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 appeared beforehand. “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 human 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—the latter 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 occasion! 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 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 supplies the best explanation for his plight that it can come up with: “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 he 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 his 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, as 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 up front 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 all bases are already adequately covered—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 when 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—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, as do Jehovah’s Witnesses. His is a humble line of work, as is generally true of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Amos knows what 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. Now hear the word of the LORD,” he replies to the lofty one.16 They are humble people, those who God selects, not the bombastic bigwigs who love to hog the stage. Is it an absurd play that herdsmen are the central actors? Yes. But just because something is absurd does not mean it is not true. 

Enemies make trouble for Jehovah’s Witnesses and 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 lead publicly and running in 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

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 doesn’t know what the other is doing?’ Is it internal discord within the government? It is nothing this writer can figure out. Adding a note of further irony, Ms. Narusova’s husband, during his lifetime, was 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

The favorable decision toward the Witnesses took 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 said it was not, but in 2013, they said it was. 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 who 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, and 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 between the two World Wars, during which the major Christian faiths played major supporter roles on both sides.24

Who is it among Witnesses who said: “You should strive for truth and tact. But if you have to sacrifice one, sacrifice tact.”? 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 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. But Witnesses try. The goose of human rulership is indeed cooked. The training to preach is in place. 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. It does not come naturally. The average Witness is an average person, not given to diplomacy, 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 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 declared he was not that way at all. 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’ 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 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 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 traveled all over, 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 despite the foreign owners in New York having 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 perpetrated. 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 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 it is a translation of the Bible? Witness attorneys asked. 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.

***

  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”
  1. 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
  2. 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...
  3. “Pure Worship Under Attack,” JW Broadcasting, accessed March 27, 2018, https://tv.jw.org/#en/mediaitems/pub-jwb_201801_12_VIDEO
  4. 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.

 

 

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)

Statecraft

The year 1962 nearly brought nuclear war to the world. America armed Turkey and Italy, but then discovered the Soviet Union doing the same in Cuba. The U.S. declared it would board approaching ships so as to stop that from happening.

Nikita Khrushchev is remembered in the West as the hothead who pounded his U.N. desk with his removed shoe and, on another occasion, bellowed: “We will bury you!”  He meant economically, but the media liked sound bites then no less than now. Was it his telegram that saved the day? At the John F Kennedy Presidential Library is the 2700-word telegram he sent to JFK, dated October 26, 1962.

 

Dear Mr. President:

I have received your letter of October 25. From your letter, I got the feeling that you have some understanding of the situation which has developed and (some) sense of responsibility. I value this.

…Everyone needs peace: both capitalists, if they have not lost their reason, and, still more, Communists….War is our enemy and a calamity for all the peoples….I have participated in two wars and know that war ends when it has rolled through cities and villages, everywhere sowing death and destruction.

…Mr. President, do you really seriously think that Cuba can attack the United States and that even we together with Cuba can attack you from the territory of Cuba? Can you really think that way? How is it possible? We do not understand this….You can regard us with distrust, but, in any case, you can be calm in this regard, that we are of sound mind and understand perfectly well that if we attack you, you will respond the same way…

We, however, want to live and do not at all want to destroy your country. We want something quite different: To compete with your country on a peaceful basis. We quarrel with you, we have differences on ideological questions. But our view of the world consists in this, that ideological questions, as well as economic problems, should be solved not by military means, they must be solved on the basis of peaceful competition,

If there is no intention to tighten that knot and thereby to doom the world to the catastrophe of thermonuclear war, then let us not only relax the forces pulling on the ends of the rope, let us take measures to untie that knot. We are ready for this….There, Mr. President, are my thoughts, which, if you agreed with them, could put an end to that tense situation which is disturbing all peoples. These thoughts are dictated by a sincere desire to relieve the situation, to remove the threat of war.

 

The superpowers came close. Perhaps it was Khrushchev’s telegram that averted catastrophe. Both sides removed missiles and the U.S. promised not to invade Cuba again. We “lucked out,” wrote The Week magazine, commenting on the telegram. Pundits will squabble till the end of time as to who was the worst villain or the best hero. It is in the eye of the beholder.

The little people ever want to get along but the greater interests thwart it. The 1966 movie The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming! featured for plotline a Russian submarine stranded off the New England coast. Before chieftains of the West could assume evil intent and retaliate, townspeople, who had taken a liking to the Russians, came to the rescue. They surrounded the sub with every yacht, sailboat, and dingy they could muster to escort the Russians out to sea and out of danger.

Marooned, a 1969 movie, strands American astronauts in space in a crippled spacecraft. All efforts to save them come to naught until Russian cosmonauts come along and haul them onboard their own craft. The air-starved Americans don’t know what is going on and try to fend off their rescuers, but in the end, everything works out for the best.

On the other hand, when filmmaker Oliver Stone showed the satirical Dr. Strangelove to Putin, apparently sneaking glances to see whether Putin would like it, it seemed pretty clear that he didn’t. Russian leaders are portrayed as buffoonish in that movie, though not villains. They were portrayed as villains when Students Wildly Indignant over Nearly Everything (S.W.I.N.E—from the comic strip Li’l Abner) effusively met the invading Russian General as he was striding ashore from his transport ship, and the first thing the general did was to kick all their behinds, seemingly for the sheer reason that he was mean. When the cartoonist had Russia send over their skilled negotiator Coldfinger during the 1970s period of detente, a period that cartoonist distrusted, he proved so skilled at negotiating that the Americans were soon stripped of their clothes and were reduced to wearing barrels.

At Brooklyn Bethel, they likely didn’t see the movies—they don’t do movies much there—but who could miss Li’l Abner, at one time in 900 daily newspapers? Even those who don’t keep up with politics—and that is Bethel—find it hard to resist the funnies.

Notwithstanding a few films, in dozens of tiny ways, and in some big ones, Russia is portrayed as the villain in the U.S. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we actually got along with Russia?” Trump asked during the 2016 campaign, tacitly acknowledging that the U.S. doesn’t. Despite his sentiments and despite his election, U.S.-Russian relations are worse than ever, more mistrustful than even during Cold War times. A 2017 Levada Center poll revealed 68% of Russians consider the United States a threat.1 Putin recently introduced the next generation of nuclear weapons and suggested his countrymen name them. One popular submission was: ‘Goodbye America.’2

It is hard not to absorb something of the culture in which you live, for it is the air you breathe. If anyone can do it, it is Watchtower headquarters, which is in most respects a world unto its own. They follow politics to an astonishingly small degree. Slate.com accurately reflected the reason, in stating “They don’t vote because they are ‘representatives of God’s heavenly kingdom,” it wrote in 2008. “For the same reason, they don’t run for public office, serve in the military, or even pledge allegiance the flag,” though the pledge issue is more about avoiding idolatry, per the first of the Ten Commandments, as it is about neutrality.3

Nations are represented by their ambassadors, and the Bible presents believers that way. They represent their nation, God’s kingdom, before others. An ambassador is not to become involved in the politics of his host nation. His role is to represent his own nation. “So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God,” writes the apostle to the Corinthian congregation.4

An organization must be based somewhere, and, despite its best efforts, it can pick up the lingo of the host country. One slip-up—say, one reference to the ‘iron curtain,’ in those ultra-suspicious Soviet times, was to fuel distrust.5 ‘How can they be neutral?’ the Russian government grumbled. ‘It’s not an iron curtain at all. It’s a protective border.’ Surely, the Witnesses were a political movement disguised as a religion, they concluded—a suspicion that ran deep in the Cold War period and still remains. There’s bad blood between the governments of the U.S. and Russia. It is long-standing, resulting in Soviet suspicion about any religion headquartered in America.

A plain indication of the Witnesses’ neutrality is found in the Watchtower article considered at meetings in early July of 2017. The topic under discussion was how to give aid of a spiritual and practical sort, to refugees. “Listen patiently to their concerns, but do not discuss politics,” the magazine counseled.6 If ever it was understandable to talk politics, it would be with those who have so recently suffered at its hands, yet it is a topic Witnesses are to avoid as they pursue kingdom interests.

When you set up shop in a new country, you find out what the king wants, and then you do it. Usually that suffices to keep both you and him happy. Usually, all he wants are things having to do with public order, which you also want. You go about your necessary business in the new country, modifying it where necessary to avoid misunderstandings. If the king there intrudes upon what are ‘God’s things,’ matters of worship, then you must take a stand, but in most cases, he does not. Even when he does, you don’t ‘take a stand’ in the form of confrontation. Political protest is just not something Witnesses do. Even Chistyakov releasing his fiery album sought to explain it was not that.

As already discussed, the book God’s Kingdom Rules was considered at Witness meetings throughout 2017, as the Russian ban first threatened and then was realized. Besides the high court cases related in chapter 3, it relates many bans that Jehovah’s Witnesses have faced in many parts of the world. In Australia, during the years of World War II, “Witnesses were unable to meet or preach openly. Bethel operations were closed down, and Kingdom Halls were seized. Merely possessing our Bible literature was prohibited. After operating in secret for several years, the Australian Witnesses found relief at last.”7 “You see?” a local Witness commented at a meeting, “nothing changed.” The brothers continued to operate. They simply had to do it ‘in secret,’ which was inconvenient, but the ban didn’t negate God’s command of exclusive devotion. They had to forge ahead at greater-than-normal human cost until the country’s High Court reversed the ban. One Russian brother even said that a ban in his country might be a good thing in a spiritual sense, in that it would prod all into vigilance and bring into stark relief just who is on God’s side and who isn’t.

Though it may seem a technicality, Jehovah’s Witnesses are not banned in Russia. The Russian constitution guarantees freedom of worship and the government has not forgotten that. Misunderstanding the nature of Christian worship, or deliberately redefining it, what is liquidated are the legal instruments that Witnesses use—the instruments that, in the eyes of the government, constitute ties to a headquarters outside the Russian border. They are suspicious of that. It is as though to say: ‘Nobody is saying you can’t drive your Chevy, but why do you need to keep ties to General Motors in Detroit? Yuri’s Auto Repair down the street will do just fine. If he doesn’t have just the exact part, he can improvise. That way everything is safely and agreeably Russian.’

An organization to ensure worldwide unity is an essential component of Witnesses’ spiritual life. Without it, they know they eventually devolve into a hodgepodge of loose cannons each with his own personal relationship with God, each a part of this world in various respects. They become divided along national lines, and the national king inevitably persuades them that he is the hero and his counterpart overseas is the scoundrel. Soon they are further divided along internal political lines. Soon to follow are social lines, racial lines, and economic lines. The way to prevent this is with a centralized overseeing organization. There should be no “divisions among you,” Paul wrote to the Corinthians, adding “that you may be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.”8

He goes on to liken the congregation to the organization of the human body. “Now the body is not a single part, but many. If a foot should say ‘Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,’ it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. Or if an ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,’ it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended.”9

The ruling of the Russian court would place those body parts differently. The ones happening to be in Russia would be divided from the rest of the body. But God wills “that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it.”10 This explains the letter-writing campaign, eagerly participated in by Witnesses the world over, started with but a single invitation from the Witness organization. The government today pursues policies so that Jehovah’s Witnesses will not band together. It wants them as independent individuals, who can thereby never get out of hand. It wants to dictate terms to them and see those terms adhered to. God is a fine Person, they acknowledge, so long as He remembers He is Russian.

 

Mr. Putin knows what it is for people to be divided. He thereby will understand Jehovah’s Witnesses’ lamentation over ones who would divide them. Speaking with American interviewer Charlie Rose, Putin stated: “I indeed said that I believe that the collapse of the USSR was a huge tragedy of the 20th century. You know why?”

Charlie Rose: “Why?”

“Because, first of all, in an instant 25 million Russian people found themselves beyond the borders of the Russian state, although they were living within the borders of the Soviet Union. Then, all of a sudden, the USSR collapsed—just overnight, in fact. And it's turned out that in the former Soviet Republics—25 million Russian people were living. They were living in a single country. And all of a sudden, they turned out to be outside the borders of the country. You see this is a huge problem. First of all, there were everyday problems, the separation of families, social problems, economic problems. You can’t list them all. Do you think it’s normal that 25 million Russian people were abroad all of a sudden? Russia was the biggest divided nation in the world. It’s not a problem? Well, maybe not for you. But it’s a problem for me.”11

He understands the tragedy of division. He will understand Russian Witnesses’ tragedy. With regard to his nation’s effort to divide Jehovah’s Witnesses, the latter might mirror his words back to him: “It’s not a problem? Well, maybe not for you. But it’s a problem for me.” He is essentially saying: ‘Religions don’t count; political nations do.’ Jehovah’s Witnesses, the religion, may seem to stretch the definition of nation a bit, yet they are a nation more so than most physical nations. They are a nation of persons united in spiritual outlook, purpose and cooperation, a nation in which every member is concerned over the welfare of every other member. “Open up the gates that a righteous nation may enter, one that keeps faith,” says Isaiah.12 They regard themselves as that nation.

Putin is like Russian Witnesses in that both love the land of their birth, just as Witnesses elsewhere ever maintain a warm spot in their heart for where they came from. In this regard, individual patriotism is noble. Collectively, however, patriotism transforms into nationalism and is just one more tool of the Devil to divide people. God wants to unite his people. It is not his fine idea that the earth should be carved up into 200 squabbling sub-divisions. To forbid God from uniting his people is an attempt to thwart him. He doesn’t like it. His people are not able to abide by it. They know that illustration of the congregation being like the human body and they also know that it is not to be borne to have an arm cut off.

Secular persons can usually see that neutrality is no threat, especially once they realize that there are just as many neutral Jehovah’s Witnesses on the other side as they are on theirs. If they fight here, they will fight there. Must everyone fight? Is there no room anywhere for anyone to take a pass? Khrushchev had “participated in two wars and [knew] that war ends when it has rolled through cities and villages, everywhere sowing death and destruction.” How can it be so terrible if ones decide to sit it out?

A common bit of wisdom handed to me as a boy in America was that every generation has a war to fight. As a child, my classmates and I ducked under our school desks during air-raid drills, where we were told to clasp our hands behind our necks to guard against ‘flying glass.’ With a child’s imagination, I pictured glass flying as though with wings, searching for children to slash. Generational war was then portrayed as a rite of passage, a part of growing into adulthood—only afterwards could your credentials as an adult be verified—once you had proven yourself. It was as much a constant of life as was the Junior Prom, then the Senior Ball, and might well follow just as quickly—several of my graduating class died the next year in Vietnam.  Our grandfathers fought World War I, our fathers World War II, our older brothers the Korean War, and for us it was the war in Vietnam.

It wasn’t clear for the latter wars why anyone should go. There was a boiler-plate line dispensed to all about how the communists invaded one country after another and would topple them like dominoes—it was actually called the domino theory. It remains an example of how the media of any nation spins stories to fit their own narrative. RT.com, gaining in popularity in the States, is lambasted by some as being a source of Russian propaganda. ‘It is from Russia—people take that into account,’ the site says, shrugging off criticism. I like RT.com. I like the China People’s Daily. I like U.S. news sources, both conservative and liberal. By following them all, and not just the home team, one can hope to approximate an overall sense of current events.

Only through studying the Bible did I become aware of a greater cause: allegiance to God’s kingdom, that was a morally consistent ‘out’ for taking part in whatever war was going on at the moment, with no damage done to the country. If all of Jehovah’s Witnesses were to fight, they would simply cancel each other out. Why don’t they all sit it out instead and focus on what they are good at? I have at times asked to hear stories of military service from old-timers I come across in my ministry. They are old, and no one wants to hear their old stories. So I do. I will listen with all earnestness. Who cannot respect a person who puts his life on the line for a cause he believes in? I can genuinely respect his loyalty to country. However, I also must note that were he anywhere else, he would be equally loyal to another country.

My father was but a farmboy when he went to fight in the second world war. When they found he could fix tractors, they stationed him in a motor pool in the Philippines and made him a sergeant. The closest he ever came to combat was when a lieutenant wanted to draft his whole crew to fight off a Japanese incursion somewhere on the island. Pop told him to forget it—where would the army be without jeeps?  Decades later, killing time in a small New York town, he and I came upon its war memorial in the village square. All the town’s war dead were carved into stone. Many small towns have such memorials. Pop was troubled. “They shouldn’t do this.” he said. “It just glorifies it.”

He would have agreed with the historian Sir Max Hastings: “Having spent most of my life studying wars, my respect is very great for all those who take part in them and for what some wars have achieved for the rest of us. By their nature, conflicts bring out the very best and the worst in human beings. Writing books about them [he was promoting his] means studying both how low mankind can fall and how high it can rise. ‘The Glorious Dead’—it is the sort of phrase that all nations have to write on their memorials. Otherwise you’d never get anyone to go to war again,” he says.13 Yes. Carve the names into memorials to ensure a steady stream of participants.

The last soldier of World War I from France, Lazare Ponticelli, was 110 years of age when he died. Some things he had never figured out, such as why he had been fighting in the first place. Or why his enemy had, for that matter. Of course, he knew the reasons supplied by leaders, but how did it ever get so human—a worldwide slaughter that took the lives of 14 million? “One of the paradoxes of 1914 is that in every country huge numbers of people, of all parties, creeds and blood, seem, surprisingly, to have gone willingly and happily to war,” states British historian John Roberts.14 Their later reflections would be different. “More than anything, [Ponticelli] was appalled that he had been made to fire on people he didn’t know and to whom he, too, was a stranger. They were fathers of children. He had no quarrel with them.”15

Hermann Goering, the German Air Force leader from the next World War understood these things quite well: “Why of course the people don’t want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don’t want war neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”16

Do not think it is easy to resist the “leaders of the country who determine the policy.” It is these who form the backdrop of popular thinking, the unconscious elements that everyone draws from. The contemporary “follow your inner voice” philosophy is but sloganeering which works splendidly when times are easy and fails utterly when they are hard. Nationalism has proven more than equal to the task of molding inner voices. Wisdom from on high, on the other hand, will enable one to withstand, perhaps wisdom that has been forged with Jesus words: “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”17 If ever there was a reason to unsheathe the sword, it was in order to deliver Jesus from death. Surely, if you don’t do it there, you don’t do it anywhere.

During that second World War, there were only two major faiths in Nazi Germany: the Roman Catholic Church and a union of Protestant churches known as the ‘German Evangelical Church.’18 If even one of those faiths had stood up to Hitler as did Jehovah’s Witnesses, might the war have never occurred, with its 60 million casualties? Is this what Revelation means when it blames Babylon the Great, that conglomeration of unfaithful religion, for not only the blood of the prophets and the holy ones, but for all who have been slain on the earth?19 The slain prophets and holy ones slain are acts of commission, but the far more numerous third group represents a staggering act of omission: the failure to train members in ways of peace. Only Jehovah’s Witnesses and a handful of other tiny faiths observe those ways.  

60 million casualties! Even were we to multiply the supposed count of Witnesses who are alleged to have died refusing blood transfusion20 by a factor of hundreds, the product would be but an infinitesimal amount compared to the lives saved, theirs and that of those they might target, by declining war participation. As much as this world carries on about the value of life, if the cause is right, it will mow them down by the millions. If it deems the cause not right, one is too many.

Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) was among the first to break ranks during my youth. “No Viet Cong never called me nigger”21 he declared and refused the draft into the Vietnam war. Exactly. What quarrel did he have with persons halfway around the globe? If the kings of the earth couldn’t get along, how did that become his problem? His real enemy was elsewhere. Ali didn’t go to jail—he won his case on appeal22—but he was stripped of his Heavyweight Title and lost several years boxing. There is a price to be paid to sit out the war that the world leaders would funnel you into. The price is especially steep when, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, you not only sit out war but also the substitute civilian activity that is clearly designed to support the war. As for me, had I not become a Witness when I did, perhaps I would have been shipped out of Vietnam in a box for a cause history judges not especially noble—for I could not then, nor now, scrap like Mohammed Ali.

 

Most wars are ambiguous. Though the victors write history, a case can usually be made for the other side. World War II is an exception. To this day, those who would defend the defeated side can be fit, relatively speaking, into a thimble. Yet even in this theater the Christian consciences of Jehovah’s Witnesses moved them to decline participation. Victor Blackwell defended many American Witness youths in the local courts of that time. Almost always the punishment for declining military service was prison, usually delivered with some heat, such as: “I sentence you to five years in a federal prison to be approved by the Attorney General. My only regret, you yellow coward, is that I cannot give you twenty five years!”23 Blackwell writes of an exception to this rule, in which he said:

“May it please the Court, even though my client is in truth a minister of Jehovah, yet he could not meet the strict criteria for the Act for the ministerial exemption, as the Act has been constructed by the Supreme Court. I shall therefore not impose upon the Court’s time and patience by asserting a defense which my client and I both recognize as untenable before the law. However, I would like to make a brief statement in mitigation of the sentence of this Court.

“The defendant here was accorded the conscientious objector status, which he had claimed….The tender and delicate conscience of this youth, trained in the Holy Word of God, would not permit him to accept the civilian work. Much as he did not like to disobey the board order, he could not and would not disobey the more binding order of his conscience. It was not a matter of ‘defying the law,’ but of responding to what he earnestly believed to be the “Law of God.”

The judge ordered the young man released. It almost never happened. Blackwell writes: “The federal prosecutor was flabbergasted. He had told me before trial he had a foolproof case….Ironically, this prosecutor had told me in connection with previous cases tried with him: ‘It is most distasteful for me to prosecute and send these fine, clean young men to prison. They are the finest specimens of youth I have ever seen. If it were left up to me, I’d throw every one of these files sent to me in the wastebasket.’ Yet, through the years, for a quarter century, he continued such prosecution. In later years, he became bitter and hostile toward them.”24

With regard to another young client sentenced, Blackwell writes: “He served one year and was paroled. The final parole report said of him: ‘as was anticipated [he has] made an excellent adjustment under supervision….He is a Jehovah’s Witness and is active in church activities. His prognosis is excellent.’ With perhaps negligible exceptions (though I am aware of none), this is the kind of final probation report filed in the cases of the many thousands of other American citizens who paid a dear price for keeping an unblemished conscience.”25

Blackwell also defended a young man in military court, who became a Witness while enlisted. He writes: “The judge was more than fair-minded and impartial. He was gracious, both to the youngster and his counsel. He permitted the most extensive questioning of the accused by his own counsel and army counsel. The youth was allowed to explain in the most complete manner the causes and reasons which impelled him to sever his relations with the army. His skillful use and handling of the Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit, was most impressive to the judge and all others present at the hearing.” Council for the army did not insist upon his being kept in the service, and the judge subsequently said: “I have known many of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their sincerity, as with this young man here, is beyond all questioning. The earnestly believe that they have a higher mission than serving their country in the military, commendable as that is….Their scruples here should be respected. I do not have the authority to discharge you, young man. However, I direct the authorities here to put through a request to Washington for your early release.” The release order came through within a reasonable time, the young fellow was discharged, and has since been devoting a large measure of his time to the ministry as one of Jehovah’s Christian Witnesses.”26

The foregoing is the same ancient pattern playing out in modern times. “A careful review of all the information available goes to show that, until the time of Marcus Aurelius [121-180 C.E.], no Christian became a soldier; and no soldier, after becoming a Christian, remained in military service,” states one source.27 “It will be seen presently that the evidence for the existence of a single Christian soldier between 60 and about 165 A.D. is exceedingly slight….Up to the reign of Marcus Aurelius at least, no Christian would become a soldier after his baptism,” states another.28 “The behavior of the Christians was very different from that of the Romans … Since Christ had preached peace, they refused to become soldiers,” states yet another.29 “It was impossible that the Christians, without renouncing a more sacred duty, could assume the character of soldiers, of magistrates, or of princes,” states a fourth.30 The legal price to pay is usually substantial, but there is no wiggle room in which to wiggle.

In modern times, some governments have proved progressive (and some haven’t)—willing to substitute neutral civilian service for military service. Taiwan instituted such a program in 2000. Kou-Enn Lin, director general of the program, recommends it to other nations during an interview with a Witness representative. Approved applicants to the system are assigned sites such as hospitals, government offices, nursing homes; there are sixteen possible venues. It’s not “very light work,” Kou-Enn makes clear, because the purpose is to substitute for, not exempt from, military service. It is a win-win, he maintains, and he cites figures to indicate a satisfaction rate of 90-97% among the agencies to which applicants are assigned. The greater goals of religious people are to serve, he says. They fit right in and need no discipline; they attack their work with enthusiasm. “At one time we had a situation where there were people with religious conscience in jail and people with little conscience outside of jail. Resolving this contradiction shows our respect for human rights.”31

He concludes with: “It’s good to have a system in parallel with regular military service as an alternative. That’s the solution. The results and benefits exceeded what we expected. Human rights, religious suppression; all of these things can be resolved. I really hope other counties will come and draw lessons from our experience.”32

 

The general world of churches tends to accept the world’s division of people into myriad nations as a God-given reality. They pray to God to bless it, particularly the section in which they live. Jehovah’s Witnesses say it is all from the Devil—it is his idea, not God’s. That’s not to say that human leaders operating therein have evil intent. More often than not they are conscious of a responsibility to govern and provide for the public good. If the system allows for it they stay as long as possible, for one cannot provide such governing from the outside looking in. As though students of Newtonian physics, they seek to remove friction so that the object in motion (themselves) will stay in motion. There is no need to bad-mouth anyone. Has Putin amassed money while in office? American politicians do no less. They come in poor and they leave wealthy. They come in wealthy and they leave wealthier.33 The current president is one of the few who go against the pattern. He comes in wealthy and has seen his financial interests suffer, as he takes no salary and sees opposers boycott the family business.

The worst problem leaders may inflict comes when they decide that they can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. It primarily then becomes a problem for the eggs, not the leaders themselves. Unfortunately for Witnesses, even though they strive to be ‘good eggs’ as people, they are still eggs. Political leaders don’t reliably look into spiritual matters and many take it ill that human government should be described as Satanic—never mind that all governments are described that way and not just theirs.

Witnesses say what they say because the Bible says it. The gospel of Luke relates how Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and offers him headship for simply an act of worship. Jesus rejects the offer, but not the premise that the kingdoms are the Devil’s to offer. It has been that way from the rebellion of Eden. That is not to say Christians disobey the governments, for until his purpose is realized, they exist as a stopgap measure. They build the roads. The deliver the mail. Woe to the people where anarchy prevails. Even an abusive government is better than that.34

In a sense, if you want a certain policy to take place, then you must side with the party promising it. One can hardly vote for one party and then complain that the policies of the other are not taking place. If you want righteous conditions realized earth-wide, reason the Witnesses, then you must ‘vote’ for the party that has such in its Bible platform. You cannot vote for the party that has never managed to bring it about. You must vote for the party that has given evidence that it can deliver. Of course, you also must wait until inauguration day.

Alas, Witnesses are not diplomats who ever so gracefully sidestep subjects unpalatable. They crash into them head-on, worried not about being blunt. Accuse them of ‘watering down’ the Word and they double down just so that there should be no misunderstanding. Still, these days they are careful to point out that while the system is of the Devil, that is not to imply that the players therein have horns. They have not always stated matters so delicately. For they ham-fistedly call a spade a spade. They decline to pussyfoot around, as do some who manage to convey the muddled impression that a spade is really just a misunderstood heart, a club with poor self-esteem, or a ‘diamond in the rough.’

If you try to ‘expose’ the faults of the king, he gets mad. Keep out of his way, and usually you’ll do fine. In all lands it is: ‘Ask the king his ground rules for maintaining public order, and then do them.’ Witnesses’ life is not about human rule. Do what he says and get on with life. Of course, if he turns against you, siding with the house Church, you are up the crick and our brothers have it very tough for a time. The only caveat is that they are used to it, as others might not be.

Visiting Uzbekistan, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, asserted that “insulting religious feelings is one of the forms of extremism, this is what shakes the foundations of social life, what provokes internal conflicts.”35 If we do not confine our gaze to the real thing, many things can be described as forms of extremism. The Patriarch’s concern for shaking the foundations of social life and the welfare of the state calls to mind the concerns of other religious leaders from long ago: “These people who have been creating a disturbance all over the world have now come here!”36

At the same time, traditional religions, according to the primate, “are called upon to strengthen the foundations of national existence.” Patriarch Kirill called on religious leaders “to work with their flock, but to educate this flock in the spirit of respect for each other, in caring for the stability of public life, in caring for the welfare of the state.” If only he had called upon them to strengthen their flock’s foundations of Bible knowledge, as most of the flock will assume is their role. But, no. It is the foundations of national existence and welfare of the state that comes first. God is welcome in the soup of national sovereignties, so long as he knows that his place is to serve as a balm applied to the prevailing system in hopes it will run a bit smoother. Pour it on like a syrup. Perhaps it will seep into the foundation somehow and fortify it.

 

The World Youth Festival opened for 2017 in Sochi, Russia. President Putin addressed the delegates. He spoke of challenges of the future—the payoffs can be very real, but the threats are also very real. The young—Putin takes an interest in them—must pursue the future that science makes possible, but they must not abandon moral and ethical values in doing so, he warned, for that could cause a catastrophe larger than a nuclear war.

“In the nearest future, humanity may enter and will, most likely, enter a very difficult and important period in its development and existence,” he said, referring to recent scientific breakthroughs. “What I’ve said now may be more dangerous than a nuclear bomb. Therefore, no matter what we’re doing, we must never forget about the moral and ethical basis of our business. Everything that we’ll be doing must benefit the people and empower humanity, not destroy it.”

The president used genetic engineering as an example to illustrate his words, saying that this discipline can bring both positive and negative results. “It’s great” that it can provide the possibility to change the genetic code of people suffering from serious diseases, he said. “But there’s another component to this process. Humanity also receives an opportunity to meddle with the genetic code, which was created either by nature or, as people with religious views say, God.”37

Yes, it is right around the corner, he said: the possibility of “creating a human with predesigned characteristics.” However, “it may be a genius mathematician or musician, but also a soldier, who will fight without fear, compassion and regret, without pain,” Putin warned. He gets into such things speaking to the young people, who are the prospects for the future. It is unfair for the West to accuse him of making himself a cult figure. Or, rather, if he does, it is with no evil intent, but for the good of those he leads. If being perceived a cult figure helps him better lead, so be it. It may well facilitate his greater object. Does he pump iron and ride bare-chested and slam hockey players half his age into the boards? Okay. It means he could best the American president in hand-to-hand combat any day, despite his smaller stature, and sometimes one wishes that world leaders would settle their disputes just that way. He calls to mind Jesse Ventura, former pro wrestler turned governor of Minnesota. The bumper stickers read: “My Governor Can Beat Up Your Governor.”38 Reporters asked whether he had seen them. He said that he had and that furthermore, they were true. He had been to those governors’ conferences. He had looked those flabby guys over. There was not one of them he could not take.

Putin makes clear his vision for the future speaking before those students. It is science. It is human efforts. It will be a challenge that human science does not outmaneuver human ethics, he says, for it is all human. Does religion play a part? It can, if that part is modest and does not rock the boat. “Humanity also receives an opportunity to meddle with the genetic code, which was created either by nature or, as people with religious views say, God,” he says. Gone are the days when the Soviet State insisted it could only be ‘nature.’ Now if one wants to say ‘God,’ that is okay. So long as he doesn’t overdo it. So long as he acquiesces that God’s place is to assist human efforts to save the planet through science. If people want to entertain some silly stories about afterlife, we all can live with that—they do no harm to the overall program. But to suggest human efforts are not up to the job in the present life, as Jehovah’s Witnesses do—to suggest that God disapproves, that he will one day replace the status quo—to get people all worked up over that? Surely only a pest would behave that way. It is the purely secular outlook of the future that sees religion as unnecessary, but so long as it does nothing but reinforce, its efforts are tolerated and sometimes even welcomed. But if it runs off with an agenda of its own, it must be stopped. Why can’t it just line up with the Orthodox Church which has the God base adequately covered? Why does it have to go and be a pest? Why does it have to rock the boat? It is too much to bear.

“We found this man to be a pest; he creates dissension among Jews all over the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazoreans,” the religious leader said of Paul.39 What was Paul’s problem—in their eyes? He was a pest. He created dissention in that religious world. If he stopped doing that, then he would not be a pest and all would be fine. Why can’t he just go along with the way things already are: make a suggestion or two and leave it at that? Putin likes the Russian Orthodox Church because they help build a strong Russia. But now they, too, report a pest. Why should he see them have to suffer a pest? So he signs off on the move to harass all minority religion and ban the most pernicious one in particular.

If one allows that it may be God, and not just nature, who made all things, might not some deductions be made? Is our origin truly a matter of no consequence? If God made all things, it stands to reason that he may have some purpose behind it all. He thus may not stand aside and see it all be wasted away or otherwise brought to ruin. However, if nature is responsible for all things—nature through evolution—then if there is any hope for humanity it lies entirely with what humans are able to do. And they are not doing so well. That is why Putin cautions them.

The president talks a good game—how scientists, in the person of those young delegates present—must rise to the occasion of making the world better, or at least ensuring that it has a future. Does he believe it? Does he have misgivings? Who can tell? But the issue is: Will it be human efforts or God’s efforts saving the future? The Russian government unreservedly looks to human efforts. Jehovah’s Witnesses unreservedly look to God’s efforts.

It is not unlike the post-World War I innovation of the League of Nations, the first organization of its kind to tackle governing the entire planet through human means. Its object was to get the governments talking to each other and defuse conflicts before they could trigger another war. That very year (1919) Jehovah’s Witnesses held a convention in Cedar Point Ohio in which they embraced God’s kingdom as the sole hope for governing the planet: a government by God, not men. The two are philosophically precise opposites. At this fork in the road, which stand did the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America take? It famously declared the new League of Nations to be the “political expression of the kingdom of God on earth.”40 Religion must be ‘practical’ in its eyes. It must support human aspirations of governing equitably and not roil matters by suggesting God will one day replace it all. Does any religion maintain that the stone cut from divine sovereignty will one day strike the idol on the feet and crush it?41 Surely that is extremist.

If Putin carries on about morality and ethics, how can he go along with, if not ordering, Jehovah’s Witnesses to be suppressed, even with violence? It is a reasonable question, and the answer may be found in how Jewish religious leaders described Paul to Roman governor Felix: he was that pestilent fellow not worthy of Rome’s justice.

It is human efforts that must save the day, they say. Nothing must get in the way. Nothing must distract or discourage. The stakes are too high. Those who cannot fathom God cannot understand why anyone would quibble over different perceptions of him. The more authoritarian ones among them do not want it even to happen on their watch. It does little good to carry on about the Russian constitution that guarantees freedom of religion. Freedom of religion is not a Russian concept. It is appended onto the constitution because it sounds good. But it does not resonate. It is boiler-plate language for many Russians, legalese inserted at document’s end in the confidence that nobody will read it. The Levada Center recently reported that, whereas 79% of the Russian population in the early 1990s thought the repressions of Stalin constituted “a crime that has no justification,” the figure has now dropped below 40%.42 ‘Enough of freedom,’ many say. ‘It means nothing but trouble.’

Jehovah’s Witnesses steadfastly advocate the Bible viewpoint in Russia, and for that they suffer. It is the trials of the ancient people of God revisited. They “endured mockery, scourging, even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, sawed in two, put to death with the sword; they went about in skins of sheep or goats, needy, afflicted, tormented. The world was not worthy of them. They wandered about in deserts and on mountains, in caves and in crevices in the earth.” Update it but slightly. Replace ‘scourging’ with beating. Strike the ‘chains,’ but keep the imprisonment. Cancel the detail about ‘clad with skins of sheep and goats’ and settling in ‘caves and crevices.’ Instead, just sack them from their employment; let them survive if they think they can.43 The only part of the verse to remain is “the world was not worthy of them.”44

Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia will think Paul’s preceding words prophetic: “You even joined in the sufferings of those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, knowing that you had a better and lasting possession.”45 ‘You got that right,’ they will say to Paul, for they have seen a lot of property confiscated. Can one really accept such things joyfully? Not in and of itself, no. It is an atrocity. But in the greater picture, yes. People whose horizons are only the goals of this system of things can never appreciate the mentality of those who are not. It is but one more way that “the natural person does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness, and he cannot understand it, because it is judged spiritually.” One hates the confiscation of one’s things, but it is compensated for by being a “spiritual person, [who] can judge everything but is not subject to judgment by anyone.”46

“During the chaos of the early post-Soviet years,” writes the Moscow Times, “the average Russian was adrift, aghast at his sudden job insecurity and embarrassed about his country’s poverty….Then came Vladimir Putin to restore his sense of dignity. Putin assured Russians that every country had skeletons in the closet, ‘nothing to be ashamed of.’ More important, he returned the state to its role ‘as a paternalistic caretaker.’ The modern Russian is very much like [the Soviet Russian] only with a car and nicer clothes” and is not inclined to protest or make trouble.47

The Russian experiment with Western freedoms produced a mixed bag of results. Some things blew up in their faces. It was too much. So they beat a partial retreat. The administration’s 2000 National Security Concept stresses “protecting the cultural and spiritual-moral legacy and the historical traditions and standards of public life and preserving the cultural heritage of all Russia’s peoples.” Also, “there must be a state policy to maintain the population’s spiritual and moral welfare, prohibit the use of airtime to promote violence or base instincts, and counter the adverse impact of foreign religious organizations and missionaries.”48

The average person cares not overmuch about government. He or she has a life to lead. A weakness of most media is that they are obsessed with government and are staffed with persons who imagine it the central hub of life. This writer recalls a personal friend who used to point out how Newsweek and Time would completely miss the thrust of this or that story, whereas Watchtower-published Awake! would capture it. Not if the subject was politics or business, of course, but if it had to do with the general populace, Awake! would win hands-down. Those two secular magazines would send their wildly overeducated reporters into this or that barrio, and the locals, thoroughly over-awed, not wishing to appear stupid, would tell them anything they wanted to hear. Awake! would send in their peers and get the true picture.

Not too long ago, BBC interviewed a poverty-stricken man in an impoverished nation. “Whom can you trust?” the reporter wanted to know. “I trust in God,” the fellow replied. “Yes, yes, you trust in God,” repeated the newsman, eager to get this useless bit of trivia behind him, “but what about politicians?” “Some politicians, but not all politicians,” the man said. Ah—at last! Now we’re talking—human efforts! Awake! would have zeroed in on his initial response, taking for granted the general irrelevance of politicians to most people. Ancient governments are likened in Scripture to the heavens. They would shine on you one moment, rain on you the next, and there was nothing you could do about it. For all the democratic notions prevalent in some lands, the situation is little different today. To get an ounce of result, you must apply a ton of pressure, and most people are simply not up to the job.

 

The human record of exercising authority is not good. “All these things I saw and I applied my heart to every work that is done under the sun, while one person tyrannizes over another for harm,” says Ecclesiastes.49 Yet the Witness view is that God allows it as a stop-gap measure. Heaven help the people where there is anarchy.

The last chapter or two of each gospel is Jesus interacting with Pilate. If Christians were meant to ‘change’ government, surely it would be revealed here. One sees not a trace of it. Pilate asked Jesus if he was a king. Jesus said he was. Pilate knew straight away that he was looking at some sort of religious thing, and not the literal sedition the Jewish leaders, hoping to cause Jesus trouble, made it out to be.

Jehovah’s Witnesses appeal to this world’s justice system when the occasions for it arise. They work until they don’t. The course has precedent. A full quarter of the Book of Acts is the apostle Paul appealing to authorities following his arrest in Jerusalem. As he wends his way up to Caesar for a final trial, he does not criticize Roman government. Nowhere does he call them on their deeds, heavy-handed though some of them were.

His appeal was ultimately unsuccessful.50 He ended his days under house arrest in Rome. But it was successful from a witnessing point of view, and it is part of the Bible record that has stood for two millennia. Paul witnessed to each official he met. When his appearance sparked a riot in Ephesus, the Romans took him into protective custody. It was not too protective, however. The Roman officer in charge wanted to know why all the ruckus and he figured that he would beat it out of Paul. But Paul was a Roman citizen and, as such, had certain rights:

“The cohort commander ordered him to be brought into the compound and gave instruction that he be interrogated under the lash to determine the reason why they were making such an outcry against him. But when they had stretched him out for the whips, Paul said to the centurion on duty, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman citizen and has not been tried?” When the centurion heard this, he went to the cohort commander and reported it, saying, “What are you going to do? This man is a Roman citizen.” Then the commander came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” “Yes,” he answered. The commander replied, “I acquired this citizenship for a large sum of money.” Paul said, “But I was born one.” At once those who were going to interrogate him backed away from him, and the commander became alarmed when he realized that he was a Roman citizen and that he had had him bound.”51

This was not the first time Paul asserted his rights as a Roman citizen before government officials. When local authorities threw him and his companion into prison and magistrates sought to undo it quietly the next day, Paul would not permit it: “The jailer reported these words to Paul, “The magistrates have sent orders that you be released. Now, then, come out and go in peace.” But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, even though we are Roman citizens and have not been tried and have thrown us into prison. And now, are they going to release us secretly? By no means. Let them come themselves and lead us out.” The lictors reported these words to the magistrates, and they became alarmed when they heard that they were Roman citizens. So they came and placated them, and led them out and asked that they leave the city.”

So it was that the Governing Body made sure that the Russian trial to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses was held in the largest venue possible and received worldwide attention. If there was to be an injustice, let it not be done in secret. Let the world know. One is also reminded of the Watchtower’s campaign of the 1950s and 1960s, related in Baran’s book, to ensure that Russian Witnesses knew their rights under the Soviet constitution—those rights buttressed by pertinent U.N. resolutions and even select quotations of Lenin. If the rights were not to be respected by government authorities, that did not mean they were nonexistent.

After Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, he made himself a persistent menace to the religious powers that were then, peeling off their adherents willy-nilly. Picture their annoyance at watching this play out in town after town, and take note of their response: “Following his usual custom, Paul … entered into discussions with them from the scriptures, expounding and demonstrating that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead, and that ‘This is the Messiah, Jesus, whom I proclaim to you.’ Some of them were convinced and joined Paul and Silas; so, too, a great number of Greeks who were worshipers, and not a few of the prominent women. But the Jews became jealous and recruited some worthless men [imagine—going down in history as ‘worthless’] loitering in the public square, formed a mob, and set the city in turmoil.”

Nor was it just Paul. All Christians were encouraged to do likewise, so as not to be a lamp placed under a basket. Paul wrote to Timothy: “Be eager to present yourself as acceptable to God, a workman who causes no disgrace, imparting the word of truth without deviation.”52 The word ‘workman’ is telling. It would not be a separate, elite class who would ‘impart the word of truth without deviation.’ It would be the ‘workmen’ that the educated class scorned. Christians would be run-of-the-mill persons made powerful though coordinated study of the Word. It is little wonder their enemies felt they had no recourse but to silence them.

As stated, Paul never emerged from under that arrest in Jerusalem.  He appealed his case to Caesar. The book of Acts from that chapter on tells of his travels to Rome. Along the way he met a bevy of officials—some petty, some major—and he pitched Christianity to each one. They all ran for cover, the same as folks do today. They all had their reasons, the same as folks do today.

First off was provincial governor Felix. “He had Paul summoned and listened to him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. But as he spoke about righteousness and self-restraint and the coming judgment, Felix became frightened and said, “You may go for now; when I find an opportunity I shall summon you again.” Felix does not comport well in history; many are the complaints of his ‘cruelty and licentiousness.’ It is hardly surprising that ‘righteousness,’ ‘self-restraint,’ and the ‘coming judgment’ made him sweat. The succeeding verse does nothing to put him in a better light: “At the same time he hoped that a bribe would be offered him by Paul, and so he sent for him very often and conversed with him.” Paul had little control over who his audience would be, but he did have control over whether they would be an audience.

Notwithstanding Felix’ dubious record, when the high priest traveled from Jerusalem with a spokesman to make trouble for Paul, the spokesman gushed: “Since we have attained much peace through you, and reforms have been accomplished in this nation through your provident care, we acknowledge this in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with all gratitude. But in order not to detain you further, I ask you to give us a brief hearing with your customary graciousness.” When it was Paul’s turn to reply, he said “I know that you have been a judge over this nation for many years and so I am pleased to make my defense before you.” In so many words he says: “Well, you’ve certainly been around for a while.” Yet even so, he is nowhere disrespectful, nor does he tell Felix how to run his jurisdiction.

Felix leaves Paul in prison so as to please the dominant religion. His successor is a man named Festus. The same representatives of that religious system come down to secure Paul’s doom once again, having failed in their previous attempt to have him sent to Jerusalem, where they had hoped to assassinate him along the way.

Festus eventually entertains a neighboring king and tells him the background: “There is a man here left in custody by Felix. When I was in Jerusalem the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him and demanded his condemnation. I answered them that it was not Roman practice to hand over an accused person before he has faced his accusers and had the opportunity to defend himself against their charge. So when (they) came together here, I made no delay; the next day I took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought in. His accusers stood around him but did not charge him with any of the crimes I suspected. Instead they had some issues with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus who had died but who Paul claimed was alive. Since I was at a loss how to investigate this controversy, I asked if he were willing to go to Jerusalem and there stand trial on these charges. And when Paul appealed that he be held in custody for the Emperor’s decision, I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar.” Agrippa said to Festus, “I too should like to hear this man.” He replied, “Tomorrow you will hear him.”

The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great ceremony and entered the audience hall in the company of cohort commanders and the prominent men of the city and, by command of Festus, Paul was brought in. And Festus said, “King Agrippa and all you here present with us, look at this man about whom the whole Jewish populace petitioned me here and in Jerusalem, clamoring that he should live no longer. I found, however, that he had done nothing deserving death, and so when he appealed to the Emperor, I decided to send him. But I have nothing definite to write about him to our sovereign; therefore I have brought him before all of you, and particularly before you, King Agrippa, so that I may have something to write as a result of this investigation. For it seems senseless to me to send up a prisoner without indicating the charges against him.”

Agrippa said to Paul: “You are permitted to speak in behalf of yourself.” Then Paul stretched his hand out and proceeded to say in his defense: “Concerning all the things of which I am accused by Jews, King Agrippa, I count myself happy that it is before you I am to make my defense this day, especially as you are expert on all the customs as well as the controversies among Jews. Therefore I beg you to hear me patiently.”

Paul gives an account of his past and how he came to be where he was. It is too much for Festus: “Now as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice: ‘You are going mad, Paul! Great learning is driving you into madness!’” (Some Witnesses alive today recall various clergymen discouraging study of the Bible, claiming it would make one ‘crazy.’)

Paul wasn’t put off by this remark. Instead, he countered: “I am not going mad, Your Excellency Festus, but I am uttering sayings of truth and of soundness of mind. In reality, the king to whom I am speaking with freeness of speech well knows about these things; for I am persuaded that not one of these things escapes his notice, for this thing has not been done in a corner. Do you, King Agrippa, believe the Prophets? I know you believe.” But Agrippa said to Paul: “In a short time you would persuade me to become a Christian.” At this Paul said: “I could wish to God that whether in a short time or in a long time not only you but also all those who hear me today would become men such as I also am, with the exception of these bonds.” Some lemons are hard to make into lemonade—“bonds’ for example. Nobody can say Paul was timid speaking before the king, though, nor ashamed of the cause for which he was arrested.

“And the king rose and so did the governor and Bernice and the men seated with them. But as they withdrew they began talking with one another, saying: “This man practices nothing deserving death or bonds.” Moreover, Agrippa said to Festus: ‘This man could have been released if he had not appealed to Caesar.’”

So it was as Paul worked his way toward Caesar, establishing his innocence at every stop. Still, they decided to keep him restrained, anyway. Everywhere he is an ambassador for God’s kingdom, and everywhere he avoids telling them how they should run theirs. It is the same way that Jehovah’s Witnesses act toward the governments under which they live.

The Book of Acts ends with Paul under house arrest. The dominant religious system did not attain its goal of killing him, but they did attain its goal of restricting him. The restriction was less successful than they might have imagined, for Paul went on to complete the majority of letters in the New Testament. Higher critics maintain he essentially founded a different religion, putting his own spin on the words of both Moses and Jesus.53

Tradition has it that Paul was executed during the time of Nero. This is consistent with the fact that Nero pinned the burning of Rome on the growing Christian movement. That attempt to eliminate it triggered many an atrocity. Over time, Christianity modified itself. It learned to accommodate its enemies and be molded by them. Paul had forewarned: “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” These men did not lose. They won. They would win today except that the timing is different.54

Jesus illustrated the change of timing with his parable of the wheat and weeds. The enemy sowed weeds among the fledgling wheat. “Leave them be,” the owner tells his slaves, and the weeds promptly overrun the wheat. During the harvest, however, it is a different story. “Then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, ‘First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.’”55 The weeds that were victorious soon after planting are not victorious at the harvest, despite the efforts of the dominant religious empire. Even though they maneuver the governments into fighting against God, they are not victorious. 

