One could wish that young people were better prepared for whenever they might stumble across sites derogatory of Witnesses—does any group have more anti-sites?—almost like a vaccinated person is better prepared for the plague once they encounter it. In an increasingly informational age, it becomes more and more likely that they will.
Should they hang out there? Obviously not. The one common feature of these sites is that they feature people hypercritical to the nth degree, relentlessly carrying on about complaints great and small. They are among the most unforgiving people on earth. Some will be foul, or even blasphemous, in addition. Not a place to hang your hat. Even counselors in the general world speak of the advisability of cutting off “toxic relationships.” ‘Rocks submerged beneath the surface ready to rip the bottom out of your faith,’ is how the Bible writer puts it.
But to think it absolutely taboo to go there may not serve young people very well either. In the event that they succumb to the most basic force of human nature—doing something because they have been advised not to—and are stumbled, there are barely any in the congregation who can help them because they don’t know what is there themselves. All they can say is: “Don’t go there!” Make no mistake, opposers are very skilled in turning that advice on its head. “Of course they don’t want you to go there!” they say, “they want to keep you in blinders!”
It is all very well to say it is like the bad devil with bad motive, quoting Genesis 3:5—“for God knows in the very day of your eating from it your eyes are bound to be opened!” but it is a tough sell. It is very easy to explain why ones ought to keep away from porn, from graphic violence, or from demonism. But from apostasy? “Are they wrong there?” some will say. “I’ll just go there to see what they are wrong about, and then I will set them straight.” Not all will reason this way. Not even most. But some will. After all, here they are advised to be bold with the Word at the door—for it is the all-powerful sword—but just the opposite than bold when it comes to ones who have rebelled and from there launch attacks on faith.
Getting a measured glimpse of these apostates for any so inclined, when there are ones who can talk them through whatever they may find, might almost be likened to lab class in school. See how some of the Bible themes play out—not just why people come into the faith—we surely know that—but why some leave. Let youngsters see, if they ask, how “Demas has forsaken me because he loved the present system of things.” Let them see how some have left “because they were not of our sort.” Let them see what happens when people do not take the rafter out of their own eye but focus on the straws of others. Let them see that mistakes can be made by old and young alike—it was certainly true in the first century—why should it not be true today? The trick is not to sanitize the present—it is to desanitize the past.
Will that happen anytime soon? Or at all? And should it? Who can say? It doesn’t seem likely. Counsel to avoid apostates is well-supported scripturally—Matthew 11, for starters. The ones overseeing take on the role of the fine shepherd—they see the wolf coming and they beat it off, holding the sheep out of harm’s way as they do so.
Still, in view of the poor track record with significant numbers of the young—granted that the young everywhere are less enamored with faith than prior generations—maybe they will someday reassess to consider it a matter of degree. Surely, as ones who had “received the Law but have not kept it,” the Pharisees could be described as apostate. Could Jesus’ own manner of dealing with them be looked to as an example? He certainly didn’t seek them out. Nor did he argue with them when they approached to trap or attack. He wasn’t especially nice to them, really, though he always left open a way of return for any wanting to take it.
I’d just as soon the young never run across the malcontents at all. But they do. And being totally unprepared and unfortified—something that could be effectively addressed but so far has not been—some stumble and there barely anyone able to help.