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Campaign and Trial

This chapter alone is written for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Or rather, it was. It is culled from various posts written in real time as events unfolded. It, and some of the chapter that follows, is the only chapter of its sort. The general reader is invited to follow along, but if he thinks he is not primarily being addressed, he is right. He can skip the chapter with but salvageable damage to the overall storyline.

From this author’s point of view, it is the first chapter. It is my first stab at the topic. Some of the posts, in hindsight, seem overdramatic or betray naiveite. No matter. The object is to convey the emotion of the time. Search elsewhere for a Joe Friday “Just-the-facts-ma’am” narrative.1 Jehovah’s Witnesses are often naïve as to events with political overtones. “For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light,” says Jesus.2 To entitle this chapter: “A Novice Comes Up to Speed” would not be far amiss.

 

At the present time (January 2017) a situation is unfolding in Russia that has unfolded many times in many parts of the world. The enemies of Jehovah’s Witnesses seek to ban the faith in that country. It may remind one of General Bell’s WWI threat to Joseph Rutherford regarding a bill specifically designed to eliminate Jehovah’s Witnesses in the United States: “That bill did not pass because [President] Wilson prevented it; but we know how to get you and we are going to do it!”3 In general, the military will not do such a thing. A patriot will not do it. Certainly, a civil libertarian will not do it. Those who grouse that Jehovah’s Witnesses have woken them up from a sound sleep will not do it. Even Richard Dawkins, the atheist advocate who thinks all religion is a cancer and would snuff them out in a heartbeat, will not do it to Jehovah’s Witnesses specifically. It is almost always powerful ones with strong Church connections who will do it.

Note who does not do it: Wilson. He “prevented it.” Thereafter, as the opponents stirred up major trouble for the Witnesses back then, was he even aware of it? It is not as though his mind was not occupied with other matters. Likely it is that way in Russia. It doesn’t go to the top. Likely, the one at the top will “prevent it” to a degree. But the one at the top is also like Pilate, as are all national leaders—he has a country to run. “Look, this is not my cause,” Pilate thought. “I’ll give the scoundrels what they want. That way, I’ll get them out of my hair.”

Countries like Russia favor the “house” church. They don’t necessarily believe it, they likely don’t—Russia was long a country officially atheist—but leaders have found that worship of God simply cannot be extinguished, so it is channeled into a single main church as a concession. The main church, they find, is a strong force for national unity. They like that. It is a win-win. “What can we do for you?” they ask the main church. “Take out the competition,” is the reply.

It is that way with the dominant Russian Orthodox church. One needn’t believe in God to embrace it. One needn’t believe in God to resent criticism of it. 42% of self-proclaimed atheists and 50% of self-proclaimed nonbelievers identify with the Church, says Baran from the previous chapter. Vladimir Putin, a former high-ranking Communist, is likely of the atheist or agnostic camp. Perhaps he finds himself in a similar bind as did Pilate, who knew very well that Jesus was innocent, and tried to free him, but in the end gave in to those demanding his death in order to keep the overall peace.

Are the publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, or anywhere, truly extremist? Dr. Ekaterina Elbakyan says that charges of extremism are nonsense. “I saw with my own eyes the video material on the basis of which Jehovah’s Witnesses were charged with extremism. Twice I gave a detailed commentary in court explaining that this was a typical Christian religious service and had nothing to do with extremism, but the court did not take the expert opinion into consideration. It is impossible not to see this as a clear and systematic trend toward religious discrimination. As long as this trend continues, there are, of course, no guarantees that believers will cease to be classified as ‘extremists’ because of their beliefs.”4

Even the Bible translation used by Jehovah’s Witnesses has been branded “extremist,” though Dr. Gerhard Besier, director of the Sigmund Neumann Institute for the Research on Freedom and Democracy, observes: “The New World Translation has received high praise worldwide from Bible scholars representing diverse religious communities.”5 As to the experts relied upon by the state to eliminate Jehovah’s Witnesses, Dr. George D. Chryssides states “I have personally never heard of the Center for Sociocultural Expert Studies, and the fact that Internet search engines can find no information on it speaks for itself…Since the so-called experts whose opinion has been sought in Russia identify innocuous books such as My Book of Bible Stories and The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived as examples of subversive literature, this must call their expertise, as well as their motivation, into question.”6

If My Book of Bible Stories and The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived, and even the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures are banned as extremist, that means you had better not have them in your house of worship. Therefore, Jehovah’s Witnesses removed them; they’re nice, but not essential. There are other Bible translations available—they all work. But determined enemies planted the banned literature and their cohorts promptly came along to “discover” it.7 They have been caught red-handed doing this several times. It is searchable on the Witness website and is entitled: “Russian Authorities Fabricate Evidence to Charge Witnesses with Extremism.”8

 

How could any Witness in Russia not think it a remarkable coincidence that their greatest trial in decades erupts just as the 37th chapter of Isaiah is being considered in congregations worldwide through the scheduled weekly Bible reading? That schedule was determined 100 years ago, as it is simply reading through the Bible a few chapters at a time—reach the end and start over. The enemies of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as of January, are fully empowered to close Bethel, the Administrative Center at St. Petersburg. (All branch headquarters, as well as main facilities in New York, are called “Bethel,” a Hebrew word that means “house of God.”) The final legal appeal has been lost. And because of the scheduled Isaiah 37, Witness meetings around the world discussed the one-hour video “Oh Jehovah, I Trust in You.” The video dramatizes the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem during King Hezekiah’s reign, and relates how a single angel eliminated 185,000 of the enemy army in a single night. It was first shown at the hundreds of Regional Conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and is now found on their website.

“Hey, remember that angel we dispatched to Jerusalem? I’m impressed with his portfolio. Check on his availability, won’t you?” Is there that sort of discussion somewhere? Probably not. Witnesses take in on the chin these days. That angel is the hit man angel and he is reserved for extraordinary occasions. Even Hezekiah, the Israelite King, was not smug about his back-up. He didn’t assume that God was going to send the hit man; maybe he would and maybe he would not. He just knew that his role was to trust fully in Jehovah and remain faithful. And that’s what our Russian brothers must do right now. Look, it will all turn against us one day. When Jesus was hauled before Pilate, he didn’t sweet-talk his way out of it, did he? Similar is the hostility of this world today toward those who would follow Christ.

How will it play out this time?  Will world opinion prevail upon leaders there to carry on as every other nation does, Russia now being the only nation on earth to ban JW.org? Our brothers bear up under persecution when they must, and it often brings honest-hearted, to say nothing of courageous, people into the fold. People say: “Why are they making trouble for the Jehovahs? They’re nice people.” Time will tell.

 

Congregations worldwide have seen recorded interviews of ordinary Witnesses in Taganrog, Russia, whose lives have been turned upside down by years of legal trials. They have heard them speak of their hardships—emotional, physical, and financial—and how they have been drained of every resource they had simply for following Christ. They saw a child who thinks perhaps both parents will be sent to prison for worshipping God. They saw a grandparent who thinks he will be sent there yet again—“at 59, it is too much,” he says. They saw a young man who cannot hold a job, as his employer cannot accommodate his frequent absences for court. If they can endure as they have endured, they will completely pour themselves out, just as the early Christians did, just as the Apostle Paul did, and just as Jesus did. All Witnesses pray for them to be given strength. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” says Jesus.9

Witnesses realize who is their real enemy. They know that not all in government oppose them—they have been targeted by a vociferous minority with special interests. They recognize that their persecution does not come from ordinary people unless these have been stirred up by agitators, or the media under the influence of agitators. There was a barn fire in Russia in the dead of winter and firefighters saved 150 pigs. Find it and watch the firefighters joyously tossing piglets to each other in a bucket pig brigade.10 See? They rescue piglets over there just like we would rescue them here. People are people. Focus on the people, not the kings, nor their officials.

Do persons suffer in such countries as Russia? Without a doubt, they do. But people suffer here in the U.S, too. They are just different people. “Authoritarian” countries are much concerned with maintaining order. Many here suffer due to the lack of such concern. Some persons hearing of the Russian persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses are sympathetic. But others are exuberant. “Yeah! And not only there, but everywhere!” they shout. Is it people making themselves readily identifiable for the separating of the sheep and the goats, a separation based upon how they have treated “Christ’s brothers?”11

Jesus said to his followers: “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.  But beware of people, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, you will be led before governors and kings for my sake.” Why would that occur? So as to be commended for fine work? No. It would be so that accusations could be hurled, necessitating a defense. The more vile the accusation, the better it will play for those who would malign Christ’s followers.12

 

“I was just a boy when Stalin exiled my family to Siberia merely because we were Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is sad and reprehensible that my children and grandchildren should be facing a similar fate. Never did I expect that we would again face the threat of religious persecution in modern Russia,” says Vasiliy Kalin, as Russia petitions the Supreme Court to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses.13 Jesus said his followers would be hailed before courts. Was it so that they could receive “Good Citizenship” plaques? “What are they saying about me, here?” said the Christian Apostle Paul to the Jewish leaders in Rome. “Are they digging up any dirt on me?” “They answered him [this time literally]: “We have received no letters from Judea about you, nor has any of the brothers arrived with a damaging report or rumor about you. But we should like to hear you present your views, for we know that this sect is denounced everywhere.”14 

Mr. Kalin was to testify at the trial, where he showed the Court his certificate of rehabilitation awarded him during the 1990s. It was presumably of him that one of the Witness attorneys said: “There is present a person who was born in prison. Because his mama, five months pregnant, was sentenced as an enemy of the people to eight years in prison merely because she was a Jehovah’s Witness. She gave birth in prison, and for two years the baby lived in the prison’s children’s home. His father could not take him, because he had been exiled to Siberia. In 1991 the state acknowledged the mother as a victim of political repressions, apologized to her, and allocated a pension. And now here in the court, this man, born in prison, came up to me and asked: ‘Does the Ministry of Justice really want to repeat this horrible history?’ And I did not know what to answer.” At any rate, Kalin himself said at the trial that he was experiencing “memories of the future.”15

Persecution is a mark of true religion today. Depend upon it that those who truly follow Christ will be “denounced everywhere” and even called extremist. One would think that the terrorist attacks that have become a staple of life would have taught the Russians what extremism is. Instead, for them it is as their opponent states:16 “In their literature, there are some very harsh statements and very insulting statements about other faiths,” says Alexander Dvorkin, the former Russian Orthodox priest who now teaches the history of religion and cult studies at St. Tikhon University in Moscow, whom we will hear from again. “Of course, every religion has the right to criticize other faiths, but that should be done in a non-insulting manner, especially if you are talking about [my faith] the faith of the majority.” (brackets mine)

The reason you can and should criticize other faiths is that, as any non-religious person knows, religion has historically served as cheerleader for war and killing. Thus, a growing number of persons would like to ban them all, not just Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is ironic that Russia should start with one of the few religions totally innocent in that regard, as Witnesses are universally known to refuse military service.

 

Trying to seduce the guileless ones, which is not necessarily difficult, for they are guileless, one opponent poses as a Governing Body member on social media. C’mon! You don’t say: “Brother Jackson is on Facebook! I know it’s him because he liked the Jumping Jehovah’s Witnesses picture!” There is such a thing as discernment. If he has actually opened a social media account (what are the chances?) it is a major change in method of communication. He would give plenty of notice beforehand on trusted channels. Here is explained why the Governing Body is unenthusiastic about Witnesses taking to the Internet: it is the land of the liars. It is the land in which a truly insightful remark is followed by that of a complete moron, who nonetheless has equal weight. One’s opening assumption online must always be: “Everyone here is a liar.” Sort them out later, but open with that assumption. How can anyone possibly know who’s who? Anyone can pretend to be anyone. Anyone can use anyone’s photo. You must be “social network smart.”

Some in the faith carry on as though they can assemble their own congregation on the Internet. They can’t. There is no way to gauge spirituality. There is no way to tell if you are speaking to a liar or a saint. There is no channel to dispense spiritual food. Nobody knows if I am a circuit overseer when I venture online or if I am disfellowshipped. It is an uncontrollable place, this land. Our people are inherently trusting—guileless, and sometimes that blows up in their faces.

The masquerading fellow said: “Pray for our brothers in Russia.” A noble sentiment, for they are going through difficult times. In time, though, it became clear that he didn’t give a hoot in hell for “our brothers in Russia”—jail them all as far as he is concerned. It was all a ruse so as to gain the confidence of trusting ones and redirect their attention to unflattering reports elsewhere. There wouldn’t be any brothers in Russia were it not for the organization he maligns. They would be all captive to the dominant church, whose daily text every day is: “Take out the competition.” They would know little of the Bible. It appears that he would like it that way, for it is not as though he represents anyone following the Christian commission to spread the kingdom message. Once his tweet had served its purpose, he deleted it, and it is preserved only in screenshots.

A Governing Body member appears on social media? Be “shrewd as serpents,” if you please. “We ask you…not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly, or to be alarmed either by a “spirit,” or by an oral statement, or by a letter allegedly from us,” writes the apostle to the Thessalonian congregation. “A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy,” says the gospel. Depend upon it. They are up to no good when they come under false pretenses.16

I don’t even say that I am a Witness regarding my own web presence. Obviously, it can be read between the lines, but it is not plainly stated. I do get emails asking if I am or not. I don’t link to the JW.org website, either, because I imagine it imputes my idiosyncrasies (we all have some) upon them. Generally speaking, the Internet is a terrible place to witness. Yet our people do it all the time. A brother will say online: “Do you wonder about the origin of the cross?” The answer is NO! Secular people do not care, and religious people do not wonder. The only people who come along, 99 times out of 100, are ideologues who live to argue.

 

Once before in my memory have all Witnesses been invited to write officials of a nation’s government over persecution. This was during Malawi’s period of intense persecution that saw thousands of Witness homes and places of business torched, members robbed, beaten, raped, and in some cases, killed. The period is best captured by Enelesi Mzanga, an active Witness throughout that time, the wife of a circuit overseer and a mother of nine, who experienced all of it. Her life account can be found in print and online.17 The ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi lasted for 26 years (1967–1993), the identical length of time that Witnesses operated legally in Russia (1991–2017).

Time Magazine then wrote: “By all accounts, a virtual pogrom is in progress against the 22,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the African nation of Malawi.” The article even supplied evidence that with the Witnesses’ chief opponent, it was personal: Malawi President-for-Life Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda, an elder in that country’s Presbyterian Church of Central Africa, “has become increasingly angered by the ‘devil’s Witnesses,’ their unwillingness to join his ruling Congress Party, their refusal to take loyalty oaths, and their exclusivist claims to religious truth.”18

Despite Time’s report, three years later the World Council of Churches still wasn’t sure that there was anything to it, and if there was, it was probably the Witnesses own fault. An African churchman of the Council, quoted in the New York Times,19 stated that “there has been a problem regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses in many African countries. There are accusations and counteraccusations of one kind or another that come out of unsettled situations.” Matters were obscure, his peers opined, and they didn’t appear to be in any hurry to figure it out. Why—“according to some sources, they were accused of collaborating with antirevolutionary forces.” Is not any person is a source? The situation may have been “obscure” and “confusing” to the churchman, but it certainly wasn’t to Enelesi Mzanga. Jehovah’s Witnesses neither salute flags or pledge allegiance to any government on the ground, and from this circumstance are realized many opportunities to make trouble for them.

 

Video Vignettes Taylor Made for Current Persecution in Russia—February 24

The grandparents and great grandparents of many Witnesses in Russia will identify with the Apostle John, writer of the Book of Revelation, the book that concludes the Bible.  He wrote it while exiled for his faith on the island of Patmos. It was an exile that serves to foreshadow that of the Russian Witnesses into Siberia, absent only the snow. It was for the same reason. The apostle’s predicament came about “because I proclaimed God’s word and gave testimony to Jesus.” One way to handle that problem is to pack the perpetrator off to Patmos or Siberia.20

In late-night raids, with only minutes to grab whatever they could carry, Witnesses were rounded up, herded into boxcars, and shipped into exiles that were meant to be long. Those who were missed in 1949 were rounded up two years later. For many, Siberia would become their permanent home, because when their sentences had been served many would choose to remain where they had set down roots.21

Video vignettes first shown at the 2016 worldwide Regional Conventions, and later on JW Broadcasting, seem tailor-made for the persecution that is building in Russia. The extreme situations depicted in the videos are not now reality, but they have been reality in prior Soviet times and they show signs of becoming so again. Russian Witnesses, and Witnesses everywhere, are being fortified with spiritual “food at the proper time.” If shaming does any good, the current authorities are being shamed before the world for backing or permitting what transpires. The clips have been nicknamed “the bunker videos” of the great tribulation,22 and they climax with police discovering the basement hideout into which a small Christian group has retreated. All that remains is to supply participants with Russian accents.

They actually do have Russian accents in another series of clips that deal specifically with persecution: 1) The friends jump when there is pounding at the door, only to find that, this time, it is not the police, 2) Sergei arrives home to find the police have beaten up his father, and he is threatened himself. 3) Sergei is sentenced to five years in prison, which he can avoid if he renounces his faith. These are all themes that have played out in various places at various times among Jehovah’s people. Alone of those groups incarcerated during the Nazi Germany reign, Jehovah’s Witnesses were given opportunity to write their ticket out if they would but abandon their worship.23 Only a handful complied. In faint echo, after the ban in Russia imposed by their Supreme Court, there were reports of Witnesses being exempted from military service only on condition that they discontinue their religion. When the Military Commissioner of Khabarovsk was asked how he would handle such a problem, he answered: “There is no sect—there are no problems! If a conscript declares his desire to perform alternative service, citing his membership in this organization that is forbidden in Russia, we will not even consider such a request.”24

These video vignettes are a new touch in Regional Convention programming, once restricted to talks supplemented by interviews or enacted demonstrations. Now it is talks supplemented by sequential videos. Presently it dawns upon one that the videos are the main story and the talks are supplemental. Let no one say that Jehovah’s Witnesses are behind the curve in their use of technology.

 

An Invitation to Write

The United Nations doesn’t buy the contention that Jehovah’s Witnesses are extremist. Only a day before the April 5th hearing began, it declared: “The use of counter-extremism legislation in this way to confine freedom of opinion, including religious belief, expression and association to that which is state-approved is unlawful and dangerous, and signals a dark future for all religious freedom in Russia,” and thereby expressed hope Russia would drop its prosecution of the religious organization.25 “The fate of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is the fate of any religious group that does not pledge its allegiance to the Russian government,” Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz, a U.S. commissioner for International Religious Freedom, says.26 “April 5 will definitely mark a new chapter of religious persecution in post-Soviet Russia.”27    

Roman Lunkin, a human rights fellow at the Wilson Center and an expert on church-state relations in Russia, doesn’t buy the argument that Jehovah’s Witnesses are extremist, either. The government is just cozying up to the Russian Orthodox Church, he says. Though many groups are feeling the heat, he identifies another reason that Jehovah’s Witnesses are the actual target. Other minority Christian groups in Russia, such as the evangelicals, have not yet faced the same level of scrutiny. It is impossible to accuse evangelicals of extremist activity because their literature and Bible translation matches that of the Russian Orthodox Church…Evangelicals also have closer relationships with government officials, he says.28

“I cannot imagine that anyone really thinks they are a threat,” said Alexander Verkhovsky, director of the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, which monitors extremism in Russia. “But they are seen as a good target. They are pacifists, so they cannot be radicalized, no matter what you do to them. They can be used to send a message.” Andre Sivak, a Witness who lost his job as a teacher, tell what it feels like to be so targeted. Security officials secretly filmed his local meeting and accused him of “inciting hatred and disparaging the human dignity of citizens.” It’s a Bible study meeting. Anyone who has ever attended a meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses knows that. “They say I am a terrorist,” he said. “But all I ever wanted to do was to get people to pay attention to the Bible.”29

“Anyone who would have our publications could be criminalized. It is of great concern,” says David Semonian, Jehovah’s Witness spokesperson. “The constitution guarantees freedom of worship, and that is all we are asking, to have the same rights as other religious groups have so we can go about our ministry in a peaceful way.” To that end, Jehovah’s Witness leadership reached out to the U.S. State department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and the U.S. Helsinki Commission for aid. “We will do everything within our legal means to have the judgment reversed,” Semonian says. “Jehovah’s Witnesses are known worldwide for our peaceful activities, and under no circumstances would we ever resort to violence or any other activity that could be misunderstood or considered extremist.”30

Time Magazine also confirmed: “Jehovah’s Witness leaders have also asked their eight million members worldwide to write letters to Russia officials, including President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, to ask them to intervene. Instructions tell writers to be candid but respectful, and to mention how the faith has benefited their families. Keep in mind that ‘a mild answer turns away rage,’ and ‘a gentle tongue can break a bone,’ the instructions say, quoting the Biblical book of Proverbs.”

That invitation came on March 21st via post on JW.org.31 “Threatened with an imminent ban on their worship in Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses are responding with a direct appeal to Kremlin and Supreme Court officials for relief through a global letter-writing campaign. The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses is inviting the over 8,000,000 Witnesses worldwide to participate,” it read. More words of Mr. Semonian were included: “Reading the Bible, singing, and praying with fellow worshippers is clearly not criminal,” adds Mr. Semonian. “We hope that our global letter-writing campaign will motivate Russian officials to stop this unjustifiable action against our fellow worshippers.”

Six officials were listed to whom one might write, and their addresses were supplied. Additional instructions were included. It was okay to send more than one letter to the same official. It was okay to use a business letterhead, if you had one. Pay attention to grammar and spelling. Neatness counts. No need to have it translated into Russian. Sign it. Do not include literature. Don’t email. Use sufficient postage. (In the U.S, that meant the Global Stamp. It cost a dollar, is round, and features a picture of the moon, perhaps symbolic of Jehovah’s Witnesses shooting for the moon. Many Post Offices ran out of the stamp.) A page will do, no more. Don’t send copies to the branch. Don’t mention by name any Witnesses in Russia. Be candid but respectful. Pray about it.

 

Tell Them Something They Don’t Know—March 23

When you are writing to the Russians about their proposal to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses, there may be a temptation to speak of legal and constitutional issues, since their recent conduct flies in the face of most of them. There may be temptation to observe that ISIS or the Taliban provides the template of what extremism is. Surely Russian leaders know what their own constitution says and for whatever reason, they are choosing to ignore it.

Tell them something they don’t know. Tell them about eight million people, from every nation, who don’t know their Russian brothers personally, but care about them anyway. Let them ponder the significance of what if the whole world was like that. When they look to the outside world of international relations, all they see is bickering, belligerence and bellyaching. Let them see another world.

Convey that we are ordinary, decent people, the sort who appreciate government’s role to preserve social order and improve the moral fabric of persons within its borders, and that we everywhere cooperate with governments as they pursue such goals. I like the suggestion at JW.org to relate some practical way in which Bible truth has helped us personally. Imagine! An invitation from Bethel to write to high Russian officials about the proposed ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is a fine way for individual Christians, most of whom feel quite helpless, to “bring their gift to the altar.”32

“I am speaking words of truth and reason” said the apostle Paul before King Agrippa. “The king knows about these matters and to him I speak boldly, for I cannot believe that [any] of this has escaped his notice; this was not done in a corner.” Paul pressed: “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you believe.” Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You will soon persuade me to play the Christian.” Paul replied, “I would pray to God that sooner or later not only you but all who listen to me today might become as I am except for these chains.”33 The chains were a downer. There is no nice way to spin that. Best to acknowledge it and move on, for such reversals of what should be are common in life.

Just as Paul said to Agrippa, the persecution of Witnesses in Russia has also not been done in a corner. The Witness central organization has not allowed that to happen. Not only does it adroitly coordinate a letter-writing campaign, stimulating front page coverage from the New York Times, and Time Magazine on “Day of Delivery,” but it has succeeded in strengthening an already unified people. All they had to do at Bethel is to invite once for individual Witnesses to write—they did nothing else—and the response is a deluge. Clearly, organization is not an impotent thing. It serves here as a magnifying lens for Christianity, and for this reason some attack it.

It makes the Russian government uncomfortable that Witnesses can be mobilized through an agency that lies outside national borders. They ought not be uncomfortable, for the Witness agency goes out of its way to make clear it poses no threat to it, nor any other government. Still, with a century of East/West distrust as a backdrop, it is very hard to convince them of that. If only world leaders would stop squabbling! Look, Jehovah’s Witnesses in the United States rely upon the Bible. They do not rely upon Western media for their worldview.

The best letters I have seen are from children, who have a knack for going straight to the heart. Putin is tired of being lectured about human rights. That issue, like all others, comes laden with political overtones. Yet he is in danger of being made to look very foolish due to the machinations of the main religious body. Witnesses would spare him. They do not share the common Western sentiment of maligning him. Nor is he their buddy. He is the leader of another form of government, that is all. All human governments will drop the ball—this fact explains why many of Jehovah’s Witnesses become Jehovah’s Witnesses in the first place. Usually it is a bowling ball that they drop, and as people ponder the vulnerability of their right or left feet, thus is decided their politics. But Witnesses strive not to bring such matters into the congregation, thus disturbing its peace. They opt instead to focus on the fact that human governments of all stripes will drop the ball, unlike God’s kingdom, which does not.

