Witnesses and Higher Education—Coming Up on the GB Update List?

Huh! Ocala invites me on a Bible study he is conducting for about a month. Turns out to be a ‘textbook’ study, exactly what HQ would enact if they wanted to demonstrate one.

Unprompted, the man said how, in a moment of spiritual desperation, he had got to his knees and prayed. ‘God, if you exist, please—I only seek to be happy.’ Within the hour, Ocala had knocked on his door and made his acquaintance.

So, I said to Ocala later, ‘Had you prayed for a Bible study?’ He told me he had. ‘I’ve read about these things happening, but it never happened to me,’ he added.

Ocala asks me at the study if I have anything to add. I put in some remark, something grounded to the theme that does not launch off into another direction, upon which he says, “Thank you for that personal expression.” If the student thinks that a little stilted (he may not), he attributes it to Ocala’s African background. He does not connect it to the mannerisms of the Witness broadcast channel.

Ocala appeared out of nowhere a year or two ago as a full-blown graduate student on scholarship at the local university. So unusual is this among the congregations that some did not quite know what to make of him. The brother I have dubbed ‘Barnabas,’ in answer to one of his public meeting comments, mentioned his publisher cards had arrived from the home congregation and elders in African. Congregations keep such minimal records. That way, no scam artist can just breeze in and pull the wool over everyone’s eyes (as they can most anywhere else). Since then, Ocala has established himself as solid in every way, now pioneering and a ministerial servant. Few have a more steadfast ministry. He doesn’t overcomplicate things.

***

They’re all rather trivial matters—all these GB updates of late—adjustments to the ministry, changing norms of dress and grooming. Still, they are changes to long-standing policy, so people make a big fuss over them. A brother at our hall, commenting on fast-moving changes we all must adjust to, mentioned “sisters wearing pants,” (did he also mention no ties?) as though aghast that someone had run the chariot into a ditch.

With several of such updates in a row, people start anticipating the next one. What other thing that we have not done will we start doing? Might it be a lightening up over ‘higher education?’ Not that such has ever been outlawed—how could it be?—but you can find yourself running a gauntlet of peer pressure should you choose to go there. Might there come an underlining that it is a decision of the family head, leave him be to make it, and don’t think everyone else has to put in their two cents on whatever that one decides.

Witness publications have not had a kind word for higher education. Just this past week, the Watchtower study included a paragraph of Marcia, who “was offered a four-year scholarship at a university. But I wanted to pursue spiritual goals.” She didn’t throw caution to the wind. She “chose to attend a technical training school to learn a trade that would support me in my ministry,” and counts it “one of the best decisions I have ever made.” (Feb 2024 Wt) It is an example of the article’s title: ‘Keep Following Jehovah’s Guidance.’ That’s not really trashing university, of course, but it certainly is not presenting it as the preferred goal.

They are not wrong to be leery of the place. Moreover, who else has the guts to discourage it? Most faiths think it an honor to have churches bristling with lettered people. Most faiths say, ‘Christians may have started ‘uneducated and ordinary,’ (Acts 4:13) but look at how they pulled themselves up! Most faiths replace Paul’s encouragement to be a ‘workman, with nothing to be ashamed of’ (2 Timothy 2:15) with ‘a professional—so you don’t have to be ashamed.’ Not many are like the Witnesses, who expect the passage of 1 Corinthians 1:26 to hold just as true today as it did then: “For you see his calling of you, brothers, that there are not many wise in a fleshly way, not many powerful, not many of noble birth.” They don’t care if people sneer at them for it. Train yourself for a skill that is both portable and scalable, they recommend. That way, you have time for the ministry.

Their caution is validated in the remarks of Great Courses lecturer James Hall, who covers the topic, ‘Philosophy of Religion.’ A university professor himself, he relates how, “I have parents who come to the university perplexed and amazed that young Susie or young Johnny, who has gone off to the university and has come home for that first holiday, isn't the same that they used to be. And all I can do is lower my glasses to the end of my nose and look over my glasses and say, Why did you send them to university in the first place?”

Got it? The purpose of university is not to accept a student’s childhood values as a given. The purpose is to overhaul them. It’s all agreeable to Hall, who says you send them there “to grow up . . . to be exposed, to expand their horizons, to increase the scale of their life,” with the implicit understanding that he, as faculty member, he, who “lowers his glasses to the end of his nose and looks over those glasses” at the plebian parents, is just the one to do it.

