The Devil and Dennis Christensen

Dennis Christensen was to be released after serving 3 years of his sentence—there is a formula in Russia for counting each day of pre-trial detention as 1.5 days of actual time—but the Ministry of Justice has appealed. He is now in a special holding cell. He was guilty of ‘misconduct’ during his term, the MOJ charges.

He had organized an English class for fellow inmates—how bad can his ‘misconduct’ be? They are trying to break him, Watchtower HQ says, and everyone with a brain in their head knows it is so. His ‘misconduct’ was not renouncing his faith.

I couldn’t believe it when I heard of his early release. Two days later, I saw that I was right not to believe it. The reason I could not believe it is that it flew in the face of recent Russian escalation of efforts to stamp out the faith. The stiffest prison term yet had just been imposed upon sixty-one-year-old Gennady Shepakovsky. Is he not a little old for such harshness, especially when his “crime” is no more than worshipping God per the tenets of his faith? The judge of the case suggested that Jehovah’s Witnesses (there are 175,000 of them!) go to a country where their faith is “more needed.” I thought of how the prophet Amos was told exactly that by rebellious servants of the king:

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 exactly how an anti-God world responds to hearing his words.

This comes directly on the heels of the MOJ appealing its own victorious verdict against another Witness because the sentence imposed was insufficiently harsh. This comes directly on the heels of another Witness having his citizenship revoked.

These penalties are unheard of—even a crime-boss does not have his citizenship revoked—the Ministry of Justice comes across as unhinged in its hatred of a faith—for that’s all these ones are—members of a faith—and everyone of sense knows it. Russian enemies are fighting Christianity, for none of these convicted ones are guilty of anything other than being Christian—and the most exemplary of Christians at that: Christians who will not kill, Christians who will not steal, lie, fall into sloth, do drugs, abuse alcohol, Christians who do more than their share to contribute to the common good.

It is possible to overplay one’s hand and in so doing provide a glimpse into a deeper reality. There is no human explanation that makes sense for such over-the-top ill-treatment. Therefore, it dawns upon some to look for a super-human explanation. At the Kingdom Hall, a weekly segment for 2 or 3 years running has been a consideration of the book, Jesus’ Life and Ministry, detailing events of his life in chronological order. Last night, his post-Passover final meeting with his disciples came up for examination. Was it to be always easy sailing for those who would stick with him?

Men will expel you from the synagogue. In fact, the hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he has offered a sacred service to God”​—Jesus’ words of John 16:1-2 were reviewed. See why Dennis is not unprepared? He has been fortified with these words all his of his life.

He has also been fortified by Revelation 2:10: “Look! The Devil will keep on throwing some of you into prison so that you may be fully put to the test, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Prove yourself faithful even to death, and I will give you the crown of life.” It is also to be mentioned John 15: 19-21: “If you were part of the world, the world would be fond of what is its own. Now because you are no part of the world...for this reason the world hates you. Keep in mind the word I said to you: A slave is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me [Jesus], they will also persecute you; if they have observed my word, they will also observe yours. But they will do all these things against you on account of my name, because they do not know the One who sent me.”

So Dennis is not unprepared. He is bummed, no doubt—how could anyone not be? but probably not unprepared. He knows who he is battling, and it is not men. If I didn’t believe his early release, he probably didn’t, either—“not until it is in the bag,” he would have said. He knows he is up against the Devil, standing up as a test case almost like that of Job. The humans don’t matter—if one of them forgets his/her lines or has a change of heart, he is replaced by someone true to the wicked cause of a play that has not only continued from Jesus’ time but is coming to a head. A friend who has traveled to Russia tells me that the brothers there are cautious—but they have always had to be cautious. They find satisfaction in knowing that their resolute stand answers the taunts of the Wicked One before the entire world.

Of course, Dennis had no way of knowing that he would be the test case—no doubt he does not like that. Or maybe he does. You never know. Some Witness survivors of the Holocaust are on record as saying that they would not have traded away their experience if they could, for it gave them opportunity to give answer to the Devil before the world. They mirror the attitude of certain first-century Christians who, upon release from abusive treatment, went out “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy to be dishonored in behalf of [Jesus’] name. (Acts 5:41)

Is it a coincidence that the weekly Bible reading schedule that Witnesses adhere to has rolled around to Exodus chapter 5, about how Moses’s first foray to Pharaoh initially went badly for the Israelites?

Afterward, Moses and Aaron went in and said to Pharaoh: “This is what Jehovah the God of Israel says, ‘Send my people away so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.’”... “The king of Egypt replied to them: ‘Why is it...that you are taking the people away from their work?’... That same day, Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters and their foremen: “You must no longer give straw to the people to make bricks. Let them go and gather straw for themselves.... Make them work harder, and keep them busy so that they will not pay attention to lies.” (Exodus 5: 1-9)

“Hmm. Is there anything today that corresponds to supposedly good news being turned on its head like in Moses’s time and unexpectedly made harsh news?” I asked myself, and then I read about Dennis being shoved back into the slammer. The events even parallel in how the faithless ones back then charged that Moses had made a hash of his assignment and should have left matters alone—just as faithless ones today have charged that the Witness organization reads the situation wrongly and makes it worse for the Russian Witnesses. “They’re no Moses!” the villains will say. Maybe not, but in this case the developments could not have paralleled those of Moses more closely. In fact, the modern Russian brothers put the Israelites to shame, for the latter did blame Moses for their problems. “May Jehovah look upon you and judge, since you have made Pharaoh and his servants despise us and you have put a sword in their hand to kill us,” they accused the one assigned to deliver them. (vs 21)

“There’s something happening here—what it is ain’t exactly clear,” sings the Buffalo Springfield—50 years too soon and on the wrong stage. The fog is dissipating fast. Russia becomes the most visible nation to fight against God. “The kings of the earth take their stand, and high officials gather together as one against Jehovah and against his anointed one” (Psalm 2:2), and Russia acts as though wanting to lead the charge. You never know when a given king will read ahead and decline to play the game, for the ending bodes ill for them: “Ask of me, and I will give nations as your inheritance,” God says to his son, “and the ends of the earth as your possession. You will break them with an iron scepter, and you will smash them like a piece of pottery.” So far, though, most are adhering to script.

Matters are coming to a head—you can smell it. Is it reasonable to insist that Exodus 5 finds a parallel in today’s Russian events? No. But it’s reasonable to suggest it—just as it was reasonable to suggest that the then-scheduled Bible reading of the Assyrian army assaulting Jerusalem prepared the hearts of Russian brothers who were facing immanent ban of their organization in 2017.

Is it reasonable to look at these parallels? It hardly matters. Reason has had its day in the sun. It has been weighed in the scales and found wanting. The point of 2 Timothy 3: 1-5 is that in the last days people would forget all about reason—and a host of other stabilizing qualities. Does it seem that reason is the order of the day in light of the Covid 19 epidemic, as punctuated by protests escalating to riots, as a black man’s death at the hands of police stokes mayhem around the world? Jehovah’s Witnesses are among the few—at least in my American home—who without fuss don masks. Normal meetings and methods of ministry are suspended, and it is almost as though ones are retreating to interior rooms until the denunciation passes. Anger, not reason, becomes the order of the day, and it is not so foolish to lie low during that time.

The world is not friendly to Christian values. The persecution that Jesus guaranteed would visit his followers is not to be averted. But what can be guaranteed, as Paul said to Agrippa, is that this thing will “not be done in a corner.” It will receive maximum publicity so that whoever is of good heart will be moved by it. This the Witness organization has done and continues to do.

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...This post will soon be appended to the free ebook: Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses write Russia. The book is in ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ version—the only difference being that in ‘safe’ version, all quotes from Watchtower publications are redacted. Even if is the New World Translation quoting Jesus on how we must love our enemies. “Redacted for reader safety,” it will say.

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Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia—and Identification of Those Who Instigate It.

The New York Times today reports the torture of a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Russian campaign to eliminate the faith. It is the second such instance of torture coming to light. [edit—several more came within a few days] Arrests are commonplace. More commonplace are raids with the confiscation of personal property. 200 Jehovah’s Witnesses were recently place of the federal list of extremists, which means that bank accounts are frozen and they can no longer transact routine financial business.

With an active and prolific critical, at times hate, campaign being waged against Jehovah’s Witnesses online, it is reasonable to think that it indirectly instigates persecution of them in Russia. It is reasonable to think that it indirectly instigates the torching of two Kingdom Halls in the United States during 2019, both of which burned to the ground.

