Jehovah’s Witnesses immediately transferred all gatherings to Zoom and gave counsel to observe government-recommended COVID social distancing. Now, “often for economic reasons,” some States are opening up. Does the JW support organization have any direction for its members?
Yes. Their letter was read a week ago. Kingdom Halls themselves would remain closed until further notice. The house-to-house ministry and the ‘cart work’ would also remain suspended. But otherwise, as to resuming normal life at whatever pace, it was for each family head to decide. The letter specifically stated that what was good for one family might not be good for another family. Family heads were best in position to oversee their own—there would be no overriding instruction on that point from the Christian organization.
Almost immediately I saw signs of a “tier-system” opening up. Certain ones began carrying on as though that—yes, there had been a concession to ‘weak’ Christians who preferred to risk life “for economic reasons,” but mature Christians would realize the fallacy of that and continue to hunker down. The adjectives were not used, mind you—‘weak’ and ‘mature’—I am the one who threw them in. The words were not stated—that was just the overall tone.
‘The letter didn’t say that,’ I said to one such person over Zoom. It implied no judgment whatsoever upon anyone following one course or the other—it was strictly a matter of each family head deciding what was in the best interests of his or her family, and his decision was not to be second-guessed. Everyone present had worked at some point in their lives and in every case it was “for economic reasons.” It’s not a dirty word.
This kind of thing drives me nuts. It even prompted a post before on which I didn’t follow through about when something is said to be a ‘conscience matter’—does that mean that it is described that way because it really is? Or does it mean that to God there clearly is a right and a wrong course to take, but he will cut those of weak faith some slack—after all, we don’t all have to reach maturity all at once, and since there is no crime in being ‘weak,’ He will throw them a bone—was it that way? I didn’t follow through on the post because a certain ‘apostate’ idiot immediately jumped in to harangue over who is anyone to say what is a ‘conscience matter’ and what is not—and then I got distracted by something else, but now I come back to it.
I see it developing in all manner of choices—the unstated view, even sometimes when just the opposite has been stated—that there IS a right and a wrong and the difference is that the mature people will choose the right, but God will not hold it against the weak people for choosing the wrong, because that is what weak people do. Really?
When that Watchtower Study article that contained a single paragraph—updating or clarifying or whatever it did—Witness’s attitudes (in the U.S) on beards (they are an unremarkable fact of life in some parts of the world), and I even heard of one congregation that devoted most of the study to that one paragraph—what, were they nuts?—if it’s 1/20th of the article, it should take roughly 1/20th of the time—afterwards a common attitude was: ‘Well, okay, we won’t make a fuss if anyone ‘weak’ has a beard—but they’ll never be appointed!’ The paragraph didn’t say that. That was added by persons of already strong opinion.
For all that is said about the earthly organization being the lightning-speed chariot that zigzags so quickly as to make a quantum particle envious, and the congregations ought to be likewise, at times they are like the supertanker that takes ten miles to alter course. It depends upon what is the issue.
What is it that makes people that way? It has nothing to do with Jehovah’s Witnesses specifically—it is an attribute of persons in groups. Of science, Max Planck said: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” Someone rephrased it to: “Science advances one funeral at a time.”
No wonder people get fed up with organization. If it is lightning-like in some areas, it is glacier-like in others. Chalk it up to what Paul said about the Christian ministry. It was a ‘treasure,’ however it was a treasure carried in earthen vessels—us—earthen vessels with many a flaw, as is the nature of ‘earthen’ vessels. You can lodge a complaint to God about it, I suppose. The trouble is that God will reply: “Well, you’re no great shakes yourself. You’ll just have to get along the best you can.” We are social beings—created that way. Therefore, God gives us a social organization to supplement and augment a relationship with Him, which we would be nuts to forsake. But it is not perfect, and those who expect it to be so are inevitably disillusioned.
I see it—a tier system— with regard to Jehovah’s Witnesses stand on blood transfusions.* They decline them. They avoid the four main components of blood—red cells, white cells, platelets, and plasma—since gone are the days where whole bags of blood are suspended over the patient. But science marches on and new treatments are developed in which only the tiniest component of blood exists—fractions, they are called. Is this ‘blood’ or not? HQ figured that different people will see it in different ways—therefore, they were not going to touch it—it is a ‘conscience matter’ as people prioritize principles that do not necessarily harmonize.
I made up my mind in two minutes, based on the following ‘principles,’ which will not be the overriding ones for all:
1) You can’t serve God when you’re dead.