Now, no problem here with growing up. Who doesn’t want that? Go for it. But, is this the setting in which to do it? Here, Hall sits atop the repository of knowledge that has collectively made the world what is—and he should be the one to expand those horizons and increase those scales? Only the educated can look upon the trainwreck that is modern society and congratulate themselves on their understanding. Spit back what Hall tells you if you want a passing grade—not necessarily verbatim, but you’d better not stray too far from it. The ‘safest’ correlation to his remarks will be what was said of P.D.Q. Bach, that his music bore a relationship with that of a certain great composer, and the name of that relationship was ‘identity.’ He wasn’t one for plagiarizing, but he did believe in recycling.

Ocala doesn’t know anything about this. It is not something he has encountered, or if he has, he weathered it so effortlessly that he does not remember encountering it. In his homeland, he tells me, additional education after primary school is common, common enough that Witness youths encourage and stabilize one another. Some go “off the rails,” (his expression), to be sure, but some go off the rails in any setting. Jobs are scarce where he comes from, he tells me, and employers take full advantage of the fact, reminding their workers at every opportunity that they are easily replaceable. He doesn’t yet know if he will stay in the States or return home upon graduation. He has a quiet confidence about himself and does not appear to be one easy to shove around. But, he is hurt when people think he does what he does ‘because he wants the good life,’ and he tells me sometimes people do think that.

Hall and the Witness organization are in agreement on one thing, though for different reasons. That answer to Hall’s question as to why parents sent their youngsters to university? He continues, “I'm afraid sometimes the only answer is, ‘Well, because that's what you do,’ or, ‘Well, all of our neighbors were sending their children to university so we figured maybe we [had] better too.’” Going with the crowd, in other words. Hall doesn’t want children to go for this reason. He wants them to purposefully go so he can mess with their heads, expanding them beyond whatever parochial values they absorbed from back home, such as Bible training. The Witness organization doesn’t want them to go because ‘everyone else is doing it,’ either. They’d rather the parents not give Hall and his cohorts their shot; head youngsters off into the full-time ministry instead. For all the furor of ‘anti-cultists,’ it is the university, not the Witness world, in which newbies are cut off 24/7 from all that once stabilized them—a classic technique of ‘brainwashers.’

You can look like roadkill when you stand against the common stampede. Witness HQ will never stop cautioning about university, I don’t think. They will never recommend liberal arts degrees. They will never stop recommending technical training and trade schools. But they may yield more to the view that secular education is a family decision, not something to be second-guessed by others, much less micro-managed. There is just too much variety in people and circumstances. Maybe that will be on one of those future updates. It may be happening already. Another youngster in the congregation went off to college about the time Ocala arrived and nobody had anything to say about it at all; I checked with his mom. Will he evade Hall or even stand up to him? Maybe. Maybe not. But it turns out that Hall has cousins in all walks of life, trying to shoot down biblical values wherever you happen to be.

 

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What of All These Changes in Recent Months? Part 3

Q:  “With all of these changes that have happened so fast, are Jehovah's witnesses slowly morphing into mainstream religion?”

No, but they are learning to adapt to a changing world. As long as you can do this without abandoning core principles, you’re okay.

All changes from Part 1 and Part 2 are relatively trivial things. One that is not has to do with discipline policies, which ex-Witnesses seek to portray, with some success, as draconian. For the time being, ‘activist’ woke courts, the type that try to mandate ‘inclusion,’ rule against the Witnesses for their policies to stay ‘no part of the world.’ Higher courts, where the woke mindset has not yet permeated, overturn those rulings.

Already, Jehovah’s Witnesses were, from a review of Joel Engardio’s documentary Knocking, “an excellent example, perhaps our last hope, of how groups with strongly polarized ideas can yet coexist peacefully.” Despite their public visits, Jehovah's Witnesses are a "live and let live" religion. Their "weapons" are ideas only. Tell them "no" and they go away. Sure, they try to be persuasive, but it's still only words. They don't afterward attempt to legislate their beliefs into law, so as to force people to live their way, much less resort to violence.

But now, a world that increasing stresses ‘inclusion,’ the very opposite of the scriptural directive to remain ‘no part of the world’ presents new challenges. JWs must revisit their policies of discipline, as these are now under attack. Can they be tweaked without being gutted? Turns out they can. The result is somethng that both improves the Witnesses and permits them to navigate the greater world’s changing standards.