Many groups are harassed in Russia, but it is Jehovah’s Witnesses who are head-and-shoulders the primary target. Why? It boils down to Jesus’ words: “If you were part of the world, the world would be fond of what is its own. Now because you are no part of the world...for this reason the world hates you.” (John 15:19) It is no more complicated than that. Hatred against Witnesses may be cloaked as reports from a “whistleblower” or complaints of those who would advocate freedom from “mind control,” but at root the motivation is simply disturbance that ones should choose to be “no part of the world.” No villain on TV ever says, “I am the villain.” Instead, he paints himself the wronged one with a merited score to settle—and the program director strives so that we all see his point of view. We must not be obtuse.

From TrueTom vs the Apostates!—“The book Secular Faith - How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics attempts to reassure its secular audience through examining the changing moral stands of churches on five key issues. The book points out that today’s church members have more in common with atheists than they do with members of their own denominations from decades past. Essentially, the reassurance to those who would mold societal views is: ‘Don’t worry about it. They will come around. They always do. It may take a bit longer, but it is inevitable.’ Jehovah’s Witnesses have thwarted this model by not coming around.”

What Secular Faith is saying is that churches have in many respects ceased being “no part of the world”—and having done such, are not hated, since “the world is fond of what is its own.” Jehovah’s Witnesses, and almost they alone, are yet remaining “no part of the world”—and that is why they are hated. That is why they have “apostates” who are off the charts in expressing vitriol. “Apostates” (within the Christian context) can be expected to proliferate in direct proportion to how the main body stays separate from the world. As such, Jehovah’s Witnesses should almost be proud of theirs, for in them they are validated. A religion that has made its peace on the “five key issues” of Secular Faith—what’s to apostatize from?

Anti-Witnesses scream “Cult!” like patrons scream ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater. Are Jehovah’s Witnesses a cult? To the extent they are, it is because the Bible is a cult manual. The behavioral, informational, thought, and emotional “control” that anti-Witness activists complain about can be found in the urgings of the New Testament writers themselves. The words indicate no more than people living by the Bible, living peaceably in this world while they look to the righteous new one to come with the arrival of the kingdom Jesus taught his followers to pray for, the one the Bible describes as “the real life.” (1 Timothy 6:19) The agenda of the virulent Witness detractors is simply that no one should think in such an “impractical” way. 

A faith that remains “no part of the world” is thought socially backward, even socially harmful by some. But that hardly means it ought not be allowed to exist, particularly since it dovetails with Jesus’ words. “There has only been one Christian,” Mark Twain too cynically remarked. “They caught and killed him—early.”

I am not even sure that Witnesses should run from the word. It may be well instead to highlight its origin. It is the same origin as ‘cultivate’—which denotes ‘caring for something’—and in a religious sense it refers to ‘caring for the matters of the gods.’ Okay. I’ll take it. Jehovah’s Witnesses ‘care for the matters’ of God. They trigger opposition from ones who don’t want them to do that. They trigger opposition from those who have crossed over to embrace various aspects of the world—the world that Jesus says not to be part of.

This is clear in the testimony of one witness testifying for the prosecution in the Russian trial that would ban the JW organization. She complained of “complete and total control of life by the Administrative Center.” Asked to give an example of this, she reported her expulsion from the congregations after she “began her close, but not officially registered, relations with a man.” In other words, she wants to violate, within the congregation, the Bible sanction of ‘sex only within marriage.’ The Witness organization does not allow it, and she spins it as “complete and total control of life,” hoping to get the Russian Justices riled up.

Look, it is fine to adopt the standards of the world so long as one goes there to do it—don’t bring it into the congregation. She signed on for such Bible-based standards, now she wants to change them—and when thwarted in that attempt, she seeks to get the organization that got in her way banned at the Russian Supreme Court! It is no more than revenge. It is no more than insisting the standards of the greater world be accommodated in the Christian congregation.

Disfellowshipping itself is a last-ditch attempt at discipline, when all else has failed, to ensure that a member not bring standards of the world, no matter how commonly accepted elsewhere, into the congregation. Is it harsh? It certainly can be spun that way, but as ought to be clear by considering Secular Faith, no denomination has succeeded in obeying Jesus’ direction to remain “no part of the world” without it.

History testifies that among the reasons Christians were viciously persecuted in the first century was that their rituals were said to include cannibalism. Obviously Jesus’ followers did not do this, but from where might the charge originate? Might one look to the following passage in the sixth chapter of John, which begins by quoting Jesus?

I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the wilderness and yet they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that anyone may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever; and for a fact, the bread that I will give is my flesh in behalf of the life of the world.

Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them: “Most truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life, and I will resurrect him on the last day.”

When they heard this, many of his disciples said: “This speech is shocking; who can listen to it?”...Because of this, many of his disciples went off to the things behind and would no longer walk with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve: “You do not want to go also, do you?” Simon Peter answered him: “Lord, whom shall we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life. We have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.”  (6:48-69)

What of the ones who did not “come to know” that Jesus was the Holy One of God? What of the ones who “went to the things behind and would no longer walk with him”? Did they thereafter leave their former co-disciples to worship in peace? Or did some of them draw from these words proof that Jesus would recommend cannibalism to his followers? And if some advanced the notion, might there not have arisen ones in the congregation who pinned the blame on Jesus himself for saying the words that got the persecution ball rolling; ‘What a blunder!’—I can imagine some saying (though not in his presence).

It makes me think of the uproar raised over child sexual abuse within Jehovah’s Witnesses today. They are comparatively successful at preventing it—nobody, but nobody, has gathered every single member on earth (at the 2017 Regional Conventions) to consider detailed scenarios in which child sexual abuse might take place so that parents, obviously the first line of defense, can remain vigilant. But the world has little success at preventing CSA, so it focuses on punishing it after the fact, securing the barn door after the cows have fled. Routinely, we read of individuals arrested over CSA allegations. Unless the arrest is of a member of the clergy, the one detail that never accompanies such reports is that of the individual’s religious affiliation or lack thereof. Yet with Jehovah’s Witnesses, that detail is never lacking. Why? 

Plainly, it is that the Witness organization attempted to do something about child sexual abuse—they did not just close their eyes to it—and now detractors are trying to spin it as though they love the stuff. Jehovah’s Witnesses are well-known as a religion that “polices its own.” It is an attribute once viewed favorably, but now in the eyes of critics, it is spun as intolerable “control.” Those taking the lead in the Witness organization thereby came to know of individuals accused of CSA, and their “crime,” if it be one, is in leaving it up to affected ones themselves to report rather than “going beyond the law” to do it themselves. Time will tell how vile that sin is found to be, but it plainly falls far short of actually committing the CSA themselves, which is the pattern elsewhere. 

As with Jesus and his remarks that can, in the scheming of dishonest ones, be spun into encouragement of cannibalism, so the JW policy on CSA is spun by similarly dishonest ones to indicate that the organization is determined to nurture and protect it, whereas nothing could be further from the truth. Three times before the Australian Royal Commission, Geoffrey Jackson of the Witnesses’s Governing Body pleaded for universal, mandatory reporting laws, with no exceptions—if that could only be done, it would make the job of the Witness organization in policing its own without raising the ire of those outside the congregation “so much easier.”

Continuing his cross-examination, Justice Angus Stewart said: “Leaving aside the question of overriding mandatory law from the civil authorities...” I almost wish that Brother Jackson would have interjected at this point, “I wish you would not leave it aside, for it would solve the problem.” The greater world cannot make a dent in preventing childhood sexual abuse, and so it puts the onus on those who are trying to do something about it. Alas, our best lines invariably occur to us too late—had Brother Jackson picked up my line, it probably just would have got their backs up—and then (gulp) he would have looked at me with displeasure.

More on the Russian connection here.
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Bazhenov Goes To Jail - and Gives a Witness on the Way

At trial’s end, in a Russian court, Konstantin Bazhenov’s turn at last came to make his closing statement.

He “hardly talked about the legal aspects of the persecution and emphasized his spiritual side. ‘It is better to suffer for good deeds than for evil ones,’ he quoted the words of Jesus Christ. Then he briefly talked about what Jehovah's Witnesses believe in and how they live, and in the end he read a poem of his own composition.”

Yes. This is exactly what you do. The law is so convoluted that nobody can get their heads around it. Jehovah’s Witnesses are not banned, but only their organization is? People cannot get their heads around it. President Putin says words of support, yet it makes no difference? People cannot get their heads around it. Forget those things and just give a witness to all present, a witness that embodies Christian qualities of joy even under persecution, and a determination to serve God under any circumstances.

Konstantin starts with wanting “to recall one interesting aphorism, which is quite well-known: ‘While the truth was on my shoes, the lie managed to get around half the world.’ This aphorism emphasizes that sometimes some inaccurate data, false information spread very quickly, and the truth remains somewhere in the backyards,” and he applies it to the misinformation spread about Jehovah's Witnesses. Mark Twain’s version of this saying (or is this a version of his?) is: “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth gets its pants on.”

Be that as it may, he is very glad that during court hearings “the truth nevertheless sounded,” albeit with “delay,”  but it did. He thanks his God Jehovah “that he trusts [him] to represent His interests in court, that He helped, gave strength, wisdom to understand the legal nuances.”

