Chivchalov reports: “The vast majority of Russians are sure that [the] Jehovah’s Witnesses [religion] is a huge money-pumping machine created for the enrichment of its leaders, and that religion and the Bible are only a disguise. They think that each JW should bring to the ‘sect’ all their money and re-register their flats, houses, and other property for the benefit of it. We are often called in the media a ‘pseudo-religious commercial sect.’”1 There are some things uniquely Russian in this statement, but similar charges have been made elsewhere by those who don’t like Witnesses.
Though sometimes mischaracterized, the donation practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses are among the least obtrusive of any faith. At the Kingdom Hall, a person may give 50% of his income towards religious interests or nothing at all. Nobody knows. One must go to a contribution box at the rear of the auditorium to donate. Nobody knows if you do or do not. Nobody approaches you. No collections are taken, and unless someone chooses to use checks (or credit card at large gatherings), giving is completely anonymous. Just now in the U.S. there is introduced a service to donate online for those who prefer. In contrast, a church that I attended as a boy used ‘pledge envelopes’ through which donations could be tracked. Like charities everywhere, each pledge constituted a floor from which to make greater pledges. I remember my non-believing father telling the pastor who had come calling and had mentioned my homemaker mother’s offerings that he should not forget who really was the source of those offerings. The church an older friend attended passed offering plates mounted at the end of poles. They shook to the beat of loud music; drop in some coins and the chink-chink-chink reverberated through the building. It was quiet money they wanted—folding money.
Detractors point (with glee) to Pew charts showing Jehovah’s Witnesses are the poorest monetarily of all faiths2 and the ‘least educated.’3 The plain intention is that those circumstances be perceived negatively, as in: ‘Why should anyone listen to poor and stupid people?’ So be it. It was also characteristic of the first-century Christians, the leaders of whom are specifically called ‘uneducated and ordinary.’4 It also means that financial support for Jehovah’s Witnesses will come from their lower rungs, since they have precious few upper rungs to draw from. Let us explore the topic of finances.
A top-secret letter from the Witness organization to bodies of elders was intercepted and posted online. Actually, it wasn’t top secret. It was merely confidential. It contained the instruction: “This postscript should not be read to the congregation, and this letter should not be posted on the information board.” Normally I would respect confidentiality and not reproduce the letter, but this is the age of the Internet. Why be like the Russian court that refused to look at video evidence that everyone else saw?
Not everything not made public is the smoking gun. There was a time when writing only to those concerned was not perceived as pulling the wool over the eyes of everyone else. Even as to things that actually were hidden in the first century, Jesus said: “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.”5 His would be the words of the arch-deceiver today, and opponents (if they dared) would rummage through his files to unearth and publish everything he was withholding.
The confidential postscript in the public letter read to the congregation tells how, for a certain expense, the congregation secretary “should use the number of active publishers to calculate the suggested amount to be contributed by the congregation” and “the elders may choose to raise or lower the amount based on the economic abilities of the congregation as a whole.” The snitch is very excited to have posted this and gloats he has uncovered evidence to prove that they are obsessed with money at Witness headquarters.
Any organization uses money. A child knows it. The need for money is no more than common sense. It made common sense to Bible writers and it makes common sense to people who have common sense and who want to eat and do things and pay the bills. Few seek it less obtrusively or stewards it more wisely than the Witness organization. The ‘leaked’ letter makes the Witness organization look good, not bad, as the poster had hoped. Many outfits would say in effect, ‘Repeat as necessary and do not take no for an answer.’ Watchtower says: “The elders may choose to raise or lower the amount based on the economic abilities of the congregation.” Should their goal come up short, they simply readjust that goal, confident that those of greater means will make up for the deficiency of those of lesser means.
The confidential note does no more than expand on the consideration already announced publicly. Witnesses are well used to hearing about how that this or that circuit expense will be met if everyone contributes such and such an amount. This is always followed by clarification that it is not thereby suggested each member pony up that amount, but rather that the congregation in aggregate do so. The private instruction reveals that even that fair policy is not held fast to. Elders know their flock. A poor congregation can lessen their share. A well-off congregation can increase it.