The judge that ruled against Witnesses in Norway observed that he found it perfectly reasonable that teenage boyfriends and girlfriends are going to have sex with one another. You can be sure his ruling would have been different if he did not find such ‘perfectly reasonable.’ He may still have thought the Witnesses’ discipline policies harsh, but he would not likely have found them illegal. It was once commonplace for parents to be greatly concerned that their teens might be sleeping around. It no longer is. These are the shoals the Witness organization must navigate. Temporarily, with new policies on how to deal with teens veering from the family values, they have found a way to do so.

I like that Knocking quote because it presents Jehovah’s Witnesses as the most progressive of organizations, a description we don’t ordinarily enjoy. They are “perhaps our last hope, of how groups with strongly polarized ideas can yet coexist peacefully.” It is axiomatic in this world that ‘strongly polarized views’ in time results in violence. JWs have disproved this ‘axiom.’ Are they given credit for it? No. But they should be. With recent reports of ISIS taking credit for the horrific attack on that Moscow collosium, I posted that several times in ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses; Searching for the Why’ I had observed that one would think ISIS would have taught the Russian government what extremism is.

Far from JWs being the intolerant people who finally received comeuppance in a Norwegian court, as opposers try to present it, they are already bastions of peaceful coexistence who encounter problems with their discipline policies amidst a world that increasingly despises discipline. In the process of adapting, they end up making themselves better.

 

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What of all these Changes in Recent Months? Part 2

See Part 1:

Vomodog’s crew are beside themselves with, ‘These guys are afraid to tie their shoe unless their organization gives them permission!’ That’s how they’re responding to new changes—which changes should smooth out Witness life going forward, but it is not the draw to prior Witnesses that some in the congregation seem to think it is.

Then again, nothing ever will be. For the most part, Vic and chums have gone on full ‘Search and Destroy’ mode, not to be placated even were there to be apologies for changes not made before. Not saying that any are in the works, or ought be. Brother Winder had it right. You don’t have to apologize for previous understandings made in good conscience. It may even blow up In your face if you do (my point, not his). Apologies these days are taken as admissions of guilt, to be made use of in future campaigns. I think of how President Obama, in the early days of his presidency, went on a campaign of what was roundly ridiculed as his ‘Apology Tours.’

Still, will no good come of it among the ex-Witnesses at all? They are crazy as can be over on the ex places I have seen, woke to the nines, many giving the impression that they think the world is a near-paradise and all would know it were it not for JWs with their ‘scare tactics.’ I mean, someone over there must have both oars in the water! Maybe some of them will appreciate the bigger picture.

I don’t think the Witnesses’ governing body particularly likes saying, ‘Okay, now you can do this or that.’ But apparently they have come to feel sheeplike people need that from time to time. In 2017, they said beards are fine where local norms don’t get in the way. I think they were dismayed that so few took them up on it. I think it is with a certain annoyance that they did a later GB update, complete with bells, whistles, video history, and chariot, to say, “Look! We have no issue with beards!

‘Annoyance’ might be too strong a word. How can you be annoyed at the characteristics of the animal God has selected to represent those he favors? If annoyance is the word, they may be annoyance at themselves, for not having realized and adjusted to it long ago, annoyance that they allowed pesky matters to build up so until it looks like an ‘Old-JW Going out of Business Sale’ when done all at once. It may be annoyance that they didn’t defuse these things more gradually, and instead, postponed them for so long that, when they finally tackle the job, Vomodog paints them as jailers easing up on their charges.

Humans overswing in nearly everything. Eventually, the consequences of overswing comes back to bite. This prompts them to modify that swing. To take a trivial matter first, why did Witnesses hold on to ties and dresses as long as they did? There was a time when everyone wore ties and dresses to attend church. Even going downtown shopping was an occasion for men to don a tie and women to wear a dress.

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What of All These Changes in Recent Months? - Part 1

What of all these changes in recent months? 

Jehovah’s Witnesses have counted their time in the ministry for 100 years. Now they don’t do it any more.

Next, it was beards. Jehovah’s Witnesses have been beardless since Russell days. Suddenly they start sprouting them.

Then it is changes on how disfellowshipped ones are treated should they return to the Kingdom Hall. And also a newer, softer, way of treating minors who veer from the straight paths in which they were raised.

And then—knock me over with a feather!—ties at meetings and in the ministry are placed on the chopping block. Forget about them if you want to! Look, I’ve seen photos of our brothers striding through the jungle with ties affixed!—and suddenly they’re optional! (A few shed them both at the next meeting and occasion for field service, but most did not.)

And then, sisters may choose to wear slacks. Again, a few did. Most didn’t.