 

What sort of letters have emerged from the campaign?

March 23, 2017

Dear Mr. Chairman:

Forgive this intrusion into your affairs. I am writing to ask you to reconsider facts in view of the upcoming Supreme Court consideration to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses. I am an American JW and have been so for 35+ years.

We are a community of eight million who are deeply concerned about the welfare of our Russian brothers and sisters, though we have not met them. True Christians are united. If you know one, you know them all. I implore you to take a good look at their organization before acting. Do not let others decide for you, for they would have Russia look like fools on the world stage. Nobody can visit JW.org and think for one moment that it is extremist.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are ordinary, decent people, the sort who appreciates government’s role to preserve social order and improve the moral fabric of persons within its borders, and we everywhere cooperate with governments as they pursue such goals. We make it our aim to live quietly and to be a force for good in the communities in which we reside.

This is an opportunity for the leaders of Russia to stand up in behalf of the little people who comprise most of any country’s citizens. We pray that you will rise to this occasion. If any of our people should appear tactless, kindly forgive them for that. We are not accustomed to addressing high officials.

Sincerely,

John Q. Witness [actual name withheld]

###

 

 

 

March 23, 2017  

Dear Mr. Minister:

 

I am writing with regard to the future of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. I am a Witness in the United States, a member of an international community of 8 million persons who deeply care for each other.

In the Bible I have found answers to age-old questions such as: “why do we grow old and die?” and “why does God permit suffering?” We value the answers to those questions, for everyone has such questions. It accounts for our public ministry—if you know something valuable, you don’t just sit on it. Sure, it’s possible to travel through life without a clue to these answers, but why would anyone choose to do it? They add meaning to life.

We add only good to the Russian (or any) people, and not bad. We ask that when the time comes to render judgment upon lowly people whose only desire is to serve God, you strike a blow for fairness.

 

Sincerely,

James Q. Witness

###

 

 

March 23, 2017 

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

 

I am writing with regard to the future of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. I am a Witness in the United States, a member of an international community of 8 million persons who deeply care for each other.

If need be, Russian Witnesses will follow the course of first-century Christians. They will, like those the apostle Paul wrote of at Hebrews 10:36, allow themselves to be tried by “mockings,” by “beatings,” by “prisons,” before a world [that] “was not worthy of them.” The practice of Christianity is that important to them.

Not every last one of them will do this, of course. But the vast majority of them will. It has played out many times before in many parts of the world. “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before it hated you,” says the Bible at John 15:18. Christians worldwide don’t like persecution one bit. But they expect it because Christ told them to. Sometimes it even adds members to the faith, as some will realize Christians are told to expect persecution.

Why should this be? I would plead for them. Jehovah’s Witnesses everywhere are decent, law-abiding people. They are not ones who meddle in government affairs. Instead, they are of strong moral character and thereby assist any government in encouraging good qualities in its people.

The Bible says that true Christianity to be “spoken against everywhere,” as Acts 28:22. However, also depend upon the supposed reasons to evaporate as frivolous upon inspection. I hope you will not be swayed by some giving you bad advice when the future of Russian Witnesses is decided.

 

Sincerely,

Peter Q. Witness

###

 

 

March 23, 2017  

Dear Mr. Prosecutor General:

 

I have been told that Russia is thinking of placing a ban on my brothers and sisters. I hope this will not happen! Jehovah’s Witnesses wish to worship freely as Russian law says it will allow their citizens to do.

Unfortunately, there has been a false accusation made stating that Jehovah’s witness are extremists. In no way could we be called revolutionists or rebels.  For over 40 years I have associated with the Witnesses and have never heard any encouragement to act against any government. To the contrary, we are told to be respectful and obey the laws. We pay our taxes.

My personal experience speaks to the wonderful way Jehovah’s witnesses are taught at their Christian meetings. Before I began to study the Bible, I was a drunkard and lived an immoral life. Now I can say I am a better mother, wife, and citizen. I know I am not alone in my experience.

On April 5th, 2017, I request that you choose to see the truth about us and allow Jehovah’s Witnesses to continue their peaceful meetings and worship. We are eagerly awaiting the time when the world will be united, and we will all be at peace as brothers and sisters.

 

Sincerely,

Mary Q. Witness

###

 

 

March 23, 2017  

Dear Mr. President:

 

Please excuse this direct contact, but the situation is desperate for us and so we feel need to resort to unusual methods.

News reports here indicate that Russia has its hands full battling protestors. That is the reality in many lands. Please do not devote your energy to harassing the one people who do not protest.

 

Sincerely,

Andrew Q. Witness

 

Fear the King do not treat him with disrespect—March 27

In most countries, if you taunt the king too much, you risk your neck. But if you make it your aim to live quietly, as Jehovah’s Witnesses do, won’t he leave you alone? Russia has a different form of government. It is nothing more threatening than that. “What! You think we’re so righteous here?” Trump shot back at his critics.34 If they tolerate interference less than is done here, there is still no reason to think that they are not genuine in their desire to provide stability and good government. At the drop of a pin, Western media and politicians will describe Russian leaders in the most insulting of terms. We need not play that game. Our perception of the king there need not be formed by the king here.

We should not chuckle at the spectacle of these people not being able to move because we have flooded their mail. If anything, we should apologize for it, with the caveat that when you feel backed into a corner, you resort to unusual tactics. With our very existence under assault, we felt we had to get their attention somehow. Nevertheless, fear the king. Do not treat him with disrespect.

To the extent that anyone is indiscreet, making taunting comments like: “You think you’re powerful in Russia? Well, wait till you see what OUR God can do,” it explains why not everyone at Bethel is enthused about social media. I haven’t seen many of these remarks, but I have seen some. Hopefully they died on the cutting-room floor and were never sent. If there is one thing we know about Russian police, it is that they like to be respected. And our brothers in Russia do respect them, to be sure. It is just that they respect and fear and love Jehovah more. Before we make any comment, it seems well to ask ourselves whether a Russian brother would say it.

Here, Putin is routinely reviled by politicians and media. Respectful letters from ones who have every reason to gripe may make more impression than we realize. Sometimes a mild tongue can break a bone. Sometimes the heart of a king is like streams of water that God turns this way or that. Sometimes the king is prevailed upon to do things not of his own originality, just like Cyrus of history.35 Other times he just carries on the way he always does. We cannot foreknow. But as our brothers in Russia brace for their greatest trial, Mark Sanderson speaks to them on JW Broadcasting in Russian.36 Who knew that he spoke Russian?

 

There was a report that our brothers in Russia have withdrawn all appeals and have instead requested the largest possible courtroom for the April 5th hearing, the “overflow” courtroom. It is exactly what they would do—play this out before the largest possible audience. It is just how Jehovah is having it play out on the world stage today. The Governing Body invites us to write. Our people respond to such an enthusiastic degree that national Post Offices are being crushed.  Of course, this leads to publicity everywhere as to just why that is. I’d be surprised if every Witness in the world does not write to Putin or one of his co-officials. Surely, the world takes notice of a faith in which each member takes such an interest in each other. Putin may just load the letters on supertankers and sink them at sea. Just how do you cope with millions of unexpected letters anyhow? but he cannot fail to know that they exist. It has to register somewhere, somehow.

Those who hate Jehovah’s Witnesses join in the fray, writing letters in support of the ban, like the Edomites of old who screamed “Lay it bare!” when Jerusalem was under attack.37 This almost makes it better, for it adds to the tonnage. It is as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians: “Of course, some preach Christ from envy and rivalry, others from good will. The latter act out of love…the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not from pure motives, thinking that they will cause me trouble in my imprisonment. What difference does it make, as long as in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being proclaimed? And in that I rejoice.”38 Let everyone take their place on the world stage. Let the people firmly and publicly separate themselves into the sheep or goat column. Perhaps God is luring them all, as with hooks in their jaws.      

Meanwhile, note how our people conduct themselves. Note how extraordinarily respectful they are, as is evident on JW Broadcasting, toward government authorities. Note the September 2016 Study Edition Watchtower article, “Defending the Good News” before courts, which is being used today as a template. Note how the Witnesses’ respect for authority is so contrary to what anyone would expect that it only adds to the witness. Let every person in the world become aware and take a stand on this issue. If it is to be, let Russian officials look themselves in the mirror and publicly declare: “I believe, what with all the villains and scoundrels on the loose today in our country and world, that taking out Jehovah’s Witnesses is the most important thing we can do.”

The campaign may fail in its goal of swaying the minds of Russian officials. But it will not fall short in its goal of giving a massive witness. It will not fall short in stepping up the preaching work worldwide, as it presents fresh evidence that “the time is running out.” It will not fall short in giving our Russian brothers tremendous reinforcement. For the rest of their lives, persons will approach them and say: “You crushed our Post Office. Just what kind of people are you, anyway?”

The trick will be to generate such worldwide publicity—so as to make every person aware—that for Putin to snuff out Jehovah’s Witnesses would be comparable to his strangling a cat on live TV. He may decide not to do it. He wants to be regarded as wise, as firm where necessary, but certainly not as an unhinged despot. To be sure, he plays hardball when he has to, but he may come to realize that here he does not have to. Due to a massive campaign of publicity, everyone except the most disconnected should become aware of the situation soon to be decided by him. Will he want to be an international pariah? All our letters will be respectful, except for some seeded in by religious enemies eager for the ban to proceed, in sharp contrast to how he is usually portrayed in the West.

He may get fed up, not with us, but with the national Church that is trying to feed him the line that JW.org is extremist, doing so for the purpose of taking out the competition. He may, on a night that he cannot sleep, become like King Ahasuerus of long ago,39 peruse JW.org (surely he’s allowed to see it), recognize that it plainly is benign, as every other nation in the world recognizes that it is, and come to resent the national Church that would have him look like a total donkey on the world stage. He may come to realize that, what with all the very real concerns facing his country, Jehovah’s Witnesses are not one of them.

 

I apologize to Mr. Putin—April 3

When Putin opens my letter, he will be disheartened. He will see several paragraphs. He will want with all his heart to read it, but he has several million other letters to get through. He will toss the letter.

He will then open the next letter and discover, as he suspected from the envelope, that it is from a child. It includes drawings, one of a sad little girl because Putin is being mean to her nice friends, and one from a happy little girl, because he has had a change of heart. Putin will smile faintly, for everyone loves children. He will put this letter aside. Possibly he will show it to his grandchildren someday.

He will open the next letter. It will also be from me—not the same letter, but one worded and reasoned anew. He will roll his eyes. “Another letter from that windbag Harley,” he will mutter, and toss it in the trash.

How many letters will he receive? Eight million, at a minimum, as every Witness in the world will write him. They were invited just once. They all thought it a good idea. Putin has never seen anything like it and he will not forget it. It will not necessarily melt his heart. It may make him mad.40 He has a country to run. He has a world infested with scoundrels he must stay abreast of, and one of them succeeded in taking out his favorite limousine driver, a no-doubt decent man who I would have hung out with, had I visited, before any government official. He may not like it that Jehovah’s Witnesses try to paralyze him and his Kremlin with paper, like the Dr. Seuss king mired in oobleck.41 Perhaps he will ship all letters to the North Pole, like ones to Santa Claus.

I apologize to him. I really do. Unfortunately, the well-being of my brothers is at stake, and we feel we must get his attention somehow. He is being given bad advice by religionists. If he takes it, he will look like an utter fool before the world, because nobody can read JW materials, online or in print, and think them extremist. Perhaps he should vent his anger at those who would maneuver him into such a ridiculous position.

Most likely, the eight million is just for starters. Six addresses are listed at JW.org. Many Witnesses will send their same letter to all six, bringing the total to—say, 30 million. Yuri will not be jealous that Dmitry received the same letter as he. Some, comfortable in writing, will compose several letters and send each to all six. Make that 50 million. Then there will be non-Witness human rights people. These will write in numbers of far less percentage, but there are far more of them. There will also be some who don’t like Jehovah’s Witnesses and who will write to support the ban, not to mention some virulent opposers who will chide him for being so half-hearted. Will that bring the total to 60 million? More? Your guess is as good as mine.

Will the letters from opposers fool him? I doubt it. He will say: “Look, I can see why Harley would write me, he and all his 8 million chums, but what about this loser? Is he pretending he is somehow my friend who would warn me of a great danger? Is he not part of the general world who was last week (in the United States) called me a ‘thug and a murderer?’”42

 

Let us now consider how Vladimir Putin will shake in his boots as he reads a letter on the business stationary of Bob’s Cleaning Service. Witnesses were invited to use their business letterhead if they had such, and not all Witness-owned businesses will knock your socks off. There are elements of comedy in everything, and Christians are a spectacle to the world. The Christian drama is the one to watch. Who knows? Maybe Bob will remind Putin of his chauffer pal and thereby carry the day. Maybe an aide will tell him of some impending crisis that requires his immediate attention. “Handle it, will you?” Putin will respond, as he wonders what would the world be like if everyone behaved like Bob, transcending national, racial, and social divisions to show loving concern for their spiritual brothers.

 

Tell the House Church to Take a Hike—April 7

The American popular media, almost to a person, opposed the election of President Trump. Throughout 2017, they pushed the narrative that Russia had meddled in the American election and that Trump was a Russian stooge. But in early April, Trump became convinced that Russian ally Syria had used chemical weapons within its borders. He ordered a missile strike in retribution.43 American pundits recalibrated. Russian pundits were livid. Perhaps the country they regarded as the perennial aggressor was fomenting another war, as it had (in their eyes) 100 years ago to the day with World War I.

Russian media source RT.com recounted how Woodrow Wilson, the world’s “first globalist,” propelled the U.S. into that war, reversing entirely his campaign promise to keep the country out of it. When enthusiasm for the nascent entry seemed less than he had anticipated, he came to favor mandatory conscription and laws that would penalize anyone speaking ill of the war effort. Thus was born the Espionage Act of June 1917 and the Sedition Act of May 1918.44

The Espionage Act was famously used against Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1918, sending leaders to Federal prison. Their convictions were overturned nine months later. Today, Russia’s own Extremism Law threatens to do the same for its counterparts on the other side of the world. Okay, I know it’s naive, and the following is tongue-in-cheek, but could this possibly play out? Might Putin possibly say: “Yesterday, it is St. Petersburg!45 Now it is Syria! Next it will be North Korea! What a crazy world! What do I care if the Jehovahs want to preach? Get this case out of my hair! I’ve got things to do! Tell the House Church to take a hike!”

***~~~***

 

Now the priests, the prophets, and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the LORD. When Jeremiah finished speaking all that the LORD commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests, the prophets, and all the people laid hold of him, crying, “You must die!”

…The priests and prophets said to the princes and to all the people, “Sentence this man to death! He has prophesied against this city! You heard it with your own ears.”

…Then the princes and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man does not deserve a death sentence; it is in the name of the LORD, our God, that he speaks to us.”46

It is always this way. The princes have no problem with it. It is the priests and the prophets that oppose religious truth. The very ones who you think would be in harmony with it are on the other side. Will it turn out that way in Russia today?

It is hard to imagine that traffic to the Witnesses website will not increase, perhaps even explode. In view of the publicity, people will want to see if it is truly extremist. This will be especially true with those we find difficult to reach: the newsworthy and well-connected. What will be the result when they discover that it is not extremist at all? Perhaps that is the greatest contribution our Russian brothers make to Jehovah’s service. The decision itself may not go in our favor. Russian Witnesses may once again become like the Christians of early times who walked about under duress, “and the world was not worthy of them.”47 It happens with good precedent in a world unfriendly to Christians. Jesus was not summoned before Pilate to receive a pat on the back, was he? It was more than a pat on the back he received. Pilate saw through the scheme in a heartbeat. He tried to free Jesus. But he had a province to run. In the end, he proved unable to withstand the clamor of that day’s religious leaders desperate to preserve their place and the status quo.48

The non-Orthodox religious world follows this case closely, for fear they will be next. Many of them are cozier with the politicians, as Lunkin noted,49 and their literature isn’t necessarily that different from that of the Orthodox Church, so it may take a while, but they fear their time may yet come. After all, if you are going to the Baptist church, then you are necessarily not going to the Orthodox one. As is not infrequent, they are letting Jehovah’s Witnesses do their heavy lifting for them. They hold back. What support they offer is tepid, because Jehovah’s Witnesses are a cult that do not believe in the Trinity. If we win, they will latch on for the ride. Will they be grateful? It’s unlikely. We will continue to be portrayed as a cult that fully deserves whatever bad comes upon it.

In one of my online haunts, a scoundrel taunts me, trying to get me going. The letter-writing campaign involved advising foreign JWs “to send their personal address details to the Russian government.” Did this not work to the detriment of a Danish citizen, arrested there after the ban went into effect? By following such direction, “he would surely have put himself on a watch-list before entering the country. As indeed has everybody else who sent them their family details and personal address.”

I confessed to him: “It’s true. I followed Governing Body directions to send my address to the Russians and now every time I part a window blind, I see Putin staring in. Sometimes it is not he himself, but one of his minions. At the supermarket, suspicious men in heavy coats with Russian accents approach me to say “We’ve been waiting for you, Tom. You see, you gave your address ‘details’ to His Evilness, and now he would like a little chat with you.” I spoke to every other Witness in the world and they all said the same thing had happened to them.

Come now. There is such a thing as maturity. What with political crazies on one flank, nutcakes on the other, bombers in St Petersburg, ISIS kicking up everywhere, Putin has all he can do to harass 175,000 Witnesses in his own country, assuming that he elects to do it. You would have me believe he is going to expand his efforts to harass every Witness in the world? “Methinks you have been too heavily influenced by Western politicians and media,” I answered. “The police checked everyone’s papers, and discovered he was not a local. They didn’t consult their 8-million-person master list.” In fact, Dennis Christensen was not a visitor at all. He has lived in Russia many years with his Russian-born wife. He was the first to be arrested after the ban went into effect.

***~~~***

 

“But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews rose up together against Paul and brought him to the tribunal, saying, ‘This man is inducing people to worship God contrary to the law.’ When Paul was about to reply, Gallio spoke to the Jews, ‘If it were a matter of some crime or malicious fraud, I should with reason hear the complaint of you Jews; but since it is a question of arguments over doctrine and titles and your own law, see to it yourselves. I do not wish to be a judge of such matters.’ And he drove them away from the tribunal. They all seized Sosthenes, the synagogue official, and beat him in full view of the tribunal. But none of this was of concern to Gallio.”50

Gallio saw that what was before him was a religious dispute. Why should he care about it? He had an empire to run. He “drove them away.” Despairing of his waning attention, they beat the daylights out of someone right under his nose. But their fifteen minutes of fame had expired. The Roman official had moved on to other things, perhaps finishing his newspaper, rustling the pages to shoo the agitators away.  What of Putin when the Church and its friends accuse Jehovah’s Witnesses? Might he also be like Gallio?

***~~~***

 

Eleven days after the trial, which Jehovah’s Witnesses lost,51 a Russian language site posted a summary set to musical background. It should not be missed. What follows is an English translation of the subtitles displayed onscreen:52

 

Supreme Court of the RF (Russian Federation)

Six days of court hearings

Ministry of Justice demands the banning of Jehovah’s Witnesses

Yaroslav Sivulsky:  member of the Governing Committee of the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia: “When the court case began, the judge was denying our petitions one after the other, it seemed that, that was it, the issue had already been decided beforehand.”

Judge Yuri Ivanenko: “The Court, having listened to the opinion of the persons taking part in the case, of the representatives, has decided to … reject, reject, reject … [the rest is not clear, maybe ‘persons and evidence’ [DM]”

Brother Sivulsky: “On the whole, about 17 petitions were denied and only 1 granted by the Court. We did not see any evidence supporting the claim of the Ministry of Justice. To clarifying questions, often the representative of the Ministry of Justice said: ‘I am not aware of… I don’t know…’”

Judge Yuri Ivanenko: “You prepared for this court case.”

Justice representative Svetlana Borisova: “Yes.”

Judge: “So certainly, you know what remaining danger we are talking about...”

Borisova: “It is hard for me to answer now.”

Lawyer Viktor Zhenkov: “Tell me, have there been specified cases of disturbance of public order by Jehovah’s Witnesses under the influence of the reading of Jehovah’s Witness literature? Do you have such facts?”

Borisova: “No I don’t have such facts.”

Lawyer Anton Omelchenko: “Please tell me which local religious organization spent what sums of money and on what extremist activity.”

Borisova: “We do not audit local religious organizations.”

Omelchenko: “That is, you don’t have any such information; have I understood you correctly?”

Borisova: “No.”

Omelchenko: “Thank you.”

BANNERS:

8 witnesses were called

of whom 4 were on the side of the Ministry of Justice.

Brother Sivulsky: “Although the witnesses on the side of the Ministry of Justice tried to damage the reputation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, they could not present one single fact supporting extremist activity on the part of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

Judge Ivanenko: “In the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation it has been decided, in the matter of the claim of the member of the Ministry of Justice, to uphold it…”

BANNER:

The very same day, unknown persons threw stones at a religious building [Assembly Hall in St-Petersburg].

Legal expert Maksim Novakov: “From this status of “extremists” will flow a general application of violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

BANNER: The activity of the Administrative Centre is BANNED.

Brother Sivulsky: “Never before have the press, social workers, people in general, been so interested in Jehovah’s Witnesses to this extent.”

BANNER: The verdict of the Court will be appealed.

Judge Ivanenko: The court session is closed.

***~~~***

 

It was sealed on April 20th what Jesus had said at John 15:20: “No slave is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” “We know that this sect is denounced everywhere,” said the Jewish leaders to the apostle Paul.53 Including here, says Russia.

Early indications that the trial would be little more than a sham to rubberstamp a decision already made were recounted by Mark Sanderson, a Governing Body member, who was present throughout. Eighteen of the defense team’s nineteen motions were promptly denied, among them one to admit videotaped evidence clearing showing police planting banned literature. That motion was denied. Every other interested party in the world had already seen it on JW.org; the only ones who refused to see were the ones who had a moral obligation to do so. Embassy officials of other nations saw it, too, and they were surely dismayed to see it barred as evidence. Their turn was to come, as the Court went on to refuse to hear their own testimony regarding the record of Jehovah’s Witnesses in their respective countries.

It is just like Jehovah’s Witnesses to look for the silver lining in the cloud. They observed on their web broadcast that six of their people had provided clear, cogent testimony reflecting the true nature of their faith’s worship and work. They even declared a victory of sorts, based upon a passage in Luke, for events certainly had worked out in the following way: “Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony.”54

Toward the end of the trial, Witness attorneys were able to remind the Court that it was not really they before the Russian authorities. Rather, it was everyone, defense and prosecution alike, arguing before the Supreme Court of the universe. Also included in the broadcast were Russian brothers who gave assurance of their intentions to serve Jehovah steadfastly regardless of their new circumstances, and to do it with the Christian trademark of not returning evil for evil.55

[Moved by this broadcast, ISIS World Headquarters rehearsed their own special broadcast to be made in the event that they, too, should ever get into hot water with the Russians. They, too, tried to line up interviewees to upbuild their adherents. They were thwarted in this, however, because any person that stepped forward was instantly blown full of holes by heavily armed ISIS members. This happened because ISIS is an extremist group.]  (bracketed material concocted by author for purposes of comparison.)

On day two of the trial, the Russian Presiding Judge became surprisingly active, reported Sanderson. He questioned closely the Ministry of Justice on just what might happen if Russian Witnesses were to continue reading their extremist publications. Virtually everything Jehovah’s Witnesses publishes is on the government’s list of extremism literature. The Ministry of Justice assured him that there could be dire consequences. What of the rights of 175,000 Russian citizens? the judge wanted to know. It was not the only time he was to do his job. On Day 5, he questioned the Ministry of Justice as to the legal basis for shutting down Jehovah’s Witnesses and confiscating their property. The Ministry of Justice declined to identify one. Other times, too, it was observed that he was “surprisingly” impartial. He peppered the prosecution with questions that they seemed totally unprepared for. Possibly, they had imagined an unchallenged cakewalk.

Russian brothers were not surprised at the outcome. They had never expected to win. In the West, people are accustomed to judges acting independently of the executive branch. In Russia, it is not a foregone conclusion. Nor are the Witnesses there unaccustomed to dealing with police harassment, which they expect to intensify. Several said that the judge appeared sad as he granted the Ministry of Justice’s petition to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses, after reviewing 43 volumes of submitted evidence in a single hour. He knew what he had to do. But possibly he was a man with a conscience. Possibly he did not want to, even for a single hour, be chief spokesperson for the Devil.

Still, he did a lot. He was very bold. Not many are prepared for their 15 minutes of fame. Even Peter caved, three times denying Christ. By asking pointed questions throughout the trial, which the Ministry of Justice seem totally blindsided by, he exposed them as not having a legal leg to stand on. In this, he aids future appeals as well as present worldwide review. He did a lot, even if he ultimately declined to throw himself under the bus. Not many persons would. This writer will chalk him up as a supportive figure, even if flawed—for who is not flawed?