Another letter was posted online, this one to bodies of elders in some congregations in Nigeria, among those “lands of limited resources.” The intent of this leak is to misrepresent the Watchtower organization as working to squeeze the last dime out of poor people. It does nothing of the sort. Ten minutes of an upcoming congregation meeting is to be allotted to discussing contributions. The elders are asked to “please stress that regularity is very important when contributing.” 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 forms the basis of discussion (here rendered in the NABRE, though the letter quotes NWT): “Now in regard to the collection for the holy ones, you also should do as I ordered the churches of Galatia. On the first day of the week each of you should set aside and save whatever one can afford, so that collections will not be going on when I come. And when I arrive, I shall send those whom you have approved with letters of recommendation to take your gracious gift to Jerusalem,” writes the apostle Paul.
The letter to congregation elders then observes: “Paul’s suggestion on the manner of contributing can be applied by congregation members today. How? Regularity is the key. If your congregation is to pay the monthly rent and maintenance expenses of your meeting place or Kingdom Hall, it will take ‘contributing, not so much the amount, but the regularity of setting something aside each week or month for kingdom interests,’ writes the branch office in Peru. Does this idea appeal to you? Even children can be taught to appreciate how regularity in contributing is part of their worship. We all regularly set aside money for school fees, food, rent and other necessities. How much more important it is to do so for kingdom interests. Taking advantage of whichever way is most convenient for us personally, whether electronically or by using the contribution box in our local Kingdom Hall, regularity in contribution will help us to put true worship first in our lives.”
Is it greedy? Or is it simply a reminder that the light bill must be paid? The one who posts the confidential letter excitedly states: “Is this the head start to tithing? Seems so.” It doesn’t seem so at all to this writer. Tithing is a system of giving 10% of one’s income to a religious entity. Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t do it. Many churches do. It was a requirement of the Old Testament. There is no basis upon which to carry it over into the New Testament, but many faiths, with an apparent eye on the cash flow, do so anyway. Ten percent is an easily manageable sum to persons well-off financially. To those who are poor it is a crushing load to bear, and Christ would not have his followers bear it. Note that contributions in the letter are likened to money for school fees, food, rent, and other necessities, not to a percentage of income.
The opponent is either too deceitful, too driven by agenda, or possibly too stupid to notice that the Watchtower’s letter to the congregation is exactly based on the scripture quoted in the same paragraph. In fact, the two are intertwined in the letter, so that they are seemingly impossible to separate save for someone unusually determined to do so. Moreover, the Watchtower organization shows more consideration than even Paul does to the Corinthian congregation. Paul simply says, in effect: ‘I’m coming for the money. Have it ready!’ without any detail as to what he will use it for. He “orders” it. The Watchtower letter simply says that members can be instructed by Paul’s letter—it doesn’t demand anything—and it, unlike Paul, supplies the reason for funds needed. They are mundane: rent and maintenance.
The point already made is reaffirmed: few are less intrusive about money than are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Other faiths make it a per person matter, not per congregation, by thrusting an offering plate right under their noses with the whole church looking on. What if our detractor turned his rage upon the Bible itself? Could he not be outraged that Paul tells them to have his money ready for pick-up? And what of Paul’s promise to take it to Jerusalem? ‘Sure! He’s probably going to take it to Ephesus or Corinth for some high living!’ they’d say. ‘He calls it a ‘gift.’ It sounds more like extortion! Why does God need our money, anyway? It’s ours! Tell him to keep his hands off!’ Tell him to do what the [insert anyone you like] religious leader did. At the interfaith conference on how to distribute collected funds, whether for ‘us’ or for God, one denomination head suggested throwing the money in the air and what came down on one side of a drawn line was theirs, and the other side God’s. Another clergyman reversed sides of the line. But the third advised that, upon throwing all money into the air, “What God wants, he will keep.”