I mean, that elder I love to tease—I told him I had expected him to show up in a Steelers sweatshirt! (which he did not)

More on the horizon? I’ve got my eye on that slick two-seater sports car, just in case. I also might fix the starred out L-word in Tom Irregardless and Me: “L*ck.” Wine glasses filled up (with Coke) just awaiting people to toast.

It’s even a bit surreal how fast things are changing. 

Vic Vomodog (we used to pull together in the work!) contacted me recently. He thinks that with all these changes, now he can:

Give me a second . . . . yeah, it is a little crazy. But it still works well.

These days, a long-time favorite quote of mine is coming into play again: “It is remarkable that persons who speculate the most boldly often conform with the most perfect quietude to the external regulations of society.” (Nathaniel Hawthorne—The Scarlet Letter)

I instantly thought of Witnesses upon reading that quote. Nobody ‘speculates’ more boldly than Jehovah’s Witnesses, They turn established paradigms of religious, philosophical, and secular life upon their head. At the same time, with what they regard as petty—matters of style, and so forth—they “conform with the most perfect quietude to the external regulations of [their] society.”

It just makes life easier when people don’t go kicking against the goads over every silly little thing. And so, few of Jehovah’s Witnesses do. They save their kicking for things important. For trivial things, they go with the flow.

However, this can result in silly situations in which people resist innocuous trends of the greater world because nobody wants to be the first to make an issue over something minor—and the first to do so is frowned upon by the others. We’re clearing out a lot of baggage now that might have been cleared out long ago but for our ‘sheeplike’ nature. It is a little embarrassing, because it does leave you open to sneering from Vic and his buddies, who have opted for a more independent model, but—well, sheep is the animal God chooses to represent those people he favors—not cats that cannot be herded.

Times change. If you can change with them without sacrificing any core principles, that’s the thing to do. It makes life easier. You find yourself not taking a hard stand over things that don’t matter. Such things have built up over the years. They’re being cleared out now.

To be continued here.

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You Can Remain Confident During Uncertain Times

Now that Jehovah’s Witnesses are no longer the ‘counting time’ religion or the ‘no beard’ religion, it is almost as though a rebranding is taking place.

Any time the Watchtower trots out Haggai and Zechariah, as was done in the 1/28/24 study article, ‘You Can Remain Confident During Uncertain Times,’ you know it’s a reinvigorating work going on.

From para 7: ‘Jehovah wants us to focus on the lifesaving work of making disciples. As mentioned in paragraph 7, Haggai urged Jehovah’s people to make a fresh start in their sacred service, as if they were laying the temple’s foundation again.’ [bolding mine]

Clear out some trash, just like the ‘messenger preparing the way did’ long ago, and you can tackle the building work once more. Doesn’t negate what’s been done before, but it is still time for a ‘fresh start.’

Brother Splane asked in the latest Update, ‘Did you ever work a street and nobody is home, then pass by Sunday afternoon and notice a car in every drive?’ Yeah, I did notice that. It used to drive me nuts. Why are we visiting when people aren’t home?

Other publishers in that Update expressed happiness that, ‘Now, all I have to focus on is starting conversations.’ It suggests the question, ‘Well, what did they have to focus on before that they no longer do, a focus that interfered with starting conversations?’ ‘Counting time’ comes to mind. The friends used to have to do it, now they don’t. One reason Sunday after the meeting has long been unpopular for field service is that you can’t count much time that way. Better to go out on a weekday morning where you can generally count much more time. If few people are home—well, at least we got to count more time. 

That’s done. Finished. ‘Now all we have to do is think about starting conversations.’ Maybe an even greater ‘heresy’ will happen later with regard to evening worship, where a half hour of activity can produce more conversations than 2 hours of when people aren’t home. Plus, you reach a different sort of people, often more relaxed because the day is done.

Maybe the end of suggested presentations also factors in. It’s long been stated their use is optional (I kicked them to the curb long ago), but many friends seemed to feel it was all but mandatory to use them, lest you appear to be saying ‘contemptible bread’ of the produced food. 

No more. You can’t focus on those suggested presentations even if you want to. They’re not there.

Tom Whitepebble may be on to something when he suggests the Governing Body must sometimes be aghast at what they have unleashed as regards following men. It’s hard to find just the right emphasis—one person says, ‘Thanks for the new rule!’ while his neighbor says, ‘Huh? Did you say something?’ So, they strive for the right emphasis, but do they always find it?

‘Look, we said facial hair is not an issue,’ they said back in 2017. ‘Nobody listened to us! So now we’ll devote an entire Update, complete with video and chariot, to show we’re serious about it—we don’t care about beards!’