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

See also safe version

***

  1. “Russia’s Biggest Enemy Is U.S. — Poll,” The Moscow Times, January 10, 2018, accessed March 24, 2018, https://themoscowtimes.com/news/russias-biggest-enemy-is-us-poll-60146
  2. “Goodbye America — Russians Suggest Names for New Nukes in Online Vote,” The Moscow Times, March 2, 2018, accessed March 12, 2018, https://themoscowtimes.com/news/goodbye-america-russians-suggest-names-for-new-nukes-in-online-vote-60690
  3. Jacob Leibenluft, “Why Don’t Jehovah’s Witnesses Vote? Slate.com, June 26, 2008, accessed March 24, 2018, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2008/06/why_dont_jehovahs_witnesses_vote.html
  4. 2 Corinthians 5:20
  5. 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) 134
  6. “Helping ‘Foreign Residents’ to “Serve Jehovah With Rejoicing” The Watchtower – study edition, May 1, 2017, 7
  7. God’s Kingdom Rules (Brooklyn, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 2014) 158
  8. 1 Corinthians 1:10
  9. 1 Corinthians 12:14-18
  10. 1 Corinthians 12:25-26
  11. Announcement of the American Embassy of the Russian Federation Washington DC: “Vladimir Putin Gave an Interview to American Journalist Charlie Rose,” Embassy of the Russian Federation Washington DC, September 28, 2015, accessed March 24, 2018, Shttp://www.russianembassy.org/article/vladimir-putin-gave-an-interview-to-american-journalist-charlie-rose
  12. Isaiah 26:2
  13. Tobin Harshaw, “Trump, Brexit and Echoes of World War I,” Bloomberg.com, November 11, 2017, accessed March 24, 2018, https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-11-11/trump-brexit-and-echoes-of-world-war-i
  14. “The Nations Are Still Not Learning,” Awake! August 8, 2002, 6
  15. “Lazare Ponticelli, the Last French Foot-Soldier of the First World War, Died on March 12th, Aged 110,” The Economist, March 19, 2008, Obituaries, accessed March 24, 2018, http://www.economist.com/node/10875719
  16. Gustave M. Gilbert, Nuremberg Diary (New York: New American Library, 1961) 278 See: https://www.snopes.com/quotes/goering.asp
  17. Matthew 26:52
  18. “The German Churches and the Nazi State,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005206
  19. Revelation 18:24
  20. The issue of Jehovah’s Witnesses refusing blood transfusion has been downgraded in the West (though by no means eliminated as a concern) and for that reason, I do not go into it in this book. Facilities practicing ‘bloodless medicine,’ either stand-alone or as departments of existing medical facilities, have become common-place. Long gone are the days when my wife, as a young girl, was administered a blood transfusion for a nosebleed – one might view it as ‘topping off the tank.’ Studies detailing inherent transfusion risks have become well-known. New Scientist Magazine summarized several such studies in its April 26, 2008 article entitled “An Act of Faith in the Operating Room,” in which the act of faith referred to was not withholding a transfusion but administering one. See also the Watchtower-produced video: ‘Transfusion Alternatives - Simple, Safe and Effective.’
  21. Ali’s exact words: “My conscience won’t let me go shoot … some poor, hungry people in the mud, for big, powerful America, and shoot them. For what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn't put no dogs on me,” recorded on a 1980 documentary by the black public affairs television program ‘Like It Is.’ Stefan Fatsis, "No Viet Cong Ever Called Me Nigger, slate.com, June 8, 2006, accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.slate.com/articles/sports/sports_nut/2016/06/did_muhammad_ali_ever_say_no_viet_cong_ever_called_me_nigger.html
  22. Muhammad Ali’s chief attorney in 1967 was Hayden Covington, who argued many successful Supreme Court cases on behalf of Jehovah’s Witnesses two decades earlier. See: Robert Lipsyte, “Politics Wins in the Ring,” New York Times, April 28, 1967, accessed March 25, 2018, http://www.nytimes.com/packages/html/sports/year_in_sports/04.28.html
  23. Victor V. Blackwell, O’er the Ramparts They Watched (New York: Carlton Press, 1976) 213
  24. Ibid., 236-237
  25. Ibid., 239
  26. Ibid., 246
  27. Earnest W Barnes, The Rise of Christianity (London: Longmans Green and Co, 1947) 333
  28. C. J. Cadoux, The Early Church and the World (T & T Clark, LTD, 1955) 275-276
  29. N. Platt and M. J. Drummond Our World Through the Ages (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall, 1961) 125
  30. Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (London, 1776) Vol. I, p. 416
  31. “A Successful Program of Alternative Civilian Service in Taiwan” JW Broadcasting, August, 11, 2017, accessed March 25, 2018,
  32. “There is No Sect, There are No Problems,” portal-credo.ru, December 28, 2017, accessed March 28, 2017, http://www.portal-credo.ru/site/?act=news&id=129229. For English Translation, see http://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/171228a.html
  33. Andrew Katz, “Congress Is Now Mostly A Millionaires’ Club,” New York Times, January 9, 2014, accessed March 25, 2018, http://time.com/373/congress-is-now-mostly-a-millionaires-club/
  34. Luke 4:5-6
  35. “Uzbekistan: Patriarch Kirill Equates Insulting Believers’ Feelings to Extremism,” Ruptly TV, September 29, 2017, accessed March 25, 2018, https://www.newstube.ru/media/uzbekistan-patriarch-kirill-equates-insulting-believers-feelings-to-extremism
  36. Acts 17:6
  37. “Giving Up on Moral & Ethical Values ‘More Dangerous Than Nuclear Bomb’ – Putin,” RT.com, October 21, 2017, accessed March 25, 2018, https://www.RT.com/news/407414-moral-ethical-values-putin-sochi/
  38. The colorful slogan is preserved only on Wikipedia and a humor page or two, which might not remain. One can sometimes find memorabilia online, such as a coffee mug bearing the same words I recently saw advertised on eBay for $12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesse_Ventura
  39. Acts 24:5.
  40. Jehovah’s Witnesses – Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 1992) 192
  41. Daniel 2:44
  42. “Russian Condemnation of Stalin’s Repressions Plunges,” RadioFreeEuropeRadioLibery, November 30, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.rferl.org/a/russian-condemnation-of-stalins-repressions-plunges/28724392.html
  43. Forum 18 cites examples of Jehovah’s Witnesses fired from their jobs or forced to resign, solely on the basis of religion. Victoria Arnold, “Russia: Jehovah’s Witnesses Now Banned,” Forum 18 News Service, July 18, 2017, accessed March 12, 2018, http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2297
  44. Hebrews 11:36-38
  45. Hebrews 10:34
  46. 1 Corinthians 2:14-15
  47. Eva Hartzog and Led Gudkov, The Week, October 27, 2017
  48. Daniel P. Payne, “Spiritual Security, the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Russian Foreign Ministry: Collaboration or Cooptation?” Рубрика: Статьи современников, February 10, 2012, accessed March 25, 2018, http://rpczmoskva.org.ru/stati/daniel-p-paynespiritual-security-the-russian-orthodox-church-and-the-russian-foreign-ministry-collaboration-or-cooptation.html
  49. Ecclesiastes 8:9
  50. It appears that Paul was released for a time, and was hoping to preach in Spain, and he was later rearrested and condemned to death. Since Acts makes no mention of this, I have taken it all as a needless complication and have edited it away as, in the spirit of the times, as though it were fake news
  51. Acts 22:24-29 begins a narrative that continues through Acts 26 and is the source of the remaining portion of this chapter.
  52. 2 Timothy 2:15
  53. This is another reason The 100 from ‘Introduction’ rates Muhammad as a more significant figure than Jesus. The former founded a complete religion. The latter did only in tandem with Paul.
  54. Acts 20:29-30
  55. Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

 

 

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)

Money

Chivchalov reports: “The vast majority of Russians are sure that [the] Jehovah’s Witnesses [religion] is a huge money-pumping machine created for the enrichment of its leaders, and that religion and the Bible are only a disguise. They think that each JW should bring to the ‘sect’ all their money and re-register their flats, houses, and other property for the benefit of it. We are often called in the media a ‘pseudo-religious commercial sect.’”1 There are some things uniquely Russian in this statement, but similar charges have been made elsewhere by those who don’t like Witnesses.

Though sometimes mischaracterized, the donation practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses are among the least obtrusive of any faith. At the Kingdom Hall, a person may give 50% of his income towards religious interests or nothing at all. Nobody knows. One must go to a contribution box at the rear of the auditorium to donate. Nobody knows if you do or do not. Nobody approaches you. No collections are taken, and unless someone chooses to use checks (or credit card at large gatherings), giving is completely anonymous. Just now in the U.S. there is introduced a service to donate online for those who prefer. In contrast, a church that I attended as a boy used ‘pledge envelopes’ through which donations could be tracked. Like charities everywhere, each pledge constituted a floor from which to make greater pledges. I remember my non-believing father telling the pastor who had come calling and had mentioned my homemaker mother’s offerings that he should not forget who really was the source of those offerings. The church an older friend attended passed offering plates mounted at the end of poles. They shook to the beat of loud music; drop in some coins and the chink-chink-chink reverberated through the building. It was quiet money they wanted—folding money.

Detractors point (with glee) to Pew charts showing Jehovah’s Witnesses are the poorest monetarily of all faiths2 and the ‘least educated.’3 The plain intention is that those circumstances be perceived negatively, as in: ‘Why should anyone listen to poor and stupid people?’ So be it. It was also characteristic of the first-century Christians, the leaders of whom are specifically called ‘uneducated and ordinary.’4 It also means that financial support for Jehovah’s Witnesses will come from their lower rungs, since they have precious few upper rungs to draw from. Let us explore the topic of finances.

 

A top-secret letter from the Witness organization to bodies of elders was intercepted and posted online. Actually, it wasn’t top secret. It was merely confidential. It contained the instruction: “This postscript should not be read to the congregation, and this letter should not be posted on the information board.” Normally I would respect confidentiality and not reproduce the letter, but this is the age of the Internet. Why be like the Russian court that refused to look at video evidence that everyone else saw?

Not everything not made public is the smoking gun. There was a time when writing only to those concerned was not perceived as pulling the wool over the eyes of everyone else. Even as to things that actually were hidden in the first century, Jesus said: “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.”5 His would be the words of the arch-deceiver today, and opponents (if they dared) would rummage through his files to unearth and publish everything he was withholding.

The confidential postscript in the public letter read to the congregation tells how, for a certain expense, the congregation secretary “should use the number of active publishers to calculate the suggested amount to be contributed by the congregation” and “the elders may choose to raise or lower the amount based on the economic abilities of the congregation as a whole.” The snitch is very excited to have posted this and gloats he has uncovered evidence to prove that they are obsessed with money at Witness headquarters.

Any organization uses money. A child knows it. The need for money is no more than common sense. It made common sense to Bible writers and it makes common sense to people who have common sense and who want to eat and do things and pay the bills. Few seek it less obtrusively or stewards it more wisely than the Witness organization. The ‘leaked’ letter makes the Witness organization look good, not bad, as the poster had hoped. Many outfits would say in effect, ‘Repeat as necessary and do not take no for an answer.’ Watchtower says: “The elders may choose to raise or lower the amount based on the economic abilities of the congregation.” Should their goal come up short, they simply readjust that goal, confident that those of greater means will make up for the deficiency of those of lesser means.

The confidential note does no more than expand on the consideration already announced publicly. Witnesses are well used to hearing about how that this or that circuit expense will be met if everyone contributes such and such an amount. This is always followed by clarification that it is not thereby suggested each member pony up that amount, but rather that the congregation in aggregate do so. The private instruction reveals that even that fair policy is not held fast to. Elders know their flock. A poor congregation can lessen their share. A well-off congregation can increase it.

 

Another letter was posted online, this one to bodies of elders in some congregations in Nigeria, among those “lands of limited resources.” The intent of this leak is to misrepresent the Watchtower organization as working to squeeze the last dime out of poor people. It does nothing of the sort. Ten minutes of an upcoming congregation meeting is to be allotted to discussing contributions. The elders are asked to “please stress that regularity is very important when contributing.” 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 forms the basis of discussion (here rendered in the NABRE, though the letter quotes NWT): “Now in regard to the collection for the holy ones, you also should do as I ordered the churches of Galatia. On the first day of the week each of you should set aside and save whatever one can afford, so that collections will not be going on when I come. And when I arrive, I shall send those whom you have approved with letters of recommendation to take your gracious gift to Jerusalem,” writes the apostle Paul.

The letter to congregation elders then observes: “Paul’s suggestion on the manner of contributing can be applied by congregation members today. How? Regularity is the key. If your congregation is to pay the monthly rent and maintenance expenses of your meeting place or Kingdom Hall, it will take ‘contributing, not so much the amount, but the regularity of setting something aside each week or month for kingdom interests,’ writes the branch office in Peru. Does this idea appeal to you? Even children can be taught to appreciate how regularity in contributing is part of their worship. We all regularly set aside money for school fees, food, rent and other necessities. How much more important it is to do so for kingdom interests. Taking advantage of whichever way is most convenient for us personally, whether electronically or by using the contribution box in our local Kingdom Hall, regularity in contribution will help us to put true worship first in our lives.”

Is it greedy? Or is it simply a reminder that the light bill must be paid? The one who posts the confidential letter excitedly states: “Is this the head start to tithing? Seems so.” It doesn’t seem so at all to this writer. Tithing is a system of giving 10% of one’s income to a religious entity. Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t do it. Many churches do. It was a requirement of the Old Testament. There is no basis upon which to carry it over into the New Testament, but many faiths, with an apparent eye on the cash flow, do so anyway. Ten percent is an easily manageable sum to persons well-off financially. To those who are poor it is a crushing load to bear, and Christ would not have his followers bear it. Note that contributions in the letter are likened to money for school fees, food, rent, and other necessities, not to a percentage of income.

The opponent is either too deceitful, too driven by agenda, or possibly too stupid to notice that the Watchtower’s letter to the congregation is exactly based on the scripture quoted in the same paragraph. In fact, the two are intertwined in the letter, so that they are seemingly impossible to separate save for someone unusually determined to do so. Moreover, the Watchtower organization shows more consideration than even Paul does to the Corinthian congregation. Paul simply says, in effect: ‘I’m coming for the money. Have it ready!’ without any detail as to what he will use it for. He “orders” it. The Watchtower letter simply says that members can be instructed by Paul’s letter—it doesn’t demand anything—and it, unlike Paul, supplies the reason for funds needed. They are mundane: rent and maintenance.

The point already made is reaffirmed: few are less intrusive about money than are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Other faiths make it a per person matter, not per congregation, by thrusting an offering plate right under their noses with the whole church looking on. What if our detractor turned his rage upon the Bible itself? Could he not be outraged that Paul tells them to have his money ready for pick-up? And what of Paul’s promise to take it to Jerusalem? ‘Sure! He’s probably going to take it to Ephesus or Corinth for some high living!’ they’d say. ‘He calls it a ‘gift.’ It sounds more like extortion! Why does God need our money, anyway? It’s ours! Tell him to keep his hands off!’ Tell him to do what the [insert anyone you like] religious leader did. At the interfaith conference on how to distribute collected funds, whether for ‘us’ or for God, one denomination head suggested throwing the money in the air and what came down on one side of a drawn line was theirs, and the other side God’s. Another clergyman reversed sides of the line. But the third advised that, upon throwing all money into the air, “What God wants, he will keep.”

 

Still another letter was posted; this place leaks like a sieve! This one was regarding the then-upcoming 2017 Annual Meeting, to be streamed from Warwick NY to 600,000 in various locations. Set up an extra contribution box or two, it said. The one who posted the letter crowed about this positive proof that they thought only of money at Watchtower central.

Again, I ask forgiveness for a bit of sarcasm, the language of you-know-who. He’s the one who makes me do it. It so happened that I was one of the 600,000. The program was eventually placed on the JW.org website, where it can be viewed by anyone. Four hours! That’s how long the annual meeting lasted. Four hours of experiences and refinements and the history of building the new Warwick New York headquarters followed by a dedication of those facilities. After that dedication, there were four talks of adjusted views and exhortation that might be dull to some, but they were invigorating to Witnesses.6

And then, spoiling it all, (I couldn’t believe it—right in the midst of it) 30 seconds of shameless groveling for money! They actually (brace yourselves), they actually suggested that those present might donate if they wanted to! and (GASP!) they even specified where it might be done (at the contribution box)! Thirty seconds’ mention of money in a four-hour period! Detractors are right! It’s all about money with these people!

Oh, and that letter spirited out, that the poster was so excited about sharing—the one directing that extra contribution stations should be established? I looked and looked for ours (our meeting was at the Kingdom Hall) and I discovered it! That slot in the counter that used to be designated as the Kingdom Hall fund but was taped over when that fund was combined with the Worldwide Work? It was uncovered again, and also labeled Worldwide Work!

Witnesses will hardly rejoice to see the above three confidential letters displayed online. They will more likely be irritated, for who likes their private correspondence posted for all to peruse? Still, the confidential portions only serve to strengthen general confidence in the organization that serves its members. Bethel wrote local elders to remind local publishers to donate in a timely manner. The letter is posted online in hopes that anyone reading will be outraged at the greedy Watchtower. Instead, I feigned outrage at the greedy Bible writers, for it was clear that everything the Watchtower organization did was based upon scripture. To what degree is one willing to be ‘taught by Jehovah?’ The Bible includes matters veering from the strictly spiritual into the purely practical.

If anyone want to do “blunt,” let them consider instructions given to those attending the Jewish festivals. You “shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed, but each with his own gift, in proportion to the blessing which the LORD, your God, has given to you.”7 It is as though Jehovah says: “There! Got it? Don’t think you are going to crash the party and freeload! You can at least bring a bag of potato chips.”

 

At a September 2017 congregation meeting, finances were atypically discussed at length. The book God’s Kingdom Rules, already quoted, is a history of the modern-day Witness organization. Under consideration at successive congregation meetings, the book at last gotten around to discussing how the work is financed.8 Of long ago, it stated:

“ON ONE occasion, Brother Charles T. Russell was approached by a minister of the Reformed Church who wanted to know how the activities of the Bible Students were managed. “We never take up a collection,” explained Brother Russell. “How do you get the money?” asked the minister.

“If I tell you what is the simplest truth you will hardly be able to believe it,” replied Russell. “When people get interested in this way, they find no basket placed under their nose. But they see there are expenses. They say to themselves, ‘This hall costs something….How can I get a little money into this thing?’” The minister looked at Brother Russell in disbelief.

“I am telling you the plain truth,” continued Russell. “They do ask me this very question, ‘How can I get a little money into this cause?’ When one gets a blessing and has any means, he wants to use it for the Lord. If he has no means, why should we prod him for it?”

Yes. Of course. “If he has no means, why should we prod him for it?” That is why no collections are ever taken at the Kingdom Hall and a contribution box suffices. What seems more trusting in God: a contribution box in the back where people may or may not give anonymously, or an offering plate passed through the rows so that everyone nearby knows just how much one puts in?

Activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses have greatly increased since that time, and the funds necessary have increased accordingly, but their relative place is the same. Bill Underwood compared the disaster relief efforts of several religious organizations in the aftermath of an earthquake that devastated Haiti. Most issued urgent appeals for money. Most provided only sketchy details as to what they would do with those monies. But when it came to the Watchtower:

“Well, that was refreshing. I went to watchtower.org and searched it for references to money, donations, charity. All I found were Watchtower articles such as ‘Is money you master or your servant?’ Try as I might, there was no way to donate any money to the organization, nor any request for donations. The only mention of money I found, in connection with Haiti, was in a public news release at jw-media.org entitled “Witnesses’ relief efforts well under way for victims of earthquake in Haiti.” A single line at the bottom read, ‘The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses is caring for these expenses by utilizing funds donated to the Witnesses’ worldwide work.’” Not only was there no plea for money, but it was not possible to donate any at this most obvious appeal-spot.9

Few persons would argue that the Watchtower organization does not use whatever funds are donated fully for the spread of the good news. People know from experience that when those of the Witness organization travel anywhere, they will stay at the lodgings of a fellow Witness. A hotel tab is unheard of. If they dine out at restaurants, they do so at the invitation of friends or at their own expense. When they travel, it via commercial flights. There has never been a financial scandal within the Witness organization, unless you count someone wearing cufflinks or traveling first class, which a Governing Body member will do in order not to arrive at a crucial meeting having just flown around the globe with his knees in his mouth.

Oh, and I am told (somewhat to my surprise) by someone who served in Bethel 35 years ago, that it was not expected that Governing Body members lodge at branch facilities or private homes when they traveled, though many preferred to do just that, and when they did not, he (not me) strongly suspected that it was because their wives insisted upon an expense account hotel as a break from an otherwise relentless Bethel dormitory routine. It is so human how can it not be true? But I know nothing of today, though I guess it would be easy enough to find out. No matter. Stay in a hotel if you must. Those of the Governing Body are my servants. They work hard, and I benefit. Have a second cup of coffee on me. Bizarrely, the greatest financial scandal one can point to is that of Judas stealing money from the disciples’ fund back in the day.10 It wouldn’t happen today. A simple accounting system that would have caught the ancient scoundrel is routine among Witnesses today for congregation and circuit expenses.

At Regional Conventions one finds a standard message on the printed program, not stated verbally: “At considerable cost, arrangements have been made to provide adequate seating, a sound system, video equipment, and many other services that make attending the convention enjoyable and help us to draw closer to Jehovah. Your voluntary contributions help to cover these expenses and also support the worldwide work. For your convenience, clearly marked contribution boxes are located throughout the facility. All contributions are very much appreciated. The Governing Body wishes to thank you for your generous support of kingdom interests.” There are a few electronic terminals about as well to accommodate persons more modern, but nobody could ever say it is in-your-face.

The line that invariably gets the largest applause at the Regional Convention is: “Would you like to convey your greetings to Bethel?” It is obvious why that is so. People look around them and see evidence everywhere that whatever donations they have made are being spent wisely. They see a huge infrastructure that is entirely dedicated to fulfilling the Christian mission of publicizing and representing kingdom interests. They do not feel the need to monitor Bethel for crooks and they are confident that, should crooks appear, the overall upright character of the organization will handle it.

No financial scandals may have ever occurred, but to ones who would like to halt the Witnesses’ work, there is always a giant one just around the corner. Occasionally these ones demand regular public accounting of the overall organization: financial reports such as a public, but not private, business would provide. Congregation members do not demand such. The accounting that matters to them, and that negates any need of their scrutinizing the higher finances, are the Kingdom Halls and Assembly Halls sprouting up like mushrooms in areas that can ill-afford them. The accounting is the disaster relief mobilization—Witnesses are ever among the first upon the scene—that promptly undertakes the project while outsiders are yet mobilizing. In 2013, a newspaper in Arkansas reported on the rapid response of Witness volunteers, and stated: “The organizational structure of the Jehovah’s Witnesses has developed the disaster response volunteer service to a fine art.”11

The accounting is the annual convention held hundreds of times around the globe, and televised content utilizing the latest means of video technology. The accounting is the website translated into 900 languages to facilitate a unified teaching of God’s Word. Imagine the effort to accomplish such a feat of translation—Google and Apple and Wikipedia combined do not come close!12 The accounting is free Bible distribution, so that the poor family in an impoverished country can have one for free if they need one, rather than be stuck with an archaic and unaffordable 200-year-old translation that they could not understand anyway because nobody of the religious world dreams it possible to circumvent the commercial world’s distribution system. Everyone else thinks it is natural that Big Business should control the distribution of God’s message to humankind. Only Jehovah’s Witnesses have the vision to challenge that model so completely on a worldwide scale and the determination to see that challenge through. The accounting is the lovable childlike cartoon characters Caleb and Sophia who, despite their tender years, still come off as more mature than some of those who would cry foul over this or that aspect of the Witness organization.

In the overall picture, any video or print material devoted to money represents but a tiny percent of Watchtower’s output; one need only peruse the material to convince oneself. A yearly article in the Watchtower magazine covers various means in which one may give: through wills, deeds, conditional loans, and so forth. Even that yearly article is not asking for money. It is simply telling those inclined to donate the most effective ways of doing it. 

One Witness says he has “found contribution methods to nearly always be a topic of interest to new ones I bring to the meeting. Not only do they expect to contribute something to costs, but they are often puzzled as to why so little is said about money. This sometimes arouses suspicion on their part as to some sort of financial ‘whammy’ that might be waiting in the wings should they pursue their interest. So having information on contribution methods clearly available and transparent is indeed prudent.”

He is “regularly given funds by members of the public as a contribution to our work which, even if they do not belong to our movement, they see as genuine and above board. Most people I witness to quickly see that with Jehovah’s Witnesses, they get much value for actually no money at all. I am happy to contribute to an organization that seeks to genuinely preach ‘the good news of the kingdom,’ and most of those who stick around are of the same mind.”

This writer is reminded of a local man, an entrepreneur and scientist, who attended meetings for some time, but never did progress to the point of baptism. Still, he expressed a desire to leave substantial funds to the Watchtower Society upon his death. “I don’t agree with everything you say,” he said, “but I do know that none of my money will be wasted.” It didn’t happen. Members of his family raised powerful objection and he reconsidered.

I learned of this long after the fact. His name had first come to my attention when I was a schoolboy. He had purchased the beach that the city had sold by mistake. In the 1960s, Durand Beach along Lake Ontario became so polluted that it was closed to public swimming. In time, it was forgotten about, and this curmudgeonly fellow purchased it at public auction. He had planned a system of filters to screen off a portion of it for a private club. Red-faced city fathers discovered their mistake only upon reading the newspapers and leaned upon him to get ‘their’ beach back. As an adolescent savors evidence that the grownups are inept, just like Tom Sawyer savored his teacher losing his toupee, I savored this faux pas and did not forget the man’s name.

A dozen years after I became a Witness, a letter signed by him appeared in the newspaper praising Witness youths visiting his door as unfailingly polite and well spoken. I had long forgotten about him, but with this letter my childhood memory was revived. Years after that, I gave the public talk at another Kingdom Hall and there he was in the audience! He was studying the Bible with a congregation member. My talk was on a science theme, and since he was a scientist, I asked him afterwards whether it was any good. He said it was not. It can be a fearsome thing when a Witness gets his hands on a public talk outline dealing with science, because few of them specialize. I thought I had brought myself up to speed. Silly me.

 

For decades, Witnesses have heard about their surpluses benefiting other lands with deficits. They know it is hopelessly out of the reach of many congregations in poor countries to afford their own Kingdom Hall, and they are thrilled to know their funds are spent to that end. Only with organization can such equalization take place “to test the genuineness of your love by your concern for others.”13 Following that biblical statement is a reminder of how the Lord Jesus Christ “for your sake … became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” He thereby sets the pattern for counsel that follows: “but that as a matter of equality your surplus at the present time should supply their needs, so that their surplus may also supply your needs, that there may be equality.”14

Equalizing is seen in construction of Kingdom Halls worldwide. ‘Lands with Limited Resources’ have been recipients of donations so as to build therein places of worship that would be out of their means otherwise. During a fourteen-year period commencing in 1999, almost 27,000 Kingdom Halls were built that way, generally by local Witnesses working with global volunteers skilled in construction. Virtually all Kingdom Halls in Russia were built this way, says Chivchalov. After the trial, Dvorkin crowed that the Russian Supreme Court action had deprived Jehovah’s Witnesses of outside funding. ‘Let them exist on honey and locusts,’ he said in effect. ‘That ought to be a fair test of whether their version of Christianity can thrive.’ To the extent the Russian complaint is correct that the Watchtower is a vast money-pumping machine, it has pumped money into, not out of, the country, which money the government has seen fit to take for itself.

In the U.S. and other Western lands, there is even a movement to consolidate congregations where underutilization of Kingdom Halls exists, selling off the surplus building so as to fund with it the construction of many Kingdom Halls in less affluent areas. Historically, Kingdom Halls were built as Witnesses living in different areas struck out from the main Hall to build ones of their own, in their own communities. Over time, some of these Halls became overcrowded and some dwindled into under-use.

Not all Kingdom Halls have burst at the seams. They were all supposed to. The pattern of the first century repeats itself. The learned ones of that time looked down upon Christianity, and the educated ones of the modern day sometimes leave the faith should they become too educated for their pants, as they exchange it for something with spiritual overtones but no practical bite, something that will spiritualize them but by no means supplant their quest for the better life in this system.  It is the same with money as with education. As soon as people accumulate enough of it, they are inclined to say ‘Who needs God?’ the essence of Proverbs 30:8. Accordingly, the Witness faith explodes in poorer lands and holds its own in wealthier educated lands. There are even occasional reverses. Of course, one never knows what the future will hold for any given area.

Consolidation where advantageous is a responsible use of resources, even if it means a longer twice-a-week commute for some who acquiesce to this financially responsible direction. After all, shut down one dud of a Kingdom Hall in a U.S. area that has not filled it, and you can build one hundred or more in poorer nations that greatly need them, or even one in the same nation where land prices are astronomical. One of the reasons Jehovah’s organization works and others do not, at least not on such a scale, is that Witnesses have come to identify with the entire brotherhood, regardless of where in the world they may live, and do not obsess about their own immediate interests. They do not all figure they have to all go over to Benin or wherever and see for themselves and each ponder over the balance statement and have special sessions to discuss it and take a vote on it, thinking no one other than they themselves can be trusted—they just don’t. They have decided the ones having oversight are trustworthy, as they have given no cause to think otherwise, as they adhere to the same healthful scriptural teachings, so they grin and bear it if some policy does not work to their immediate benefit.

 

The demand to render public accounting is but a nod to another form of human self-rule: democracy. It is faith that the people should scrutinize every nickel spent and that such a course is the only way to keep those running the show honest. By law public corporations must do it. Private corporations do not. Does that mean they keep no accounts? No. It just means they do not feel the obligation to report to the general world. With regard to the Watchtower organization, congregation members do not demand it. Their detractors will not be satisfied with it.

We will be able to smell fraud when Sam Herd upgrades to a bigger dorm room. Let there be some evidence of chicanery before ones assume that their democratic method is the be-all and end-all. It shouldn’t be hard to understand. If some twist undeniably good deeds to make them seem vile, exaggerate any missteps, ignore any mitigating factors, and without exception impute bad motives, what will they do when they discover Bethel upgraded from plastic laminate to solid wood furnishings at the headquarters lobby? They are dealing with ones who simply want to take them down. If you hate the message, you will hate the messenger. That is a valid position: hating the message. Just be upfront about it. Perhaps they will one day open up their financial books in worldwide publication for all to scrutinize, but they have offered no sign of it yet.

One might consider how Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians bears on the subject: “Do you not know that the holy ones will judge the world? If the world is to be judged by you, are you unqualified for the lowest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels? Then why not everyday matters?”15 If the ‘holy ones’ back then were to be entrusted with spiritual lives, were they incapable of handling ‘worldly wealth?’ Are they incapable of handling it today?

The Bible does not encourage of love of money. ‘Give me enough of it,’ says a psalmist, ‘but not too much.’ It has a way of corrupting. It has a way of engendering high self-esteem, which is as detrimental as low self-esteem. Money is incidental to a person’s worth, not the very fabric of it. The rich young man who could not bear to part with his wealth would find it hard to gain entrance into the kingdom, Jesus said. Another who could only think of building bigger barns for his harvest failed to anticipate that he was to die that night with no spiritual wealth accumulated. “For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.” Not money in itself, but the love of money is the problem.16 Accordingly, when a Watchtower article ran the life experiences of a man known to me personally, it did not even mention the fact that he was a self-made millionaire;17 many religious groups would fawn over the fact. He must have been a millionaire, unless he gave it all away, which is not impossible, for he was a very generous man. Tracts of homes bearing his construction firm’s name appear throughout the area.

Jesus tells a quirky parable to convey the proper view of money. It involves a steward about to be fired who acts in a dishonest way: “A rich man had a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. He summoned him and said, ‘What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.’ The steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg. I know what I shall do so that, when I am removed from the stewardship, they may welcome me into their homes.’ He called in his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said, ‘How much do you owe my master?’  He replied, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write one for fifty.’ Then to another he said, ‘And you, how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘One hundred kors of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Here is your promissory note; write one for eighty.’

“And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently. For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”18

Would he really commend the dishonest steward for stealing him blind? These days, security guards escort you to the door of the company that you have been downsized out of so as to prevent that from happening. Jesus uses an illustration that doesn’t exactly ring true to teach a greater point: the ‘unrighteous riches’ are the assets one has as a consequence of living in an unrighteous world. Use them in such a way to gain friends, primarily a certain Friend who runs the ‘eternal dwellings.’ Be generous with what assets you have, and if you are stingy in this you will be stingy in human qualities too.

The phrase ‘dishonest wealth’ is rendered in various translations as ‘worldly wealth,’ ‘wealth of unrighteousness,’ and ‘mammon of iniquity.’ The banned New World Translation calls it ‘unrighteous riches.’ Always there is a taint. It is good stuff, money is, but it is not completely above board. The financial system that awards it is absolutely amoral, and sometimes immoral. Don’t let the worldly wealth go to your head, for it is wont to do that. Why not feature a “dishonest” (or unrighteous) steward to drive home the point? It is not a virtue in itself that he is financially comfortable. It came about because of his master. He has learned to play the game, that’s all. Others equally virtuous, or even more so, have not been so adept, or have played half-heartedly. The game is not the stuff of life. Though much of the American Protestant tradition marches financial prosperity and godliness practically in lockstep, there is little correlation between the two, and to the extent there is, it is sometimes reverse.

It is hardly shocking that Christians today should contribute toward the spread of kingdom interests. Always, and unlike in many other religions, it is: “Let each one give privately according to what is in one’s own heart, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Always it is: “Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion.” Always it is: “When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” Always it is: “When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others.”19 In the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses, one has not the slightest idea what anyone else is giving. 

Countless persons today will say that they believe in God but decline to align themselves with organized religion. Organized anything means nothing but abuse of power, they have sadly concluded, and they want no part of it. Surely they are selling God short to assume that he would be incapable of uniting people in Christian conduct so that the inherent advantages of organization can be realized. Or perhaps they are demanding too much, by insisting they will only deal with the Top Man. God has always dealt through a human agency. The Bible record of first-century Christians is replete with persons overcoming the frictions of life to work together—even with the fishermen (John and Peter) telling the scholars (Paul, and arguably, Luke20) what to do. Insist upon face time with God exclusively and one had better be able to deliver a record more spotless than anyone has delivered so far. After all, people individually are not exactly the creampuffs they ought be if they would demand to be served by a flawless human organization. They will have to take what they can get.

To carry on and on about the donations Witnesses give to the cause they believe in—can it be any more than mere jealousy?  If Jehovah’s Witnesses flood the coffers in response to very little prodding, as has been seen, why should their detractors care? Can it be anything more than an intense dislike for the message preached, and so a trumped-up charge that they are somehow doing it underhandedly, crying crocodile tears with a feigned concern for ones so ‘deceived’? All the evidence indicates Witnesses are quite satisfied and do not feel deceived at all.  It is every other commercial interest relentlessly trying to get its hands into my pocket that I must be on guard against.

Katerina Chernova pushes back at ‘money-pumping’ allegations Witnesses are subjected to. Yes, they are heard all the time, she acknowledges, but “when [people] are asked to name just one victim from whom money, apartments, or something else was taken by the Witnesses, NOBODY was able to remember A SINGLE case in fact! So we asked to show us or give the address of just one cottage of a Jehovah’s Witness, built with money stolen from people. And again, nobody knows a single real instance.” She goes on to relate a small fact that is actually huge and says it all: with Jehovah’s Witnesses, baptisms and weddings and funerals are conducted “on a cost-free basis.” (It’s true. I have buried many.) With the Orthodox Church?  “We have heard many complaints against it regarding the impossibility of performing any ritual in the event that a person does not have money. That is, you want to be ‘baptized,”—some ‘donation;’ you want to be ‘married,’—it takes so much cash; a ‘funeral,’—it is also not for free.” An avaricious organization is not going to cut off these most dependable of all generators of cash.21

More than once jealousy is identified in Scripture as the true reason for underhanded means. “When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy,” and they resorted to “violent abuse,” says Acts. What could fit into the pattern more nicely than stealing that gift Paul was to deliver to Jerusalem before he could get it there?  The only reason one might condemn money-raising of the Watchtower organization is the desire to eliminate it. Their organization enables a powerful magnification of the kingdom proclaiming work, and to kill that work is the object.22

From the book Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia   (see also safe version)

Endnotes

  1. via private email
  2. David Masci, “How Income Varies Among U.S. Religious Groups,” Pew Research Center, October 11, 2016, accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/10/11/how-income-varies-among-u-s-religious-groups/
  3. Caryle Murphy, “The Most and Least Educated U.S. Religious Groups,” Pew Research, November 4, 2016, accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/04/the-most-and-least-educated-u-s-religious-groups/
  4. Acts 4:13
  5. John 16:12
  6. The program has been packaged into three segments and is viewable at https://tv.jw.org/#en/categories/VODProgramsEvents
  7. Deuteronomy 16: 16-17
  8. God’s Kingdom Rules (Brooklyn, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 2014) 194
  9. Bill Underwood, “Helping Haiti - Give Generously But Wisely,” Bible Friendly Books, August 17, 2016, http://www.biblefriendlybooks.com/2016/08/helping-haiti-give-generously-but-wisely.html
  10. John 12:6
  11. Wanda Gray, “Good Samaritans Provide Relief,” this article, probably from the Southwest Times Record, includes the short quote used. The quote is reproduced for the ‘God’s Kingdom Rules’ book, page 213, and is from the year 2013. A phone call to the Fort Smith, Arkansas public library reveals that records are not yet digitalized, making an Internet search unfeasible. The article clipping itself is in my personal possession.
  12. Ofer Tirosh, “What is the World’s Most Translated Website?” tomedes.com, July 7, 2015, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.tomedes.com/translator-hub/most-translated-website.php
  13. 2 Corinthians 8:8
  14. 2 Corinthians 8:14
  15. 1 Corinthians 6:2
  16. Matthew 19:22, Luke 12:18, 1 Timothy 6:10
  17. “Never Forget the Door-to-Door Ministry,” The Watchtower, September 1, 2008, 19
  18. Luke 16:1-9
  19. 2 Corinthians 9:7, Matthew 6:2-4
  20. It is “arguable” that Luke was a scholar, in that the Watchtower has ceased appending the almost automatic “respected physician” preceding his name, the basis being that physicians of that time were not respected. David Splane explained that doctors of the first century were often freed Greek slaves with correspondingly low social standing, not to mention low recovery rates. He quoted a description from one ancient work: “Until recently [so-and-so] was a doctor. Now he is an undertaker. He is still doing as an undertaker what he used to do as a doctor.” November Monthly Broadcast, JW Broadcasting, November 2017. Still, Luke is the writer of the Book of Acts, besides the gospel book bearing his name, and can hopefully survive this debacle.
  21. Katerina Chernova, “Jehovah’s Witnesses: Are They Banned or Not?” Suchan, April 2017, as captured at accessed March 27, 2018, https://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/170426a.html
  22. Acts 13:45    

000

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)

Earth

What’s not to like about WALL-E, the 2008 American computer-animated movie? A trash compactor robot, WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class) spends his days compacting trash with an eye on making the earth fit for rehabilitation. You see, centuries ago, humans polluted the earth to the point of ruin, and then evacuated in massive spaceships. There, they loll about in such ease that their limbs have atrophied, and they have become essentially helpless, though good-natured, blobs. Before they fled the planet they had ruined, they left robots to tidy up things, so they might eventually return. Only WALL-E remains on the job, for reasons I forget, and as one might imagine, he is lonely. All that changes when a pretty female robot (EVE) shows up. Sparks fly, as is to be expected with robots. The two save the planet, fight off the bad robots, and pave the way for the humans to return!

The film was an instant blockbuster. What menial job can garner more sympathy than that of saving the earth? “You leave WALL-E with a feeling of the rarest kind,” said film critic Peter Travers. It “fills you with pure exhilaration.” Saving the planet will do that. I liked the film. My wife liked it. Surely everyone must have liked it. But when she mentioned it to a co-worker, the latter lamented how sad the movie was. Sad? “What we’re doing to the earth, what we’re leaving behind for our children, is an absolute tragedy,” she said.

Well—yes, the film would have that effect on some, wouldn’t it? After all, WALL-E was a movie reminding viewers of a present that is not so rosy. “If Wall-E has anything original to say, it takes place in the first 30 minutes on a planet heaped high with junk. But the parallels between fiction and reality are almost too painful to contemplate,” writes another film critic, Dorothy Woodend.

The Bible frankly states that humans will, by their self-centered activity, threaten to “destroy the earth.” Believers can take comfort that the same verse says God will destroy them before they can complete their task, but if you didn’t know that, it would be disheartening indeed.1

Is it beneficial for the earth short-term for people to know that? Or does it make them complacent? Why worry about the earth since God will eventually clean it up? Witnesses have had people accuse them of holding just that attitude. “This [JW belief that God’s kingdom only can permanently solve earth’s environmental woes] leads to the undeniable fact that Witnesses take almost no initiative towards making the world we live in a better place in any way,” someone grumbled online.

Well—not to oversimplify, but if the entire population were Witnesses, there would be no need for efforts to make the world we live in better in the first place. This is because of the traits which are instilled into each Witness. They are law-abiding to the core, honest, industrious, not abusing government services, nor contributing to the criminal element operating with little hindrance in many lands. They are promoting stable, monogamous families—all of this by virtue of making the Bible their guide to life.

And to think that this writer was upbraided a few years ago, along with all his people, for not picking up the roadside trash. “Enough Jehovah’s Witness preaching, already!” scolded an interlocutor, “what good is that? Do something useful, instead,” said he, and then carried on about how he and his entire family took part in a local park clean-up, picking up rubbish that other slobs had tossed here, there, and everywhere. Look, no one is against cleanup days—they are undeniably a good thing—but how silly to imagine that, by thus taking part, we’re saving the planet, when, in one dastardly swoop, some industrial blunder will undo the efforts of countless picker-uppers.

Just about the time of this exchange online, there was such a blunder. BP lost a rig in the Gulf of Mexico and 3-4 million gallons of oil poured out over 87 days: the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. “How to clean up the mess? And who’s at blame!” cried Time Magazine’s cover of June 21, 2010, against a backdrop of oil-soaked pelicans. The magazine listed a “dirty dozen,” which included the prior president and his Secretary of State, a former oilman, but also the current president and some of his underlings. There were also a handful of other tycoons, needless to say, and one or two indulgent regulators. Even the ubiquitous American driver was on the list, since he fuels demand for oil in the first place. Got it? We’re all to blame. There are no good guys in white hats, only bad guys in black, oily ones. President Obama declared that he was looking for “asses to kick,” even while hinting that his own posterior might be among them.

Reports had it that local picker-uppers were showing up on the coast only to be told to get lost, since this was a job for pros! BP and others floated salvage ships to corral surface oil and burn it. Dire predictions were of massive environmental collapse from the oil that escaped and lined the shore. It didn’t happen. Not to say that there might not be long term consequences, but, by and large, the earth is pretty good at healing itself. It really is true that the U.S. media ignores even qualified good news, preferring to focus on overwhelming devastation itself, along with who is to blame, and delighting in the President’s then-combative ass-kicking tone.

No, I won’t stand for it: to be told preaching is valueless and community cleanup days are the path to salvation. And do not mistake that statement as unconcern for the environment. When our kids were small and we hiked the trails at Allegheny State Park, we would take trash bags with us and make a treasure hunt out of it, collecting beer and pop cans along the way. Some had been there for years. There were even some of the ancient tin types, cans that had been opened, not with pop-tops, but with can openers such as I remember from when I was a kid—extra points were awarded for such finds! And heaven help you if you are the pig dumping fast food trash out the car window and Mrs. Harley is driving behind you! She all but rams your bumper and slaps you in handcuffs, hauling you off to the sheriff under citizens’ arrest.

One fellow with an Internet connection gripes about Jehovah’s Witnesses: “They don’t even need to recycle if they don’t want to.” What kind of an accusation is that? Are there groups that maintain their people must recycle, whether they want to or not? Where recycling is the law of the community, Witness compliance is higher than most, no doubt, since they are well-known to be law-abiding. Where it is not the law of the land, likely Witness compliance is still higher than most, out of respect for the planet.

Sometimes financially secure, trendy neighborhoods take up recycling as their special cause. When that happens, they may outdo the average Witness. But Witnesses surely shine when compared to the population in general. When I attended a wine festival, each vendor offered samples of wine, cheese, candy, sauce, whatever, in single-use plastic cups, plates, or skewering toothpicks. Were they recycled? I don’t think so; all trash was mixed together. In the medical field, everything is single-use only, disposable, in the interests of sanitation. Nothing is washed. Nothing is reused. When I once worked part-time for a retail inventory firm, reputed to be the country’s largest consumer of AAA batteries, I asked whether they were recycled. They laughed at me. Into the trash those batteries went, each and every last one of them.

We are all for local clean-up-the-park days. Same with clean-up-the-roadside days. None of Jehovah’s Witnesses will ever speak against such things, unless you count observations that such are, at best, a stop-gap measure, and that the lasting solution will come only when God carries out his promise to “destroy those destroying the earth.” Witnesses tend to use their free time to highlight this latter solution, the one that, in the end, is the one that counts. My experience is that it is only the tiniest sliver of the population who take part in such cleanups, anyway—it is not as though Jehovah’s Witnesses are thwarting the entire effort. And surely it must count for something that Witnesses aren’t among those who caused the mess in the first place.

There is a hazardous waste recycling center nearby, a joint effort by the county and Waste Management. It is regularly trafficked by environmentally conscious persons who are not too weighed down by the cares of life, but it serves a 30-mile radius. What percentage of the population actually travels 30 miles to use it? Into the common landfills most stuff goes, which is admittedly an improvement over simply dumping garbage out in the back woods back in the day.

 

Having said all this, in Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses clean up the parks. If they were to do it here, it would prove the very opposite of the Russian government’s claim, for the United States Witnesses would not have told Russian Witnesses what to do, but Russian Witnesses would have told the American ones what to do. “In Russia, congregations do it all the time,” Chivchalov says. “Most congregations do it. It has become a custom for them. Parks are more or less okay, other people clean them too, but still there is garbage to clean, and sometimes the authorities just lack enough workers, so there may be tons of garbage at times. We clean not only parks, but any public areas. We usually ask the city administration to assign some areas for us to clean.”

It’s not a bad marriage, is it? The ones who hope to live forever on a paradise earth volunteer to clean it up now. The earth is not a cheap hotel room that is not up to your standards but since you are staying only a few days you can overlook it. No. It is our permanent home. Witnesses are not one of those religions that are ‘just passing through’—a few decades on the planet, then off to heavenly realms. Clean up those parks!

Might this even present opportunities to speak of God’s future promises regarding the planet? I’d be surprised if it didn’t. Whereas there are some denominations that teach God will one day destroy the earth with fire, what an ideal venue is a congregation park cleanup to explain that he won’t. What a perfect setting in which to tell the illustration Witnesses love to tell: ‘If you have built a house and rented it out to tenants who have destroyed it, you don’t burn down the house. You evict the tenants and find better ones.”

Extrapolating from too little data, Chivchalov says, with regard to park cleanups, that ‘other people clean them too.’ If they ever do it here, they certainly do not do it so commonly that one could say ‘other people clean them too.’ Does Russia clean up the planet more than does America, while polluting it less? You could certainly make the case that Russia has saved the planet a time or two. Or three. There are that many examples of when a Russian has literally saved the planet from nuclear ruin. I can think of no such examples in the West.

In 1983, Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov, in charge of the command center for the Oko nuclear early-warning system, saw that five missiles had been launched by the United States. The eyes of all his subordinates were upon him. Had he passed the information along to his superiors, it would have triggered an immediate Soviet counterstrike. He judged it was a malfunction and told underlings to forget about it. Of course, investigation later confirmed that he had been correct. Stanislav died during 2017, to relatively scant notice.2 He is one of the Ecclesiastes “princes who went on foot like slaves, while slaves rode on horseback.”3

Another was Vasili Arkhipov. He was the sole one of three senior officers on the nuclear-missile equipped submarine B-59 who refused to authorize their use—authorization had to be unanimous—during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Thomas Blanton, then director of the U.S. National Security Archives, credited him with ‘saving the world.’4 Third was Nikita Khrushchev, mentioned in the Statecraft chapter, sending the telegram that arguably defused the Cuban tension and ended the crisis.

 

Nuclear attack was a very real fear in the years following World War II. I used to crouch under my school desk, as mentioned in chapter 6, with hands clasped behind neck, until my classmates and I grew too big for such ‘protection, at which point we filed into the hallway and leaned against our lockers. Nor was it only the United States who had to be wary of the Russians. Russians had good reasons to be wary of the U.S. Intoxicated by the decisive end to the second world war brought about by Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, American General MacArthur sought to use up to 50 of the new devices just five years later along the Chinese and Russian border, to close out the Korean War, in a strike that would have made doings in Japan look like a schoolyard brawl. However, President Truman wouldn’t let him do it.5

Nuclear annihilation fired the popular imagination during the 1950s and 1960s. Remember how Ray Bradbury’s character in The Martian Chronicles trains his telescope on earth just in time to see its final mushroom cloud? And who can forget Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes encountering the half-buried Statue of Liberty, suddenly realizing just what planet he is on, and screaming: “They blew it up! Damn them! Damn them to hell!” Not to mention the Twilight Zone episode in which that hen-pecked fellow goes into the bank vault to read, only to have the world end while he is so occupied. Far from being put out, he is delighted, since he can now read free from the eternal nagging of his boss and wife. Unfortunately, he breaks his glasses. Thus far, none of those disasters have come about. Up till now, there is always someone to, just in the nick of time, hold the earth together, but it’s one heck of a way to run a planet. Didn’t they just reset the Doomsday Clock at two minutes before midnight? Many think that threat is now greater than ever, since there are more nuclear powers, and they are more unstable.