Throughout history, during the repressive days of countries ranging in government from authoritarian to liberal, Jehovah’s Witnesses have blanketed areas with preaching campaigns that were thorough and quick, sometimes happening overnight. Suppose that the Russian Witnesses were suddenly to intensify their service to God? Either separately or on cue? There are 175,000 of them, after all, and for the time being, they have the sympathy of the world behind them, a circumstance that is not that common.

It is not for others to say what they will do. It is their neck on the line, not ours. But since they have been dealing with police harassment for some time, and the legal defeat does not surprise them, they fully expect opposition to intensify. “We may as well supply a reason for it to intensify,” perhaps they will say. In one way or the other, they will give an answer not unlike that given to the Jewish high court leaders of long ago: “Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges. It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.” It is not that they would not. It is that they could not; it was “impossible.” It would have been like lighting a lamp and putting it under a basket. Who would do such a thing? Will they be intimidated that they are just regular folk standing in the face of ones more “awesome”? If anything, they will draw power that they are in good company. They are like Peter and John, uneducated, ordinary men, who confounded the ones educated and extraordinary of their time.56

“The king knows about these matters and to him I speak boldly, for I cannot believe that [any] of this has escaped his notice; this was not done in a corner,” said the apostle Paul before Festus and Agrippa. So it is with the Russian ban on religion. It has not been done in a corner. The Governing Body did not permit it to be done that way. Nobody with a finger on the pulse of events could have failed to have heard about this.57 The entire affair, which Russian Witnesses, if not the rest of them, always thought was a long shot, was publicized so that as few as possible could say they were unaware. Let them declare themselves on one side or the other with Christianity. Let the churches that are so often intricately involved with the world carry on as usual. All know the identity of those who are truly following Christ’s command to “lay down the sword.” All know the identity of those who are truly proclaiming “this gospel [good news] of the kingdom” and striving to live by its requirements even today.

A Witness worried online that other nations, far from being outraged, might take Russian events as a template for banning Witnesses in their country, too. If it should happen, let it happen with maximum publicity, as does this. How literally is the second Psalm to be fulfilled, that the “kings on earth rise up and princes plot together against the LORD and against his anointed one?”58 Let them all take their stand publicly if it is to be. Let it become clear before all who is loyal before God and who would fight against him. At some point the experiment of human self-rule must end. Has it not proven itself an obscene failure? 

The Witness organization gives this campaign the greatest publicity. Our Russian brothers will forever know that their courageous stand, which they are prepared to continue, spurs honest, hungry and humble persons to look into the faith now on display via Internet and literature in the streets, as heretofore uninterested persons check to see if it is truly extremist. When they see that it is not, how will they respond to that?

Will Jehovah’s Witnesses now fold in Russia, as some have predicted and as their enemies have hoped? Time will tell. It may turn out instead that they will be as a hurricane gathering strength over warm waters, for the words of Peter will not be lost upon them: “For whenever anyone bears the pain of unjust suffering because of consciousness of God, that is a grace… for to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered.”59 The invitation to imitate Jesus is impossible to turn down. They will also call to mind Jesus words: “But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved.”60 

 

From Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia

  1. The lead character never actually implored witnesses with “just the facts, ma’am,” but variations of “all we have are the facts, ma’am.” I remember the former, a circumstance from which inferences may be drawn about memory (or Snopes).
  2. Luke 16:8
  3. “They Broke Free from False Religion” The Watchtower – study edition, November 2016, 29
  4. “International Experts Discredit Russia’s “Expert Analysis” in Identifying “Extremism” JW.org, November 28, 2016, https://www.jw.org/en/news/releases/by-region/russia/expert-analysis-identifying-extremism-discredited
  5. Nathan Glover, “Russian Court Bans Jehovah’s Witness Bible,” worldreligionnews.com, August 18, 2017, http://www.worldreligionnews.com/religion-news/russian-court-bans-jehovahs-witness-bible
  6. Willy Fautré, (Human Rights Without Frontiers), hrwf.eu, Russian “religious experts” hired by a court against Jehovah’s Witnesses have no academic credentials August 14, 2017, accessed March 26, 2018, http://hrwf.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Russian-%C2%AB-religious-experts-%C2%BB-hired-by-a-court-against-Jehovah%E2%80%99s-Witnesses-have-no-academic-credentials.pdf
  7. Press Release, “Russia’s Attack on Religious Freedom” Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, March 5, 2017, accessed March 26, 2018, https://www.jw-russia.org/sites/default/files/russiareport_proof-3.pdf
  8. Video footage: “Russian Authorities Fabricate Evidence to Charge Witnesses With Extremism,” JW Broadcasting, https://tv.jw.org/#en/mediaitems/docid-802016695_1_VIDEO
  9. Matthew 10:28
  10. Gemma Mullin, “Saved Their Bacon: Touching Footage Shows Moment Brave Firefighters Rescue 150 Pigs and their Tiny Piglets from Huge Barn Fire in Russia,” thesun.co.uk, January 23, 2017, accessed March 26, 2018, https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2679459/touching-footage-shows-moment-brave-firefighters-rescue-150-pigs-and-their-tiny-piglets-from-huge-barn-fire-in-russia/
  11. Matthew 25:31-46
  12. Matthew 10:17
  13. Chloe Farand, “Russian Government Files Lawsuit Against Jehovah’s Witnesses to Declare it an Extremist Group,” indedpendent.co.uk, March 17, 2017, accessed March 26, 2017, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russian-government-jehovahs-witnesses-extremist-group-lawsuit-supreme-court-a7634671.html. Separately, Vasiliy Kalin testified at the trial and said he was experiencing “memories of the future.”
  14. Acts 28:21-22
  15. Newsfeed: “the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation is...” Portal Credo.ru, April 20, 2017, site accessed on March 21, 2018, http://www.portal-credo.ru/site/?act=news&id=125383. For English translation, see http://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/170420a.html
  16. Transcript: Corey Flintoff, Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses Fight ‘Extremist’ Label, Possible Ban, All Things Considered, May 17, 2017, accessed March 26, 2018, https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2016/05/17/476898973/russias-jehovahs-witnesses-fight-extremist-label-possible-ban
  17. 2 Thessalonians 2:2, John 10:10
  18. Enelesi Mzanga, “Life Story: Jehovah Always Cares for Us,” The Watchtower, September 1, 2003, 23
  19. Time Magazine, December 18, 1972, 98
  20. Special to the New York Times: “Jehovah’s Witnesses Complain They’re Persecuted in Malawi,” New York Times, December 6, 1975, accessed March 26, 2018, http://www.nytimes.com/1975/12/06/archives/jehovahs-witnesses-complain-theyre-persecuted-in-malawi.html
  21. Revelation 1:8
  22. Emily P. Baran, Dissent on the Margins - How Jehovah’s Witnesses Defied Communism and Lived to Preach About It (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014) 111
  23. Video Presentation: “Be Loyal, as Jesus Was,” JW Broadcasting, accessed March 26, 2018, https://tv.jw.org/#en/mediaitems/2016Convention/pub-jwbcov_201605_2_VIDEO
  24. Study Guide of the Holocaust Teacher Resource Center, originally a pamphlet of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington D.C. 20024-2150, accessed March 26, 2018, http://www.holocaust-trc.org/jehovahs-witnesses/
  25. News Feed, Porto-credo.ru, December 28, 2017, Accessed March 8, 2017, http://www.portal-credo.ru/site/?act=news&id=129229 For English translation see http://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/171228a.html
  26. Press release: “UN rights experts urge Russia to drop Jehovah’s Witness lawsuit which threatens religious freedom,” United Nations Human Rights – Office of the High Commissioner, Geneva, April 4, 2017, accessed March 26, 2018, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21479&LangID=E
  27. Elizabeth Dias, “Russian Supreme Court Considers Outlawing Jehovah’s Witness Worship,” Time Magazine, April 4, 2017, accessed March 26, 2018, http://time.com/4723456/jehovahs-witness-russia-supreme-court/
  28. The Supreme Court Hearing commenced April 5th and concluded with a decision to liquidate the Witness organization on April 20th. It represents less ‘court time’ than meets the eye, as many days were adjourned. The Memorial of Christ’s Death fell upon one of those days (April 10th) and Russian Witnesses were grateful to celebrate it without incident. The Memorial, observed annually, is the only meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses that might conceivably be called ceremonial.
  29. Elizabeth Dias, “Russian Supreme Court”
  30. Amanda Erickson, “Russia Labels ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’ as Extremists and Tries to Ban Them from the Country,” Washington Post, April 14, 2017, accessed March 26, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/04/14/russia-labels-jehovahs-witnesses-as-extremists-and-tries-to-ban-them-from-the-country/?utm_term=.506e99076f23
  31. Elizabeth Dias, “Russian Supreme Court”
  32. Press release: “Jehovah’s Witnesses Mobilize Global Response to Threat of Ban in Russia,” Jehovah’s Witnesses World Headquarters, March 21, 2017, search: JW.org
  33. Matthew 5:23
  34. Acts 26:25-29
  35. He caught a lot of heat for it, too. The home team ever assumes it alone is the most virtuous: Sophie Tatum, “Trump Defends Putin: ‘You Think Our Country’s so Innocent?’” CNN, February 6, 2017, accessed March 26, 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2017/02/04/politics/donald-trump-vladimir-putin/index.html
  36. The Jewish historian Josephus relates that Cyrus of the Persians was shown a portion of Scripture highlighting what he was foretold to do and was apparently much influenced by it.
  37. “Pure Worship Under Attack in Russia,” JW Broadcasting, Accessed March 8, 2018, https://tv.jw.org/#en/categories/VODOurOrganization
  38. Psalm 137:7
  39. Philippians 1:15-18
  40. Esther 6:1-3
  41. One on the list whose heart decidedly did not melt was Russian Minister Sergey Lavrov, as evidenced at a later press conference. Press Service – The Minister’s Meetings, “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation,” July 12, 2017, accessed March 8, 2018, http://www.mid.ru/en/vizity-ministra/-/asset_publisher/ICoYBGcCUgTR/content/id/2981131
  42. 41. Oobleck was bad stuff, a new type of weather sent to a bellyaching king who was sick of the existing seasons and wanted something new to fall from the sky. It was green and stuck to everything, paralyzing his entire kingdom. He came to regret his rashness. It is from the 1949 Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel) book, Bartholomew and the Oobleck, a childhood favorite.
  43. An accusation made by prominent U.S. Senator John McCain. It proved to have durability for reasons having more to do with American politics than with Putin himself.
  44. Andrew Buncombe, “Trump Order Missile Strike on Syria After Chemical Weapon Attack on Civilians,” Independent, Friday April 7, accessed March 26, 2018, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-tomahawk-missiles-syria-reports-latest-donald-trump-homs-bashar-al-assad-russia-a7671411.html
  45. “War With Germany: US Enters WW1 on this Day in 1917,” RT.com, accessed March 26, 2018, April 6, 2017, https://www.RT.com/usa/383775-usa-enters-ww1-wilson-debs/
  46. On April 3rd, a terrorist attack on the St. Petersburg metro killed 15 and injured 45. There was the Syrian missile strike related in narrative. And on almost a daily basis during that time, Kim Jung Un and Donald Trump were exchanging taunts about nuclear weapons.
  47. Jeremiah 26:7-16
  48. Hebrews 11: 33-38
  49. Luke 23:4-5
  50. Elizabeth Dias, “Russian Supreme Court Considers Outlawing Jehovah's Witness Worship,” Time Magazine, April 4, 2017, accessed March 26, 2018, http://time.com/4723456/jehovahs-witness-russia-supreme-court/  
  51. Acts 18:12-16
  52. A detailed description of that first trial, proceedings updated approximately every 5 minutes, can be found in the tweets Anton Chivchalov starting April 5, 2017, and also Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.jw-russia.org/pages/17040614-132.html. The latter is a news only site run by Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russian and it appears to have been overlooked by authorities until it was banned in March of 2018.
  53. Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, accessed March 8, 2018, https://www.jw-russia.org/news/17050117-152.html
  54. Acts 28:22
  55. Luke 21:12-13
  56. “Pure Worship Under Attack in Russia” tv.jw.org, April 20, 2017, accessed March 26, 2018, https://tv.jw.org/#en/mediaitems/OrganizationFeatured/pub-jwb_201801_12_VIDEO
  57. Acts 4:13-20
  58. Acts 26:26
  59. Psalm 2:2
  60. 1 Peter 2:19
  61. Matthew 14:13

 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

The Man of Lawlessness in the 21st Century

Yes, I know, I know. The application of the Man of Lawlessness is to the emergence of the clergy class in the early centuries. That point was repeated in the discussion of Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians at the midweek meetings.

But is there anyone other than me that thinks a modern application would be more to the emergence of a modern-day atheist class, today’s apostasy, that turns upon the theocratic organization under the guise of “protecting people” from its “mind-control?”

2 Thessalonians 2:3. Let no one lead you astray in any way, because it will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness gets revealed, the son of destruction. 

4  He stands in opposition and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he sits down in the temple of God, publicly showing himself to be a god. 

5  Do you not remember that when I was still with you, I used to tell you these things?

6  And now you know what is acting as a restraint, so that he will be revealed in his own due time. 

7  True, the mystery of this lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who is right now acting as a restraint is out of the way. 

8  Then, indeed, the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will do away with by the spirit of his mouth and bring to nothing by the manifestation of his presence. 

9  But the lawless one’s presence is by the operation of Satan with every powerful work and lying signs and wonders 

10  and every unrighteous deception for those who are perishing, as a retribution because they did not accept the love of the truth in order that they might be saved. 

11  That is why God lets a deluding influence mislead them so that they may come to believe the lie, 

12  in order that they all may be judged because they did not believe the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness.

Verse 4 fits an atheistic Man better than it does a clerical Man. Also verses 9 and 10–with the powerful works and wonders being the application of science, which enthralls them to the point that they forget all about God.

It certainly fits better with the line of Paul from the next chapter: 

Finally, brothers, carry on prayer for us, that the word of Jehovah may keep spreading rapidly and being glorified, just as it is with you,  and that we may be rescued from harmful and wicked men, for faith is not a possession of all people. 

It is not those with faith—even a skewed faith that might be ascribed to a clergy class—that most seek to further the “cult” meme today. It is those without faith.

it is all spot-on to identify the Man of Lawlessness with the emerging clergy class in the first century, with all the infusions of Babylonian and Greek philosophies that it embraced and spread. But today that Man is much weakened. He is casually respected as long as he stays in his place, but his place is much reduced. In the old days his place was anywhere he wanted it to be. He limps along trying to insist that he is relevant, and more and more people doubt that is the case.