Will we see parallel developments in other areas?

 

None of the above was the overall focus of the article, though. In the first paragraph was the statement:

“You may be concerned about your family’s safety because of unstable political conditions, persecution, or opposition to the preaching work. Are you facing any of these issues? If so, you will benefit from considering how Jehovah helped the ancient Israelites when they were confronted with similar problems.” The discussion that followed was the challenged of those released from Babylon to rebuild worship in their former home. They got off to a quick start, but then languished, cowed by that day’s counterpart of the above trio.

“Unstable political conditions” is among that trio of woes that cause Christians problems today. In country after country, the political right and left are at each others’ throats to the point that civil war is floated as a possibility.

The world is run by crazy people. Lunatics of whatever side are no longer marginalized but rise to the top. Any time something whacky happens, ‘conspiracy’ is always a possible reason. If sane people ran the world, it would not be so: one of those things would be just ‘one of those things,’ but not with crazy people running the show. I’ve heard people say that, given the lunacy of those in charge, any conspiracy theory will be accepted on sight until proven wrong, an 180 degree reversal from how things have always been.

Whenever you undertake a challenging work, you want to make sure you have good footing. The above trio might suggest our footing is not very solid at all. So I liked the article’s encouragement to stay focused on what truly is good footing, really the mainstays of Christian faith: gathering together, prayer, scripture reading and meditation, and speaking to others of God’s purposes.

 

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The End of Counting Time in the Ministry

On the final month of reporting time, I reported 50,000 hours to the congregation secretary. Might as well go out with a bang. 50K in a month not physically possible, you say? “Go to the ant, you lazy one.”

The guys that made the model for counting time in the ministry came from a factory era in which, when there was nothing to do, you’d better nonetheless look busy in case the boss happened along. This being the model for work, it seemed natural that it might be applied to ‘working for the Lord,’ and so they did apply it. It would take a future generation, raised under different circumstances, to say, ‘Jehovah doesn’t work that way.’

It is an explanation I’ve heard to account for how we (Jehovah’s Witnesses) once counted time and now we don’t. It’s as good as any. At any rate, I never saw the change coming. But there at 2023 the annual meeting was discussed how it’s not for anyone, whether an elder from HQ or not, to monitor another’s service to God; that’s a matter between the individual and God. It is obviously so. But I never saw it coming. Nor did anyone else I spoke to, and I know a lot of people.

Any time you change any practice with a hundred year history, it takes some guts. Counting time worked well enough for the longest while. In the days of print-only, it was well to know how many of this or that item was placed so you could print up more. You’d get an overall view of how the ministry was going in this or that area, important if you were trying to live up to the commission that ‘this good news of the kingdom will be preached into all the inhabited earth for a witness to all nations, and then the end will come.’ (Matt 24:14) But what will you do when someone shows an online digital video? Does that mean it is used up and you have to make another one?

Any model wears out in time. What will the new one mean? For starters, it will aid informal witnessing. And if removes once and for all any notion of being ‘on duty’ or ‘off duty.’ It also completely obliterates the instinct to compare one’s service to that of another’s. Nate Nazi used to grumble about the type of service he phrased as ‘driving around all day avoiding people.’ This type service used to rankle those who preferred more bang for the buck, boots on the ground, maximize those contacted per hour. Now it doesn’t matter. Let each do as he/she sees fit and/or is more comfortable with. Certainly there is nothing wrong with spending much time in the company of the friends, mixing service with socializing, even with errands, and with searching for ‘long shot’ return visits. It just used to rankle those who all but supposed efficiency was a fruitage of the spirit and who’d rather devote their non-contact time to other activities. ‘Always work at the pace of the slowest publisher,’ one CO advised, apparently wanting to accommodate the greatest number in the public ministry. Alas, one can worry he has no idea how slow we can go. Now it doesn’t matter. Let the fast ones work fast, the slow ones slow. Let each team up with like-minded and/or like-abled sometimes, polar opposites other times, without fretting about how it affects one’s field service report.

Regular pioneers continue to count their time. They are now likened, as are special pioneers, COs, build servants, etc, to the Nazarites who voluntarily took on a special vow.

Informal witnessing, the way we are being encouraged to do it today, calls for restraint. Toss the ball of conversation; see whether they toss it back to you. If they do, advance it by a degree. If they don’t, move on. Like with Jesus at the well, you do not lead off with a question—that makes it ‘weird.’ Instead, you throw a spiritual statement into the mundane mix and see if you get a response. In short, ‘You got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em, know when to walk away’—and if you do it right, ideally you will never have to ‘run.’ However, when people are ‘on the clock,’ they tend to not be content with just a statement, for they must give a ‘thorough witness.’ They push beyond that point—must not cheat God, after all, who is monitoring the clock—and end up having to ‘run’ when their imposed-upon non-interested party finally gets fed up. 