When I became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the 1970s and came across that scripture telling how God would “destroy those destroying the earth,” I read it in terms of nuclear destruction. It was really the only means of destroying the earth that anyone could envision back then. Yes, some areas were polluted then, but nobody saw such things as a threat to the entire earth. These days an endless list leaps to mind—most are some variant of man-made pollution. Taking first place has to be global warming, but through the years we’ve also learned to fret about global dimming, species eradication, air and water pollution, acid rain, deforestation, contamination of the food supply, and so forth. Wasn’t there just some study detailing how pharmaceuticals have found their way into the water supply? In minute concentrations, of course, yet over time, and given the fact that such chemicals are specifically designed to interact with living tissue, isn’t it another “destroying the earth” scenario?

The Bible uses the term ‘earth’ in yet another way. It doesn’t always refer to the physical planet. It can refer to the society living upon it. If we broaden our definition of earth in this way, we, as a consequence, add new social ways in which humans destroy the earth. In fact, when God spells out a reason for bringing the flood of Noah’s time, he declared that the earth was corrupted, not by air pollution or global warming, but by human violence.6 Surely violence corrupts the earth today. Imagine hatred so intense that people delight to die if only they can take a dozen or so with them! Ever more graphic violence is a staple of television entertainment. In the wake of a school shooting, the president gathered video game makers to say that their products are too violent, and they should tone it down. The media promptly trotted out experts bristling with degrees to ‘correct him.’ Yes, it does make a certain intuitive sense, they conceded, but science shows that violent games provide a harmless substitute for the real thing and true violence actually decreases when people play all the games they want.7 Will they dare say it with regard to child porn?

New ways of destruction continue to surface, even as the older ones continue to simmer. Putin has declared whoever controls artificial intelligence (AI) controls the world.8 Others say no one will control AI; in time it will control us, and will perhaps squash us one fine day, without malice, when it perceives we have somehow gotten in its way. Predictably, AI is instantly adapted to porn. Supplementing online porn and virtual-reality porn, AI-enhanced porn produces a product so enticing that it is feared people will neglect the real thing. Will God be thwarted? Will the irresistible force of sexual attraction, the key to preservation of the species, becomes a ‘been there, done that’ thing?

Such things are not unexpected to the student of the Bible and are just part of the accumulating ‘sign’ that human rulership is unfit, and that God is fully justified in bringing its end, to be replaced with his own kingdom rule. Only then will the earth ever be free of threats to its existence.

Still, even with that knowledge, trialsome conditions are trialsome conditions. Jehovah’s people may see light at the end of the tunnel, but it is a tunnel nonetheless. Sometimes people give up on the light and instead focus on the tunnel. Some simply worry about it, and some try to patch it up. It is easy to wobble in faith. If Paul could speak of those who had experienced “shipwreck of their faith” in his day, much more do his words apply in our day as the whole earth wobbles insanely and all feel its effects. Doubtless that is why the Witness organization lays so much stress on ‘staples’ such as meetings, public ministry, and Bible study: staples that Russia seeks to deprive them of. These are the avenues—really, the only avenues—through which Christians can focus on the big picture of God’s deliverance.

 

Danish citizen and Russian resident Dennis Christensen was picking up the public park, just like WALL-E, until the Ministry of Justice decided he was a dangerous criminal that should be jailed. Dennis is the same fellow who built a playground for the children. How extremist does that sound? His congregation has a nice certificate from the mayor. Maybe it is even mounted somewhere: “In gratitude for a good deed—garbage collection for the benefit of people and nature.” Christensen’s role himself was to stand in foot-deep Orlik River water to fish out bags of trash. It’s his last act before losing his freedom. Someone later snapped a picture of the 23-person delegation standing behind bags upon bags of the rubbish they had collected, as though fishermen holding aloft the big ones that did not get away.9 The congregation tells of a city representative sympathetic to Jehovah’s Witnesses, in the midst of their persecution, who wished them not to lose the ‘power of the spirit.’

Is there anything less radical that cleaning up the park? Does ISIS do it? If they do, most would hesitate to stroll through the area afterwards for fear of booby traps. How better to expose the nonsense of an ‘extremist’ label than to continue cleanups of public places? Will policemen follow along and monitor Witnesses to make sure they don’t witness to anyone? If they do, they may find themselves having to clean up the parks themselves: on the taxpayer’s dime, no less, and not for free as the Witnesses do.

 

After hurricane, flood, or earthquake, an entire city becomes a park to clean up. It is here that the Witness organization excels, having developed “the disaster response volunteer service to a fine art.” Their art is simple, yet unreachable for many. People’s love for one another must be strong enough that it does not snap under adversity. There must be sufficient organization. It cannot be watered down by everyone wanting to be the chief. One weak link hampers all. Several weak links all but destroy it. Jehovah’s Witnesses are well known to have that love for one another and, as a byproduct, they are able to effectively organize without fuss in times of natural disaster.

Even the prompt Witness response to such disaster is spun as a negative by apostates. Why do the Witnesses just help themselves, they will say, with only the spillover benefiting the greater community? Why do not they help everyone without preference? The answer is that Witness workers are volunteers taking time off from work. A project can only be as large as there are volunteers available. The solution is for all other groups to organize themselves as Witnesses do for disaster relief. Helping one another promptly and effectively should not be unattainable rocket science. Others who rise to the occasion will thereby become so busy that they will have no time to complain that the doers are doing it wrong. People without Bible education tend not to get along. They supply unexpected friction at the very moment lubricant is needed. The Watchtower organization has no idea how to organize them. They will have to organize themselves.

Consistent with cleaning up the parks is building facilities that ‘understand’ the earth: that sway when it sways, that breathes when it breathes, and that has the most minimal impact upon the environment possible. Watchtower branch headquarters, 70 kilometers outside of London, completed in 2017, was certified ‘Outstanding’ by a leading sustainability authority for green construction methods.10 This is similar to the ‘Four Green Globes’ rating given the new worldwide headquarters in Warwick NY by an American agency.11 The branch facility in Haiti sustained but minor damage in a 2010 earthquake that flattened Port-au-Prince; it had been built quake resistant.

In Gardiner, New York, Witnesses restored, repaired and painted that community’s 143-year-old town hall. “They did amazing work,” the town supervisor exclaimed at the next town-board meeting. They even combed through the archive photographs to repaint the trim a more historically authentic forest green.12 In Warwick, New York, they provided labor to repair the dam whose failure would have destroyed 200 residences downstream.13 In Patterson, New York, they landscaped the town’s firehouse and even bought them a new firetruck when told it lacked a vehicle that could service the five-story buildings Witnesses were constructing.14

Before realizing it was later to call anything Witness-related extremist, the editorial board of the journal World of Design in 2015 heaped praise upon the Witness’ branch headquarters in St Petersburg and its purpose.15 “The hall…is intended only for one main purpose—a thorough study of the Bible. Worship of God occurs both individually and with a large crowd of people, this is the basis of the tradition of thousands of biblical seminars.”

World of Design even noted its commitment to equality, a Russian ideal. “The principles of equal opportunities are promulgated for all who came here—if something is given here, then equally and of the same quality, this refers to lighting, location, acoustic level and air ventilation. The center provides comfortable conditions for all visitors, without fail on equal terms.”

The journal noted not a hint of catering to the luxurious; all was purely practical. “In this strictly functional building there are no exquisite ornaments. Nowhere is there any sense of luxury—such are the principles universally accepted in places of worship of Jehovah’s Witnesses as early as the beginning of the 20th century.”

As to the building itself, it “impressively combined with light, sometimes striped volumes, giving a harmonious look of the building. As the architects assumed, the building became an adornment of the city. Simultaneously attractive and elegant, it turned into some kind of architectural dominant of this area.”

Russian authorities liked it so much that they took it! Did the government recognize these unique attributes as they confiscated the center, built almost exclusively by Witness volunteers? A group of Finnish investors, fretting over an investment climate they judged negative in Russia, called the confiscation of private property “a very bad signal for the market.”16 At any rate, it certainly gives new meaning to a passage in Ezekiel:

“You will say, ‘I will invade a land of open villages and attack a peaceful people who live in security—all of them living without city walls, bars, or gates’ in order to plunder and pillage, turning your hand against resettled ruins, against a people gathered from the nations, a people whose concern is cattle and goods, dwelling at the center of the earth.”17

From the book Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia.   (see also safe version)

Endnotes

  1. Revelation 11:18
  2. Simon Shuster, “Stanislav Petrov, the Russian Officer Who Averted a Nuclear War, Feared History Repeating Itself, Time, September 19, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, http://time.com/4947879/stanislav-petrov-russia-nuclear-war-obituary/
  3. Ecclesiastes 10:7
  4. Nicola Davis, “Soviet Submarine Officer Who Averted Nuclear War Honoured with Prize,” October 27, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/oct/27/vasili-arkhipov-soviet-submarine-captain-who-averted-nuclear-war-awarded-future-of-life-prize
  5. “Texts of Accounts by Lucas and Considine on Interviews With MacArthur in 1954,” New York Times, April 9, 1964, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/1964/04/09/texts-of-accounts-by-lucas-and-considine-on-interviews-with-macarthur-in-1954.html
  6. Genesis 6:11
  7. Seth Schiesel, “The Real Problem With Video Games,” The New York Times, March 13, 2018, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/13/opinion/video-games-toxic-violence.html
  8. David Meyer, “Vladimir Putin Says Whoever Leads in Artificial Intelligence Will Rule the World” Fortune, September 4, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, http://fortune.com/2017/09/04/ai-artificial-intelligence-putin-rule-world
  9. “Dennis Kristensen, Who Languished in Jail, and His Co-Religionists Received Gratitude From Local Authorities,” Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, June 14, 2017, accessed March 24, 2018, https://jw-russia.org/news/17061415-180.html
  10. Media release: “Witnesses’ New Branch Office in Britain Receives Top BREEAM Rating for Sustainable Design,” JW.org, September 5, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.jw.org/en/news/releases/by-region/united-kingdom/branch-office-breeam-rating-sustainable-design/
  11. Media release: “Witnesses Receive Highest Rating by GBI for Sustainable Design of New World Headquarters,” JW.org, February 14, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.jw.org/en/news/releases/by-region/united-states/gbi-awards-four-green-globes-sustainable-design/
  12. Frances Marion Platt, “Gardiner Town Hall Spruced Up by Watchtower Volunteers,” hudsonvalleyone.com, August 19, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, https://hudsonvalleyone.com/2017/08/19/gardiner-town-hall-spruced-up-by-watchtower-volunteers
  13. Media release: “Witnesses Repair 60-Year-Old Dam in Warwick,” JW.org, November 1, 2016, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.jw.org/en/news/releases/by-region/united-states/witnesses-repair-60-year-old-dam-warwick/
  14. Mary McAleer Vizard, “In the Region: Putnam County; Watchtower Project Grows in Patterson,” New York Times, April 18, 1993, accessed March 28, 2018, http://www.nytimes.com/1993/04/18/realestate/in-the-region-putnam-county-watchtower-project-grows-in-patterson.html
  15. “The Congress Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in St. Petersburg. Overview,” Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, July 15, 2015, accessed March 28, 2018, https://jw-russia.org/news/15071514-77.html
  16. Svetlana Mihaylova, “Do You Want to Attract Finnish Business, Improve Investment Climate,” fontanka.ru, November 1, 2016, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.fontanka.ru/2017/12/16/038/
  17. Ezekiel 38:11-12

000

 

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)

Brainwashing

“Jehovah’s Witnesses members are dangerous because they approach people in the street and offer them their literature, introduce themselves as a Christian organization, while their activities are based on manipulating consciousness, and they erode the psyche of people and the family,” Russian Orthodox Church Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk explained.1

Witnesses wouldn’t be dangerous to anyone had the dominant church not been asleep at the switch. Surely the solution for anyone dangerously offering Bible-based literature is to train people to spot what is wrong with it. If they did their jobs, they wouldn’t have to worry about cults. People would see through cults in a heartbeat.

Witnesses hold that “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”2 All the Church must do to withstand unjust assault is to make its own people familiar with the book. Why have they not? They have had the time and resources. The Witness model could not be simpler: acquaint persons with the Word so that they can be guided by it—God’s wisdom as opposed to human wisdom. Many people like that model.

Faith is not so important to most people in an overwhelmingly secular age. They keep religion in its place—typically last place. With Witnesses it is unapologetically in first place. That is apparently how Jesus ‘the Extremist’ would have it. “Do not think I came to bring peace to the earth,” he says. “I came to bring, not peace, but a sword.”3 Any faith incapable of evoking division is not the faith Jesus is describing. Though overall a godsend, there will be some component of it analogous to waving a red flag before a bull.

Politics is what is important to most people, even if not to Jehovah’s Witnesses. It can and does provoke disruption in many a family. The capacity to provoke disruption is a measure of a object’s importance. Jesus voluntarily pursued a course that led to his execution. Did he consider his faith important or something that should be kept in its place?

Early Christians knew that their gospel would not be welcomed. They knew they would be vehemently denounced, even by family. “You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends; some of you they will have put to death; and everyone will hate you because of me,” said Jesus. They were not to become unduly concerned about this. “So make up your minds not to worry, rehearsing your defense beforehand; for I myself will give you an eloquence and a wisdom that no adversary will be able to resist or refute,” their Lord said. “By standing firm you will save your lives.”4

Jehovah’s Witnesses are maligned in the Russian press. For example, a 2400-word article in the General Newspaper of Moscow salivates at the prospect of seizing Witness property throughout the country and mocks their appeal to international law in an effort to prevent that from happening. Witnesses are low beings who “wet in the toilet,” would “clog your brains,” do “dark things through Jehovah,” and as to your money, they would have you “give the last.” 5 A follow-up article from SOVA Center reported the Witnesses’ consternation at this article, with the words: “In the opinion of believers, this ‘material is capable of arousing hostility on the basis of attitudes toward religion and lead to a stream of violations of the rights of innocent people.’”6 Do you think?

Those who know some Witnesses personally may think it odd that people who are so nice individually can be so dangerous collectively. The ones they know personally are fine people, but somehow, when you put them all together, they become evil. It doesn’t quite make sense that it should be that way, but there are other things to think about. Doesn’t the Orthodox Church say bad things about them? It is enough for most people, who like the Church because it typifies Russia.

 

The Huffington Post criticized the April 20th Court decision. But then it walked its criticism back. If a faith claims to be the one true faith it will sooner or later turn violent, the Post said. At first it may content itself with soft violence, that is, seeking by law to force its views upon others. Should that fail, it will look to hard violence. The writer then cites historical examples of that happening, in most cases skipping the soft violence altogether and going directly to the hard. He then proceeds to base his entire article on the one example, almost the only one he could have chosen, which disproves his point.

“In America, most of us think of Jehovah’s Witnesses as that occasional Saturday nuisance,” the article begins. “They interrupt our morning breakfast or afternoon chores to tell us their version of the Christian faith. They cheerfully drag their families along for quiet strolls through the neighborhoods and pass out Watchtower Magazines for us to throw away later. Annoying? Yes. Disruptive? Usually. But extremist? That depends,” the writer says.7

Should we not agree that if a religion participates in violence, it is extremist, and if it does not, it is not? Is the Post not attempting to erase the distinction between virtual extremism and actual extremism? The article uses Jehovah’s Witnesses, unfailingly non-violent, to launch into a discussion of religions that are violent, yet somehow manages to insinuate that Jehovah’s Witnesses are the worst of the lot. ISIS spills blood today, but it is hardly unique, says the Post. “From the Spanish inquisition to the convert-or-die tactics used on Native American Indians, Christianity has been used to commit horrific acts of violence throughout the centuries. Judaism, from which Christianity arose, recorded shocking details in the Torah of the slaughter of entire populations, including women, children, and animals.”

It is too stupid to be countenanced. Surely, Jehovah’s Witnesses will one day turn violent, the writer hints, even though Witnesses have supplied a 140-year track record that they will not. Their non-participation in both hard violence and the softer political kind is common knowledge. With anyone else the writer might have a point. Few factions will not resort to violence when they deem the cause right. Yet, the first group to be branded extremist in Russia is the one group that categorically rejects violence in all circumstances and has proven it since its inception.

Actions are not the sticking point with the Huffington Post writer, despite professions to the contrary. It is words that he has a problem with—the words that are Jehovah’s Witnesses’ only weapon. “Sticks and stones will break my bones, and words are even worse”—he doesn’t say it, but the implication could not be more clear. His is an attempt to muzzle words that would violate his world view.

Nor is the Huffington Post writer worried about the future, issuing his dark warnings about coming violence from the one group that has never offered any. It is concerned with the here-and-now. The Huffington Post is a humanist champion with little use for religion. A religion that actually heeds Jesus’ words to ‘put down the sword’ is not welcome news to them, for it argues against their premise that the worship of God is a relic of the past that humanity does well to outgrow. Humans have the answers, it urges. We must all get on board and pull together. Do not rain on the parade by asserting, as Witnesses do, that human efforts are doomed to fail; surely it is extremist to say such a thing even if nobody picks up a gun. The ‘good news’ that the Witnesses tell is fake news to the writer, and he does not want it to be told.

Most likely the Post writer realizes that associating Witnesses with physical violence is nonsense, for after he implies guilt by association, he moves on. He uses the complaint as a bridge to another complaint he hopes will find better reception—the supposed threat that Witnesses pose to the LGBT community. This is also nonsense, but it is an easier sell. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not allow the homosexual lifestyle within their ranks, and these days that is enough to be considered hostile to those not within their ranks. They would disagree. Can it really be hostile to keep one’s own standards within one’s own house? Jehovah’s Witnesses do not judge the people. The causes of homosexuality are by no means clear. “Teen Hormones [are] Being Altered by Gender-Bending Chemicals,” says the Sun and goes on to relate how an ingredient employed in the manufacture of plastic mimics estrogen, and has been found in the bodies of 80 to 90% of teenagers.8—yet another scenario arises to explain sexual fluidity. Who can say? Jehovah’s Witnesses are constrained by Scripture from allowing homosexual acts within the congregation, but they do not stir up hostility toward them in the outside world, or lobby for laws to that effect—something many a church does do.

The Satanic church of Moscow is also not concerned about deeds. They are concerned about words. They are less hypocritical than the Huffington Post in that they say it outright. “The Jehovah’s Witnesses had an extreme approach. We oppose indoctrination and religious propaganda,” said the church spokesperson Oleg Sataninsky [his real name not given], as reported in Newsweek. His church is “flourishing” and it was pleased with the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses—even ‘cheering’ it.9 That there should even be a Satanist church is not thought extremist today in Russia or most other places in the world. However, a religion that categorically shuns violence is.

His own group is misunderstood, Sataninsky protests. They are not devil worshippers there, he says, nor do they go in for the dark rituals of movie lore. They have nothing to do with the red-suited figure with horns and pitchfork, or to the extent they do, it is merely to tweak the religionists. Instead, they elevate human reason as the foremost star and celebrate its accomplishments.

They thereby identify with the actual Devil more so than do the storybook depictions of him in the church. The veneration of human reason exactly reflects Satan. It has been the issue from the beginning Genesis account: Satan urging the first human couple to disobey God and thus be ‘like him, knowing good and bad.’10 They are urged to set their own standards of right and wrong—who needs God, anyway? He is just a tyrant set on stifling human accomplishment, charged the Devil way back them, as he charges today. In the elevation of human reason, the Satanist Church is not unlike the Huffington Post. Jehovah’s Witnesses represent the polar opposite of both, as they recommend God’s teaching as the highest source of wisdom. Most of the greater religious world straddles the fence, here stressing things spiritual, there bending to the latest innovation of human reason, and thereby incurring the wrath of the Post and the Satanists to a lesser degree than does the Watchtower organization.

It is not deeds opponents fear. It is words. “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth,” says Jesus.11 It will not, says the Russian government, the Orthodox Church, the Huffington Post, the Satanic Church, and a host of other opposers. The specific words these various groups are concerned with may differ, but it is always words, and not deeds, that upset them. The problem with words is that they can be strung together in many different ways—and not just the ways these ones prefer. What will be the result of words when strung together as these opposers would string them? Jesus answers: “In fact the hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God.”12

 

A month after the Court decision, Alexander Dvorkin, the anti-cult expert, crowed about the outcome he helped mastermind. At last the parent organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses would be shut down so as “to protect the civil rights of the members of this organization.” He was “absolutely convinced that after a few years, the number of members of the organization will decrease dramatically, two or three times, because, when one cuts off its financial foundation, its ability to freely, without hindrance, recruit other people, to rent large halls and so on, then, in fact, people will lose interest and will very quickly disperse and, in this sense, this decision is very correct and far-sighted.”13 In other words, when you cut off someone’s limbs, they can be expected to die. He champions his role as protector of the individual Witness by severing ties to their organization.

Their fate serves them right, he says, because “Jehovah’s Witnesses do not recognize the foundations of the constitutional system of the Russian Federation, forbidding its followers to bear arms and participate in elections.” And “by the way, as far as I know, [reports are] sent to the headquarters of the organization in the United States.” In fact, Jehovah’s Witness do report to their congregation the amount of time engaged in the ministry, and the aggregate number is sent to headquarters for worldwide compilation and the better coordination of ministry resources. Some grumblers allege that Witnesses thereby care more about hours than people. It is a cheap shot. The hours are people, to whose spiritual needs Witnesses are devoted.

Individual Witnesses spread their message “by deception,” Dvorkin says, and thereby those they speak to are “deprived of basic human rights.” He spreads his version of the gospel outside the country, too: “Many times I have faced and tried to speak with different so-called human rights organizations, which, again, are sponsored mostly from abroad, that there is a specific case of people who are affected by sects … there is actually a struggle for human rights [that] is replaced by the struggle for the rights of organizations that violate the human rights,” he says. Note how he disparages various human-rights organizations which are ‘abroad’ as ‘so-called’ because they do not acquiesce to his point of view. The European Court of Human Rights does not agree with him? That is because it is a ‘so-called’ human rights organization.

What he is saying is that members of Jehovah’s Witnesses are being manipulated by an overpowering organization. He dislikes organizations that coordinate and magnify words he opposes, but he cannot attack Witnesses individually without appearing intolerant, so he attacks their organization. He has no problem with other organizations, such as his Church, or even the government itself. But Witnesses should not be organized, especially from outside the country. He is saying that Witnesses are being brainwashed to do all they do. It is an old accusation, just worded a bit differently. Dvorkin is playing the role religionists have played before he was born, using state apparatus to squash enemies, doing so under a guise of People’s Protector. Always religion pursues the same path: wrestle a majority and then kill off the competition. It happens everywhere—with politics, with science, with religion, and with philosophical outlook. Often the stated goal is to protect people, as it is with Dvorkin. Even the drug lord says his competition sells bad stuff.

By liquidating the Witnesses’ branch organization, he thinks he puts an end to this threat to Witnesses’ civil rights. What he is saying is that, when faced with persecution, Witnesses will fold. He is the actor taking the place of the Jewish leaders of early Christian times—so excited to have struck a lethal blow against the religious upstart, and so persuaded that will be the end of it.

The historical record reads: “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, except the apostles…Saul, [the Apostle Paul pre-conversion] meanwhile, was trying to destroy the church; entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment…Now those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.”14 Dispersion of Christians didn’t work back then. Nonetheless, the sufferings of those in the first century were substantial, and there are reports of the same in 21st century Russia. “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? I am prepared not only to be bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus,” said Paul regarding tests he knew he would face.15 One can find one’s heart broken. Witnesses around the world all ask themselves whether they, should their turn come, will be as courageous as their Russian brothers are called upon to be in facing this latest machination of the Devil.  

On June 10, 2010, the European Court of Human Rights, adjudicating legal mischief stirred up in Moscow several years prior, found no evidence to support the accusation that Jehovah’s Witnesses use “mind control.” “The Court finds it remarkable that the [Russian] courts did not cite the name of a single individual whose right to freedom of conscience had allegedly been violated by means of those techniques,” it said.16 However, the Russian Supreme Court was not chastened by this rebuke and saw no need to cite a name for the April 20th trial, either. They did, however, find every need to not hear representatives of foreign embassies who might, for all they knew, have sided with the European Court.

 

It is the pearl of great value that Jehovah’s Witnesses speak of. They spot its worth immediately. Jesus states: “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.” Most people today would consider this merchant a fanatic. Jesus indicated his was the example to follow. Will Russian Witnesses relinquish it because Dvorkin twists their arm? It is a battle for hearts that is waged, not a battle of might. The heart will recognize the pearl of high price and will do anything to lay and keep hold of it.  Unless God puts his finger on the scale, hurtling anyone on the other side into oblivion, Witnesses will always lose the battle of might. But they will not lose the battle of hearts, any more than Christians lost it in the days of Acts.17

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the world as a witness to all nations, and then the end will come,” Jesus says. ‘It will not be preached!’ says Mr. Dvorkin, in effect. “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope,”18 Paul writes. ‘Let them be unaware!’ Mr Dvorkin responds. ‘Maybe the house Church will explain it someday.’ “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God. For as Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow. If we are afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation; if we are encouraged, it is for your encouragement, which enables you to endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is firm, for we know that as you share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement,” again writes Paul.19 ‘If you kids don’t stop whining about ‘encouragement’ back there, we’ll give you something you’ll wish you were ‘encouraged’ about!’ yells Dvorkin. But, as anyone who has ever driven a car with kids in the back seat knows, they will not be so easily dissuaded. The mountain vista on their assembled puzzle is too persuasive for them to be turned aside by any anti-sectarian.

Having inculpated the Russian Orthodox Church, let us walk back on it, as though we were the Huffington Post itself. The ban of the Witness organization is a gift for the Church, and some clergy squeal with delight as they open it, as though kids on Christmas morning. But they did not originate the gift. It does not come from the world of religion. It comes from the irreligious world of the anti-cultists of France, and it is imported into Russia via the emissary Dvorkin, as Joshua Gill points out in chapter 3. It is like another Russian import of 100 years ago: Marxism, exported to the country by outside powers in hopes of neutralizing the country’s might in the face of World War I.20

Is Russia to be forever abused by outside factions pursuing their outside concerns? Once it was Marxist ideology injected into the country from Germany. Later it was the anti-cult crusade from France. More recently it is denunciations from the United States for meddling in its election via social media. Ironically, had all Americans been Jehovah’s Witnesses, the nefarious scheme would have come to naught, for Witnesses have been trained to be leery of social media on the basis that it teems with liars. An engaging whiteboard video entitled ‘Be Social Network Smart’ is directed to teens, the most vulnerable population, on JW Broadcasting, and recommends that they ‘friend’ online only those they personally know. Even adults who do not follow the same counsel are nonetheless put on notice that one does not believe everything read in social media, despite my annoyance in chapter 2 that some seem to. And as to the charge of Russian meddling—has the U.S. ever meddled in a foreign election? ‘Yeah, we do it all the time,’ is the gist of the former C.I.A. chief’s comments, and he feels it is not at all the same since it is done in the interests of its brand of government: democracy. Essentially, it is ‘We are the good guys.’21 Just once I would like to hear of a conflict in which one side or the other says “We are the bad guys.”

The ban has its immediate root in the ‘Yarovaya’ law, discussed in Introduction of this book. It has its roots in Article 29 of the post-Soviet Russian constitution, that decrees freedom of religion, but also stipulates it is not permissible to promote the superiority of any one of them.22 It is all a product of irreligion, that begrudgingly allows religion to exist, but only in a watered-down state where it doesn’t count. No wonder the Satanist church applauds it to high heaven.       

The true thinkers of the Russian Orthodox Church do not welcome the ban. “Even among Orthodox officials it’s not easy to find supporters of the draconian verdict against the Jehovah’s Witnesses,” the Christian Science Monitor says. “It is the first major post-Soviet instance in which Russia has moved to outlaw an entire religion, deploying “extremism” laws against a group that poses no threat whatsoever of violence, racism, or hate speech,” it says, highlighting Jehovah’s Witnesses’ pacifism. Vsevolod Chaplin, a former spokesman for the Orthodox Church, notes that banning Witnesses did not work even in Stalinist times, and adds: “We should be wiser in this case.” He doesn’t like Article 29. He does not approve of muzzling religious speech as do the Satanists. Chaplin feels that his Church is the superior faith—it is not all Ladas versus Kias to him. “If the state forbids us from saying that [our religion is superior], it will put itself at odds with the majority of its citizens,” he says, since most Russians identify with the Church, even if relatively few are actively involved.23

Andrei Kuraev, a professor at the Orthodox Church’s Spiritual Academy in Moscow, mentioned in the Introduction, agrees. He picks up on the “totalitarian” label of the anti-cultists, but the term is not his: “Sure, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are far from blameless. They are a totalitarian sect who control their adherents and spread bad information about other faiths,” he says. “But sometimes our Orthodox preachers do the very same things. I have personally taken part in debates with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I believe that’s how things should be handled. We should have equal conditions. The state should stay out of it and not under any circumstances try to play the role of arbiter.”24

Can totalitarianism truly fit hand in glove with pacifism? Plainly, something doesn’t fit. Since it is not pacifism—few things are as clear as Jehovah’s Witnesses ‘pacifism’—it must be totalitarianism. The description of ‘totalitarian’ comes from those who insist religion should be kept in its place as an accessory to a person’s life, but not life itself. It comes from the world of irreligion. The Church may benefit being freed from the “aggressive missionary activity” of the competition, but it too is leery of being shunted aside as a non-factor. The more spiritual persons among them do not agree that choice of faith should be comparable to one’s choice of automobile make, generating a mild debate as to which is better, perhaps, but in the end, who cares? since any car will get you into heaven.

Emily Baran wrote the book on the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Soviet Russia, as discussed in this book’s first chapter. Unsurprisingly she has much to say about present developments. The “idea of Jehovah’s Witnesses posing any serious threat to national security [is] absurd,” she writes in the Moscow Times.25 She is joined in that description by Rachel Denber, deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia division at Human Rights Watch. It is the 2002 anti-extremism law that is absurd in its scope, Denber asserts, more so than the Court decision that logically stems from it. The law effectively “prohibits any group, except the Orthodox Church and a few other traditions, from claiming the true path to salvation. The Witnesses do claim it, she says, “but not in a way that should land them on the same list of outlaws that includes al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.”26

Are Witnesses totalitarian? Do they control people? It is nonsense. College is more ‘controlling’ than anything Witnesses devise, as discussed in chapter 7. Unlike the Witness experience, college overwhelms and replaces former associates from Day One—gone completely is the stabilizing influence of family, community groups, and long-held friends. Enemies dislike the conclusions that Jehovah’s Witnesses have come to. They mask it with concern about their ‘controlling methods’—methods that are significantly less controlling than that of the greater world’s system of education. “Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart,” says the Letter to the Hebrews.27 The Witness opponent’s response amounts to: “If it penetrates more than butter, it is too sharp.”

“Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance,” says playwright David Mamet. The old were once young and they searched for answers. They found none on most meaningful things, and they gave up. American flower children of the 60s grew into adults more shallow than their parents, ever seeking and never finding, because they dared not search too far off the beaten path. Young people ever insist that they now see the light previously hidden. It is not that way. They have but identified some of the problems, especially the ones that afflict them personally. Identifying the answer is another thing entirely. Their parents eventually gave up. Some want their youngsters to give up, too, and settle for a life practical and comfortable. It is risky to so shunt aside spiritual things. For want of spiritual grounding, people fare poorly. Suicide even becomes the rage among the young. Friends and family express shock. Tragically, the vanilla values they hoped their young would embrace did nothing to prepare them for the assault of life, much more intense than back ‘in the day.’

Witnesses have built up street credibility. They do the work. They log the time. The fair-minded person hears them out on that account alone. Don’t spin stories about their pathetic ‘need’ to ‘save’ people. Their course is no more than putting the lamp on the lampstand by people who know light when they see it and know that one can function better with it than without it.28 Grumblers try to malign the work. It is only because someone is ‘making Witnesses do it,’ they say. If they say it to me, I invite them to look around and identify that person.

Chalk it up to the Greek word most commonly used in Scripture to convey love: ‘agape.’ There are four words used in the New Testament that are translated ‘love,’ but far-and-away the most frequent is agape. It is a principled type of love that attaches itself to an object and does not let go until its purpose is realized. It explains how, with regard to some, love can precede like. Usually the best course is not to correct, but to concede. It is a little absurd that a ‘loving’ stranger should appear out of thin air and profess a desire to teach the Bible. Admit it and move on. It is part of the theatrical performance Christians provide for the world in a play that is alternately noble and ridiculous.

Not only should speaking with Jehovah’s Witnesses be permitted, one might say (though no one does) that it should be a requirement. Jehovah’s Witnesses offer a safe setting in which one can talk about matters that are off the grid of daily life: matters not mundane, matters spiritual. Witnesses are not out to defraud anyone. They are not out for any sordid purpose. If you tell them ‘no,’ they go away. It is a parent’s worst fear that his or her youngster may be drawn into something radical, something that purports to offer answers to questions that they, the parents, have not figured out and have come to expect no more, even supposing it dangerous to pursue such answers. Deep down, they have learned to give up on discerning deep matters of life such as ‘Why is there suffering?’ ‘What is the overall purpose of life?’ ‘What happens at death?’ they have largely given up on discerning the nature of God, or even if there is a God, yet they are unsure that their offspring will also give up, as they must if they are to carve a traditional career in this system of things. The greater world distrusts those becoming too serious about the Bible, for fear the ones so affected may run a bit crazy, forgetting completely the goals that have been laid out for them. The fear is that they may develop other goals, goals leading off the charted path. What if they even carry on as did Jesus, getting himself killed over religion? Keep religion in its place. Ban those who do not.

Jehovah’s Witnesses offer a safe setting to explore unconventional ideas with regular people. The worst you can do is to get stuck with somebody awkward or boorish. This can happen despite training not to be that way, for Jehovah’s Witnesses are just regular people. But even at their ‘worst,’ they want nothing from anyone. They are not recruiting. Sometimes, when I am speaking with someone hung up over such things, I will say: “If it helps, let us both agree that there is no way on God’s green earth that you are going to become a Witness. You know it. I know it. So you needn’t worry about me maneuvering to that end.” Yes, I would like to see it. But it is so extraordinarily improbable with any given person—it would take up to a year of discussion were one to join up—that no Witness seriously entertains that prospect in their ordinary contacts. One cannot participate in a Bible discussion without knowing something of the Bible, and usually Witness visits are made solely with that immediate goal.

One can get stuck with a pest. But one will never get stuck with a menace. At worst it will be someone overeager for a cause and imperceptive. The news is good news, not bad news, and so the temptation is to over-present. Even so, it will be good training for a child on how to deal with the tangle that is humanity today. It represents ‘training wheels’ for later in life when one will run across scoundrels who are up to no good and one may not know just how to deal with them. Having briefly conversed with an adolescent who turned out to be the only person at home, I took my leave and headed down the drive. The mother pulled up in her car. I told her I had asked a brief question to her child and he had answered intelligently. “You should be proud of him,” I said. Sit in with your children on such a discussion, just like the producers of mature movies will advise (in an attempt to double their audience).

 

A new stage of hardball was reached when the Russian Supreme Court added the involvement of children in sects or extremist organizations to the list off offenses for which parental rights might be terminated.29 Only two groups of children were identified for State-imposed resocializing: children of ISIS members and “tens of thousands of children and adolescents” in families of Jehovah’s Witnesses.30 There have been no reports of it happening as of March of 2018, but it is a new tool in the toolbox. The proposal does not cause public outrage, but rather enjoys wide popular support. A survey by the All-Russian Center for Study of Public Opinion showed a 79% approval rate.31

Is it a bad thing for parents to teach their children? Should children take their parental training to heart, is it a bad thing to let them follow through on it? It is spun that way in an increasingly irreligious world. Yet, it is not true that if you withhold teaching your child, he will grow up free and unencumbered and, when of age, choose for himself values among life’s rich cornucopia of ideas. No. All it means is that someone else will teach him. There are many who would claim the role. Surely the educational system will. Even the Boy Scouts, founded in 1908 in Great Britain by a lieutenant general of the British army, serves to acclimatize children to the notion of patriotic service in uniform and advancement through the ranks, as though in preparation for the military.32

Among the philosophical underpinnings of compulsory public education in the Western world is that it is well if children are separated early from the possible pernicious influence of the parents so as to be molded by greater society.33 Thus, schooling cannot wait until adolescence; it must start early. To this day, compulsory school advocates carry on about the imperative of socialization, which they maintain is only to be found in schools. Observing the actions of many youths today, it ought to be clear that socialization doesn’t necessarily tip the balance favorably, but the paradigm is adhered to nonetheless.

When Witness parents are progressive, as all are exhorted to be, they will incorporate into their child’s training the family resources found abundantly in Watchtower publications. They will thereby produce emotionally secure offspring. Ideally these will stand up to the current flood of propaganda that labels Christianity passé or even undesirable. It is no more than Parental Glory Award recipient Novik quoting the proverb that gives proof God authorizes and expects parents to provide such training: “Teach the boy on the right path; he will not shy away from it, even when he grows old.” Even should children reassess later in life and indeed shy away, they yet have a secure foundation to build upon. At the very least, with a Witness upbringing, they will be comfortable speaking before an audience, a prospect that terrifies many an adult, but which the majority of Witnesses can do without fuss.

We are, to a great degree, who we associate with. It is intellectually flattering to think otherwise. It is also nonsense. That is why we acquiesce so quickly to style changes and say of yesterday’s cars: ‘We used to be happy driving those toasters?’ We run with the herd not just on small things like styles, but on all things. Always there are those eager to insert themselves up front so as to direct the herd this way or that. In almost all cases, nobody cares more about the child than does the parent. That does not necessarily mean they are right on all things, but it does mean that their concerns should never be blown off as nothing.

Witness children who embrace their moral training may decide to dedicate their lives to God and symbolize it in baptism even at an age as young as ten. Their parents and the Witness organization itself have been criticized for it. Is it a fine idea to allow Witness children to be baptized so young? It clearly is for those who will remain. Having made a commitment, they strive to live up to it, as would be the case for any cause anywhere. Some reassess later in life, however, and family rifts may thereby develop, for the Christian world and the overall world are like diametrically opposed political parties, and diametrically opposed political parties have been known to divide families.

If only one could tell in advance who was who. If only one could tell in advance who would stay and who would one day depart. You could then tell the latter to hold off from dedication without hamstringing the former. When someone invents such a predictor, please let me know. Meanwhile, if you find something good, it is never considered wrong to dedicate yourself to it at a young age. Successful business people and even entertainers do that, to say nothing of athletes. I’ve never heard one of them criticized for it. Usually they are lauded for reaching out in quest of their dreams.

During our family’s homeschooling days, a local couple was fined for violation of the child labor laws. They owned a small deli. It was nothing for their children to take turns at the cash register when they returned from school, and one was doing so the day that Child Protective Services appeared. Sharing in the function of the family business is not exactly reaching for dreams, but it clearly is a part of growing up and learning to handle responsibility. Homeschool pioneer John Holt opined that (not regarding this case, but he had many others) this was the very reason children become delinquent. They are shut out of the adult world under the guise of protecting them.

Should a baptized Witness child later leave the faith, he or she generally finds that most Witnesses lose interest in associating with them. As in most things, people seek out common interests. Look at how many families have been divided over Trump/Hillary in the United States. Does one really think that when Kathy Griffin holds aloft the mock, bloodied head of the President,34 her Republican dad (if he is) says “That’s my lass! She speaks her mind! It won’t affect Thanksgiving dinner, though.”?

So one who leaves the faith usually finds they lose all their Witness friends, and even family, though not in so formal a way. It becomes formal, however, when they leave with a splash—either a determination to practice what is wrong within the congregation or a public denouncement of it. Both courses are likely to trigger disassociation and shunning. One must concede that if someone was baptized young and later left on bad terms and finds himself or herself shunned by family because of it, that is not a good place to be. Who cannot empathize with that? Having said that, it is entirely possible for a person baptized young who later decides to leave to do so without triggering shunning. Fade. Drift away. Or just tell a few that you don’t want to do it anymore. There are some anti-Witness factions that encourage such ones to go out with a bang and tell them all off at the Kingdom Hall! By following their advice, one virtually assures the outcome that they will be shunned. Few governments will smilingly watch their citizens declare them illegitimate, and it is no different in Jehovah’s nation. One wonders why any outfit—often atheists do this—would recommend such a confrontation, knowing the disruption it will bring on a family.

To serve God faithfully in treacherous times takes a toll. It did before. It does today. People are not stone. They are flesh and blood. Sometimes they complain. Baruch did. After taking flak from opponents, serving alongside Jeremiah for decades, he complained mightily. God readjusted him in the 45th chapter of the Book of Jeremiah: “You said, ‘Woe is me! the LORD has added grief to my pain. I have worn myself out with groaning; rest eludes me.’ You must say this to him: Thus says the LORD: ‘What I have built, I am tearing down; what I have planted, I am uprooting: all this land. And you, do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them! I am bringing evil on all flesh—oracle of the LORD —but I will grant you your life as spoils of war, wherever you may go.’”35

His timing was off, that’s all. He wanted ‘great things?’ Nothing wrong with that. Who doesn’t want them? But he had forgotten where he was in the stream of time. God was to be ‘bringing evil on all flesh.’ If he didn’t bolt, he would be granted his ‘life as spoils of war, wherever you may go.’ One is again reminded of the NPR story ‘Lack Of Education Leads To Lost Dreams And Low Income For Many Jehovah’s Witnesses.’ Where does one look for fulfillment of dreams? Not all dreams occur at the opportune time.

Does one believe it or not—that one is in the final days of this world, however long those days may continue? It is not a question without consequence. Witnesses are serious about their faith. They look beyond this system of things to the new one promised. They make changes in their present life on that account. But if anyone reverses this hope, and decides this world is the one to watch, then their entire life as a Baruch at Jeremiah’s side becomes pointless. Some have decided just that, and they have become disgruntled over the time lost. Some accuse former friends of brainwashing or manipulation: a course which is far easier than admitting that one made a decision that didn’t work out.

That Baruch made the right decision for his time becomes apparent in the very next chapter of Jeremiah. The calamity that the oracle spoke of takes place. Of Babylon, God says: “You are my hammer, a weapon for war; with you I shatter nations, with you I destroy kingdoms. With you I shatter horse and rider, with you I shatter chariot and driver. With you I shatter man and woman, with you I shatter old and young, with you I shatter the young man and young woman. With you I shatter shepherd and flock, with you I shatter farmer and team, with you I shatter governors and officers.”36 Baruch was probably glad he got on the right side of that one. Whatever inconveniences he had put himself to, which were considerable, probably seemed worthwhile. There comes a time when God has had it up to here. Through Ezekiel, he says “I have heard all the insults you spoke against the mountains of Israel…You boasted against me with your mouths and used insolent words against me. I heard everything!”37 It is good to go back into your archives and strike out all your insolent words when he starts to carry on like that.

“Demas, enamored of the present world, deserted me,” writes Paul to Timothy.38 It is a verse not meaningful to those whose religion differs little from the present world. They may think they will go to heaven when they die, they may think that God is a Trinity, they may pursue one or two hot-button topics, such as abortion or opposition to, they may advocate for this or that political candidate, but in all major respects, their goals are that of the greater world. It is this world that they hope to make their mark in, not some nebulous one to come. Jehovah’s Witnesses look primarily to the one to come. Paul calls it ‘the life that is true life.’ Witnesses take practical positions harmonizing with that atypical goal, and it results in many a mischaracterization, some of which are deliberate on the part of their detractors.  Everywhere the first century sect that is Christianity is denounced, says Acts. Everywhere they “insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you.”39 You don’t pick on groups that people like; you pick on groups that people don’t like—just as people most assuredly did not like Christians in the apostle Paul’s time.

From the book Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia   (see also safe version)

Endnotes

 

  1. “Russian Orthodox Church Supports Ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia,” Religious Information Service of Ukraine, May 6, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, https://risu.org.ua/en/index/all_news/state/church_state_relations/66866/
  2. 2 Timothy 3:16
  3. Matthew 10:34
  4. Luke 21: 14-19
  5. Pavel Yuryev, “From Heaven to Earth,” General Newspaper, October 23, 2017, Accessed March 13, 2018, https://og.ru/society/2017/10/23/92255
  6. “Jehovah’s Witnesses are Outraged by the Content of the Anti-Sectarian Article Published in the General Gazette” SOVA Center, November 11, 2017, accessed March 13, 2018, http://www.sova-center.ru/religion/news/community-media/media-conflicts/2017/11/d38182, For English translation, see https://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/171101a.html
  7. Tim Rymel, “When Is A Religion ‘Extremist’?” Huffington Post, May 11, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/when-is-a-religion-extremist_us_590de8e3e4b046ea176aeb98
  8. Neil Syson, “Teen Hormones Being Altered by Gender-bending Chemicals,” The Sun, February 5, 2018, accessed March 27, 2018, https://nypost.com/2018/02/05/teen-hormones-being-altered-by-gender-bending-chemicals/
  9. Jason Le Miere, “Russia’s Jehovah’s Witnesses Ban Backed by Flourishing Satanic Church in Moscow,” Newsweek, May 12, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.newsweek.com/jehovahs-witnesses-russia-ban-satanic-church-608334
  10. Genesis 3:5
  11. Matthew 24:14
  12. John 16:2
  13. “Expert: The Ban of ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’ in Russia Will Reduce the Number of Their Adherents,” RIA News Russia Today, May 17, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, https://ria.ru/religion/20170517/1494511149.html
  14. Acts 8:1-4
  15. Acts 21:13
  16. “A Lengthy Legal Struggle Ends in Victory!” The Watchtower – study edition, July 15, 2011, 8 https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/402011522#h=27
  17. Matthew 13:45
  18. 1 Thessalonians 4:13
  19. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7
  20. “Lenin Returns to Russia From Exile,” This Day in History, History.com, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/lenin-returns-to-russia-from-exile
  21. Scott Shane, “Russia Isn’t the Only One Meddling in Elections. We Do It, Too,” New York Times, February 17, 2018, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/17/sunday-review/russia-isnt-the-only-one-meddling-in-elections-we-do-it-too.html
  22. http://www.departments.bucknell.edu/russian/const/ch2.html
  23. Fred Weir, “Jehovah’s Witnesses as ‘Extremists’: Court Sharpens Edges of Russia’s Religious Space,” Christian Science Monitor, May 1, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2017/0501/Jehovah-s-Witnesses-as-extremists-Court-sharpens-edges-of-Russia-s-religious-space
  24. Ibid.
  25. Emily B. Baran, “Jehovah’s Witnesses Ban Spells End for Russia’s Religious Diversity,” The Moscow Times, April 24, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, https://themoscowtimes.com/articles/jehovahs-witnesses-ban-spells-end-of-russias-religious-diversity-op-ed-57793
  26. Lauren Markoe, “Since Ban, Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses is ‘Worse Than Ever,” Religion News Service, May 18, 2017, https://religionnews.com/2017/05/18/since-ban-persecution-of-jehovahs-witnesses-is-worse-than-ever/
  27. Hebrews 4:12
  28. Luke 11:33
  29. “Supreme Court Recommends Depriving Parents Who Involve Children in Sects of Their Rights,” Human Rights Without Frontiers, November 14, 2017, accessed March 13, 2018, http://hrwf.eu/russia-supreme-court-threatens-parental-rights-of-for-example-jehovahs-witnesses/
  30. “Russia’s Attack on Jehovah’s Witnesses - Interim Report” Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, January 15, 2018, 7, accessed March 29, 2018, https://jw-russia.org/sites/default/files/docs/russia_report.pdf
  31. “The Survey Showed the Attitude of Russians Towards the Idea of ​​Depriving Parental Rights of Sectarians,” RIA Novosti, December 4, 2017, accessed March 13, 2018, https://news.rambler.ru/sociology/38580039-rossiyane-podderzhali-ideyu-lishat-roditelskih-prav-sektantov/?updated, for English translation, see http://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/171204d.html
  32. “Boy Scout Movement Begins,” This Day in History, History, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/boy-scouts-movement-begins
  33. Abe Fortas, Under Secretary of the Interior, “Enduring Peace and Social Progress,” Journal of the Biology and the Pathology of Interpersonal Relations, Vol 9, Number 1, February 1946
  34. Libby Hill, “Kathy Griffin Shocks in Gory Photo Shoot with Donald Trump’s (Fake) Head,” The Los Angeles Times, May 18, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/la-et-entertainment-news-updates-may-kathy-griffin-shocks-in-gory-photo-1496183372-htmlstory.html
  35. Jeremiah 45: 1-5
  36. Jeremiah 51:20-23
  37. Ezekiel 35: 11-13
  38. 2 Timothy 4:10
  39. Matthew 5:11

000

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)

Discipline

After my father died at 94 years of age, family members emptied out his home. I had never before peeked into his office den desk. I came across a heavy leather belt and I thought of keeping it because it was heavy and it was leather, not the cheap junk they sell today that falls apart in no time at all. “You know what that is, don’t you?” said my brother. “It’s THE BELT!” Gasp!!

It didn’t happen like clockwork, but it wasn’t an especially rare thing, either. “Just wait until your father gets home!” my outmaneuvered mother would say. She’d tell on me the moment he walked through the door and then it was one sore rear end for me!

It was reassuring to my sense of history to see that belt, for the revisionists try to rewrite the past to pretend that corporal punishment was phased out in the civilized world eons ago.  In fact, it was an absolutely unremarkable aspect of child-rearing just a few decades ago. It was not necessarily a belt. Usually a sound spanking sufficed. Some had it worse than a mere belt.  My older friend’s dad had him cut his own switch from a tree, and if it wasn’t big enough, dear old dad would cut one himself the size of a two by four.

