“Tom, you’re on here quite often justifying or defending some pretty horrible doctrine. I get it, it’s your faith and you’re probably a decent guy IRL so I hope one day you’ll find a religion that won’t require you to perform logical contortions to rationalize your adherence to it.”
Actually, you don’t get it. Of course I see the point your community makes. But you make it so persistently and to the exclusion of all else that I say “Okay, those bases are covered” and I focus on the all else. You are a community that plays and perseverates over the movie bloopers and in time imagines that the bloopers were the movie itself. I am struck by the exuberance your pals display in re-embracing the life they once left. Most long-standing residents of that life will not share that exuberance, I think. It is as though they sing the Vioxx ‘It’s a Beautiful Morning!’ song, forgetting that the FDA ultimately pulled that product because it kills people.
I have no problem with saying the Jehovah’s Witnesses governing arrangement makes mistakes. But (we have many trees on our property) it’s like when we contracted the tree trimmer and my wife kept pointing out more and more flaws. “Don’t look so hard,” the fellow told her. “You’ll cut them all down.” It is like that with people anywhere. Taken to extremes, one will dismantle any organization of any sort.
Look, everyone today describes the other side as delusional and even hate-filled. It’s just the way people are. I don’t take it personally. We are spiritual enemies not because of CSA. You have probably done us a favor in that by triggering such 5/19 Watchtower statements as “the reproach falls upon the abuser,” which effectively solves the problem. We are spiritual enemies because you have reversed course on the ‘everything else,’ trading in the diamonds for the turds. The CSA stuff was turds all along, but every group is pulling out its hair trying to cope with it, many less effectively than us, and at any rate, it is not the big picture. It is but a component of the big picture, overall a very small one. If you focus on any tree of the forest long enough, it becomes the forest. Your points I see all the time. Many of my points I have never seen anyone make but me. Even the Watchtower organization itself, which has a “penchant for privacy” as one reporter put it, does not make them. I take for granted going into your community that I will lose. I just want to get another view on the table. Any group with a narrow focus becomes myopic over time. I just seek to counter that.
It is a solid base hit—even a double or a triple—with the publication of the Atlantic article and opposers are crowing as they seldom crow. Other sources have picked up on it, such as the New York Daily News. As for me, I would just as soon not see such articles. Given that they exist, however, this one I liked. It helped me with the listings. I have many times interacted with some of these characters, mostly through Twitter, without knowing exactly who they were, where they came from, and what were the relationships between them. Now I know.
I find myself, much to my surprise and even shock, trading tweets with some of the most celebrated ex-Witness opponents on the planet (and seriously getting under their skin, in some cases). I don’t hang out there. I don’t engage overmuch—though I guess I can hardly say that I don’t engage at all. After I learned that one reporter used an anti-Witness forum as his practically sole source, I went there to see if I could leave material that contrasts with what he otherwise finds monolithically. I post long articles there. Each one produces a flurry of protests and I briefly answer a few of them before disappearing. It is the same way on Twitter. Once in a while there is a mighty storm, but most of the time there is nothing at all and I am chatting about the local weather and relaying cat and dog gifs like everyone else.
Crossing swords with these folk is not exactly what a Witness is expected to do. I approach it, like Paul approached the Corinthians, with fear and trembling. One misstep and your head is handed to you on a platter. I wouldn’t dare do it if I didn’t have 15 years of communicating in writing under my belt, not specializing in, but also not avoiding controversial topics. Some of these characters goad and taunt, I think in hopes of provoking an intemperate response. You’d better not give them one or you and what you represent are toast. To be sure, I have blundered a few times, but not beyond recovery. You must not respond in anger even if your blood boils. Neither be too sympathetic, because that is inevitably thrown back in your face as hypocritical. It is the mark of zealotry that you cannot agree with part of a position. You must endorse all of it, otherwise you are said to hate that position and even whoever makes it. The trick is for your blood not to boil—to regard these ones as opponents, but not enemies—even as some of them express the most virulent hostility to you. You answer them evenly and dispassionately.
“Yeah, well if you could see things though their eyes, you would be hostile, too, you delusional fool!” someone will retort. Who can say? Never expound on what you do not know. Refrain from assigning motives even if they seem to you crystal clear. You may be wrong. Indeed, some of them describe themselves as whistleblowers. Why deny them the status? Having blown the whistle and effecting some change with it, they could return to the fold if they wanted to, even if disfellowshipped. What! Even some of pedophiles disfellowshipped have been allowed to return and the elders forever more have to watch them, for one cannot read hearts, so these “whistleblowers” could not? All one must to is “repent” and “turn around” and “produce fruits that befit repentance”—manifested by doing and saying the right thing, giving no further evidence of causing trouble, and enduring months or even years of sitting through meetings and afterwards in silence. The “whistleblowers” are not going to “make trouble,” because they already made it and it turned out to be just the ticket for solving a vexing problem. It could happen.
