to counter something and to present a side not otherwise seen:]
Tom: “One can sympathize here [with the plight of gay people who were once members]. I don’t know the answer. JWs do not ‘go after’ gays as do many churches. The 2018 Regional Convention devoted about 2 minutes to it in a video (which nonetheless created an uproar) in a program lasting three days. Okay? They don’t crusade. And they certainly don’t do what evangelicals do to maneuver politicians into passing laws forcing gays to live as they do. Nor do they go in for simple-minded and abusive practices as ‘conversion therapy.’
“The meme ‘born that way’ becomes the dominant meme by endless repetition. However, the Wt has acknowledged that genetics might play a role. Alternatively, it might be environment, psych endorsement, discredited Freud-type ideas (discredited mostly because they are unpopular) universal gender-bending hormones/plastics in common use, even epigenetics. Who knows? One thing for sure: sexuality has proven far more fluid than anyone of my day would have thought possible.
“The GB likely feels that they have no choice, given what the Bible, their guide to life, tells them. They take it as wisdom from God, who knows us better than we do ourselves. Gays within our ranks do not swim against the current, nor into it, both recipes for disaster. They are prepared to swim parallel to the shore, likely for a long time, in hopes that their orientation will eventually realign. One could argue that their faith is stronger than most Christians in that they stick to what they believe is right despite the very real testimony of their own bodies. It hardly seems fair, does it? It is why I have the greatest respect for such ones, who will mostly remain anonymous, and ZERO respect for the frothing church types who rail against gays, as they are demanding the latter lift a load the comparison of which they themselves would not be willing to budge with their little finger.”
[In response to someone who said he thought the organization’s days were numbered:]
“Time will tell. The enemies of Jehovah’s Witnesses have succeeded in doing what Witnesses could never have succeeded in doing alone: putting the Cause before the world. Russia persecution triggers international sympathy. Shunning and child abuse cover-up allegations trigger international frowning. All three are diluted by the fact that there are endless atrocities today to compete for people’s limited attention.
“Cover-up allegations and shunning complaints are bad. Invariably they are exaggerated, such as people are wont to do, but they are seldom manufactured. Countering the bad press will be the good things that Jehovah’s Witnesses have to offer, things that are never alluded to here.
“A recent development of the Witness organization is self-guided, online Bible study lessons at their website, addressing such age-old questions as ‘Why does God permit suffering?’ ‘What happens when we die?’ and ‘Is there realistic hope for the future?’ People want such answers. Lloyd says (pityingly) in a video that Witnesses ‘crave certainty.’ Isn’t that a big ‘Duh’? Anyone here enjoy playing Russian Roulette with their finances or health? The more certainty we can lay hold of the better.
“Bible answers are Jehovah’s Witnesses’ strong suit. Christians are directed in the Bible to stay separate from the greater world as they offer it a helping hand. Anything with an upside will have a downside. The downside zeroed in on exclusively on this forum is real, but it does not negate the upside. Therefore, it depends upon where is your focus. ‘Bible education’ is the overall goal of the Witness organization, and ‘preaching the good news.’ As the online study sessions demonstrate, with only some exaggeration, if push comes to shove, the essential components of the Witnesses’ work can be run out a server in someone’s dorm room.
“Meanwhile, going atheist holds some attraction, mostly escaping anyone who would tell you what to do, as though one does not simply put themselves under the ‘control’ of other deep-pocketed parties telling you what to do, be it Trump, Soros, the Russians, Big Defense, Big Pharma, pro or anti climate change, with the enormous economic and lifestyle consequences both bring. Atheism will appeal to some, but never all. The year text presumably agreed upon here is: “Sh*t happens. Get used to it. Maybe we can elect the right politicians to fix it.” How’s that project going, anyway?
“No, that year text will just not cut it for everyone.”
Maybe I should have gone on his podcast, but I figured it might be like the time, long ago, when I filled in for a school bus driver in a very rough district, and one of the deboarding students spit on me, and then he and all his chums assembled to invite me on their ‘podcast’ just outside the bus. I decided to do like Jesus, who was not even driving a bus, when he was spit upon. ‘But they say that he is very nice in person,’ his buddies told me. Doubtless he would pour me Kool-Aid with a smile to quench my thirst. I never entertained the idea, though I did stretch it out for a while:
He: “Welcome back Tom. Is your personal allowance for engaging with apostates online still only limited to Twitter, or will you be able to join me for a recorded chat on Skype?’ [I had come back. I followed him on Twitter in the first place when I discovered he would reliably inform me of things I might want to address. The moment he became aware of me, he wanted me on his show.]