Represent His interests he does, fully getting the sense of Jesus’ words: People “will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony.” (Luke 21:12-13)

He has Revelation 2:10 down pat: Do not be afraid of anything that you are going to suffer. Indeed, the devil will throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will face an ordeal for ten days. Remain faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” He is a fanatic to those who have discarded God, and even to some of those who have not. But he is the very embodiment of Jesus’ words to endure (with joy) under persecution, and he goes on to explain how that can be.

“Everyone who wants to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Timothy 3:12) he cites. “This is like the law of physics, so I am not personally surprised that this is happening. Maybe a little upset. But the fact is that persecution is inevitable. They were in the 1st century, and they are now. It convinces me even more that I am on the right track and gives me confidence.”

He uses that confidence to thank participants. He thanks his wife, first of all, but also the judge for “carefully listening to us and trying to understand the essence of the issue.” He thanks the investigator “for permitting visits with his wife, as well as a request for our release from custody. It was a gift for my wife and I.” He thanks his lawyers, co-defendants, friends who came for support, and even the prosecutor “for listening carefully and outlining the main thoughts.” Why throw stones? Be like the early Christians.

“If according to the verdict of the court, I have to go through the punishment of imprisonment, [he does, said the court] then I am sure that this will strengthen my faith.” He has already been there almost a year in pre-trial detention, and has found that “neither high walls, nor bars, nor barbed wire can prevent the Holy Spirit from penetrating and giving support. There are such words in the Bible: ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.’ It may seem at first glance: well, how, in prison is freedom? What kind of freedom is there? But in fact, for example, freedom from fear, freedom from sinful deeds, freedom from bad habits, freedom from foul language, from envy, greed, freedom from remorse, this freedom can be regardless of where we are.”

“For, if you please the will of God, it is better to suffer for good deeds than for evil,” he cites at 1 Peter 3:14-17. “Indeed, I am happy that I do not suffer for crimes, that is, I did not steal, I was not a mortgagee, I did not rape anyone, I did not blackmail, I did not cheat, but they accuse me. I suffer for worshiping God.”

“And it does not surprise me that such events occur, but sometimes it surprises others. For example, when I was in a pre-trial detention center, many prisoners said: ‘We are here for crimes.’ That is, scammers, hijackers, mortgages, counterfeiters - there are many articles with whom I sat. And they said: ‘We really did something. But what are you doing here?’ And they were surprised. Moreover, in my case there are no victims. Indeed, I have a clear conscience before God and before people.”

“If I find myself in a colony, there also live people who need to learn the truth from the Bible about God, about his plan for the earth and people. This is a huge field for activity. If this happens, I will consider that Jehovah found there sincere people whom I should help to learn the biblical message. I see no other reasons. Psalm 50, verse 15 says: ‘I will teach the wicked in your ways, and the wicked will turn to you.’ The psalmist David wanted to help others so that they would not take the slippery slope. So, I also have a desire to help others turn from their lawless deeds, their criminal way of life, so that they turn to God. The fact is that the Word of God, the Bible, has tremendous power to influence people for the better. Thanks to the Bible, people get rid of bad habits and criminal lifestyle. And it benefits both themselves and the state, because, in fact, they become useful members of society. Of course, I do not want to lose my freedom, but if at least one criminal cleansed of the criminal past, it means that I was not in vain hurt.”

He then launches into what can only be described as his “Adam to Armageddon sermon”—his talk touching on basic Witness beliefs regarding the:

  1. theme of God
  2. authority of the Bible
  3. role of Jesus Christ
  4. Kingdom of God
  5. Christ’s ransom
  6. heaven
  7. earth
  8. reason for God’s permission of evil and suffering
  9. what happens at death
  10. how to find happiness as a family
  11. our worship of God
  12. Christian unity
  13. our behavior as Christians
  14. our relationships to others

Well, why not? He does have a captive audience, after all, and they made themselves captive—specifically convening to pass judgment upon him. Trust me on this: nobody said on their drive home, “That fellow doesn’t know his Bible very well.” We live by the Bible —JWs do. We make no apology for it. If we experience adversity, make it clear that it is due to a dislike of what the Bible says.

Commendably, the Russian court participants did not stone him to death, as the Sanhedrin did with Stephen when he pulled such a stunt. They just put him on the prison bus and off to a new assignment. I love his flexibility. I pray that I can match it should my turn come. We can’t necessarily choose what our new assignment will be or what hardships it may entail.

(No Bible citations in this post are taken from the New World Translation. This is because in Russia that book has been declared not a Bible at all—as that country discredits itself before educated persons the world over who know very well that it is. No, that translation is actually an extremist work, the High Court maintains, so it cannot be quoted. Where I, and not Konstantin, have inserted verses, they are from the New American Bible - Revised Edition, the “house” Bible for “Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia.” That book itself comes in “safe” and “unsafe” versions—identical except the unsafe version quotes occasionally from Watchtower publications, and the safe version does not. The version linked to above is the “safe” version—you can read it without going to the hoosegow, at least, until the entire work is declared extremist, if that hasn’t happened already.

 

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Putin to Restore Religious Freedom to Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses Before the End of 2020?

It was said on another forum—and was to be on the basis of pure political expediency. Could it be?

Two recent developments have occasioned specific rebukes from the U.S. State Department. 

1) the sentencing of 6 Witnesses to jail terms of 2-3 years.

2) the torture of at least 7 in Surgut, which Russian authorities at first denied but ultimately said proved necessary because the Witnesses resisted with martial arts techniques.

Of course, every other faith is kept track of as well—it is not just Jehovah’s Witnesses. Still, a State Department release of last year specifically mentioned just two groups. 1) Muslims, and  2) Jehovah’s Witnesses. The rest were all lumped into a single third category: 3) Others.

Of course, Trump might always consult with his son-in-law who can recall to him his dealings with the Witnesses from whom he purchased Bethel buildings—that they were people with whom “a handshake deal meant something.” He lavished praise on them in that video that JW.org took down as the Presidential campaign got underway, presumably so that no one would not attempt to portray Witnesses as part of Trump’s election machine—they are serious about neutrality over there.

The (relatively) optimistic prediction may well be right, but I am not holding my breath. The two Presidents did want to get along, but I am not sure that the moment has not passed. Any overtures between them have been soundly scuttled by the American media. It is even as though when the kings of the north and south indicate that they would like to agree, outside forces intervene to make sure that they cannot, as though to to enforce the current understanding of Daniel’s prophesy that the two will hate each other’s guts right down to the end.

It is also possible that Trump senses in his meeting on religious freedom an opportunity to defuse accusations that he is anti-Muslim. It is Muslims who are under attack today, probably more so than Christian groups, and probably spurred on by the perception of how readily a certain strain of that belief goes on to embrace violence. Who can say what Trump is up to? To say he is a bull in a china shop, one must accept the premise that the status quo among world and national leaders is a “china shop.” But he might well be likened to a junkyard dog in a junkyard. Who can say where he goes next?

At any rate, he sidesteps an agenda of climate change policy and hosts his own religious freedom meeting instead. Religious freedom is embedded in the U.S. Constitution, primarily the Bill of Rights. Climate change is not, and Trump plainly doesn’t trust it, viewing it as a mostly concocted wedge to drive socialism more firmly into the world fabric. Instead, he goes to country after country, as though Capitalist-Man wearing a cape, to cut deals. He reverses decades of policy that holds that making disadvantageous deals trade-wise will trigger political change, as newly monied populaces rise to overthrow the tyrannical governments that rule them, like a worldwide “Arab spring.” There is not much evidence that it works that way. It certainly didn’t with the Arab spring, and China is doubling down on its willingness to oppress, even in the face of material prosperity.

So will the (relatively) optimistic prophesy come true, that Putin will reverse JW persecution by year’s end? He points out that: “Neither care about Jehovah's Witnesses, specifically, but they both care about political optics, and pragmatically, about fairness.”

I agree that they are both pragmatic. But Trump is firmly resisted. And Putin may be as well. The New York Times speculated that he may not be so firmly in control as is assumed, partly because after he says: Why are we persecuting  Jehovah’s Witnesses? This must be looked into! the persecution does nothing but intensify. Even as the JW ban was under consideration, one pundit asked: Why would they do it? There was no question that they could, but why would they? They do nothing but make themselves ludicrous and thug-like on the world stage. But it has been “pedal to the medal” since. The succeeding act was to rule the New World Translation as extremist—not a Bible at all—and thus paint themselves before all as breathtakingly ignorant, since anyone with even a modicum of scholarship knows that it is.