Of course, why it may not happen is that they might insist upon a heroes’ welcome. They might insist upon thereafter being a “power broker” in the congregation. What they also would “repent” over would be “pushing ahead,” and speaking injuriously of congregation governance. But they could say that there were driven to distraction by what they had heard or experienced and will from this point on “behave” and it would all be smoothed over in time. Time heals most everything that wants to be healed.
The reasons they become “enemies” is not simply due to any whistleblowing, but because they quickly progress to the following, as illustrated by a remark of Lloyd’s:
“And there’s Tom’s approach in a nutshell: join a religion, even if it doesn’t make sense, and just hope eventually your questions will be answered & everything will fall neatly into place. Never mind that people of other religions do the same, wasting their lives on nonsense.”
There it is. He threw out the baby with the bathwater. In fact, it does make sense and is not nonsense. He once thought so, too. It is one of the few things in the world today that does make sense—that is the reason that Witnesses were attracted to Bible teachings in the first place. It is the reason that they stick to it despite trials and even blunders. Current blunders, if they be that, and some courts have said they are, present the framework that Jehovah’s Witnesses often call ‘the Truth’ through its least flattering light. But it is still the same framework. Lloyd illustrates what
Professor David Bromley, author of The Politics of Religious Apostasy, wrote—that “individuals who elect to leave a chosen faith must then become critical of their religion in order to justify their departure…Others may ask, if the group is as transparently evil as he now contends, why did he espouse its cause in the first place? In the process of trying to explain his own seduction and to confirm the worst fears about the group, the apostate is likely to paint a caricature of the group that is shaped more by his current role as apostate than by his actual experience in the group.”
If a court case goes against you, you are duly chastened. But that does not mean that the entire picture has been seen, nor that another court might see things another way. It frequently happens—so many times that one could even stretch matters a little and say that it tacks in the light of ever-brightening approximations of truth, using verbiage that the Watchtower itself is fond of. What about the classic Supreme Court case that went against us in the 1940s, after which Jehovah’s Witnesses were accosted and beaten up so that even Eleanor Roosevelt had to speak up in their behalf, and then three years later, that same Court, with a few new members and a few others chastened at the brutality they had unleashed, reversed itself in the Gobitis decision regarding flag salute? Courts are the best humans can do, but they are not impartial. Everyone knows it. If they were impartial, confirming a new Supreme Court Justice could be done in an afternoon. Justices are swayed by interpretation of the law which is, in turn, swayed by pre-existing ideology. And no ideology is so white-hot as that which accompanies the subject of child sexual abuse, the plague of the planet.
The civil court is not so much a forum to establish truth but one to assign blame. The two goals overlap, but they are not the same. A conciliatory tone, for example, would seem to be a prerequisite in a forum seeking truth, but in an adversarial court forum, one must eschew it, for it will only result in getting beaten over the head with it by the other party. It is the nature of an adversarial legal system.
Yes, one is chastened upon losing a court case. On the other hand, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia did not need the Supreme Court declaring it extremist and the equivalent of ISIS (the only other officially designated extremist group) to know whether they were extremist or not. They did not need the Russian cops being told: ‘There are bad people inside. Do with them what you like,’ to determine whether they were bad people or not. It is the same when a Western civil court rules against them in a child abuse matter. They know the original intent of whatever record-keeping exists—to monitor some abhorrent conduct, in accord with Romans 2:21: “You, the one saying ‘do not steal,’ do you steal? You, the one saying ‘do not commit adultery,’ do you commit adultery?” They know, too, the intention was to protect their general community, so that molesters could not slip quietly out of one congregation and into another (as they could anywhere else). They know these things—even if they are misrepresented, sometimes deliberately, as attempts to protect pedophiles.
As Jehovah’s Witnesses experienced Bible teachings come together to convincingly answer deep questions of life—questions answered nowhere else—to them it was like a jigsaw puzzle assembled. They thereafter look at the mountain vista from the box cover replicated before them and are not quickly swayed by opponents saying they put it together wrong—even if there are some frayed pieces. This is especially true if that opponent’s own puzzle lies unassembled in the box on the upper shelf of his closet.
That consideration will be the predominant factor for most Jehovah’s Witnesses as they respond to what is here undeniably sordid. Child sexual abuse is the growth industry of the planet. Nearly all groups of size have suffered ship damage attempting to navigate those shoals. The common view now for any organization in which it has not been revealed is that it is only a matter of time. See how the United Nations, for example, is a pedophile haven—wear a blue helmet and nobody questions your authority or intention.
Lloyd will not return, not because he has spotlighted something unsavory, but because he has responded to the JW ship running into the shoals by burning every part of it. Is it really so that the Witness world is the one that “makes no sense?” One glance at the news will reveal that it is his world that makes no sense. Is it really so that religion is a crutch of which we have no need? The premise of the question is wrong. It is indeed a crutch. The flawed premise is that we have no need of one. In his day, Ronald Reagan was arguably the most influential person on earth. Ten years later, in the throes of Alzheimer’s, he didn’t know who he was. Will anyone maintain that they need no crutch in the face of a pathetic reality as that?