The verses of 2nd Thessalonians remind me more today of an atheistic Man than of a religious Man.

~~~***~~

There were some who thought I was trying to change space and time, what with a new interpretation of the Man of Lawlessness. I wasn’t. They pointed out that atheism came about because the clergy class of those early centuries wrestled away the wheel but then didn’t drive people anywhere, so that some became disillusioned. 

They are right, of course, as regards the overall picture. 

“Yes, in her [Babylon the Great] was found the blood of prophets and of holy ones and of all those who have been slaughtered on the earth.”  Rev 18:24

“All those who have been slaughtered” is a big category, and it is especially huge if we equate slaughter to death, since no one would have died at all were it not for rebellion back in Eden. Most die, not due to acts of commission, but due to acts of omission. The Man of Lawlessness does not teach biblical truth, and the sheep, as a consequence, are found roaming the hills, and land themselves into all sorts of mischief, atheism being one of those mischiefs. Had they not been force-fed a diet of spiritual junk food, they might not have thrown out the baby with the bathwater, asserting that not only are the doctrines untrue, but also is God.

So the origin of the Man of Lawlessness may be correct, but I am not sure that we keep up with its modern evolutions. Sometimes I think that we do the equivalent of railing about Egypt or Assyria, and don’t grasp that other heads have emerged in the seven-headed wild beast. The “apostates” that cause us trouble today are overwhelmingly atheistic. The media people, be it print or video, who “accuse the brothers day and night before our God” are almost always atheistic, Every general needs to know the enemy. We do ourselves a disservice if we imagine that today’s enemy is religious. It leads to miscalculations as to how to oppose him. Sometimes, for example, we imagine that explaining doctrine clearly will serve to rectify things.

 

The clergy class still rears its ugly sting to inflict vindictive damage on true servants of God if possible (See the Russian affair).”

I don’t think that’s true, and it is a good case in point. Buy too much into this and it would appear that if the clergy were to disappear, attacks against us would be over. In fact, the clergy has practically disappeared from the standpoint of influence, and attacks come upon us full-throttle. 

 Nobody believes me on this. They just assume that the Russian Orthodox Church is behind the ban. They have said that they are not. I am inclined to believe them. To be sure, most there squealed with delight when the ban on Witnesses went into effect, like kids on Christmas morning, but the thinkers among them don’t like it. They think that the same legal reasonings being used against us could also be used against them. They also regard themselves as the true church, and THAT is now illegal under the new laws first applied to Witnesses.

The centerpiece of my “theory” is articles such as this one in the Daily Caller:

We fixate on the Russian Orthodox Church because we have not moved on from the days of the Roman Catholic Church in 1950s Quebec, and 1940s America and Europe, when religion truly did orchestrate the mischief. The anti-cult movement of today that would take out ALL religion starts with the biblical faith that is most clearly “no part of this world,” but it is hardly friendlier with other types. We should know the enemy.

Recently in field service a woman answered my companion’s knock and said she wouldn’t speak with us since she “follows the Word of God.” Thus, she drew “battle lines,” and it was hard to not respond in kind. My companion began to go where we so often go, where I used to go, and a silly little contest begins of searching for chinks in her “armor,” since we are loath to leave an “objection” such as hers unanswered. After all, we also think that we are following the Word of God.

After a time, I interrupted to say: “Look, you believe in God and you think we’re doing it all wrong. We believe in God and we think you’re doing it all wrong. We will steal sheep from your church if we can and you will do the same to us. Let’s just accept that as a given. Either way it is a search for God and a desire to worship him.” With that, I made a point about the “shocking disregard for Jesus” prevalent in the world today, and a brief defused conversation ensued. We parted with her thinking that we were, at least in some respects, on the same page. And we were. We both have a common enemy who is on the ascent.

The Western clergy is licking its wounds these days. It is the atheists who are riding tall. It may be correct to identify the Man of Lawlessness with a religious faction—it certainly was that way in the early centuries—but its latest manifestation is not religious and has no use for God, having elevated other concerns to that status.

 
 

 

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Aftermath

The day after the Supreme Court decision, Steve Inskeep of National Public Radio interviewed Andrew Roth, a Washington Post correspondent, and expressed bewilderment that Jehovah’s Witnesses should be placed in the same category as ISIS.1 The latter related the inside joke that Witnesses are now the most pacifist extremists in Russia.

Probing, Inskeep observed that Jehovah’s Witnesses are indeed known for pacifism. They are apolitical. They knock on doors, pass out pamphlets, and seek converts. “You may dislike them, but they don’t seem that threatening.” He asks how many there are in Russia, and Roth answered that they grew very quickly after the fall of Communism. That growth has unnerved the Russian Orthodox Church and even the government itself, which is “really trying to clamp down and to sort of recreate an idea of what official religion is in Russia…there’s an important symbiosis between religion and the political power in the country. And so the Orthodox Church and the Kremlin have walked in lockstep. And I think it’s fair to see that this crackdown is in some ways sort of influenced—growing influence of Orthodox Christianity and a view of Christianity that can support the Kremlin’s aim.”

 

A segment of an article considered at Witness meetings worldwide the week of May 15, 2017 follows:

“Like his father, Asa, Jehoshaphat maintained his devotion to God even when threatened by an overwhelming enemy force. (Read 2 Chronicles 20:2-4.) Jehoshaphat did become afraid! Yet, “he resolved to search for Jehovah.” In prayer, he humbly admitted that his people were “powerless before this large crowd” and that he and his people did not know what to do. He fully relied on Jehovah, saying: “Our eyes are toward you.”—2 Chron. 20:12. Sometimes we, like Jehoshaphat, may not know what to do, even being afraid. (2 Cor. 4:8, 9) But remember that Jehoshaphat acknowledged in a public prayer how weak he and his people felt. (2 Chron. 20:5) Those who take the spiritual lead in the family can imitate Jehoshaphat by turning to Jehovah for guidance and strength to cope with the problem they face. Do not feel ashamed to let your family hear such supplications. They will sense your trust in Jehovah. God helped Jehoshaphat, and he will also help you.”2

 

***~~~***

 

“What Do the Witnesses of Jehovah Have in St. Petersburg?” asked a May 5th post of MRKU (St. Petersburg).3 The article began: “The Supreme Court in fact recognized that Jehovah’s Witnesses were extremist. Now they are obliged to stop work immediately, which they already did. Further, apparently, for their property will come the new owners. And the property of these believers is good, especially in Petersburg.” Yes, the property of these believers is very good. They made it so. A bit down in the article is the heading: “Instead of a Dump the Built a Palace.”

Back in the 1990s, the article reports, Mayor Anatoly Sobchak presented the Witnesses a plot of land in both Solnechnoe and Komomyazh—a total of 11.5 hectares. It included the remains of a former Pioneer Camp consisting of residences, buildings, and a boiler house, from a construction company. There was also an unpleasant surprise—under the future building was found a hazardous waste dump. But the Witnesses paid for the complete remediation. They also agreed, as a condition, to pay a significant sum as their contribution to the development of the city.

Witnesses rebuilt the ruined camp and turned it into a well-landscaped lot. Fellow believers came from Finland, Sweden, and Norway to aid with the effort. The architect was Finnish. The construction work spanned ten years, from 1992 to 2002. It all belongs to “citizens of other countries, the Witnesses aver, and therefore it cannot be confiscated.” “What do the witnesses of Jehovah have in St. Petersburg?” MRKU asks? They answer their own question: “One of the most influential religious organizations in the world from now on in Russia was banned.”

 

***~~~***

 

Eight days after the ban, Lisa Mullins of WBUR interviewed a resident of the Witness’s branch facilities in St. Petersburg.4 His name is withheld. He stated: “For me and my wife we spent here for last 23 years. We live a happy and interesting life, now is everything changed. We have to stop our religious activity in St. Petersburg and our administrative center and we have to go somewhere else. Of course, it is very painful. Many cried. Some tried to be positive, but it’s emotional moment for every one of us because we built this administrative center. I spent one year building here, buildings and offices and everything with my friends from other countries, they all came to help us build our beautiful center and now we have to leave.”

Mullins asked about the evangelizing work—is it still taking place in Russia today? “Any activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses could be viewed as extremist activity,” was the reply. “You might be discussing the Bible with a neighbor and find that it is viewed as a criminal action subject to ten years imprisonment.” NW stated that reports were being received of people being beaten “not by police but by aggressive people who saw so many bad news from the government channel and after all this propaganda some people got angry and started to scream or even to beat some of our—we call brothers and sisters.” “So is it still happening, then?”—Mullins seeks to clarify with regard to the public ministry. “Some continue, some may be hesitant to do it. It’s difficult to say in whole Russia,” is the answer.

Conversation then turns to the reason for the ban. Why is it happening? “We have no answer for that question because we love our neighbors. We try to preach good news of the kingdom to all our citizen in Russia, our neighbors, and why government viewed as a threat—it is really difficult to understand. Some observers say that we are very fast growing or we are too active or that we are compete with the Orthodox church, but frankly say we are not competing with anybody but we are just doing what we have to do—what Jesus command us to do: go and preach in all nations, but as you know, our website JW.org is already banned in Russia, and from April 2015 no single copy of our literature came through the border because government decided to forbid any shipments of literature to Russia - even Bible was stopped at the  border and sent to the Court for expert study on anti-extremism law basis.  It means they want to pronounce our New World Translation Bible also extremist literature, which is—yeah, it is ridiculous.”

Mullins closes by inquiring whether NW fears he is putting himself in danger merely by speaking to her? The answer: “I don’t know—to be frank, I have no fear. if something will happen—okay it will happen—what I can do? What I am telling only the truth—then why I should fear? If something happens, okay, we will face this problem. For me it is easier because my family was exiled to Siberia. My father spent seven years in prison. My mother spent four years in prison. And I also myself spent one and a half years in prison for military service objection. That’s why I know what does it mean to be persecuted and I have no fear.”

 

***~~~***

 

“We were hoping the court would realize that we are not a threat,” said Robert Warren, a spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses from their New York world headquarters. “But now the environment is worse than ever.”5 Witnesses in Russia have been assaulted, fired from their jobs, and have suffered destruction of property. Witness children have been bullied by teachers. Repercussions have spilled over boundaries. In early May, a 61-year-old Jehovah’s Witness from neighboring Kazakhstan, a retired bus driver battling cancer, was sentenced to five years in prison and banned from preaching for three years after he gets out. But in late May there came a completely unexpected announcement: President Putin presented to Valery and Tatiana Novik, Jehovah’s Witnesses from Karelia, the Order of Parental Glory. Six of the eight Novikov children also attended the award ceremony.6

The Order is given to parents with many children who set an example in strengthening the institution of the family. An eligible awardee must head a socially responsible family that leads a healthy lifestyle, ensures the full and harmonious development of the children’s personality. They must display a high level of care for their health, education, physical, spiritual and moral development. In response, speaking about the spiritual and moral development of children, Valery Novik cited a text from the Bible, which serves as a guide for him, the parent. The words he uttered were from the New World Translation which can no longer be quoted because that Bible is extremist. So what he said, according to the NABRE was: “Train the young in the way they should go; even when old, they will not swerve from it.”8

Look, I am probably all wet here, but it is just possible Putin is doing it to soften the blow against Jehovah’s Witnesses and/or to send a signal to intolerant ones that he is not with them. Perhaps it is akin to Eleanor Roosevelt putting in a good word for Witnesses during the outbreak of violence against them in the U.S.8 We err when we vilify him, in my opinion. When we do that, we are simply following the lead of the American media, whose reasons are political. If you watch Putin through any eyes other than that of the Western media, he does not come off as bellicose, sinister, or unreasonable. He heads a system of government that restricts some freedoms, so he is loathed in the West, where people are accustomed to a relative lack of restrictions.

Of course, national leaders all have departments of public relations—we mustn’t be naïve—but he simply does not display a villain’s appearance, given the authoritarian form of government he heads. The unbridled freedom of Western democracy has not worked well for Russians, and his actions display a pushback against some of it. I remain hopeful, perhaps naively so, that he is not at heart one of the instigators—that he has gone along for the ride but is troubled by the wave of violence against people that he, as a career person, doesn’t care for, but as a man, has nothing against and perhaps even regards with some favor. Perhaps he is like the Persian king, suddenly taking interest in what he has paid scant attention to previously, pondering what good thing should be done for Mordecai.9

He is careful to keep ties close with the Orthodox Church, but he may, at some point, no longer want to rubber stamp everything they do. Russia is painted in a bad enough light internationally as it is; he does not want to supply proof positive that the negative reports against his country are true. He wants Russia to take its rightful respected place among nations. He does not want to play hardball when there clearly is no reason for it.

Does the Witness religion break up families, as some have charged? The president of Russia has perhaps declared where he stands on that issue. The appeal of Russian Witnesses to the Supreme Court is to be heard in July. Perhaps it will not be the rubber stamp most people anticipate. Perhaps it will follow the pattern of the U.S. Supreme Court in the days of West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette, which reversed the unfavorable-for-Witnesses Gobitis decision made just three years earlier.10

Was Valery Novik like Esther? Was his conscience like Mordecai? Many Witnesses drew the analogy. In the days of Queen Esther, a scheme was launched to exterminate the Jews within King Ahasuerus’s realm. With other things on his mind, it appeared that the king had been maneuvered into endorsing it by enemies of the Jews. The queen, a Jew, at much personal risk, spoke up in behalf of her people and secured their deliverance. Her uncle Mordecai had exhorted her: “Even if you now remain silent, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another source….Who knows—perhaps it was for a time like this that you became queen.” Esther rose to the occasion and dangerously broke protocol with a volatile king, having resolved: “If I perish, I perish.” Her brave course won delivery for her people. Would the Novik family do the same for Witnesses in Russia?11

Let us not become overdramatic here. No one is risking his life to pick up his Grand Prize. Still, perhaps it was for a time like this that the Noviks became one of Russia’s families of good repute. We will know more when we see who President Putin gives the award to next. If it is to a family of the other extremists, an ISIS family, with bombs hanging from their belts, we will know that all of our speculations are for naught.

 

***~~~***

 

Eight governing members of Jehovah’s Witnesses were sentenced to American prison in 1918, on violation of the Espionage and Sedition Act, mentioned previously. The religious press rejoiced. Dr. Ray H Abrams, in his book Preachers Present Arms, reports that “I have been unable to discover any words of sympathy in any of the orthodox religious journals.”12 By this measure, the Russian media’s response was almost cheery. Most of them rejoiced, but not all. One that did not was Novaya Gazeta, which ran an article summing up Witness beliefs with reasonable accuracy, if not proper order, and was sympathetic to their plight—taking for granted that they must continue to perform their ministry. Included were vignettes telling why some had become Witnesses and how they felt they had benefited from the faith.13 One woman said that she regretted only one thing—that she learned about the Bible too late to save her first marriage. Applying Bible principles would have done it, she felt, if she only had known them.

Said a man identified as Eugene, “In Russia, the image of Witnesses is being demonized. Previously, we also came up with many different names: the enemy of the people, sectarian, spy, now this is the fashion word: extremist.” He added “Witnesses do not take up arms, do not participate in wars and rallies. We will fight by purely legal methods. I do not understand why we are banned. But it seems to me that those who prohibit do not know the answer either.”

It had not been easy for them to start speaking to others of God, and they now felt unable to stop simply because it had been outlawed: “When I read that Jesus said, ‘Go and tell about me,’ I was so upset,” laughs Eugene. “Well, I did not want to go to anyone and communicate with anyone. It was hard for me, and now it’s given.” They hoped they would not have to flee Russia: “Even if the decision does not change, there is the European Court. We do not want to leave the country because of the ban. We love Russia. We love the Russian language. We love these people.”

 

***~~~***

 

Material is slotted for consideration at congregation meetings up to a year in advance. The material itself may have been written a year prior to that. Therefore, it is remarkable how worldwide “Christian Life and Ministry” meeting content seemed to parallel Russian developments. After the adverse April 20th verdict, the attention of individual Witnesses soon shifted to the appeal. Soon it was announced that such an appeal would be heard in July.

The uninitiated thinks that an appeal is a new trial, a second chance. It is not. It is a review of the first trial with the purpose of spotting procedural or constitutional errors. The verdict is not looked at anew unless errors are discovered. There were many errors in the original April 20th trial, but they were so blatant that it appeared nobody cared about errors. If they happened the first time, they would happen the second. However, hope springs eternal. Jehovah’s Witnesses advanced cause for optimism. They like optimism. By a single stroke of the pen all of their 396 registered organizations in Russia had been eliminated and their religious activity was prohibited. Just where does one start with that? They chose optimism.

Meeting content looked at similar events and court cases from other countries during that interim period leading up to appeal. Many thought one or all might prove a template for July. Perhaps somehow the Russian justices, upon learning their situation was not unique, would allow themselves to be instructed. The book God’s Kingdom Rules, then under consideration, summarized High Court victories in such countries as Switzerland, Romania, Netherlands, Serbia, Turkey, Greece, and the United States.14 A few other countries were also spotlighted for additional detail.

Of Nicaragua in 1953, the book stated: “Nicaraguans were amazed that the Supreme Court had sided with the Witnesses. Until then, the influence of the clergy had been so strong that the Court avoided conflicts with them. Also, the power of government officials was so great that the Court seldom went against their decisions.” Witnesses attributed their victory to their God and the fact they had continued preaching during difficult seasons.15

In Zaire, the association of Jehovah’s Witnesses was dissolved by presidential order on March 12, 1986, and the next day national radio announced: “We shall never hear of Jehovah’s Witnesses in [Zaire].” In short order, Kingdom Halls were destroyed, and Witnesses were accosted, robbed, and imprisoned. Seven trying years later, however, following the pattern of Gobitis, there was a reversal. The high “Court ruled that the government’s actions against the Witnesses had been unlawful, and the ban was lifted….Putting their own lives at risk, the justices had annulled a decision of the country’s president!”16

Perhaps Canada would be the place to watch. “Quebec’s Premier Maurice Duplessis, working hand in glove with Roman Catholic Cardinal Villeneuve, reacted to the tract [Quebec’s Burning Hate for God and Christ and Freedom Is the Shame of All Canada] by declaring a ‘war without mercy’ against the Witnesses….‘The police arrested us so many times we lost count,’ said a pioneer sister.”

“The trial court judge, who hated Witnesses, refused to admit evidence that proved the [defendant’s] innocence. Instead, he accepted the prosecution’s position that the tract stirred up ill will and thus the [defendants] should be found guilty…the brothers appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada,” which overturned the ruling. “Why? Brother Glen How, a lawyer for the Witnesses, explained that the Court agreed with the argument presented by the defense that ‘sedition’ requires incitement to violence or insurrection against government. The tract, however, ‘contained no such incitements and was therefore a lawful form of free speech.’…this victory broke the back of Quebec’s Church-State attack on the liberties of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”17      

The very week before the July 17th appeal of the Russian Supreme Court decision, added material involving Russia itself was considered at the weekly meeting, material that had been prepared up to two years beforehand. It was recounted how after decades of ban under the communists, Jehovah’s Witnesses were registered in 1991, followed by formal legal recognition in 1992. The book God’s Kingdom Rules continued:

“Before long, however, some opposers—particularly those associated with the Russian Orthodox Church—were unnerved by the rapid growth in our numbers. Opposers filed a series of five criminal complaints against Jehovah’s Witnesses between 1995 and 1998. Each time, the prosecutor found no evidence of wrongdoing. The determined opposers then filed a civil complaint in 1998. The Witnesses prevailed at first, but the opposers rejected the verdict and the Witnesses lost on the appeal in May 2001. A retrial began in October of that year, leading to a decision in 2004 to liquidate the registered legal entity that the Witnesses use in Moscow and ban its activities.

“A wave of persecution followed. Witnesses faced harassment and assault. Religious literature was confiscated, renting or building houses of worship was severely restricted. Imagine how our brothers and sisters felt as they faced those hardships! The Witnesses had applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2001, and they submitted additional information to the Court in 2004. In 2010, the ECHR reached its decision. The Court saw clearly that religious intolerance was behind Russia’s ban on the Witnesses and ruled that there was no reason to uphold the decisions of the lower courts since there had been no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of any Witnesses. The Court further noted that the ban was designed to strip the Witnesses of their legal rights. The Court’s decision upheld the Witnesses’ right of freedom of religion. Although various Russian authorities have failed to comply with the ECHR ruling, God’s people in that land have drawn great courage from such victories.”18

 

***~~~***

 

In late June of 2017, a poll taken by the Levada Center revealed that 79% of Russian citizens approved of the ban. Was the poll timed to remind the judges that upholding the ban at the upcoming July 17th appeal date would be a fine thing, or is it but paranoia to think that? The figure means little in itself. The result depends upon how the question is asked, Chivchalov pointed out. If it is just a matter of stopping awkward unannounced calls about religion, then the figure would be replicated in many parts of the world; this author, too, takes cover when he spots persons unknown walking up his driveway. Get rid of them! is his first instinct. However, if the question is framed that violators might go to jail, get beaten up, and have property and belongings confiscated, the approval rate would likely drop sharply. For Russians are pretty much like people everywhere. Most are okay. A few are horrid.

“80% of the negative attitude toward Witnesses is due to media and state propaganda,” Boris Malyshev, of the Russian State Humanities University observed, and 20% due to the stereotyped mindset of citizens.” Few in the U.S. would consider the media hostile to them. Occasionally they are, but not consistently. Mostly they just botch the details of a religion they cannot get their heads around. But the Russian government recognizes only the four mainstream faiths, and all “the rest are considered an annoying misunderstanding,”19 Malyshev said. Witnesses are darkly perceived as “a purely American phenomenon.” Aleksei Levinson, of the Levada Center, confirms that “the state broadcasts the idea that there should be no religious minorities and the negative attitude toward Witnesses is intensified by reports about their links with ‘subversive foreign forces.’”

An organization must be based somewhere, but it is hard to paint Jehovah’s Witnesses as American, even though headquartered in New York State. Less than 15% of Jehovah’s Witnesses live in the United States. The rest are scattered throughout all countries, where they ever represent a tiny minority.20 Ironically, the other “off-grid” Christian faith with American headquarters is the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). It has over twice the concentration of members in America as do the Witnesses, and they are the most political of all faiths. Pew Research Center, in 2014, published a chart of political leanings by religion (29 faiths) and Mormons topped it, with 70% identifying as Republican, 19% as Democrat, and 11% as having no leaning.21 Jehovah’s Witnesses almost broke the chart, with a full 75% listed as having “no leaning (the next highest listing of that choice was Hindu with 26%),” 7% Republican and 18% Democrat. Yet the Mormons get their new church in Moscow, noted previously, while Jehovah’s Witnesses are losing their buildings. Don’t misunderstand. This writer does not begrudge the Mormons their new church. I am just vexed about ours.

About Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pew says that they “are taught to remain politically neutral and abstain from voting, [and they] stand out for their overwhelming identification as independents who do not lean toward either party. Three-quarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses put themselves in that category.” One might wonder why all of them do not. This writer’s take is that it is because persons self-identify for the Pew chart. The Watchtower organization, on the other hand, counts as members, not those who self-identify, but those who report some activity in the Christian ministry. I have little doubt that, of those, the figure would be in the 90th percentile.

 

***~~~***

 

Speaking at an early May joint news conference with Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “We have heard some very negative reports about the treatment of homosexuals in Chechnya and I asked President Vladimir Putin to use his influence to guarantee minority rights here as well as with Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Though she had mentioned the two in the same sentence, the BBC reported the gay plight and did not mention Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Associated Press also managed to edit Witnesses away, though most sources did not.22

It is seldom that the gay community and Jehovah’s Witnesses find common cause so that Angela Merkel can mention them in the same breath. American Witnesses thought it well that they were mentioned along with others suffering repression, but one Russian Witness said it said was not well. “Comparing JWs with gays is not a good thing in Russia,” she wrote. “Very few people will protect gays. I am afraid I can’t explain it but, believe me, it doesn’t sound good….Of course I don’t know, but hope report about [the intense persecution of] gay men is false. It is really hard to believe that there are alive gay men in Chechnya. They wanted to have gay parade in our city. And people wanted to beat them. Fortunately, the parade was forbidden because any gay propaganda is forbidden. Those gay men in Chechnya must be really brave…Russia doesn’t like minorities.”

There are gay men in Chechnya, and they are not faring well. In April, Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta wrote of 100 men, thought to be gay, who were rounded up and tortured by government officials, spurred by concerns to head off that planned gay pride parade. Russia downplayed the incident, with the observation that “there were not gay men in Chechnya.”23

 

***~~~***

 

For the purposes of this narrative, religion reporter Joshua Gill picks up where Emily Baran leaves off. He uncovers a major piece of the puzzle. He connects the dots that few Witnesses knew existed, and fewer still knew of their interplay. One cannot thank him enough. Upon the lost appeal, Gill wrote in The Daily Caller:24

“The Russian Supreme Court’s July 17 ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses was the result of a decades long conspiracy funded by the French government, blessed by the Russian Orthodox Church, and sanctioned by the Putin administration….The latest phase of that plan first garnered international attention with Russian authorities’ arrest of a Danish citizen.” That would be Dennis Christensen, arrested May 25 for conducting a congregation meeting after the ban had gone into effect. Why is a foreign citizen the first person arrested? Is it to underline in bold the “No Tolerance” policy toward Witnesses? Arrest of a foreigner will surely draw the world’s attention more than arrest of a Russian, which is more easily written off as an internal affair and no concern of anyone else.

Gill spotlights the role of Alexander Dvorkin, the Russian Ministry’s Expert Council for Conducting State Religious-Studies. That Council exists so as “to investigate religions that deviate from Russian Orthodox teaching and to recommend actions against those religions to the state.” They have recommended taking strong action on non-majority faiths. Mr. Dvorkin is also vice president of the European Federation of Research and Information Centers on Sectarianism (FECRIS), a French NGO dedicated to identifying as a “sect/cult or a guru the organization or the individual which misuses beliefs and behavioral techniques for his own benefit.” It is an organization fully funded by the French government, and it may be remembered that that government tried to eliminate Jehovah’s Witnesses by imposing a 60% tax on their activities in 1998. The tax was doggedly appealed by Jehovah’s Witnesses until it was struck down by the European Court of Human Rights fourteen years later.