The anti-religion campaign has only intensified. Deprived of the New World Translation, Jehovah’s Witnesses there resort to any translation. So courts have found that some verses even there are actually “extremist,” as happened with Psalm 37:29. In doing so they have bought into the thinking of the BITE model promoted by “anti-cultists” in the West. Such has become the wisdom that carries the day in Russia, however stretched the idea might be. It’s founder, Stephen Hassan, has just written a book about Trump: “The Cult of Trump—a Leading Cult Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Control.”

When you think that half the country has fallen under cult influence, it is evidence, in my view, that you have drunk too much of the Kool-Aid yourself. It is also evidence that the entire BITE anti-cult movement is little more than a political movement. It is little more than a tool of the left. It is the new culture of victimization elevated to sainthood. Now, Mr. Hassan is a former “Moonie”—a group that is commonly regarded as a cult in both the new and the old sense of the word. Whether it is or not is for other people to judge. One way to apprise his present work is to judge it an effort to atone for his prior work—not just to atone, but to save face. “How could he have been stupid enough to join the Moonies?” is a question that many will ask. Of course, few are wont to admit that they could be stupid—hence the emotional appeal of a mindset that holds that even brilliant people can be misled by “cult” techniques—we are all that vulnerable. Having established the concept, it is then extended to the point at which half the country is deluded.

Experience is counted as a plus in some areas and roundly derided as making for bias in others. If I write a book about the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia (which I have), the fact that I am a Witness makes me incapable of accurately relating events in the eyes of many. But it doesn’t happen with him. He is hoisted upon the shoulders of others and paraded around because his thinking better accords with the irreligious humanistic thinking of the day.

At any rate, this anti-cult advocacy has been allowed to define Russia’s response to any religion not on the “approved list”—which in the Christian category, there is only one: the Russian Orthodox Church. One would think that the idiocy of declaring Jehovah’s Witnesses extremist would collapse eventually under its own weight, but it may not—again, because it fits in with the humanistic thinking of the day. It is not so much “mind control” that these anti-cultists are concerned about; it is mind-control that is not theirs. “At one time [Christians] walked according to the system of things of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience,” Paul says at Ephesians 2:2. Yes, the prevalent thinking of today surrounds us like air and has the same “authority.” Buck it at your own social and reputational peril.

Here is a Russian Orthodox priest who air-bombs a certain city with holy water as a strategy to combat the “heavy drinking and fornication” that, in his opinion, afflicts the population there. This action is not viewed as extremist. The peaceful preaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who manage within their ranks to avoid both heavy drinking and fornication, is extremist, however. One wonders if the word will not shatter someday at the stresses placed upon it.

Tying in a thread from yesterday about the Florida school shootings, I pointed out that two possible courses of actions were proposed, though neither agreed to because the inability to yield is the lifeblood of this system of things, though Witnesses have learned to do it without fuss: either outlaw rapid-fire guns or allow armed veterans and/or teachers to patrol the halls. Neither of those two courses, were they to be found in Russia, would be viewed as extremist. However, Jehovah’s Witnesses, who circumvent the entire problem by living now the standards that they see prevailing in the new system—they categorically renounce violence—are.

It is this world that is extremist, and not the Witnesses at all. However, this world has the upper hand at the moment, so expect similar atrocities of reason to prevail. Once in a while a bone is tossed our way. One Witness got out of pre-trail lockup when a judge ruled that the prior judge had shown prejudicial bias. She had rebuked the Witness with: “You are not a prisoner of conscience and you have nothing to do with the first Christians. You should not speculate on this...” He is and he does, and the second judge ruled that she had been out of line to muzzle the thought.

 

 
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Sticking Up For “the Unrighteous” in Russia - Psalm 37:29 Pronounced Extremist

Russian scholars—they are awfully smart over there—found extremism in an Old Testament phrase in the course of building a case against Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was not in the New World Translation—that entire work has been declared extremist and is therefore shelved. It is a passage found in any Bible, even the one used by the Russian Orthodox Church.

The offending verse is Psalm 37:29 [36:29 in Eastern Bibles]: “The righteous will inherit the earth and will live in it forever.”

This verse is actually a threat toward “unrighteous persons,” the experts discerned. It is “about dismissiveness (contempt, aggression) toward a group of persons on the basis of religious affiliation.” It furthers the “‘propaganda of inferiority’ on the basis of religious identity.”

In other words, they are sticking up for the unrighteous in that land. “Well—they’re people, too,” is their stroke of wisdom. If the “righteous” are to be favored with inheriting the earth and living there forever, then the unrighteous should be there, too.

It is breathtakingly stupid reasoning, and yet it is the reasoning that carries the day in Russia. But we should not laugh at it, because it is more evil than stupid, and it is the work of opposers who know what they are doing and will do it here when the time is right. The reasoning is the same—it is only more unmasked in Russia than elsewhere, but it ought to serve as a heads-up for elsewhere.

In both places it is the reasoning of those who hate God. They do not hate him so long as He knows His place. If He allows societal trends and critical thinking to carry the day, He is welcome, but only then. If He tries impose upon people His own standards of “righteousness,” He is not. If He allows the will of the people to prevail, He is welcome. If He says, as in John 6:45: “They will all be taught be Jehovah,” He is not—unless He means that the will of the people is the will of Jehovah. He should know that His role is to sit in the back seat and keep His mouth shut.

The entire warfare of opponents denouncing disfellowshipping is a reflection of their frustration at having the window slammed shut on their fingers as they try to break into the house with their new and improved morality—morality that is not God’s. They are livid that they cannot do that, and so they rail against the tool that thwarts them, even trying to declare it illegal.

The book “Secular Faith - How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics” attempts to reassure its secular audience through examining the changing moral stands of churches on five key issues. The book points out that today’s church members have more in common with atheists than they do with members of their own denominations from decades past. Essentially, the reassurance to those who would mold societal views is: “Don’t worry about it. They will come around. They always do. It may take a bit longer, but it is inevitable.” Jehovah’s Witnesses have thwarted this model by not coming around. Disfellowshipping—the ability to expel those who refuse to conform to the conduct and speech that they signed on for—is their trump card. It is a last-ditch method of discipline, when all else has failed, to ensure that the Christian congregation remains true to its underpinnings, something that cannot happen without the trump card held in reserve—or at least it never has happened. (See post here)

It is a God-ordained tool from the One who knows humankind better than they do themselves. Actually, humans know it well, too, but they forget it when it stands in their way. If they did not know it, there would be no such thing as advertising—the ultimate manipulative device founded on the premise that humans can be swayed any which way given sufficient propaganda. Corporate interests would not pour billions into advertising if they were not convinced human behavior could be molded. “We made Miller the number two selling brand in the country, and everybody said: ‘Nobody will drink that stuff,’” said Mickey Spillane.

“Righteousness” is an antiquated term for those peddling a new morality and a trashing the traditional one. The term is a threat to them. It is a term that is no longer allowed in Russia, but how far behind can the West be? Acceptable human conduct should be determined by group norm, not imposed by some Bully from above, it increasingly says. The war against disfellowshipping is at root a manisfestion of those who would fight against God.

Says the apostle Peter: “For the time that has passed by is sufficient for you to have worked out the will of the nations when you proceeded in deeds of loose conduct, lusts, excesses with wine, revelries, drinking matches, and illegal idolatries. Because you do not continue running with them in this course to the same low sink of debauchery, they are puzzled and go on speaking abusively of you.” (1 Peter 4:3-4)

They do speak that way. But as the discordant ones accumulate in the “low sink of debauchery,” they finally are emboldened to also say: “Water’s fine here in the low sink! Who are you to judge?” The qualities Peter speaks of are simply not the anathema that they once were. Some are openly embraced.

So “righteousness” as defined by a God is an insult. To speak of a world where righteousness will prevail is extremist in Russia, and therefore illegal. For now, in the West, it is just gauche and small-minded. That is changing. If it truly is that God will allow only the righteous in the new world of his making, then anyone on His side will do whatever can be done to be that way. Opponents today want to make that illegal, or at least they want to make illegal the means to do it.

The climate is not just right for opposers here to declare that the righteous inheriting the earth is extremist, as they have in Russia, but that is what many want to do—and it will likely reach that point one day. Should it happen, it will be a development that is on script, and so thereby can be said to be okay. It will not be unexpected. The miscreants are angling for it now.

Nikolai Gordienko, of the Herzen Russian State University in St. Petersburg, once stated: “When the experts accuse Jehovah’s Witnesses for their teachings, they do not realize that they are actually making accusations against the Bible.” Jehovah’s Witnesses represent it. They practice it as best they can. The gloves have come off in Russia. They came off long ago with regard to human rights, but now they also come off with regard to the intent of Witness persecution there. It is not Witnesses that are opposed. It is God who is opposed—the Witnesses are just the middlemen who represent him.