I approach online “in fear and trembling,” not just because these characters will rip you to shreds if you say something dumb, or because you are invariably battling a dozen of them at once, or because everything you say they think is dumb, but also because I do not know the reaction of my own people. Many of them, if not most, will think a Witness should not be doing what I am doing, and they will give me the fisheye.
Will I one day hear from the Witness organization: “What are you doing, TrueTom?! You’re messing everything up!?” If so, I will recalibrate, for I do not think that I am above them. It is no more than acceding to the authority of the coach, the teacher, the boss, the mentor, the union steward—something that used to be the most unremarkable thing in the world and is now portrayed as domination by those who would abuse. You can over-play the victimization card.
I am very glad—and did not plan it this way at all—that I wrote two timely books (four altogether) and put portions online so that, should I choose to respond to a tweet, I can also link to something relevant, effectively answering someone’s 50 words with my 1000. Let me tell you that gets rid of trolls in a hurry.
It started out as such a small project. As our people experienced problems in Russia, I wrote a few posts about it in my blog. In time, it occurred to me to assemble them for the record. Emily Baran, a non-Witness, wrote the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia from their beginning up till 2007. Nobody has written an account of the present happenings, so I figured that I would do it.
All I had in minds was something on the order of a brochure. However, as opposition in Russia intensified, the precise reasons for opposition were never stated, leaving reporters to venture educated guesses as to just what Russia has against them. Putin himself doesn’t seem to understand it, stating that he doesn’t know why Jehovah’s Witnesses are persecuted since “they are Christians, too.” So I decided to state them myself, along with how each might be defended in Parts 2 and 3 of what became a book—with references endnoted because that is what one does with history.
Thus the book is not only a chronicle of history (Part 1). It is also a witness to persons who might not know much about us. It is what I would say were I on a return visit there. It is literally what I would say, in many cases. One personal friend said about my first ebook, Tom Irregardless and Me that he was having a hard time following along until a light went off in his head: “Oh. Tom writes like he speaks,” after which he had no trouble.
The defense portion of Dear Mr. Putin – Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia grew and grew and is as large as the history portion. Moreover, everything is interwoven. When I put it out there, I thought my book-writing days were done. However, opposition that had taken a pause in the West kicked up again—I found myself responding to that in other posts—and presently I thought to package them into another book: TrueTom vs the Apostates!
The two were always meant to stand separately. I didn’t think of Dear Mr. Putin while I was writing TrueTom. However, they will end up sharing a few common chapters, even though both have already been released—you can do that with ebooks—they will share common material because, in a spiritual sense, the situation in Russia and the situation in the West are the same. It is a good cop/ bad cop situation. The good cop may really not want you to fall into the hands of the bad cop, because he knows how bad that bad cop can be. But both cops have the same goal—that Jehovah’s Witnesses cease being Jehovah’s Witnesses and that kingdom message that they alone preach should stop.
Will my own people upbraid me? Their preference, sometimes stated strongly, is for Witnesses to not go cavorting about online, even if as self-proclaimed sheriffs determined to drain the internet swamp—perhaps especially so, because they always look foolish in so doing. The internet is not the congregation and cannot be made to behave like one. But for me, it will be sort of like what Brother Sivulsky in Russia, from a far more secure perch organizationally, but from a far more dangerous one physically, said. Just after the Russian ban went into effect, he was interviewed from afar by American media: “Are you putting yourself in danger just by speaking with me?” the reporter asked. His answer:
“I don’t know—to be frank, I have no fear. if something will happen—okay it will happen—what I can do? What I am telling only the truth—then why I should fear? If something happens, okay, we will face this problem. For me it is easier because my family was exiled to Siberia. My father spent seven years in prison. My mother spent four years in prison. And I also myself spent one and a half years in prison for military service objection. That’s why I know what does it mean to be persecuted and I have no fear.”
I should be at least as courageous (even though my father did not spend seven years in prison), because my brothers in Russia are showing that quality in spades, and everyone else wonders if, when it comes to them, they will handle it as well. “You can’t do it on your own strength,” comes the scriptural answer. “Nor could they. They lean upon God for strength.”
Upbraiding from my own folks may not happen. When a widow asked me to give the funeral talk of a close friend at the Kingdom Hall, I said that I would if it were allowed—there would be no problem at a funeral home but, neither being a current elder or servant, it might not be allowed at the Kingdom Hall. It was. I’ve been around for a while and people like me. The day I arrived to give it, however, one elder known for crossing ‘t’s and dotting ‘i’s asked me if I was speaking from the supplied funeral talk outline that most speak from. I said I was not. He was not real pleased about that, but after the talk he reversed his position. Another elder present, a former Bethel member, told me afterwards that Bethel has no problem departing from customary practice whenever it can be improved upon. An older man can chance it more readily than a young man, for whom it would likely come off as immodest. You don’t have to speak the healthful words verbatim. You have to speak the pattern of the healthful words, as Paul told Timothy.
See: Tweetstorm Over the Atlantic and/or
Lessons to be Learned
Included in the eBook; TrueTom vs the Apostates!