Still another letter was posted; this place leaks like a sieve! This one was regarding the then-upcoming 2017 Annual Meeting, to be streamed from Warwick NY to 600,000 in various locations. Set up an extra contribution box or two, it said. The one who posted the letter crowed about this positive proof that they thought only of money at Watchtower central.
Again, I ask forgiveness for a bit of sarcasm, the language of you-know-who. He’s the one who makes me do it. It so happened that I was one of the 600,000. The program was eventually placed on the JW.org website, where it can be viewed by anyone. Four hours! That’s how long the annual meeting lasted. Four hours of experiences and refinements and the history of building the new Warwick New York headquarters followed by a dedication of those facilities. After that dedication, there were four talks of adjusted views and exhortation that might be dull to some, but they were invigorating to Witnesses.6
And then, spoiling it all, (I couldn’t believe it—right in the midst of it) 30 seconds of shameless groveling for money! They actually (brace yourselves), they actually suggested that those present might donate if they wanted to! and (GASP!) they even specified where it might be done (at the contribution box)! Thirty seconds’ mention of money in a four-hour period! Detractors are right! It’s all about money with these people!
Oh, and that letter spirited out, that the poster was so excited about sharing—the one directing that extra contribution stations should be established? I looked and looked for ours (our meeting was at the Kingdom Hall) and I discovered it! That slot in the counter that used to be designated as the Kingdom Hall fund but was taped over when that fund was combined with the Worldwide Work? It was uncovered again, and also labeled Worldwide Work!
Witnesses will hardly rejoice to see the above three confidential letters displayed online. They will more likely be irritated, for who likes their private correspondence posted for all to peruse? Still, the confidential portions only serve to strengthen general confidence in the organization that serves its members. Bethel wrote local elders to remind local publishers to donate in a timely manner. The letter is posted online in hopes that anyone reading will be outraged at the greedy Watchtower. Instead, I feigned outrage at the greedy Bible writers, for it was clear that everything the Watchtower organization did was based upon scripture. To what degree is one willing to be ‘taught by Jehovah?’ The Bible includes matters veering from the strictly spiritual into the purely practical.
If anyone want to do “blunt,” let them consider instructions given to those attending the Jewish festivals. You “shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed, but each with his own gift, in proportion to the blessing which the LORD, your God, has given to you.”7 It is as though Jehovah says: “There! Got it? Don’t think you are going to crash the party and freeload! You can at least bring a bag of potato chips.”
At a September 2017 congregation meeting, finances were atypically discussed at length. The book God’s Kingdom Rules, already quoted, is a history of the modern-day Witness organization. Under consideration at successive congregation meetings, the book at last gotten around to discussing how the work is financed.8 Of long ago, it stated:
“ON ONE occasion, Brother Charles T. Russell was approached by a minister of the Reformed Church who wanted to know how the activities of the Bible Students were managed. “We never take up a collection,” explained Brother Russell. “How do you get the money?” asked the minister.
“If I tell you what is the simplest truth you will hardly be able to believe it,” replied Russell. “When people get interested in this way, they find no basket placed under their nose. But they see there are expenses. They say to themselves, ‘This hall costs something….How can I get a little money into this thing?’” The minister looked at Brother Russell in disbelief.
“I am telling you the plain truth,” continued Russell. “They do ask me this very question, ‘How can I get a little money into this cause?’ When one gets a blessing and has any means, he wants to use it for the Lord. If he has no means, why should we prod him for it?”
Yes. Of course. “If he has no means, why should we prod him for it?” That is why no collections are ever taken at the Kingdom Hall and a contribution box suffices. What seems more trusting in God: a contribution box in the back where people may or may not give anonymously, or an offering plate passed through the rows so that everyone nearby knows just how much one puts in?
Activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses have greatly increased since that time, and the funds necessary have increased accordingly, but their relative place is the same. Bill Underwood compared the disaster relief efforts of several religious organizations in the aftermath of an earthquake that devastated Haiti. Most issued urgent appeals for money. Most provided only sketchy details as to what they would do with those monies. But when it came to the Watchtower:
“Well, that was refreshing. I went to watchtower.org and searched it for references to money, donations, charity. All I found were Watchtower articles such as ‘Is money you master or your servant?’ Try as I might, there was no way to donate any money to the organization, nor any request for donations. The only mention of money I found, in connection with Haiti, was in a public news release at jw-media.org entitled “Witnesses’ relief efforts well under way for victims of earthquake in Haiti.” A single line at the bottom read, ‘The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses is caring for these expenses by utilizing funds donated to the Witnesses’ worldwide work.’” Not only was there no plea for money, but it was not possible to donate any at this most obvious appeal-spot.9
Few persons would argue that the Watchtower organization does not use whatever funds are donated fully for the spread of the good news. People know from experience that when those of the Witness organization travel anywhere, they will stay at the lodgings of a fellow Witness. A hotel tab is unheard of. If they dine out at restaurants, they do so at the invitation of friends or at their own expense. When they travel, it via commercial flights. There has never been a financial scandal within the Witness organization, unless you count someone wearing cufflinks or traveling first class, which a Governing Body member will do in order not to arrive at a crucial meeting having just flown around the globe with his knees in his mouth.
Oh, and I am told (somewhat to my surprise) by someone who served in Bethel 35 years ago, that it was not expected that Governing Body members lodge at branch facilities or private homes when they traveled, though many preferred to do just that, and when they did not, he (not me) strongly suspected that it was because their wives insisted upon an expense account hotel as a break from an otherwise relentless Bethel dormitory routine. It is so human how can it not be true? But I know nothing of today, though I guess it would be easy enough to find out. No matter. Stay in a hotel if you must. Those of the Governing Body are my servants. They work hard, and I benefit. Have a second cup of coffee on me. Bizarrely, the greatest financial scandal one can point to is that of Judas stealing money from the disciples’ fund back in the day.10 It wouldn’t happen today. A simple accounting system that would have caught the ancient scoundrel is routine among Witnesses today for congregation and circuit expenses.
At Regional Conventions one finds a standard message on the printed program, not stated verbally: “At considerable cost, arrangements have been made to provide adequate seating, a sound system, video equipment, and many other services that make attending the convention enjoyable and help us to draw closer to Jehovah. Your voluntary contributions help to cover these expenses and also support the worldwide work. For your convenience, clearly marked contribution boxes are located throughout the facility. All contributions are very much appreciated. The Governing Body wishes to thank you for your generous support of kingdom interests.” There are a few electronic terminals about as well to accommodate persons more modern, but nobody could ever say it is in-your-face.
The line that invariably gets the largest applause at the Regional Convention is: “Would you like to convey your greetings to Bethel?” It is obvious why that is so. People look around them and see evidence everywhere that whatever donations they have made are being spent wisely. They see a huge infrastructure that is entirely dedicated to fulfilling the Christian mission of publicizing and representing kingdom interests. They do not feel the need to monitor Bethel for crooks and they are confident that, should crooks appear, the overall upright character of the organization will handle it.
No financial scandals may have ever occurred, but to ones who would like to halt the Witnesses’ work, there is always a giant one just around the corner. Occasionally these ones demand regular public accounting of the overall organization: financial reports such as a public, but not private, business would provide. Congregation members do not demand such. The accounting that matters to them, and that negates any need of their scrutinizing the higher finances, are the Kingdom Halls and Assembly Halls sprouting up like mushrooms in areas that can ill-afford them. The accounting is the disaster relief mobilization—Witnesses are ever among the first upon the scene—that promptly undertakes the project while outsiders are yet mobilizing. In 2013, a newspaper in Arkansas reported on the rapid response of Witness volunteers, and stated: “The organizational structure of the Jehovah’s Witnesses has developed the disaster response volunteer service to a fine art.”11
The accounting is the annual convention held hundreds of times around the globe, and televised content utilizing the latest means of video technology. The accounting is the website translated into 900 languages to facilitate a unified teaching of God’s Word. Imagine the effort to accomplish such a feat of translation—Google and Apple and Wikipedia combined do not come close!12 The accounting is free Bible distribution, so that the poor family in an impoverished country can have one for free if they need one, rather than be stuck with an archaic and unaffordable 200-year-old translation that they could not understand anyway because nobody of the religious world dreams it possible to circumvent the commercial world’s distribution system. Everyone else thinks it is natural that Big Business should control the distribution of God’s message to humankind. Only Jehovah’s Witnesses have the vision to challenge that model so completely on a worldwide scale and the determination to see that challenge through. The accounting is the lovable childlike cartoon characters Caleb and Sophia who, despite their tender years, still come off as more mature than some of those who would cry foul over this or that aspect of the Witness organization.