I like the end of counting time—it better enables informal witnessing, which is becoming more and more of a ‘thing.’ It even anticipates should the door-to-door ministry one day become illegal; ‘anti-cult’ loons try to spin it as ‘taking advantage’ of people. 

And, once and for all it puts a lid on people who insisted Witnesses had a model indicating they thought they were ‘earning’ salvation. Put it in the same category of ones insisting that the literature distribution was commercial (and therefore taxable); So to make clear it was not, it was stated that from then on literature would be distributed at no cost.

The brothers have operated in accord with this snippet from a recent daily text commentary: “Spiritual goals give our life direction and purpose.” For men who overwhelming come from the work-a-day world where you get paid for work by the hour, it couldn’t have seemed a draconian goal to ask for 10 hour activity per month when the workday model they were raised in called for 40 hours per week at a minimum. They’re rethinking it, something I thought would never happen. Maybe they’re cracking open the door to whether congregation members need go in the organized preaching activity at all. The former door-to-door in this area isn’t what it once was.  Is it yielding to another model? Probably not, but maybe to some extent.

Want to criticize them retroactively, as though they should have changed the model long ago? I don’t play that game. The game I play is to say that the people who brought the truth to me were the people who counted their time. The people who didn’t count their time also didn’t bring the truth to me. In fact, they could not have, because they were yet steeped (and still are) with trinity, immortal soul, God & Country, and so forth. And in case anyone says, ‘You don’t need any people; you just need Jesus,’ I will say that the people Jesus used to bring the truth to me were those who counted their time,’ etc. I’m just happy over the change, that it was recognized as an idea whose time has come. I’m not inclined to say, ‘What took them so long?’ By playing that game, you can be dissatisfied with everything. You find fault with headship both before and after revision. After all, there are plenty of scriptures that fit the old model, such as the Master sending workers into the vineyard.

So, if it was stated again and again at that annual meeting, which went on to consider other things, ‘We must not be dogmatic,’ does that mean they were dogmatic before? It is another game I don’t play. The ‘too dogmatic’ people brought the truth to me. The ‘laid back, reasonable’ ones did not. People are a product of their times. To be sure, when my favorite circuit overseer commented on the separation of the Watchtower into private and study edition years ago, he say, ‘It should have been done a long time ago.’ But he said this only to me, plus whatever one or two others were in the car group with me.

 

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Beards Get the Green Light

My first thought upon hearing the Update was that my on-again, off-again Bible study with Santa Claus might once more be on-again. He was doing so well until he saw that magazine equating a shortening beard to spiritual progress. Now, maybe, just maybe, he will resume his study. Of course, I’ll still have to help him with the holiday thing, but at least the beard thing is no more.

 

If an entire Update dedicated to beards now being okay seems like overkill, one might recall that the Governing Body tried underkill and it didn’t work. From the September 2016 Watchtower: “Does Your Style of Dress Glorify God?”

What about the propriety of brothers wearing a beard? The Mosaic Law required men to wear a beard. However, Christians are not under the Mosaic Law, nor are they obliged to observe it. (Lev. 19:27; 21:5; Gal. 3:24, 25) In some cultures, a neatly trimmed beard may be acceptable and respectable, and it may not detract at all from the Kingdom message. In fact, some appointed brothers have beards. Even so, some brothers might decide not to wear a beard. (1 Cor. 8:9, 13; 10:32) In other cultures or localities, beards are not the custom and are not considered acceptable for Christian ministers. In fact, having one may hinder a brother from bringing glory to God by his dress and grooming and his being irreprehensible.—Rom. 15:1-3; 1 Tim. 3:2, 7.

This paragraph was a big deal at the time, at least in my area. Brothers were talking about it seemingly the day after it was written. When that Watchtower Study finally came, that paragraph was like the elephant in the room that everyone was awaiting, and then Yessss! paragraph 17 finally arrived and you could talk about it. Some congregations spent extra time to ‘explain’ it.

I thought that would be the end of it. I thought at long last the issue had been laid to rest. I thought beards would soon be showing up—at first in publishers and then in MS and elders. Instead, it seemed like congregations doubled-down, as if with the attitude: ‘Well, okay, 'weak' publishers can wear beards if they insist, but no way will they ever be appointed.’ A few publishers grew beards, but beyond that--nothing.