Gamaliel cautioned religious leaders in the first century regarding Christians: “Do not meddle with these men, but let them alone. For if this scheme or this work is from men, it will be overthrown; but if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. Otherwise, you may even be found fighters against God himself.” That’s exactly who is in the crosshairs of opponents today—who is He to tell us what is righteous? they glower. Banning the Witness organization was not enough for those opponents in Russia. Banning the New World Translation was also not enough, for the same verses hateful to those demanding moral relevance are found in any translation of the Bible.

How far will opponents get in their quest to enlist the world’s sympathy that they got kicked out of a religion for refusing to abide by the rules—in essence, for refusing to be “righteous?” Time will tell, but until the Lord intervenes, the playing field is tilted their way. The individual rights of those who would kick over the traces garners popular support. The individual rights of those who would impose upon themselves a force greater than they to safeguard against their own weaknesses means nothing.

During Soviet times, dissidents stated that the underlying attitude of authorities was that they didn’t really care if you believed their lie or not, so long as you knuckled under to their power to define reality. Declaring the Psalm extremist—“The righteous ones will inherit the earth and they will live in it forever”—is an example of the pattern reasserting itself: “Yes, it is ridiculous, but who cares? It is what we say it is.”

In the West it is still deemed necessary to believe the lie—that the “offenses” of the people who endeavor to represent God are the objection, and not God himself. That can be expected to change. The offenses are blown up and misrepresented, but they are not, in most cases, untrue. They are, however, not the issues to watch. The issues to watch are those relating to God’s purpose to establish an earth in which righteousness prevails.

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Chapter 24 - One Last Chance for Religious Freedom in Russia

Dennis Christensen “has spent the last 20 months in a cold cell with suspected drug dealers and only been allowed to meet his wife, separated by bars and a corridor, twice a month. If convicted, he could spend up to a decade in jail,” writes Andrew Osborn for Reuters. How much do you want to bet that those drug dealers now know their Bibles quite well? Alas, that may make them more unwelcome in Russia than had they landed the area distribution franchise for Drugs-R-Us.

He must have his moments of despondency. He must. But you would never know it. He is serene in appearances, and sometimes even cheerful. Jehovah’s Witnesses could not have wished for better examples to face the Russian bear than he and his wife Irene. See how he typifies the spirit of 1 Peter 2:23:

“Christ suffered...leaving you a model for you to follow his steps closely.... When he was being reviled, he did not go reviling in return. When he was suffering, he did not go threatening, but kept on committing himself to the one who judges righteously.”

Has he wavered in his love for his adopted homeland? He “does not regret that he moved to live in Russia. ‘It is one of the best decisions that I have made in my life, and it brought me much happiness,’” he tells the Reuters reporter. This despite his being anything but starry eyed. “To call me or other peaceful Jehovah’s Witnesses extremists is the greatest stupidity that I have ever heard!” he says. “Of course I hope that he (the judge) will be just,” he said. “But I also know which country I’ve been living in.”

Only a month ago, President Putin, when asked, stated that the equating of Jehovah’s Witnesses with terrorists was “of course...complete nonsense,” something “you need to carefully deal with,” and later, “so this should be looked into” since “Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians, too.” We may soon learn just how carefully he means to deal with and look at it, as the time of Dennis’s sentencing has arrived. As for Irena, “I’m not afraid of anything and Dennis is not afraid either,” she told Reuters.

I have never seen a picture of him in which he is not mild, even well dressed. He actually broke into song at one hearing via Internet, before the guard told him to shut up. Could one ask for a better example? The symbolism is complete. His surname points to the one he follows. Even his carpenter profession lines up. Even his last project as a free man spotlights the idiocy of branding him an “extremist”—building a playground for the community children. Would members of the only other group in Russia officially designated “extremist,” ISIS, also build a playground for the community children? Maybe, but it would be a long time gaining my trust to let my children play on it. On January 23, the prosecutor requested a sentence of 6 years and 6 months in prison. Why not add 6 days to the request to make it a nice, biblical 666?

It’s déjà vu for Jehovah’s Witnesses in that country, whose period of freedom has lasted only 17 years. “The only difference is that at that time [of the Soviet Union] they were called ‘enemies of the people’. Now they are called ‘extremists’,” says Irena.

Journalist Osborn does what all journalists must do. He probes for the actual reason that Jehovah’s Witnesses are opposed. Usually all one must do in such cases is read the charges of the prosecution, but here in the Christensen case the charges are ridiculous, and the ‘crimes’ easily refuted. So Osborn hits on one spot of contention after another, but presently puts his finger on the real trigger: “Russia has been the most outspoken in portraying it as an extremist cult.” He refers, perhaps unknowingly, to a burgeoning anti-cult movement which finds conditions fertile in Russia for a perfect storm, but which is active everywhere.

The reason that Putin declares it complete nonsense to call Witnesses “extremist” is because it is. As such, he and his in government would never have dreamt of doing such a thing. However much any of them may dislike Jehovah’s Witnesses, ISIS has taught them what extremism is. They are not so stupid as to confuse the two.

Likewise, the dominant Russian Orthodox Church did not originate the ban against the Witnesses. That is not to say that some of them did not squeal with delight like kids on Christmas morning, but it was not their idea. The thinkers there are not particularly happy about it, for the same set of laws that declare it a crime to proclaim the superiority of one’s religion in the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses might easily be turned against them.

No, problems with the Church and the suspicious government merely make for excellent tinder. The spark that sets it off Osborn identifies with: “Russia has been the most outspoken in portraying it as an extremist cult.” It is a determined anti-cult movement that sets the match to the tinder. It is not even Russian originated, but like Bolshevism itself, is a Western import. Religion writer Joshua Gill has outlined how a French NGO dedicated to protecting people from ideas considered socially destructive—the manifest goal of anti-cultism--sent a well-known emissary to Russia who spread that view with missionary zeal, maximizing his existing status with the Russian Orthodox Church.

The anti-cult movement ever seeks to extend its reach. Only in Russia does it find conditions ripe for the perfect storm, but its influence is afoot everywhere. The match was even literal in 2018 Washington State, where six attacks resulted in two Kingdom Halls burnt to the ground. Of course, that is not the intent—to incite violence. Anti-cultists speak against it, for the most part. But when you yell “CULT!” in a crowded theater, who can say what will happen? The correct term, non-incendiary and chosen by scholars for just that reason, is “new religious movement.”

Assembling material in preparation for ‘Dear Mr. Putin – Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia,’ I became more and more convinced that the anti-cult movement was behind it all, and it is a conviction that has only strengthened since. In the book’s introduction, I wrote:

“Does Kuraev really mean to suggest that prosecution presented no intelligible arguments at the Supreme Court trial? An observer of the trial might well think it. He might well wonder just what does the government have against Jehovah’s Witnesses? There must be something, but it is not stated. At one point the judge asked the prosecution (the Ministry of Justice) whether it had prepared for the case. A decision had been plainly made somewhere from on high and it would fall upon the judge to rubber-stamp it. Of course, he did, perhaps because he wanted to remain a judge. The actual reasons behind anti-Witness hostility were never presented. So I have presented them in Part II, along with how they might be defended.”

I even went on to caution members of my own faith:

“Some Witnesses, truth be told, will be uncomfortable with Part II and might best be advised to skip over it. They will love the idea of defending the faith but may be unaware of the scope of the attacks made against it, some of which are truly malicious. Deciding to sit out this or that controversy will earn them taunts of ‘sticking one’s head in the sand’ from detractors, but it is exactly what Jesus recommends, as will be seen. Not everyone must immerse themselves in every ‘fact,’ for many of them will turn out to be facts of Mark Twain’s variety: facts that “ain’t so.” You can’t do everything, and most persons choose to focus on matters most directly relevant to their lives.” 

That caution is repeated, with even greater applicability, in the newer ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ The book is not recommended to all Witnesses. Read it if you want a specific reply to charges laid against the faith. For those able to focus upon forward motion only, the book is not recommended. For those not, it is. The line that invariably gets the largest applause at Regional Conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses is: “Would you like to send your greetings to the brothers in Bethel [headquarters]?” The hard work and integrity of these ones is appreciated by all. So not everyone will feel the need to check out every derogatory report.

In some respects, the Witness organization appears to this writer to be out of step with regard to the attacks it faces today. With a long history of persevering in the face of religious threats to stomp it out of existence, it seems slow to acknowledge that religions are mostly licking their wounds these days, and it is the irreligious world, with anti-cultists in the vanguard, that most vehemently presses for its downfall.

***~~~***

At a December 11. 2018 meeting with the Council on Civil Society Development and Human Rights, one council member, Ekaterina Shulman, addressed President Putin: “There is a list of organizations, for which there is information that they are involved in terrorism and extremism. There are 489 of them, and 404 of them are Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

Pressing her luck, she continued: “Here I will take a sinister pause. There could be an abundance of claims against Jehovah’s Witnesses—they don’t allow blood transfusion, don’t send children to hospitals, [ed: not a charge that I have heard before] but they definitely are not calling for violence or committing it.”