In the overall picture, any video or print material devoted to money represents but a tiny percent of Watchtower’s output; one need only peruse the material to convince oneself. A yearly article in the Watchtower magazine covers various means in which one may give: through wills, deeds, conditional loans, and so forth. Even that yearly article is not asking for money. It is simply telling those inclined to donate the most effective ways of doing it.
One Witness says he has “found contribution methods to nearly always be a topic of interest to new ones I bring to the meeting. Not only do they expect to contribute something to costs, but they are often puzzled as to why so little is said about money. This sometimes arouses suspicion on their part as to some sort of financial ‘whammy’ that might be waiting in the wings should they pursue their interest. So having information on contribution methods clearly available and transparent is indeed prudent.”
He is “regularly given funds by members of the public as a contribution to our work which, even if they do not belong to our movement, they see as genuine and above board. Most people I witness to quickly see that with Jehovah’s Witnesses, they get much value for actually no money at all. I am happy to contribute to an organization that seeks to genuinely preach ‘the good news of the kingdom,’ and most of those who stick around are of the same mind.”
This writer is reminded of a local man, an entrepreneur and scientist, who attended meetings for some time, but never did progress to the point of baptism. Still, he expressed a desire to leave substantial funds to the Watchtower Society upon his death. “I don’t agree with everything you say,” he said, “but I do know that none of my money will be wasted.” It didn’t happen. Members of his family raised powerful objection and he reconsidered.
I learned of this long after the fact. His name had first come to my attention when I was a schoolboy. He had purchased the beach that the city had sold by mistake. In the 1960s, Durand Beach along Lake Ontario became so polluted that it was closed to public swimming. In time, it was forgotten about, and this curmudgeonly fellow purchased it at public auction. He had planned a system of filters to screen off a portion of it for a private club. Red-faced city fathers discovered their mistake only upon reading the newspapers and leaned upon him to get ‘their’ beach back. As an adolescent savors evidence that the grownups are inept, just like Tom Sawyer savored his teacher losing his toupee, I savored this faux pas and did not forget the man’s name.
A dozen years after I became a Witness, a letter signed by him appeared in the newspaper praising Witness youths visiting his door as unfailingly polite and well spoken. I had long forgotten about him, but with this letter my childhood memory was revived. Years after that, I gave the public talk at another Kingdom Hall and there he was in the audience! He was studying the Bible with a congregation member. My talk was on a science theme, and since he was a scientist, I asked him afterwards whether it was any good. He said it was not. It can be a fearsome thing when a Witness gets his hands on a public talk outline dealing with science, because few of them specialize. I thought I had brought myself up to speed. Silly me.
For decades, Witnesses have heard about their surpluses benefiting other lands with deficits. They know it is hopelessly out of the reach of many congregations in poor countries to afford their own Kingdom Hall, and they are thrilled to know their funds are spent to that end. Only with organization can such equalization take place “to test the genuineness of your love by your concern for others.”13 Following that biblical statement is a reminder of how the Lord Jesus Christ “for your sake … became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” He thereby sets the pattern for counsel that follows: “but that as a matter of equality your surplus at the present time should supply their needs, so that their surplus may also supply your needs, that there may be equality.”14
Equalizing is seen in construction of Kingdom Halls worldwide. ‘Lands with Limited Resources’ have been recipients of donations so as to build therein places of worship that would be out of their means otherwise. During a fourteen-year period commencing in 1999, almost 27,000 Kingdom Halls were built that way, generally by local Witnesses working with global volunteers skilled in construction. Virtually all Kingdom Halls in Russia were built this way, says Chivchalov. After the trial, Dvorkin crowed that the Russian Supreme Court action had deprived Jehovah’s Witnesses of outside funding. ‘Let them exist on honey and locusts,’ he said in effect. ‘That ought to be a fair test of whether their version of Christianity can thrive.’ To the extent the Russian complaint is correct that the Watchtower is a vast money-pumping machine, it has pumped money into, not out of, the country, which money the government has seen fit to take for itself.