2) When you bleed an animal, not every microscopic drop of blood comes out.
3) You shouldn’t have to master microbiology to be a faithful Christian.
4) If they can’t figure it out, neither can I
5) It’s not a cake until you mix the ingredients.
It works for me. I mean, I’ll talk it out for any proposed treatment that comes down the pipe on an as-needed basis, but in general, these five do it for me.
Now, for the most part, I don’t know what is the stand of other congregation members. Since it a matter of conscience, it is not something that people advertise. But I detect another ‘tier system’ developing—and I could be wrong for lack of data—of ones who consider themselves mature because they would reject the tiniest atom in blood, as they think, ‘Isn’t it nice that Jehovah mercifully cuts the weak ones some slack?’ Again—it drives me nuts. Is it that way or not?
The last circuit assembly went a long long way in answering that nagging question for me—in fact, it put it to bed once and far all. Brother Henry, the C.O was discussing entertainment, and he posed the question of ‘What would you think upon learning that some friends had gone in for some form of entertainment that you had rejected, having judged it morally objectionable?’
He said—and please write this down: “Given the exact same scenario, spiritually minded people can make different decisions, so in this case, you don’t mind ‘minding your own business.’” It was part of a discussion in which the greater context was counsel on how not to use conscience to stumble others—brothers can talk about this subject till the cows come home. Typically, they illustrate it with abstaining from the alcohol you might otherwise consume on account of the new person (or alcoholic) that might be stumbled by it. There are perhaps a dozen other areas in which you wish they might go to apply the verses, but they are all mine fields, and so they are tread on gingerly, if at all.
Maybe it is all these brothers who think it is the bee’s knees to imitate what they do at Bethel. Bethel hardly discourages that view. At times, they recommend it. But they have also stated that the large population of the Bethel ‘family’ in combination with its specialized purpose, makes numerous rules appropriate, far more rules than would be the case for an actual family outside of Bethel—where most families are. Okay, got it. We take whatever they do as a good example, for specialized circumstances, and not as template to be enforced upon every family—though there are many Witnesses that go that way and ‘guilt’ those that do not.
Brother Henry nailed it for me, however. I think I will make his statement my year text for the next decade or so: “Given the exact same scenario, spiritually minded people can make different decisions.”
*As to avoidance of transfusion, the best evidence of spiritual justification lies in a statement more than 400 years old. When the first rudimentary blood transfusion experiments were performed, Professor of Anatomy at the University of Copenhagen, Thomas Bartholin (1616-80), objected. His concern was not on scientific grounds but on spiritual:
“Those who drag in the use of human blood for internal remedies of diseases appear to misuse it and to sin gravely,” he wrote. “Cannibals are condemned. Why do we not abhor those who stain their gullet with human blood? Similar is the receiving of alien blood from a cut vein, either through the mouth or by instruments of transfusion. The authors of this operation are held in terror by the divine law, by which the eating of blood is prohibited.”
The only people I know of who still have regard for this aspect of “divine law” are Jehovah’s Witnesses. If there were others, (and judging from Bartholin’s comment, there must have been) they abandoned it when transfusions were adopted by the medical mainstream.
The persons who risk being stumbled are described in verse as those who are new, also those who are weak but weak primarily because they are new. You tread carefully on account of those persons, so as not to damage them. I understand that.
They are also unbelievers who will draw wrong conclusions from what we do or do not do, so we modify our activity within reason so as to cater to them.
But sometimes Witnesses apply those verses to situations in which I think you really have to stretch them to apply. They are applied it to persons who have been in the truth forever, who have had plenty of time to grow up, but have not done so, and who stick their noses into other’s people’s business and promptly become offended. Cater to too many people like that and pretty soon you are afraid to do anything for fear of what some opinionated person will think. It is a significant source of the ‘burning within you’ that afflicts some in the congregations.
There is nothing more ridiculous (nor a worse witness) than brothers trying to make the internet behave as though it were the congregation. See them warn each other that so-and-so may not be in good standing, or may even be DFed. They don’t realize how that reads to anyone not a Witness? Once you go outside counsel (given to youths, but the thought is that if it is good for youths, it probably is not bad for adults) to ‘friend’ only those you personally know—which everyone here does—you’re on your own. ‘They’re ALL liars,’ is my opening assumption, until they prove themselves otherwise—and since they are but digital bits, they can never pass that test 100%