The Daily Caller article reveals the depth of Dvokin’s misinformation and dislike of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “Their adepts recruit failed university enrollees, and people on vacation as well [as though the two groups have everything in common, rather than nothing]; they have a wide range of psychological influence, especially on the unstable minds of adolescents and youths,” he says of both them and the Hare Krishnas. He has encouraged the public to “take part in the fight against sects, file complaints and collect raw data so that the local authorities can react quickly.” In a 2009 documentary called “Emergency Investigation: Jehovah’s Witnesses,” he compared Witnesses to drug dealers. The Journal for the Study of Beliefs and Worldviews attributes instances of public violence against Russian Witness members to that documentary. There is even a new app in Moscow with which to report sects, so that the “person or his relatives who got into the sect, now do not have to write statements, he can quickly send us information. There are agreements with law enforcement agencies and experts of the Ministry of Justice, they will process it, if something serious—automatically the information will come to the police.”25

It is impossible not to call to mind religious enemies of early times who instigated the violence against the original Christians, as related in Acts. Jehovah’s Witnesses, the foremost example among others, are more dangerous than Satanists, Dvorkin says, because they “conceal evil under the guise of good.” Counterintuitively, the Satanist Church of Moscow was not among the handful of groups he singled out. It has not been labeled extremist. It has also come out in enthusiastic support of the Witness ban.26

 

***~~~***

 

“Jehovah’s Witnesses Had Foes Before Putin” announced the Bloomberg headline the day after the decision to ban, with the subtitle: “Russia is reverting to Soviet-era restrictions on religion. But this denomination has survived worse.” The previously-quoted writer, Leonid Bershidsky, expressed no doubt that the “stubborn group” would fight on, but “the court has delivered another chilling reminder that President Vladimir Putin’s Russia is even less free than the USSR was.”27

Witnesses in Russia will not intimidate easily because they have rarely known anything but persecution in Russia. Bershidsky recounts some history: “When, after Stalin's death, the state stopped systematically imprisoning them and switched to a harassment tactic, the flock started growing. By January 1991, when President Mikhail Gorbachev’s government officially permitted the organization, there were about 45,000 followers in the Soviet Union. They formed one of the most stubborn and resourceful resistance groups that ever existed in the Communist country.” Bershidsky then quotes Emily Baran: “They [under the Soviets] organized a highly complex underground organization, with its own finances, leadership structures, and internal reporting system that kept careful record of its members’ archives. While intellectual dissidents exercised caution in sharing their views with others who could denounce them, Witnesses spoke about their beliefs to complete strangers in an effort to convert them.”

The 1991 honeymoon between the government and Jehovah’s Witnesses was over almost as soon as it began. Witness promptly acquired over 100,000 new members, and that was enough for their opponents. Old unfavorable memes reappeared and were enhanced by some new ones in the guise of anti-cult crusading. Writes Bershidsky, “Russia has no more patience with openness and tolerance. Putin’s regime doesn’t care whether it passes any tests on that score. In a way, it’s as defiant as the Witnesses, and so far, it’s just as resilient. But the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been resilient for longer.”

Notwithstanding a certain clash of the titans air, mentioned previously, it is a fine article of support—well-informed. It is appreciated. But clashing is not what Witnesses want. All they desire is to exist. And to read the Bible. And to meet. And to spotlight Bible teachings. People do not “light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house,” says Jesus.28  

Grant Witnesses these few concessions and they will be happy as pigs in mud. They won’t make any trouble. They will find out what are the rules of the national king for maintaining public order, which vary from country to country, and follow them. When the king levies taxes, they will pay them; they are known not to cheat in this regard. If they draw upon social services, they will draw upon them less than most groups. When it comes to police resources, they will draw upon these barely at all, provided those resources are not employed to prevent them from existing. Governments will have no trouble from them. Through personal and family morality, they will be a good influence, aiding governments in their own efforts to promote laudable qualities among their citizenry. It will be a win-win.

 

***~~~***       

 

Was the letter-writing campaign of Jehovah’s Witnesses a waste of time and money? It dissuaded no one from imposing a ban on Witness activities. Other than earning a “Postal Glory” award from financially strapped postal systems, what exactly was accomplished?

Again, Witnesses like to put a good face on things theocratic. Mark Sanderson of the Governing Body gushed on about the “wonderful witness” that was given the world. And why not? What does the verse say? “You are my witnesses—oracle of the LORD—my servant whom I have chosen. To know and believe in me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, and after me there shall be none,” says Isaiah.29 And a psalmist declares: “Let them know that your name is LORD, you alone are the Most High over all the earth.”30 (As observed before, the modern trend is to remove the divine name. Some translations, though not the NABRE, have yet let it remain at this Psalm, since the passage sounds odd without it. The Russian synodal translation includes the name ten times. At the trial to ban the New World Translation, partly due to the name, the Witness attorney pointed out that it was engraved on the Constitutional Court building of St. Petersburg. Had those proceedings been held there, one can almost picture the judge going outside to check.)31 If one measures by these verses, the publicity campaign was a resounding success.

Moreover, it is hard to imagine a campaign that could so captivate and bind the Witness worldwide brotherhood. The witness given the world over appears to be lasting. Alexa.com, measuring worldwide web traffic, records two distinct spikes in traffic to the Witness website from search engines—just before the trial and just after the appeal.32 In the span of three months, the worldwide ranking of JW.org rose from #1200 to #800. People hear the charge that the website is extremist. Some visit to investigate, where they find that it is not.

Seen in this light, the Russian authorities are doing kingdom interests a great favor. It is a 21st century adaptation of Acts chapter 8: “On that day, there broke out a severe persecution of the church in Jerusalem, and all were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria…those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.” Opponents succeed in shutting down the good news locally. But not without much publicity, which ultimately intensifies the witness. In time, the kingdom message spills right back into where it was banned in the first place, stronger than before.33

From Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia

Transcript: Steve Inskeep - Host, “Russia Labels Jehovah’s Witnesses An Extremist Group,” Morning Edition, April 21, 2017, accessed March 17, 2018, http://www.npr.org/2017/04/21/525010796/russia-labels-jehovahs-witnesses-an-extremist-group

  1. “Serve Jehovah With a Complete Heart,” The Watchtower – study edition, March 2017, 21
  2. “What Do the witnesses of Jehovah Have in St. Petersburg?” MK in Peter, May 5, 2017, accessed March 8, 2018, http://spb.mk.ru/print/article/1655820/ For English translation, see https://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/170505b.html
  3. Lisa Mullins, Interview: “Russian Government Cracking Down On Jehovah’s Witnesses,” NPR, April 28, 2017, accessed March 22, 2018, http://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2017/04/28/russia-jehovahs-witnesses
  4. Lauren Markoe and Fred Weir, “Persecution in Russia and Kazakhstan worsens for Jehovah’s Witnesses,” The Christian Century, May 23, 2017, accessed March 22, 2018, https://www.christiancentury.org/article/persecution-russia-and-kazakhstan-worsens-jehovah%E2%80%99s-witnesses
  5. “The Family of Jehovah’s Witnesses Took the Order From the Hands of the Head of State,” Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, June 6, 2017, accessed March 8, 2018, https://jw-russia.org/news/17060606-176.html
  6. Proverbs 22:6
  7. Joel Engardio, “Russia’s Bans on Jehovah’s Witnesses,” American Civil Liberties Union, December 10, 2009, https://www.aclu.org/blog/russias-bans-jehovahs-witnesses
  8. Esther 6:1-3
  9. Hana M. Ryman and J. Mark Alcorn: “Pledge of Allegiance,” The First Amendment Encyclopedia, accessed March 22, 2018, https://mtsu.edu/first-amendment/article/1137/pledge-of-allegiance
  10. Esther 4:14
  11. Ray Hamilton Abrams, Preachers Present Arms (Round Table Press, Incorporated, 1933) 184
  12. Victoria Odissonova, “God Just has not Finished - 4 Days Before the Ban of ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’ in Russia,” Novaya Gazeta, No. 75, July 14, 2017, accessed March 22, 2018, https://www.novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/07/13/73105-bog-prosto-esche-ne-doigral
  13. God’s Kingdom Rules (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 2014) 146-147
  14. Ibid., 143
  15. Ibid., 143-144
  16. Ibid., 138-139
  17. Ibid., 158-159
  18. Vladimir Dergachev, Anna Kovalenko, “Majority of Russians Support Ban of Jehovah’s Witnesses,” RBC News Agency, July 13, 2017, accessed March 8, 2018, https://www.rbc.ru/politics/13/07/2017/596650c09a79477e58e67e98?from=newsfeed. For English translation, see http://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/170713d.html
  19. 2017 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, (Brooklyn, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 2017) 143
  20. Michael Lipka, “U.S. Religious Groups and Their Political Leanings,” Pew Research Center, February 23, 2016, accessed March 9, 2018, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/23/u-s-religious-groups-and-their-political-leanings
  21. Andreas Rinke and Denis Pinchuk, “Putin, Merkel, Struggle to Move Past Differences in Tense Meeting,” Reuters, May 2, 2017, accessed March 22, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-germany-putin-syria/putin-merkel-struggle-to-move-past-differences-in-tense-meeting-idUSKBN17Y1JC
  22. Shaun Walker, Russia Investigates ‘Gay Purge’ in Chechnya, theguardian.com, May 26, 2017, accessed March 22, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/26/russia-investigates-gay-purge-in-chechnya
  23. Joshua Gill, “The French Conspiracy With The Russian Orthodox Church That Destroyed The Jehovah’s Witnesses,” The Daily Caller, July 23, 2017, accessed March 22, 2018, http://dailycaller.com/2017/07/23/the-french-connection-how-the-russian-orthodox-church-and-the-putin-administration-colluded-with-a-french-ngo-to-destroy-the-jehovahs-witnesses/
  24. “In Moscow, Will Launch a Mobile Application With a Map of Religious Objects Before the End of the Year,” TASS News Agency, November 27, 2017, accessed March 9, 2018, http://tass.ru/obschestvo/4762790
  25. Jason Le Miere, “Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses Ban Backed by Flourishing Satanic Church in Moscow,” Newsweek, May 12, 2017, accessed March 22, 2018, http://www.newsweek.com/jehovahs-witnesses-russia-ban-satanic-church-608334
  26. Leonid Bershidsky, “Jehovah’s Witnesses Had Foes Before Putin,” Bloomberg.com, April 21, 2017, https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-04-21/jehovah-s-witnesses-had-foes-before-putin
  27. Mathew 5:15
  28. Isaiah 43:10
  29. Psalm 83;18
  30. Anton Chivchalov, a tweet, December 6, 2017, accessed March 9, 2018, https://twitter.com/Chivchalov/status/938343479016554496
  31. https://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/jw.org One must not read too much into this, for there are constant fluctuations. Nonetheless, each spike (see the insert at web page bottom) reaches a new plateau that holds.
  32. Acts 8:1-4

 

 

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The Author in the Dog Park

I always walk laps at the dog park. I am the only one I have ever seen do so. I don’t know why. When there are other people, they just stand around; sometimes they chat with each other. I am not anti-social, but I can use the exercise every bit as much as the dog—why should he get it all? Walking this fellow has taken 30 points off my blood pressure.

Someone I have not seen before enters the park, and to my surprise, when I start my laps (about two and a quarter miles—I have calculated by pacing it off), he starts walking with me. That’s good. We chat. I say I have never seen him before and he says that he has been out of the country. I ask the reason. He says he is an author of science fiction and he has returned from one of their book conventions. I tell him that I write too—now that the kids are gone and the bills are paid, I get to indulge some interests, and writing is chief among them.

Now, whenever one writer meets another, there is some gentle probing so to determine who is the more successful. You don’t want to appear full of yourself. Best to say something modest, which in my case is entirely appropriate anyhow. So I told him how I had read the following career advise somewhere online:

  1. Ask yourself how many books you have read in the last year written by a totally unknown author,
  2. Now you know why you should not attempt to write for a living.

My companion said, however, that it was not true with him—he was able to make his living through his bookwriting. He was very modest, saying again and again that he was very fortunate, and also that he was in just the right genre—science fiction. I gave him a card for “Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia” and he could not stop asking about it—drawing out from me the story of their persecution, which he knew nothing about. “Watchtower—are they the Mormons?” he initially said.

I am not the Jehovah’s Witness who goes on and on about his own cause and will not let another get a word in edgewise. Quite the contrary. I consistently tried to change the subject back to his writing, and he would not let me. He came coming back to my work. He had no issue at all with my book being free, as my first two were not. “Of course,” he said, “it is a labor of love. You want to get a word out.”

We talked a lot about the marketing of books in all their forms, of which he knew far more than I. It was gratifying to learn that, while there were many things that I did not know, there was nothing that I DID know that was wrong. I told him of my plans to eventually release the books on audio, and how I had been stymied by the CreateSpace site after it merged with Kindle. He said not to even bother with print—he sells ten times the audio versions that he does print, though he qualified his remark that much would depend on the genre.

He had only been to the park once before. He is single, devotes all of his time to writing, and only breaks for the sake of walking his dog. Through some chit-chat on the nature of dogs, he mentioned that the only other time he was at the park, someone else kept walking around doing laps while his dog humped other dogs. “That was probably me,” I told him, and he threw himself into contortions saying that he was sure it wasn’t. No, it probably was, I told him. I have never seen anyone else walk laps—but he swore it was someone else.

It may be as he said, because mine doesn’t really hump other dogs. I mean, he is not obnoxious about it—it is just occasional—rarely does he even give a thought to it—and if he gets that way, I intervene as soon as I am aware. The mutt is fixed anyway.

As he talked about his work, I said that I would love to read some of it. I tried to set up some sort of relationship with him, but, nice as can be, without a bit of pretentiousness, much less condescension (which he would have had every right to do, publishing-wise), he said that it would not happen—he is totally immersed in his science fiction, his books and his fans, and he wouldn’t have time to develop new relations. Essentially, he has no life otherwise, and right now he is consumed with his career. I never did receive any of his work through the email address I gave him, and haven’t seen him since. Ah, well. Did it actually even happen?

BA3E5849-3036-4766-88EF-75292BA64BB0

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Appeal

Anton Chivchalov covered the July 14th appeal with the following tweets:1

By human logic, we can’t win this appeal since everything seems to be decided, but nobody knows what Jehovah wants to do

More than 100 people already gathered by Supreme Court building 2 hours before the beginning

Foreign diplomats, lots of journalists, police, and the biggest court hall—everything is the same as in April

Our side has 4 representatives: Kalin, Zhenkov, Omelchenko, Novakov. MOJ [Ministry of Justice] side is the same: Svetlana Borisova

Today there are 3 judges instead of 1

Judges: Galina Manohina (chair), Vladimir Zaitsev, Vladimir Popov

Our attorney asks to postpone the hearing until all claims from individual Witnesses are heard (which are hundreds)

He files motion to question those Witnesses who were rehabilitated as victims of political repressions which the court never did

File motion to question witnesses of literature planting and other cases of fabricating evidence by the FSB

Our side has 5 representatives totally (plus Toporov)

Totally, our attorneys want to question 57 witnesses

They file some other motions that the lower court rejected, like analysis of “extremist” literature

Remind that the court must analyze all evidence related to the case, and this was not done properly in the lower court

“According to new law, the Bible can’t be declared extremist, but all JWs literature is based on the Bible”

File motion to questions experts (religious scholars, linguists, etc.) which was again rejected by the lower court

File motion to add new facts of vandalism and other aggressive acts towards JWs after April 20, ask to watch videos

MOJ protests against all our motions

Court takes a break to discuss the new motions

 

If they reject all of them now, it would mean they want to finish in one day

…It took court just 10 minutes to consider many motions, dozens of witnesses, lots of new facts of aggression against citizens

Court offers our attorneys to explain their arguments

Attorneys: “Lower court gave no proofs of extremist activities on part of JWs, even MOJ admitted they had none”

“Why 396 organizations are banned if only 10 of them declared extremist, and no evidence of extremist activity on part of AC? [Administrative Center]”

“Even MOJ admitted the AC and more than 300 LROs [Local Religious Organizations] never committed extremist acts as they are defined by law”

“Why then court ruled just the opposite: ban them for extremism, is it not surprising for you as judges?”

“In Crimea 22 LROs were banned despite any wrongdoings ever recorded and after just 2 years after their registration”

“Also errors in lower court verdict. It says extremist acts on part of AC were established, while MOJ admitted they were not”

 

“Court ignored fact that almost all publications were declared extremist before Supreme Court explanation in 2011…”

“…explanation that criticism of other religions and beliefs can't be considered extremism, hatred, or inciting to discord”

What a curious case of a court ignoring its own rulings

 

“All previous courts didn’t allow the AC to take part in proceedings explaining that the AC had nothing to do with those cases…”

“…And now the court suddenly takes the opposite stance and bans AC on the basis of exactly those cases!”

“Dear court, you must be coherent. Isn’t the Supreme Court an example to all other courts in Russia?”

“The lower court verdict is also not adequate to stated danger. Court wanted to protect interests and safety of citizens…”

“But lower court itself established that in 26 years of AC activity no harm was done to state, no vandalism, no moral harm”

“And what threat to state or public are we talking about if even the President himself awarded JWs on May 31 in Kremlin?”

 

“On the other hand, believers themselves face threats and violation of their rights, we have many examples”

“The lower court erroneously prohibited 395 banned LROs from taking part in the hearings”

 

“Lower court erroneously applied a number of laws and rulings that are inapplicable to religious organizations”

“Lower court established that AC financed LROs, but MOJ failed to provide any financial documents—we believe deliberately”

 

“The whole case is based on fabricated evidence such as planting of literature which is clearly seen on video”

Attorney shows video screenshots to the court

“The ruling has all attributes of political repressions as in a similar case ‘Merabishvili vs. Georgia’ in the ECHR”

Attorney proves that application of anti-extremism laws to JWs is unpredictable and random which is against international law

Now it’s the turn of the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) Svetlana Borisova to give explanations

Borisova: “All religions have right to disseminate its ideas, but their formulations should not insult members of other religions”

 

“Close relationship between the AC and LROs [Local Religious Organizations] prove that they are one organization, not separate entities”

And that’s all she can say. Of course, if the verdict is already decided, why waste time?

Court has no questions to the MOJ

Our attorneys ask to pronounce some case files, judge: “We’ve been preparing it for long and already well know all documents”

20-minute break announced

Court pronounce the public declaration published by AC in February 2017 and religious scientific reference about JWs

Debates begin. Attorney Zhenkov: JWs are well known in the world and never known as extremists, why Russia is different?

“They love each other, their neighbors, and are far from everything mentioned in the anti-extremism law”

“Though some Russians dislike their religion, even they don’t associate JWs with extremists”

“History of JWs has proved that extremism and their beliefs are two absolutely inconsistent things”

“So why are all their 396 organizations being banned? Only one reason: erroneous application of anti-extremism laws”

“Even MOJ representative today incorrectly quoted from the law: ‘superiority of one religion over another’”

“There is no such thing in the law, but a different statement: superiority of one person over another one based on religion”

“Only once in history in Russia the state confiscated religious property: in 1918, why repeat it today?”

“In the past, judicial mistakes costed a lot to millions of innocent people, why repeat the same mistakes again?”

“Is it lawful to ban 395 LROs without giving them ability to defend themselves?”

“Is it lawful to make rulings that result in violence and hatred against people that became targets just because of this ruling?”

“Extremism of JWs remains extremism on paper, virtual, without any consequences and victims”

“It’s unlawful and unfair to judge anybody without their presence”

“Jesus was judged unfairly, illegally, but even the Sanhedrin didn’t dare to judge him without his presence”

“Hitler vowed to destroy JWs for their refusal to become extremists, and MOJ today wants to label JWs as extremists”

“Isn’t it strange that FSB failed to provide any evidence or recordings of any Witness giving anybody any extremist literature”?

Reply to…..Sir William Blackstone was an English jurist, judge&Tory politician of the 18th C. He is most noted4writing Commentaries on the Laws of Eng.

“There are law of nature dictated by God and law of revelation, they are higher than everything else”, quotes William Blackstone

“The natural law finds absurd to persecute someone for teaching to ‘love neighbor as yourself’ even if he thinks others are wrong”

“And both court and MOJ agree that JWs are persecuted for teaching Russian citizens their Bible-based beliefs”

Now it’s the MOJ turn to speak

MOJ: “Their crimes are dangerous, systematic, deliberate, and gross”

Quotes from the state strategy of counteracting extremism

That’s all, the judges left to consider verdict

Judges came

Predictably, we lost

Our representative Sivulsky to journalists: “Religious freedom in Russia is over”

“You as reporters can either promote hatred or soften it”

“As you could see today, there were no real facts of any extremism on part of JWs, it’s all about bad literature and intolerance”

“It’s a very sad situation for our country: now anyone who studies the Bible can be jailed”

“Many reasonable people can’t believe that it’s happening in modern Russia: ban a whole religion”

“We are very surprised: the whole pyramid the MOJ built is falling apart, but the court still rules this way”

We’re appealing to ECHR, but in 2015 Russia adopted new law allowing to avoid its decisions if they’re against our constitution.

And of course, whether they are against Constitution or not, will be decided inside Russia

 

Reporters sensitive to such things knew that Sivulsky was right—Russian religious freedom was over. The government had spoken loud and clear: “There are FOUR religions in Russia: Russian Orthodox, mainstream Buddhism, Judaism and Islam! Everyone else had better watch their backs lest what happened to Jehovah’s Witnesses not happen to them—and it may anyhow.” It is as though the order came down: “You can drive a Chevy sedan, a Ford sedan, a Dodge sedan and if you absolutely must go exotic and foreign, a Hyundai sedan. That’s more than enough! Never speak to us about this again!”

After the verdict, a Witness who follows world politics (relatively few do) grumbled: “By shrewd selling of weapons and assistance [Putin’s] influence is increasing in the world, especially the middle east [where she resides]. The Russians love him for it.” Well—as stated, we won’t go there. He is not my pal, but we are wrong if we demonize anyone personally. That is just buying into Western media hype. Who is there knowing whether with him it will one day be “the one who once was persecuting us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy?”2 No, I don’t think it likely, either. But neither was it with Paul. Why poison the well? The grumbler feels the same way, most likely. It is just that with such an outrageous injustice, it is hard not to look for a human villain. That is easy to understand.

The best reason for staying neutral in world affairs is the Witnesses’ reason—they represent, as an ambassador, a separate nation, God’s kingdom, so they do not meddle with affairs of their host country. A second reason, however, that some non-Witnesses latch onto, is that it is impossible to know all the relevant facts.

It is a herculean task trying to decipher the latest through the conflicting array of this world’s media. No matter. It is not, at root, any person we are dealing with, for they are but actors in the play. They are almost literally actors, with Putin riding shirtless or covering Fats Domino’s Blueberry Hill, and the American president revisiting his celebrity days from The Apprentice. One must not be distracted. It is the rulers of the invisible places that must be watched. “For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.”3 Those outside the Witness world will understand the political causes of persecution better than do the Witnesses themselves, but the latter understand the spiritual causes.

 

Two days after the appeal decision, the Slavic Center for Law and Justice expressed concerned over the precedent set. Even the symbolism boded ill. The Center’s Roman Lunkin wrote about the ban coming on Hitler’s birthday and the appeal confirmation on the anniversary of the royal family’s murder. Prosecutors chose an easy target, but it might come back to haunt others who at present imagine themselves safe. They knew that in the religious world “nobody especially would support Jehovah’s Witnesses, and official representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church will condemn them with joy.” They observed sardonically that “such Orthodox activists as Roman Silantiev or Alexander Dvorkin base discrimination…on myths about ‘national security’ and how spies exist everywhere, and poor citizens supposedly do not know who is preaching to them.”

“Nobody considered the consequences of the decision that was adopted,” Russian lawyer Vladimir Ryakhovsky said. “After 17 July it is inevitable, not only that property will be confiscated, which is an unprecedented since Soviet times nationalization of church property, but also that there will be criminal cases against members of religious congregations. Believers may wind up in confinement or receive suspended sentences.” Lunkin laments for his nation’s reputation: “The case of Jehovah’s Witnesses for many years became the occasion for accusations against Russia in violation of freedom of conscience and just common sense….Believers prepared a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights and it is perfectly clear that the decision will not be in favor of Russia.” In the West they paint this sort of thing as “starting down the slippery slope.” Lunkin paints it as more akin to jumping off a cliff. “Hope that common sense will prevail has not been justified,” he writes.4

“Baptists, Pentecostals, charismatics, Adventists immediately became targets number one for radical ‘fighters against sects.’” Lunkin describes how existing law might easily be used against the Orthodox Church itself, as there are factions both conservative and liberal therein who also want to preach. The prospect of jail time now has many of them more scared than Jehovah’s Witnesses, who never doubted that such a thing might happen in the first place. The series of videos dramatizing police action against Christians, shown at the worldwide Regional Conventions of 2016 and referred to in chapter 2 of this book were plainly in a Russian setting.5

 The political world is subdued over the actions taken by the Court. Some from that world have been supportive of the Witnesses. But even those who have not are not inclined to cheer. Do they look at the 2nd Psalm with discomfort? “Why do the nations protest and the peoples conspire in vain? Kings on earth rise up and princes plot together against the LORD and against his anointed one: ‘Let us break their shackles and cast off their chains from us!’ The one enthroned in heaven laughs; the LORD derides them. Then he speaks to them in his anger, in his wrath he terrifies them.”6

No, they do not believe the verse; they have moved beyond that. But, deep within themselves, is there not yet some reluctance to put themselves on the short end of that equation? Are they all so bold as to, when informed that something is in the Bible, tear out the page like Jehoiakim and say that it is not?7 Might some of them be like Pilate’s wife who sought to extricate her husband from the hot spot? “Have nothing to do with that righteous man. I suffered much in a dream today because of him,” she cautioned.8  

No one of Jehovah’s Witnesses knew at first just how strictly the ban would be enforced. Perhaps it would be but an unambiguous policy statement of little practical consequence—just insurance to be held in someone’s back pocket. Quickly it because apparent that the authorities were playing hardball. Within days of the appeal, a campground was raided. It was feared that Jehovah’s Witnesses were teaching their religion to their children, thereby causing them harm.9

It didn’t sit well with those who commented on the news article. “Something is too much. Even I, being an inveterate and convinced atheist, against such interference in the personal life of citizens, even if they are any Witnesses (this is still to be proved). People are adults, they went out with their tents to rest, yes, and with their children.” 54 comments were supportive. Most were sympathetic to Witnesses. One who was not—Witnesses would call him an “apostate”—out-wrote all of his peers, chiming in six times that they were objectionable by many standards and got only what they deserved.10

The first person to be arrested for conducting a congregation meeting was not a Russian at all, but a Danish citizen residing in the country with his Russian-born wife. It was as though Russia wished to signal the world that there would be no tolerance. At the time of this writing, Dennis Christensen has been imprisoned nearly a year and trial is just now (maybe) getting underway. Efforts to secure release on bail have been thwarted by prosecutors insisting he is a “dangerous criminal.” His wife has no resources or financial support and their bank accounts have been frozen. A carpenter, his last actions of public note were to build a playground for the children and to take part in the clean-up of a public park.

He was arrested on the evening of May 25, 2017. At least 15 masked and armed police together with Federal Security Service (FSB) officers disrupted a religious service of 70-80 people. Most were detained hours, with about 20 held until 9 the next morning. Christensen was charged with organizing an illegal religious activity. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years of imprisonment.11

He was interrogated throughout the first night of his arrest, reported his lawyer, and was not given any food until 36 hours had passed. Nor did he look good at his pre-trial hearing before judge Svetlana Naumova in Soviet District Court of Oryol. He had been kept awake for 40 hours. Only his lawyer and a Danish Embassy official had been allowed to visit him. His wife had not till then been allowed, though at present she can visit twice a month.