’Look, we don’t have an issue with it,’ is what the GB finally said in this latest Update. It’s not new. It’s what they said 7 years ago only it didn’t take. This time, to make sure it wasn’t another misfire that didn’t take, they made it a big production, brought in bells and whistles, the chariot, and disclaimers for guys who say, ‘It’s about time!’ and for the more rigid guys who drew a line in the sand and are now aghast to see it erased. Old habits die hard. This one certainly did.

For me, it is like when the man who invented autocorrect died. ‘Restaurant in peace’ the obits read, though there were a few harsher ones that said, ‘May he rot in hello.’

 

On the one hand, it all seems pretty silly. The greater world solved this beard issue decades ago:

And the sign said, "Long-haired freaky people, need not apply" So I tucked my hair up under my hat, and I went in to ask him why. He said, "You look like a fine upstandin' young man, I think you'll do" So I took off my hat and said, "Imagine that, Huh, me workin' for you."

There. Done. Settled. Back in 1990. Whereas, we don’t settle it till 2023. But, in fairness, it ought be remembered that the overall world is going down the toilet and Jehovah’s organization is not.

More than once the Bible says that those drawn to the Lord must become like young children. And indeed, they have proved to be that way, not just in the good ways but also the not-so-good. Paul said: “Brothers, do not become young children in your understanding, but be young children as to badness.” (1 Cor 14:20) Why did he say this—because they never became young children in their understanding?

So it has proved today, with issues taking longer to resolve than you might think would be the case. Those the Lord can work with are like ‘young children.’ Those whom he cannot are ones too insistent upon their rights to be molded. They are left to the reward of whatever their discord can produce. In short, “they are having their reward in full.”

 

It was not in the Bible. It never appeared in Watchtower print. (other than many examples of ‘shaving one’s beard’ listed in the changes made on the road to baptism) The reasons for it, association with beatniks and hippies, disappeared decades ago. We’ve had articles to the effect that we don’t do rules, but primarily principles. And yet, no rule was more firmly enforced than the unwritten no-beard rule.

If you want to blame someone, blame God. He’s the one who created the paradigm of ‘We have this treasure in earthen vessels.’ (2 Corinthians 4:7) The treasure is the ministry and the earthen vessels is us, with all of our petty flaws, mild hypocrisies, stubbornnesses, obtusenesses, insensitivities, and idiosyncrasies. Blame Jehovah for arranging it that way and not handing the whole assignment over to angels.

Believe me, I am sensitive to this issue. Years ago, I went to bat for a youngster being drummed out solely for not shaving a beard. I learned later he had a very atypical reason, unknown to me at the time, but all the brothers could see was obstinacy and standing upon ‘his rights.’ ‘Before this is all done, I’m going to grow a beard!’ I told certain elders. ‘It’s one thing to shove around a youngster. Try doing it with an adult.’ Trouble is, I didn’t want one. It’s too easy to get food caught there.

It is fixed now. It’s about time, but it is done. If Jehovah is going to permit earthen vessels to have the treasure, you cannot be shocked if they behave earthenly. It’s his doing. Earthen is as earthen does.

Are the brothers conservative? Things don’t have to conform to my taste. It is absolutely shocking to look around the world and see how people misuse their ‘freedom.’ I’m not a fan of authoritarian countries, but I can see how they might look at what happens in the West when all restraints are removed and say, ‘Whoa! We don’t want any part of that!”

 

The reason for the change came out in the update itself:

A number of branch offices around the world have written to us, indicating that there continues to be question about whether or not it is proper for a brother in an appointed position to wear a beard. . . . The Governing Body has concluded that there is a need for clarification.”

Translation: “There continues to be a question.” There should not be by now. We keep getting letters. We’re tired of it. “There is a need for clarification. Nothing new, here. Just restatement of the old.

“The Governing Body does not have an issue with brothers wearing beards.” Got it? We don’t. To prove it, we’re now pulling out all the stops, employing all the bells and whistles, even hauling out the chariot, because when we first indicated it was a non-issue, no one took us up on it. So now, let us repeat…..(drum roll, please)….. We. Don’t. Care.