Putin’s response was: “We should treat the representatives of all religions in the same way – this is true, but still, it is also necessary to take into account the country and the society in which we live. True, this does not mean at all that we should include representatives of religious communities in some destructive, or even in terrorist organizations. Of course, this is complete nonsense, you need to carefully deal with it. Here I agree with you.”

Later in the meeting, Putin returned to the topic and added: “Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians, too. I don’t quite understand why they are persecuted. So this should be looked into. This must be done.” The Washington Post and Time picked up on the story the next day, the Post saying that he “has pledged to look into the reported persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

Now, what to make of this?

Yaroslav Sivulski, the press secretary for JWs in Russia, stated: “We have noted the president’s reaction with surprise. If he knows about the whole situation, then probably his reaction could change something. We hope that he will give instructions to have the matter examined and something may happen. Though, knowing the realities of our country, there is not much optimism.” Okay, so they’re not breaking out the champagne just yet.

The online community of Jehovah’s Witnesses was a cynical bunch, by and large, with many thinking Putin was just being slippery. In fact, since translating from Russian to English poses challenges, one Witness understood him to say: “Jehovah’s Witnesses are also Christians, for which I do not really understand how to persecute them,” as though he was searching for more effective ways to do it. Hmm. Did he say “I really do not understand how to persecute them” or “I really do not understand how they are persecuted”? It is the six-million-dollar question. It is a little like the Twilight Zone episode in which the earthlings were relieved to find the alien’s handbook “To Serve Man.” ‘Ahh, it means their intentions are good,’ and they breathed easily, but at the show’s end they discovered to their discomfort that it was a cookbook.

I tend to take President Putin’s remarks at face value. There is no reason that he has to say what he does, even expanding it to ‘Jehovah’s Witness are also Christians,’ contradicting prominent religious people who say they are not. When his Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, who was also among the officials that Witnesses contacted via a letter campaign launched in hopes of averting the 2017 ban, was asked a similar question last year, he could not have answered more harshly than he did. I think Putin is being genuine, at last waking up to something that he has barely paid attention to. Maybe it is like the hinge squeaking in the background somewhere that he has barely noticed but now it is driving him nuts. Perhaps he will even pick up his WD-40, go lubricate it himself, and subsequently vent his wrath upon whoever allowed such idiocy to take center stage in the first place, painting his country before all the world as a nation of goons--in the spirit of Ahasuerus avenging Haman.

A president is a busy man. It is popularly believed that anything that goes down in a country will have his fingerprints all over it, but this is seldom so for matters of ‘low priority.’ Of course, this is not low priority for Witnesses, but it can hardly be otherwise for him. At a subsequent news conference, he spoke to the danger of nuclear war, which he hopes the West does not get too cavalier about: “The danger of the situation escalating is being downplayed,” he said, adding that the lowering of thresholds for nuclear capability “could really lead us to catastrophe.” If he loses sleep at night, it is not over the travails of a small religion. It is over the thought of the world going up in flames.

Western media excoriates him, but it cannot be wise to let the propaganda of one king mold our view of the other. I was very careful, in writing the book, Dear Mr. Putin – Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia, not to do that. In the event it was ever read by anyone that mattered, I did not want to sabotage it by being disrespectful or accusing.

It wasn’t that hard to do—for example, by spotlighting the two, likely three, times that Russia, not the United States, saved the world from certain nuclear war. Lieutenant Colonel Petrov spotted an incoming missile from the U.S. on his screen, correctly judged it a malfunction, and against orders, did not relay the report to the excitable Kremlin. Second-in-command Vasili Arkhipov refused to sign-off with his two fellow officers to launch a nuclear attack during the Cuban missile crisis—thwarting an attack that had to have unanimous backing. Nikita Khrushchev arguably brought that crisis to a close with his last-minute telegram to President Kennedy.

However, in refraining from criticizing Putin personally, I was not just being expedient. I honestly came to feel it not likely that he was one of the instigators. I admit that feeling wavered in view of the abuses of the last few months, with Witnesses physically accosted by police, but now it intensifies. Promisingly, he is not cut from the same cloth as many in high government. He was not born to privilege in the ruling class. He started from the ground up, as a regular office worker, and lived with his parents during the early days of his working life. He thus probably retains a feel for the interests of the ‘common man’ that his co-rulers do not. In the end, it hardly matters, because ‘the heart of a king is as streams of water’ in Jehovah’s hands. But it helps if it is neither ice cubes nor steam to begin with.

He didn’t have to say it, is the point. He could have issued some boiler-plate beatitude of how ‘the situation is serious and we continue to monitor it closely.’ He certainly didn’t have to say that Witnesses are Christian too, thus showing that he will not be shoved around by ones who insist they are not. His statement makes it much harder for Russia to thumb its nose at any upcoming ECHR verdict, indicating that he has no intention of doing that. How can his words not ease the pressure on Jehovah’s Witnesses in that country? After all, if you were a Russian cop, would YOU violently accost one after what he just said?

Still, he is conscious of the majority. How much freedom of worship will be restored remains to be seen, since he observes that with 90% of the country being of a certain religious orientation, one cannot throw everything overboard so as to please the “sects.” It is enough not to persecute them, which he seems inclined not to do. Maybe the brothers will have to tip-toe around for a while, and it will not necessarily be a bad thing for our people to focus on being discreet. That has long been the direction of theocratic training, anyhow. If Putin truly had evil intent, however, he would not have returned to the topic to say that he doesn’t really understand why Jehovah’s Witnesses are persecuted. Now let’s see how well he holds up as the more devious ones labor to ‘educate’ him on the topic. We will see whose resolve prevails. Probably, JW representative Sivulsky has it just right: he is surprised and cautiously optimistic.

In some respects, it may prove a replay, with hopefully different outcome, of the situation with Pilate judging Jesus. Pilate knew that he was being set up. He knew Jesus was innocent. He worked rather hard to free him—that much is clear by reading any one of the gospel accounts, and the conclusion is inescapable upon reviewing all of them. But the scoundrels were so insistent, even hinting that to release Jesus would be treasonous, that he eventually caved. After all, it wasn’t his prime concern. He had a province to run. He tried to do the right thing. That’s how it is with many today. They try to do the right thing, but they only try so hard. When the going gets rough, they opt for expediency.

The Russian Orthodox Church has insisted that it did not instigate the ban and I am inclined to believe them. That is not to say that prominent ones were not delighted at the outcome, or that some instigators did not have Church connections. But the villainy stems from an anti-cult movement, with French connections, that is active in many lands. Conditions in Russia were ripe, that’s all, just like they were ripe for Communism 100 years ago, which was also imported from abroad.

Writing ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ took the better part of a year. There were few publicly available online sources that I did not read during this time, save only for those that were repetitive. The most telling report was one by Joshua Gill, a religion writer, revealing from where most of the trouble came.

“The Russian Supreme Court’s July 17 ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses was the result of a decades long conspiracy funded by the French government, blessed by the Russian Orthodox Church, and sanctioned by the Putin administration…The latest phase of that plan first garnered international attention with Russian authorities’ arrest of a Danish citizen.” That would be Dennis Christensen, arrested May 25, 2017 for conducting a congregation meeting after the ban had gone into effect, and still in prison at this time of writing, (December 2018) his case only recently coming to trial.

Gill spotlights the role of Alexander Dvorkin, the Russian Ministry’s Expert Council for Conducting State Religious-Studies. That Council exists so as “to investigate religions that deviate from Russian Orthodox teaching and to recommend actions against those religions to the state.” They have recommended taking strong action on non-majority faiths. Mr. Dvorkin is also vice president of the European Federation of Research and Information Centers on Sectarianism (FECRIS), a French NGO dedicated to identifying as a “sect/cult or a guru the organization or the individual which misuses beliefs and behavioral techniques for his own benefit.” It is an organization fully funded by the French government, and it may be remembered that that government tried to eliminate Jehovah’s Witnesses by imposing a 60% tax on their activities in 1998. The tax was steadfastly appealed by Jehovah’s Witnesses until it was struck down by the European Court of Human Rights fourteen years later.

The Daily Caller article reveals the depth of Dvokin’s misinformation and dislike of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “Their adepts recruit failed university enrollees, and people on vacation as well; they have a wide range of psychological influence, especially on the unstable minds of adolescents and youths,” he says of them and the Hare Krishnas. He has encouraged the public to “take part in the fight against sects, file complaints and collect raw data so that the local authorities can react quickly.” In a 2009 documentary called ‘Emergency Investigation: Jehovah’s Witnesses,’ he compared Witnesses to drug dealers. The Journal for the Study of Beliefs and Worldviews attributes instances of public violence against Russian Witness members to that documentary, just as the violence visiting Kingdom Halls in Washington State is similarly stoked by the inflammatory use of the C-word. Is the FECRIS mission of identifying as a “sect/cult or a guru the organization or the individual which misuses beliefs and behavioral techniques for his own benefit” not exactly the battle cry of the anti-cultists worldwide?”