It was days of long ago. Don’t misunderstand. I make no argument for its return. Don’t think that I do. Having said that, it is by no means clear that today’s children are happier and better adjusted because of its disappearance. 

The etymology of the word ‘discipline’ reveals that it has to do with primarily with training.1 It can incorporate punishment, but that is only a footnote. “Train the young in the way they should go; even when old, they will not swerve from it,” says Proverbs 22:6. This is the verse that Valery Novik cited in accepting the Order of Parental Glory Award from President Putin. Discipline, as presented in Scripture, is primarily instruction and repetition. “Take to heart these words which I command you today. Keep repeating them to your children. Recite them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up,” says the Torah.2

How can one not commend Russia for simply having an ‘Order of Parental Glory’ award? presented by the president himself, no less. Public policy caters much less to family here; it certainly stops far short of honoring fine examples publicly. There is much of contemporary policy that would undermine family life. It is too bad that President Putin does not read the marriage and family sections of JW.org and watch the cartoons for the children and whiteboards for the teenagers. He would confer the Parental Glory award upon the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, even though most of them are not parents.

It is a shame that the Novik family is now forbidden to speak about their faith, since they have credited that faith with making them the glorious family they are in the first place. Indeed, one cannot even say with certainty that they still have custody of their children, since the Supreme Court has authorized the removal of children for involving them in activities of a sect or extremist organization.3 Everyone knows it is Jehovah’s Witnesses they have in mind, unless they are thinking of the community-minded ISIS family down the street, the other designated extremist group. It is a satanic ruling that equals anything of Stalin’s era. There can be little doubt that Russian Witnesses call to mind the loyal ones’ retort to the ancient king’s threat to hurl steadfast Jews into the flames: “If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king, may he save us! But even if he will not, you should know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue which you set up,” the three brave lads told him.4 Imagine imposing such a trial on family heads today; even if they were those whom Putin did not give the prize to, it is unspeakable.

 

For some time after this writer became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the 1970s, he would tell persons that marriage lasted among Jehovah’s Witnesses and that divorce was unheard of. It was not true. But it wasn’t that far from not true. ‘One never heard of divorce?’ No, it was I who never heard of divorce among the Witnesses and thus assumed it didn’t happen. For a new person to think that in a population where everyone quickly comes to know everyone else, they had to be as scarce as hen’s teeth, and they were. But they did happen. They even accelerated later amidst an overall explosion of divorce in the greater world that jettisoned away the very concept of permanent monogamous relationship as though something archaic—something to ‘move on’ from.

Witnesses were then the ducks emerging into the raging current that were slowed down but did not give up. They continued on course. Actually, the literal ducks I witnessed on a recent visit to Canada did give up; they emerged from the shelter of a bridge abutment into an unexpectedly raging current following heavy downpours, paddled valiantly for a few seconds and then thought better of it, turning about and going with the flow. Many church members did likewise regarding marriage when confronted with the flood of a new morality. Unsupported in meaningful ways by their own church, they soon yielded to the current. The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses doubled down with supplying the right biblical education at the right time, and determination to abide by Bible standards in this regard was, and is ever, continually fortified among the congregations.

It is by not taking a firm stand that illicit conduct is entrenched. God singles out adultery as illicit conduct. It is not a passing phase with him, but it is among the Ten Commandments of Moses.5 Jesus even expands upon it to advise that lustful longing for another’s wife is the same as adultery ‘within one’s heart.’6 It is not hard to see why man’s Maker would dislike it. It breaks up families on a scale to make the most sinister cult look like a beneficent marriage counselor. Adultery is not something a marriage readily gets over. Unfailingly it corrodes families, the bedrock of any society. Not only do children in the household suffer, but married children out of the household suffer; their own marriages are imperiled as they wrestle with the question: ‘If my own parents could not make a go of it, what chance have I?’7 You do not, in any way, want to normalize adultery. It is a malady like those Paul speaks of that spreads like gangrene.

Nonetheless, it is normalized today. When I worked on a job with mostly young people, I let slip that I had been married over twenty years. It was as though I told them I was from another planet. Products of broken homes, most of them, they had never heard of a marriage lasting so long. What chance is there that they will put trust in a model they have never seen work? Adultery is among the reasons God cast aside his ancient people of the Old Testament, summoning Babylon to scatter them. They were as lustful stallions back then, ‘neighing’ after another’s wife.8 In words more mundane than Jeremiah, but dealing with the same time period, Ezekiel lambastes a disobedient nation: “Each of you has defiled his neighbor’s wife.”9 One wonders how literal it can be? ‘Each of you?’ Don’t open the door to that sort of behavior, because the herd will stampede through. Others who never would have thought of such a thing will entertain the idea once they see it has become in vogue.

Adultery is seriously dealt with in Witness congregations. It is not shrugged off as one of those things. It is the one recognized grounds for divorce that the Bible allows. Many an unrepentant person has been disfellowshipped for adultery. Almost always it involves some scheming so that immediate claims of repentance are taken with a substantial grain of salt. Some eventually make their way back into the congregation, for God is the ultimate judge. Others never do. This policy of no tolerance for adultery was used against the Witness organization at the April trial, presented as evidence of extremism. A summary of one day’s testimony included: “The essence of [one witness for the prosecution’s] statement came down to what she said was the existing ‘complete and total control of life by the Administrative Center.’ Responding to a request from the judge to cite instances of control, [she] reported that an example was her expulsion from the congregations after she ‘began her close, but not officially registered, relations with a man,’”10 The acceptance of such ‘evidence’ is but another way of declaring religion should exist so long as it does not do anything meaningful.

On the mild end of congregation discipline, which usually suffices, there are reminders, elucidation, and admonition. But discipline reserves the right to coerce, to rebuke, and to punish. “Do not withhold discipline from youths; if you beat them with the rod, they will not die,” says the proverb, and then even recommends that course as a means to save them from death, continuing: “Beat them with a rod and you will save them from Sheol.” [Hebrew, meaning the grave]11

So unpopular has corporal punishment become in the West that even Jehovah’s Witnesses refrain from acting upon these verses. When the Western media covers spanking now, it tells of a fundamentalist church member who unrelentingly spanks his child until he dies, trying to elicit choice words of contrition from the lad that he refuses to say.12 In the face of uncontrollable conduct in the schools, a few administrators have gingerly allowed that corporal punishment might have a tiny place after all. In this new world, a child is occasionally spanked a single time or two with a paddle, and there are teachers, sometimes parents and principal, to witness it, to ensure it does not get out of hand. The American Civil Liberties Union regards it as a major affront to human dignity.13 What was once as routine as breathing air has now nearly gone extinct. Middle Eastern refugees, some of whom respond to the kingdom message, are dumbfounded that perfectly acceptable child-rearing practices from back home are absolutely taboo in their new home. We tell them that it is not just they, but old-time American parents feel similarly disempowered. What was once allowed and even encouraged can now land them in serious legal hot water.

History rewritten does not mean the old did not exist. The constant refrain of my youth and the generation prior was of how persons hated physical discipline as youngsters but became glad of it later. Even those graduating from Catholic schools, where corporal punishment could be draconian, where ruler-wielding nuns whacked knuckles for the slightest infraction, would often reflect (rightly or wrongly) that they had benefited from it. But times have changed, and ‘corporal punishment’ today is a pejorative phrase.

Discipline in the Bible, which can include physical punishment but does not defer to it first, is portrayed as a good thing, even a necessary thing in raising children. “Discipline your children, and they will bring you comfort, and give delight to your soul,” says Proverbs 29:17. “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it,” adds Hebrews 12:11

Neglecting discipline is painted as a bad thing. “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates reproof is stupid.” (Proverbs 12:1) “Whoever spares the rod hates the child, but whoever loves will apply discipline.” (Proverbs 13:24) “If you are without discipline, in which all have shared, you are not sons but bastards.” (Hebrews 12:8)

The model of family discipline can be extended to illustrate how Jehovah deals with his worshippers in general. “So you must know in your heart that, even as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD, your God, disciplines you.” (Deuteronomy 8:5) “Besides this, we have had our earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not [then] submit all the more to the Father of spirits and live?” (Hebrews 12:9) “Endure your trials as ‘discipline’; God treats you as sons. For what ‘son’ is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Hebrews 12:7)

It benefits them: “Happy the one whom God reproves! The Almighty’s discipline do not reject.” (Job 5:17) Discipline is not to be rejected even though it can sometimes be severe, as follows: “We cried out in anguish under your [God’s] discipline.” (Isaiah 26:16) Also: “I will continue in my hostile rage toward you, and I myself will discipline you for your sins sevenfold.” (Leviticus 26:28)

One can also extend the model of discipline to illustrate how God deals with those of the Christian congregation. Of Israel, we read: “Then these city elders shall take the man and discipline him.” (Deuteronomy 22:18) In the Christian congregation, discipline was mostly general: “For the command is a lamp, and the teaching a light, and a way to life are the reproofs that discipline.” (Proverbs 6:23) “Fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline.” (Proverbs 1:7) Yet those who taught in the congregation would teach such discipline publicly and privately—it could be individualized. “Brothers, even if a person is caught in some transgression, you who are spiritual should correct that one in a gentle spirit, looking to yourself, so that you also may not be tempted,” says Galatians 6:1. It could escalate in severity: “Reprimand publicly those who do sin, so that the rest also will be afraid.” (1 Timothy 5:20*) It could even become in severe cases: “Purge the evil person from your midst.” (1 Corinthians 5:13)

*The extremist New World Translation is the more balanced here. It renders ‘reprimand publicly’ as the more literal ‘reprove before all onlookers.’ The Governing Body reasoned long ago that “all onlookers” will be those who know of a particular sin, which would seldom include everyone in the congregation. More often it would be just a handful of persons. Moreover, ‘reproof’ indicates an appeal to the heart: a far cry from shaming a person before all as a ‘practicer of sin.’ Reproof, when necessary within the Witness framework, is done privately between the elders and the individual before such “onlookers.”14

Discipline applied in the Christian congregation benefits individuals, but it is not administered solely for their sakes. Jehovah’s Witnesses recognize an obligation to God to present to him a clean people. The Witness Governing Body dares not treat him shabbily, for this is no passing fancy with him. In the Bible book of Acts can be found the record of a meeting to determine Christian policy: “Symeon [Peter] has described how God first concerned himself with acquiring from among the Gentiles a people for his name,” James tells the other congregation leaders. His name is what must be honored. “Hallowed (make sacred) be thy name,” Jesus instructs in the ‘Our Father’ prayer.15

The people of the congregation become, in effect, an advertisement for God and for his name. If they maintain conduct separate and distinct from that of a morally decaying world, it reflects well upon him and draws other persons of good heart. If they do not, it becomes clear to others that Christian worship does nothing for a person and is but a social and sermonizing clique. To please God, the congregation knows that it must adhere to his standards. Discipline ranging from the very mild to quite severe is part of the package. The ones who rail at congregation discipline as harmful, such as the anti-cult people and the Satanists, are invariably those focused upon individual rights. Yet not everything can be about the individual. Uncorrected bad influences spread “like gangrene.” Humans are built that way.16

Sexuality in modern times has proven itself more fluid than anyone would have imagined. It does not constrain itself to a one-man/one-woman policy. It does not respect any underage cutoff barrier. It does not respect gender lines; it goes from hetero to bi-sexual to gay and back again. Homosexual relationships, which have always existed, are now beyond edgy and have entered the mainstream in the West. Who knows why it is, but it is. There is the suggestion, from chapter 8, that ubiquitous plastic contains chemicals that interact with living tissue much as does the hormone estrogen. Romans 1:26 is not generally regarded as prophetic, but it could be taken as the Bible’s most striking prophesy: “Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another.” It is not the existence, but the widespread embrace that is staggering; nobody of my generation would have foreseen it. Recently a local couple had their gay pride flag stolen. It was a major news event. I do not condone stealing anyone’s gay pride flag and I have never felt an urge to do it. But the national flag can be worn as underwear and people barely raise an eyebrow.

God’s name is not honored by presenting him with a motley assortment of unruly people. This is why many become Jehovah’s Witnesses in the first place—they are not drafted against their will. Instead, they know that measuring up to God’s higher standards will only benefit them. They know instinctively that discipline is not a bad thing. Congregation discipline is usually mere public instruction that the listener takes to heart, unbeknownst to anyone. Correction is usually quite mild, though it can escalate when lesser means have been exhausted to no effect and when a given provocation is serious enough.

God will ultimately judge those outside. But as for those inside, that is for congregation shepherds to apply Bible discipline.17 To ignore God’s perceived standards is to be a false advertisement of him. It is to be “fake news” about him. Witnesses realize that God must not be thus shortchanged. ‘My people are a reflection of my high standards,’ he would say. ‘They can’t be too high, then,’ people respond, looking around in many places, but not in the Witness congregation. If Witnesses carry on about high standards, the intent is not to be self-righteous. It is a manifestation of their being unwilling to displease God by ignoring his requirements.

This newfound concern, in the case of those becoming Witnesses, is not necessarily appreciated by former friends or even family. Peter says: “For the time that has passed is sufficient for doing what the Gentiles like to do: living in debauchery, evil desires, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and wanton idolatry. They are surprised that you do not plunge into the same swamp of profligacy, and they vilify you.”18 They don’t quite know what to make of those new concerns and ‘high standards,’ but they figure it out in a hurry, and they figure out that the proper response is to “vilify” those taking to it. Those truly living Christianity will automatically trigger some hostility from those who do not, for the latter read into it an inherent, even though unexpressed, judgement.

The Book of Romans counsels Christians: “You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who forbid adultery, do you commit adultery? You who detest idols, do you rob temples? You who boast of the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? For, as it is written, ‘Because of you the name of God is reviled among the Gentiles.’”19 The Governing Body does not want to see the Name reviled on its watch. That would be an abuse of its authority, if not from the standpoint of humans, certainly from that of God. It is not management of a bake sale they are dealing with. It is the Name. Of miscreants, we read: “Furthermore, many will follow their brazen conduct, and because of them the way of the truth will be spoken of abusively.”20 The Governing Body doesn’t want that to happen, either, and they counter it to the extent of their ability.

Is it a crime for an organization to insist upon maintaining Bible-based morality among its members—particularly when members sign on exactly because they prefer that morality? Jehovah’s Witnesses have chosen to maintain congregation discipline as a buttress to good intentions, which do not alone always suffice, for we are human and swayed by many influences. Those that would deprive them of that right are those who would neuter religion. They are those who wish it to be a support club for the greater world, and nothing more. Witnesses are among the most successful at its members living Bible morality. Many groups during the past century have chosen to discard discipline. They have that option. It is hardly clear that people are better adjusted for having taken that option, however.

Witnesses keep ‘shunning’ in their tool chest of discipline as a ‘Hail Mary play.’ It is a last-ditch attempt to insist upon godly morality of voluntary members when all else has failed. At any time, ones who have joined the Witness faith are free to leave. So long as they remain, however, they must live the godly principles they have signed on for. Shunning has a place as a play of last resort. When employed it is tough on the individual, as tough discipline always is. But the individual cannot ever be the sole concern. When you hear people treating “the greater good” as a pejorative phrase, then you know the pendulum has overswung towards individual rights. Christianity is nothing if not about recognizing “the greater good,” and it starts with its founder. Did Jesus die because he wanted to assert his rights as an individual?

There was a time when most Christian denominations knew this. There was a time when most Christian denominations disciplined their own members as needed, for they dared not ignore God’s insistence of a clean people. No one had to be a biblical Christian back then, but if they chose to become one, they were to abide by ‘the rules’. While the rules make plenty of allowance for human imperfection, they cannot be blown off as nothing. “We appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain [miss its purpose: NWT],” says 2 Corinthians 6:1.

This is why the Witness organization takes an interest in the conduct of its members, which is now spun as a negative in a world that increasingly denigrates or seeks to redefine religion. It takes such interest, not in order to be intrusive or controlling, but in order to comply with the greater Christian requirements as laid out in the Bible. Even whatever pedophile records exist, which have blown up in the Witness organization’s face, would not have existed but for the purpose of identifying this pernicious group so that they be could punished to the degree required and thereafter monitored so that they would not slip from one congregation into another, as they can anywhere else—something no other religion attempts to do. We will visit this white-hot topic in a chapter to come.

 

Just as Daniel apologized for his countrymen, though he had done nothing blameworthy himself, so Ronald J. Sider bemoans America’s evangelicals, telling it all in his 2005 book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience.21 Sure, they believe the Bible, as they are quick to tell you. But they don’t practice the Bible. They don’t apply it in their personal lives. Some do. Some are upright. But in no greater proportion than the world in general.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way, a point which chapter two of his book makes abundantly clear. That chapter is as concise and comprehensive a discussion of the purposed application of the Bible to morality as you will see anywhere. Taking each New Testament book in succession, Mr. Sider highlights verse after verse to show that Christians were (and are) expected to live under Christ’s law, and that doing so would produce a people who lived so decently that their lives, not merely their words, would be a drawing card for the faith:

“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:12 NIV. Here we will employ the translation Sider employs, the New International Version, which is also safe and legal to read in Russia. They all are, except for the New World Translation.) “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21) “If Paul is even close to being right about what it means to be a Christian, one can only weep at the scandalous behavior of Christians today,” Mr. Sider states. “How many preachers today speak that clearly about the sins of greed, adultery, and slander?”

He quotes again 1 Peter, just as we have above, but in a different translation: “For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you.” (1 Peter 4:3-4) Apparently, the countercultural lifestyle of these early Christians was obvious to outsiders, he notes. Not so today among the evangelical community. “Our disobedient lifestyles crucify our Lord anew,” he writes. After reviewing the evidence, “we have seen the stunning contrast between what Jesus and the early church said and did and what so many evangelicals do today. Hopefully that contrast will drive us to our knees, first to repent and then to ask God to help us understand the causes of this scandalous failure and the steps we can take to correct it.”22

Mr. Sider then does just that, and the goes on to offer some remedies. You cannot read these remedies without noting they are the very building blocks of the Jehovah’s Witness organization. They are all matters of discipline and organization. And they do, to a great degree, solve the woes Mr. Sider describes. First, says Mr. Sider, the Western world’s obsession with independence must end, to be replaced with recognition that Christians are a community belonging to, and having responsibility for, each other. Paul goes so far as to say Christians ought to be slaves to one another. Galatians 5:13 literally reads “be slaves to each other,” yet most popular translations, Mr. Sider notes, dilute the verse to a more independence-savoring “serve one another in love.”23 (but not so the New World Translation. It reads: “through love slave for one another.”)

Many churches today trumpet that they are “independent Bible believing,” yet the very notion is “heretical,” says Mr. Sider.24 To be part of the body of Christ, a church must align itself with a larger structure to give “guidance, supervision, direction, and accountability.” Jehovah’s Witnesses have exactly such a structure in their Governing Body. Opponents rail against it as an agency employing “mind control.”

Secondly, Mr. Sider suggests, any congregation with over fifty members ought to arrange its people into small groups, where oversight and encouragement can more effectively be offered.25 They’re called ‘service meeting groups.’ Since as long as anyone can remember, congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses have made use of such small groups.

‘Make it harder to join’ is a third suggestion.26 Evangelical Conscience points to early Anabaptists and Wesleyans, as though no modern examples existed, Jehovah’s Witnesses being a ‘cult’ to many of them. These groups took their time admitting new members, ensuring that their conduct as well as words lined up with Christ’s teachings. They did not just settle for a quick “accept the Lord and be saved.” Jehovah’s Witnesses are well known for requiring an extensive period of Bible study and application as a prerequisite to baptism.

Lastly, “parachurch” organizations, groups like Youth for Christ, that transcend the larger church structure, have, by definition, no accountability to anybody: “Many of the worst, most disgraceful actions that embarrass and discredit the evangelical world come from this radical autonomy,” says Evangelical Conscience. Somehow, such groups have to be brought into tow, though Mr. Sider admits that he has no clue as to how to accomplish this.27 The Governing Body does and implements it, despite howls of protests from the anti-cultists.

The internal discipline now practiced by Jehovah’s Witnesses was practiced in most Protestant denominations until less than 100 years ago and was based on the same scriptures that Ronald Sider identifies. But when it became unpopular, they gave it up. As a result, the morals and lifestyle of today’s evangelical church members are indistinguishable from that of the general populace. The ones who actually apply Christianity are left unreinforced, in some ways even challenged, by their own church. Long-time Witnesses will recall circuit overseers pointing out that 60 years ago the difference between Jehovah’s Witnesses and churchgoers in general was doctrinal, not moral. Time was when there was little difference between the two groups with regard to conduct. Today the chasm is huge. Can internal discipline and the organization daring to implement it not be the deciding factor?

As a method of last resort, the Bible authorizes expulsion from the Christian community: “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people, not at all referring to the immoral of this world or the greedy and robbers or idolaters; for you would then have to leave the world. But I now write to you not to associate with anyone named a brother, if he is immoral, greedy, an idolater, a slanderer, a drunkard, or a robber, not even to eat with such a person. For why should I be judging outsiders? Is it not your business to judge those within? God will judge those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from your midst.’”28

Jehovah’s Witnesses live according to Bible morality; the fact is widely recognized. However, such living is not to be taken for granted. It does not happen without discipline to reinforce each members’ resolve to live as Christ did. Expulsion from the congregation is never taken lightly. It always represents a last-ditch effort to reach the individual in addition to protecting the congregation from corrosive influence. Is it necessary? Suffice it to say no group has succeeded in adhering to Bible morality without it. Everyone else is carried along by the winds of popular opinion—some hanging on trees for a while as though in a hurricane, and some already caught in flight hurtling along and loosening the grips, through collision, of those attempting to hang on.

Church discipline used to be a significant, accepted part of most evangelical traditions, Sider writes. “In the second half of the twentieth century, however, it has largely disappeared.” He then quotes Haddon Robinson on the current church climate, a climate he calls ‘consumerism.’ “Too often now when people join a church,” Robinson writes, “they do so as consumers. If they like the product, they stay. If they do not, they leave. They can no more imagine a church disciplining them than they could a store that sells goods disciplining them. It is not the place of the seller to discipline the consumer. In our churches, we have a consumer mentality.”29

Get this undisciplined church mob away from here! Because of their misdeeds, those who must preach the good news in all the inhabited earth suffer. Unfortunately, this is the model that the anti-cult experts today favor, those who attempt to neuter serious religion so as not to pose a challenge for the bland religion they prefer—religion that mounts no threat to their world-view. ‘Does God want a clean people? Tell him to take a hike. They’ll be ‘clean’ if they want to, but there must be no outside influence,’ say the anti-cult people. Sider’s book aptly demonstrates that they will not be clean in that circumstance.

Who would have thought that the greater world would pry into Christianity’s internal discipline in an attempt to short-circuit it? Most of religion has complied with this new normal of ‘hands off’ as to conduct. They have come to acquiesce that religion is not to be taken too seriously. It is not to get into morals. Morals in the abstract is okay, but insistence on individual morals is ‘controlling people.’ ‘We’ll handle that if we deem it objectionable—and little of it is,’ says the overall world. Discipline used to be “an accepted and significant part of most evangelical traditions,” Mr. Sider writes.  ‘You cannot do it anymore,’ declare the anti-cultists; ‘We’ve moved on.’ With both hands tied behind its back, their Christianity cannot and does not deliver the moral goods, providing detractors ample reason to condemn it. The anti-cult movement is a movement to stamp out meaningful religion. One cannot state it more concisely.

 

Disfellowshipping among Jehovah’s Witnesses is last-ditch application of discipline to be applied when all else has failed. Aspects of it may be arguable. The general idea is not. The Witness governing arrangement is ever conscious of the individual, for they know that people are fragile and that this system of things appears almost designed to expose a person’s individual fragility and then exploit it to the fullest degree. God is not blind to the individual, for ‘not a sparrow falls to the ground unnoticed,’ but he is intensely jealous over the moral cleanness and exclusive devotion of the group. He shows no sign of getting over it. The Christian congregation is not to be a mere typical slice of society modified by a smiling God logo. It should truly represent morals above and beyond. It should be an oasis for those tired of today’s widespread moral decay. This result is not something that happens by chance, but it happens by members watching over themselves individually and as a group. It doesn’t happen for Sider’s people because they neglect those things.

It has been a dozen years or so since the expression ‘disfellowship’ has been heard in a Kingdom Hall. On occasion the announcement is read that so-and-so is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Let me tell you that it goes over like a dirge—it is a very sad announcement. It is a lose-lose for both parties, and the light at the end of the tunnel seems not so bright at all—by no means all a sure thing. When all provisions for correction and mercy have been exhausted, a person is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses if he or she persists in conduct or speech blatantly out of harmony with Bible standards. Has expulsion ever been ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back?’ Judas was so distraught over being expelled that he committed suicide. Even so, nobody would ever think that was the fault of God, nor of his Son who declined to forget his Father’s requirements. Almost always the focus today is on the rights of people as individuals. Almost never is it the rights of people as groups, as though what they are as member of groups has no bearing on what they will be as individuals.

Detractors’ relentless condemnation of disfellowshipping in the Witness community stems from the viewpoint that a person’s immediate well-being is the issue of ultimate importance. It is the same approach of the churches who say it is all about us: all about our own personal salvation and personal relationship with Jesus. Does God want a clean people, since a soiled one, physically, morally, or spiritually, is a reflection on him and makes him ‘fake news?’ Fugedaboudit! as the expression goes. Opponents would have the world believe that it is primarily about religion not stepping on the toes—ever—of any individual. State can do it if it sees fit, but not religion, for the latter has been assigned the role of “bringing us together.”

Should congregation authority be so hard for the Russian government to understand? What of their old proverb about government? “Ask the children what they want for dinner, and they say: ‘ice cream.’ They get beetroot soup because they live under communist rule, and not a democracy.” What is democracy, H.L. Mencken says, but “the pathetic notion that individual ignorance adds up to collective wisdom?”  It is not so different in the Christian congregation, which is constructed biblically along something better than democratic lines.

 

Upping the ante significantly is the Bible’s authorization of control over some types of speech. It is not an entirely foreign concept to the greater world today. ‘Everyone has the right to free speech, but no one has the right to yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater,’ learned ones will nod to each other. Scriptures expand upon the list of things you can’t yell in a crowded congregation. New Testament letters to Timothy and Titus tell of some, even some named individually, who “must be silenced because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach.” Some unhealthy teachings “spread like gangrene,” and “they destroy the faith of some.” Two such ‘teachers’ were “handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.” Some others were to be “rebuked sharply.” It is not exactly a mecca of free speech that is described.30

Some, described in the Second Letter of John, “pushed ahead” and “did not remain in the teaching of the Christ.” Of such a person we read: “Do not receive him into your homes or say a greeting to him” so as not to be “a sharer in his wicked works.” Persons of Western background can scarcely believe it—discipline extends to reproving those who will not control the tongue. Here we run into problems with American-styled churches, for they are so enamored with the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence that they simply assume such ideas are enshrined in the Bible. When shown they are not, they assume it anyway, as though the Bible writers would have said it had they a better way with words. It is axiomatic to them that the church should reflect Western values, the most sacrosanct of which is free speech. However, as American civil–rights advocate Joel Engardio, who was raised a Witness, recalls telling his teachers as a child (to their non-enthusiasm), that God is not an American.31

One could almost argue that the discipline over misuse of speech is the discipline of paramount importance, for the tongue can do the most damage. “The tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions. Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze. The tongue is also a fire,” says the Letter of James. Consistently, the governing arrangement of the growing first-century congregation sought to hose down all “arguments” and “pretensions” “raising itself against the knowledge of God.”32

“Are you so easily stumbled? Is anyone?” says a proponent of unrestricted free speech, aghast that someone would discourage it. Is there a doctor who says the same to the patient’s body cells about gangrene? The doctor of ‘individual rights’ would dismiss gangrene as not a cause for concern, but not the doctor who wants to keep his license. He will not think that every cell should be able to take care of itself and not be so easily stumbled.  He knows they are not built that way.

Some of what throws a wrench into this discipline for what is ultimately thought a good cause is that, in some cases, the departing one no longer troubles himself about living forever, on earth or anywhere else. He or she has gone atheistic and has come to think the remaining few decades a great bargain, with no sense of being cheated from all eternity. When the world embraces atheism many paradigms shift. One can hardly expect atheists to recognize God’s interests that a separate people be kept as clean of this world’s defilements as possible. Usually they will read that stated interest as ‘judgmental.’

‘Remove the unclean man from yourselves,’ the Bible says. If ones do it themselves, however, no one comes after them. But it is the fury that anyone should think them ‘unclean’ that motivates some vociferous opponents of the Witnesses; the world has moved on from the notion of moral absolutes. In the West, a rapidly emerging paradigm is that if one is not seen to embrace any new cause, it indicates one is a hater of that cause, notwithstanding whether that course stems from Bible scripture or not. That circumstance may even intensify the perception.

Jehovah’s Witnesses still maintain, as many faiths once did, that not ‘all roads lead to heaven’—they are not all the same—and that, if one would survive into the new world to come, one must serve God according to his standards and his truths, not theirs. If one leaves to join another religion (for example, surely one who joins the Mormons is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses), they have apostatized from the faith. Far from being an extreme interpretation, it is what every denomination should do. Mormons do it themselves, I believe. However, few people take religion that seriously. Few can imagine making such a fuss over God, though they will go for the jugular when it comes to human politics.

From their point of view, it has become: ‘Why make trouble over such things? Surely God will roll with it, especially since he may not exist anyway.’ Denomination is a difference not meaningful to them. ‘Why change horses midstream?’ they reason, ‘but if you do anyway, who cares?’ When my father, years ago, declared his intention to marry the woman who would become my mother, the Catholic Church said she would have to convert to Catholicism first. ‘Forget that!’ Pop said, and they never saw him again. Having little that is unique to offer in a world that is not too spiritual in the first place, most churches today throw away such obstacles to retain members.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, on the other hand, are absolutely unique; their combination of certain biblical teachings is to be found nowhere else, and they employ Christian correction so as to keep those teachings untainted. Churches have forsaken discipline with regard to apostatizing because they have little to apostatize from. They have fallen sound asleep spiritually and have acquiesced to the prevailing view that ‘all roads lead to heaven.’ Seen from this perspective of the believer, disfellowshipping is not cutting off a family member—so the departing one merely moves up the hour of separation which will occur anyway at cut-off time for this world. Therefore, the ultimate goal in avoiding even a family member who departs for different actions or beliefs is to help him see he must self-correct spiritually, thus re-uniting the family forever spiritually and otherwise.

Jesus pointedly says that, in some cases, choosing him will cause contention in a family, and that if one chooses him over family, it is a good thing, not a bad thing. This is not the world the anti-cultists want to see, so they attach the ‘cult’ label to those observing Jesus’ words. They say: ‘Surely, these cults use foul means wrestling converts from the mother Church.’ In so saying, they attempt to wrestle Scripture away from the ones who wrote it.

It is never a piece of cake to turn 180 degrees from previously held positions. It causes discord anywhere. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth,” Jesus says. “I came to bring, not peace, but a sword. “For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household.’” And “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever has greater affection for son or daughter than for me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Yes, religion can even tear at the family fabric. Is there anything thicker than blood ties? Jesus’ plain answer is in the affirmative.33

“I have come to bring not peace but the sword”—nearly everyone other than Jehovah’s Witnesses act as though these Bible verses do not exist. Nearly everyone thinks that Christianity should be a subset of the status quo, if not the State itself. Nearly everyone thinks that the minute popular wisdom accepts a new norm, it should be accommodated in the congregation. Nearly everyone cherry-picks, goes for the feel-good verses, and ignores the ones they don’t like. This is why their versions of Christianity do not work. This is why people become Jehovah’s Witnesses in the first place. ‘Finally,’ they say. ‘A people who actually live the scriptures and don’t use them simply to soften a quest for success in this world.’

Disgruntled family members who have found themselves on the outside looking in and yet decline to change their chosen course so as to get back in, like the aforementioned witness in the April trial, spread the view that Jehovah’s Witnesses break up families. The European Court of Human Rights, when called upon to weigh in on this charge in 2010, didn’t buy it, writing: “It is the resistance and unwillingness of non-religious family members to accept and to respect their religious relative’s freedom to manifest and practice his or her religion that is the source of conflict.”34

Discipline is a tough sell today. It is decidedly unpopular. The need for it is a constant of life, however. Let us play with the notion as we consider the prophet Malachi. Did he have teenagers? How else can one explain his style of writing? The Book of Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament, a short work of just four chapters. The entire book is read in less time than a quarter of this chapter:

 

I love you, says the LORD; but you say, “How do you love us?”

And if I am a master, where is the fear due to me? So says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who disdain my name. But you ask, “How have we disdained your name?”

“‘By presenting polluted food on my altar.’ ‘And you say: “How have we polluted you?”’

By offering defiled food on my altar! You ask, “How have we defiled it?”

You have wearied the LORD with your words, yet you say, “How have we wearied him?”

Return to me, that I may return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, “Why should we return?”

Can anyone rob God? But you are robbing me! And you say, “How have we robbed you?”

Your words are too much for me, says the LORD. You ask, “What have we spoken against you?”

Enough already! Everything is challenged! Everything is hurled back in God’s face. Just for kicks, turn the page. Find yourself in the gospels. What if Mary had answered the angel that way when he announced that she would carry the Child: “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you?” What if she had shot back: “In what way is he with me?” Had she talked back like that to the angel it might not be Mary remembered as the mother of our Lord. It might be Olga or Tatiana.

Mary did not smart-mouth the angel. She almost seems an anomaly. Paul summarizes God’s customary dealings with the Israel of that time at Romans 10:21: “All day long I stretched out my hands to a disobedient and contentious people.” In the world of Bible translation, most works list ‘disobedient’ as the first adjective when rendering that verse. The second is up for grabs. The house Bible used here, NABRE, says ‘contentious’. Others say ‘obstinate’, ‘rebellious’, or ‘stubborn’. Some older translations say ‘gainsaying’. The banned New World Translation says obstinate. But the pre-revised NWT of 1981 hit the nail on the head, by saying they ‘talk back.’ Apparently when that version was revised in 2013, someone thought ‘talk back’ was too much of a departure, but I like it best. After all, in the olde English, ‘gain’ means ‘against’, so ‘talk back’ seems not too bad an update of ‘gainsay.’

Jehovah’s Witnesses conform to discipline without too much fuss. They are not the sort to engage in political protest over what the king is doing or is not doing. Within the congregation as well, they conform to discipline. They bring to life an observation of Nathaniel Hawthorne: “People who think the most bold of thoughts have no difficulty conforming to outward norms of society.”35 Nobody thinks thoughts more bold than Jehovah’s Witnesses. By conforming to the usually minimal discipline of the king and the congregation, they enjoy a remarkable peace and unity unknown to the general world.

Though Hawthorne doesn’t say it, the reverse of his statement is also true: people who cannot conform to the outward norms of society are apt to be the most inwardly conformist of all. Totally obsessed with the petty freedoms this world has to offer, they are blind to the significant freedoms: freedom from fear of death, for example, that a relationship with God enables. One is reminded of the pigs Jesus sent rushing over the precipice, pigs blinded by the ‘demons’ of their momentary thinking—too distracted by them to notice the drop ahead.36

From the book Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia    (see also safe version)

Endnotes

  1. Insight on the Scriptures (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 1988) Vol 1, 629
  2. Deuteronomy 6:6-7
  3. “The Survey Showed the Attitude of Russians Towards the Idea of Depriving Parental Rights of Sectarians,” RIA Novosti, December 4, 2017, accessed March 28, 2018, https://news.rambler.ru/sociology/38580039-rossiyane-podderzhali-ideyu-lishat-roditelskih-prav-sektantov/?updated. For English translation, see http://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/171204d.html
  4. Daniel 3:17-18
  5. Exodus 20:1-17
  6. Matthew 5:28
  7. Kenney, C. “Bad News for Kids of Divorce” Boston Globe, April 6, 1993, 64 as accessed March 28, 2018 at CYS Infopedia, Culture and Youth Studies, http://cultureandyouth.org/divorce/articles-divorce/bad-news-for-kids-of-divorce/
  8. Jeremiah 5:8
  9. Ezekiel 33:26
  10. “The Supreme Court Spent Nine Hours in Search of Extremism Among Jehovah’s Witnesses,” Caucasion Knot, April 13, 2017, accessed March 14, 2018, https://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/300950, for English translation, see https://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/170413c.html
  11. Proverbs 23:13
  12. Jeff Hodson, “Did Hana’s Parents ‘Train’ Her to Death?” The Seattle Times, November 27, 2011, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/did-hanas-parents-train-her-to-death/
  13. “A Violent Education - Corporal Punishment of Children in U.S. Public Schools,” Human Rights Watch and American Civil Liberties Union, February 2009, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.aclu.org/files/pdfs/humanrights/aviolenteducation_execsumm.pdf
  14. “Giving Reproof ‘Before all Onlookers’,” The Watchtower, December 1, 1976, 14
  15. Acts 15:14
  16. 2 Timothy 2:17
  17. 1 Corinthians 5:12-13
  18. 1 Peter 4:3
  19. Romans 2:21-24
  20. 2 Peter 2:1-2
  21. Ronald J. Sider, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005)
  22. Sider, The Scandal, 53
  23. Ibid., 108
  24. Ibid., 111
  25. Ibid., 112-113
  26. Ibid., 116
  27. Ibid., 111
  28. Corinthians 5:9-13
  29. Sider, The Scandal, 114-11
  30. Titus 1:11, 2 Timothy 2:17-18, 1 Timothy 1:20, Titus 1:13
  31. Transcript: Joel Engardio, “Learning True Tolerance,” NPR – Weekend Edition Sunday, November 25, 2007, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16505529
  32. 2 John 2:10-11, James 3:5-8, 2 Corinthians 10:5
  33. Mark 10:28-30
  34. Matthew 10:34-36.
  35. “A Lengthy Legal Struggle Ends in Victory!” The Watchtower – study edition, July 15, 2011, 8, accessed March 27, 2018, https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/402011522#h=27
  36. It is a description of Hester Prynne in ‘The Scarlet Letter.’
  37. Matthew 8:30-32

000

 

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)

A Governing Body

The first institution of higher learning in the Western World, the Academy of Athens, was founded by Plato in 387 BC. Much of what is bedrock to Western civilization traces back to him. Plato recorded his concept of ideal government in which he advocated rule by “philosopher-kings.” He favored monarchy, but not hereditary monarchy. Instead, his rulers were to be selected, by already-existing rulers, on the basis of merit. This would follow a lengthy period of education designed to separate the wheat from the chaff, so lengthy that it seems nobody under age fifty would be eligible for consideration. Consider an excerpt from ‘The 100,’ an intriguing book by Michael Hart, which undertakes to rate the one hundred most influential persons throughout history (Plato is #40):1

“Only those persons who show that they can apply their book learning to the real world should be admitted into the guardian class. Moreover, only those persons who clearly demonstrate that they are primarily interested in the public welfare are to become guardians. Membership in the guardian class would not appeal to all persons. The guardians are not to be wealthy. They should be permitted only a minimal amount of personal property, and no land or private homes. They are to receive a fixed (and not very large) salary and may not own either gold or silver. Members of the guardian class should not be permitted to have separate families, but are to eat together, and are to have mates in common. The compensation of these philosopher-kings should not be material wealth, but rather the satisfaction of public service.”

Anyone familiar with Jehovah’s Witnesses will recognize at once that these words almost exactly describe their Governing Body. Only the “mates in common” does not apply. It is too rich: the group who, without fuss, and no doubt unknowingly, actually applies the words of the philosopher Plato, is a relatively uneducated group beneath the notice of many today—Jehovah’s Witnesses. Imagine! The standard-bearer of modern intellectuals devises a system of government that they admire, but cannot reproduce, and then the Governing Body stumbles along and says ‘Hey, we’ll try some of that,’ and implements it without sweat!

One may object that Plato’s recommendation is for the government of nations, whereas Jehovah’s Witnesses are a religion. But the similarities are more striking than the differences. Worldwide, Jehovah’s Witnesses number over eight million, midway on the scale of nations, with about the same population as Switzerland. The Bible speaks of God’s people as “a great nation.” It shouts: “Open up the gates that a righteous nation may enter, one that keeps faith.” It warns religious opponents that “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people [translations vary about 50/50, some opting for ‘people,’ others ‘nation’] that will produce its fruit.”2

Scripturally, Jehovah’s Witnesses are a nation as real as any nation on the world’s roster of nations today. In fact, they are more so, since their citizens are more united. Their universal reputation of being moral, decent, and law-abiding people is no accident, nor is it explained solely by their belief in the Bible as the source of divine instruction. It is also the result of effective administration—governing. Many groups that claim to follow the Bible are populated by members whose lifestyles belie the claim, as Sider makes clear in the prior chapter. Jehovah’s Witnesses are unified in a common goal and purpose. They practice what they preach and, heaven knows, they preach. It is all a result of effective governing. They are Plato’s dream come true.

The reason Jehovah’s Witnesses can do it and the intellectuals cannot is that Plato’s system depends upon persons who are neither ambitious, nor materialistic, nor overly proud. It is not that such persons cannot be found among the general population. It is that the values of this world are such that these persons cannot rise to the top. Once they are spotted, they are dismissed as impractical nuts and shunted off to the bottom, as in some great antitypical game of Chutes and Ladders. But in the world of Jehovah’s Witnesses, these people do rise to the top, and part of their very qualifications is that they do not regard themselves as ‘rising to the top,’ but only as fellow Christians willing and able to serve.

One can almost entertain the fantasy of Plato himself appearing on the world stage today. As soon as they discover it, today’s educated best would rush to welcome him into their homes and, of course, he would graciously accept. In time he would learn that, while he was honored with words, he was yet dismissed as an impractical dreamer with regard to his ideas of government. Eventually (it might take a while) he would discover that Jehovah’s Witnesses had put his ideas into practice. He would rush over to Bethel to consult, where they, having no idea who he is, would make him take a number and wait his turn.

 

In the first century, the “apostles and presbytrs” in Jerusalem formed a governing body to set policy for the rapidly expanding Christian faith. That agency determined how scripture would apply to new developments, much as a Supreme Court might determine how a country’s constitution might apply to new developments. Without such application, a constitution quickly becomes irrelevant. The fifteenth chapter of Acts provides a specific example of how Christians were governed then. The specific issue hardly matters; it is not a burning topic today. It is the template that matters. Today, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses uses that template in directing modern Christian activity. Read it and note the dispute and the agreed-upon channel of redress. Note how, prior to reaching a decision, scripture is considered, both historical and prophetic. Witnesses are heard who testify to the role holy spirit is manifestly playing among the congregations. The resulting decision is put into writing and sent to all the congregations: “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.”3

Alas for those who suppose God is an American. Alas for those who suppose Christianity ought to be based upon Western democracy. Churches in America typically paint God as American. He is enthralled with democracy, majority rule and freedom of speech. But it wasn’t guidelines being delivered back then by the apostles and presbyters. It wasn’t suggestions. It wasn’t proposals to be put to popular vote. It was decisions which were to be observed. Nearly all English translations use words as “decisions” or “decrees.” The New International Version calls them “decisions for the people to obey.” The Amplified Bible strays slightly with “regulations,” Moffatt’s New Testament translation: “resolutions,” the Good News Bible: “rules.” Only the ridiculously paraphrased Message translation waters down the phrase to: “simple guidelines which turned out to be most helpful.” Isn’t this what one would expect? If God’s ways are truly higher than our ways and people become Christians precisely for that reason, does anyone really think that God’s ways would be determined by majority vote? If that is the case, what would be the need for God?4

The apostles and presbyters governed from Jerusalem as a God-ordained arrangement. They were not ambitious men seizing power. They were Christians with the most experience, men who had introduced the faith to others, and they saw to their own succession. Is this arrangement to be extended into the present? Jehovah’s Witnesses say yes. It is what they glean from consideration of a passage in Matthew: “Who, then, is the faithful and prudent servant, whom the master has put in charge of his household to distribute to them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master on his arrival finds doing so. Amen, I say to you, he will put him in charge of all his property.”5

At first glance, one might wonder if these verses can refer to governing at all. I’ve had someone tell me they are no more than a nice story with the moral to always do your best. But consider that the verses are embedded in Matthew 24 and 25, two Bible chapters devoted to prophesies and parables about Christ’s return. Matthew 24:3 leads with the question posed by Jesus’ disciples: “Tell us, when will this happen, and what sign will there be of your coming, and of the end of the age?” The next chapter consists of three parables in which the Master returns after a long absence and settles accounts with his slaves. ‘What have they been doing while he has been gone?’ he wants to know. Some have been diligent. Some have been negligent. Some have kept alert. Some have fallen asleep.  Some have done well by his brothers. Some have ignored them. As is typical, Jesus speaks in illustrations.

Today, among Jehovah’s Witnesses, that “faithful and prudent servant,” found by the “master on his arrival” to be giving “food at the proper time,” has been appointed over all [the Master’s] belongings. It defines a governing body which oversees kingdom interests on earth. As closely as possible, it models itself after the pattern set by that first century governing body. In this way, congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses are governed. They thereby maintain unity and stand for something separate. They do not merely reflect national or cultural norms of the day endorsed and slightly modified with a religious seal of approval.

Members of the Witnesses Governing Body are not bluebloods born into privilege. They are ministers illustrating the root meaning of the word: ‘through the dust.’6 They have not been as lowly as their ‘brothers.’ They have been more lowly than most of them, engaging in the full-time ministry throughout their lives—humble, door to door work, often humbled again through assignments to poverty-stricken locations. To cite author Hart, they have “applied their book learning to the real world” and have “demonstrated that they are primarily interested in the public welfare.”

Even now, they essentially live in dormitories. They are nice dormitories, to be sure, but they are dormitories nonetheless. Their basic needs are covered, but they are not amassing pensions or retirement plans. They needn’t hitchhike to get where they want to go, but they generally relied on public transportation back in the day. Though heading an eight-million-member organization, when they fly, it is via commercial flight. They thus typify again Plato’s ideal government: “The guardians are not to be wealthy. They should be permitted only a minimal amount of personal property, and no land or private homes. They are to receive a fixed (and not very large) salary and may not own either gold or silver…The compensation of these philosopher-kings should not be material wealth, but rather the satisfaction of public service.”7

Members of the Governing Body could be described as having been set on high, who have prepared for it by time spent in places low. They would say that they strive to be examples of trusting in God. They yet read the Bible regularly, a course they advise for everyone else, reflecting the kings of ancient Israel who were directed to read the Mosaic Law daily. When they devise some new Bible-based training school, they put themselves through it first, where they are ever reminded of what they aspire to be. Yet, even as they are aware of their own imperfections, they do their level best to shepherd the flock, to ward off sectarian influences, and to give direction in order to meet current circumstances. They issue “decisions” as their counterparts did in the first century.

They hold to the Bible as best they can and unabashedly refer to it as “God’s Word,” a designation the more liberal churches abandoned decades ago, possibly so that they would not be looked down upon by intellectuals. They like God’s pleading expressed by Isaiah: “If only you would attend to my commandments, your peace would be like a river, your vindication like the waves of the sea.”8 Peace is a good thing. They are ever vigilant to teach God’s commandments so as to help ones attain it. They take God’s side as the murmurers complain “The LORD’s way is not fair!’ Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair? Are not your ways unfair?” If the brilliant thoughts of those who think them truly were worth the paper they were printed on, surely they would have resulted in a better world by now.9

In view of the modest means of the Governing Body members, Hart’s further assessment is readily understood: “Membership in the guardian class would not appeal to all persons.” There were persons of the first century who wanted Paul’s authority—but not his work. These were the “superapostles,” ambitious men coveting power. Some of them made a grab for power, mostly by disrespecting direction from the “apostles and presbyters” and teaching whatever they pleased within their sphere of influence.

Paul became so fed up with them that he, at one point, seemed to take leave of his senses: “Are they ministers of Christ? (I am talking like an insane person). I am still more, with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, far worse beatings, and numerous brushes with death. Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure. And apart from these things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is led to sin, and I am not indignant?” One can almost picture caretakers hauling him off for a sedative at this point and a check of blood pressure! How much can a man take? He does the work! They grab the credit! Most of Paul’s would-be usurpers were essentially established men comfortable in their home congregations, lacking the track record of Paul but confident that they had the wisdom to compensate for that lack.10

One of that number, Diotrephes, ruled his local roost. The apostle John says: “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to dominate, does not acknowledge us. Therefore, if I come, I will draw attention to what he is doing, spreading evil nonsense about us. And not content with that, he will not receive the brothers, hindering those who wish to do so and expelling them from the church.” The same drama plays out in the modern-day with some insistent that they should have greater input in “decisions” that are made through the governing arrangement and who are inclined to second-guess them all.11

Members of the Governing Body are selected by existing members from the tiny subset of Witnesses who profess to be anointed. Details of this anointing are doctrinal and dull to non-Witnesses and well-known to actual Witnesses. Suffice it to say that it is a group numbering just 144,000 (a number taken from Revelation) throughout all Christian history. Consequently, almost all of Jehovah’s Witnesses today look forward to everlasting life on earth under God’s kingdom rule, but this small number profess the hope of being part of that rule in heaven upon their death. There they will be a “kingdom and priests for our God, and they will reign on earth.”12 They ‘profess’ this hope but once a year—never verbally—by partaking of the wine and unleavened bread at the celebration of Lord’s Evening Meal, the only meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses of which a portion could ever be described as ceremonial.