Tom: “As soon as one agrees to a debate, one agrees to the premise that debate is the best way to illuminate things.”
He: “There are lots of ways of illuminating things. Discourse is one way. I had no idea it was a competition.”
Tom: “I have written three books. You have written at least one. Let that be your ‘discourse’ for you.”
He: “I think we both know your reason for declining an interview. It ain’t your books.”
[His chums joined in:]
Chum: “Tom why on earth are you in contact with ‘apostates’? Do you think Jah can’t read twitter...and therefore judge you for it?”
Another chum: “Seriously Tom, I’d be bricking it in your shoes! There’s no allowance for chatting with bad sorts (well, Jesus did it, but let’s forget that, and him, eh!).”
[Forgive me if this gets tiresome. Feel free to skip a little, or go right on to the next chapter. A bit later:]
He: “Me waiting for truetom to accept my offer of an on-camera interview to discuss his views as a believing JW who doesn’t have a problem engaging with apostates on social media.”
He: “BTW Tom, since you’re apparently able to bend the rules by interacting with apostates on social media, are you feeling brave enough to go the full nine yards and join me for an on-camera Skype interview? Or does Jehovah’s judgment kick in once you appear on camera?”
He: “I’m quite happy to have a civilized discussion in which we agree to disagree. We do have at least some common ground in both opposing Russia’s ban of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
He: “…you’ve already rejected the offer citing some bizarre argument about being an author and not the true reason - that your religion prevents you from conversing with apostates.”
Tom: “Perhaps I am not a good debater.”
He: “It doesn’t need to be a debate, just a conversation.”
Tom: “Unfortunately, I am not even good at conversation. “But I said: ‘Alas, O Sovereign Lord Jehovah! I do not know how to speak, for I am just a boy.’ (Jeremiah 1:6) That’s me.”
He: “You’re not much good at following the rules of the cult for which you are a cheerleader, either.”
Tom: “Many things I am not much good at. More things than not, actually.”
He: “There’s simple mistakes and then there’s straight up hypocrisy. Either it’s “Jehovah’s organization” or it isn’t. If it is, maybe you should do as you’re told and get your acre in paradise.” [Ouch]
Tom: “You say I violate ‘rules’ and yet you would have me violate them further by ‘conversation’? Ha! You just think you can get me into trouble with my own people so that I will sulk and cross over into the Obi-wan Dark Side.”
And now I must face the music from my own side, and there may be some. His continual taunts at being “not allowed” were surely overdone, and it must have made him feel a little silly when I kept coming nonetheless, until he felt compelled to “not allow” me himself. Still, nobody here thinks it is the bee’s knees to engage with these characters, and I may hear about it. And they could be right. Maybe I am the yo-yo on the Jerusalem wall singing out just when Hezekiah is telling the troops to zip it. But I just couldn’t take it anymore.
The Witness organization cannot be expected to defend itself on social media, if on any media. It takes the scriptural view of Jesus at Matthew 11, noting that grumblers slam him no matter what he does, before finally saying, ‘Don’t worry about it,’ “wisdom is proved righteous by its works.” It is like David who kept mum as ‘all day long they muttered against him.’ ‘It is like the plowman who knows that if you look behind while plowing, the furrows get all flaky.’ They don’t do it. The common view of opposers is that the Witness headship is telling members what to do, while it cynically manipulates all from above. That view is wrong. They practice what they preach and they do it themselves. The organization headship cites Hebrews 13:7 about ‘imitating the faith of those who are taking the lead among you.’ They don’t go on social media at all. They prefer a less raucous channel, and content themselves with news releases at the website that inform but do not kick back at the critics.
It is scriptural. It is proper. But there is a downside. By staying mum on specifics, essentially our enemies get to define us to the news media who refer to a cover statement about “abhorring child abuse” as “boiler-plate” and then go to former members who will eagerly fill their ears with accounts that we could counter by adding context but don’t. What’s a reporter to do? He goes to who fills his ears.
It will fall upon the Witness journalist to do it, if it is to be done, and there aren’t many of them. If fourteen years of blogging, not shying from controversial things, does not qualify me to take a shot at it, what does? If you are in a spiritual paradise, or even a vacation paradise, you do not have to concern yourself with removing the trash. It may be even dangerous to do so, because there is broken glass and used syringes. It’s not for everyone, and maybe for no one. But I thought I’d give it a go, and I at last got under this fellow’s skin, the big baby.