“We thought sending a message 7 years ago was enough:

“What about the propriety of brothers wearing a beard? The Mosaic Law required men to wear a beard. However, Christians are not under the Mosaic Law, nor are they obliged to observe it. (Lev. 19:27; 21:5; Gal. 3:24, 25) In some cultures, a neatly trimmed beard may be acceptable and respectable, and it may not detract at all from the Kingdom message. In fact, some appointed brothers have beards. Even so, some brothers might decide not to wear a beard. (1 Cor. 8:9, 13; 10:32) In other cultures or localities, beards are not the custom and are not considered acceptable for Christian ministers. In fact, having one may hinder a brother from bringing glory to God by his dress and grooming and his being irreprehensible. —Rom. 15:1-3; 1 Tim. 3:2, 7.” (Watchtower, Sept 2016)

“We thought that would do the trick. “In some cultures, a neatly trimmed beard may be acceptable and respectable,” we said. “Near as we can tell, we live in one of those cultures,” we figured elder bodies would say. They didn’t. So now we’re saying it so emphatically that nobody could possibly misunderstand it.”

It may well be that Witnesses back in the day disliked beards but so did everyone else of their time and well after. Look at television shows of that time. Count up the beards. Maynard G Krebs the beatnik had one. Beyond that, nearly zilch. I barely recall seeing any beards at all during by non-Witness youth, certainly not among my parents’ generation.

Witnesses were just the last (by far) to notice the world had moved on from no-beards. They missed it because they were ‘insular,’ a problem more difficult to remedy than one might think because it is the flipside of the ‘no part of the world’ coin. If you are no part of the world, you are almost by definition ‘insular’ to a certain extent. That’s what insulation is—something that keeps two things that should not mix separate.

After that 2016 Watchtower, bodies of elders considered its local applicability. Some began to not fuss over beards for appointed servants, but most continued to. Some of those that did fretted that beards among servants would stumble congregation members, completely missing the point that Paul’s counsel about stumbling (over eating meat) was out of concern for new ones or nonbelievers. In the case of beards, these ones had no issue with it, but only some ‘veterans’ who had made it a virtue in itself to be beardless and who you’d think would have moved on by now. Old habits die hard, especially when you are insular.

At long last, the mess is resolved. It looks a little silly the way it happens, but it is resolved. It comes close on the heels of another irritant being resolved—the matter of ‘counting time’—applicable at one time, but less so with passing years, as it introduces curious and crippling notions of being ‘on duty’ and ‘off duty.’ It was a relic of guys raised from the factory era in which, even when there was nothing to do, you’d better look busy to avoid the boss’s displeasure. Times change. God is not like that. It has been discarded. Two nettlesome things resolved in fairly short order.

It makes for unity to do things like #8. It also looks a little silly to those who have acquiesced to a disunited world, who consider that normal, and who grumble when anyone actually seeks unity not done their way, unity not achieved by waiting for all “the brokenhearted people living in the world [to] agree”—the way that history has demonstrated they never have or will.

JWs in the United States are almost exactly 1/3 white, 1/3 black, and 1/3 Hispanic, says Pew Research, also with about 5% Asian. Meaning? They have solved racism, an issue that tears the greater world apart. Though, at first glance, it seems not the same thing, if you want unity, you have to oil the cogs every once it a while, maybe even give it a good whack with a hammer. and Update 8 is an example of that on a lesser issue that unexpectedly became large.

Any criticism or ridicule of such ‘oiling’ is only valid if it comes from ones who themselves enjoy unity. Otherwise, it is little more than sour grapes. Some have simply acquiesced to a world without unity as ‘normal.’ Their criticisms don’t count. If you have long ago become part of the world, you can’t criticize the travails of those who haven’t.

 

***Xero is “not privy to the GB's private thoughts, but “I can imagine them being frustrated at) some who have the desire to worship the organization,” he says.

He cites a scripture: "...But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they ripped their outer garments and leaped out into the crowd, crying out and saying: 'Men, why are you doing these things? We too are humans having the same infirmities as you have. " Acts 14:8-18

He cites another: "On hearing this, they began to glorify God, but they said to him: 'You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the Law.'" (Acts 21:20)

Those referred to are Jewish converts to Christianity, yet still devoted to observing the Jewish law (the Mosaic Law). “Even then the customs were including a lot of things which weren't written in the Mosaic Law. Yet they kept doing them. This is why it doesn't surprise me that there are some who see changes in certain areas to be faith shaking because these have equated certain practices of the past to have been unequivocally scriptural, and if the Governing Body ever suggested we should adopt pattern A, rather than pattern B, then that was as good as scripture to these.”

Yes. It is hard to direct a large group of people. One says, ‘Thanks for the new rule!’ whereas his neighbor says, ‘Huh? Did you say something?’

 

******  The bookstore

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'