Since those with the heavenly hope self-identify, is it possible for a person to do so simply to one day assume leadership of the organization? Were mere education the criteria, such might be the case, but since decades of unpaid service is also a prerequisite to such leadership, it is inconceivable. Among the greatest sins one can commit is to ‘partake unworthily,’ falsely partaking of emblems representing the Christ. Dishonest persons might blow past this stricture and do it anyway, but they are not going to supply proof of their ‘qualifications’ with decades of lowly service. In the individual congregations, members professing the heavenly hope—there are only ten thousand or so worldwide—enjoy no special status and are not inclined to draw attention to themselves or their calling. The arrangement is one of the future, not the present, apart from the few who serve as a governing body. At present, that agency numbers eight. The number fluctuates.

The Governing Body’s model is that of ‘rising through the ranks.’ As in the first century, they are “men who have given up their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”13 It is a marked difference between leadership in the Witness organization versus leadership in the greater religious world. There, generally speaking, applicants attend a specialized college, earn a degree, find a church to hire them as pastor or assign them as priest. From that start, there may be a promotional ladder to be climbed. Thus, one may eventually become a church leader having never truly followed. With those who have served on the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses it has been different. They have spent decades in full-time service performing a ministry more lowly than that of most persons they will one day lead. It is only after, not before, they have “given up their lives” that they receive specialized training to lead.

The Governing Body strives to promote peace with the national “king” in whatever nation in which it operates. No king will find more cooperative citizens than Witnesses so long as he does not insist upon invading God’s turf. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”14 If Caesar wants you to walk a mile, walk two. Don’t sulk because he is doing something you don’t like—thank him for building the roads you drive on. Don’t test him and take up the side of those making him trouble. Honor him for his efforts to keep the unruly in check. Don’t niggle him out of his taxes. Pay up. Fear his authority, for the verse cautions he “does not bear the sword for nothing.”15

Help him out where he tries to promote moral strength among his people. He sees some of them falling prey to alcoholism, sloth, drugs and petty crime. Be a bulwark against those things. Pick up the litter in the park that his more careless subjects strew about. In fact, even pray for the king, not for the success of his plans, for that is his business, but pray as Paul advised Timothy to pray: “I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.”16 Do what the king says. But if he tries to regulate worship or ministry, then there is no choice but to give God’s things to God.

‘Exactly, your honor,’ tell him. ‘We’ll be nothing but model citizens. Please leave us be in our efforts to declare the Bible’s teachings. If we are wrong in our interpretation, we’ll look like fools. We’ll take that risk. But under no circumstances does it ever become a threat to you, for everyone knows we are the most peaceful people in the world. Do not deprive your citizens the right to decide for themselves about all-important spiritual things. Do not take anyone’s word for it that our interpretation of Scripture is wrong, especially when they make little effort to teach it themselves. This advertising of the Bible’s good news (gospel) is what we must do, for “this is good and pleasing to God our savior who wills everyone to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth.”17

Jehovah’s Witnesses are often described as ‘pacifist’ but the description is not technically correct. They are neutral with regard to the conflicts of this world, which goes further than pacifism. They will not fight, but they will also not take a desk job for the war effort. They stay separate from it all. They feel that heroes and villains should be determined by the Bible’s measure, and not by the dictates of the national king. There will typically be heroes and villains on both sides. Can the current military person really fit in with God’s overall purpose? Since they have demonstrated in this world that they will blow my head off with a gun if some man tells them to, there is a problem. They will have to give up that allocation of loyalty before one could trust them in God’s new system.

Still, notwithstanding the seemingly opposite views of Jehovah’s Witnesses and members of the military over how patriotism is best expressed, it is not uncommon for the two to have respect for one another. Both recognize the value of discipline. Both recognize the value of self-sacrifice. A professional soldier will often respect the professional soldier of the other side for serving the cause he believes in. Once they see it is the same with Jehovah’s Witnesses serving their cause, perceptions sometimes change.

Many accept it as normal that perception should be determined by the local king and the immediate country, in line with the conventional goals of the overall world. Mark Smith writes that “the strongest predictors of people’s moral beliefs are not their religious commitments or lack thereof but rather when and where they were born.”18 The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses does not permit such factors to predominate. It is alarming to some non-Witnesses that religion might cause persons to stray so far from the familiar mindset.

 

“In the long run, religion is best understood as responding to changing political and cultural values rather than shaping them,” Smith further states.19 The Governing Body does not permit politics or culture to play that trump card among its members. They take a lot of criticism for it. When the herd turns, and they refuse to turn with it, some bruising is inevitable. Often, it will come as charges about controlling people, and can even escalate to charges of totalitarianism. 

Smith’s book charts five contentious issues in America’s history: slavery, divorce, homosexuality, abortion, and women’s rights. In each instance he shows how religious leaders have allowed their churches to be molded by changing cultural perceptions, not necessarily immediately, but inevitably. Modern church members have more in common morally and politically with contemporary atheists than they do with their own church counterparts of long ago, he observes.

They reinterpret the Bible when they have to, so as to stay relevant, just as the Russian judge reinterpreted the constitution when he had to. A reviewer of the book declares it “ultimately hopeful” that churches so accommodate present trends. He has in mind secular considerations leading religious ones, not the other way around. It is a reassuring message that he brings to those who would mold politics/culture, and even the anti-cultists, that they need not worry overmuch. Religion may drag its feet a bit, but it will ultimately come around to follow prevailing opinion. However, the Governing Body quotes a line from the book: “Christian leaders have regularly revised their teachings to match the beliefs and opinions gaining support among their members and in the larger society,”20 and says: ‘It doesn’t happen here.’ The heartened book reviewer is displeased about it, formers of politics/culture are displeased, and a worrisome new target presents itself for the anti-cultists. The interests of those who would strive to live by Bible principles are served, however.

The Governing Body doesn’t ‘reinterpret’ anything. Or rather, they do, but it is only in cases where former teachings are seen to stem from influences more cultural than biblical. As an example of the former: the scriptural arrangement of headship is now appreciated purely as a spiritual one and need not dictate matters practical. Should stereotypical roles be reversed with the husband at home with the children, and the wife at work, it raises no red flags. In the Witnesses’ branch organizations, it is routine for women to exercise authority over men in various areas of workplace expertise.

There is one more circumstance in which the Governing Body actually reinterprets quite a bit, but not the matters that Mark Smith writes of. They do not reinterpret matters of morality clearly defined in Scripture. However, they lay no claim to being inspired or infallible, but only to taking the lead in the Christian work. “The Governing Body is neither inspired nor infallible. Therefore, it can err in doctrinal matters or in organizational direction,” they have written. Who is not disarmed by such frank statements?21

There is no finer way to get some grousers going than to say: “Oh, we changed that.” Hostile people scour past Watchtower publications and discover positions that have altered, and pounce over the ‘flip-flop.’ It is not a piece of cake looking into the future. Everyone knows that. So if you miss the mark, you back up and tackle the subject anew. The Witness organization does it all the time. For decades, Watchtower publications have spoken of ‘tacking’ and the ‘light getting brighter.’ What is that if not an admission that they have often been wrong? They are very open about it, so when detractors complain about teachings that have changed, they look pretty silly if they harp on it. It has never been said that they didn’t.22

The present explanation is always a tentative explanation, the best out there. If it proves insufficient, they will in time re-examine and present things afresh. They ‘tack’ in ‘ever brightening light’ routinely. They will no doubt continue to do it as the situation warrants. They make no secret about it. Nor is anyone required to shout from the rooftops any current interpretation. Witnesses trust headship as they would trust the airplane pilot and take for granted he is handling the turbulence as best as can be expected. They don’t expect the cockpit door to swing open and the pilot shout: “Hey, anybody here know how to fly this thing?” Though the flight attendants may retreat with their refreshment carts of coffee and juice, passengers fasten their seatbelts as advised to ride out the rough patch without undue concern. They don’t reach for the flotation seat cover. They know that if God is worth his salt, he can provide capable human leadership. They know they haven’t signed on to a democracy.

That other point the Governing Body just clarified? You may have pondered that point some time ago in your own private study of the Bible. And if this was the greater church world, you would have run out and started up your own sect over it. Instead, Witnesses wait on the human authority they are convinced God has provided. Sometimes that authority has been wrong in expectations. When they are, it is like misreading a bus schedule and is not the basic fabric of the faith. It is a disappointment, but it does not change anticipation of the bus’s arrival. This author goes way out on a limb with a flippancy unmatched to liken several missed date perceptions of the early 1900s to the time you missed the nail with the hammer, and in frustration, swung several times more, again missing each time. What can you do? It would be nice had it not happened, but it did. If one has to go back over a century to dig up dirt, there can’t be that much dirt to dig up. Nor do they do anti-types anymore—“this is an anti-type of that’—probably because too many have blown up in their faces. You get almost as much bang for the buck, with no downside, by saying “This reminds us of such and such.” Who is there that can come along later and say that it did not?

The things Jehovah’s Witnesses have reinterpreted, or even flip-flopped on, are all superfluous things. They are all trimmings on the tree, and not the tree itself. The essential doctrines of Jehovah’s Witnesses that distinguish them from any other religion have been solidly established for over 100 years: teachings that the Trinity is unscriptural, for example, and that the soul does not live on after death. These are the important points that one should focus on. No one else figured it out. Forerunners of today’s Governing Body did, constituting powerful evidence that they are indeed led by God’s spirit.

Among the basic tenets discerned 100 years ago is that human salvation is not the prime issue before all creation, but the vindication of God’s name and purposes is.23 It is a huge distinction between Jehovah’s Witnesses and the general world of churches. It is the approach of the latter who say that it is all about us: all about our own personal salvation and relationship with Jesus. It invariably makes one self-centered. Invariably it leads to emphasis on rights outstripping responsibilities.

 

If the Governing Body has made some mistakes, they nonetheless man up and move on. They are not the cat that Mark Twain wrote about: “A cat that sits on a hot stove will never sit on a hot stove again. Nor will it sit on a cold one, for they all look hot.” They take heart that similar blunders occur repeatedly in Scripture. In the first century the word went out among the congregations that the apostle John would not die until the Lord’s return. It took John himself to set the record straight. He didn’t bother doing so until nearing the end of his life. Perhaps he had thought it himself.24

The apostle Peter declares that: “The end of all things has drawn close.” When the established Jewish world effectively ends with the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, that is not the end he had in mind. Nevertheless, he probably drops to his knees and thanks God that he was not among those at the Jerusalem Hyatt for celebrations just then. He doesn’t grumble about being misled by whomever that 70 CE was not the big one. It was big enough. When they tell him they were just tacking, he doesn’t complain about it.25

Apparently, God is okay with it all, all of the ‘tacking,’ all of the ‘light getting brighter.’ If he was upset, he would short-circuit JW.org so that it would read in English and Pig Latin only and not the 900 languages in which it does read. If there was a substitute somewhere that did all that the Witness’ organization does in furtherance of the good news, minus the missed hammer swings, the best course would be to go there. But there is not, and it becomes apparent that God puts up with people who miss even as he is trying to overhaul them into people who do it less often. ‘They’re all imperfect people,’ he says in effect, ‘they’ll just have to sort through their own blunders.’

There are many examples in the Bible of faithful ones doing or saying things that did not pan out. Take, for instance, King David, troubled that he was living in a palace, and God was not. He plans to remedy that disparity by constructing a huge temple. Nathan the prophet gives him the green light. “Whatever is in your heart, go and do, for the LORD is with you,” he says. But God tells the prophet to back off. He points out that he has wandered about with the Israelites for centuries, perfectly content with the tabernacle he himself directed be made. Did he ever say that he wanted a house more permanent? However, he does allow that one will be built in the future, only not by David—he is a warring king and the symbolism is not right. It will be built by his son, Solomon, who will preside over an unprecedented period of peace. David wasn’t going to build any house! Solomon was!26 Nathan was wrong! Was he a ‘false prophet?’ Did he carry on over being second-guessed by God? Did David complain about being misled? There is no record of it.

The closer to significant events, the more eager become the ‘prophets.’ “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” the apostles asked the resurrected Jesus. ‘No, I’m not. Mind you own business and carry on in the disciple-making work’ was, in essence, his answer.27

When they had asked him about it previously, for “they thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear instantly,” he told them a parable designed to show that it would yet be a while and that they should keep busy in his work while he is away: a certain man of noble birth was traveling to a distant land in order to secure kingly power and return. Before leaving, he gives his slaves funds and says they should put them to good use. Upon his return, he finds that the first two slaves have done business and have doubled his money. The third slave has sat idle. “Lord, here is your gold coin that I kept hidden away in a cloth,” the fellow explains. “You see, I was in fear of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit and you reap what you did not sow.”28

What is he saying to the Lord but: “You want disciples? Get off your rear end and make them yourself!” The attitude of the ‘wicked slave’ finds a counterpart in some opponents in modern times who balked at the prospect of preaching to the general public, preferring the more comfortable model of preaching to the congregation—never mind if that is the biblical pattern or not. The ‘winners’ among them reintegrate back into the greater world and resume life. The ‘losers’ among them mask their reason with complaints about direction and governance in the congregation and attempt to undermine the work of those who have stayed the course.

In answering the ‘wicked’ slave, the master does not deny that he reaps where he does not sow. He even lets stand the slave’s perception that he was thereby ‘harsh.’ Furthermore, he even indicates that he could have worked with such a flawed attitude. Had the slave deposited the money in the bank, a one-time trip, so as to start the ball rolling accruing interest, the master could have worked with it. He may not have jumped for joy, but he would not have delivered the rebuke he did. The parallel account in the 25th chapter of Matthew shows the ‘wicked’ slave digging in the ground, working up a sweat, to bury the master’s money and thus thwart any possibility of his interests benefiting. How can this not correspond to former adherents actively opposing what they once espoused?

Not all members of the faith are zealous in the ministry, though zeal is ever encouraged. Those who refuse are not the same as those who decline to do it. The latter do not deny the ministry; they simply feel, for whatever reason, that they are not up to it. The former turn against it. The latter agree with Jesus that if you have good news, you do not just sit on it; you put your lamp on the lampstand. The public ministry grounds a person. Stray from it at your personal spiritual peril. To the extent possible, members of the Governing Body engage in the house to house work just like everyone else.

The other action of the ‘wicked slave’ is to beat his fellow slaves when the master is delaying. Says Matthew: “But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is long delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eat and drink with drunkards, the servant’s master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”29 Molasses hardly delays more than the Master does these days, in the eyes of some grousers, the ‘wicked slave’ counterparts, and they take out their frustrations in attacking those taking the lead, with charges of totalitarianism and mind control.

 

The Governing Body has framed witnessing about the kingdom as natural an activity as the sunrise and sunset, to Witnesses and non-Witnesses alike. They have made it a third inevitability that must be acquiesced to. There is death, there is taxes, and there is Jehovah’s Witnesses. The message is presented tactfully (ideally). It is augmented these days by methods less ‘in-your-face’ than house-to-house visits: via Internet and public displays of Bible literature staffed by Witnesses ready, but not insisting, to explain the contents.

It is no small feat to position kingdom preaching this way, for the message is not popular among humanists who would have us believe society ever moves onward and upward. It is not popular among religionists, for it overturns many a cherished teaching. It is not even popular always with the Witnesses themselves. They see the need for it, and have signed on to the program, but the desire to preach can be tempered by fear of man, leading one to yield to the implicit conviction of many that religion is just not something one speaks of openly—that it is a personal matter as delicate as explaining the facts of life to a child. The Governing Body at times experienced some pushback from those who wanted the faith but also a ‘normal life.’ ‘How can one lead a normal life in an abnormal world?’ was their answer. They have largely won that battle. They have held the course. They have furthered the course with ministry expansion worldwide. They are aided by daily news events clearly demonstrating that they are correct in describing the world as ‘abnormal.’

Just how God influences this small group is unlikely to ever be clear. The topic is not off limits, but one can only go so far in explaining how it works. Most likely they don’t know themselves. They are the imperfect vessels molded by the perfect potter. We don’t have to know everything. In fact, we cannot, for here we are peering into the divine/human interface. “The Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings,” says Romans.30 Just try demanding that it enunciate properly. “Just as you do not know how the life breath enters the human frame in the mother’s womb, so you do not know the work of God,” says Solomon.31 Just try setting him straight on that point. This will be one of those areas in which we can glimpse the fringes of God’s ways and no more.32  

It is better for one to focus on manifestations that it works, demonstrated by accomplishments replicated nowhere else. Only the rare passenger, or even driver, is called upon to explain the inner workings of his automobile. Few can. All they really have to know is how to ride in it, work a few controls, and suffer through the potholes it will occasionally hit. It is ever the fascination of persons to describe just how government works. Pundits pry and attempt to worm their way into the inner circle, and usually get it wrong; at best they get a glimpse. If that is true with human things, how much more so with spiritual things? God has never signed a disclosure agreement.

In some respects, the closer one gets to the ‘inside’ of theocratic things, the more challenge it is perceiving God’s direction. Rank and file Witnesses will marvel at how God has supplied just the right understanding at just the right time. “Yeah, it’s only because so-and-so is too stubborn to…” the jaded insider will say. This is how God ‘works in mysterious ways’—the phrase is an escape clause reserved for when religionists must extract themselves from the corner their own doctrines have painted them into. In the case of how God directs humans, however, it is spot-on. We are not going to know it. The critical thinkers are checked. Some of them will overturn the entire chessboard on that account and stomp home.

God does use a human organization; this much is evident if only by its accomplishments and unity. He uses imperfect humans who have differences and opinions, and somehow hammers out leadership from them. To suggest otherwise is to suggest the Witnesses’ critics are right: that Jehovah’s Witnesses are brain-washed zombies. No, they are regular people, with differences even at the top and yet somehow God makes it all work. In some strange way that probably they themselves are not aware of, God works through this assembly as they read and meditate upon his written word and as they meet together to discuss it. Things gradually dawn upon them. They have a bevy of helpers, no doubt, to draw upon, but in the end, God works through them.

Can those ‘helpers’ be identified, particularly if they are acknowledged experts in this matter or that—say, in ancient history upon which any explanation of prophesy must rest? Doubtless there are some who would love to be a fly on the wall at the weekly meetings of the Governing Body. It is unlikely they will be permitted to be. Likely those participants savor the feeling of letting God’s spirit direct them wherever it will. But as soon as someone pins them down with this or that name of a recognized expert, that freedom is compromised. They know that expert will henceforth be monitored to get the inside scoop about how things that are spirit work in a human way. Anointed ones are unlikely to discuss it with John Q. Publisher, especially since the ability to keep a confidence is such a rare commodity these days.

This writer has chosen the role of an apologist. I’ll defend what they do. I’ll brace myself for the inevitable charges of being a ‘lapdog.’ My support doesn’t mean I don’t acknowledge some things might be done differently or that they cannot make mistakes—they have acknowledged that themselves. It simply is not my role to push for changes. If they decide to do things differently, I'll spin positively that new policy too. It’s the part I have chosen.

The Western model of journalism is that of ‘exposing’ errors that it assumes no responsibility to fix, nor any responsibility to deal with the consequences of stirring up discontent among persons not previously disposed to be discontent. There is no biblical precedent for it and much biblical precedent that would argue against it. This ultimate issue is: What does one prefer—‘leadership by the people’ or being ‘taught by the LORD?’33  

Do the Governing Body arbitrarily decide things without input from ‘the people?’ That can hardly be said. Each week every circuit overseer in the world sends in a report from the congregation he has served. A cynic would say that they are ‘yes men,’ and admittedly, all are loyal to the cause, but it is hardly a given that an organization must send out its agitators to represent it. The circuit overseers, especially the more experienced ones, can be trusted to give input about whatever is affecting the congregations. In this manner, it is ‘taught by the LORD’ and not ‘leadership of the people,’ since the latter does not always lead to fine ends. It is largely an article of faith in today’s world that it does, but a perusal of history reveals that it only occasionally does.

The Governing Body has its hands full coping, and they are overall doing well in catering to God and not just the individual. I won’t tell them where they are going wrong. How would I know? For every line of intelligence I have, they have fifty. Unlimited free speech is a Western concept, not a biblical one. The Bible speaks of ones whose mouths it is necessary to silence, others who should be told not to teach what is false, and others who ought to be rejected after a warning or two for insisting upon having their own way. Many are those who want “to be teachers of the law, but without understanding either what they are saying or what they assert with such assurance.” I’ll try not to be one of them.34

The Governing Body plunks along, deferring to what the Scriptures say, I am convinced. They go wherever the Bible indicates to them that they should go. If it gets them in a jam with some component of the present world, they are content that God will somehow get them out of it. They are like the leaders of the first century who were loath to abandon teaching of the word so as to wait on tables.35 That’s what helpers are for. Here and there they shoot themselves in the foot. As low-key as possible, they extract the bullet with a grimace at their own mistake and carry on. They will refine and shift and ultimately something will come down through congregation channels and I will say: “Yep, it must work, or there would not be the 900 languages.”  

The application of Bible principles is always a qualification of authorship for Watchtower paper or digital publications. Some recognized scholar of the greater world might submit a guest article on nearly any outlet, but it will not happen on JW.org. One must apply Christian principles in order to have a voice. They may or may not in the scholastic world, but in that of the Governing Body, they do. Doubtless they miss out on some scholarship through such insistence, but they also safeguard themselves from much error, as it is not uncommon for yesterday’s scholarship to become today’s trash.

Granted that the ship may not always turn on a dime in secular waters. It takes a while to establish that something really is something and not just the tossing of flotsam on the waves and the trickery of men. On the Internet there are many who would tell the Governing Body what to do. It is the Internet and people can do what they want. But such correction by the people, though popular today, is not the Bible pattern. When David truly was being a scoundrel, and really did need correction, it was not the people who called him on it, but an already established prophetic channel.

Leadership by apology is in vogue today. Should the Governing Body apologize for any wrong interpretations they ever offered up? Apostates demand it, though one gets the sense their motivation is primarily to make their former associates squirm. How much and how often leadership should apologize is a matter of style. Suffice it to say that among determined opponents anywhere, an apology only stimulates demands for more apologies, and the more apologies never lead to forgiveness, but only demands for resignation. The technique is employed everywhere, not just, or even primarily, in religion. But when it happens in religion, it plays into the greater goal of halting the preaching of the gospel worldwide.

The worldwide disrespect of authority of any kind is shocking to behold for someone raised just two generations prior. It is people in ecstasy to tear down with nary a care over the rebuild. ‘The people flounder where there is no wise direction,’ says the scripture, yet the anthem of today is the words of the second Psalm: ‘Let us cast their chains from among us!’ Witnesses don’t go there. It is enough to occasionally admit to blunders, such as was done with overemphasis on a 1975 date and cover the rest with tacking and lights getting brighter.36 Everyone knows that humans are imperfect and make mistakes. What is important is to conduct oneself with humility and to ‘pour oneself out’ in God’s service. This the Governing Body has done.

Prominent ones in Bible times were wrong about many things, yet I cannot recall one of them apologizing, other than Paul for insulting the high priest who had slapped him. When he learned it was not a common thug, but the high priest of God, he apologized. It is the only example that comes to mind.37 Honest-hearted persons do not demand apologies. Persons not honest-hearted are not satisfied with them.  What! When Jesus says his followers would be hated by all the nations, it is because of missteps of the Governing Body? Jesus would be wrong, and the whole world would love Christians today were it not for the miscues of clumsy ones?38

The Governing Body has assumed an almost impossible task: that of representing Christianity before a hostile world. It is made impossible once more by representing authority in a world that despises authority. Governing Body members strive to be ‘infants as to evil.’ They distrust the greater world’s higher education. They think of Paul who considers it ‘so much rubbish.’ Having little of it, they find it hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, and so are apt to say it is all chaff. That’s what they have helpers for: to figure out the separation. Unfortunately, the helpers may not be up to speed either. Ah, well—their world works and the one based upon human wisdom does not. They don’t lose too much sleep over their lack. “The spiritual person can judge everything but is not subject to judgment by anyone,” they cite the verse. One can worry too much.39

If a platform can be built upon, surely that argues in its favor. If it cannot be, surely that argues against it. Much of contemporary life is predicated upon lofty ideas that fail when implemented. Strangely, that failure does little to cool the ardor of true believers. The platform of the Governing Body does not fail, because it is based upon the Bible’s pattern, not their own, which they maintain is of God. Bible teachings implemented have enabled diverse persons to cooperate and build a structure for advancement of the good news that is unparalleled. One is reminded of the scriptural admonition to ‘taste and see.’ One cannot prove something tastes good. One has to taste to find out.40

Much Bible education laid out for Witness consumption is laid on with a trowel—the Governing Body is not subtle. Let the Witness be warned by Jesus words: “Every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.”41 It will not be just the new. It will also be significant repetition of the old. No matter. It is a battle for hearts and minds being waged. Does the Devil state his point once and then discreetly retire? No. He will be like the computer app that notices you checking out vacation cruise prices and thereafter drowns you relentlessly in ads until you crack open that wallet and book a few trips. It is not easy instructing a group, for one person will barely notice that which has pummeled his neighbor into the ground. Let them err on the side of clarity if they are to err. Pummel them all if they must. It is their role to coordinate the chorus of Ephesians 4:11-16:

“And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming. Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body’s growth and builds itself up in love.”

Are they ‘authoritarian’ as has been charged? They do no more than reflect the sentiments of Jesus, who said the road to life would be constricted and narrow. Do they emphasize obedience? They do no more than reaffirm Paul, who even added ‘submissive’ to the list. They do no more than advocate the wisdom from above that James speaks of, which is ‘compliant.’ They don’t want to find themselves in Lot’s shoes, giving direction at a crucial moment only to find that his sons-in-law think he is pulling their leg. Leave them be to operate. Everyone knows a back-seat driver is obnoxious, especially when he tries to grab the wheel.  Critics groused about leadership all during Moses time, too, even trying to redirect the bus back to Egypt.42

Are they ‘controlling?’ From the world’s point of view, that of ‘anything goes,’ they are. But if you weigh their policies against commentary of freedom of speech and independent thought found in the scriptures, they are easily within the ballpark. A person who represents them in some capacity, say as an elder or pioneer, will find it necessary to become ‘an example’ of the faith, and reign in some personal freedoms that the rank-and-file need not do. The former can lose privileges by flying in the face of counsel as to what is locally acceptable or has been published. It is that way in any organization. “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”43

Jehovah’s people are not belligerent or headstrong and are not inclined to blow off counsel or a certain peer pressure as nothing. They are inclined to heed the “wisdom from above,” which is “compliant.” Elders are not control freaks or micro-managers. It is never a matter of petty rules enforced by people who just like to meddle. Anyone who carries on like that jeopardizes his reputation as a ‘reasonable’ person—one of the criteria for serving as an older man. Continual training serves to refine and improve elders, who are people, after all, with all of the baggage that people carry.44  

 

Nobody has any problem with God. It is always with his human representatives. This was true with Moses, as has been seen. It was true even with Judas. He and God were tight. But Jesus looked pretty human to him, not at all qualified to do what the Messiah was supposed to do. And those yokels he was attracting! It was just too much. Judas wanted refined people.

There are those approved in Revelation who keep following the Lamb “no matter where he goes,”45 In whose eyes? If it is only in their own—well, everybody does that. Everybody follows the Lamb per their own standards. The whole phrase becomes silly and should be replaced with: “each one did what was right in his own eyes,” because that is what it will inevitably default to. In the absence of human authority, if the counsel or method seems not attractive, you simply interpret it away. No harm done.

The very basis of the Governing Body’s authority is challenged by some today with respect to their claims to represent Christ. Follow just Christ, the critics say, not some human agency. Practically speaking, just how does a faith wishing to stay relevant do that? It is possible to set the bar so low that anything can be claimed as a victory. Thus, one churchman acknowledged that his faith had made a great impact upon him but not the world. Was it a failure on that account? Not at all. Who is to say the world wouldn’t have been worse without it? It is rather like the ne’er-do-well parent responding to the complaints of his jailbird kids. Without his parenting that they have found fault with, why—maybe they would be doing life in prison and not just ten years.

Contemporary grumbling over humans brings to mind those who groused at the marked difference in both direction and style from Charles T. Russell to Joseph Rutherford to Nathan Knorr, successive Watchtower presidents leading up to establishment of the present arrangement of a Governing Body. They are fixated on men. If they are going to harp on this, they ought to follow through. Tell them to ignore Paul and focus only on what Jesus said. The good news enjoyed tremendous growth under Paul? Big deal. It has done the same under the direction of the Governing Body today, yet that makes no difference to their critics.

If we step outside the world of Bible-believing people, we find this is exactly how those of critical thought regard Paul. They essentially treat him as a person who founded a separate religion, reinterpreting the words and teachings of Jesus, linking them to Old Testament events that Jesus himself never specifically linked them to. It cannot be that God works through a group of men today? Don’t be so half-hearted. Extend the logic to Jesus and Paul. Take the Bible and rip out every book after John.

Remarks from the disgruntled often assume an ‘us versus them’ mentality: the boss class dictating to the worker class. The Governing Body doesn’t look at it that way. When they say: “Some brothers in the past thought such-and-such,” they mean themselves as much as any in the ranks. They do not draw a distinction between themselves and the rest of the brotherhood. Instead, it is the way of Matthew 23:8-10 with them: “But you, do not you be called Rabbi, for one is your Teacher, and all of you are brothers… Neither be called leaders, for your Leader is one, the Christ.” Members of the Governing Body do not view themselves as leaders, but as fellow brothers who are taking the lead. There is a difference. The leader is Christ.

While pursuing the pathway to become a Witness, nothing about the way God uses a human agency to direct his people is ever hidden. It is manifest from the start. It seems disingenuous to grouse about being misled, should anyone do it. Instead, some simply reassess matters over time. They decide the cost is too high, and the reason for paying it too nebulous or too far off. They depart because they were “not of our sort.” They decide that they like this present world after all, or at least do not dislike it enough to keep such distance.46

The exception already touched upon would be those raised in the faith. They never did see both sides. Or, rather, to the extent most of them did, it was both sides presented through the eyes of the theocratic organization, which hardly represents the other side as that side would represent itself. How to solve this? I don’t know. It may already be solved to the extent it can be. The reason Obi-wan does not want Luke to go over into the dark side is that he really thinks it is the dark side. He is not trying to control Luke. He is not trying to deprive him of anything. He is looking out for him. He truly believes the dark side is bad, and he doesn’t say: “Why don’t you go over there and roam around for a while so that you can make an informed choice?”

So it is with the Witnesses’ Governing Body. Charges that they try to control people are so juvenile, so adolescent, that they are hard to countenance. How could anybody think that way? No. They truly believe the theocratic side is good and the other side is, well—the dark side. Though that viewpoint is objectionable to some, it is exactly how the Bible presents matters. I don’t know how you get around it, or if you even want to, though it does result in the above dilemma.

Furthermore, if the Governing Body ever ‘misrepresents’ the non-Witness world, it is not because they are sinister. It is because they do not know it themselves. They take their own counsel, which is that of the Bible, and they do not go there. They are lowly people who have poured themselves out and who now find themselves in places that are high for them. There are places not just ‘high for them’—they are actually high. They do not puff themselves up over it. They trust in God and, like the kings of old were directed to do, they actually read the scriptures daily. They keep away from what is ‘falsely called knowledge’ and from the ‘empty philosophies that violate what is holy’ that ‘toss people about as though on the waves of the sea.’ They have lived their own lives with the lesson of Haggai ever foremost: clean will be contaminated by unclean, not the reverse, and so they do not go there. Because they do not go there, they know it only through the lens of Scripture.47

If the Bible says, in effect, that the ‘world will chew you up and spit you out,’ they assume that it does. If they find someone who says it in exactly those words, they eat it right up and broadcast it. And who is to say the words are untrue? Some get chewed up and spit out so promptly and decisively that no one would ever deny it, but with others? Who is to say the scriptures are wrong on that point? It may just take a longer time to get chewed up and spit out. Many senior citizens have encountered calamity, even contrived calamity, and have seen everything they had worked for drained away. Even the powerful are not immune as their strength and faculties wane.

The true freedom Christians have is the hope of everlasting life on earth, which no government or religionist can take away. They can make your life most uncomfortable but generally the tribulation is ‘momentary and light.’ Even in the worst-case scenario that it is not, it ends with one’s death, for they cannot touch one’s ‘soul,’ the true life.48 In contrast, what do the guards have from the Regional Convention video? If they are atheist guards they have three or four decades, after which is a permanent death that may not be dignified. Even the head officer threatening Sergei will fare no better.

It is a challenge piloting Christianity in an increasingly irreligious world in which the very notion of ruling on morality is spun as a negative, as a scheme to manipulate people. The world pushes hard for the viewpoint that, if you must have religion, make it bland and let it not interfere with serious things of life.

I do not know any Governing Body members, past or present, but I did once receive a personal letter from one. By odd coincidence, a personal friend has the same first and last name as one of that group. He entered Bethel around 1980 and there married. My wife and I sent him a card on his first wedding anniversary, and it was the Governing Body member who replied. He thanked us for our kind wishes, he related how he and his wife had been traveling, how they’d been to Australia for the District Convention, and then Africa—boy, he sure gets around for being just a year at Bethel, we thought. Funny that the wives’ names didn’t match. Ah, well—maybe someone has a nickname. How could we have known? Here was a Governing Body member taking time to respond to a card, writing a few chatty paragraphs to people he did not know, for fear he might hurt someone’s feelings. That says it all. These are not pretentious people.

From the book Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia   (see also safe version)

Endnotes

  1. Michael Hart, The 100- A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons of History (New York: Citadel Press, 1992) 213-216
  2. Genesis 12:2, Isaiah 26:2, Mathew 21:43
  3. Acts 15: 6-21, Acts 16:4-5
  4. Isaiah 55:9
  5. Matthew 24:45-47:
  6. The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon - Diakonos, Strong’s Number: 1249, accessed March 28, 2018, http://biblehub.com/greek/1249.htm
  7. Hart, The 100, 215
  8. Isaiah 48:18
  9. Ezekiel 18:25
  10. 1 Corinthians 1:23-29
  11. 3 John 9-10
  12. Revelation 5:10
  13. Acts 15:26
  14. Mark 12:17
  15. Romans 13:4
  16. 1 Timothy 2:1-2
  17. 1 Timothy 2:3-4
  18. Mark A. Smith, Secular Faith: How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015) see jacket dust cover
  19. Ibid.
  20. “Who is Leading God’s People Today?” The Watchtower – study edition, February 1, 2017, 28
  21. Ibid., 26
  22. Proverbs 4:18
  23. God’s Kingdom Rules (Brooklyn, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 2014) 45
  24. John 21:21
  25. 1 Peter 4:7
  26. 2 Samuel 7:2-13
  27. Acts 1:7
  28. Luke 19:11-21
  29. Matthew 24:49-51
  30. Romans 8:26
  31. Ecclesiastes 11:5
  32. Job 26:14
  33. Isaiah 54:13
  34. Titus 1:10, 1 Timothy 1:3-8, Titus 3:10
  35. Acts 6:2
  36. 1980 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, 1979) 30-31
  37. Acts 23:4
  38. Matthew 24:9
  39. 1 Corinthians 14:20, Philippians 3:8, 1 Corinthians 2:15
  40. Psalm 34:9
  41. Matthew 13:52
  42. Matthew 7:14, Hebrews 3:17, James 3:17, Genesis 19:14, Numbers 14:4
  43. Luke 12:48
  44. James 3:17
  45. Revelation 14:4
  46. 1 John 2:19
  47. 1 Timothy 6:20, Ephesians 4:14, Haggai 2:12
  48. Luke 12:4

 

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)

Pedophiles

It is not for one bombshell to bicker with another as to which packs the most punch. Should not two potent videos in the war against child sexual abuse get along with each other? They should. Ordinarily, they do. Those waging that war are not winning and they need all the bombshells they can get.

If a report in the Moscow Times is taken at face value, Russia is suffering the heaviest losses in that war. “Russian Pedophilia Cases Soared by One-Third in 2014” is the headline of the March 4, 2015 article.1 It probably should not be taken at face value—that large of an increase in a single year strains credulity—something will emerge to explain the anomaly. “The number of children recognized as victims of pedophilia surged by 35.6 percent last year, children’s ombudsman Pavel Astakhov said late Tuesday on Twitter. That increase far outpaced the 7.2 percent rise in the total number of crimes against children, according to Astakhov, who did not provide an explanation for the upticks.”

Anton Chivchalov, the observer of Witness persecution, when specifically asked how Russia deals with child sexual assault, replied: “Rather harsh and speedy. And such criminals are the most despised by their inmates in the prison.”2 In the face of such a staggering reverse, Astakhov would have it yet more harsh and more speedy, in hopes of stemming the tide. Pedophile abusers should not get out of jail before serving their entire terms. They should be monitored for life. And there should be longer statutes of limitations, he says.

No topic is hotter today than pedophilia. No topic sparks more popular outrage. Seemingly, no evil is more firmly entrenched. The organization Invisible Children reports that, in the United States, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.3 Neutralize one pedophile today and three pop up to take his place. If ancient Greece truly is the cradle of Western civilization, then the sexual abuse of children also is, for it was fundamental to that society, widely practiced and never categorically condemned.

Was Christianity the first significant bulwark against that practice? The first letter to the Corinthians warns: “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor sodomites nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. That is what some of you used to be; but now you have had yourselves washed”4 by their newfound faith in God and conformity to his laws. A footnote to the NABRE on ‘boy prostitutes’ and ‘sodomites’ reads: “The Greek word translated as boy prostitutes may refer to catamites, i.e., boys or young men who were kept for purposes of prostitution, a practice not uncommon in the Greco-Roman world. In Greek mythology this was the function of Ganymede, the “cupbearer of the gods,” whose Latin name was Catamitus. The term translated sodomites refers to adult males who indulged in homosexual practices with such boys.”5 They even had a god for it!

In contrast, the practice was exceedingly uncommon among Jews of that same time period, so that Christianity does not appear to be the first significant bulwark, but the second.  A verse from the Sibylline oracles, a collection of oracular utterances written in Greek hexameters ascribed to the [prophetesses] Sibyls,6 claims that only the Jews were free from this impurity. They were “mindful of holy wedlock, and they do not engage in impious intercourse with male children, as do Phoenicians, Egyptians and Romans, spacious Greece and many nations of other, Persians and Galatians and all Asia, transgressing the holy law of immortal God, which they transgressed.”7

“Phoenicians, Egyptians and Romans, Greeks, and many nations of other, and all Asia”—depend upon it; these ones would have the hots for your children. But not the Jews. And since Christianity begins as a sect of the Jews, it can be expected to also be free from “this impurity.” In practice, it will be diluted somewhat because Christians interact with and draw converts from the surrounding nations, some of whom find that the old ways are not vanquished as easily as was hoped; there is some backwash. There really is something to the verse Jehovah’s Witnesses love to quote: “Do not be led astray: “Bad company corrupts good morals.”8

Moderns who embrace the critical thought and emphasis on human reason that was ancient Greece but would shed its degrading habits find the shedding does not come easily. On the other hand, as evidenced by Corinthians, the fundamental structure of Christianity does shed it. Should it rear its ugly head, the justification for chopping it off is unambiguous.

When the world at last wakes up to a moral problem, it wildly overswings. It seeks to criminalize conduct of the past that did not conform to its newly-discovered moral high ground. It has happened with regard to America’s founding fathers. Revered for centuries, they are now reviled because they kept slaves, notwithstanding that every agricultural person of means kept slaves at that time, and with no regard for how they personally conducted themselves on that stage.

It has happened with regard to sexual harassment. In a single 2017 week, a quintessential American film producer of popular repute, fawned over as ‘God’ by a quintessential actress of popular repute,9 fell from top rung to gutter, with scores of female actors alleging rape.10 In the aftermath, dozens of well-known men have been trashed, with nary a distinction between rape, harassment, and what was once called ‘getting fresh’—never welcomed by most women, but also never confused with rape. Who is to say how many prominent men on the planet will not go down eventually, as an uninvited advance is equated to harassment which is equated with rape, the statute of limitations is forever, and the sole proof required is an allegation, whether it be sterling or dubious? There really is a place for a “two-witness” rule.11 But the trend is in the other direction. It is seen in politics, where allegation alone is taken as fact. It is seen in the few seconds of video presented on the media of some seemingly criminal act, and then outrage ensuing when the jury, the only persons privy to the facts, gets it ‘wrong.’ It is seen in Robert Bridge’s complaint, from Russia, that “the West’s ‘guilty until proven innocent’ mantra is wrecking lives and international relations.”12 It is seen in the massive lawsuits announced for diverse causes and the implicit understanding is that the defending lawyer saying the case is “without merit” is lying through his teeth.

It is similar today with the sexual abuse of children. Present protective policy has been quite long in coming. In 1987, Cleveland social workers and pediatricians removed over 100 children from their families suspected of sexual abuse. Public outcry was such, fueled by media cries alleging ‘overzealous’ and ‘intrusive’ agency overreach, that most were promptly returned, despite credible evidence of abuse. Lucy Delap, writing for History and Policy, credits ‘feminist campaigners’ with making the protection of children a priority, and states that “clear guidelines for best practice were not established until the 1990s.” Until that time, “where evidence of sexual assault emerged, the reaction of welfare workers was to limit harm, often by removing a child from an abusive situation. Reporting of abuse and securing convictions was a secondary concern.”13

Days of inaction are long gone. Authorities have generated sex-abuse registries that are so long that they are absolutely useless to law enforcement. Rapists are lumped in with those too free with their hands who are lumped in with those who have viewed porn on the Internet who are lumped in with of-age teens having sex with their underage girlfriends.14 A top cop in Britain recently recommended that persons found with pedophilia porn on their computers not be prosecuted. It pained him to recommend it, but the simple fact is that there are so many of them that police cannot possibly monitor them all. In attempting to do so, they are distracted from keeping tabs on the most dangerous predators.15 Meanwhile, those who must track child sexual abuse online in the course of doing their jobs liken the worst of it to Medusa: one look and it turns you to stone.16

 

The war is being lost due to an inability of the virtuous side to discipline its troops, which work at cross-purposes with each other. They represent a tangled mess of conflicting agendas that cannot put such differences aside so as to adequately cooperate, no matter how dire the situation or sacred the cause. What they can do is build a platform upon which to grandstand. For some of them, that is enough. There is much that starts out with the best of intentions, but in the end resolves into ‘sound and fury, signifying nothing.’

Their actions harm some as they help others. Recently, in New York State, police nabbed a kindergarten teacher with kiddie porn on his computer. It is bad stuff, even for kiddie porn. They grilled him, and he admitted he has fantasized over the children in his charge. They caught him via an international sting operation tracing pedophilia content originating overseas. He has never actually done anything to any of the children he teaches. But he has pinched spare underwear from their backpacks to take home and he’s derived much pleasure in dreaming of what could be.17

He is one sick puppy. No way can you have him teaching kindergarten. Even though he has never touched a child, it is reasonable to think it only a matter of time before he does, for he is feasting on what will only intensify a depraved appetite. Even that assumption one cannot slip past champions of critical thought, since they will demand proof that indulging in such porn does not harmlessly distract from the real thing, but in this case the subject is too gut-wrenching and too visceral. They will not dare open their mouths.

The question to be addressed is: How do you remove this fellow as a teacher? For the sake of the children, it ought to be done discreetly. You say: “Mr. Feely has had to leave and he won’t be coming back. There was an emergency in his family. He wanted to say goodbye but didn’t even have time for that.” Was it handled that way?

Anyone who keeps up the times knows that it was not. Instead, it was (not verbatim): “Mr. Feely Is A Pervert! He Was Teaching Your Children and Just Look at The Disgusting Filth On His Computer! He Even Swiped Janie’s Panties!” It was top news for three days. Thirty children are scarred for life, with the idea now planted that any adult, no matter how seemingly benevolent, might easily be (probably is) trying to molest them. What child does not love his or her kindergarten teacher? What person is trusted more?

Even for the man’s own sake, it might be acknowledged somewhere that he had thus far resisted acting upon what he was feeding himself with. It might be a case of ‘strengthening what remains.’ Instead he is universally denounced as a depraved monster, thus sabotaging any chance of recovery. He might not recover anyway, but why ensure the outcome? He can be arrested and put on the sex registry list without throwing the city into an uproar. He is done so with maximum publicity mainly for entertainment purposes and to allow certain ones to call attention to their guard dog role in safeguarding children.

The only reason authorities started tracking viewers of porn in the first place is because they thought they could thereby cut off the flow. It has not worked out that way.  Child porn has continued to grow unabated.  Users will store the stuff on thumb drives and bury it in their back yards before they will relinquish it. This explains why the British top cop waved the white flag—you cannot have every twentieth person employed in law enforcement.

During 2017, news sources told of a 14-year-old Minnesota girl who sexted an explicit picture of herself to her boyfriend via Snapchat. He spread it about widely. Boys will do things like that and girls should not be dumb. At time of writing, she is looking at 10 years felony jail time for violation of her state’s child-porn law. The ACLU spokesperson defending her says this is a “teachable moment” for parents to inform the girl that her actions have consequences. Tell me about it. It is also a “cautionary tale,” the ACLU adds. Yes. It is cautionary for a 14-year-old trying to live in an insane world handed her by adults that pushes powerful social media tools, a sexually promiscuous culture, and then threatens ten years imprisonment for making use of them.

Besides local media, only RT.com picked this story up, probably in a quest to embarrass the West.18 Meanwhile—it is ‘wisdom from the mouth of babes’—the girl says: “Sexting is common among teens at my school, and we shouldn’t face charges for doing it.” Of course. It is a no-brainer. It is not that what she did wasn’t wrong. It is that her countless cultural mentors should be prosecuted ahead of her. That way, there will be no room left in jail for the stunned child.

In a greater context, the story reiterates the absolute failure of the world to vanquish pedophilia, which it has declared public enemy number one, with its frothing take-no-prisoners, pulling-their-hair out frustration over making barely a dent in the pandemic, and so wildly overswinging to compensate. Again, it is the frenzied carpenter who misses the nail and then furiously hammers five times more, again missing each time. This is how it is with zealots who see their cause and nothing else. The world is full of such people.

The world slaps down perversion on one hand and feeds it with the other. Does anyone think the ‘Law and Order: Special Victims Unit’ television show is not a magnet to draw and feed molesters who fantasize over the world they would love to see? Does anyone think they walk away saying: “Wow! This is bad! I must never do it!”? Can the average person watch one straight through? It is entertainment mostly to vigilantes and pedophiles and pedophiles-in-training.

Meanwhile there is an underage teen placed on the registry for having sex with his girlfriend of 13. This, despite the prevalent teaching that parents should accept the fact that their kids are going to have sex and to give them a shot for HPV and not be so Victorian about it. Another young man is put on the list for having sex with his underage girlfriend who misrepresented herself as above-age.19 In each case a domino effect is started and neither young man is likely to ever fully be restored.

These stories are a dime a dozen. They are collateral damage in a war where zealots say: “We may not be able to do anything about terrorism or suicides or corruption or injustice or drug abuse or job insecurity, but by God! we can do something about perverts fiddling with our kids!” But in fact, they can’t even do that. Writing for a Russian outlet, Konstantin Krylov, who is “the father of four daughters. I think, from this it is clear how I feel about pedophilia and pedophiles,” even suggests “the spread of mass hysteria in society” serves to distract from “real problems,” such as “salaries and prices.”20 “Moral panic” or not, a depraved world cranks out pedophiles as readily as it cranks out radicalized terrorists who go on to shoot up or run down whoever is in sight.

There is a headline story in the New York Times gushing over a ten-year old male model. “His eye makeup is better than yours!” it swoons. Is this a perv site? No. It is the New York Times.21 The boy has over 330,000 followers on social media. What a tale of success! Do you think the paper asks how many of them are pedophiles? Why—it doesn’t occur to them to go there. Soon it will run another blockbuster story exposing the harvest of what it now sows.

This world does everything it can to titillate perversion and then froths with anger when it actually breaks out. Perhaps even with all troops disciplined and ducks lined up, the war against child sexual abuse would be lost, for the entertainment branch of the world feeds and nourishes the depravity that the judicial branch must deal with later.

 

Historically, the relative or family friend too free with his hands was controlled by parents alerting their children to let no one touch them inappropriately, not even Uncle Hands. Since few parents did this, the children were mostly left unprotected. Nobody of fifty years ago would have dreamt how many of those with unhealthy desires were lurking about. Nude swimming at the YMCA swimming pools of my youth in the 1950s was an unremarkable fact. Witness Governing Body member Anthony Morris stated:

“While child abuse has been perpetrated earth-wide in many cultures for thousands of years, it is only in the past forty years or so that the magnitude and extent of the problem has become better known. This is because governmental agencies are now determined to take a more active interest in this problem. Laws were enacted to require medical and other professionals to report cases to authorities when they became aware of them. Prior to that time, many governmental and educational and religious organizations were somewhat naive about the magnitude and the complexity of the situation,”22 and he goes on to discuss the Witness response to the modern plague.23

Today there are tools to help equip in handling the onslaught of evil. The two dueling grenades mentioned at this chapter’s outset are both effective. They both pack solid punches. If I seem to downgrade one, it is only because it was waved in my face as the be-all and end-all, whereas the Watchtower’s effort was childish rigmarole in comparison. There are apostates with a seemingly pathological need to trash anything Witness-originated. Of course it is childish. It is for children and it had better capture their attention. Talking down to them is a sure way to turn them off.