Mine was the minority view among the Witnesses I spoke with. “You are a better Christian than I am,” one said. “You always expect the best from people. I don’t believe a word a politician says.” Note that his distrust is of “a politician,” not of Putin specifically, though he hardly sings his praises. One could even say that it is a sign of being “insular”—they are all the same to him. Having said that, they are all the same to many persons today—it is hardly a quirk of him alone. Why, long ago Mark Twain even said that politicians must be changed as frequently as a diaper—and for the same reason.

It is true that I try to think the best of people. Am I a “better Christian” in this instance? Or just a dumber one? Time will tell.

From the book: 'TrueTom vs the Apostates!'

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The Russian Brothers are Doing Very Well, Thank You Very Much

What Witness of Jehovah could not think of their brothers in Russia when reviewing Philippians, this week’s Bible reading?

The imprisoned Paul writes: “Now I want you to know, brothers, that my situation has actually turned out for the advancement of the good news,  so that my prison bonds for the sake of Christ have become public knowledge among all the Praetorian Guard and all the rest.  Now most of the brothers in the Lord have gained confidence because of my prison bonds, and they are showing all the more courage to speak the word of God fearlessly.” (Philippians 1:12-14)

It is the case with Witnesses in Russia, isn’t it? They are holding up pretty well, by all reports—it can be seen in the public support they give to ones punished by the state for their worship of God. As in the first century, “most of the brothers in the Lord have gained confidence,” trial-some though their circumstances are. We are proud of them, and even wonder whether we would do so well ourselves. ‘Don’t think that you can do it on your own strength,’ comes the answer, ‘and you will do fine.’

The anti-cultist mastermind, Alexander Dvorkin, did not foresee it happening this way. Just after the ban went into effect in April 2017, 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.” Now, two years is not “just a few years,” but it is not so far apart. He did not say “generations.” He expected his results rather quickly, and it is not turning out that way at all.

One is reminded of Satan’s taunt: “Is it for nothing that Job has feared God?  Have you not put up a protective hedge around him and his house and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his livestock has spread out in the land. But, for a change, stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your very face.” (Job 1:9-11) It isn’t working out that way. Our brothers in Russia are doing us proud.

Human rights advocates widely predicted that this would happen—it is not a circumstance solely of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but of people in general who are concerned with spiritual things. Similar fortitude is shown in other faiths as well. It is Dvorkin who, fleshly man that he is, totally misjudges the power of spiritual things to motivate. “But a physical man does not accept the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot get to know them, because they are examined spiritually,” says the apostle again at 1 Corinthians 1:14.

He drinks too much of his own Kool-Aid, and thus, when things fail to turn out as he anticipated, it is due to his own self-deluded assumptions. Dvorkin is playing the role outlaws of religion have played from before he was born, using state apparatus to squash enemies, and doing so under a guise of People’s Protector. His premise is wrong: that individual Witnesses are being “manipulated” by an evil corporate outside class. Instead, the ‘outside’ class IS them, merely in the organized form that members know is necessary to best implement the faith that they have chosen. They are not like the munchkins of his imagination, delighted that the wicked witch is destroyed. They recognize his attack as the attack on Christianity that it is.

We see this all the time—enemies impose their own standards on spiritual things, and then draw wrong conclusions when things do not turn out as they have anticipated. It is seen when they make the self-determination that religious things cannot change, as secular and scientific things do, and that should Witnesses see that some teachings have “flip-flopped,” they will be outraged at having been “misled.” How can people be so nuts? They change all the time—it is called “tacking” and the “ever brightening light”—completely above board and nobody has ever said otherwise.

Still, the changes that are made are analogous to details, roughly akin to looking at the map anew and rereading it. It happens all the time with science. Somehow, physical people have decreed that it cannot happen with spiritual things. Of course it can. It is their own presumption of everything religious being autocratic, ironclad, and unyielding, that stymies them. It may not be so fluid—‘to each his own!—as the world they have chosen, but it is far from inflexible.  Moveover, the essential building blocks of the faith—defusing the ‘immortality’ of the soul, establishing the non-Trinitarian nature of God, the reason as to why he allows suffering and evil, along with the Name that he says he wants sanctified—these things have been firmly in place for over a century.

The Russian brothers are doing very well, thank you very much—“in no way being frightened by [their] opponents. This very thing is a proof of destruction for them, but of salvation for you; and this is from God.” (Philippians 1:28)

Surely the people are but green grass. The green grass dries up, The blossom withers, But the word of our God endures forever.” (Isaiah 40:8) So. Dvorkin thinks he will kill off the green grass, like a dog peeing on it? Time will tell. So far his dream is not coming true.

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photo: persecution 2, by dr zoidberg 

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“Now, I finally want to express special thanks to those who helped and supported me during the last 2 years of this criminal case:”

[Dennis Christensen’s closing statement]

First, I want to thank my wife Irina, who from the very beginning did everything in her power to help and support me. She took care of me, passed me clothes, groceries, medicines and other things that I needed in the SIZO (Pre-Trial Detention Centre). She has supported me emotionally and spiritually with her visits and letters that I have received from her every day.

My dear wife, your strong faith, your great patience, your peace of mind and love for me and for the truth, including your optimism, have all been a great example to me. You should know that I love you very much and that I am very proud of you!

I also want to thank my family in Denmark, especially my elderly father and my sister. You should know that I miss you so much. I love you and appreciate everything you have done for me. During my stay in the SIZO you supported me with your numerous letters and telephone conversations. I am sure that you will never give up and lose hope that we will be able to come together again as a family one day.

I also want to thank all my many friends from all over the world. You supported me with your letters, encouraging thoughts, beautiful drawings and various gifts. All this has helped me to understand that I am not alone, and that I have a large global family.

Dear friends, you should know that every letter, big or small, has encouraged and strengthened me. Please do not be discouraged if I do not have time to respond to your letters. I will find you, thank you and hug you in the future, I promise!

I also want to thank the Embassy of the Kingdom of Denmark in Moscow and all its staff. You attended many court sessions and repeatedly visited me in the SIZO. Your helpful advice, guidance and encouragement mean a lot to me, and I really appreciate your support and the great help that you have given me.

I would also like to thank the Court of Appeal for the fact that I personally was able to attend this court hearing. When I participated in other appellate cases through videoconferencing from the SIZO, it was difficult for me to hear everything that was said. I had to guess half of what was happening there. This is an unworthy way to defend someone. In addition, when using the conference call in the SIZO, you must sit in jail, as if you were an animal in a zoo. I consider this an unworthy, inhuman treatment today, in the 21st century.

At the present, I have already been in the SIZO for almost two years, and this trial has been going on for 15 months. To endure all this, not to give up and not to lose heart, it is extremely necessary to have a certain inner strength. The Bible says - in Philippians, the 4th chapter, the 12th verse - that “I can do everything by him that strengthens me.” In the book of the Prophet Isaiah, the 12th chapter, in verse 2 it is written: “Behold, God is my salvation: I trust in Him and have no fear; for the Lord is my strength, and my song is the Lord; and he has been my salvation. "

Throughout this period, I have felt that my God, Jehovah, has been next to me and has given me the strength to endure all this. The power to not give up, not to lose heart, to be joyful and happy and to continue to smile. I am sincerely grateful to him for this and am proud to serve Him as one of his witnesses, one of Jehovah's Witnesses.

Many people have asked me how this criminal case have affected me. Of course, it is not easy to be in a SIZO for such a long period of time, to be cut off from your wife and from close contact with your family and friends. The last two years I have lived a very closed life. You could say I have just existed. 23 hours a day I have spent in my prison cell of 3 by 6 meters, and for an hour every day I have gone for a walk in the walking yard, also 3 by 6 meters, although under the open sky. During this time, I met various people with whom I had many interesting conversations. And I noticed that many of them are trying to achieve a decent, honest investigation and trial. Most feel that the system does not hear them, and I have also felt a similar feeling in the past two years. I tried to support and encourage them as best I could, because I am sure that Jesus Christ would have done the same.

I made many new friends, some of them were present at a part of the court sessions, and some wrote letters to me. I personally know some of them, but others not yet. Some havethe same faith as I do, others do not, but they still support me, because they cannot tolerate the injustice that is happening here in Russia, the way some here try to make Jehovah’sWitnesses, citizens who love their neighbour as themselves, out to be criminals and call them extremists. This is completely illogical and ridiculous. Many are shocked by the fact that such things happen here, in Russia, in the 21st century.