At a September 28th pre-trail hearing, he himself addressed the courtroom, which included many supporters.12 Danish supporters asked him questions and he answered in Danish, with his wife translating for everyone else. Reporter Denis Volin of the Orel News relates: “At some point the Dane began singing some melodic song and tapping on the table, which evoked smiles and laughter from those gathered around. However he was quickly rebuked.”

He later addressed all: “I am an honest and peaceful person who tries to live according to the golden rule: do unto others as you wish that they will do unto you. Therefore I respect the opinion of others, even if they do not agree with me…I have never done anything criminal. This contradicts everything that I believe and love, and on which I have built my life. In the gospel of Matthew it is said: ‘Love the Lord as you love yourself and love your neighbor as yourself.’ I have always acted in this way: I have loved God and neighbor.

“I have lived for many years in this splendid city with my wife, Irina. Every spring and every fall I have participated in volunteer work days [subotniki]. Here in Orel is my life and my work. I am an independent businessman. Since 2009 I have done much to build a good business and to develop relations with clients. They know me as a peace-loving and honest person on whom one can depend. In addition, I have many friends in Orel who are very dear to me. The FSB has tarnished my honor and good name by means of false and contradictory accusations. But these are false accusations and I intend to prove that.”

He also described how in custody his health has deteriorated sharply. “It is very cold and damp in the cell. All day I walk about the room in a winter overcoat and hat and at night I wear all available clothing. I became sick and developed a cold. But when I appeal to the medics that they would give me medicine for a sore throat, I find out that they do not have medicines and cannot help.” He is allowed to shower but twice a week and washes other times out of a bottle with cold water. He confused the Danes by telling them he ate a lot of “sechka” (buckwheat gruel), a food of which they had not heard, and it required the locals to explain to them that is a fermented dish of common prison fare.

After deliberation, the judge returned to the courtroom. He quickly announced that the decision of the district court remained in force and thus the Dane will remain in pre-trail detention at least until the end of November. [which has now extended into 2018]   

 

Seeking to justify the Witness ban before a critical British official, the Russian Embassy broadened the charges against them.13 Not only were 95 publications and materials of Jehovah’s Witnesses extremist according to the Russian law—even the children’s book and even “5 Ways to Improve Your Health”—but “the management of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia has also been involved in other crimes such as money laundering and seizure of its followers’ property.” Thus, it was not a religious crackdown at all, but a simple criminal proceeding. Hopefully, the British official would mind his own business, the Embassy suggested.    

Throw it on the stack! It is another “insult.” It is another “evil.” It’s about time Witnesses start taking pleasure in insults and evils, for they certainly get their fill of them. They cannot possibly be as bad as their enemies say they are because the Devil is not that bad. Zero in on the first part of the verse this time: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me.” Why blessed? “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”14 Fortify yourself like the apostle Paul, for in the end it makes you strong: “Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”15 (brackets original to text)

It is just the government trying to defuse a firestorm of international condemnation. If there was anything to it, it would have been part of the court case—though probably not, because no reasons were actually given there. There has never been a financial scandal among Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, do not level an accusation when they are legal and can represent themselves in court. Level if after they have been declared illegal and are thereby impeded.

To do what Jehovah’s Witnesses do is now criminal in Russia. It is “I never speak about religion or politics” on steroids. It is those loath to admit that they really don’t care about the deep spiritual matters they know in their hearts they should care about. It is those offended that uneducated street ministers would invade the realm of the professionals. It is those who disapprove of God having the temerity to declare “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside.”16 It those who dislike Jesus saying “that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light.”17 It is me laying it on pretty thick, but not inaccurately. The Soviet government brought in the “iron” a hundred years ago, but it took the modern Russian government partnering with the Church to bring in the “silver”18 of judicial outrage.

One week after the Witness appeal was denied, legal proceedings began in Vyborg City Court to declare the New World Translation of the Bible extremist and thereby ban it. The government summoned many of their experts and they all agreed that it was extremist. One of them was concerned that the cover read “New World Translation of the Sacred Scriptures” and not “New World Translation of the Bible.” She further fretted that the Table of Contents divided books into the “Hebrew-Aramaic Scriptures” and the “Greek Scriptures,” instead of the Old and New Testaments. As evidence that it included extremist speech, much was made of Genesis 19:24: “God rained fire and sulfur on Sodom and the nearby city of Gomorrah. All their wicked inhabitants perished.” It was quoted over a dozen times at the trial. Surely that is hate speech, it was alleged, an allegation that carried the day even after it was pointed out that all Bible translations say the same thing.19

Chivchalov wrote for Porta-Credo on July 26th as follows: “For the hearing of 28 July, the prosecutor’s office has prepared a new, intensive expert analysis of the New World Translation which is simply shocking in its illiteracy and outright mockery of law of a secular state. In a sort of ‘secular’ and ‘scientific’ expert analysis, the provisions of the Orthodox faith are defended by the open text, for example the doctrine of the Trinity, while it cites a seminary student as an academic authority. It declares unacceptable the use of the name of God in the form of ‘Jehovah,’ despite the fact that this same name in the same form is used in the official Orthodox Synodal translation All of this shows that the prosecutor’s office now does not hide the fact that it is fighting with the Jehovah’s Witnesses from a purely doctrinal, theological position….The expert analysis is essentially plagiarism, since it copies various public sources about Jehovah’s Witnesses from the Internet, which naturally have an anti-cult bias.”20

A member of the Council on Human Rights under the President of the Russian federation, Liudmila Alekseeva, comments on the trial of the Bible thus: “If knowledgeable people do not stop them, it will be a disgrace before the whole world, because the Bible is a great book which is read not only by Christians of the whole world but by the whole world in general. They just have to be very ignorant people.” Chivchalov adds: “The trial will become a litmus test, which will show whether we really live in a secular state, where all religions are equal, or whether in our country once again some turn out to be more equal than others.”21

Alexander Verkhovsky, who runs the Moscow-based SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, sums up the experts that the Court relied upon: “Within the community of experts who specialize in texts and extremist acts, [they] are already practically household names. Not only that, their education does not correspond to anything. They simply write any nonsense and for this they are famous. All translations differ. Why this [Bible translation] can be in any sense illegal is completely incomprehensible.”22

The hearing to ban the New World Translation, the verdict since reaffirmed in higher courts, followed a by-now predictable pattern. Chivchalov offered tweet after tweet of remarks validating the New World Translation, followed by a final tweet of its banning.

The ban of the Book was too much even for Alexander Dvorkin, the one who got the ball rolling in the first place. It is a Bible—obviously it is—he complains. He doesn’t like it, but it plainly is a Bible. Banning the Bible makes his country look like a nation of goons, something that was never his intent. To say it is not a translation of the Bible is “unreasonable, erroneous, and extremely harmful,” he writes for Pravoslavie.ru. Every intelligent person in the world knows it. The Court decision “causes huge losses to the image of our country.”23 From patriotic sentiments, smarting from such a huge loss needlessly inflicted upon a country he loves, Platon Prohorov of RelioPolis becomes very sharp: “Alas, the carriers and disseminators of these negative factors, which cause our country and its people to be traumatized, are not rats or cockroaches, which can be combated with substances designed to do so, but are the people themselves” who “with foaming mouths defend [the ban’s] ‘advisability.’”24 One wonders if he isn’t including Dvorkin himself in his condemnation, as none of this would have happened without him.

“It is not the government’s business, in the person of its officials who are not very competent in linguistics, theology, and religious studies, to issue a decision as to which translation is correct and which is not, or which faith is true and which is not,” Dvorkin writes. He was happy when the same persons banned the Witness organization itself, but they went on the overstep their bounds. In tackling the matter of Bible translation, they look like fools, despite the help, or primarily due to the help, of their “experts.” He laments that the Court “amateurs” were drawn into an “extremely crude theological mistake.” They thought that their job was to show that the New World Translation refuted the Trinity doctrine, and thereby demonstrate its extremist nature. However, the Synodal translation also refutes it, as the Witness lawyer made clear. 25

John 8:18 was discussed. The Witness lawyer chose it specifically as something that would appeal to lawyers and the judge, since it referred to Israelite law and how there must be two witnesses for testimony to have force. Jesus says in that text: “I myself bear witness about myself and the Father who glorifies me bears witness about me.” The Trinity doctrine makes them both a single meaningless witness; only rejecting that doctrine allows the verse to make any sense. “Christ says precisely that God and Christ are two witnesses, and that means their testimony had legal force,” explains Mr. Dvorkin.26 It is in the Synodal translation, and it demonstrates exactly why the Church doesn’t like Witnesses to preach from the Bible—any Bible, because they’ll mess it up, reading what it says instead of what it is supposed to say. What it actually says Dvorkin deems an “extremely crude theological mistake.”

Though he crafted his scheme to ban Witnesses, Mr. Dvorkin has not lost sight that “the issue is about a [Russian] government whose constitution proclaims its religious neutrality.” It is not a ban on people, just the organization behind it. The government cannot ban a religion constitutionally. But the clumsy Court apparently didn’t understand that. They just reached the decision that they thought they were expected to reach, as they were among the general population under the impression that they had banned the Witness religion.

The errors of the Vyberg court are so blatant, issuing decrees on things they know nothing about, that Dvorkin fears another court may come along later with some knowledge and overturn things. The European Court of Human rights will certainly do so, but they are Western, and can thus be dismissed. Prior rulings overturning restrictions of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow indicate that the European Court does not sufficiently appreciate Russia’s point of view. However, the woeful translation decision may be too much even for another Russian court, he fears.

Look, he didn’t want to outlaw the Witness religion, he says, just the people directing it. He has no problem whatsoever with members of a family, provided that they can be separated from that family—all the better to be assimilated. This is a battle for hearts and minds—nothing less. The Watchtower study article stated: “The world under Satan’s influence is still searching for a way to settle national and international disputes. Jehovah alone has the wisdom to bring about world peace.”27 “No, he doesn’t,” Mr. Dvorkin says in effect. “Besides, even if he does, it is at the expense of ‘controlling people’—too great a cost to pay.” A supporting verse for the Watchtower passage was Isaiah 2:4. “One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” They “don’t pick up the sword?” How hard is that to understand? “They’ll pick it up when we tell them to,” the State says, with Dvorkin’s blessing. “They certainly will not put it down at the behest of a faith whose headquarters is outside the country!”

Mr. Dvorkin is thrilled at what he’s accomplished, but banning the Bible goes too far and makes he and his co-religionists look like thugs. He says of his victory: “In July 2017 the Russian Supreme Court liquidated the religious organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses in our country and confiscated its property. All of it! There is no such organization in Russia any more. The sect lost a substantial part of its possibilities of having influence upon its members. Now it has become much more difficult to assemble files on them and to control each aspect of their life. The possibility of passing financial streams along sectarian channels is also now reduced to a minimum. Representative functions through the use of real estate have been lost. The possibilities for recruiting have been reduced to a substantial degree. Now the flow of new members has come to naught and the departure of the old will be increased monthly.”28

We broke both their legs! They’ll die now, is his expressed conviction. There is no need to go further and ban a Bible, a move that can only backfire. “Now the sect has been presented a unique possibility—to prove that all of its devotees really made their choice for themselves, without psychological influence and pressure of the organization. I am sure that it will not be able to prove this. Let them try to gather devotees in small groups in private apartments and explain the faith in their own words without the techniques and control of the Brooklyn center and to exist without financial inputs and influences from the U.S.A. and so forth.”29

Had Mr. Dvorkin had his way in the first century, the Christian “devotees in small groups in private apartments” would have been deprived of the letters from Paul, James, Peter, and John, because that represents outside “psychological influence and pressure.” The events related in Christian history would not have happened: “As they traveled from city to city, they handed on to the people for observance the decisions reached by the apostles and presbyters in Jerusalem. Day after day the churches grew stronger in faith and increased in number.”30 He would have intercepted and squelched each decision from those interlopers. The entire New Testament, post-Acts, would collapse into nothing, and Dvorkin would not be around today to chide those who carried out his bidding but went too far. He is worried about it. “Having ruled the New World Translation to be extremist material, the Vyberg court actually has devalued its own concept of extremism, depriving the specific term of any meaning. Thereby it has wittingly or not made meaningless all prior decisions of courts with similar wordings.”31

Unfortunately, when you release the hounds of hell, you find that you cannot control just how many they will maul. His confidence that Witnesses will wither in the face of curtailed organizational support calls to mind a similar taunt to God in Scripture: Take away Job’s support system and see whether he will not curse God to his face.32 If it were not for the fact that real people are involved with real blood and real freedom to lose, this writer might almost say: “Bring it on!” Witnesses tend to rise to the occasion when they think they are proving God true and Satan a liar. “Be wise, my son, and bring joy to my heart; then I can answer anyone who treats me with contempt.”33 Though they may fall back, they historically regroup. Even though the enemy breaks both their legs, he finds that the Witnesses will still not betray their God. Dvorkin employs exactly the tactic that has failed since the introduction of Christianity, and he trashes his country’s reputation in the process.

 

The most prominent Witness refugee to date is Russian punk rocker Fyodor Chistyakov. While on tour in the United States, Chistyakov told Novaya Gazeta in a July 31st telephone interview that he had no other choice but to remain where he was. “I cannot openly follow my religion [in Russia] now. And that is a trauma itself even when I am not in jail, although incarcerations are taking place already,” he said.34 In another interview: “For example, they came to the home of one of my comrades and took away all his computers and a search was conducted in the house. Because he is a member of the organization. This is a nightmare for me. I have a studio in my home and I allowed them to begin during working hours to dig and look for signs of extremism.”35

He is known as Dyadya Fyodor (Uncle Fyodor) and has led the groups Nol (Zero) and [of course] the Fyodor Chistyakov Band. The late 1980s and the 1990s was his heyday, but he still commands a following, and he’s become nervous in recent years. The 2009 Beware: Jehovah’s Witnesses documentary specifically branded him “a brainwashed sectarian.”36 Jehovah’s Witnesses have hitherto not been well represented among the punk rockers. Now that will change as Chistyakov brings his talents to bear. Is it strange that a Witness would be a punk rocker? It is explained if we but interject into the verse: “To the Jews I became like a Jew to win over Jews; to those under the law I became like one under the law … to win over those under the law. To those outside the law I became like one outside the law … to win over those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. To the punk rockers I became a punk rocker, to win over the punk rockers. I have become all things to all, to save at least some.” (1 Corinthians 9:20-22)

He became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1995. He credits Bible knowledge with saving him,37 as did the American artist Prince.38 He turned his life around, and stopped drinking, smoking, swearing and singing his earlier raunchy songs, also as did Prince. This turnaround does nothing to mitigate his “brainwashed sectarian” label. So atypical is such a turnaround among entertainers, it may have even added to it. “The only thing when I look in the mirror in the morning, every time I cannot believe that I, Fedor Chistyakov, [am] an extremist and a threat to Russia’s national security.”39

To be told that God works in mysterious ways simply does not satisfy everyone. For it to be reinforced with “It is God and country around here” also doesn’t fly, for some people know that there are other countries, and they are dubious of nationalistic claims that theirs alone is the one that God cheers for. A real hunger roils in ones like Chistyakov, motivating him to learn the Bible. They are not satisfied with: “If we want to learn of the Bible, we’ll go to the main Church. If they choose not to explain it, that’s their business. If, when they do explain it, it makes no sense—well, that’s probably why they didn’t want to explain it in the first place. We’re okay with that. Enough with the ‘God’ obsession—it’s too much.” That’s frank, and can be admired at least for its frankness, but it does not satisfy everyone.

Chistyakov even took some heat online from some political anti-Putin types for not condemning the government. Far from condemning it, he stated he is supportive of it in all but the Witness ban that makes his life untenable. He is most sorry to leave. He is neutral on two counts; as a Jehovah’s Witness and very likely as an artist. Artists consumed with their art do not have much space left in their heads for politics, and sometimes none at all. It is not easy to leave one’s homeland. People are a product of what they are fed. If he has learned of malfeasance on the home front that activists want him to holler about, Russian media doubtless highlights plenty of malfeasance elsewhere to counterbalance it.

Nobody would stay anywhere if they tallied up all the evils of their home governments. A prime reason that ones becomes Witnesses in the first place is that they recognize malfeasance everywhere that no government can snuff out. To harp too much over this or that instance of it is to miss the point. The real drama is being played out in the spiritual realm above. “For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens”—we revisit Paul’s words to the Ephesians.40 It is ever that way. Zealots become aware of an injustice, and assume that theirs should take preeminence, as though no other exists. People tend to forgive their own county and fixate only on the wrongs of the other country. Occasionally, it works in reverse. 

The world loves celebrity and will even cut Witness celebrities a little slack, of whom there are precious few anyway. Witness detractors will not cut them slack; they will wait for the slightest misstep to launch the taunt that a celebrity can get away with this or that, but just wait till the ordinary Joe Witness tries it. Still, the world in general likes them. Even Selina Williams, in the skimpiest of attire, beating the stuffing out of all comers, would praise Jehovah loudly in public, and people would dismiss it as a quirk, unsure as to whether she had taken to the faith she was raised in or not, and not particularly concerned either way. The punk rocker generated floods of rare positive publicity in the Russian press following his exile in the West.

 

Lawyers for Jehovah’s Witnesses defended their cause well, and the world was witness to it. Whether it was the April 20th trial, the July 17th appeal, or the Vyborg ban of the New World Translation, Witnesses produced fact after fact to prove their innocence. Prosecutors admitted time and again that they had no evidence to back up their assertions. The judges then found the Witnesses guilty. They knew what they had to do.

I am sorry to hear it, and not just for the right reason. I am sorry to hear it for Russia’s sake, too—something which should be none of my concern. Nonetheless, I am saddened to see a great nation so clearly paint itself not-great and show itself contemptuous of universally recognized human rights. They have become like the boor who “may not know art, but he knows what he likes.” Indeed, they have surpassed him, for art is subjective, but plain facts are not. One is even reminded of dissidents speaking of the enforcers in harsh lands: “What is important is that they can force you to acknowledge that they define reality. They really don’t care whether you believe their lie or not.”

Would they deprive Russian Witnesses of their coordinating organization, under the guise of protecting them? It is as though an enemy king seeks to benefit Russian soldiers by depriving them of their army. He has no problem with the soldiers as disconnected individuals. Perhaps they can even be absorbed that way. It is no more than the Russian king playing his part in the grand scheme of the 2nd Psalm: “Kings on earth rise up and princes plot together against the LORD and against his anointed one: Let us break their shackles and cast off their chains from us!” The LORD and his anointed one work tirelessly to provide support for their people, though a channel they have established. “Let us disrupt that channel,” says the king, “Let us break their shackles and cut off their chains, so that we can present our version of reality unopposed.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses, who feel that they must persevere, have reverted to pre-1991 techniques, when there was also never a question of their giving up. Some of these have been interviewed. As in the old days, they say they must watch for police, who not only would harass them but also turn a blind eye to civilian violence. As in the old days, they must brace to combat the perception, which had never disappeared, that they are instruments of the West. Some have related how their parents and grandparents had been sent to Siberian gulags, almost with the honored air that they may now carry on the family tradition.

Others have told of how they had become Witnesses during the period of freedom. After the fall of the Soviet Union, religion was finally no longer off limits, and people started asking questions about God. The notion that they might actually understand the Bible intrigued them. They related how they had been cautious at first, for fear they might be enmeshed in a cult, for they had heard the warnings and did not blow them off as nothing. But the idea of no ritual, only a discussion group of questions and answers, peaked their interest and ultimately drew them.41

Chivchalov, the one who covered proceedings with tweets, was among them. Baptized in 1996, he explains of his initial contact with the Witnesses: “I was immediately attracted by the logic and reasonableness of the presentation. All this contrasted sharply with the perception of religion that I had before that: something gloomy, confused, mixed with strange rituals, ‘for old ladies,’ and so forth….I unexpectedly discovered for myself that the Bible gives absolutely reasonable answers to important questions and formulates an integral and logical picture of the world. For example, before that I did not find anywhere a more logical explanation for the nature of evil than in the Bible.” He came to appreciate what he termed “genuine Christian qualities” among the Jehovah’s Witnesses. “These are brotherly love, mutual help, a serious attitude to the study of the Bible, treating it as a handbook and guide for all areas of life, and zeal in the work of evangelism. All of this is today in great deficit among other Christian churches.”

“What do I feel?” he continues in interview. “I feel a great responsibility to do everything in my power to help my brothers and sisters in Russia, to consecrate the name of God and to establish His Kingdom. This is the main thing that we do, in whatever country we live, no matter what the circumstances. This is what always unites us as a world brotherhood.”42 Of course! He is bringing his gift to the altar. He is in the right place at the right time, with the right prerequisite skills, but he is otherwise no different than the eight million persons, ordinary for the most part, who jumped at the chance to write President Putin and five others when given opportunity. He even hails back to the woman at Simon’s house who anointed the Lord with costly oil. It aggravated some, but Jesus said: “Why do you make trouble for the woman? She has done a good thing for me.”43

“A lot of people started when the Soviet Union was destroyed, to find what is written in the Bible,” another recalled. “[Talking about religion] became open. After the Soviet Union fell, you could talk about God openly — no problem! That was very interesting [to me] — [I wondered] what was inside [the Bible]?” Another said how his religion in Soviet times had been communism throughout those times, when he had served in the army. By degrees, after “Russians firing on Russians” during the Soviet collapse, he came to think of Jehovah as the “great geopolitician.” He related how he had always felt the stirrings of religious longing but had not yet become a true believer, though his wife was studying with Witnesses. Only when she started to preach did his new stirrings cement themselves into reality. Now the world is a chess board to him, with God the ultimate player.44

Russians like chess. One is reminded of a certain Isaac Bashevis Singer story, in which during czarist times, a certain Polish Jew (Poland was then under czarist control) viewed all of life as a chess game against God. The latter would crush him with every move, but it wasn’t all bad. Nobody wants to waste their time on an unworthy opponent, he pointed out, and it was a great honor playing against God. He felt especially honored when he, a handyman, was summoned to the apartment of a drop-dead gorgeous woman to fix a window casing. The woman was ill, and it was necessary for the man to mount a stepladder and reach over her while she was resting on the couch. He slipped and fell on top of her! Belt buckles locked, and they could not separate! At that moment the door flew open and the woman’s insanely jealous brute of a husband appeared. His eyes widened. As he charged with fist clenched, our hero had time for but one final thought: “Masterful move, God! Absolutely brilliant!”

Who can resist a people who can think like that? It is Russian as well as Jewish. And it is not so far from the truth. “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade,” is the Western saying. Treat it as discipline, regardless of whether it really is that way or not. You will never know, anyway. Allow it to make you a better person.

The Russian situation is the same play as has played out before. Only the actors are different, and the setting altered. The lead actor who was the Soviet state is replaced by the actor who is the modern establishment. But he has learned the same lines. “The [state-run] TV and newspapers, they demonize Jehovah’s Witnesses,” says a Witness there. “But we aren’t stopping preaching — and we won’t stop preaching,” adds another. They are not political. “It doesn’t matter who is the president. Just don’t touch us. We don’t want to change the president. We have to pray for the [leaders] — that they can manage the country with wisdom,” they say.45 Of course! Governments of this system are God’s ministers for doing good—for maintaining public order. Pray that they may do a good job.46    

Having said that, one of the interviewees alluded to the prophet Daniel, who long ago served an unbelieving king. “Daniel, he had good days, he had bad days,” he said. “But he held to his faith. Every day, he served God. The biblical word he uses in Russian, ‘spastayanstvom,’ has the connotation of a donkey: day by day, turning in circles to mill the grain. The meaning? Daniel was stubborn….Now we have bad day in Russia,” he says. “But we will continue to worship God as Daniel did. Thanks to God, Daniel was saved. And he will save us. But who has to worry? The people who put Daniel in the lion’s den. They had to worry. Because when Daniel was released from the lion’s place, the bad people were killed by the king — you see what I mean?” Another adds: “So, the people who do the same things in Russia have to worry. Not us. Jehovah’s Witnesses survived in Hitler’s time. In Stalin’s time. We survived gulags. Siberia. We have a God. The people who persecute us—they’re the ones who have to worry.”47

A new normal is taking place throughout Russia that is really just the old normal reasserting itself after a brief respite. In September it was reported that two Jehovah’s Witnesses were arrested while out for a walk. Police had been canvassing homes of local Witnesses to find out whether they had been visited by other Witnesses. A man recognized the two as Jehovah’s Witnesses “who are forbidden” and reported them to police. They were questioned for hours and later detained on the charge of disobeying a policeman by refusing to get into the vehicle—although there was no vehicle.48

In Belgorod, on February 7, 2018, groups of police including even the SOBR (Special Rapid Response Unit, apparently similar to the SWAT teams of the United States) invaded several private residences. “In some cases citizens were thrown on the floor, put to the wall, then all were forcibly taken to the police, in the homes they searched.” 3300 kilometers to the east, it was the same. “In Kemerovo … armed SOBR officers in masks opened their doors by force, bursting in, putting civilians face to the wall with their arms raised or falling to the floor.” Those accosted were not allowed to make a phone call, nor invite a lawyer, and the senior police office told them: “We are not in America.” Women and the elderly were among those interrogated. Some “experience[d] a state close to shock. Many have exacerbated chronic diseases. Telephones, tablets, computers, personal belongings, information carriers [were] confiscated.”49

A 1951 report of the U.S.S.R. Minister of State Security Viktor Abakumov to Joseph Stalin told of progress in combatting the Witnesses: “During the years 1947-1950, the MGB bodies uncovered and liquidated several anti-Soviet organizations and groups of illegal Jehovist sect that conducted active hostile work….However, the remaining illegal sectarians continue conducting active anti-Soviet work and again take measures to strengthen the sect.” A report in 2016, 65 years later, updates the same resumed struggle: “Despite the preventive measures taken, the activity of structural subdivisions of the Administrative Center [of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia] continues revealing signs of extremism….Appropriate measures to eliminate the causes and conditions conducive to their extremist activity are not taken for a long time.” The warning is issued by the General Prosecutor's Office of the Russian Federation, March 2, 2016. All new news is but updated old.50