The Watchtower video is entitled Protect Your Children.24 It is an episode of the Caleb and Sophia cartoon series that all Witness children know well. That series is incorporated by most Witness families in training their children. Caleb and Sophia are about five and eight years old, respectively. Anthony Morris was mistaken by one child as their grandfather, since it was he who introduced the series. Children can visit various branch headquarters and have their pictures taken with the tykes. Through JW.org, they romp in every nation except Russia, where they are unfortunately behind bars as extremists.

The other video, the product of a child protective agency, is certainly thorough and is even more specific than ours.25 Specific areas of the body that no one should touch are circled on a child’s body, whereas the Watchtower’s tells the children that Jehovah gave them a conscience and asks what would they do if someone tried to touch them somewhere that made them uncomfortable? In assuming that a child cannot distinguish its rear end from its elbow, is not the agency video a classic example of why so many of them hate school? Who wants to be always talked down to? One almost envisions a child who is touched mentally consulting the chart he has memorized in order to determine if he should feel bad about it or not. No. Caleb’s dad is right. Jehovah gave humans a conscience. If you have not scratched it all to pieces updating it with the enlightened moral thinking of the greater world, it works pretty well.

Protect Your Children captures the imagination of the child and depicts sexual abuse as a monster, for it is monstrous, and any child knows that monsters are malevolent creatures from which to flee. It vaporizes the moment the children tell it: “No. Stop doing that! I’m telling on you!” However, to ensure that no child misses the point, the mother urges: “Even if it someone you know and trust!” and papa adds that they should right away “tell daddy or mommy,” who, in the video, take the news most seriously.

The Watchtower video has the added bonus, completely lacking in that of the agency’s, of instructing parents on how to teach their children and encouraging them to do so. It is thus family-friendly. It is a force for family cohesion. In the end, it is family that will protect a child better than any network of outside agencies, who so often drop the ball.

Whereas the agency video goes on the supposition that everybody—don’t even overlook the parents—are on the list of possible suspects, the Jehovah Witness organization ever teaches Bible principles that nurture and safeguard the entire family. It is a constant theme of the Christian life they embrace. The videos do not stand alone. They are intended as part of a family routine to aid in child training. Parents are encouraged in congregation meetings to use them this way. “The world can be a scary place. But you are never alone with Jehovah,” Daddy says. The other would say: “The world can be a scary place. Watch your back every minute. Any grown-up, no matter how nice they look, might be ready to pounce upon you. Even Mommy and Daddy might be trying to get into your pants! Watch out!”

The Watchtower video does not allow for the possibility that the parents might be the villains. To be sure, that situation has happened, generally with step-parents, but surely, that is beyond the scope of any video. Do you really want to suggest to all children that their parents might be pedophiles? Every Witness child is familiar with the entire cartoon family. Should any poor child be unfortunate enough to be stuck with parents who would sexually abuse their own offspring, they would have already noted that the Caleb and Sophia ideal parents are a far cry from theirs. Essentially the videos each regard one source as the protector of last resort. With the Watchtower, it is family with God as backup. With the greater world it is specialist agencies with overall humanity as backup. But when families dissolve, it is the rare agency that is able to adequately mitigate the damage, however they may nobly try.

Is it even true that the Watchtower video does not allow for villainous parents?  It clearly directs the children to let no one touch them inappropriately. The agency video, on the other hand, specifically says it is okay for a doctor to touch private areas. Recently, the U.S. Olympic team doctor was sentenced to 175 years in prison for molesting the teens in his charge—surely Olympians are America’s cream of the crop. 150 of them testified at his trial. Had they been asked which video do they think would have safeguarded them more, what would have been their reply? The agency video is not bad, save for that one demerit. In fact, it is very good. It can be recommended. But it has nothing on that of the Watchtower’s.

Witnesses worldwide attend annual Regional Conventions, for (usually) three days of instruction based upon Bible laws and principles. During 2017 a section dealing with child sexual abuse was a part of the program.26 Nobody, but nobody, assembles their entire membership as Jehovah’s Witnesses did and reviews detailed scenarios under which abuse might happen so that parents, the first line of defense, can educate their children and themselves.

Especially emphasized was the fact that a perpetrator is likely to be someone a child knows and trusts. If a relative, or friend, or anyone else, seems overly attentive to your child, it is a reason to be watchful, said the program speaker.  If there are tickling sessions, if there are sleepovers, if there are trips alone to the public restroom, if—there were several other scenarios. They are all potential red flags: maybe harmless, but maybe not, and the parent must be aware. “The wise one sees the [potential] calamity approaching and takes action” was the Bible verse repeatedly cited.27

 

In recent years, Jehovah’s Witnesses have made court appearances in multiple countries, but the issues they address are not the noble issues of decades ago involving rights of free speech and assembly. They are more likely to be issues of child sexual abuse in which their policies for battling it are called into question. Rarely are congregation leaders (elders) themselves accused of molestation. What is instead typical is charges that they have learned of or have investigated allegations of child sexual abuse and did not handle them in accord with contemporary practice. In not reporting each known or suspected molester to the police, they have been accused of harboring them and of making the congregations safe havens for abusers.

It is a classic example of getting slammed for doing the right thing and should not be spun any other way. It is a classic example of the leader taking the arrows. It exposes a vulnerable flank that Witnesses alone have for being proactive. All religious groups should have the same flank, but do not due to a neglect of watchfulness and discipline.

Witnesses alone investigate wrong conduct among their membership so as to keep their congregations morally clean, which they believe God expects of them. The recent court cases are fallout from doing what no one else has attempted to do: monitor wrongdoing of all sorts, but here specifically child abuse, so as to accomplish two things, which actually collapse into one. The first objective is to discover abusers so as to administer discipline, up to and including expulsion. The second objective is to keep track of any who have molested children, so that they cannot simply slip out of one congregation and into another, as they can anywhere else.

Identified pedophiles are forever barred from positions of responsibility or trust in any congregation. Plainly, this is to protect children. Memory may serve adequately in the home congregation, but what happens should the person switch congregations? Records must be forwarded. Instances of abuse would never be associated with the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the first place were that organization like the general world of religion, a world which takes little interest in the conduct of its members and considers their conduct none of its business. Preach to them on Sunday and be done with it.

When police apprehend abusers, unless they are clergy, their religion is never reported because few imagine that today’s religions should result in clean people. Few imagine that should be their job. Jehovah’s Witnesses take it upon themselves to insist upon clean people. Few other denominations are as concerned. Few religions have a clue as to what their members are up to.

Whose bright idea was it to track these reprobates anyway? It sure seemed clever at the time, offering an excellent way to protect children. It sure did blow up in their faces. Who would ever imagine the world would attempt to ‘out-righteous’ Christians on this one? From the purely pragmatic point of view of avoiding blame, they would have been far better off to bury their heads in the sand and wail like Sergeant Shultz, “I know nothinnnggg.”28

Whenever the biblical ‘two-witnesses’ policy that applies anywhere else in law is mentioned, it is roundly criticized as inappropriate, as it was recently by an Australian Royal Commission (excerpts to follow). The obvious ‘practical’ solution is to drop the policy and any attempt to look into wrongdoing; even a newly modified policy will not satisfy determines critics.29 Keep your noses out of the business of others, regardless of what the Bible says. Elders will thereby learn of few instances of abuse and the problem is solved from a liability point of view, though not from an actual one.

Preach sermons and let that be the end of it. If members apply it, they apply it. If they don’t, they don’t. Let that be no concern of the pastor. That way, should any turn out to be molesters, the preacher can never be made to look bad for his investigating it because he has never did it. God gets shortchanged that way because he expects a clean people, but who cares? He’s God. Tell him: “What you see is what you get. It’s not my problem. Do you think I want a day in court?”

It is but another attack on religion that would attempt to keep itself without ‘spot from the world.’ It might even be surmised that, at some level, that is the intent of such criticism. Don’t allow a religion to attempt to produce a clean people, for that involves ‘judging’ and lifting ones’ faith above others as “the true one.” Don’t allow it. In essence, it is a turf war. ‘Preach to them if you must’ is the sentiment. ‘But don’t get into morals. We’ll handle wrongs if they commit any, not you,’ says the State. ‘It ought not be your concern.’

Everybody’s clergy gets outed when they do wrong in this regard, but nobody’s membership. Other than Jehovah’s Witnesses, nobody monitors their members, regarding their conduct as not their affair. They thereby can never become the ‘middleman’ and thus can never be called to account for whether or not they handled matters in the way deemed acceptable by authorities today. If Witness elders have ever erred in any investigations, this should not be spun as a negative, for no one else even attempts the job. When the Star Trek spaceship takes a wrong turn, Captain Kirk is cut slack because he is ‘going where no one has gone before.’ Do other faiths have one abuser per thousand, or 100? Nobody knows or wants to know. Only Jehovah’s Witnesses have the courage to stand up to a moral outrage and they should not be maligned for it. They were proactive when no one else was. They were not proactive enough, however, to realize that their investigative role in the congregation would be interpreted by some outside as making them de facto enforcers for the outside justice system.

In 2007, the Watchtower parent organization settled a number of abuse cases. This statement was released to the media at that time: “For the sake of the victims in these cases, we are pleased that a settlement has been reached. Our hearts go out to all those who suffer as a result of child abuse… During the last 100 years, only eleven elders have been sued for child abuse in thirteen lawsuits filed in the US. In seven of these lawsuits against the elders, accusations against the Watchtower Society itself were dismissed by the courts. Of course one victim is one victim too many. However, the incidence of this crime among Jehovah’s Witnesses is rare.”30

There is a missing puzzle piece. The public can learn the stats for abuse among Witness ‘clergy.’ They can learn the stats for abuse among the clergy of others, which in some cases have been shockingly high. But when it comes to membership, they can learn only the stats for Jehovah’s Witnesses. So as not to be comparing apples to oranges, they need to learn the stats for the membership of other faiths, but this knowledge is unavailable because nobody has tracked it. People who know better, along with some who don’t, will continue to equate the membership of Jehovah’s Witnesses with the clergy of other religions. In effect, if you want to get the same ‘catch’ of pedophiles among Jehovah’s Witnesses that you do among the leaders of some faiths, you must expand your net to include, not just clergy, but everybody.

With a missing puzzle piece that will not be supplied, all one can do is extrapolate. If eleven Witness clergy were sued over 100 years, with only four of them stemming from any culpability from the organization, then surely the overall rate among the members will also be low. If it is perceived to be high, then the overall rate among memberships elsewhere will be astronomical.  Of course, people can see that it is; child sexual abuse in the greater world is an absolutely out of control pandemic. As though nurturing a seedling plant through inclement weather, apostates promote the idea that the pedophilia problem is disproportionately a Witness problem. It is just the opposite, as will be presently be seen through examining data uncovered by an Australian Royal Commission.

Anything done can be done better. The Royal Commission looked at child sexual abuse crimes and policies for all institutions, religious or secular, operating within its jurisdiction. After Witness representatives took their turn in the hot seat, they were issued harsh words for some aspects of their policies. New policies have been enacted in the Witness organization that offer improvement, though likely not enough to satisfy Commission members. Victims in abuse investigations are no longer required to speak in front of judicial committee elders, and sisters may be able to assist the elders in establishing facts. ‘Good!’ most will say, considering the tough spot the two victims were in who testified before the commission. Was it irresponsible not to have done it before? Who can say? There is nothing to compare it to. No other religion attempts what Witnesses attempt—investigating wrongdoing for the sake of meting out discipline and protecting the worldwide congregation and presenting to God “a [clean] people for his name.”

Historically, people have not been in a hurry to air their dirty laundry. Reality TV has changed much of that. Probably also a factor is that family disaster has become commonplace and people have acclimated to it. The very reason there is a phrase called “skeletons in the closet” is that persons once succeeded in keeping them there. Nowadays they stampede them like cattle through Dodge City.  Is it George Bernard Shaw who said “If you cannot get rid of the skeletons in your closet, see if you can make them dance”?

This writer would not challenge that Witnesses have had a greater adjustment than many in learning to let those skeletons roam, since their reputation is that of applying Bible morality and they are reluctant to see that reputation tarnished. It is a continual complaint of their detractors: that there is a ‘culture of complicity.’ It makes little difference to them the plain statements that any congregation member learning of abuse is free to report it to the authorities—the ‘culture’ dictates to them that they will not. The Royal Commission uncovered 1006 allegations of child sexual abuse within Australia Watchtower’s records. None had been reported to outside authorities. Many of these were statistical outliers, as they dated back as far as the 1950s—a time period in which reporting by anyone was a rarity, in which even the authorities one might report to would shrug it off as not their concern. But there were yet hundreds remaining from since the overall world has awakened to the menace of sexual abuse.

It is not great to see Jehovah’s Witnesses mentioned in courts in this connection; there is no positive way this can be spun. If children have been harmed, they do not want to ever have contributed to it. If they are going to be in the courts, they would far rather it be for the noble causes of the U.S Constitution that they have fought over in the past. To a slight degree, the unpleasantry is mitigated by a general cynicism that has taken hold of the judiciary. Yet again Trump and Hillary come to the rescue. The Republican president issues orders and the Democratic judges slap them down. It was once the other way around. For decades a predictable hysteria has prevailed over which president gets to appoint Supreme Court Justices. Each nominee faces intense scrutiny in Congress. The tacit understanding is that they are not impartial. Preexisting philosophical bent will determine their rulings.

In the lower courts some are ‘tough on crime.’ Some are ‘soft on crime.’ Come election day, they are all tough on pedophilia, which is why a Hail Mary Arizona law criminalizing touching the private areas of any child for any reason will not be easily repealed, even though it technically criminalizes parents changing diapers.31 The chance of being branded ‘soft on pedophiles’ in a sound bite just before election day is too great of a risk for any politician to run.

People have become accustomed to seeing lawyers employ every type of legal maneuvering. If it is for a cause they like, they praise them for it. If it is for a cause they do not like, they condemn them for it. There are no legal loopholes in court because if it is legal, it is not a loophole. It is a chaotic and inconsistent system, not of Witnesses’ doing, but they must operate according to whatever flies legally. It is the adversarial judicial system, in which neither side can afford to pursue justice lest the other side beat them over the head with it. Instead, those who put their trust in the system hope that truth will emerge from the referee judge and perhaps jury monitoring the battle of the titans.

Lawyers will tussle as lawyers do. The world today is a lawyer’s playground and if you have any assets to speak of and do not maintain an arsenal of them, expect to be eaten alive in a nebulous and fantastically complex legal world. It is not exactly the 600-law system of Mosaic times, is it? Instead, stratospheric lawyers wrangle arcane laws for purposes both noble and despicable. The law is staggering in its complexity. Cynics will say that it is made so deliberately for the sake of job security and expansion in a high-growth industry. The point is that court rulings don’t necessarily mean much of anything today; you simply have to look at which agenda has won out.

Nor can the impartiality of whoever reports the news be assumed. One such article covering a trial in which Witnesses were involved states as background that individual members are prohibited from reporting child abuse to authorities. Since numerous public statements indicate otherwise and Anthony Morris says it right on the Witness website previously cited, red flags must go up. Had the reporter said that many Witnesses were disinclined to run to authorities, that would be one thing. But he said they are prohibited from doing so. Even if he didn’t believe it, a competent reporter would at least note the discrepancy. Instead, he has been fed a line from an opposer and he repeats it uncritically, without verification, not unlike the Russian expert witness to their Supreme Court who scribbles verbiage off the Internet.

Once integrity is compromised, nothing can be taken at face value. Competency and perhaps motive are open to question. Was the Witness lawyer really rebuked by the judge or was his objection overruled and the proffered reason counted as a rebuke? It is the most inflammatory subject being tried, and it is made inflammatory again as the defendant is a religion some find inflammatory.32   

If there is a silver lining in this mess for the Witness organization, it is that one might extrapolate from present trends and conclude that soon every twentieth person on the planet will be on a pedophile list somewhere. Allegations of sexual impropriety involving prominent persons or those with deep pockets are a staple of life today. If you hate the person, you will agree with the allegation. If you love the person, you will disagree with it. James Carville, Bill Clinton’s campaign manager, defending the then-president accused of sexual misconduct, said: “Drag a hundred-dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find.” Does one believe him? For the most part, it depends upon whether one likes Bill Clinton or not. The same can be said for almost any high-profile figure.

Jehovah’s Witness matters thereby become a tiny drop in the bucket, for it is exceedingly rare for an elder to be the accused perpetrator (though it was so in the above case, where they got stuck in San Diego with a real rotter). Usually they are accused of simply coming across the knowledge of abuse. It is not good—as the 2007 announcement acknowledged, “one victim is one too many.”—but it is a far cry from being perpetrators themselves. Moreover, it would not happen if they had kept their noses out of the conduct of congregation members, as is the pattern elsewhere. God’s perceived interests would suffer, but it would be safer from a liability point of view.

The Witnesses’ weekly meetings unstintingly emphasize the application of Bible morality and principles into one’s life. Over time, most of it rubs off. It is not rocket science, and it has nothing to do with God’s spirit. If one teaches something long enough, the students start to pick up on it. What is God’s spirit is that there exists an organization consistently dedicated to such training. What is God’s spirit is that there exists an organization that has remained impervious to the many memes and fads of today’s world that serve to corrode family values. What is God’s spirit is that families are successfully applying these teachings in the face of a hostile world. They are not 100% successful, because they are people, and they live in the greater world of moral relevance. Suffice it to say, however, that applying Bible principles results in lower rates of anything bad, though one would never claim immunity. In any population of eight million (the current JW membership) one will be able to find many examples of anything.

 

Where it is legally mandated, Witness policy is that any allegation of child sexual abuse be reported to authorities. Nothing tells more about the world’s frothing hysteria over its inability to curb child abuse than its insistence that one must go ‘beyond the law.’ It is the ultimate Hail Mary pass, a sure sign of desperation. If going ‘beyond the law’ is such an imperative, why does not that become the law?

So visceral is the subject of child sexual abuse that no one is immune to a trashed reputation if they are exposed for failing to go ‘beyond the law.’ Joe Paterno was a revered coach of college football for decades. His insistence upon all-around scholarship and character development among the Penn State players he coached was legendary. He was the “man who set the standard for ethical behavior in the tawdry world of college football,” said USA Today. Another source added “He kept the program’s reputation clean—remarkably so for a program that made its home in the national ranking” for all of his 46-year tenure.33

He fell from grace. Paterno heard of an allegation of sexual abuse involving a junior coach. He reported it to his superiors as he was legally obligated to do. He then got on with his job and probably forgot about it, as it seemed unlikely to him that a friend and colleague would do such a thing.34 When the allegation later turned out to be true, his career—and even his life, for he died two years later—was over. His stellar reputation as role model for virtue did not matter. His lifelong philanthropy did not matter. His profound regret and apologies did not matter. He got caught in the crossfire of those whose gold and only standard was to go ‘beyond the law’ and he hadn’t a chance of redeeming his clean reputation.35

In fact, certain persons cannot go ‘beyond the law’ with impunity. A doctor in the U.S. absolutely dare not go beyond the HIPPA law ensuring confidentiality; it is a meticulously enforced law, leading some to wish that more major crimes were so quickly avenged. Three confidential relationships are bedrock to Western law: confidentiality of doctor-patient, lawyer-client and clergy-penitent,36 for none of these relationships can work without the expectation of confidentiality. If law is not written otherwise, it is illegal to go beyond the law in such cases. Without a clear legal mandate, a Witness elder cannot go ‘beyond the law’ because the default law says he cannot violate confidentiality in matters where the wronged individual would prefer it so.

Geoffrey Jackson of the Witness Governing Body three times pleaded for such a consistent mandate across all territories before the Australian Royal Commission to Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse mentioned above. When it was his turn to testify, he said:37

  1. Jackson: “Thank you for the opportunity to explain this. I think very clearly Mr. Toole pointed out that if the Australian Government, in all the States, was to make mandatory reporting, it would make it so much easier for us.” …
  2. Jackson: “The point being, here, another aspect that an elder needs to consider is he does not have the authority to lord it over or take over control of a family arrangement, where a person—let’s say it is a victim who is 24 or 25 years of age—has a right to decide whether or not they will report that incident. They also respect the family arrangement that the appointed guardian, who is not the perpetrator, has a certain right, too. So this is the spiritual dilemma that we have, because at the same time, we want to make sure that children are cared for. So if the government does happen to make mandatory reporting, that will make this dilemma so much easier for us, because we all want the same goal—that children will be cared for properly.” …

Council Assisting (Stewart): “Leaving aside the question of overriding mandatory law from the civil authorities, do you see the possibility within the scriptures as you have identified them for a change in the practice of Jehovah’s Witnesses?  In other words, would it be within the scriptures for the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization to adopt a policy which says that in cases where there are others at risk, a report must be made to the authorities?”

G Jackson: “That is a possible thing for us to consider, and I think, already, the assumption is there, that if any elder was to see that there was some definite risk, that their conscience should move them to do that. But the point I was trying to make, Mr. Stewart, is there are other scriptural factors that maybe make that a little complicated, and it would certainly be a lot easier if we had mandatory laws on that.”

He is pleading for sanity to prevail. Sometimes reporting is mandated. Sometimes it is not mandated, and in such cases, Witness elders run legal, even moral, risks in doing it. Where not mandated, they are not free to override concerns of family members if they choose not to report; yet they are held to account if a victimized one, years later, regrets that decision, and blames, not the family members who made it, but the elders themselves. Sometimes, doing their best to navigate a maze, our people have likely stumbled. Other times, the maze itself has tripped them up. Jackson pleads for an across-the-board policy, with no room for misunderstanding or misapplication, so that it won’t matter if a given family wants to avoid airing its dirty laundry on the 11 PM News. Even today, families do not line up to do that, whether religious or not.

If going beyond the law is so laudable, then that should become the law. With the prioritized, near-sacred quest of protecting children, one would think nothing could be easier. Failure to go ‘beyond the law’ is an invitation to Monday morning quarterbacks assigning motives, invariably bad ones, to parties they don’t like. However, in most things legal, careers are built on complexity. They are all undermined when the course is made simple.

The reader will have noted by now, and may even have been an exasperated by, this author’s disdain of the greater world for being so disunited; it has never presented itself otherwise, he or she might note. When the agency says “United Nations” and even affixes the Isaiah quotation about nations beating swords into plowshares, it is just joking. It is not to be taken seriously. It is just dreaming of an ideal it knows full well is unattainable. This author must be forgiven because he comes from a people who have pulled it off. He comes from where they are not just joking about such things and where the dream has become reality. Unity among Jehovah’s Witnesses is a commonplace and unremarkable fact. It is not in the Witness world that one hand plants the seed which produces the plant that the other will eventually have to uproot.

So the following is admittedly sarcastic—which is risky because Thomas Carlyle said sarcasm is the language of the Devil. Forgive me. The Devil made me do it. Here is my fictionalized hearing with the commissioner, not speaking specifically of Australia, but for the overall world:

 

Lead Commissioner: “Mr. Jackson, I hope that you people will straighten up and fly right and cooperate more fully with what we are trying to do. I emphasize the word “trying,” Mr. Jackson, because we are terrible at it and the overall track record of the world would be laughably bad were it not so tragic. But our hearts are in the right place.

“Mr. Jackson, I am impressed by your humility, your distress at what clearly is a problem, and your overall demeanor. We have so many people strutting their stuff about here and you almost can’t stand them. We appreciate your willingness to work with us and we hope we can further work with you along this line.

“You have pleaded with us, Mr. Jackson, to make our policies the same across all territories, for that would make your job so much easier. It is a reasonable request. Unfortunately, Mr. Jackson, we cannot comply, though we would like to, because we represent squabbling and disunited governing entities that cannot collectively tie their own shoe. You would think it would be the easiest thing in the world to do what you request. Unfortunately, it is impossible.

“And this is just one area. Don’t get me going about international efforts to fight child sexual abuse. Children in many third world countries are routinely abused every day without anyone at all to stand up for them. That’s because there is no money over there, and consequently, no interest. But we do have a lot of money here.

“We have a request for you, Mr. Jackson. I know it’s a bit irregular, but can you take this off our hands for us? I have looked into your organized nature and have concluded that you could do it. Aren’t you the people who set up and take down your buildings of worship almost as easily as our people set up and take down Coleman tents? I know you do not have grandstanding politicians who will push and shove to do whatever will keep them in their jobs, and that you can focus on the real issues, undistracted by personal agendas. I know you can separate the truly worrisome pedophiles from the run-of-the-mill ones, who appear to be almost everyone. I know too, that you care about poor people just as much as you care about well-off people. Listen, we just want to save our kids here, and we think that if we funneled all reports to you, you would be able to handle keeping a centralized list and handle its distribution.  I know it is not your main line, but surely you can devote a committee to it. Ten of your people are worth 10,000 of ours because your people know how to work together and our people do not. The more people we add to our efforts, the more chaotic the overall picture gets.

(in my dreams)

 

Apostates correctly foresaw that the Witness organization would earn a rebuke from the Commission. Like kids on Christmas eve simply besides themselves with joyous anticipation, they worked tirelessly to direct the attention of all Witnesses to it. They had been pumping up anti-Witness diatribes forever, pumping them up with orgasmic fervor as one might pump up basketballs or footballs to the point of explosion, and now it looked like one might actually pay off. Someone masqueraded on Twitter as Geoffrey Jackson himself. “Pray for our brothers in Russia,” he tweeted at one point, trying to gather in the suckers. In time it became clear that he didn’t give a hoot in hell for our brothers in Russia—jail them all as far as he was concerned. It was all a ruse so as to draw in the guileless ones. At any rate, he seemed a bit put out as events leading to the Russian trial gathered steam and made Witnesses the object of international good will, rather than the pariah he had hoped for. That upcoming Supreme Court appearance loomed as an approaching monster for apostates, almost as scary as the pedophilia monster of Caleb and Sophia. They tried to imitate the youngsters in commanding that it be gone, but it did not go anywhere.

In many cases, former Witnesses who are now enemies of the faith and who push this pedophile narrative for all it is worth were once disciplined themselves for one thing or another and are livid over it. It is no more complicated than that. Did I hear that they routinely arrived bright and early each morning, saving all seats at the Australian Commission hearing with pamphlets the moment the janitor unlocked the doors, just like their former friends do at the Regional Conventions?

 

This writer is unwilling to accede the moral high ground to the anti-pedophile zealots. Let them claim some victory before we do that. They have compiled a list of abusers that is so long it is absolutely worthless to law enforcement. Consequently, being put on ‘the list’ is largely a matter of revenge or public shaming. It is not undeserved, but it does nothing to solve the problem of protecting children. To some extent, child protective efforts have devolved into a job machine and a platform for parading politicians to declare how they are tough on pedophiles. It is ever like the zealots of the world to charge about boisterously, point fingers everywhere, punish some, shame others, and then, on the basis of their good intentions alone, declare victory. Let them actually achieve victory before we hail them as modern heroes. Routinely one hears of children abused by persons who were already on the list—why—they lived right down the street! The world chokes on its abusers. For that matter, it ought to put every victim on the list as well, or at least on a watch list, for it is common knowledge that an abused one easily becomes an abuser himself. That is completely unfair, but it makes perfect sense for a world that thinks it can snuff out abuse through pedophile registries.

 

Reporting the sexual abuse of a child to the proper authorities offers no guarantee that the child will be protected. In some cases, it results in just the opposite. A 2016 article in Salon established that, due to a combination of incompetence, turf wars, greed, and deceit, “in family courts throughout the [United States], evidence that one of the parents is sexually or physically abusing a child is routinely rejected. Instead, perpetrators of abuse are often entrusted with unsupervised visits or joint or sole custody of the children they abuse.” The courts readily accepted “dubious theories used to undermine the protective parent’s credibility.” Court records were often sealed, which serves to block outside oversight. The “high cost of litigation throws up a formidable obstacle for most parents fighting to get their children out of harm’s way,” one source citing $100,000 as not an uncommon sum, which has driven protective parents into bankruptcy.” Courts commonly believe the abuser, even one with a conviction record, and disregard the victim.38

Rapists are the ones who should be aggressively punished. No punishment is too great. As to the rest, Caleb and Sophia can handle it, as they are told: “If anybody tries to touch you—even if it is someone you know and trust…and then tell mommy or daddy.” An extended family member committing abuse is not uncommon. A parent doing it is very uncommon, with the exception of a step-parent. The training of every Witness in the world via their regional conventions is a tactic one might suggest for the overall population.

Let the world also come to grips with the causes of pedophilia. If there is one thing that modern times have taught us, it is how amazingly fluid sexuality is. In a world that relentlessly pushes sex into ever expanding frontiers, crossing same-sex lines, encouraging lifestyles of hooking up, acquiescing to the sexual activity of kids at ages ever younger, advertising it on television which pharmaceutical remedies in the event that one’s performance is subpar, it is unlikely to find success declaring every form of sex fine and acceptable except one that will not be tolerated! The best defense will be the continual Bible training at the Kingdom Hall to keep oneself clean of every sort of fleshly defilement—to be had from the one religion training its members to properly integrate sexuality into their personalities, as neither the focus of life nor something to be shied from in its proper context. Ones of that religion should be portrayed as the heroes in this drama, even when flawed, and never the villain.

 

Suicide is the scourge among the young today. USA reports it has increased 70% over ten years.39 Can that not be pinned upon the prior generation, the one that handed them the world that they now wither in? It is a world that routinely fails its children in countless ways: in flooding their minds and hearts with graphic violence and sexual perversion that destroy the family nest they are raised in, in targeting them as objects for merchandising, even with AI toys that spy on them, in saddling them with decades-long debt (in the United States) acquiring the education they are told they need for success—according to Mike Rowe, for jobs that no longer exist. It is a world dangerous enough that they must be under a guardian’s watch 24/7, whereas in my youth they roamed wherever they roamed, with parents neither knowing nor caring where they were at any given time. Older teens hitchhiked, which was once a universally accepted means of getting around; today it is a course bordering on lunacy.

The same society that puts the physical welfare of children on a razor’s edge of alertness sells them down the river in ways spiritual and emotional. The world’s animalistic hostilities are unrestrained and spill over for all to see and pick up upon. During 2017 there were sixty school shootings. Bullying has become routine among children and is intensified by cyber-bullying. Prior American presidents were frequently vulgar and, in some cases, philanderers. Media knew it well but considered the subject off limits, for they said: ‘What if the children are watching?’ ‘To hell with the children!’ they say today, as there is no sexual scandal not related in detail to score someone political points.

Things seen cannot be unseen. Children bullied cannot be unbullied. Online they might see people beheaded. They might see people hanging themselves.40 The world puts powerful media tools into the hands of children with nary a concern over its misuse or effect upon them. A former Facebook boss claimed the social network’s “dopamine-driven feedback loops” were “ripping apart the social fabric.” “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” another exec said.41 Not to be discounted is an opioid epidemic manufactured by big business42 which just happened to get out of hand, tearing families apart willy-nilly. Surely nothing is more telling than young people emotionally ascertaining what Hotel World has to offer and deciding to check out. They don’t buy its boasts of materialistic progress. They don’t think such progress outweighs emotional and spiritual ‘demons.’ “The things that used to keep people together and give kids a sense that things were going to be O.K. are just not available today,” said Dr. Michael Roy, director of the adolescent unit at the McCauley Neuropsychiatric Institute at St. Mary’s Hospital in San Francisco.43

If the prior dramatization of the child abuse commission was sarcastic, the following borders on being downright sick. Thomas Carlyle will be spinning in his grave. But it is based upon valid kernels of truth that one might easily break one’s teeth on. Just because a skit is macabre does not mean it is untrue. Skip it if you like. But if you do not, cut this writer slack, for I have temporarily taken leave of my senses, just like Paul did when he pushed back at the superapostles. Let us go into the schoolroom:

 

“Class, I know you are sad that Ashley hung herself yesterday. And last week little Jimmy in the 4th grade got into the opioids and died. He was sad because Travis’s older brother blew his brains out a month ago and so he took the pills to make him feel better. You probably saw Ashley on Facebook. Wasn’t that terrible? Your school loves you and wants to help, so we have asked Miss Postate to address the class. Miss Postate, you have our attention."

Thank you, teacher. Good morning, class. (Good morning, Miss Postate)

I have several charts with me today that shows the world is wonderful. Look at them closely.44 If you do that you will see that most of the bad things are almost gone. Overall global poverty is going down! So is child labor! So is the income spent on food! Also infant mortality! And teen births (though there may be very tiny people who pay the costs for this victory)! More people can read and more go to college! Scientists and educated people did this, not stupid Jehovah’s Witnesses. They’re at the bottom of the Pew List. What good are they? Look to science and education to solve our problems, not God. My charts show the problems are almost gone.

Whatever is wrong with you—killing yourselves the way you do? Stop it right now! Can’t you see? The end of problems is just around the corner. We are so very close. Don’t Give Up. We even have suicide hotlines because we love you. We have powerful anti-depressants for you. What more could you ask for?

I know that you are sad because Taylor was molested by her uncle not long ago. And Logan and Mason and Dixon and Donna and Prancer. These things happen. They are very bad, and we are working hard to stop them. We have sex offender registry lists and half the planet is on them, so we are making fine progress. The thing that I want you to focus on is that some Jehovah’s Witness elders punished Dixon’s uncle, but they didn’t do it the right way. It’s not their job to punish him—it’s our job.

 

Infant mortality is down. Life expectancy is up. Some material progress is undeniable. Would that emotional and spiritual progress—the stuff of life—had kept the pace. Miss Postate should keep her charts to herself. Not everything is on them. And much that is there is irrelevant to children and even adults, for it is known that ‘facts’ are elusive building blocks of uncertain quality that can be fashioned into both palaces and outhouses. Yes, one may acknowledge material progress. Yet the following additional ‘fact’ speaks volumes: from the beginning of time, clowns have delighted children. What kind of a society allows them to be hijacked into symbols of terror, triggering an R.I.P. for Ronald McDonald?45 Speaking of societal division today in the U.S, realized most pointedly in politics, Nate Boyer said: “Simply put, it seems that we just hate each other,” a reality he found almost too painful to put into words.46

 

The P-word is the most vile moniker possible, but it is not the only one Witnesses deal with. Nor should one expect it to be. Jesus said “every sort of wicked thing.” He did not leave it at one.47 It wasn’t left at one in the first century, where Christians were accused of cannibalism48 and of burning down Rome.49 It isn’t left at one today. It is but another manifestation of the Lord’s words: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me.” Surely, child sexual abuse qualifies as an ‘every kind of evil’ persons might falsely charge. After all, upon what true basis might Christians be accused of evil: “Well…um, they were pushy at the door?” If they are to be accused, it has to be on a false pretext, and the more incendiary the better. One can get no more incendiary than child sexual abuse. 

Oddly, the topic of child sexual abuse never arose in connection to Russia’s current battle with Jehovah’s Witnesses. It has arisen in many battlefields, but not this one—so far. Only months after the ban did the Russian Embassy push back with a tweet. It reproduced a headline somewhere linking Jehovah’s Witnesses to child abuse. I tweeted back that if there was anything to it, it would have been part of the trial. Technically that was not true, for no sustainable reasons, barely any reasons at all, were part of the trial. Instead, the Witness organization was found guilty as charged on all counts and the docket was cleared for the next case.

 

The Australian Royal Commission (ARC) left no stone unturned in its four-year investigation into child sexual abuse. Apostates had sought online to convey the impression that the sole purpose of the Commission was to expose Jehovah’s Witnesses. Rather, all institutions operating in the country, for which data was obtainable, were subject to inspection with an eye toward systemic problems that might be addressed. Altogether, the ARC was able to review 57 different case studies.

Case Study 29, published in October of 2016, relates to Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country. There, the 1006 allegations of child sexual abuse from Watchtower Australia’s own files, dating back into the 1950s, occasioned harsh words as to the alleged inadequacy of internal handling. The Commission was blistering in its assertion that all such allegations should have been immediately relayed to outside authorities, and that the Watchtower organization had acted as though oblivious to such concerns.50 Many have picked up the refrain, not just Witness detractors, but also the casual reader, who may conclude that the strange religion must play host to a den of perversion.

There is a colloquial saying of one who “can’t see the forest for the sake of the trees.” It denotes a party analyzing the small picture quite correctly, yet in doing so missing entirely an overall picture of far greater significance. Can this be charged of the Commission? Not of members themselves. They did their job nobly, with obvious concern over combatting a worldwide pandemic. But the saying might be said with regard to the focus of the Commission itself. What it looked into was procedures for handling abuse cases that have occurred. It was not their mission to look at prevention of abuse. Yet this is by far the more important picture.

The Watchtower did what no one else was proactive enough to do, and they get slammed for it. It is the epitome of the saying: “No good deed goes unpunished.” It is not that findings of the court are invalid. Doubtless, the Witness organization will take them to heart and be instructed by them.51 However, with all other denominations, except for clergy, crimes of child sexual abuse are discovered independently by authorities, and no connection is ever made with whatever religion they profess. Other denominations did not know or want to know whether members actually applied Bible teachings or not. Through neglect of what turns out to be a most serious problem, they produced no record for the ARC or anyone else to hold hearings on. The 55 non-Witness case studies that the ARC investigated were institutions of various sorts: social, government or schools, that were responsible enough to track child sexual abuse. Religious organizations on the whole stayed far away from such things.

The finding that should be spotlighted, though it was not because the mission was something else, is that children appear to be far safer in the Witness community than in the general Australian population. Case Study 54 is a follow-up to Study 29. It sheds light on the situation that will surprise some.52 Study 54 looked at the 17 instances of child abuse from the Witness organization that had occurred in the interim, from August 2015 to January 2017. Nine were historical cases and none involved an elder. All occurred in a familial setting. Of the seventeen, two had refused to report to secular authorities, as they were adult survivors and it was their right not to report. The number of Witnesses in all Australia at the time was 67,418.53

A revealing comparison becomes possible with a pool size large enough to be significant. Out of a total national Australian population of 23,968,973,54 the Australian Institute of Family Studies reported 355,925 notifications of child abuse stemming from 225,487 children (2015-2016). 12% of that number was determined to be child sexual abuse, and so the 225,487 becomes 27,058.55 From the Jehovah’s Witnesses figures, seventeen notifications of abuse over seventeen months is one per month. Let us therefore call it twelve, so that time periods of all figures equalize. Twelve abuse incidents were reported among the 67,418 Witnesses in Australia during the same one-year period that 27,058 child sexual abuse cases were reported among the entire Australian population of 23,968,973.

The figures to be used for comparative purposes are: Greater Australia:  27,058 / 23,968,973, which represents .1129% vs Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia:  12 / 67,418, which represents .0178% From these figures it would appear that a child in the Witness community is six times safer than a child in the greater Australian community. From them the conclusion can be drawn that if greater Australia had experienced child sexual abuse in the same proportion as that of Jehovah’s Witnesses, it would have experienced but 4,510 incidences of child sexual abuse, not the 27,058 it actually did experience. Thus, there were 22,458 annual incidences of child sexual abuse that would not have occurred had the entire country had the abuse prevention record of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The ARC focused on 1006 JW reports of abuse over a 60-year period. They could not be expected to focus on the 22,458 reports in one year. That was not their job. They focused on the 1006 reports over 60 years, which was their job. They were not able to look at any other entire denominations because none of them tracked abuse among their parishioners. They themselves tracked no record of perpetrator by religion, unless that figure was supplied by the religion itself, to be handed over upon demand. There is thus ‘negligence’ on two counts: one, of religious organizations keeping no record of abuse among their parishioners, as though none had ever occurred, and two: of Australian authorities themselves who failed to ascertain religious affiliation of perpetrators. One or the other should have happened for them to condemn the one faith proactive enough to maintain the records that show, upon number-crunching, that they were preventing child sexual abuse six times better. In many settings, negligence is a punishable offense. In this setting, negligence is rewarded and proactiveness is punished.

There is only so far you can go with the ‘six times better’ figure. It should not be relied upon as dogma. It is processed notifications into varying levels of severity on one side versus unprocessed notifications on the other. It is most likely that the 17 notifications from the Witness camp will break down similarly to stats overall, but this cannot be guaranteed. Small variations alter the results dramatically and large variations make it all but meaningless.  It is good only for a ballpark figure, the best that can be hoped for given that the ones who should have put their talents to work in ascertaining truth chose instead to bury theirs in the ground. It will have to do for now. Adjusted results from data clarification doesn’t have to work against Witnesses. It could work in their favor. If notifications in the greater Australian figures outnumbered victims, that could be true in the Witness figures as well. Maybe even all 17 reports stem from a single rotter like that fellow in San Diego. Kneecap that scoundrel and the record is perfect. We live in a world of buzzwords and catchphrases, few of which will endure rigorous shaking. It is enough to employ our ‘six times better’ figure as a starting bid and concede that further bids might alter the picture in either direction. Therefore, from henceforth, we will merely state that the Witness record of prevention is ‘significantly above’ that of the general population.

Addressing an instance of child sexual abuse ‘properly’ does not mean that it did not occur. It suggests the grief counselors dispatched to the school after a school shooting. Adults reassure themselves that they have addressed the situation properly. However, any student in the school will instantly say it would have been far superior had there been no need for grief counselors in the first place. The transcending lesson to take away from this hearing is not the 1006 abuse victims whose cases were not handled properly in the eyes of Australian authorities. It is the likely 22,458 cases of abuse nationwide (in a single year) that would not have happened were greater society able to imitate the record of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

It is so very typical of this world to relentlessly focus on post-disaster clean-up and completely ignore prevention. Is it not because prevention involves some limits placed upon free expression and some judgements made about morality? Even so, prevention is what should be given priority. ‘Handling child sexual abuse cases correctly’ essentially amounts to securing the barn door after the cows have fled. It is not unproductive to do this, but it is far better for them not to flee in the first place, and the Jehovah’s Witness record on this is significantly better than non-Witnesses. There may be more of these investigations to come. Those who despise Jehovah’s Witnesses are determined that their child sexual abuse policy will headline every one of them. The ‘star’ of Witness policy not aligning with policy of the greater world will continue to burn bright for such ones, but over time the rising star of the superior Witnesses’ overall prevention rate will burn brighter.

One can and should empathize with the two sexual abuse survivors of Witness background interviewed by the Commission. Their testimony is distressing, though no more so than the thousands of abuse cases the ARC heard in all settings. Yet somewhere along the line it ought to be acknowledged that there are far fewer abuse cases among Jehovah’s Witnesses than elsewhere due to their immersion in a culture where Bible principles were emphasized. Put simply, the Australian Royal Commission found much fault with how Witnesses handled cases of child sexual abuse. But they missed entirely the fact that there were 83% less of them to handle, per the Case 54 figures. Doubtless, the overall moral climate prevailing among Jehovah’s Witnesses accounts for the difference. Had the ARC not missed this fact, they might even have recommended that all persons in Australia become Jehovah’s Witnesses. And they might have awarded Jehovah’s Witnesses a Family Glory award, just like Putin did to the Russian Witness family.

Will the greater world really condemn the ones who prevented child sexual abuse several times better than anyone else, but failed to prevent it completely, over allegations that they neglected to report instances to the authorities who oversaw a record several times worse? It makes no sense to me, and I cannot escape the suspicion that the overall intent is to divert from the preaching of the good news, for that is plainly the effect. This is not to say that everyone so involved, or even most, is deliberately pursuing this agenda, for the flashpoint is not imaginary, the subject is gut-wrenching, and it is easy to get caught up in a cause. In no other area is one’s viewpoint so assuredly influenced, if not determined, by their experience. Even an ARC Justice appeared clearly hostile during one session. But as with the Russian ban itself, where allegations of child sexual abuse played absolutely no role, there are entities desperate to stop the spread of Jesus’ message.

Opponents of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been trying to take them out since their inception, and here is the latest front. Paradoxically, were they to succeed in their goal, they would be proving themselves friends of child sexual abuse. How can it be otherwise? Eliminating those most successful in prevention would surely expose more children to danger. They need instead to allow Jehovah’s Witnesses to set up their literature carts right within their lobbies, for the latter has found something that works in combatting this evil. With regard to reporting, to insist that the doers were doing it wrong, yet not acknowledge that they were the sole doers, is surely to miss the mark. When Starfleet Command finds it necessary to discipline Captain Kirk, they nonetheless take into account that he was boldly going where no one had gone before.

It is quite clear that the Governing Body can do no more. Geoffrey Jackson pleaded for mandatory reporting laws across the board in all territories. Why has that not been done? That way elders can run roughshod over any family member who, for whatever reason, does not want to report abuse they have suffered or know of to outside authorities. As was stated about the two from case 54, “they were adult survivors and it was their right not to report.” Strip them of that right. Make it mandatory that everyone report everything.

If the greater authorities are as serious about preventing child sexual abuse as they purport to be, seemingly no policy change could be simpler. Then there would be no swiping at people for not ‘going beyond the law.’ Make it the law if it is so crucial. If they refuse or neglect to enact that most basic proactive measure, yet they would still issue blistering criticism of Jehovah’s Witnesses, what does that tell you? Something more than Capernaum is here.

Commission members were not doing their job wrong. Their mission was not to consider the factors that would mitigate occurrence. It was only after-incident clean-up efforts that they were interested in. It was not their job to weigh the likelihood of child sexual abuse in any given setting. They made no judgements in that regard. Commission members did their job nobly, but nonetheless managed to convey the impression that one of the cleanest organizations on earth was one of the foulest.