In the U.S. and other Western lands, there is even a movement to consolidate congregations where underutilization of Kingdom Halls exists, selling off the surplus building so as to fund with it the construction of many Kingdom Halls in less affluent areas. Historically, Kingdom Halls were built as Witnesses living in different areas struck out from the main Hall to build ones of their own, in their own communities. Over time, some of these Halls became overcrowded and some dwindled into under-use.
Not all Kingdom Halls have burst at the seams. They were all supposed to. The pattern of the first century repeats itself. The learned ones of that time looked down upon Christianity, and the educated ones of the modern day sometimes leave the faith should they become too educated for their pants, as they exchange it for something with spiritual overtones but no practical bite, something that will spiritualize them but by no means supplant their quest for the better life in this system. It is the same with money as with education. As soon as people accumulate enough of it, they are inclined to say ‘Who needs God?’ the essence of Proverbs 30:8. Accordingly, the Witness faith explodes in poorer lands and holds its own in wealthier educated lands. There are even occasional reverses. Of course, one never knows what the future will hold for any given area.
Consolidation where advantageous is a responsible use of resources, even if it means a longer twice-a-week commute for some who acquiesce to this financially responsible direction. After all, shut down one dud of a Kingdom Hall in a U.S. area that has not filled it, and you can build one hundred or more in poorer nations that greatly need them, or even one in the same nation where land prices are astronomical. One of the reasons Jehovah’s organization works and others do not, at least not on such a scale, is that Witnesses have come to identify with the entire brotherhood, regardless of where in the world they may live, and do not obsess about their own immediate interests. They do not all figure they have to all go over to Benin or wherever and see for themselves and each ponder over the balance statement and have special sessions to discuss it and take a vote on it, thinking no one other than they themselves can be trusted—they just don’t. They have decided the ones having oversight are trustworthy, as they have given no cause to think otherwise, as they adhere to the same healthful scriptural teachings, so they grin and bear it if some policy does not work to their immediate benefit.
The demand to render public accounting is but a nod to another form of human self-rule: democracy. It is faith that the people should scrutinize every nickel spent and that such a course is the only way to keep those running the show honest. By law public corporations must do it. Private corporations do not. Does that mean they keep no accounts? No. It just means they do not feel the obligation to report to the general world. With regard to the Watchtower organization, congregation members do not demand it. Their detractors will not be satisfied with it.
We will be able to smell fraud when Sam Herd upgrades to a bigger dorm room. Let there be some evidence of chicanery before ones assume that their democratic method is the be-all and end-all. It shouldn’t be hard to understand. If some twist undeniably good deeds to make them seem vile, exaggerate any missteps, ignore any mitigating factors, and without exception impute bad motives, what will they do when they discover Bethel upgraded from plastic laminate to solid wood furnishings at the headquarters lobby? They are dealing with ones who simply want to take them down. If you hate the message, you will hate the messenger. That is a valid position: hating the message. Just be upfront about it. Perhaps they will one day open up their financial books in worldwide publication for all to scrutinize, but they have offered no sign of it yet.
One might consider how Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians bears on the subject: “Do you not know that the holy ones will judge the world? If the world is to be judged by you, are you unqualified for the lowest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels? Then why not everyday matters?”15 If the ‘holy ones’ back then were to be entrusted with spiritual lives, were they incapable of handling ‘worldly wealth?’ Are they incapable of handling it today?