It is not everywhere. There are hot spots. Most Witnesses have merely tightened an already cautious deportment. They now must look over their shoulder more than in the past. They still laugh. It occurs to this writer, who is far away, that current raids hint at the Jewish pogroms of long ago, which were very bad when they happened, but they did not always happen. You never know, however, when the driver will step on the gas.

 

The Russian-speaking member of the Governing Body, Mark Sanderson, hosted a report on JW Broadcasting directly after the failed appeal. He related how, shortly after the April 20th ban, the Finnish branch committee arranged a convention for about 4000 of their brothers in Russia. Since it was on the spur of the moment, a call went out for hospitality. More than that many beds were offered, plus many who “called the branch and said ‘we’ll pay for a hotel room. We don’t care who it’s for, put whoever you want there, but we want to pay the cost’—so everyone was able to be accommodated.” Witnesses who had, in some cases traveled 6000 miles from Vladivostok arrived and asked: “Where is the Russian section?” They had had no idea that the entire convention was for them, that all of it was in Russian—and Sanderson reports that when they found out, tears broke out on some. 5137 attended and 33 were baptized.  Sanderson added “And although it is perhaps not their culture, do you know that the Finnish brothers and sisters managed to hug every single brother and sister who came through….And although we all thought we would be crying to see them go back to Russian and the challenges there, you know we just couldn’t cry because the brothers were too happy about the convention and there was no one saying ‘poor me’ they all went back with a joyful spirit, and it moved us.”

During that same program, he told some previously unknown details. He recounted how an international Witness delegation of 18 had been present in the courtroom at the appeal hearing. That much was already known by Witnesses worldwide who had kept abreast. What had not been known was that the delegation had been advised, in the event of a negative court outcome, that they would have to leave Russia that same night. “Well of course, we didn’t know if the hearing would be just that one day or if it would stretch on for other days, so our only choice was to take all of our things with us to the court and if the decision came we would have to make immediate plans to leave Russia. Since they didn’t know how long the appeal would last, they brought their luggage with them to court. ‘Well sure enough at 7 PM, the negative decision was announced. We had to leave Russia…can you imagine, the last flight out of Russia, and here we are, just after 1 AM when we arrived in Riga, Latvia,” Sanderson recounted.51

He is not “low-level.” He is one of the Witnesses Governing Body. And yet, as though he were a common criminal, he is advised that he cannot safely remain in Russia in the event of a negative outcome, lest he want to become Christensen’s cellmate. Let no one say members of that body do not risk their very souls for the sake of those they serve. How many of their critics would be willing to put their own skin on the line, knowing they could get stuck in the newly repressive land if there was a hitch?

Chapter 4 endnotes

Return to Table of Contents

 

From Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia

  1. A detailed description of the appeal, proceedings updated approximately every 5 minutes, can be found in the tweets Anton Chivchalov starting July 17, 2017, and also Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, accessed March 27, 2018, https://jw-russia.org/news/17071710-194.html. The latter is a news only site run by Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russian and it appears to have been overlooked by authorities until it was banned in March of 2018. [edit: and then unbanned 3 months later]
  2. Galatians 1:23
  3. Ephesians 6:12
  4. Roman Lunkin, “’Do Not Dig a Hole to Another’ ... The Ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia Became a Symbol of Senseless Discrimination Against Believers,” Slavic Center for Law and Justice, July 19, 2017, accessed March 22, 2018, http://www.sclj.ru/news/detail.php?SECTION_ID=478&ELEMENT_ID=7649
  5. Video Presentation: “Be Loyal, as Jesus Was,” JW Broadcasting, https://tv.jw.org/#en/mediaitems/2016Convention/pub-jwbcov_201605_2_VIDEO
  6. Psalm 2:1-5
  7. Jeremiah 36:23
  8. Matthew 27:19
  9. Anna Bogdanova, “The Police Raided the Tent Camp on the Ob Sea - They Suspect that They are Jehovah’s Witnesses,” NGS News, July 19, 2017, accessed March 9, 2017, http://news.ngs.ru/more/50646921/For English translation, see http://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/170719e.html
  10. Bogdanova, “The Police,” comment section of article, assessed March 9, 2018, http://news.ngs.ru/comments/50646921/. Jason Le Miere, “Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia: Danish Citizen Faces up to 10 Years in Prison After Bible Reading,” Newsweek, May 30, 2017, http://www.newsweek.com/jehovahs-witnesses-russia-ban-prison-617747
  11. Denis Volin, “’I Eat a Piece of Bread and Wash from a Bottle’ The Regional Court Left Christensen in Custody Until the End of November,” Orel News, September 29, 2017, accessed March 22, 2018, http://newsorel.ru/fn_293469.html
  12. Press Release, The Embassy of the Russian Federation to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland: “Embassy Press Officer on Lord Ahmad’s comments regarding the judicial ban of Jehova’s Witnesses in Russia,” July 19, 2017, accessed March 22, 2018, https://www.rusemb.org.uk/fnapr/6172
  13. Matthew 5:11-12, brackets that of NABRE
  14. 2 Corinthians 12:10
  15. 1 Corinthians 1:19
  16. John 3:19,
  17. Isaiah 60:17
  18. “The trial of the Bible is resumed in Vyborg on July 28,” July 27, 2017, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, accessed March 22, 2018, https://www.jw-russia.org/news/17072718-198.html
  19. Anton Chivchalov, “The trial of the Bible is resumed in Vyborg,” Porta-Credo, July 26, 2017, accessed March 9, 2018, http://credo.press/site/?act=news&id=126993
  20. Ibid.
  21. Eduard Burmistrov, Extremism in the Bible: How Does the Prosecutor's Office Prohibit the Jehovah’s Writ of Scripture,” openrussia.org, August 10, 2017, https://openrussia.org/notes/712533
  22. Alexander Dvorkin, “The Decision of the Vyborg Court to Recognize the New World Translation as a Extremist Material is a Huge Mistake,” Pravoslavie.ru, August 22, 2017, accessed March 22, 2018, http://pravoslavie.ru/105915.html
  23. Platon Prohorov, “Moving for AntiChrist,” RelioPolis, August 9, 2017, accessed March 9, 2018, http://religiopolis.org/publications/11821-kovrik-dlya-antikhrista-09082017.html, For English translation, see https://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/170809a.html
  24. Dvorkin, Alexander, “The Decision,”
  25. Ibid.
  26. “Uphold Jehovah’s Sovereignty,” The Watchtower – study edition, June 1, 2017, 28
  27. Dvorkin, “The Decision”
  28. Ibid.
  29. Acts 16:4-5
  30. Dvorkin, “The Decision”
  31. Job 2:4-5
  32. Proverbs 27:11
  33. “Prominent Russian Punk Rocker Defects To U.S. Over Jehovah’s Witnesses Ban,” RadioFreeEuropeRadioLiberty, July 31, 2017, accessed March 9, 2017, https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-punk-chistyakov-defects-u-s-jehovah-witnesses/28650645.html
  34. Fedor Chistyakov: “Russia is the Freest Country - You Can Adopt the Constitution and Throw it Away,” Petersburg Internet Newspaper, July 31, 2017, accessed March 9, 2018, http://www.fontanka.ru/2017/07/31/127/, For English translation, see https://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/170731b.html
  35. “Prominent Russian,” RadioFreeEuropeRadioLiberty
  36. Leader of the Group Zero Decided Not to Return to Russia Because of the Ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses, portal-credo.ru, July 31, 2017, accessed March 9, 2018, http://www.portal-credo.ru/site/?act=news&id=127042, For English translation, see https://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/170731b.html
  37. The most complete account of Prince’s JW life, to my knowledge, is found in my own book, Tom Irregardless and Me (Smashwords.com Search: Tom Harley), chapter 1.
  38. Jan Shenkman, “Why Fedor Chistyakov left Russia,” Novaya Gazeta, July 31, 2017, accessed March 23, 2018, https://www.novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/07/31/73296-pochemu-fedor-chistyakov-pokinul-rossiyu
  39. Ephesians 6:12
  40. Tara Isabella Burton, “Jehovah’s Witnesses are Banned in Russia. That Doesn’t Stop Them From Worshipping,” Vox, August 24, 2017, accessed March 23, 2018, https://www.vox.com/identities/2017/8/24/16095496/jehovahs-witnesses-banned-russia-still-worshipping
  41. Dmitry Matveyev, “Without Witnesses. How Will the Jehovah’s Witnesses Live After the Ban in Russia,” The Telegraf, April 28, 2017, accessed March 10, 2018, https://rustelegraph.ru/news/2017-04-28/Bez-svidetelei-kak-budut-zhit-iegovisty-posle-zapreta-v-Rossii-73659, for English translation, see http://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/170428d.html
  42. Mathew 26:10
  43. Burton, “Jehovah’s Witnesses”
  44. Burton, “Jehovah’s Witnesses are”
  45. Romans 13:1-7
  46. Burton, “Jehovah’s Witnesses are”
  47. Crestnaija, “JW: Jehovah's Witnesses Arrested for Taking a Walk,” Crest Global Media, September 9, 2017, accessed March 23, 2018, https://crest9ja.blogspot.com/2017/09/jw-jehovahs-witnesses-arrested-for.html
  48. “Mass Searches and Criminal cases against Believers in Kemerovo and Belgorod - with Reference to the Decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation,” Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, February 9, 2018, accessed March 23, 2018, https://jw-russia.org/news/18020917-286.html
  49. Blog Post: Anton Chivchalov Blog, September 7, 2017, Accessed March 10, 2018, https://www.facebook.com/ScandicJHWH/posts/1090342934433433
  50. Mark Sanderson: Russian Convention Travel Report, JW Broadcasting, accessed March 23, 2018, https://tv.jw.org/#en/mediaitems/LatestVideos/pub-jwb_201709_12_VIDEO

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Endurance

During the 1940s, after the U.S. Supreme Court held that American Witness children could be required to salute the flag, a wave of violent reprisals broke out from ordinary citizens suddenly turned thugs. Elanor Roosevelt, wife of the President, spoke out to stay the violence.1 So did the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), declaring: “It is high time we came to our senses regarding this matter of flag-saluting. Jehovah’s Witnesses are not disloyal Americans….They are not given to law-breaking in general, but lead decent, orderly lives, contributing their share to the common good.”2

Alarmed over what they had unleashed, three years later the Court, with several new members, overturned their own decision. Foregleams of it had already appeared. “Ordinarily we would feel constrained to follow an unreversed decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, whether we agreed with it or not….The developments with respect to the Gobitis case, however, are such that we do not feel it is incumbent upon us to accept it as binding authority,” stated a lower court (United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia), as a similar case wended its way toward the top Court. There, the prior decision was reversed by a 6:3 majority, and the verdict was announced on Flag Day, June 14, 1943.3 Will there similarly emerge men of conscience in Russia, who cannot abide what they have unleashed?

Schoolteachers and principals in Russia have turned upon Witness children; persecution is not confined to adults and the Devil is not tender-hearted. Children become the new pawns. One 8-year-old girl’s parents were summoned to her school after she had sung a Witness song and talked about God to classmates. She was threatened with expulsion. In Ufa a policeman demanded a Witness mother explain why she “involves minors in extremist activities” as the eldest daughter recorded the conversation on her cell phone camera. In the Rostov region, a teacher sent a 14-year-old girl to the principal’s office, having previously confiscated her phone. There a police officer began to tell the girl that her mother forces her to go to a “terrorist organization” in which “they are robbed” and “are taught to kill people.” The officials brought the child to tears, in asserting that Jehovah’s Witnesses would “take control of her and send her to blow up the school,” and that she should “show her mother her individuality and not go to meetings.”

Another teacher told a child who had refused to sing a song heralding the military: “You are now banned and we are already fed up with your religion.” To her mother she reiterated “You are now extremists and there will be no indulgence.” At the family’s request, she allowed a song about nature to substitute for a music lesson but lowered the child’s grade on that account. A Witness once living at St. Petersburg Bethel (the Administrative Center) told of yet another 8-year-old girl who was forced by her school principal to sing a patriotic song at school in front of her classmates. Bullying children has become the new norm.4

It is the same scene in Russia that once played out in the United States. As brainwashing ever does, thought is replaced by rote. In the chain of events leading up to the United States Gobitis decision over the pledge to the flag, one Coronel Moss noted: “Another form that false patriotism frequently takes is so-called Flag-worship—blind and excessive adulation of the Flag as an emblem or image—super-punctiliousness and meticulosity in displaying and saluting the Flag—without intelligent and sincere understanding and appreciation of the ideals and institutions it symbolizes. This of course is but a form of idolatry, a sort of ‘glorified idolatry,’ so to speak. When patriotism assumes this form, it is nonsensical and makes the ‘patriot’ ridiculous.”5

Another court went on to observe that “there are schools all over the United States in which the pupils have to go through the ceremony of pledging allegiance to the flag every school day. It would be hard to devise a means more effective for dulling patriotic sentiment than that. This routine repetition makes the flag-saluting ceremony perfunctory and so devoid of feeling; and once this feeling has been lost it is hard to recapture it for the ‘high moments’ of life.”6

Would the enemies of Jehovah’s Witnesses accuse them of brainwashing? Just who are the real brainwashers? Is it truly a fine thing that children of each nation must sing their respective patriotic song and salute their respective flag? Is it truly a gift from God to divide people in such a way? Start when they are young, for is that not the most effective time to brainwash?

“Officials who were already inclined to take action against Jehovah’s Witnesses are now emboldened, and ordinary people who have long disliked them are also emboldened,” said Felix Corley, a Norway-based religious rights activist. Within a month of the ban, assaults on Witnesses became legion. One enraged man in Belgorod shouted “You have been banned” as he repeatedly punched a Witness in the head, face and upper body. In Lustino, the home of a Witness family was burned to the ground. Outside of Moscow, a plainclothes policeman told Witnesses gathered to worship in a private home that the Court decision meant that they could no longer do so.7

Andrew Sorokowski, a columnist with the Religious Information Service of Ukraine posed the question: Why would a nation of some 144,000,000 risk its international reputation to persecute a religious sect numbering no more than 175,000 followers? The persecution is not illegal, according to its own laws, he points out. The federal law on Combating Extremist Activity punishes “propaganda of exclusiveness, superiority or inferiority of an individual based on his/her religious identity.” That law means no one but the Orthodox Church and an approved Jewish, Buddhist and Muslim selection can claim to be the one true path.8

Legally, they can do it. But why would they? The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom promptly labeled Russia one of the “countries of particular concern,” along with Iran, North Korea, Nigeria, and Sudan.9 There is a reputational price to pay for any nation that would carry on outrageously. Few are willing to pay it. They do not want to paint themselves before the whole wide world as a land of ruffians dictated to by house religions.

The most absurd accusations about Russia emanate from Western media these days. Surely a news report that Russia utilized the Pokemon Go game to undermine the American morale takes the cake.10 “Is there no end?” Russian outlets have, in effect, asked. “Is there no accusation too preposterous?” Unfairly, perhaps, but also predictably, Russia’s bullying of all minority religion and the outright ban of one suggests that there is not—that all accusations must be carefully considered. All but the most repressive nations on earth have learned to accommodate the human urge to worship as each individual sees fit. Russia sides with the forces of repression in this regard, and even surpasses them when it bans the Jehovah’s Witnesses website as extremist, the only country on earth to do so. Everyone else on the planet can visit and plainly see that it is not. How can Russia not lose face? Everyone know what extremism is and they know that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not it.

The latest one to complain in this way is Sergey Lavrov.11 He grumbles at a press briefing that “Russia is blamed for everything that goes wrong on this planet.” Ought he not look in the mirror for the reason? He was among the six officials that Witnesses everywhere were invited to write. He received several million letters. Did they touch his heart? Addressing a question from the media in December of 2017, he said: “As concerns Jehovah’s Witnesses, Russia bans organizations that encourage their supporters to openly break Russian laws. This is exactly what this cult was doing. They were warned several times but they would not listen and continued to involve their members in anti-constitutional activity. There may be no question about this.”12

Lavrov was one of those who received a letter from Bob’s Cleaning Service. Say what you will about Bob, but you will never find a more decent, unassuming and honest man. Bob worked hard on his letter—he doesn’t write too many of them. Lavrov could have read it, taken it to heart, spoke to his five other friends, and saved his country untold grief. Instead, he sided with the Court expert who scribbles “any sort of nonsense” and the anti-cult hero who “disseminates hate speech,” that description supplied by Human Rights Without Frontiers.13  If you do this and criminalize 175,000 peaceful citizens who are Jehovah’s Witnesses, and then continue to make life miserable for the Pentecostals and the Baptists and the Evangelicals and the Mormons and the Salvation Army and the Adventists and the Roman Catholics and, in fact, any group professing Christianity that is not Russian Orthodox, not to mention non-Christian groups, you cannot say at the press conference “Why do people think we do bad things?”

In one of my individual blog posts that I cobbled together to make Chapter 2, reflecting a time before I was up to speed on so many things, I laid down the challenge: “If it is to be, let Russian officials look themselves in the mirror and publicly declare: ‘I believe, what with all the villains and scoundrels on the loose today in our country and throughout world, that taking out Jehovah’s Witnesses is the most important thing we can do.’” Mr. Lavrov and his friends rose to the challenge! It is the theme of Fedor Chistyakov’s new album, “Unwanted Song.” Dyadya Fyodor belts out: “We’ll seize the world later, for now…remove the witnesses!”

Chistyakov, too, is bringing his gift to the altar. He has been busy since his exile, writing and recording music that he never foresaw himself writing and recording, music that for him is a first. “So we lived to see emigrant music,” the web source Sobesednik says from Russia. Yes, that’s because they chased him away from his homeland. He’s holed up in New York, right now, and not by choice. Sobesednik offers the best explanation for his plight that it can envision: “Chistyakov is an extremist? And what did he do? Never mind.” It makes no sense at all to them.

“To the punk rockers I became a punk rocker,” Paul would have said had he thought of it. No one can say that the cat has got Fedor’s tongue. “The muzzle of a furious red-brown bear [emblazons the cover, along with] biting texts with a lot of allusions and direct analogies with the current Russian reality.” But Fedor enters a world strange to him. Is this an album of “defiance,” as Bershidsky would say? No. It is a tactic of last resort, just as when Chistyakov’s eight million brothers wrote to Putin. Who were they to write to Putin? Never in their lives would they have imagined it. They did it when the situation became desperate and an opportunity to do something opened up. It is the same with Chistyakov. “I’m a believer, and I should not interfere in politics,” the musician explained to Sobesednik. "At the same time, I’m not blind, I see what’s going on, and I’m terrified of this….Maybe the album will help someone. This album is not a protest. This is the essence of things.” 14

Yes, why would a nation of some 144,000,000 risk its international reputation to persecute a religious sect numbering no more than 175,000 followers? It is a good question. Yet Russia has done so. Religious repression hardly accounts for American media accusations, which are driven more by its own internal concerns, and in some cases border on hysteria. But it suggests to the unpracticed eye that all such accusations just might be true and that there is no accusation too fantastic to be dismissed out-of-hand. On Twitter someone sarcastically writes: “Don’t forget to check under your bed before you go to sleep tonight. There may be a Russian under there ready to give bad dreams.” “Thanks for the tip!” says anyone familiar with the plight of Dennis Christensen, jailed for nearly a full year without trial for merely leading a Bible study, and he peaks under the bed to check. How can people not imagine Russia capable of unlimited villainy?  Perhaps whatever they hear is but the tip of the iceberg. It is sad to see the self-inflicted wound of a great nation.

 

Jesus’ command is the one to follow, say the Witnesses. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the world as a witness to all nations and then the end will come,” he instructs his followers.15 “Not here!” this or that king says. “We have our own religion here. We’re good. Peddle it elsewhere!” I can recall right now a certain local speaker with a dramatic flair, twirling a globe he had brought onstage with him, repeating Jesus words, and then interrupting himself with: “This gospel of the kingdom will not be preached in my part of the earth,” and covering with a finger or two the human nation that would defy God. Should nations truly do that? Should they truly seek to neutralize faith? Should they let the house religion tell them that all bases are already covered more than adequately—particularly when it covers none of them with regard to Bible literacy?

It is not unlike how religious enemies treated Amos of the Old Testament after he uttered words they deemed not patriotic. Priest Amaziah, ever close to the king, “sent word to Jeroboam, king of Israel: ‘Amos has conspired against you within the house of Israel; the country cannot endure all his words.’” It is the same with Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. Prominent ones assure Putin that the country cannot endure all their words.

The answer Amaziah decides upon is to send Amos far away—outside the borders. It is the same answer once arrived at in Russia. “Off with you, seer, flee to the land of Judah and there earn your bread by prophesying! But never again prophesy in Bethel for it is the king’s sanctuary and a royal temple.” It is not just the high-handed command that rankles; it is also the insult, for Amos does not “earn his bread” prophesying, just as Jehovah’s Witnesses do not. He works to support himself, just as Jehovah’s Witnesses do. His is a humble line of secular work, as is generally true of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Amos knows the work that he must do. For some reason, the pre-eminent Amaziah and his bunch have not done it. No matter. Amos will. “I am not a [paid] prophet, nor do I belong to a company of prophets. I am a herdsman and a dresser of sycamores, but the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel,” he replies to the lofty one.16 They are humble people, those who God selects; they are not the bombastic bigwigs who love to hog the stage. Is it an absurd play in which herdsmen are the central actors? Yes. But just because something is absurd does not mean that it is untrue. 

Enemies make trouble for Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Witnesses simply have to plow through it as best they can. Jesus’ direction cannot be shunted aside, not even for the king. Ultimately, if he stops them, he stops them. They then become an example of Jesus’ other words: “If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you.”17

On behalf of her country, Russian Parliament Council member Lyudmila Narusova submitted a paper (July 2017) to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly calling for others to show religious tolerance. It is another Kafkaesque event: taking the tolerance lead publicly while running in just the opposite direction privately.

“Today political, religious and public figures should make efforts to prevent intolerance and discrimination on a religious basis. There is nothing worse than sectarian strife, and history has shown that many times,” the head of Russian delegation told that body. The resolution pointed out each person’s rights on the freedom of thought, religion and beliefs called for interreligious dialogue. It even added that terror attacks committed by followers of a particular religion cannot justify religious intolerance.18 It’s unbelievable!

The 2017 Russian resolution dovetails with and even surpasses a statement of Vladimir Lenin made prior to the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, exactly 100 years ago: “Everybody must be perfectly free, not only to profess whatever religion he pleases, but also to spread or change his religion. No official should have the right even to ask anyone about his religion: that is a matter for each person’s conscience, and no one has any right to interfere.”19

Is it blatant hypocrisy? Is it one hand that doesn’t know what the other is doing? Is it internal discord within the government? It is nothing that this writer can figure out. Adding a note of further irony, Ms. Narusova’s now deceased husband was once considered a prime mentor of Vladimir Putin, in earlier post-glasnost days.20

Further indicating either that opposition to Witnesses is not monolithic or that the right hand does not know what the left is doing, or that it knows it very well but is content to send a signal—is the letter received by two Jehovah’s Witness elders from the Sergiev Posad City Prosecutor’s office, with apologies: “On behalf of the state, I bring you an official apology for the moral damage caused to you, connected with unreasonable criminal prosecution under art. 282 part 2….You have the right to demand the sending of written statements about the decision that justifies you, at the place of work, study or place of residence. In the event that information about…the illegal actions you have been applied to have been published in the press, distributed by radio, television or other media, you have the right to require the relevant mass media to make a report on rehabilitation.” Furthermore, their names and that of other believers have been removed from the list of “persons for whom there is evidence of their involvement in extremist activities.”21

This favorable decision toward the Witnesses was arrived at after years of investigation, trial, acquittal, and renewed trial. In 2010, two agents posing as persons interested in Bible study secretly recorded the program at the area Kingdom Hall. “Overcome evil, restrain anger,” and “What reputation do you deserve before God,” were the themes then discussed. The same expert—the mathematics teacher, who would later testify to the Vyborg court that the New World Translation was extremist—testified that these two meetings also contained content that was extremist. For three years, authorities in Moscow disagreed, but in 2013, they reversed themselves. The two men were arrested at their respective homes. The first court acquitted them and found the experts biased against Witnesses. This judgement was appealed to an appellate court which also acquitted them. From start to finish the ordeal lasted seven years, and the inclusion of one on the extremism list caused his loss of employment.22

It turns out that the Court expert is an “expert” on many things. Olga Nikitova, of the Agency of Political News, says that she “undertakes any research in the field of linguistics, culture, social sciences and even sexology and heraldry.” She and her colleagues are rather like hired guns, mercenaries; her expertise, which Nikitova calls “malignant expertise,” was rejected by the Sergiyev Posad court as “inconsistent, biased, contradictory and unacceptable.” Several months later a member of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Lawyers filed an application with the Investigative Committee to initiate criminal proceedings against her and her fellows. Vladimir Ryakhovsky, member of the Presidential Council for Human Rights, further complained of the “abuse of this expert, the dishonesty of this expert.”

It is “nice work if you can get it,” to quote the popular George Gershwin song. “Examinations are a profitable business: each examination is paid by tens, or even hundreds of thousands of rubles from the state budget,” says Nikitova. Alexander Verkhovsky, director of the information-analytical center “Owl,” further writes that “they are just legendary experts who are ready to write about anything, absolutely anything. For that, in fact, they are loved by customers. They write quickly their expertise and with the result that is always necessary.” He is embarrassed for the entire Russian justice system that makes such ready use of them.23

Somewhere I read (and cannot find it again) the Witness resolve: “We will continue to declare the good news tactfully.” Is it a concession—to do it tactfully? It has always been the goal—though perhaps not always. When Witnesses paraded around 80 years ago with placards emblazoned with: “Religion is a Snare and a Racket!” that was hardly tactful, was it? Still, all things must be considered in their context; the placards were displayed amidst the backdrop of the two World Wars, throughout which the major Christian faiths played major supporting roles on both sides.24

Who is it among the Witnesses who said: “You should strive for truth and tact. But if you have to sacrifice one, sacrifice tact,”—who said that? Was it Nathan Knorr, the third Watchtower President? Or is the entire line apocryphal? There will be more emphasis on tact today, but not at the expense of truth. Let’s face it, tactfulness doesn’t come easily to some of our people. They are real people, coming from the real rough and tumble world. They are not from the airy world of etiquette, of people who have come to realize that they must behave, if only superficially, so as to advance in their careers. There is only so much tact you can muster when telling people that their goose is cooked if they remain where they are. But Witnesses try. The goose of human rulership is indeed cooked. The training to preach is in place, and members improve over time. “Don’t sacrifice truth, but let your words be winsome, and not wincing,” they are coached.25 Set up literature carts, where persons can approach you instead of you them. Set up a website so that they can do the same.

It is not a piece of cake to perform such a ministry. It does not come naturally. The average Witness is an average person, not given to diplomacy, often conscious of inequality, much as Amos was, and much as Jeremiah was: “Ah, Lord GOD!” I said, “I do not know how to speak. I am too young!” But the LORD answered me, Do not say, “I am too young.” To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you—oracle of the LORD. Then the LORD extended his hand and touched my mouth, saying to me, See, I place my words in your mouth! Today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to uproot and to tear down, to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant.”26

Russia is not a Western country and thus is not so enamored with human rights as are its Western counterparts. Some feel the prospects of Jehovah’s Witnesses there are doomed on that account. Why go there? Plenty of people suffer harm in places where human rights supposedly carry the day; they are simply different people. One should never forget the dictum that a “king’s heart is channeled water in the hand of the LORD; God directs in where he pleases.” Vladimir Putin is a national leader, but he is also a man with a heart.27