From the book Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia     (see also safe version)

Endnotes

  1. “Russian Pedophilia Cases Soared by One-Third in 2014,” The Moscow Times, March 4, 2015, accessed March 27, 2018, https://themoscowtimes.com/news/russian-pedophilia-cases-soared-by-one-third-in-2014-44477
  2. Per private email
  3. “Child Abuse Statistics and the Best Resources,” Invisible Children, accessed April 2, 2018, http://www.invisiblechildren.org/2017/12/29/child-abuse-statistics-the-best-resources/
  4. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
  5. See NABRE script notes for verse 1 Corinthians 6:9, accessed March 28, 2011, https://www.bible.com/bible/463/1CO.6.nabre
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sibylline_Oracles
  7. James H Charlesworth, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Peabody Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1983) 375
  8. 1 Corinthians 15:33
  9. Catherine Shoard, “They Know Him as God, But You Can Call Him Harvey Weinstein,” The Guardian, February 23, 2012, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/film/2012/feb/23/harvey-weinstein-oscars-as-god
  10. Janice Williams, “Meryl Streep Once Called Harvey Weinstein a ‘God,’ Now Actress is Calling Him ‘Disgraceful,’ Newsweek, October 9, 2107, accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.newsweek.com/meryl-streep-harvey-weinstein-harrassment-680643
  11. The “two-witness rule” is taken from the Torah (Deuteronomy 19:15) and is reaffirmed in the New Testament. (2 Corinthians 13:1, 1 Timothy 5:19, Mathew 18:15-17) It has long been fundamental to Western law. As a side note, the verse itself was cited before the Russian Supreme court to point out that even the Russian synodal translation does not support the Trinity teaching.
  12. Robert Bridge, “The West’s ‘Guilty Until Proven Innocent’ Mantra is Wrecking Lives & International Relations,” RT.com, March 24, 2018, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.rt.com/op-ed/422206-russia-skripal-courts-metoo
  13. Policy Papers: Lucy Delap, “Child Welfare, Child Protection and Sexual Abuse, 1918-1990,” History and Policy, accessed March 28, 2018, http://www.historyandpolicy.org/policy-papers/papers/child-welfare-child-protection-and-sexual-abuse-1918-1990
  14. “America’s Unjust Sex Laws,” also “Unjust and Ineffective,” The Economist, August 6, 2009
  15. Niamh Harris, Child Porn So Widespread In UK- Police Can’t Prosecute Everyone,” yournewswire.com, October 25, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, http://yournewswire.com/child-porn-so-widespread-in-uk-police-cant-prosecute-everyone/
  16. Peter Foster, “Anonymous Hackers Turn Fire on Global Paedophile Menace,” The Telegraph, January 23, 2015, accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11363303/Anonymous-hackers-turn-fire-on-global-paedophile-menace.html
  17. Kaja Whitehouse, “Kindergarten Teacher Busted for Child Porn, Stealing Kids’ Undies,” New York Post, November 22, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, https://nypost.com/2017/11/22/kindergarten-teacher-busted-for-child-porn-stealing-kids-undies/
  18. “Teen Girl’s ‘Sexting’ Prosecuted as Felony Child Porn, ACLU Fights Charges,” RT.com, December 23, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.RT.com/usa/414031-aclu-girl-selfie-child-porn/
  19. Emanuella Grinberg, “No Longer a Registered Sex Offender, But the Stigma Remains,” CNN, February 11, 2010, accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/02/11/oklahoma.teen.sex.offender/index.html
  20. Konstantin Krylov, “Everything You Wanted to Know About Pedophilia, But Were Afraid to Ask,” The Agency of Political News, September 27, 2016, accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.apn.ru/index.php?newsid=35505
  21. Bee Shapiro, “His Eye Makeup is Way Better Than Yours,” New York Times, November 22, 2107, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/22/style/his-eye-makeup-is-way-better-than-yours.html
  22. “Anthony Morris III: We Protect Our Children,” Jehovah’s Witnesses Broadcasting, accessed March 27, 2018, https://tv.jw.org/#en/mediaitems/pub-jwban_201507_2_VIDEO
  23. “Jehovah’s Witnesses Educate Parents and Children to Protect Against Sexual Predators,” accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/activities/help-community/safeguarding-children-sexual-abuse
  24. “Protect Your Children,” Jehovah’s Witnesses Broadcasting, accessed March 27, 2018, https://tv.jw.org/#en/mediaitems/ChildrenFeatured/pub-pk_17_VIDEO
  25. “Safe Touch / Unsafe Touch,” as part of ‘Fight Child Abuse’ series of videos, Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNTUMNKSNwk It is an organization “dedicated to ensuring every child's right to a normal, healthy and secure childhood” which has produced several excellent videos, including the one featured here, with but a single blemish.
  26. This was presented during the morning session on the 2nd day of the ‘2017 ‘Don't Give Up’ Regional Convention of Jehovah's Witnesses. The talk was part of the symposium entitled “Build a House That Will Endure,” and was itself entitled: Safeguard Your Children From “What is Evil.”
  27. Proverbs 22:3
  28. An American sitcom broadcast from 1965 to 1971. Only 20 years after the horrors of the Holocaust, it was seen as a fit topic of comedy. Officers of its setting, Stalag 13, were portrayed as lovable doofuses, whereas the officers from outside were portrayed as sinister doofuses, and all specifics were avoided.
  29. Downloadable Information Packets, “Jehovah's Witnesses Scripturally Based Position on Child Protection,” JW.org, https://www.jw.org/en/news/legal/legal-resources/information/packet-jw-scripturally-based-position-child-protection/#?insight[search_id]=57169fc4-5c00-44ee-8f2d-51f09f6cca70&insight[search_result_index]=5
  30. Press Release: Jehovah's Witnesses Office of Public Information, November 21, 2007, http://web.archive.org/web/20071124024433/http://www.jw-media.org/region/global/english/releases/beliefs_practices/071121.htm

November 21, 2007

  1. Jacob Sullum, “Federal Judge Says Molestation Law Criminalizing Diaper Changes Violates Due Processs,” Reason, April 7, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, https://reason.com/blog/2017/04/07/federal-judge-says-arizona-molestation-l
  2. Dorian Hargrove, “Judge Orders Jehovah’s Witnesses to Release Molestation Files,” San Diego Reader, August 30, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2017/aug/30/citylights-judge-orders-jehovahs-witness-release/?page=1&
  3. The specific quotes have disappeared online. One must obtain the paper originals. The words are best captured online as quoted by others, such as on my own blog: http://www.tomsheepandgoats.com/2011/11/the-firing-of-joepa.html, November 11, 2011.
  4. “Joe Paterno, 85, Dies in State College,” ESPN, January 23, 2012, accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/7489238/joe-paterno-ex-penn-state-nittany-lions-coach-dies-85-2-month-cancer-fight. ESPN includes a quote exactly reflecting Anthony Morris’ statement about not initially recognizing the scope of the problem. Of the unspecific allegation of child sexual abuse relayed to him, Paterno said: “You know, (McQueary) didn’t want to get specific. And to be frank with you I don’t know that it would have done any good, because I never heard of, of, rape and a man. So I just did what I thought was best. I talked to people that I thought would be, if there was a problem, that would be following up on it.”
  5. See also a blistering defense of Paterno by Marc Rubin at http://tominpaine.blogspot.com/2011/11/why-joe-paterno-should-sue-for-libel.html, where it is contended that Paterno did fulfill even his “moral” obligation by reporting to campus police, who fully are police.
  6. Jason Cheung, “What is a Privileged Conversation?” Law Library, legalmatch.com, October 8, 2014, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.legalmatch.com/law-library/article/privilege-communication-lawyers.html
  7. Transcript of Day 155 downloadable at: “Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse” August 14, 2015, 15965, or search (CNTR + F) keyword ‘mandatory’, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/case-studies/case-study-29-jehovahs-witnesses.
  8. Laurie Udesky, 100 Reporters, “Custody in Crisis: How Family Courts Nationwide Put Children in Danger,’ Salon, November 12, 2016, accessed March 14, 2018, https://www.salon.com/2016/12/11/custody-in-crisis-how-family-courts-nationwide-put-children-in-danger/
  9. Jayne O’Donnell and Anne Saker, “Teen Suicide is Soaring. Do Spotty Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Share Blame” USA Today, March 19, 2018, accessed March 21, 2018, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2018/03/19/teen-suicide-soaring-do-spotty-mental-health-and-addiction-treatment-share-blame/428148002/
  10. Jessica Guynn, “Facebook Takes Steps to Stop Suicides on Live,” USA TODAY, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/news/2017/03/01/facebook-live-suicide-prevention/98546584/
  11. James Vincent, “Former Facebook Exec Says Social Media is Ripping Apart Society,” theverge.com, December 11, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.theverge.com/2017/12/11/16761016/former-facebook-exec-ripping-apart-society
  12. Ken Hall, “Has Big Pharma Made America a Country of Opioid Drug Addicts? Newsweek, August 9, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.newsweek.com/has-big-pharma-made-america-country-opioid-drug-addicts-648480
  13. James Barron, “Suicide Rates of Teen-agers: Are Their Lives Harder to Live,” New York Times, April 15, 1987, accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.nytimes.com/1987/04/15/garden/suicide-rates-of-teen-agers-are-their-lives-harder-to-live.html?pagewanted=all
  14. Peter Diamandis, “Why the World is Better Than You Think in 10 Powerful Charts,” singularityhub.com, June 27, 2016, accessed March 27, 2018, https://singularityhub.com/2016/06/27/why-the-world-is-better-than-you-think-in-10-powerful-charts/
  15. Elle Hunt, “Clown Sightings: Ronald McDonald Keeps Low Profile Amid Creepy Craze,” theguardian.com, October 11, 2016, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2016/oct/12/clown-sightings-ronald-mcdonald-keeps-low-profile-amid-creepy-craze
  16. Nate Boyer, “Ex-Green Beret Nate Boyer writes open letter to Trump, Kaepernick, NFL and America,” ESPN, October 13, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/21003968/nfl-2017-ex-green-beret-nate-boyer-writes-open-letter-president-donald-trump-colin-kaepernick-nfl-united-states-americaUSA TODAY Published 6:03 a.m. ET March 1, 2017
  17. Matthew 5:11
  18. “Why Early Christians Were Despised,” Christianity.com, April 28, 2010, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1-300/why-early-christians-were-despised-11629610.html
  19. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Fire_of_Rome
  20. Case Study 29 - Jehovah’s Witnesses, Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, March 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/case-studies, select Case Study 29
  21. Responding to a letter from the ARC post- Case Study 29, the Watchtower acknowledged they had “reviewed, clarified, refined and consolidated their policies and procedures on child abuse. For example: Victims of child abuse are never required to confront their abuser. Child abuse victims who make an allegation may be accompanied by a confidant of either gender for moral support during the investigation by the elders or, if the victim wishes to be present, at a subsequent judicial hearing of allegations of child abuse. … In all cases, the victim and his/her parents have the absolute right to report an allegation to the authorities.” The commission went on to express dissatisfaction that the foregoing did not sufficiently mirror recommendations that they themselves had made. See ‘Attachments’ at Case Study 54 Exhibits. Search for WBTS letter of November 4, 2016, accessed March 16, 2018, https://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/exhibits-case-study-54
  22. Case Study 54: Institutional review of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, March 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, https://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/case-studies, select Case Study 54
  23. 217 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, “Country and Territory Reports – Australia”
  24. http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/australia-population This ‘live’ reading can be expected to increase, but not soon significantly enough to affect the calculation.
  25. Child Abuse and Neglect Statistics, CFCA Resource Sheet - June 2017, Australian Government Australian Institute of Family Studies, accessed March 27, 2018, https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/child-abuse-and-neglect-statistics

 

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)

Education

Two of the four Witnesses who testified at the April 20th Moscow trial were highly educated. Probably they were selected for just that reason. If the world understands nothing but education, give it to them in spades. But the 50/50 mix at the trial is atypical. For every college trained person among the Witnesses, there are ten who are not. Some say it is that way by design—that the Witness organization wants people to remain uneducated and thereby be easier to influence.

The accusation misses the point. If it is that way with education, it has always been that way with Christianity as portrayed in the Bible. It is even deliberately that way on God’s part, and it can be taken as a taunt at the world’s collective wisdom that has so blatantly failed to provide peace, security, and well-being. “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God, for it is written ‘He catches the wise in their own ruses,’ and again ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain,’” say the verses.1 Is there anywhere that wisdom is to be found more than in in its system of higher education? Surely that system must take ownership of the world it has collectively produced.

Celsus, a philosopher of the second century, made great sport of ridiculing Christians. They were “labourers, shoemakers, farmers, the most uninformed and clownish of men.”2 The apostle Paul would not have been embarrassed by this. On the contrary, he agrees: “Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong.”3 Jesus passes it off as almost a grand trick to those who are too full of themselves to notice: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.”4

Many modern writers seemingly are embarrassed by these humble beginnings and will gloss over the unpleasantness, as though to say “Okay, they may have started lowly, but look how they pulled themselves up!” They strive to qualify the uneducated roots. They are embarrassed about them. For example, Edward D. Andrews explains it away by writing: “Celsus was an enemy of Christianity … what Celsus observed is only within the sphere of his personal experiences. How many Christians could he have known out of almost a million at the times of his writing?” [italics mine]5 Do not these remarks reflect a cultural bias that it is the educated people who most matter? You do not want to be portrayed as a religion of dumbbells. You must leave such humiliating circumstances behind if you are to rise in popular esteem.

First-century Christianity primarily drew from the lower rungs of society. In time, it apostatized and thereby made itself more attractive to the more elevated rungs, but it has not been that way from the beginning. The “uneducated” and “ordinary” men who formed the very leadership of the new faith ever remain uneducated and ordinary.6 Christianity is a ‘working-class’ religion. It thrives on humility. The more education of this world a person has, the greater the assault on that quality, and the more likely such ones will accept only a modified version of the faith that will fit their terms. Jehovah’s Witnesses are nothing if not ones who hold to the original model. Celsus’ words should not be shied away from. They should be embraced as the template that would forever define true Christianity. If God had wanted to cater to the ‘accomplished’ crowd back then, he would have arranged that his Son be born at the Jerusalem Hyatt instead of the Bethlehem Manger. The fact that he didn’t demonstrates that he doesn’t just ‘put up’ with the ‘lower rungs’—he “chooses” them over the higher ones.

Can the higher rungs really be that high?  Would not the world they have collectively built be much more livable if they were? Pure academic muscle carries little weight with God, much less the credentials that the world defers to. The twelve were decidedly not intellectuals. They were “workmen” who had learned to handle the Word aright.7 Paul had intellectual credibility, with advanced education for his time, but he took direction from the workmen. His lasting stature is not that he was an in-house thinker. He was primarily a doer, whereas the “superapostles” who were always trying to thwart him, boasting of their own credentials, were not.8

It is unfair to say that the Christian congregation has contempt for contemporary education, a charge sometimes made. But it is fair to say it doesn’t allow itself to be shoved around by it. The offerings of human wisdom are ever inconstant, ever arguable, and occasionally downright stupid. The organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses looks to Scripture for basic training in life. “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work” is their mission statement with regard to education.9

Surely it is fair to demand proof that this world’s educational system delivers the goods it advertises.  If its end result is a planet tearing itself apart at the seams, with extinction an acknowledged possibility, must one not ask of its driving education model: What good is it? Jehovah’s Witnesses unify, dignify, pacify, and harness the activity of persons from every background of race, nationality, social and financial strata. Should this world’s education not produce comparable results before it is hailed as the be-all and end-all? If the swirling mass of humanity should disappear down the giant flush of a washbasin, it will hardly matter how educated each individual imagines himself to be.

Jehovah’s Witnesses do not neglect education. They redefine it. The general model of this world’s education is to focus on training of the intellect, with the apparent assumption that moral qualities will take care of themselves. Of course, history testifies that they do not, and their absence results in the undoing or even the turning to harm much of what its education brings about. Frankly, unless people have proved themselves to be of good heart, you are frequently better off not educating them—they can do less damage that way. If janitors and car wash attendants had run the financial world back in 2007, they might have figured out a way to beat the taxpayers out of a day’s wage. As it was, highly educated MBAs ran it and they found a way to sink all future generations into intractable debt.

It is surprising that so little attention is payed to moral training in the greater education models of the world. One can only suppose it is because those who mold it can agree on no common foundation upon what to base it upon. Jehovah’s Witnesses take it as a given that the Bible fulfills that role. They focus on the moral training to be found in that textbook from the Creator. By doing so, they are not filling in the gaps of education. They are providing its underpinnings. The lessons of the heart are those that are essential. The lessons of the head can be added on an as-needed basis. Bible education alone will not teach you the practical skills required for specific tasks, of course. There, Jehovah’s Witnesses look to offerings in the world’s educational system, which they cherry-pick.

Bible curriculum forms the core of a Witness’s moral training. The great ideas of this world are but footnotes for them—electives. Peruse them if you wish, but they are hardly requirements. After all, if the Greeks form the cradle of civilization, for Western nations, they also form the cradle of pedophilia. The grooming of young boys for sexual purposes was an enshrined component of that society.10 One wonders how today’s rationalists—adoring the ancient Greeks, but abhorring child sexual abuse—will ultimately resolve this bit of cognitive dissonance. Will they finally excuse the sexual abuse as just ‘one of those things,’ or will they haul the Greek perverts, the very heroes of critical thinking, off into infamy? Historian Robin Osborne has acknowledged that “historical discussion of paiderastia is complicated by 21st-century moral standards.”11 Indeed it is.

When Jehovah’s Witnesses look to Scripture for “training in righteousness,” they do no more than recognize that God made us, not we ourselves. If you want to best maintain your fine new vehicle, you read the new vehicle’s owner’s manual. The Witness organization does no more than disseminate the owner’s manual for the vehicle that is us. Take too much to heart of the higher education owners’ manual and you risk prematurely ruining the car. Four years or more of such education will reliably both plant and nurture thinking corrosive to Christianity. Students, over time, are conditioned to look to humans for the answers, as the only ones having it within their power to fix things. They learn of myriad government models to select from, and myriad philosophes. Also, they learn of myriad business, science, and cultural models. Surely something will work if we can just find the right blend. They are influenced to think of God as a human construct. Serious belief is unfashionable. Bland belief is permissible, the sort that repackages human thinking as religion, though even that is looked at askance. ‘The concept of God evolved because the dregs of any clan must be kept in check,’ they say. However, the dregs fight back at any human check, creating societal disharmony, so a superhuman check—a God with whom you can’t fight—is evolutionarily preferable.12

Students are conditioned that man is naturally good. If you can but isolate the cream of human wisdom you cannot go wrong. They are influenced to absorb the intoxicating air of independence along with its corollary that almost the most foolish thing people can do is to let someone else direct them; loyalty to any group of persons is suspect. Authority is problematic. Question it. Acquiesce to nothing until it can answer every question. Personal fulfillment will likely be lauded as the highest goal. Career will come first. Family will be what you choose to make it. Marriage will be a relic of the past. Should you choose to enter it, certainly do not be cowed into thinking it is permanent.

The prime teachings of the greater world’s education are deleterious to Christianity, yet they constitute the air breathed at universities today. Details may vary from country to country, as does the local degree air and water pollution, but they are the essence of the liberal arts woven into most curricula. Should Jehovah’s Witnesses be eager to throw their offspring under the bus of such education? The world is a tortured mass of cognitive dissonance, ever struggling to reconcile its cherished teachings of life with the chaotic mess they have collectively produced. ‘Why shovel our kids into the maw of that monster?’ Witnesses reason. Direct them somewhere with happier outcome.

One might even turn the tables and call the higher education route a route of brainwashing, a charge that has been made against the Witnesses themselves. Does one really become a Witness through brainwashing? If so, there are far better examples, and college is foremost among them. Students are separated nearly 24/7 on campus from all that once stabilized them—a classic time-tested tool of brainwashing. The phrase says it all: a college student is “in college”—living  in the dormitory, in the dining hall, in the social haunts, and in the classrooms on campus, in a setting atypical and unacquainted.

Such brainwashing, if we should call it that, is all the more effective because its nature is veiled. Pursuing college education is no more controversial than pursuing regular health care. It is a thoroughly conventional course of action, portrayed almost as a rite of passage into adulthood. In contrast, persons who study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses know full well that they are straying off the beaten path. They do it because they perceive that the beaten path is leading nowhere, but they invariably know they are going atypical. Still, even as they do it, they are grounded 95% of the time in their familiar routine and surroundings, as opposed to college life, where everything is new and unfamiliar. If one must bandy about the ‘brainwashing’ label, the trick is not to deny that Jehovah’s Witnesses do it. The trick is to point out that the world’s education does it to a far greater degree and with some ideas that are far more deleterious.

What persons who accuse Jehovah’s Witnesses of brainwashing find most objectionable is something that has nothing to do with brainwashing. It is the conclusions Witnesses come to that rankle, not their process of coming to them. The process is straightforward, plainly labeled, and more easily discontinued in the event of second thoughts than is college, since the latter has often taken great financial commitment and generated social expectations. However, those who would style themselves as thinkers today pride themselves on never shutting down ideas, for that would be to show themselves intolerant. They feel it better to cloak attacks of their ideas as attacks on the ‘unfair’ process of reaching them. If you dislike the kingdom message, you will dislike the organization that facilitates its spread. It is no more complicated than that.

Few things in this world are less tricky than choosing to become a Witness. One cannot do so without a lengthy period of voluntary study, seldom lasting less than a year in the U.S. It is not a religion where one can impulsively ‘come down and be saved.’ The one who studies the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses remains always in familiar routine, save for a personal home Bible study, congregation meetings and a social gathering or two. One is always in control of one’s destiny.

 

As an example of a deleterious idea that will be planted in most systems of higher education, consider the foundation upon which children have historically been raised—that of monogamous marriage. Surely the nurture of children is a foundation of humanity. The Bible zealously advertises and guards marriage as the institution to build life around. The higher education of this world is unafraid to experiment with it and is apt to recommend jettisoning it altogether. “We struggle with monogamy—is it time to abandon it altogether?” postulates New Scientist.13 “Monogamy evolved to keep baby-killers away,” pitches another article,14 and now it works against us. “Women only stay with men for security, and men only stay with women for sex. It’s a cynical view of human relationships, but researchers now say it is the driving force behind the evolution of monogamy—and women started it. By offering sex all the time, females in monogamous species disguise whether they are fertile and trick males into sticking around.”15

Is this the reason people cannot hold together a marriage to save their lives? Is it evolution that, long ago, coerced the women to play a mean trick on the men? If so, it is time to move on, these writers for New Scientist seem to argue. There are no longer predators to eat our children—at least not in the literal sense. Why behave as though they were? Why feel guilty when it is time to ‘move on’? That’s just religion trying to guilt us with its evolutionary manmade gods. We do not want to feel bad about ourselves—it is bad for self-esteem. We want to feel good about ourselves, for man is ‘naturally good’ and should not be made to feel bad unnecessarily. Make no mistake: there is a strong emotional appeal to such news ideas, which lies entirely apart from their scientific merit. And how are the children to fare? They’ll adjust, is the apparent afterthought. Seen in this light, Russia’s Order of Family Glory is a quaint relic of the past and will eventually be phased out.

This new branch of science, called evolutionary psychology, purports to explain how men came to prefer physically attractive women in the first place. A low waist-hip ratio—say .70 or so—is associated with good health and thereby fertility.16 One can almost picture such favored creatures as having convenient shelves upon which to balance many babies, without which she is prone to drop and kill them all. It helps in the struggle for survival to have such a figure, and that it how preference for it came to be encoded in the very DNA of men. It is the very reason male eyes and heads snap about in the presence of a pretty woman. They wouldn’t be perceived as pretty were it not for the dictates of human survival.

Is there really any proof for this or is it not merely the biblical equivalent of “fables fit for old women?”17 Only an Internet search will convince the person of common sense that the above models are real and not mere joking on the part of this writer—for here is offered nary a hint of the scientific method that we all learned in school was the very hallmark of science. As pure speculation, the biblical equivalent of which the Witness organization advises members against getting too caught up in, it may be tolerable. But it is taken as cutting-edge science. Your children will learn the underpinnings, if not the specific teaching, amidst their diet of higher learning. They may even be subject to written exams, where they have to spit the nonsense back to the professor.

From time to time in Watchtower literature one can read that the Bible does not disagree with “true science.” Plainly, Witnesses do not regard the above as “true science.” They regard it as the fraudulent kind, as indeed they do the all-encompassing framework of evolution. But that is not to say they reject every aspect of it. The typical Witness parent sees that evolution chart and wants to turn that parade of ascending ape-like creatures about and march them right back into the slime from whence they came. But he must take care. We are not the religionists who put dinosaurs on the Kentucky ark.18

Watchtower publications speak of the days of creation as [redacted] and the time preceding as [redacted] since Scripture does not insist upon “day” being the 24-hour variety.19 Witnesses refrain from instructing scientists on their own turf. A lot can happen in epochs and aeons. If God churned out living creatures as an assembly line churns out automobiles—well, that he could easily do in a 24-hour day. So what is the point of the epochs and aeons? In 2006, Awake Magazine interviewed scientist and author Michael Behe, who accepts evolution in the main, but stipulates that it has limits.20 They would not have done that if the two hated each other’s guts, would they?

No one is being dogmatic, here. Science is accommodated to the maximum extent without ignoring Scripture, which Jehovah’s Witnesses consider the most reliable guide to life. The 2010 brochure Was Life Created? states [redacted]21 Thus the Witnesses’ current view allows for what is described as micro-evolution (within a kind) but not macro-evolution (outside of a kind). But ‘implies’ is not an ironclad word, is it? The point is, for the Christian, if the time element for developing life is indeed epochs and aeons, you need not squabble much with scientists who describe them. Let scientists be scientists and Bible teachers be Bible teachers. Vast areas of conflict disappear, though certainly not all. Resolve your ‘cognitive dissonance’ by saying ‘I don’t have to know everything just now.’

Jehovah’s Witnesses call theirs ‘divine education.’ Their Governing Body is ever dubious of the latest offerings from the intellectuals, since they know much of it will prove to be the “every wind of teaching arising from human trickery” of Bible verse. It will be “profane babbling and the absurdities of so-called knowledge” that “by professing it, some people have deviated from the faith.” It will be the waterless clouds and the cisterns that leak. It will be the pit that the blind lead the blind into—for ideas have repercussions. It will be things of atheism, of self-determination, of moral experimentation, and of amoral evolution.22 It will be the things furthering the cause of nationalism. It is not Jehovah’s Witnesses who feed the war machine with millions of their young, thereby ensuring there will never be peace. Neither is it Jehovah’s Witnesses whose values result in millions of lives lost to drug abuse, tobacco deaths, or overdrinking; their education safeguards against such things. For every quality-of-life ‘glitch’ that exists among Jehovah’s Witnesses, the greater world has fifty.

‘We hold these truths to be self-evident,’ begins the American Declaration of Independence, ‘that all men are created equal.’ But to those raised on a diet of evolutionist rationalist thinking, it is not at all self-evident. What is self-evident is the chief ape of ‘2001 – A Space Odyssey’ realizing that it can wield a club and wallop the daylights out of the other apes. What is self-evident is the children’s game King of the Mountain, in which the victor shoves rivals aside so as to take their place.

In contrast to current educational models, it is the Bible that makes equality self-evident. “He made from one the whole human race to dwell on the entire surface of the earth,” it says, “and he fixed the ordered seasons and the boundaries of their regions, so that people might seek God, even perhaps grope for him and find him.”23 If there is one thing that even the most ferocious opponents of Jehovah’s Witnesses will agree upon, it is that the faith has proved successful in realizing equality among members. The non-Witness world enjoys little success in this regard. It ought not be surprising. The Witnesses’ prime education model makes clear that all are equal. Outside the Witness world is an evolutionistic origin-of-life view that makes clear that they are not. Why should not Christians focus on the former rather than the latter?

 

Bible knowledge was long deemed indispensable to a well-rounded life. That has changed only in recent decades, as persons have redefined ‘well-rounded’ and have divorced themselves from their historical roots. The range of human knowledge today becomes exceptionally broad but correspondingly shallow. Typical, and a foremost example, of the past is Abraham Lincoln, who peppered his speeches and papers with biblical references. To his son questioning, as any reasonable child can be expected to do, why he needed go to Sunday School, he said: “‘Every educated person should know something about the Bible and the Bible stories, Tad.”24

Historian Michael Nelson wrote: “For all his mockery, Lincoln was consumed by religion as a subject, as well as by the Bible, a book that all of his biographers agree he had read and studied assiduously since his youth. Although disdainful of Christianity in its cruder, frontier forms, Lincoln seems to have been open to, even seeking, an account of the faith that rang true on grounds of reason and justice.”25

The farmer does not begin hoeing out the weeds until the harvest-time. Even Abraham Lincoln was not able to make things out; he was ahead of the curve. He had great respect for the Word, but incomplete understanding. The time was not yet right. Persons were not yet roving about. To a friend, Lincoln gave the best advice he could: “Take all of this book upon reason that you can and the balance on faith, and you will live and die a happier and better man.”26 27  

The theme of John 3:16 has ever reverberated through history: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” Even though persons could not explain just how that worked, they knew the verse nonetheless. Few did, and do, know ‘just how that works’—church doctrine is so convoluted that most reasonable persons give up searching and acquiesce to a science-absorbed world that declares it is all nonsense.

One of the benefits of Jehovah’s Witnesses is that they do know ‘just how that works’ and they are ever ready to explain it, sometimes to people’s dismay as they see them yet again traipsing up the driveway. There was once a saying among Witnesses that new ones ought to be locked up for six months until their zeal was tempered by common sense. It is not to their credit that they know what they know. They simply live in the right time period and have accepted the invitation to explore words “kept secret and sealed until the end time.”28

In a nutshell, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians says it all: “So, too, it is written, ‘The first man, Adam has become a living being,’ the last Adam a life-giving spirit…The first man was from the earth, earthly; the second man, from heaven.” Per the model that is Bible teaching, Adam pulled the plug on himself when he disobeyed God, and the blades of a fan disconnected slow down. He and all his offspring lost out on life which could have been to time indefinite. No succeeding man can undo the damage, for they have not the perfect status that Adam forfeited. Only if another perfect man comes upon the scene and acts as Adam might have does it become possible to repair the damage. That man is Jesus, the ‘last Adam,’ who exactly counterbalances the first. To ones putting faith in God’s ‘swap,’ the hope of life indefinite can yet be attained, after all the other consequences of Adamic rebellion are undone.29

This makes the sense only if one discards the Trinity doctrine. If Jesus is equated to God, and not a perfect man, it all becomes an incomprehensible muddle. Fortunately, discarding the Trinity doctrine is not hard to do scripturally, though politically, it is next to impossible. The doctrine lives only by taking certain phrases, which in any other context would instantly be recognized as figure of speech, literally.30 Among those of the Orthodox Church, the ban of Jehovah’s Witnesses is greatly welcomed—though they seek to clarify that they did not instigate it—due to the Witness’s rejection of the Trinity doctrine. For example, Church Metropolitan Hilarion said of the Witnesses that “they deform Christ’s teaching and falsely interpret the Gospel. Their doctrine contains many lies: they do not believe in Jesus Christ as God and Savior [he is correct on the first but incorrect on the second], they do not recognize the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and therefore cannot be called Christians.”31 (brackets mine) Most churches would reiterate his statement, though not necessarily with his venom—that is how central the Trinity doctrine is. Jehovah’s Witnesses reject it with an understanding that it is impossible to draw close to God with that as a default belief.

Hampered by doctrines that made little sense, the Trinity being but one, when scientists began calling into question the existence of God—in contrast to Galileo, Kepler, and Newton, who thought their discoveries glorified God by uncovering his ‘handiwork’32—churches had little to fight back with. They did not wish to miss this latest wind of intellectual thought, so the mainline churches acquiesced to whatever scientists said they must. Manifestly, the teaching of human evolution makes the explanation of a first and second Adam nonsense. What is gained by the embrace of such teaching is a certain esteem in the eyes of contemporary educated ones. What is lost is the key to the meaning of life.

 

A certain Watchtower article considered for congregation study spotlights a ‘flying scroll’ that Zechariah saw in vision.33 It consists of a condemnation of theft on one side and of perjury on the other. Immediately beneath the Watchtower paragraph is a photo of a teen looking shifty at a boutique, as though she is about to pocket an item. One critic disdains this literal and mundane application of a vision sent all the way from heaven, and so quickly seeks to shift it to a ‘higher’ one that one suspects she steals from boutiques herself. In fact, it does seem a trivial application; most would agree. However, it fits well with the context of the paragraph, which is a discussion of the “spiritual paradise” that Jehovah’s Witnesses say they enjoy. To that end, it offers a practical example of theft that young people especially will identify with. It does not take much to destroy a paradise. One sicko inserted one razor blade in one apple and the celebration of Halloween changed forever.

At the Regional Convention I can drop my wallet and with near certainty know it will turn up at the lost and found. Can I do that outside of the spiritual paradise? There is a reasonable chance that the wallet will come back to me. But with the money intact? Unlikely. It may happen. But I will not hold my breath. My wallet did come back when I dropped it during a visit to Canada. (It is no picnic getting back across the border without it.) Someone took the trouble to contact me upon my return in the States and arrange its return. I appreciated it. But when I asked about the money within, he said: “What money?”

Teaching not to steal at a very mundane level is the very stuff of Christianity. It is what makes all the rest of it work. I both admire the Governing Body and suspect they are somewhat naive in that they teach what needs to be taught without regard for self-appointed experts who will invariably seize upon their material and beat them over the head with it. They need better public relations: PR. Or maybe they don't. Maybe it is just me who thinks they do. Jesus didn’t seem too concerned about public relations, either. Maybe it should just be taken for granted that they will fare no better than did their counterparts in the first century, representing a “sect” which was “denounced everywhere.”

Besides, they might not even know that detractors make mincemeat of their lessons. They take their own counsel, which is the Bible’s counsel; they don’t go there to check out what the detractors have to say. They are like Jesus, who observed one set of scoundrels slandering him one way and another set slandering him just the opposite way. ‘Don’t worry about it,’ is his advice. “Wisdom is vindicated by her works.” He is like David. All day long they would mutter evil things about him, and he just kept his mouth shut, declining to answer.34

Others would be embarrassed to teach such a childlike lesson of theft at a meeting primarily attended by adults, for Jehovah’s Witnesses do not separate their children into Sunday Schools. But the lesson is not beneath the grown-ups. Adults are ever inclined to dismiss the childish application so as to conduct sophisticated debate over a greater application—and then they pinch a scarf or tie clasp from the boutique on their way home.

 

At another congregation meeting is featured another lesson so basic that few would call it education. Yet for lack of application of it and a few dozen other spiritual themes, so much of the world’s education results in naught. It allows a glimpse into brilliant possibilities and then torpedoes it because its participants cannot get along.

The video shown was entitled Remove the Rafter.35 It featured a disgruntled member who thought most of his congregation a bunch of sheltered oddities. Even if they were, he came to realize in the end that the only one he could change was himself. As the Bible verse he was considering, in order to give his assigned student talk, faded onscreen, two words remained a split second longer than the others: ‘splinter’ and ‘beam.’ This happened three times, and on the third, the word ‘hypocrite’ also remained. It is Jesus’ words he considers: “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.”36

At first glance, it is a slick move from the Watchtower video directors. But it is meant to illustrate a slick move upon the heart. The reason those two words remained, and then three, is that his heart was yet soft enough for them to register—having benefited from previous divine education. A hardened person would not have responded that way. The brother allowed the scripture to mold him. This is how God trains in the congregation, but it would all have been lost upon one who’s heart was molded primarily by this world’s education. Imagine how differently history might read if this verse was a staple of education, and not just a dreamy footnote. With Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is a staple.

‘That’s it?’ detractors will ask. ‘That’s your education?’ That, and the flying Zechariah scroll? Yes. It is part of the foundation and it ensures that anything resting upon it will enjoy success. It is the reason Jehovah’s Witnesses get along and thereby can accomplish things that the general world cannot. It is no credit to them. It is Miss Daisy telling her grown but illiterate chauffer that, as a teacher, she taught some of the dumbest children God ever put on his green earth, yet they could all read by the time she was finished with them.37 It is purely a result of absorbing one’s education. It is the same happenstance as “they will beat their spears into plowshares,” the Isaiah passage adorning the U.N. building. It translates into a way of life for Jehovah’s Witnesses, rather than mere rousing words.

Do opponents of Jehovah’s Witnesses recognize the value of such Bible teachings as the splinter and the beam? No. They assume the organization is using it as ‘mind control,’ an encouragement to ‘overlook whatever sinister things we may be up to—we’ll party while you slave!’ One wonders how adults can become so adolescent. When the Witness Governing Body presents Bible teachings, they expose themselves to it first. They not only recognize it as training from God; they also recognize that they themselves are the ones who need it most, since their actions affect the most people.

The selected articles in the study edition of the Watchtower Magazine used for weekly study of the Bible are more than an outline but less than a complete article. In a pinch, they can stand as one. In fact, they certainly will, for they will take their place in the accumulated volume. But they are not primarily intended that way. Their first use is to facilitate congregation discussion of whatever spiritual theme is under consideration. They could be likened to flour, which does not become a cake until you mix in the other ingredients—the individual comments of congregation members. Afterwards, their work done, the articles are absorbed into the archives, where they may seem curiously abridged. Their primary value was realized at the congregation meeting. There they served to train the hearts which ultimately drive the heads.

 

Scientists identify four fundamental forces of nature: the strong and weak nuclear force, gravity, and the electromagnetic force. For 99.9% of the earth’s population, these are irrelevant and there is only a fifth that must be understood: the force of sexual attraction. God didn’t want to revisit Adam and Eve after a few hundred years, discover them on a barren planet, and hear them say “Oh, we were supposed to do that? I guess we plumb forgot. Sorry.” Sexual attraction is the most crucial force to understand, even if it is not of the Four. Pursue the four if you like—and it is good for human knowledge that some do. However, the typical youngster will never approach a black hole of outer space to see the four forces interact. He or she will approach the black hole of sexual attraction that his seemingly overcautious parents have probably told him about. Intrigued by an awakening of desire, he gingerly approaches. All seems inviting, tantalizing—what is this fuss that the old people have carried on about? He edges closer and closer until its sudden irresistible pull grabs and stretches him into a two-mile strand of spaghetti.

A force so strong and capable of bringing so much joy must be understood and harnessed, for it can easily be misused and cause misery. It is underappreciated how sexual attraction has been a major driver of history. Understanding the interaction of the sexes should not be a footnote to education, as it usually is today, but should be among its centerpieces; let the four brainy forces be the footnotes for interested ones to pursue if they like. Jehovah’s Witnesses are among the minority of religions holding that sexual relations should be reserved for married persons. For the sake of the general world, this writer will concede that it can be more-or-less managed where there are stable monogamous relationships. However, depend upon higher education to undermine even this stabilizing model. Wish ‘good luck’ to the world enforcing its new outrage over sexual harassment while overall continuing to hype sex at every opportunity via a hookup culture in which it is recreation absent commitment—it will need it.

When the greater world finally wakes up to a moral problem, as it has with sexual harassment, it wildly overacts. Sexual liaisons, involving various degrees of coercion and sobriety, are reinterpreted as rape. Harassment and what was once called ‘getting fresh’ are equated with rape. Complementing a woman’s appearance is even interpreted as harassment by some.38 How will it resolve? It is too soon to tell. Suffice it to say that the Witness environment is one of the few environments where men can be expected to behave. They will hear about it if they don’t. It is a result of their education. The occasional miscreant can expect serious chastisement.

Less than two years ago I wrote a book entitled Tom Irregardless and Me, in which I speculated facetiously: “AI robots and VR porn promise sex so steamy that it’s feared people will lose interest in the real thing. Is the world to end with a fizzle, and not a bang, as its inhabitants neglect procreation?” The ‘prediction’ becomes less facetious by the minute. Since then, the robotic sex doll industry has exploded. Robots of both male and female anatomy can easily ‘outperform’ their human counterparts. In a world that neglects to teach men and women how to relate with one another—its mainstream education simply doesn’t go there—many can be expected to forget all about the real thing and take refuge in robots. No matter how whacky the Revelation scenarios become of humans threatening to destroy the planet, modern humanity can always manage to top them.

It is better to stick with the Bible teaching that marriage is a divine institution and listen to its counsel on how to hold it together through thick and thin. You don’t follow your ‘inner caveman’ and move on periodically, even though evolution ‘says’ you can.39 The mainline sophisticated church, with occasional exception, is ready to accommodate the latest wind of thinking—sometimes eventually, sometimes immediately. Evolution they dare not defy, for they do not want to lose more credibility than they already have with this world’s educated people. While not (in most cases) declaring marriage invalid, they adopt popular ways of thinking that make it all but untenable for the long haul. By dereliction of duty, the Church ensures the unhappiness of young people. It virtually ensures they will neither find nor remain with a marriage partner. ‘Let us see how we can incorporate this or that bold new enlightenment,’ it frequently says, rather than toting it out straightaway to the curb where it often belongs.

 

The world does not make it easy for its education to be had a la carte, as Witnesses prefer. It does not want to give just the diamonds one needs. It wants to mix them with the turds of corrosive teachings that have collectively sunk the overall world. Jehovah’s Witnesses do their best to cherry-pick. Sometimes they cherry-pick at the college and sometimes they do so elsewhere. Why not simply accept it all in a package of higher education? Why not just spit out the turds of corrosive teachings later? Alas, we are not built that way. We absorb the atmosphere in which we are immersed. Not so if we are in it for but a brief time. But if it becomes our environment for years at a stretch, then absorb it we do. At seventeen, one is still but a child, with values that are far from stabilized.

Unless your grades are in the toilet, the school apparatus is unlikely to bless your plans not to roll over a 12th year of schooling into an automatic 13th, for they fear you may fall off the rails of career and never remount. Believe me, Witnesses know about this. Their organization, in contrast, unabashedly invites youngsters into full-time service to God as an activity right as rain, often directly out of high school. Youthful activity in the ministry can run concurrently with continued education and complement it. The general encouragement is to view the Christian ministry as one’s vocation and the requisite skills to support oneself in it an avocation. Are you, as a youngster, averse to instructing ones two or three times your age? Share what you know in the ministry and let them share with you whatever they wish. You will know what is poisonous and what is not. If you are unsure, take it in sips.

People and families differ. Not all take up the Watchtower’s invitation for a full ministry straight from high school. Families with a tradition of college often continue in that model; some circumvent the 24/7 pitfalls of higher education by commuting from home. Furthermore, academic offerings, requirements, and environments vary from place to place. Nothing is cast in stone regarding Witnesses and overall education. Sometimes after an interval, Witness adults will return to college with a specific goal in mind. But seldom is it the goal of a Witness family of lesser means to send their first child ever to college so as to lay hold of a life that was closed to the parents. Frequently it is the goal to have that child pioneer. Telling and preparing persons for the ‘true life’40 is the main goal of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The secular education that they choose seldom disregards that overall purpose.

‘A la carte’ can come in the mysterious ways that God is sometimes said (not by Witnesses) to work himself. This writer stumbled across a BBC list of the top 100 important books of all time. I discovered that I had read over half. No other commenter had read more. Is it boasting to slip this into the book? Hardly. Take it as an invitation to be a janitor, for it is while so employed that I ‘read’ most of them via the Books on Tape service. On Twitter, I came across a CEO who grumbled: “Stupid janitor forgot to leave an extra roll of toilet paper – I’m screwed.” I tweeted back: “I read 54 of the BBC’s top 100 books as a janitor via Books on Tape. Sorry about the toilet paper.” There are even people who deliberately choose menial work so as to not turn their minds over to ‘The Man’—corporate or government interests. The Man may reward you materially, but he does not do so without demanding your soul. One can always read the great works, if one has a desire to, on one’s own, free from the indoctrination of the world’s educational system.

They wouldn’t let my homeschooled son read when he briefly forayed into public schooling; it was ever workbooks for him. When he later entered community college, they declared his math skills age-appropriate and his reading skills “off the charts.” “I had no idea that there were so many stupid people,” he innocently remarked later. How can they not be stupid? The intellectual diet of this system of things is one of pop culture, transitory trends, and video games. He had never been denied those things; he had simply been directed to keep them in their place. And nobody on the homeschool front gave two hoots about workbooks. He could read all day if he wanted to and sometimes he did. “He reads?” exclaimed a local educator, an ally, to my wife who had asked what she should do. He then ventured: “Don’t do anything.” Do not mess up that formula.”

The notion of Witnesses ‘redefining’ education does not come unchallenged in a world long used to another model. The Bible describes life under God’s kingdom rule as ‘the life that is true life.’ What does that say as to this life? Take the Bible too seriously and one will assuredly experience kickback from the model that holds that this life is all there is. A 2017 National Public Radio report was entitled ‘Lack of Education Leads To Lost Dreams And Low Income For Many Jehovah’s Witnesses.’41 The writers had found former Witnesses who lamented that they had not gone to college while they were in the faith; their parents and most in the congregation had discouraged it. Some had attended after leaving the Witness religion, but they got a late start and were upset that they were behind the curve. I dutifully read the article, but I didn’t need to; the headline says it all: just where does one look for fulfillment of dreams? Witness orientation is to look to ‘the true life.’

The NPR story is not inaccurate, but it is incomplete. Witness parents will often encourage their youngsters to train for work as high-paying as possible, then do as little of it as possible, so as to focus on the Christian ministry, for that they regard as the most important activity in this present world. This is likely to put you on the lower rungs of the income latter, though not for the reasons NPR stipulates.

University education represents to Witnesses an invitation to trash the faith of their child, for humans are not immune to their surroundings. Thus, some hideous new style appears and within ten years it is widely adopted by ones who wonder how they ever could have imagined those peculiar styles of yesteryear did anything for them. Peer pressure unfailingly works with such trivial matters. It also works with matters substantial. Witness parents wish for their children to avoid an anti-religious minefield that embraces the assumption is that humans have the answers, that embraces throwing off restraints, that portrays obedience as bordering on the pathetic. They regard such education as intensely indoctrinate and ever harping on trendy issues. The foregoing is a generalization. Some subjects involve less traipsing through the minefield than do others, technology or engineering, for example. There are some times in life when a person does choose to enter a minefield. But they don’t go waltzing through it. They think long and hard before they do it at all.

“To be fair, one should compare the satisfaction statistics of ones who have chosen the college route,” one commenter (me) appended to the article. In pursuit of dreams, if they are in this system of things, surely it must be factored in what is the cost of those dreams, for they are far from free in the United States. And what is the likelihood of achieving them? The job market in most places is hardly stellar. Chart wrongly in the U.S, and one can easily end up with a mundane job, or no job at all due to being ‘overqualified,’ but saddled with tens of thousands of dollars of debt that cannot be discharged under current law. Higher education (in the U.S.) offers an uncertain ticket into a high-priced unstable job market that it itself has created. A six or even eight-year degree is the minimum requirement for most high-flying careers of today.  Mike Rowe, in testimony to Congress, stated that education in the trades offers by far the most secure route to a well-paying job.42 That sort of education can often be had free. Sometimes high schools offer it.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are nothing if not eminently practical, and they do not salivate over an education model that has become dysfunctional. They seek practical skills that pay well, are easily transferable, and don’t sap time and energy that is more profitably directed towards God and family. It does happen that a Witness youngster steered away from college may later come to regret it. Since the beginning of time parents have steered their children. Since the beginning of time some children, as adults, wish they had been steered differently. But surely it must factored into the overall equation the many more youngsters who were steered into college by the school system, taking on enormous debt, and came to wish they had listened to someone like Mike Rowe instead.

 

The world does well to take ownership—‘hold itself accountable,’ to use the current buzzword—of all that its system of education has produced before insisting every student drink his or her fill. If higher education was worth the price of admission it would have resulted in a far better world by now. Jehovah’s Witnesses are willing to bypass it all as something superfluous. Should one touch upon it, do so as a hobby. Don’t imagine it is the stuff of life. Beyond some gadgets made by Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, two men who dropped out of college, (does that account for their groundbreaking success?) where is the evidence that it is indispensable? To some extent, this parallels the prodding of the contemporary feminist herstory movement; prove that your version actually works before you carry on too much about your history.

Since Jehovah’s Witnesses go light on college education, the Pew Foundation unsurprisingly reports them the least educated of all faiths.43 So be it. Their relative shunning of college is deliberate, as they redefine what it means to be educated. They focus on moral training so basic as ‘getting along with each other,’ which would enable the world to do something with its education were it able to embrace it. “A day of divine education is worth a thousand years of college,”44 one (me again) might say, who has seen both, and who admittedly likes hyperbole. Focus on the moral qualities. You can always run out and get secular education piecemeal when you need it. Don’t let them tell you their education is a prerequisite to life. Embrace their lauded Greek heritage, and you embrace whatever is today’s moral counterpart of pedophilia and misogyny.

Embrace Bible education instead and tell the Pew Foundation to take a hike. They don’t care anyway. They just measure things. But opponents of Witnesses grab hold of their charts and cry to the heavens at how stupid Witnesses must be. Don’t be intimidated by them. The most basic invention of the West is the toilet. It, combined with some other lifestyle and drug innovations, predictably contributes to constipation over time, for squatting best suits the anatomy, as any toddler knows and as the uneducated still do.45 Nobody’s thinking is as constipated as that of the Western critical rationalists. See them demolish each other online as they argue topics to the death. Sometimes one wishes they could just learn to let go.

Woe to those who pride themselves on their critical analysis, as though no other means of communication exists. Jesus has little use for it. He speaks at length in the gospels, yet very little of what he says would satisfy today’s disciples of argument and reason. He spins involved parables which he rarely explains; let the heart figure it out. He diverts from hostile questions by asking counter-questions that reveal motive. He even resorts to ad hominem attacks of a sort: a major no-no to today’s devotees of reason—though he always connects it with a reason, so that it is not really ad hominem but more like courtroom character cross-examination. Nowhere does he patiently reason on the ‘facts’ with his steadfast opponents because he knows their only relevant fact is that they want him dead.46 He says: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”47 He lost many disciples that day. What a stupid thing to say if his main concern is to persuade devotees of ‘facts’!  But if his prime concern is, not heads, but hearts, then it is flawless. Persons of heart hung around, waiting for elucidation. People without heart departed; their time was too valuable to waste unraveling riddles.  If the heart is pure, one can work with whatever mind accompanies it. If it is not, the mind is a mixed blessing at best and at times a downright curse.

 

To translate the Bible into 200 languages, a website into 900 languages,48 and printed material into even more, using exclusively volunteer labor, is truly a colossal, one might say unbelievable, achievement—where is Baran’s hagiography critic when you need to show him something? Yet it is typical of the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is not done through ‘college power.’ Whenever intellectuals insist that insufficient university training can be found among Witness volunteer translators, they miss the point that they should come to us, not the reverse, since Witnesses have done what they can only talk about. They are correct that there is little higher education to be found among the countless translators. Any specialized training has come a la carte, and most has been produced in-house, by persons who do not horde their knowledge or sell it but make it freely available as needed.

It is ‘talking’—how hard can it be? A child brought up in a dual language household effortlessly picks up both. In a tri-lingual household, he picks up all three. The sticking point is not the intellectual work; it is assembling, motivating, and empowering qualified volunteers—volunteers, so that the end result is affordable. These factors are the strengths of Jehovah’s Witnesses; their education has trained them to be that way. Granted, the translating of ancient language adds a challenge, but this is a factor only for producing a master text. Master compilations of the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic scriptures are readily available, and the Witness organization has over eight million members, some of whom will be linguistic experts and who won’t insist that their name appears in spotlights because they have dedicated their lives in service to God. One expert among the Witnesses is worth fifty in the greater world, because they don’t fight. They don’t engage in turf wars. They know how to share. They know how to cooperate and bring their “gift to the altar.” They display the wisdom of the ants, not that of the big dumb male animals that ram each other with antlers.

Our people produce a straight-forward master text in English. All the volunteers worldwide are schooled in translation techniques. They are all encouraged to ask questions about specific problems or verses, and when they do, the answers become part of a database accessible to all. A significant number of translators are young people who know both English and their native tongue—their parents know only the native tongue. Could these plainly qualified persons ever be used on any sizable commercial project? Not on your life. Without a university degree, they would not be allowed within 100 yards of it. The final translation product is affordable due to the volunteer workers. It is made affordable again by not having to rely upon this world’s for-profit distribution channel.

The free transfer of intellectual knowledge is key to making this work. The greater world will not do this. Knowledge is passed along, but only for a significant fee. One must pay the significant, even exorbitant, cost of higher education in order to be entrusted with anything of significance. Even after that, knowledge transfers only on a for-pay basis. None of this blockage occurs in the Watchtower organization. Witnesses are also well known for freely sharing physical abilities in other venues; Watchtower is the largest construction outfit in the world and the Witnesses’ mobilization for disaster relief is the envy of government. Freely sharing intellectual abilities is just as important, and it makes things like the ‘900 languages’ a matter of routine.49

A Nepalese man quoted in the Watchtower magazine expresses appreciation for the New World Translation in his language. In English, there are many readable translations—the New World Translation is far from the only one. But in Nepalese the choice is meager. Nobody cares about the Nepalese man because he does not have any money. He is stuck with some 200-year-old turkey of a translation that he cannot understand and likely cannot afford anyway, until the New World Translation comes along to meet his needs, a situation that is repeated in many lands.

Why has not the greater church world seen fit to equip him with an understandable and affordable Bible? It has far more resources to draw upon. Can it be for any other reason than that they do not consider his spiritual needs important? Even if they should, they are beholden to a profit-driven commercial channel of book distribution that does not consider his monetary means important and therefore does not bother. Dare we say it? “Those people” do not count when it comes to spiritual things. Only those with money count. With Jehovah’s organization, they do count. In fact, they are often given priority, since it is the ones of lesser means who have ever responded to Bible truth more readily than those well-off. One sixth of the world’s population today cannot read, a byproduct of an educational system skewed toward the privileged. How many even know that these people exist? Only Jehovah’s organization produces simplified versions of materials already written simply so as to reach them.