The Bible does not encourage of love of money. ‘Give me enough of it,’ says a psalmist, ‘but not too much.’ It has a way of corrupting. It has a way of engendering high self-esteem, which is as detrimental as low self-esteem. Money is incidental to a person’s worth, not the very fabric of it. The rich young man who could not bear to part with his wealth would find it hard to gain entrance into the kingdom, Jesus said. Another who could only think of building bigger barns for his harvest failed to anticipate that he was to die that night with no spiritual wealth accumulated. “For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.” Not money in itself, but the love of money is the problem.16 Accordingly, when a Watchtower article ran the life experiences of a man known to me personally, it did not even mention the fact that he was a self-made millionaire;17 many religious groups would fawn over the fact. He must have been a millionaire, unless he gave it all away, which is not impossible, for he was a very generous man. Tracts of homes bearing his construction firm’s name appear throughout the area.
Jesus tells a quirky parable to convey the proper view of money. It involves a steward about to be fired who acts in a dishonest way: “A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. He summoned him and said, ‘What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.’ The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.’ He called in his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’ Then to another he said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.’
“And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently. For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”18
Would he really commend the dishonest steward for stealing him blind? These days, security guards escort you to the door of the company that you have been downsized out of so as to prevent that from happening. Jesus uses an illustration that doesn’t exactly ring true to teach a greater point: the ‘unrighteous riches’ are the assets one has as a consequence of living in an unrighteous world. Use them in such a way to gain friends, primarily a certain Friend who runs the ‘eternal dwellings.’ Be generous with what assets you have, and if you are stingy in this you will be stingy in human qualities too.
The phrase ‘dishonest wealth’ is rendered in various translations as ‘worldly wealth,’ ‘wealth of unrighteousness,’ and ‘mammon of iniquity.’ The banned New World Translation calls it ‘unrighteous riches.’ Always there is a taint. It is good stuff, money is, but it is not completely above board. The financial system that awards it is absolutely amoral, and sometimes immoral. Don’t let the worldly wealth go to your head, for it is wont to do that. Why not feature a “dishonest” (or unrighteous) steward to drive home the point? It is not a virtue in itself that he is financially comfortable. It came about because of his master. He has learned to play the game, that’s all. Others equally virtuous, or even more so, have not been so adept, or have played half-heartedly. The game is not the stuff of life. Though much of the American Protestant tradition marches financial prosperity and godliness practically in lockstep, there is little correlation between the two, and to the extent there is, it is sometimes reverse.
It is hardly shocking that Christians today should contribute toward the spread of kingdom interests. Always, and unlike in many other religions, it is: “Let each one give privately according to what is in one’s own heart, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Always it is: “Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion.” Always it is: “When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” Always it is: “When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others.”19 In the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses, one has not the slightest idea what anyone else is giving.
Countless persons today will say that they believe in God but decline to align themselves with organized religion. Organized anything means nothing but abuse of power, they have sadly concluded, and they want no part of it. Surely they are selling God short to assume that he would be incapable of uniting people in Christian conduct so that the inherent advantages of organization can be realized. Or perhaps they are demanding too much, by insisting they will only deal with the Top Man. God has always dealt through a human agency. The Bible record of first-century Christians is replete with persons overcoming the frictions of life to work together—even with the fishermen (John and Peter) telling the scholars (Paul, and arguably, Luke20) what to do. Insist upon face time with God exclusively and one had better be able to deliver a record more spotless than anyone has delivered so far. After all, people individually are not exactly the creampuffs they ought be if they would demand to be served by a flawless human organization. They will have to take what they can get.
To carry on and on about the donations Witnesses give to the cause they believe in—can it be any more than mere jealousy? If Jehovah’s Witnesses flood the coffers in response to very little prodding, as has been seen, why should their detractors care? Can it be anything more than an intense dislike for the message preached, and so a trumped-up charge that they are somehow doing it underhandedly, crying crocodile tears with a feigned concern for ones so ‘deceived’? All the evidence indicates Witnesses are quite satisfied and do not feel deceived at all. It is every other commercial interest relentlessly trying to get its hands into my pocket that I must be on guard against.