Sometimes a powerful person will overturn an established opinion of Jehovah’s Witnesses based upon personal contact with one of them. During the 1960s civil rights era of the United States, Alabama governor George Wallace was considered the epitome of racism. A black American Witness who regularly called upon him did not remember him that way. Concluding a conversation with Wallace, he heard upon returning to those in his car rumors that the Ku Klux Klan planned to disrupt an upcoming circuit assembly. He returned to Mr. Wallace, by then engaged in discussion with State Police authority. Upon hearing the man’s concern, Wallace directed the lawman to see to it. The story could be apocryphal, but I doubt it. It was related by someone too guileless to lie.

Just prior to a meeting with the circuit overseer, local pioneers were engaged in hubbub over the challenge of witnessing to certain ones considered opposed. John Wayne’s name came up. An uber-patriotic American film star, everyone assumed he would be hostile. The circuit overseer corrected everyone with his observation of how, in a prior circuit, a Witness had called on Mr. Wayne, who could not have been more polite or respectful. He had the highest regard for Witnesses, he told his visitor, and expressed the frank regret that he felt unable to live up to their standards. It is likely due to his friendship with Mickey Spillane, to whom he gave a Jaguar automobile. Spillane, author of the most shockingly violent fiction of his time, became a Witness in 1952, and his work thereafter pivoted 180 degrees. He worked in entertainment venues for the duration of his life—sometimes with John Wayne.

Okay, it’s a bit of a stretch to say Putin is on some Witness’s return visit route. I won’t say it. However, perhaps at the next Kremlin picnic he will run across his 3rd cousin twice removed who will tell him about the wonderful Jehovah’s Witness who returned his ruble-stuffed wallet he had accidentally dropped on one particularly hectic day.

The point is, there can always be a human connection, just as there was when Median king Ahasuerus thwarted a decision to kill off the Jews in his realm. “If you do not act,” Mordecai had told his niece Esther, “salvation for the Jews will arise from some other source. But how do you know that you have been placed where you are for the very purpose of your speaking out?”—and she thereafter did speak out.28 In the same way, there was a human connection when Cyrus was shown the scripture foretelling the action he had just taken in overthrowing Babylon; Josephus relates the account. It was just that way when Saul, the former chief persecutor of Christians, did an about face, and became their foremost advocate. That one even went beyond a human connection, but who is to say that the other ones did not as well?29

Will Putin become an Ahasuerus or a Cyrus? I’m not holding my breath. Still, stranger things have happened and you never know how things will turn out. “The kings of the earth take their stand as one against Jehovah and his anointed one,” says Psalm 2. You never know when a given king will read ahead and not want to play that game. Saul, holding high religious office, came to do a complete turn-around and wrote with regret of how he had once been a “blasphemer, persecutor and an arrogant man.”30

When Charles T. Russell, who was widely traveled, visited the Russian field in the late 1800s, he saw little prospect for the kingdom hope to catch on there. “In Russia the government holds an intolerably tight grip on every man in the empire. And the stranger within their gates is always to them a suspicious character. His passport must be produced at every hotel and railway station before entering or leaving a city or town. The hotel proprietor receives your passport and hands it over to the Chief of Police, he retains it until you are ready to leave, so that any stranger could be readily traced as to just when he entered or left the country. Officers and authorities are simply civil, indicating that your presence is only tolerated, and any books or papers in your possession are carefully scrutinized to make sure that nothing in them is calculated to interfere with their ideas.”31 Yet look at what happened. By the time of 1991 legal registration, Witnesses numbered 45,000. They made hay while the sun was shining and grew to 175,000 in 26 years. Who is to say those days are finished?

 

Having declared the New World Translation of the Bible extremist, the next step was to make a grab for all Witness religious property. An unexpected glitch arose when reaching for the crown jewel in St. Petersburg, the administrative center complex of buildings that has been valued at $15 million (US).32 It was discovered that it was foreign-owned. The center had been specifically denied representation at the April 20th trial on that basis—that they were a foreign entity and thus the trial did not concern them. Now in order to seize the facilities, that rationale had to be reversed.

It was done without too much fuss. Since there was close cooperation between the Center and local witnesses, it was deemed that Russian interests owned it after all, and so it could be confiscated without creating an international incident. This was despite the fact that the foreign owners in New York had made regular tax payments for seventeen years, per the terms of the original agreement.

Denis Korotkov, writing for fontanka.ru, summed matters up this way: “In the resort area, the prosecutor’s office and the court made a gift to Jehovah’s Witnesses. The property is worth…about 2 billion rubles. As a result, the American church lost its burdensome property and received almost one hundred percent chance of a generous return. International scandal—a bonus.” What Mr. Korotkov is saying is that Russia is giving the Watchtower Society a “gift” in the form of a sure international scandal now and a generous financial return on their seized assets once that scandal has forced the government’s hand to undo the mischief they have just done. In the meantime, the 14-building complex that was a burdensome property for the Watchtower, since they could no longer use it but had to maintain it, no longer is. What appears to be a lose-lose for the Watchtower he reframes as a win-win. The article goes on to say that if Russian higher courts uphold the property grab, “there will inevitably be an appeal in European and American jurisdictions, and Russia will have to pay. Given the legal costs and fines, the amount can significantly exceed the cost of the complex in Solnechny.”33

Will the court decision be appealed outside of Russia? “Yaroslav Sivulsky, representative of the European Association of Christian Witnesses of Jehovah, one of those who defended in the hall, spoke about expropriation. ‘Of course, we will appeal this decision. It is based on nothing, except the desire of the prosecutor’s office to simply seize the property. We did not hear a single legal argument. This is expropriation. Russia encourages foreign business to invest in the country, but what investments can be made if the property is not protected and can be seized at any time?’”34

This writer agrees with Korotkov and is of the unusual opinion that if you are going to ban the Jehovah’s Witness organization in Russia, then it is a good thing, not a bad thing, to also ban the New World Translation and seize the Administrative Center buildings. Each action draws in people who might not otherwise care. Human rights people protest when Witness activity is banned, but it is partly offset by: “Well, they are a pain and they do call unannounced at the most inconvenient times.”

But when you ban the Bible—even ringleader Dvorkin thought that was going too far.35 It plainly is a Bible; he doesn’t like it, but it plainly is one. He says, in effect: “We cut them off from U.S. organizational and monetary support. That’s enough. Break both their legs and they will die! You don’t ban the Bible as well, which will only make us look like a country of backward rednecks.” I say ban it for exactly that reason. Let the sensible people of Russia observe how the anti-cult ideologues have sullied their reputation.

The academic community couldn’t believe it. The Russian expert witness, who copies any sort of nonsense off the Internet, which thereby becomes “essentially plagiarism,”36 had the court believing it wasn’t a Bible because it said: “Holy Scriptures” on the cover and not “Bible!” In her voluminous expert analysis that she said took 287 days to complete, how could she have missed that the Forward of the Russian edition plainly states that it is a translation of the Bible? Witness attorneys asked her that. She attacked the use of God’s name—nothing will get Jehovah’s Witnesses going more than that—fretting that “in the New World Translation, the dominant factor is the ‘Jehovah concept.’” Whereupon Witness attorneys had the judge reading from ten different Russian translations that also say “Jehovah,” creating the appearance of a “well-prepared Bible study,” said Moses Adjubage, who was present and later interviewed on JW Broadcasting.37

Faithful Chivchalov, who tweets like Trump, also covered the hearings, and one gets the sense that it is not easy for him. Let us join the poor fellow, so that he does not lose his mind. With but a few superfluous tweets omitted, he says, all on a single December day:38

All experts who previously declared #NWT extremist came to testify to the court. Also representatives of US, UK, and Netherlands.

The experts will testify from Moscow on video conference call. #NWT

Switzerland embassy representatives also came. Europe wants to know what is wrong with Russia. #NWT

This time a larger court room is used, more people are able to attend. #NWT

A real philology expert, Anatoli Baranov, who defended #NWT at the lower court, is allowed to testify from Moscow too.

Let’s hope Internet won’t go down as he will start speaking. #NWT [Chivchalov is not personally present but is monitoring the proceedings online.]

JW attorney explains that previously 2 believers were criminally charged based on these false experts study (Kruykova, Batov, Kotelnikov). Later the study was found erroneous, and they were acquitted. #NWT

Sorry, the experts in that case were Kryukova, Tarasov, Kotelnikov. While the #NWT experts are Kryukova, Batov, Kotelnikov. They are essentially one team. They produced more than 50 studies against JWs in Russia in various cases.

Attorney files motion for disqualification of these “experts” as incompetent based on 280-page brief. #NWT

Court rejects motion for disqualification of the experts. #NWT

Judge asks questions to N. Kryukova: Why is the book you studied has different titles in the study, sometimes Russian, sometimes English? - This was an error. #NWT

Judge: What does the English word "Greek Scriptures" mean? N.K. It means “Gospels.” #NWT #facepalm

Judge: Is it a Bible? N.K. This is not a Bible from the viewpoint of traditional Christianity, but a sacred text of Jehovah’s Witnesses only. #NWT

JW attorney asks Kryukova why she thinks #NWT is not a Bible. She replies: the Bible is only a translation with the ROC Patriarch blessing or a book 100% consistent with such a translation.

Judge: How can we know which translation it bad? Expert Tarasov: It can be determined on the basis of the activity it produces. If this activity is bad, the translation is bad as well. #NWT

Judge asks expert Baranov to clarify. He replies there is a lot of criteria, but the one stated by Tarasov is unknown to him. This is the end of the experts’ testimony. #NWT

But on hearing all this nonsense, judge rejects the motion to order a new study of the #NWT with new experts.

Court rejects the JW attorneys’ motion to ask the Constitutional Court to clarify what the Bible is. #NWT

But court accepts the motion to file new proofs of the plagiarism of the study based on Wikipedia analysis (yep, the study has numerous quotes from Wikipedia). #NWT

It’s paradoxical that Kryukova’s study doesn’t contain a single quote from the #NWT it studies! But the court doesn’t seem to care about it.

The court also doesn’t care that Kryukova and her team claim to have studied the Russian #NWT version but quoted Wikipedia about the English version which are technically two different books.

JW attorney points out studies of #NWT by authoritative scholars and reviews of Kryukova’s own study that show serious flaws of it.

One such study stated: “[Kryukova’s text] shows that it is not JWs who are hostile to other religions but Kryukova and her colleagues are hostile to JWs.” #NWT

Prosecutor: “#NWT defendants pursue only one goal - to engage the court in religious debates about what is God, Bible, and religion, which is inacceptable.”

That’s all, the judges leave to discuss the ruling. Almost 10 pm on the clock. #NWT

Oh and here is the ruling: leave the decision of the lower court in force, reject the appeal. #NWT

So friends, if you live in Russia and want to ban something, all you need is a math teacher who knows how to use Wikipedia. The ruling will be appealed in Supreme Court now. Stay tuned!

 

It is good that Chivchalov showed endurance. Let the record reflect that nobody in that courtroom knew anything of biblical scholarship and their expert witness used that fact to showcase them all as ignoramuses before the world. See if they will thank her for that the next time they are laughed off some academic stage. She stated: “The only book that can be called a Bible is one approved by the Russian Orthodox Church and that is marked by the blessing of the Patriarch or that matches word for word that translation.” Good. Let them explain before educated people how they went along with her on that one. “Again and again we had the impression sitting there in the courtroom that the purpose of the hearing was not to establish the facts or evidence but to go through the legal formalities quickly since the decision had been already made and was to be announced today,” said Adjubage. It took the judges four minutes to review seven hours of testimony before giving their decision.   

The decision regarding the branch headquarters draws in the potentially much more influential business community. I say it is a good thing for them to seize the building. It cannot serve its intended function anyway. Let it serve its new function of calling attention to theft. Let the business community reflect upon how, should they upset the government, their assets might be seized. Within days a Finnish business delegation being courted by Russia for investment had declared it “a very bad sign.”38 Mr. Devine related that the hearing was in a small cramped room where “our attorneys and prosecutors literally were two feet apart facing each other over a small table.” Several congregation members who attended to offer support were relegated to the small barred holding area for criminals, where they might find themselves at any rate for a related reason on another day.

If you are going to go unjust, do it big time and make sure everyone knows. The Governing Body saw to it that the initial trial was videotaped in the largest venue possible. The sham nature of Russian justice toward kingdom interests has been exposed there. At one point the Russian judge asked the Ministry of Justice whether it had prepared for the trial, so unsupported by facts did the prosecution appear. In the end, he did what he knew he had to do if he wanted to keep his job, but his interaction with them clearly exposed a sham system, and that exposure was repeated at the appeal, repeated again at the hearing over the Bible, and again at the decision to confiscate the branch headquarters. And it was repeated in the case in the imprisonment without trial of Dennis Christensen, a dangerous criminal that everyone can plainly see is not.

A lot of people don’t like Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are a hot-button topic in several ways. But they do know that rule by law and even common sense is a good thing, not a bad thing, and when they see it so blatantly violated, some get more worked up than they would over the Witnesses themselves.

From Dear  Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia

  1. Joel Engardio, “Russia’s Bans on Jehovah’s Witnesses,” ACLU, December 10, 2009, accessed March 23, 2018, https://www.aclu.org/blog/russias-bans-jehovahs-witnesses
  2. Haig Bosmajian, The Freedom Not to Speak (New York, NYU Press, 1999) 112
  3. Ibid., 114
  4. “After the Decision of the Supreme Court, the Pressure on Children of Jehovah’s Witnesses Increased in Schools,” Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, May 15, 2017, accessed March 12, 2018, https://www.jw-russia.org/news/17051512-161.html
  5. James Alfred Moss, Patriotism of the Flag, Moss, The Flag of the United States, Its History and Symbolism (Washington: The United States Flag Association, 1941) 85-86
  6. W. C. Ruediger, The George Washington University, 49 Schools and Society, February 25, 1939, p. 249, as located the post: Minersville School District v Gobitis, accessed March 23,2018, https://www.leagle.com/decision/1939791108f2d6831582
  7. Lauren Markoe, “Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia Intensifies and Targets Children,” Salt Lake City Tribune, Religion News Service, accessed March 23, 2018, June 2, 2017, http://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=5358906&itype=CMSID
  8. Andrew Sorokowski, “Witnesses to Persecution,” Religious Information Service of Ukraine, May 5, 2017, accessed March 23, 2018, https://risu.org.ua/article_print.php?id=66964&name=asorokowski_column&_lang=en&
  9. Ibid.
  10. Joseph Curl, “A New Low: CNN Says Russian Meddling Extended To Pokemon Go,” Daily Wire, October 13, 2017, accessed March 23, 2018, https://www.dailywire.com/news/22235/new-low-cnn-says-russian-meddling-extended-pokemon-joseph-curl#
  11. “Coverage of Double Agent’s Alleged Poisoning is Hysterical Propaganda – Lavrov,” RT.com, March 9, 2018, accessed March 12, 2018, https://www.RT.com/news/420842-double-agent-poisoning-skripal/
  12. Press Service – The Minister’s Meetings, “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation,” July 12, 2017, accessed March 8, 2018, http://www.mid.ru/en/vizity-ministra/-/asset_publisher/ICoYBGcCUgTR/content/id/2981131
  13. “Laicite And Religious Freedom: A Coalition of NGOs Questions France at the United Nations,” Human Rights Without Frontiers, January 16, 2018, accessed March 12, 2018, http://hrwf.eu/laicite-and-religious-freedom-a-coalition-of-ngos-questions-france-at-the-united-nations/
  14. Bakanov Konstantin, “Cult Icon of Russian Rock Fedor Chistyakov Settling in the US, Recorded the Album ‘Unwanted Song’,” sobesednik.ru, March 6, 2018, accessed March 10, 2018, https://sobesednik.ru/kultura-i-tv/20180306-okolo-nolya
  15. Mathew 24:14
  16. Amos 7:12-15
  17. John 15:20
  18. Viktor Tolochko , “OSCE PA Supports Russia’s Proposed Resolution Against Religious Discrimination,” Sputnik News, August 8, 2017, 15. accessed March 23, 2018, https://sputniknews.com/world/201707081055363864-osce-russia-resolution/
  19. Lu Daji and Gong Xuezeng, Marxism and Religion (Leiden, Kininklijke Brill N V, Ethnic Publishing House, 2014) 284
  20. Viktor Rezunkov and Tatyana Voltskaya, “15 Years Later, Questions Remain About Death Of The Man Who Made Putin,” RadioFreeEurope RadioLiberty, February 24, 2015, accessed March 23, 2018, https://www.rferl.org/a/questions-remain-about-death-of-man-who-made-putin/26867539.html
  21. “The Prosecutor’s Office brought official apologies to the Sergiev Posad Elders,” Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, November 7, 2017, accessed March 23, 2018, https://jw-russia.org/news/17110712-228.html
  22. “The Court of Appeal confirmed the acquittal of the Sergiev Posad Elders,” Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, August 24, 2017, accessed March 23, 2018, https://jw-russia.org/news/17082417-208.html
  23. Olga Nikitova, “Malignant Expertise,” The Agency of Political News, September 20, 2017, accessed March 12, 2018, http://www.apn.ru/index.php?newsid=36670
  24. Jehovah’s Witnesses – Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania) 447
  25. Luke 4:22 The verse states those in the synagogue were amazed at Jesus ‘gracious’ words. The 2013 NWT also says gracious. But the 1981 edition says ‘winsome’ and it is from this choice that someone devised the winsome/wincing witticism.
  26. Jeremiah 1:6-10
  27. Proverbs 21:1
  28. Esther 4:12-14
  29. Galatians 1:23
  30. 1 Timothy 1:13
  31. 2008 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, 70
  32. Video Report: “Pure Worship Under Attack in Russia,” JW Broadcasting, accessed March 23, 2018, https://tv.jw.org/#en/mediaitems/pub-jwb_201801_12_VIDEO
  33. Denis Korotkov, “The Paradox of the Exile of Jehovah,” Fontanka.ru, December 8, 2017, accessed March 23, 2018, http://www.fontanka.ru/2017/12/08/047/
  34. Korotkov, “The Paradox”
  35. Alexander Dvorkin, The Decision of the Vyborg Court to Recognize the New World Translation as a Extremist Material is a Huge Mistake,” Pravoslavie.ru, August 22, 2017, accessed March 23, 2018, http://pravoslavie.ru/105915.html
  36. Anton Chivchalov, “The trial of the Bible is resumed in Vyborg,” Porta-Credo, July 26, 2017, accessed March 9, 2018, http://credo.press/site/?act=news&id=126993...
  37. “Pure Worship Under Attack,” JW Broadcasting, accessed March 27, 2018, https://tv.jw.org/#en/mediaitems/pub-jwb_201801_12_VIDEO
  38. A detailed description of the proceedings, updated approximately every 5 minutes, can be found in the tweets Anton Chivchalov, starting https://twitter.com/Chivchalov/status/943447491768410114, and also Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, accessed March 27, 2018, https://jw-russia.org/pages/17081610-203.html. The latter is a news only site run by Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russian and it appears to have been overlooked by authorities until it was banned in March of 2018.

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Another Day on the “Recruiting” Trail - Sheesh

One college kid asked, when I proposed returning, “To what end?” It was a question  I’d not been asked before.

I explained that in my ideal scenario I would return 100 times and engage in 100 different conversations and on the 101st I would ask him if he wanted to be a Jehovah’s Witness like me and at that time he should say ‘No.’ 

I even asked him to rehearse. “Let me show you how it would work. I am going to ask you to become a Witness like me and I want you to say “No.” Would you do that? He agreed. 

“Would you like to become a Witness?” I asked. “No,” he said.

“You see? Nothing to worry about. It’s just conversation. You’ll learn your way around the Bible in the meantime, if that is something you want. The moment you tire of it, just let me know. No one is easier to get rid of than Tommy. You almost have to beg him to stay.”

The anticult people try to spin it as “recruiting.” That’s why the outrage some have over the recent letter expressing condolences over someone’s loss. If they just took it at face value, they’d be okay with it. We should not let those scoundrels define the game.

Are we “recruiting?” I suppose so, but in the most non-threatening way possible, so that only by really stretching the point could we be said to be doing it. And it is not an immediate goal—telling the good news of the kingdom is.

I always explain my motive: “And this good news of the Kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come,” says Matthew 24:14. Who should be expected to do that other than those who have come to believe it? And no, it is not the end of the earth. But it is the end of the present “system of things.” Earth divvied up into a couple hundred eternally squabbling nations is not God’s idea, and the time will come when “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” I mean, presumably it all runs pretty well up there and God’s will rules the day, but it sure isn’t the case here, is it? That’s not to say that “God’s will” loses out each and every time, but it can hardly be said to be the norm, can it?

Jehovah’s Witnesses are “indoctrinating?” College is far more indoctrinating than anything having to do with Jehovah’s Witnesses. The typical student is separated 24/7 from his or her previous stabilizing routine and people—a classic tool of brainwashing.

(I didn’t actually go through the rehearsal with this kid. Our best lines always occur to us too late. But that does not mean that I won’t do it when the situation is right.)

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A Lot of Work to Syphon Out the Liars

As much as I hate "conspiracy" theories”

As near as I can tell, Jehovah’s Witnesses buy into conspiracy theories in no greater proportion than the general population. It is a little surprising, since they have become privy to the greatest conspiracy theory of all—that involving religion having deviated so far from its source

As for me, I find myself nibbling at the edges, and in some cases accepting them. If I follow anything on Twitter, I make a point also of following its polar opposite. Sometimes I find the polar opposite point of view to be represented much more persuasively than the common wisdom.

 

“...After a while, one can develop an entire framework of areas (and players) where such admissions happen more often than others. When the pattern of 1)position, 2)slip-up, and 3)method of backtracking to regain the original position becomes very predictable, then you are probably onto something trending toward truth.”

That’s a lot of work to syphon out the liars. 

That’s not to say it is not a good idea, nor that it is any more time-consuming than what I do. It is just that few people have that kind of time. Most people take news from one or two sources, often the evening TV news for people our age, and pretty well accept that they are being told the truth. Usually they are, but it is not “the whole truth and nothing but the truth”—which can completely turn things around.

At one pioneer meeting the elder conducting it was highlighting the importance of neutrality, and never to give the impression of taking sides. “Now we all know that Trump is crazy,” he said, “but.......” I would stake my life on it that his only source of news is the evening news of one of the three networks. 

I was relatively up in years before I discovered to my surprise that my (non-Witness) Dad cared hardly at all about politics. Many were the political discussions swirling around the dining room table, as I was growing up, when the extended family was gathered. However, it turned out that my Mom’s father was very much a GOP person and would crank on about it endlessly, and my Dad was just too gracious to tell him to zip it—it was his father-in-law, after all, who his wife liked.

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Letter Writing in the Ministry

There it is again. An experience of writing letters containing “some comfort from the Scriptures.” Here is from the recent Watchtower article on ‘Show Fellow Feeling in Your Ministry.’

A letter was well-received in this instance of a family whose child had died.

“‘I was having a horrible day yesterday,’ wrote the bereaved mother. ‘I don’t think you have any idea what impact your letter had on us. I can’t thank you enough or even begin to describe how much it meant to us. I must have read your letter at least 20 times yesterday. I just could not believe how kind, caring, and uplifting it was. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.’”

And to think that there are some malcontents who have all but popped a vein over things like this. Well, it would be a little odd to get such a letter out of nowhere, but most times it is seniors who write them—ones in poor health who don’t get around anymore as they once did. Ideally, this also gives then a certain empathy that a younger person might not have.

Look, it’s because the soreheads view it as “recruiting” that they have a cow over it. It isn’t. If you take it at face value, you’ll be fine. You may not frame it and hang it on the wall—more likely it will be tossed quite soon—but neither will the blood pressure soar.

I can’t quite recall whether I have ever done this or not. I don’t think so, but it is possible. What I do recall is that in the mid-seventies, when the Awake! devoted an entire issue to the subject of depression—back when the topic was seldom breached in public, as though it were something shameful—that I was so impressed with that issue that I sent a copy to all the psychiatrists in the phone book. One of them responded—to point out that his own research had been included in the magazine.

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Talk: (5 min. or less) w04 5/1 19-20 ¶3-7—Theme: How Were Certain Christians “a Strengthening Aid” to Paul? (Col 4:11, ftn.) (th study 7)

“I know several people who rose in their employment far beyond what their qualifications and education would have seemed to permit. When I investigated, I found that it was because they had deliberately made themselves indispensable. 

“Aw, man, I can’t believe I left my parchments at my apartment,” someone would say. He (or she) would volunteer to get it. “Rats, I left my cloak in the car,” another would say. “I’ll get it,” was his reply.

Of course, those are Bible examples from 2 Tim 4:13, the gist of such will be revisited presently. What they would actually volunteer for is some pain-in-the-neck spreadsheet that had to be done but nobody wanted to do it.

So it is that five obscure characters rose in the ranks in the apostle Paul’s eyes. “Only these are my fellow workers,” he says of Tychicus, Onesimus, Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus, almost as though they formed a cabal. He describes them as a “strengthening aid” (“source of great comfort” - 2013 NWT) and the Greek root word is peregoria, used only once in scripture, which generally has medicinal connotations, hence the two acceptable renderings. Going back several decades, there was the English ‘peregoric,’ an over-the-counter medicine. It had opium in it. It was good for whatever ailed you.

Paul comes across as almost superhuman in his endurance—recall Mark Sanderson at the Gilead gradation referring to the list at 2 Corinthians 11:23 and observing that just one of those experiences would have floored most of us—yet he surely could have used “strengthening” from time to time. Like when enemies try to pin the charge of ‘sedition’ on him—as they did with Jesus—as they have done with Jehovah’s people today—and, far from according him respect as a driving force of an important religion, dismiss him as a “pest” promoting a “sect.” (Acts 24:5)

If someone is described that way—especially if they are under (house) arrest, as was Paul—there is a tendency to keep one’s distance, lest the unsavory accusations rub off. If someone is charged with sedition, you think twice before you say, “That’s my buddy!” If someone is written off as a “pest,” you show whose esteem you are trying to court by whether you identify with that person or not.

Similarly, “they will say every sort of [wicked] thing about you,” Jesus says of his disciples. And ‘if you see how they treat me, then you know how they will treat you.’ (Matthew 5:11, John 15:20) There is a tendency to back away from anyone of whom “every sort of wicked thing” is said, and these five cabal Christians would not do it. It is hard not to think of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia right now. As some are being led off to courts andimprisonment, after having personal property confiscated, their brothers, far from laying low, are publicly identifying with them. There is even a scene somewhere of the friends clapping in the aftermath of a trial, as the “guilty” member is being led away. It plays a little odd from a distance, but the idea is to recognize and support those keeping integrity under trial. It is hardly just Russia, however. Everywhere “every sort of wicked thing” is said about Christians, affording ones opportunity to gather round or distance themselves.

Qualifications were not unreachable for those whom Paul would later recognize as a “strengthening aid,” or “source of great comfort”—just stick with him under censure and don’t run like a chicken. One of them even DID run like a chicken at one time (arguably) —Mark, but he later got his act together and identified with Paul in hard times—so if we are chickens, there is yet hope.

The others: “Tychicus, my beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow slave in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me. I am sending him to you so that you will know how we are and that he may comfort your hearts. He is coming along with Onesimus, my faithful and beloved brother, who is from among you; they will tell you all the things happening here.Aristarchus, my fellow captive, sends you his greetings, and so does Mark, the cousin of Barʹna·bas (concerning whom you received instructions to welcome him if he comes to you), and Jesus who is called Justus, who are of those circumcised. Only these are my fellow workers for the Kingdom of God, and they have become a source of great comfort to me.” (Colossians 4:7-11)

Tychicus made himself a conduit and a go-for. Onesimus is the former slave that the educated Paul hung out with—probably freed at his request, since his owner had also become a Christian. Aristarchus—all that is known about him is that he was a jailbird with Paul, and incurred the same slander. Mark, as mentioned, is the reformed chicken. Justus—virtually nothing is known about him. These are not high-profile people and their high praise as Christians is not unreachable for anyone.”

That is how I ended the talk, by observing that anyone could attain that status and that I hoped to be described that way myself someday.

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