If you are serious about proclaiming ‘this gospel of the kingdom in all the inhabited earth,’ then naturally, you will have such a website with 900 languages. In an ill-advised (in my opinion) suggested magazine presentation, a Witness calls attention to the website, and then asks the householder: “Do you know why we do it?” “What—do you think I’m a trained chimp?” one actual person found in the ministry responded, “of course I know why you do it! You want to reach people!”

When your car needs repair, do you take it to the shop that has equipped itself with every modern tool? Or do you take it to the shop content to operate with hammer, vice grips, WD-40, and duct tape? Shouldn’t anyone serious about carrying out Christ’s commission to preach be so well-equipped? Aren’t they inept at best and frauds at worst if they have not equipped themselves in such a way? There is no excuse to be so negligent. They show either that they don’t care about Christ’s commission to proclaim his kingdom or that they are incapable of the cooperation needed to get the job done. Cooperation, love, humility, coupled with reasonable intelligence, will trump the results of this world’s system of education every time.

Human institutions universally look to higher education for leadership. Successful entrepreneurs are even awarded honorary degrees after the fact, a tactic that serves to maintain the illusion that only college people can amount to anything. For the most part, respectable religions of this world have followed this model. Its clergy must also have advanced post-secondary degrees. It may be that Paul took direction from fishermen, but that will never repeat on their watch. The Watchtower organization is strikingly unique. It is true to the first-century pattern. It does not look to the greater world’s repository of degrees for authorization to lead. Members of their Governing Body are yet fishermen at heart. They don’t pretend to take the lead though brains. They take it though heart.

The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses has no specialized knowledge of anything, generally speaking, but they know where to find it when they need it. They know how to coordinate it. They know how to put it to use for the benefit of others. How obscenely wasteful and discriminatory is the world’s system for disseminating knowledge. Knowledge for them is a commodity monetized and sold amorally. It is a business. It prices its knowledge out of the reach of much of the population. It is not the fault of any individual within the system. It is the fault of the selfish model that they make their home.

The trick is to not copy Sam Gerard’s ‘The Fugitive’ colleague and say “Well, we’re smart, too,” thus trying to play catch-up with another education that even he considers superior. The trick is to say that you have an education model that leaves theirs in the dust. Without the prerequisite moral training imparted by Bible education, the world does not know what to do with the knowledge it accumulates and is as likely to turn it to harm as to good. Moreover, some of the knowledge it gathers and dispenses in its colleges will turn out to be of the variety Mark Twain derided: knowledge that “ain’t so.”

They are smarter than us, for the most part—the university-trained crowd. It is no good pretending otherwise. But most of their plans will come to naught because they are not able to cooperate. A foremost example presents itself in the aftermath of a Florida school shooting in which 17 children died. Such shootings have become commonplace in the United States. Two arguably effective solutions have been proposed. Either ban rapid-fire assault guns or allow armed veterans, who would love the idea of protecting children, to roam the school corridors. Neither will be adopted soon because neither side will tolerate yielding to the other.

The Witness organization does not let the world bully it into its own mold of education. It has come up with something better. Jehovah’s Witnesses with knowledge are generous with it. They don’t hoard it. Free from petty competitiveness and jealousy, they give it away and thereby accomplish good that a hamstrung world cannot. The educated world is dismayed to find the persons they look down upon outstripping them in practical deed. Those who are noble strive to get their heads around it and examine a model unfamiliar. Those who are not noble stand on their favorite paradigm of university superiority and ridicule the accomplishments they did not produce. Those who are really not noble try to run the competition off the road.

From Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia  (see also safe version)

Endnotes

  1. 1 Corinthians 3:19-20
  2. August Neander, The History of the Christian Religion and Church: During the First Three Centuries (London: Rivington. Collection Robarts; Toronto. Digitizing sponsor MSN. Contributor Robarts - University of Toronto, 1843) 41
  3. Matthew 11:25.
  4. 1 Corinthians 1:26
  5. Edward D. Andrews, Your Guide for Defending the Bible: Self-Education of the Bible Make Easy (Christian Publishing House 2016) 242-243
  6. Acts 4:13
  7. 2 Timothy 2:15
  8. 2 Corinthians 11:23
  9. 1 Timothy 3:16
  10. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pederasty_in_ancient_Greece
  11. Robin Osborne, Greek History (Routledge, 2004), 12 online and 21.
  12. Alix Spiegel, “Is Believing in God Evolutionarily Advantageous?” All Things Considered, August 30, 2010, accessed March 25, 2018, https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129528196
  13. Jessica Bond, “We Struggle With Monogamy – Is It Time to Abandon it Altogether?” New Scientist, November 29, 2017, accessed March 25, 2018, https://www.newscientist.com/article-topic/monogamy/
  14. Mairi Macleod, “Monogamy Evolved to Keep Baby-killers Away,” New Scientist, July 30, 2013, accessed March 25, 2018, https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23959-monogamy-evolved-to-keep-baby-killers-away/
  15. Joanna Marchant, “Sex, Lies and Monogamy,” New Scientist, April 28, 2001, accessed March 25, 2018, https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg17022880-300-sex-lies-and-monogamy/
  16. Nathan H. Lents, “Beastly Behavior - The Relationship Between Waist-Hip Ratio and Fertility, Psychology Today, June 19, 2007, accessed March 25, 2018, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/beastly-behavior/201706/the-relationship-between-waist-hip-ratio-and-fertility
  17. 1 Timothy 4:7. NABRE here reads “silly myths” but most translations connect it with “old women,” often reading “old wives’ tales.” NWT says “false stories, like those told by old women.” Expect “silly myths” to catch on more and more, as translators imitate NABRE and endeavor to avoid being gender specific.
  18. Laurie Goodstein, “A Noah’s Ark in Kentucky, Dinosaurs Included,” New York Times, June 26, 2016, accessed March 26, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/26/us/noahs-ark-creationism-ken-ham.html
  19. “Holy Spirit – at Work in Creation,” The Watchtower – study edition, February 15, 2011, 8
  20. “How Did We Get Here,” Awake! May 8, 1997
  21. Was Life Created? (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 2010), 26
  22. See: Ephesians 4:14, 1 Timothy 6:20, Jude 1:12, Jeremiah 2:13, and Matthew 15:14
  23. Acts 17:26-27
  24. “Abraham Lincoln and the Bible,” Lehman Institute Presents: Abraham Lincoln’s Classroom, http://www.abrahamlincolnsclassroom.org/abraham-lincoln-in-depth/abraham-lincoln-and-the-bible/
  25. Ibid.
  26. Ibid
  27. Matthew 13:30, Daniel 12:4
  28. Daniel 12:9
  29. 1 Corinthians 15:45
  30. For example, see Should You Believe in the Trinity? (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 1989)
  31. “Russian Orthodox Against Jehovah’s Witnesses,” AsiaNews, May 4, 2017, accessed March 13, 2018, http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Russian-Orthodox-against-Jehovahs-Witnesses-40640.html
  32. Morris Kline, Mathematics and the Search for Knowledge (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985) 213
  33. “Visions of Zechariah - How They Affect You,” The Watchtower - study edition, October 2017, 23
  34. Matthew 11:19, Psalm 38:13
  35. “Remove the Rafter,” JW Broadcasting, accessed March 26, 2018, https://tv.jw.org/#en/mediaitems/VODBiblePrinciples/pub-jwbai_201603_1_VIDEO
  36. Matthew 7:3-5
  37. from the 1989 movie: Driving Miss Daisy
  38. ‘Data Team’: “Over-friendly, or Sexual Harassment? It Depends Partly on Whom You Ask, The Economist, November 17, 2017, March 26, 2018, https://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2017/11/daily-chart-14?fsrc=scn/tw/te/bl/ed/
  39. Robert Wright, “Infidelity—It may be in our genes. Our Cheating Hearts,” Time Magazine, August 15, 1994, accessed March 26, 2018, https://canadiancrc.com/Newspaper_Articles/Time_Magazine_infidelity_in_genes_15AUG94.aspx
  40. 1 Timothy 6:19
  41. Luke Vander Ploeg, “Lack Of Education Leads To Lost Dreams And Low Income For Many Jehovah’s Witnesses,” All Things Considered, February 19, 2017, accessed March 26, 2018, https://www.npr.org/2017/02/19/510585965/poor-education-leads-to-lost-dreams-and-low-income-for-many-jehovahs-witnesses
  42. Dylan Love, “Instant MBA: America Needs Plumbers More Than It Needs You, businessinsider, May 17, 2011, accessed March 26, 2018, http://www.businessinsider.com/instant-mba-america-needs-plumbers-more-than-it-needs-you-2011-5
  43. Caryle Murphy, “The Most and Least Educated U.S. Religious Groups,” Pew Research, November 4, 2016, accessed March 26, 2018, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/04/the-most-and-least-educated-u-s-religious-groups/
  44. a reference to Psalm 84:10
  45. Eliza Barclay, “For Best Toilet Health: Squat Or Sit?” NPR – Health, September 28, 2012, accessed March 26, 2018, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2012/09/20/161501413/for-best-toilet-health-squat-or-sit
  46. For example, see Matthew 15:1-20 in which Jesus answers a question from opposers only in his own time and to his own disciples – after those opposers have taken offense, stormed off, and are no longer around to hear the answer they demanded.
  47. John 6:54-66
  48. See the drop-down language menu at upper right corner of JW.org.
  49. “Remote Translation Offices Help Spread the Kingdom News,” JW Broadcasting – Video on Demand, accessed March 26, 2018, https://tv.jw.org/#en/mediaitems/VODActivitiesTranslation/pub-jwbrd_201505_6_VIDEO

000

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)

Life

I came across a person through reading who spent all his time playing Second Life.1 It is a popular online game in which a player, represented by an avatar, interacts with other players who are represented by their avatars. There are hundreds of thousands of players of this game, and together they make up an online world, which they may occupy more than the real world. You can do everything in Second Life that you can in the real world, and a lot more, since you are unrestrained by inconveniences as family responsibilities, financial hardship, health or age infirmities, physical distance, or social inhibition. It is a dinosaur of a game in digital life—its heyday is past—but it is still played by many.

The man featured in the article I read was almost sixty years old. He discovered Second Life while recuperating from surgery. He plays it virtually every waking moment—as many as fourteen hours a day, said the article—pausing only for bathroom breaks. His avatar is a twenty-something muscular hunk, a vicarious representation of his actual sixty-year-old self. He develops shopping malls and creates designer clothes (in real life, the sixty-year-old works at a help desk). He is idolized by all his employees and when he logs on after a long absence, his workers all welcome him back and earnestly inquire as to his health. (I haven’t yet figured out why anyone would play Second Life and be an employee rather than a boss.) He has an online wife, a pretty avatar he met some time ago. They set up house, they work together, shop together, and do everything a married couple might be expected to do. In real life, he’s never met the woman and has no intention of doing so. In Second Life, they are inseparable.

Now, this fellow has a wife in the real world, and she’s not happy. “Leave this loser,” her kids urge her. It is the second marriage for both of them. But she sticks with her man, if he can really be called hers. He is a good man at heart, she maintains, who has been sucked into an online addiction. Someday he will wake to find he has squandered his whole life in a make-believe world. She brings him breakfast while he’s tapping away at the keyboard. Hours later she returns. “You didn’t touch your breakfast,” she says. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t notice it.” (This writer’s wife would dump his breakfast over his head at this point.)

Imagine—an online world so engrossing that some prefer it to the real world! Next to Second Life, Risk and Monopoly are mere—well, board games. Yet without too great a leap in creative thinking, one may view this life as though it were a second life, which would relegate the online Second Life to Third Life. For the Bible makes clear that this life is not the “true” life. Sickness and death are not part of God’s purpose for humankind. Rather, everlasting life is. An earth brought close to ruin by human activity is likewise not his purpose; a paradise earth, much like the Eden of Genesis, which literally means ‘garden,’ or ‘paradise,’ is. Neither is happiness marred by evil and suffering part of God’s purpose, but instead unsullied life under Kingdom rule is. We limp along as best we can in this system of things. Some find success and overcome obstacles better than others, but in the end, there is little difference between us. A mere few decades pass and all of us are senile and in diapers, en route to the grave. That is why Paul encouraged Timothy to: “Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share, thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life.”2

How meaningful can life be in a system where ISIS, dementia, cancer, or simple human greed can snuff it out in a second? “Sayonara!” your longtime employer sings out, as he packs up for overseas. “Dust off that resume, why don’t you?  And those family and financial obligations you have? Fugedaboudit!” It is as Solomon says: he has seen footmen on horses and princes slogging through the mud. It is certainly possible to get satisfaction from life today, and most have to some degree. But many find it is like chomping down hard on cotton candy. Though it looked substantial, they ultimately find that there was never much there.

How short-sighted to throw off restraint and run to a place where no one can tell you what to do. There is nothing to stop one from doing so, but it’s a poor trade-off over the ‘restrictions’ of a godly life, which amount to little more than guardrails on a treacherous highway. Manipulation through human scheming in the form of Big Government, Big Business or contemporary philosophy ultimately take a toll far greater than any restrictions of the Christian life.

There is some basis in viewing this life, uncertain in every aspect except its ultimate end, as a Second Life, and your real self as an avatar. And perhaps some advantage. The joys of this life one can experience fully, if the character of our article is any guide. But the hardships that this life throws at you, things not within your power to fix, you may be better able to handle with an “aw hell, it’s just an avatar” attitude, which will be good for mental health. Like any board game or online game, this life comes to an end. You may have hotels on every square or you may go directly to jail—‘Do not pass Go’—but the game does end decisively for all. The true life, however, does not. Jehovah’s Witnesses live as happily as they can manage in this life. But it is the true life to which they look forward.

 

They asked popular author and futurist Robert Jastrow about living forever, and specifically: would that be a blessing or a curse? He said that it all depends: “It would be a blessing to those who have curious minds and an endless appetite for learning. The thought that they have forever to absorb knowledge would be very comforting for them. But for others who feel they have learned all there is to learn and whose minds are closed, it would be a dreadful curse. They’d have no way to fill their time.”

Dr. Jastrow is a thinker, and so he focused on learning. There is an apocryphal story about a Witness chancing upon him in the ministry, observing that he is quoted in the book Life – How did it Get Here? By Creation or Evolution, and leaving it with him on that basis. But things besides knowledge are boundless, too, such as our capacity to create and our capacity to love.

Over the last forty years or so, however, pop culture has been selling death as though it were a benefit. It is probably the atheists. They are increasing in number and buying into their thinking means settling for a final death sentence perhaps not too many years away. Pay attention and you will see the ‘death is beautiful’ notion a lot. For example, it surfaced in a Dr. Who episode entitled: The Lazarus Experiment.

The episode name itself is a giveaway, because Lazarus is a biblical character resurrected by Jesus, related in the eleventh chapter of John. The television Lazarus has invented a machine to make him youthful again; he steps in old and he walks out young, to the amazement of the high-brow folk invited to his gala bash. But Dr. Who, who must have crashed the party, smells something amiss. He follows the newly minted youngster, and sure enough, the machine has malfunctioned and doomed Lazarus to transforming back and forth from human to monster! (They like monsters on that show.) See, in setting back his DNA, the machine has selected ancient mutations long-ago rejected by evolution, and the result is instability. (Hmmm…yes…indeed, plausible, nod all the atheists watching the show, whereas if you mentioned anything about God, they’d throw up).

Dr. Who, a ‘time lord,’ lectures Lazarus before the show is done on what a curse everlasting life really is, and what a foolish, greedy thing it was for him to reach out for it. For when life drags on forever and ever and ever, you will get so tired of it. You will have been everywhere, done everything. Living will have become an endless, pointless trek to nowhere. You will long for it to end, but (fool that you were for choosing everlasting life) it will not end but will go on and on and on. Oh, the monotony! See, without death, it is impossible to savor life—and so forth.

Please. Spare me and Dr. Jastrow. This is atheist tripe. It all depends upon whether you see life as futile or not. If you do, then sure, you would want it to end. But as Dr. Jastrow stated, life is only futile if you have made it so. Of course, baked into this system of things are various ingredients to encourage that view—for example, old age and frailty, but if they could be vanquished, a much different longing would emerge.

A prime attraction of Rochester, New York, where this writer has resided, is the George Eastman House. Mr. Eastman, who invented photography for the masses and who founded the Eastman Kodak Company, turned philanthropist once he had made his fortune and built half the city; testimony to his generosity is everywhere.  His mansion on East Avenue showcases his life, his inventions, his contributions to society, and serves as the nucleus for all things photographic right up to the present. When he decided the center lounge area of his domicile was too small, he had the house cut in two, rolled apart, and a fine new addition built to link them again. Does his determination emerge from this picture? He was unstoppable. But research thoroughly and you will discover that he shot himself in the head at age 78. In the throes of old age, his health failing, one by one he saw his friends going senile, bedridden or wheelchair-bound. He left behind a note: “To my friends: My work is done. Why wait?”3

Q: Why did George Eastman take his life?

  1. A) His work was done. Why wait?
  2. B) He longed for the blessed release of death to finally end a futile life that had dragged on and on for far too long.
  3. C) His health was failing and he, a lifelong bachelor, dreaded the indignities of old age with its dependence upon others.

Does anybody honestly think that, with health and youth, George Eastman would not have found more work in which to engross himself? Surely, he would not have longed for life to end. In this, Mr. Eastman is much like Leonardo da Vinci, the man who painted one of the most enduring portraits of all time—the Mona Lisa. Leonardo made his mark not only as an artist. He also contributed hugely in areas as diverse as geometry, anatomy, astronomy, architecture, and flight. Some of his sketches have been used as blueprints for devices in use today. He was a ‘Renaissance man’—his life embodies the term. Yet toward the end of his life, he reportedly sought God’s forgiveness for not using all the resources of his spirit and art.

Eastman and da Vinci: two men that typify Dr. Jastrow’s statement. And they would be joined by just about everyone else, were we not sucked into a morass of drudgery, duty, debt, injustice and hardship. Sure, you might well long for death if you can envision only more of that. The same goes for the frailness that comes with old age. When I attended a funeral of an older friend who had been happy, content, and productive throughout life, his widow nonetheless assured me that he was quite ready to die, since he’d grown “so tired of being sick.”

Faced with the skyrocketing cost of a medical regimen, equal to her entire fixed income, one person reported on in the American Association of Retired Persons publication laments that: “I’m faced with some hard decisions about whether to stay on the drug. I still have a lot of things I want to do with my life.” One is tempted to ask: At one point will she say: “Okay, I’ve done it all. Death can come any time, now.” I think she will never say it unless and until she finally acknowledges that the scoundrels have outmaneuvered her. The hucksters are having a field day with her, gleefully seizing upon missteps to further subjugate her in some way. The doctors are sucking her dry of resources, yet she is not getting better. The young people who ought to thank her as a font of wisdom have been sold a bill of good by self-serving interests and wonder when the old fogey will finally move on. The politicians have continually made her promises that have not panned out.

It is not always pricey drugs. The U.S. is unique in the hardship it imposes over healthcare, but there is always some problematic thing, and often it is more onerous than missing out on a drug. But if the villains of life did not, at some point, succeed in their relentless attack, the woman would never reach the point of saying ‘that’s enough.’ She would always be up for more delicious life. That is why the Bible’s promise of everlasting life on a paradise earth is so appealing. It is Robert Jastrow’s dream come true: unlimited time to grow, minus the very real liabilities that eventually cause most of us to tire of life. Perfect health is promised, and an economic system will be in place so that people do not feel they are toiling for nothing. Isaiah describes life under God’s kingdom rule, illustrating the prayer “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven: “They shall build houses and live in them, they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit; They shall not build and others live there; they shall not plant and others eat. As the years of a tree, so the years of my people; and my chosen ones shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not toil in vain, nor beget children for sudden destruction; For they shall be a people blessed by the LORD and their descendants with them.”4

Many things I would like to do. I have done a few of them. But for the most part, I have merely scratched the surface. I’ve spent a fair amount of time battling the iniquities of life while not accomplishing much at all. Everlasting life, should I find myself there, will not be a bad thing. Not at all. It will be a good thing.

When the world embraces atheism, many paradigms shift. All concept of waiting for God to work out his will vanishes. What counts is the here and now. Tribulation that Revelation calls ‘ten days’ becomes ‘forever.’5 Even the perception of congregation discipline changes. Expulsion from the congregation for unrequited unchristian conduct becomes a permanent ‘breaking up of families.’ To the Christian, expulsion is the ultimate trump card of discipline which may move the one so chastised thereby to mend his ways and return to the fold, for the door that was closed was never locked. The trek towards everlasting life can resume. In going atheist, however, the departing one no longer worries about living forever on earth or anywhere else. He or she has gone atheistic and has reconstrued the remaining few decades as a great bargain, with no sense of being cheated from all eternity. Sigh—if they believe it, they believe it. But it hardly seems something to celebrate. Is it not a little like the fellow who loses millions in the stock market? Undeterred, he celebrates the five thousand dollars he still has left and says: ‘Well, they were only paper gains anyway.’ If the fellow has come to view life that way after being expelled from the congregation, his exile has become in his eyes something from which he will not return. It has become permanent.

 

There are many swirls and back eddies. Certainly, one can find flaws in the visible Christian organization. Some persons have been heavy-handed. Some have blundered. But the overall flow of events is in accord with what Jehovah’s Witnesses have long said. The visibility of the kingdom message expands. World conditions worsen. Not all the ducks are lined up. There are yet a few stragglers. The fat lady has not yet sung. But she is clearing her throat. It is time to mend fences for anyone who has left. Everyone knows a large project needs organization, which requires leadership, and with leadership a given policy or decision can go against you. It is good not to hold on to resentment.

The older generation of the West will sometimes paint the younger as spoiled brats—overprivileged babies who lack appreciation and do little but whine. The Witness organization does not feel that way about any who have left. You never blame the younger generation for problems encountered growing up in the soil you supplied. Had you not let outside scoundrels contaminate the soil or even tainted it yourself it might not have happened. Says a tweet from a self-described “resident scholar” at the American Institute and former philosophy teacher: “Dear kids: I’m a Baby Boomer. We are getting old. But at least we had sex, drugs and rock & roll. Seems like millennials have moral panics, workshops, and grievance circles.” Does not the first largely explain the second? One is supposed to pass on values that the young can build upon. What is her advice? “Time to rebel!”6 Witness parents sought to shield their kids from such influences. Some pulled too hard in the opposite direction. Some simply found the allure of those things to their offspring too great to countermand.

There is a public talk on the Watchtower’s revolving list of talk outlines entitled: Acquiring a Heart of Wisdom. It is a challenging talk to give and not all speakers handle it well, for it invites exposing the flaws of faithful persons, past and present, and not all speakers are comfortable doing that. Past is okay, but not so much the present. Back in the day, when I would give the talk myself, I used to lead off with the by-now-trite illustration of how treasure-seekers dig through the dirt to find the tiniest speck of diamonds and how foolish it would be to reverse the process—dig through the diamonds to find the tiniest speck of dirt. Nevertheless, I stated, we would be doing exactly that for the next 45 minutes. With any time in the faith, you are going to come across some dirt, and if you are not prepared, you will be floored, for it is the one place you did not expect to find any.

Having set those ground rules, I then reveled in tearing things apart for the talk’s duration, dredging up wrongs from both the Hebrew and Greek scriptures. I hit my stride with the second and third chapters of Revelation, considering absolute basket cases of congregations, in which were found every sort of nasty deed (read the chapters yourself) and yet they were still congregations. The point is, if wrong things happened then, one needn’t be shocked if they have happened today. The trick is not to sanitize the present. It is to de-sanitize the past. It is to say: “Look at those outrageous characters back then! Yet somehow God managed to pull a rabbit out the hat even with them carrying on as they did.”

 

Russia has been lately dealing with an avalanche of accusations—from meddling in Western democratic process, to invading foreign states, to cheating in the Olympics. It is a non-stop hate campaign of absurd charges, fumes Robert Bridge, the RT.com correspondent. He warns that the bear may only take it for so long before it responds with a bite, not just a growl.7 I know it when I see it: non-stop hate and absurd charges. We experience it ourselves. If only the kings could get along Jehovah’s Witnesses might not get caught in the cross-fire between them. Actually, that was my response from the sole pedophile Russian mention, that tweet from the Embassy relaying a defamatory headline. I replied: “One would think that a country that roundly condemns slander directed against it would not so immediately swallow it when it is directed at someone else.”

Three times in the modern age has Russia saved the day, averting nuclear war: Arkhipov, Petrov, and Khrushchev via letter to Kennedy. The bear growls that the U.S. bombs more countries than Russia, and yet the bear is painted as the aggressor. The bear growls that Western profit-driven corporations, not it, stir up major mayhem in an unending quest to expand markets. The bear growls and even yipes that its athletes alone are expelled from the Olympics. Who cannot feel for Russia?

Then, just at reaching that moment of sympathy, it does something to suggest it is all true and then some, that perhaps what is visible is but the tip of the iceberg. You can’t just confiscate foreign-owned property worth millions—just take it—without shooting yourself in the foot image-wise. You cannot just ban a Bible—a perfectly viable Bible and everyone knows it—without suggesting that you are a nation of goons. You can’t rely upon a high school math teacher scribbling verbiage off the Internet as your expert witness without suggesting that you don’t really have anyone who knows anything over there. You can’t chase and harass and bully people known the world over as perfectly respectable without painting yourself a nation of thugs. Why shoot oneself in the foot that way? Jehovah’s Witnesses may strike some as annoying—more people would say yes than no to that—but extremist? Everybody knows what extremism is and they know that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not it. Come now. It is a pretty dull life you live if they fulfill your definition of extremism.

God lays “Jerusalem a heavy stone for all peoples” down and Russia picks it up. The prophetic reference is to the ‘New Jerusalem’ of Revelation 21 that descends from heaven to rule, the anti-type of another Jerusalem of long ago. It is a heavy stone. The nations and their advocates want human efforts to work. The want optimistic reassurance. They want to be told that success is at hand, or at least within reach. They don’t want Bible people coming around to tell them it is all for naught and that only God’s kingdom will deliver. What a tiresome heavy stone that is.

Nevertheless, “all who attempt to lift it will injure themselves badly, though all the nations of the earth will gather against it.” Russia is among those first to try, and it takes hits to its reputation. It makes no sense. A great country is shoved around by anti-cult zealots. It is maneuvered into harassing a perfectly harmless people. It is sad to behold. People are not always deterred by slanderous reports. Sometimes they are drawn. “It makes no sense to slam the Witnesses,” some will say, “they’re nice people.”8

Russia bans a Bible that everyone knows is a Bible. It confiscates a property, and everyone knows is theft. Someone will be the new occupants of the Witness Administrative Center. Will they be smitten with hemorrhoids, as happened long ago when a treasure was taken from its rightful owners and given to strangers? It is what happened when the Philistines hijacked the ark. Well—I wouldn’t hold my breath. The ark is hardly the same as the branch, but one can always imagine. The one conceivably valid reason for banning the New World Translation in Russia (I thought) is that it employs the word “piles.” What in the world are piles? It is in no other translation that I can see. It is hardly that the New World Translation avoids unpleasantries elsewhere—the translation favors the literal. It was not easy to fathom. The revised New American Bible, employed for this book, says God smote them with “tumours.” The King James Version says “emerods.” Darby says “hemorrhoids.” The old Wycliffe Bible removes all doubt: “Forsooth the hand of the LORD was made grievous upon [the] men of Ashdod, and he destroyed them, and he smote Ashdod and the coasts thereof in the privier part of [the] buttocks/in the more privy part of their tail ends.” Alas, the last laugh is on me, for it turns out that piles is a colloquial term for hemorrhoids and I was simply not aware of it.9

Wish Dennis Christensen well, the first Witness jailed post-ban, a Danish citizen in jail for close to a year and trial may just be finally getting underway, if nothing else intervenes. The Ministry of Justice insists he is a dangerous criminal. He is indignant to clear his name. Can the government truly pass him off as an extremist? He—the carpenter who built a playground for the children and cleaned up the park? Wasn’t there another carpenter of long ago who also ran afoul of the government? His profession is even the same. His name is even similar! It’s a good thing Witnesses no longer do types and anti-types because somebody would find latching on to this one irresistible. Pray that his God is with him as he squares off against Goliath. Pray that he downs the brute as David did his. He even must do it as did David, with limited armor. The court restricted the time his attorneys could spend reviewing the materials for his criminal case.10

It is common for politicians in the West to accuse their adversaries of launching fake news, even denouncing them as ‘hit jobs.’ They should view a certain video report on RT.com to see how it is done. Albeit that it has a point of view, RT.com seems to me an overall credible source, capable of fine journalism when it puts its mind to it. But it plainly did not put its mind to it on this occasion.

The three-minute 2009 video clip is entitled Jehovah and Out and the host is interviewing Audrey Zolovov of Russia Profile Magazine.11 The host asks why Jehovah’s Witnesses are targeted for possible ban because, after all, Russia is “pretty tolerant toward religion, isn’t it? I mean, the Hare Krisnas are operating on the streets of Moscow” and his guest says that ‘Well, he doesn’t really know.’ He agrees with the host that Witnesses are “annoying,” but also agrees that should hardly suffice as a reason. They do oppose blood transfusions, and that is very bad, but many fringe sects have similar disagreeable drawbacks. Maybe it is because they have a “very good organization.” After all, they are a “worldwide phenomenon,” he opines, as though expounding upon motive at a crime scene. He gives an example: several years ago, his wife went to a manicurist and he thinks that the manicurist must have been a “very important asset for that group because she had this captive audience for 40 minutes or so, while she was telling them about their religion. Of course, my wife stopped going to that manicurist as soon as she found out that she is being preached.” Of course! What loyal citizen would not? 

Is it possible that RT.com can celebrate grownups behaving as such babies? Even if the Witness woman was tactless, something which is not alleged, an adult learns over time that there are many of such people encountered in life, and that you can handle them by making polite banter and if they become overly insistent, by telling them to shut up. You don’t send your husband to RT.com where he can relate how you escaped, only by the skin of your teeth, from an encounter with a scary monster like the one that would devour Caleb and Sophia. The Witnesses not only spoke to his wife while she was “captive,” but they also do “lots of these things.” As though conscious that his own complaint is silly, he further explains that the Witnesses have “a very very bad image, both in the media and among the public in general.”

In seeming determination to further that “very very bad image” and even add another “very” to it, the conversation takes place against a backdrop of crazies doing the most whacky things—bizarre cultish rites, pugilistic bare-chested fighting scenes, children in lock-step: very very weird scenes that have nothing whatsoever to do with the interview. Nor do they have anything to do with Jehovah’s Witnesses, as their most virulent critics, indeed, anyone who knows anything about them, will instantly attest. Will RT.com really treat its audience with such contempt? Are they working to cultivate stupidity among ones they seem to regard as a herd for them to direct? Or did they give no pre-thought to it? Is it an anomaly, and the producer merely said to an underling: “Hey, we’re doing a story on the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Run down to the lunatic bin in the storeroom and fetch some footage for me. Anything will do.” And will the Russian government outlet really treat the name of God with such contempt: “Jehovah and Out,” as in “Over and out?”

The temptation for the writer based in the West is to paint Putin the villain: the instigator of the Witness persecution. To the extent one thinks of Harry Truman’s utterance, “the buck stops here,” that should be understandable. But let us not go there. There is nothing to paint Putin the mastermind. It is always a challenge to get the attention of the one at the top, for he has much to occupy his time. The Persian King Ahasuerus was set up to preside over the Jews’ annihilation, buying into the slander that they were a menace.  It was for Queen Esther to show him the evil scheme that was underfoot.12

Most likely Putin is like Pilate, who knew Jesus was innocent but also wanted to placate the religious powers-that-be, if for nothing else than to keep them out of his hair. It is a bad sign for Witnesses that Putin hails from a communist background that has no use for religion, let alone one that is unconventional. But it is a good sign that he is a man of unpretentious upbringing. As a young man, he knocked at the door of KBG Recruiting, an unlikely means of entrance, and thereafter worked his way up through the ranks. He spent his early years “working in a gloomy office filled with aging staffers,” where he was “pushing papers at work and still living at home with his parents without a room of his own.”13 Like a Governing Body member himself, he did not start at the top. He started at the bottom.

 

There may be a partial flattening of the anti-cult wave on which Mr. Dvorkin surfs. On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, France was questioned over its sponsorship of the NGO European Federation of Centers of Research and Information on Cults and Sects (FECRIS), as that NGO “has benefitted from abusive grants that they have used to disseminate hate speech targeting some minority religious groups in the countries of the European Union and beyond.” The occasion was a side event to the Universal Periodic Review of France in Geneva (January 15th, 2018) where several NGOs and an international law expert called upon President Emmanuel Macron and his Prime Minister to revise the financing of the NGO that sends a clear “open hunting season” on religious minorities.14 It is the same NGO whose role in the Witness ban was discussed in chapter 3. Alexander Dvorkin was cited by these human rights people as a prime instigator of abuse in Russia. In addition to “the ban of Jehovah’s Witnesses and peaceful apolitical Muslim movements as well as the imprisonment of several Scientologists [that are] part of this religious purification strategy,” he “enjoys disseminating inflammatory narratives and hate speech. Last year, in the capital city of India, Hindus held a demonstration outside the Russian embassy to protest against the persecution of their religion and burnt an effigy of Dvorkin.”

Should France, which Mr. Eric Roux of the European Interreligious Forum for Religious Freedom (EIFRF) called “the cradle of human rights” really be sponsoring NGOs that would so blatantly violate those rights with regard to religious minorities? Surely such hate sends a signal so that “other countries in the world may think that it is therefore legitimate to follow suit and they usually do worse.” FECRIS is simply a hate group itself, in that it targets “any religious minority or spiritual movement not ‘usually considered a religion’ and view[s] the conversion to such beliefs as a psychological subjection, a ‘capture of souls’ and a violation of human dignity,” says the law expert Patricia Duval. Its modus operandi is to “view the conversion to such beliefs as a psychological subjection, a ‘capture of souls’ and a violation of human dignity, collect testimonies of families or parents of converts to new religious movements who disagree with their choice to accuse such groups of destroying families, [and] compile data based on rumors, prejudices and suspicion that they use to stigmatize the concerned groups.”

Look, it might be okay for Stalin to carry on in this way, but 2018 France? Mr. Thierry Valle, representing the French NGO Coordination des Associations et des Individus pour la Liberté de Conscience, urged France to stop sponsoring this sort of activit[y],” noting “the human consequences which are often dramatic for the members of these minorities.” All these other groups mentioned: Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Baptists, Adventists, the Salvation Army, Mormons, Falun Gong practitioners, Scientologists, Muslums and Hindus—we disagree with them all, and they with us. But we would compete with them in the marketplace of ideas, not attempt to eliminate them with harassment or bans. If there is any eliminating to be done, let God do it, not any human organization. If the dominant religious status quo Dvorkin is so zealous to protect actually addressed the serious questions of life, none of these groups, Jehovah’s Witnesses included, would succeed in gaining a foothold. Will this be another occasion in which the biblical ‘earth’ comes to the rescue of the biblical ‘woman?’

Enough of this ‘cult’ nonsense. We will wear out the word. The word once had actual meaning. If you have fallen under the spell of a charismatic leader and have withdrawn from normal life, you just might be part of a cult. These days simply thinking outside of the box suffices, and the definition expands to include ‘people we don’t like.’ When I actually gave that answer: “people we don’t like,” in response to an anti-cult tweet, my comment was roundly condemned as being almost too stupid to acknowledge. I backed off and apologized, for they were right, and I had gone too far. I was thinking only about Witnesses and had lost sight of the very real cults who used to be the sole designates of that word. Yet these days they would include Jehovah’s Witnesses in their definition, retaining the original word, in hopes that the negative connotations will be applied to the new target.

You can overdo it with cults. The resident “cult expert,” as he bills himself, invites his audience to view an “interview where I discuss how Trump exhibits characteristics of a cult leader.”15 He thinks the current President is like a cult leader? Doesn’t that pretty much blow his credibility? When you think half the country has fallen victim to cult manipulation, it is an indication that you have drunk too much of the Kool Aid yourself. When I made this observation on an associated tweet account, I was blocked, something that has never happened to me, and I cannot even get back in there to create a proper endnote. That says it all as to how the anti-cultists process other viewpoints. And no, I wasn’t abusive. I did no more than say what I have said here. The reader who has followed up to this point is in position to testify. Haven’t I behaved myself? I always do.

 

Russian Witnesses engaging in the ministry these days will more accurately catch the flavor of Jesus’ instructions from the first meeting for field service. From time to time, Watchtower publications have pointed to the 10th chapter of Matthew as being just that meeting. Note the overwhelming tone to the effect that the Christian message would not be well-received. It would be vigorously resisted. It would even cause contention within families. The NABRE online commentary, which is extensive, passes right over this bit of unpleasantness without remark, thus revealing that its translators are not overly sensitive to the preaching nature of the Christian ministry. They join and strengthen the predominate church opinion that Christ’s message will find a welcome home in this world, and will, ever so gently, transform it over time. Nothing could be further from the truth.  Let us consider a few segments of Jesus’ instructions (in italics) at that meeting:16

“As you enter a house, wish it peace. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; if not, let your peace return to you. Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words—go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet.” (vs 12-13, Be pleasant. Don’t fight. If people insist upon arguing, simply take your leave without judging, for that is not your prerogative.)

“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, and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans.” (16-18, It is a very real possibility these days in Russia.)

“Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.” (vs 21-22, It is another unpleasant fact that has, at times, played out in modern settings.)

“When they persecute you in one town, flee to another. Amen, I say to you, you will not finish the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” (vs 23, You’re not going to get it all done. Persecution may cause you to flee with work yet remaining. Don’t worry about it. Will some Russian Witnesses seek asylum in other lands? Some have. The Witness whose house was burned to the ground shortly after the ban was imposed, did so.17)

“No disciple is above his teacher, no slave above his master… If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more those of his household!” (vs 24-25, They didn’t like Jesus. They won’t like you.)

“Therefore do not be afraid of them. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” (vs 26-28, Man up where you have to. Be courageous. Even should the enemy kill you, that is all they can do. They cannot interfere with the ‘true life.’)

“Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.” (vs 29-32, You will not be forgotten by your heavenly father, nor by those loyal to him.)

“And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.” (vs 42, You will enjoy some positive response. It will come predominantly by persons of modest means, since they are in position to offer only some water and do not wine and dine you.)

Does the next chapter of Matthew still describe that first meeting for field service? Such an interpretation is pushing it, since the first verse of chapter 11 explicitly states that the Lord sent them out. But let us imagine them hanging about in the parking lot for a while, as Jehovah’s Witnesses are wont to do today, much to the Governing Body’s chagrin:18

Jesus continues: “To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children who sit in marketplaces and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance, we sang a dirge but you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’” (vs 16-19, In other words, you can’t please them all. They’ll find fault no matter what you do. Don’t worry about it.)

“But wisdom is vindicated by her works.” (vs 19, It comes right back to the Christian organization’s reluctance to engage with those who would argue. Don’t do it. Critical persons will argue until the cows come home. Some of them seem positively to live to argue. Don’t play that game. Demonstrate the works that will speak louder than games of the head.)19 

 

Minus any words, and through only music steadily rising to crescendo, the video starts out as in a dream. A barefoot man in casual tunic walks along the beach and his attention is caught by something afar off down the shore. Another group is picnicking on the sand. The scenes cut to vistas of the earth in all its splendor and persons climbing, exploring, building, and savoring it. They are all people seen before, meeting various trials of faith, featured in separate videos at the 2016 Regional Conventions, hosted around the globe.20

“You won’t understand all of this, but that’s okay,” I told one man on a return visit. “Just give me your general impression.” He was especially enthused when I suggested he try writing a screenplay for it. He was the young atheist man who’d agreed that Megan could return and discuss her Bible themes at length. She had invited me to come along. Surely, the man must have assumed she’d summoned one of the big guns from the church.

He invited the two of us in and parried cautiously, unsure as to what he’d gotten himself into. “Now, just to be sure, if I should ask you to leave, you will go, right?” he queried hesitantly. Somehow I felt I had a read on this fellow and I told him that he’d be lucky to be rid of us by midnight. It was enough to break the ice and an uneasy tension was no more. I asked him how much time he had had in mind. He said an hour—longer than we had planned to stay in the first place.

I barely spoke during the first fifteen minutes. Megan said that the Bible was a scientific book and I winced inwardly because it isn’t. What she meant was that when the book happens to touch on matters of science it does so accurately, but Sean heard only what she had said, not what she had meant, and he seemed taken aback. Presently he brought up something about Nebuchadnezzar, and I knew he had prepped for how to speak with Witnesses, for—let let us be honest—who cares about Nebuchadnezzar in this day and age? After we had jumped around into three topics, I suggested maybe we should go back to the first one, and discuss it thoroughly, before moving on. He agreed. After exploring that first topic, he lost all interest in Nebuchadnezzar and we both sent him off grazing to whatever pasture he had come from.21

“The greatest enemies of God are not to be found in the ranks of the atheists,” I had mentioned to him. “They’re to be found in the ranks of those who claim to be his friends. In fact, that’s why some atheists become atheists; they have grown so thoroughly disgusted at the conduct and teachings of religious people.” He liked that remark. I have been back a few times since.

“It is a lot of family scenes,” he puzzled out about the video, “and they’re wearing very simple, khaki-like clothing. And it’s a great ending, the son runs into the arms of his dad—a big reunion. They apparently haven’t seen each other in a while.” No, they hadn’t. The boy had died in an automobile accident, presented in a movie at that convention, and the reunion scene was one of resurrection from the dead. The entire video, shown the last hour at that convention, was of life on the other side of the great tribulation, and—wasn’t that Sergey playing the violin or one like it that the Russian guard had smashed but now his wife had retrieved for him in the new system? Without mentioning the verse—for it contains no words—the video was Revelation 21:3-4 realized:

“I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God]. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.’”

After thousands of years have elapsed from humankinds’ start, God removes the chaos of the Devil-inspired experiment of human self–rule, after all but the most obstinate can see that it has been an utter failure. He brings about what he was going to bring about in the first place but delayed for a time so that a moral challenge could be answered.22 Ones who have sought him out in this system of things are the first to realize the fruitage of his rule in the new one, as is portrayed in the video’s title: Jehovah Will Treat his Loyal One in a Special Way.

One way of countering oppressors is to outlive them. There is only so much time they have to strut about on the world stage and then they must die. Of course, you must die too, perhaps even before they. But the Witness article of faith that I have never heard anyone among them doubt is that of a resurrection on the transformed paradise earth. Witnesses may dicker about this minor point or that, agitated like particles of Brownian motion, but I have never found one having trouble with the resurrection. It affords them major staying power, and it may be for that reason that it has historically come under virulent attack. It is not merely a human game that is being played. The chief priests bribed the guards to report Jesus’ disciples had stolen his body and that he had not been resurrected at all.23 A relentless attempt to water down resurrection of the dead from ‘actual’ to ‘virtual’ was a major apostasy of the first century. Some had “deviated from the truth by saying that [the] resurrection has already taken place and are upsetting the faith of some.”24 And Caecilius of the 2nd century argues with ferocity against Octavius’ simple faith in the resurrection, which seems to particularly get under his skin.25

The video is not intended as a tool for the ministry and it cannot be used that way—I have tried. A Witness knows the story-line and is apt to get choked up. The video portrays the culmination of every Witness’ Bible-based hope. What! Does anyone think Russian Witnesses will trade it for some twaddle about breaking free of ‘manipulation’—from persons who simply want to ensure that religion knows its place in today’s world?

It does know its place, and that is first place. Some Russian brothers will give up, most likely, just as “Demas, enamored of the present world, deserted me and went to Thessalonica,” but for every Demas, there will be the “ten people from nations of every language [who] will take hold, yes, will take hold of the cloak of every Judahite and say, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’”26 It is perhaps a process that the Russian authorities have speeded up, forcing the world to confront the question: What is there about the Christian message so objectionable that it must be condemned? Some will conclude: Nothing at all. It is this chaotic mess of a world that should be condemned. If history is any guide, the work may lull a bit in Russia, only to return with a vengeance at a later date.

Jehovah Will Treat his Loyal One in a Special Way is but the beginning of Revelation 22, the last Bible chapter, in which water sparkling as crystal flows out from the throne of God and of the Lamb; it works as medicine for the nations. As Jehovah’s Witnesses announce now, it is: “’Come.’ Let the hearer say, ‘Come.’ Let the one who thirsts come forward, and the one who wants it receive the gift of life-giving water.” Though the video has no words, it effectively ends with the words of the Bible: “The one who gives this testimony says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”27

In the ministry one evening in upstate New York, I approached a man about to launch his hobbyist drone. I told him I had never seen one up close and he invited me to watch. It took off. He guided it up and over the street, over the rooftop of the neighbor’s house, and I saw in his viewfinder what the drone saw. Yes! There it was! As he suspected, his first mini-drone had come down over the house and was stuck in the gutter. “It’s just a cheap little thing,” he said finally of the lost drone. He decided to let it remain just where it was. How would he retrieve it anyway? Perhaps his neighbor would be peeved at his flying a drone overhead, as though spying. He guided his big drone back and it landed obediently at his feet. I hadn’t said a word as to who I was, and he hadn’t asked. With mother drone safe and sound, and only a chick lost in the neighbor’s gutter, he said to me: “You’re a Jehovah’s Witness, right? They’re fine people. I never met one I didn’t like.” I thought I’d leave things just the way they were, like his baby drone left in the gutter. What could I have added? He had nailed it. We are fine people. When searching the field of religion, look for those who are collectively maligned but individually praised.

(From the book Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia, in safe and unsafe version)

  1. Alexandra Alter, “Is This Man Cheating on His Wife?” Wall Street Journal, August 10, 2007, accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB118670164592393622
  2. 1 Timothy 6:17-19
  3. The note is on display at the George Eastman House in Rochester N.Y. The account of separating the house by rollers to insert a midsection is related by any tour guide.
  4. Isaiah 65:21-23
  5. Revelation 2:10
  6. Christina Sommers, Twitter feed, February 14, 2018, accessed March 28, 2018, https://twitter.com/chsommers/status/963975848540954625?lang=en
  7. This is not the exact quote, which I have misplaced, but it is just as apropo. He writes the complaint frequently. See, for example, https://www.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10213630677134011&id=1016253912. Contact him via Twitter and ask. Take note of his banner, which inspired a certain plebian (me) to say “it really puts the ‘ass’ into astronaut. He told me they were not astronauts, but female fighter ACES. Yeah…whatever.
  8. Zechariah 12:3
  9. 1 Samuel 5:6
  10. “The Court Restricted Dennis Christensen’s Right to Become Acquainted With the Case Materials,” Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, December 19, 2017 accessed March 28, 2018, https://www.jw-russia.org/news/17121911-277.html The Court relented on this restriction two months later: http://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/180228a.html
  11. The interview survives only as a YouTube submission, uploaded April 26, 2012, by JW Brothers, accessed March 21, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldybL1foBE0. I would prefer the source be more precise, but it dovetails well with contemporary print RT.com articles, such as “Will Jehovah's Witnesses be Banned in Russia?” RT.com, August 11, 2010, accessed March 19, 2018, https://www.rt.com/news/will-jehovah-s-witnesses-be-banned-in-russia/
  12. Esther 7:1-6
  13. Steven Lee Myers, The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin (New York: Knoph, 2014) 24
  14. “LAÏCITÉ and Religious Freedom: A Coalition of NGOs Questions France at the United Nations,” Human Rights Without Frontiers, January 16, 2018, accessed March 28, 2018, http://hrwf.eu/laicite-and-religious-freedom-a-coalition-of-ngos-questions-france-at-the-united-nations
  15. See tweet of March 7, 2018, by Stephen Hassan, accessed March 21, 2018, https://twitter.com/CultExpert/status/971553486080040960
  16. Matthew 10:5-42
  17. Platon Prohorov, “When God is Ridnessed,” Religiopolis, May 10, 2017, accessed March 27, 2018, http://www.religiopolis.org/news/11474-togda-bog-otvorachivaetsya.html. For English translation, see https://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/170510e.html
  18. A parody of such is portrayed in an ebook by this author: Tom Irregardless and Me (smashwords.com Search: Tom Harley, 2016) Chapter 12
  19. Matthew 11:16-19
  20. “Jehovah Will Treat His Loyal One in a Special Way,” Jehovah’s Witnesses Broadcasting, 2016, accessed March 28, 2018, https://tv.jw.org/#en/mediaitems/pub-jwbcov_201605_11_VIDEO
  21. Daniel 4:33 This chapter of Daniel figures prominently in Bible chronology and Witness detractors sometimes seek to undermine it on that account. There is debate among secular sources as to the date of fulfillment of this verse.
  22. What Does the Bible Really Teach? (Wallkill: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 2014) 106
  23. Matthew 28:13
  24. 2 Timothy 2:18
  25. The Octavius of Minucius Felix, Roberts-Donaldson English [from Greek] Translation, c160-250 A.D, chapters VIII, XI, XII, compiled by Peter Kirby, accessed March 28, 2018, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/octavius.html.
  26. Zechariah 8:23
  27. Revelation 22:20-21

00

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)