Katerina Chernova pushes back at ‘money-pumping’ allegations Witnesses are subjected to. Yes, they are heard all the time, she acknowledges, but “when [people] are asked to name just one victim from whom money, apartments, or something else was taken by the Witnesses, NOBODY was able to remember A SINGLE case in fact! So we asked to show us or give the address of just one cottage of a Jehovah’s Witness, built with money stolen from people. And again, nobody knows a single real instance.” She goes on to relate a small fact that is actually huge and says it all: with Jehovah’s Witnesses, baptisms and weddings and funerals are conducted “on a cost-free basis.” (It’s true. I have buried many.) With the Orthodox Church? “We have heard many complaints against it regarding the impossibility of performing any ritual in the event that a person does not have money. That is, you want to be ‘baptized,”—some ‘donation;’ you want to be ‘married,’—it takes so much cash; a ‘funeral,’—it is also not for free.” An avaricious organization is not going to cut off these most dependable of all generators of cash.21
More than once jealousy is identified in Scripture as the true reason for underhanded means. “When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy,” and they resorted to “violent abuse,” says Acts. What could fit into the pattern more nicely than stealing that gift Paul was to deliver to Jerusalem before he could get it there? The only reason one might condemn money-raising of the Watchtower organization is the desire to eliminate it. Their organization enables a powerful magnification of the kingdom proclaiming work, and to kill that work is the object.22
- via private email
- David Masci, “How Income Varies Among U.S. Religious Groups,” Pew Research Center, October 11, 2016, accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/10/11/how-income-varies-among-u-s-religious-groups/
- Caryle Murphy, “The Most and Least Educated U.S. Religious Groups,” Pew Research, November 4, 2016, accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/04/the-most-and-least-educated-u-s-religious-groups/
- Acts 4:13
- John 16:12
- The program has been packaged into three segments and is viewable at https://tv.jw.org/#en/categories/VODProgramsEvents
- Deuteronomy 16: 16-17
- God’s Kingdom Rules (Brooklyn, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 2014) 194
- Bill Underwood, “Helping Haiti - Give Generously But Wisely,” Bible Friendly Books, August 17, 2016, http://www.biblefriendlybooks.com/2016/08/helping-haiti-give-generously-but-wisely.html
- John 12:6
- Wanda Gray, “Good Samaritans Provide Relief,” this article, probably from the Southwest Times Record, includes the short quote used. The quote is reproduced for the ‘God’s Kingdom Rules’ book, page 213, and is from the year 2013. A phone call to the Fort Smith, Arkansas public library reveals that records are not yet digitalized, making an Internet search unfeasible. The article clipping itself is in my personal possession.
- Ofer Tirosh, “What is the World’s Most Translated Website?” tomedes.com, July 7, 2015, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.tomedes.com/translator-hub/most-translated-website.php
- 2 Corinthians 8:8
- 2 Corinthians 8:14
- 1 Corinthians 6:2
- Matthew 19:22, Luke 12:18, 1 Timothy 6:10
- “Never Forget the Door-to-Door Ministry,” The Watchtower, September 1, 2008, 19
- Luke 16:1-9
- 2 Corinthians 9:7, Matthew 6:2-4
- It is “arguable” that Luke was a scholar, in that the Watchtower has ceased appending the almost automatic “respected physician” preceding his name, the basis being that physicians of that time were not respected. David Splane explained that doctors of the first century were often freed Greek slaves with correspondingly low social standing, not to mention low recovery rates. He quoted a description from one ancient work: “Until recently [so-and-so] was a doctor. Now he is an undertaker. He is still doing as an undertaker what he used to do as a doctor.” November Monthly Broadcast, JW Broadcasting, November 2017. Still, Luke is the writer of the Book of Acts, besides the gospel book bearing his name, and can hopefully survive this debacle.
- Katerina Chernova, “Jehovah’s Witnesses: Are They Banned or Not?” Suchan, April 2017, as captured at accessed March 27, 2018, https://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/170426a.html
- Acts 13:45