Someone asked me how this criminal case has affected my faith. Thanks to this criminal case, my faith has only become stronger, and I have experienced what the Bible said in the Epistle of James, the first chapter, in verses 2 through 4: “Take great joy, my brethren, when you meet with various trials, knowing that the test of your faith produces endurance; but endurance must have its action complete, so that you may be complete in its entirety, without any deficiency. ”

I am still far from perfect, but I have learned to be steadfast and remain joyful in my ordeals. And the most important thing I want to emphasize is that I have drawn even closer to my God Jehovah and have received an even more ardent desire to tell others about him and his purposes, an ardent desire to continue preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God, which is the only solution for humanity. A fervent desire to share with others the joyful message from the Bible about the world and eternal life here, in paradise on earth to help them get closer to the Creator and help develop strong faith in him and his promises.

This speech is officially called “the last word in my defence,” and maybe these will be the last words you will hear from me today. Maybe this is the last court hearing in this criminal case, and it will become an end to this last two-year period of my life. But I want to assure you that these are not my last words in this case about the injustice that is happening here in Russia against peaceful and completely innocent people. I have just started, and I have a lot more that I want to tell you publicly. I'm not going to be silent, as if I am guilty and have something to hide. I have a clear conscience, I have not done anything wrong, I have not violated any law of Russia and I have nothing to be ashamed of.

What is being done against me and other Witnesses here in Russia are false accusations of extremism, interrogations, detentions, searches, confiscations, discoveries, threats, and now even torture. This should be shameful. It is of course adisgrace. The truth always becomes apparent, and justice will sooner or later prevail. In the Bible, in Galatians, chapter 6, verse 7, it says: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked. Whatever a man sows, he will reap. ”

The court of first instance sentenced me to 6 years in prison, but for what? Nothing. There is no evidence that I did something wrong. On the contrary, there is a lot of evidence that I enjoyed the rights granted to me under Article 28 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation. I observe the law of the Russian state and am an honest person. I am a Christian, a believer, a Jehovah's Witness, and I love the Russian people. What are they punishing me for? Why should I be in prison for 6 years? Nothing. This is unfair.

I sincerely hope that the Court of Appeal today will protect what is right and take care that justice prevail. That it will namely stop the persecution of faith, which is happening now in Russia. I very much hope that this court of appeal will send a signal to the whole world that here in Russia there is freedom of religion for all people.

In the near future these words will be fulfilled: “And he, God, will judge many nations, and they will cast their swords into plowshares and their spears into sickles; nation will not raise the sword against nation, and they will no longer learn how to wage war. But each one will sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one will frighten them.” The words of Micah, chapter 4, verses 3 and 4.

God always judges justly, and under his rule there will no longer be disagreements, violence and wars. On the contrary, there will be peace, and there will be no anxieties. In other words, there will be true happiness for all of humanity.

Your Honor, with your decision today you can make a big step in this direction, in the direction of justice and peace. A big step towards a world without anxiety, sadness and injustice. And I hope you do that. Thank you in advance!

[The appeal failed. Seemingly, it had already been decided that it would.]

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“Despite Whatever Way This Trial May End, Christensen is the Winner”

"Despite whatever way this trial may end, Christensen is the winner. He has not renounced his own ideas, even while being imprisoned for the course of two years. And he will continue to express them in the future, including in today's debates." (Anton Bogdanov)

“The whole essence of the case comes down to the following: a local religious organization was liquidated and believers continued to meet together. Believers are forbidden to meet and the local religious organization is liquidated," (Irina Krasnikova)

[Both of the above are attorneys representing Dennis Christensen on his appeal]

Finally, Christensen himself spoke, through an interpreter:

"'The more often a lie is repeated, the more it is believed.' This sentence was spoken many years ago by one horrible person. I thought that in the 21st century such a thing is now impossible. However these methods are again being used against me and other Jehovah's Witnesses. In my case, the lie is the continuation of the activity of a local religious organization....I am often asked why they try to take Jehovah's Witnesses for extremists. My answer is: I do not know. I also did not hear an answer to this question in the court.”

[I did not hear it either. That is why I decided to supply them myself, along with how they might be defended, when I wrote ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia.’ Later, noting that the same lie about Witnesses being extremists is told in the West—and not for the same reasons—I decided to detail them and their rebuttal as well, in ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’

Both are free in ebook version:

Dear Mr. Putin is also available in extremist-free version. Few quotations in the original ebook are from Watchtower sources—even the house Bible translation has been changed to the New American Bible - Revised Edition, a Catholic translation. The two Mr. Putin ebooks are exactly the same, save for when a quote is taken from a Watchtower source. In the “safe” version, even if the words will be as innocuous as ‘God is love,’ I rip them out with the stern warning that they pose danger to the reader and have therefore been redacted.

Pay attention to which version of the book you read. You do not want to spend time in the hoosegow.]

(Excerpts taken from Orlovskie Novosti.  (May 16, 2019) https://www2.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/190516a.html)

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Inventing the News in Russia - to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Detriment, But Maybe Everyone Else’s as Well

Okay, I get it. Religion is not a core concern with Russian State-controlled media, except for that of the Russian Orthodox Church—it perceives that its task is to guard “House Church” interests and to shoot down the “competition.” It is therefore okay to misrepresent, even to lie about, the other pathways of seeking God—especially those of the “new religions.” It does not harm the overall reputation of State-controlled media, so the thinking apparently goes, to deliberately cook up untruths about these groups and pass then off as “journalism.” I wonder.

The school guidebooks used by Jehovah’s Witnesses contain counsel points on ‘accuracy of statement.’ If you are speaking, and you make an error about even what is periphery to your point, someone will be sure to think: “Huh! He doesn’t know that?” From there it is only a tiny hop to “Maybe he doesn’t know anything else, either.” And here we are speaking only of a misstatement. We are  not speaking at all of a deliberate lie.

If you are a media outlet and you make a deliberate lie, doesn’t it call into question everything else you say about any other subject? Every so often there will be some report of a Christian refusing an instruction from his employer to lie, and getting away with it by pointing out: “If I will not lie for you, neither will I lie to you.” It is the same principle with faulty Russian reporting, I think. If they lie about such-and-such, who is to say that they will not lie about any topic they examine?

Russian State media—RT.com—told a whopper of a lie regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses some years ago. An RT journalist that I follow on Twitter encouraged me to select some stories more balanced, insisting that there were some. I turned down the offer. If you are trying to establish that Russian media is unreliable, it does not help your cause to point out that once in a while they do tell the truth on your topic.

Here is the example. I included it in the ebook Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia:  See also the ‘safe’ version)

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?”

Ah well. It was some time ago. Maybe they have learned their lesson. Sigh...no.

ERR News is the English-language service of Estonian Public Broadcasting, run by a fully independent editorial team. On April 12, 2019, they told of “two employees of state-owned Russian TV channel Russia-1, entering Estonia on French and Italian Schengen visas, [and using] hidden cameras to gather material they then used to ridicule and demonise Jehovah's Witnesses. The Estonian Ministry of the Interior reacted by issuing a five-year entry ban....”

Furthermore, “trying to influence society by means of harassing different minorities is an integral part of the Kremlin's playbook. Jehovah's Witnesses are "persecuted and outlawed in Russia....The Russian state media occasionally make efforts to come up with an explanation for this fact. This typically includes reports where members of this religious minority are taunted, ridiculed and demonised.”

The clandestine reporters “entered a gathering of Jehovah's Witnesses in Tallinn without telling them who they are, and what they are planning to do. The material they gained at this gathering as well as at another, similar one in Finland was then used for Russia-1's news programme, Vesti, and aired on 29 November 2018.”

So Estonia kicked them out of the country for five years. That is what you do with liars. Good for them! They know what sanity is. The AP and the Washington Post picked up on and ran the story the next day.

I admit to not being expert on what media is state controlled and what isn’t, and what is the overlap. RT.com is state controlled. There are also others. This example caught by Estonia is apparently one of the others. I also get it that this is for local consumption only, not international consumption. Such shoddy “journalism” is instantly recognized for what it is internationally, but State media appears to feel it has every right to manipulate the gullible local public.

Will that happen with impunity? Time will tell. It may backfire on them. It morally should. It’s too bad. This writer finds RT.com to offer a refreshing contrast to Western media, which so often runs in a herd. But if they bend the truth so readily on their non-core concerns, who is to say they will not bend it on the core ones? One would think that if they want to safeguard their reputation, not only would these two journalists be fired, but more importantly, whoever put them up to it, as well—and the chain of command apparently reaches pretty high.

It is little wonder that Russia seeks to disconnect its internet from that of the rest of the world. Among the advantages to them will be to keep such slippery deeds hidden. However, does not that step alone disqualify it as a credible journalistic source?

https://news.err.ee/929589/iss-ministry-issued-schengen-entry-ban-against-russia-1-employees

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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)