ABCNews: Russia’s Campaign Against Jehovah’s Witnesses—a reaction

It is a shocking report, “Russia’s Campaign Against Jehovah’s Witnesses,” the latest in a long line of shocking reports. Throw it on the stack. I did, and then wrote up the following response to it:

Sergey Lavrov, one of the six Russian officials whom Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide were invited to write, later grumbled at a press briefing that “Russia is blamed for everything that goes wrong on this planet.” I wrote in I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses: Searching for the Why, “Ought he not look in the mirror for the reason?” When you arrest, jail, persecute, and in some cases even torture, the most peaceable people on the planet, you send a clear signal to the world that sanity does not prevail in your land.

“Why would a nation of some 144,000,000 risk its international reputation to persecute a religious sect numbering no more than 175,000 followers?” columnist Andrew Sorokowski wrote. Yet Russia has done so—it has gone ahead and trashed its international reputation—and it suggests to the unpracticed eye that all charges directed its way just might be true, that there is no accusation too fantastic to be dismissed out-of-hand. On Twitter, one Russian outlet sarcastically writes: “Don’t forget to check under your bed before you go to sleep tonight. There may be a Russian under there ready to give bad dreams.” “Thanks for the tip!” says anyone familiar with the plight of Dennis Christensen, jailed for nearly a full year [now much longer] without trial [he later had and lost his sham trial] for merely leading a Bible study, as he peaks under the bed to check. How can people not imagine Russia capable of unlimited villainy? Perhaps whatever they hear is but the tip of the iceberg.

This ABCNews story is painful to watch. In researching what I hoped would be like the modern-day (Russian) Book of Acts  (all particulars of this post are taken from that book, the ebook version of which is free on most venues and a print version also available through Amazon), these were names I’d run across before and I felt as though I knew them. They are ordinary people like me, manifestly harmless, manifestly decent, manifestly doing no more than worshipping the God of the Bible. Might there even be a little survivor’s guilt? We in the West may be targets of sporadic opposition, but the notion of violent repression is foreign to us (though not to Russians, who have historically known little else). Along with praying for our brothers, we pray that should our turn come, we will be a courageous as our Russian brothers are proving themselves to be.

In one rare Russian court decision that went our way, a Witness escaped imprisonment when a judge ruled a 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, he does, and he should; the second judge ruled the first out of line to muzzle the thought.

The parallels with the “first Christians” are exactly what to focus on. Russia’s outlandish persecution of Christians rivals even that of the first century in all but the ultimate price. The numbers are even comparable. Bart Ehrman, scholar of early Christianity, numbers Christian martyrs of Roman times as no more than a few hundred. Then as now, the unprovoked and irrational cruelty of it all sent disproportional shock waves down through history. The witness given ultimately reached and moved spiritually hungry persons everywhere.

Again and again in the ABCNews report comes the observation that nobody knows just why such atrocities are happening. Indeed, the story’s byline is: “Hundreds have been targeted in a crackdown that no one can fully explain.” Tanya Lokshina, when asked in interview, can’t figure it out. She is a human rights researcher and journalist; she is accustomed to figuring it out, so as to be able to better counter it. Here she admits that she just doesn’t know. It “doesn’t add up,” she says as she floats and discards one possibility. Putin himself famously commented that he didn’t understand why Jehovah’s Witnesses are persecuted, since they “are Christians, too.” Whenever things defy human explanation, surely believers can be forgiven for supposing something superhuman is also at work. Time and again the Bible narrative assures that “all those desiring to live with godly devotion in association with Christ Jesus will also be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12)

Just after the ban on the Jehovah’s Witness religion was imposed, when it was not clear just what would be the practical aftermath, authorities raided a campground. It was feared that Jehovah’s Witnesses were teaching their religion to their children. It didn’t sit well with those who commented on the news article. “Something is too much. Even I, being an inveterate and convinced atheist, against such interference in the personal life of citizens, even if they are any Witnesses (this is still to be proved). People are adults, they went out with their tents to rest, yes, and with their children.” Nearly all of the 54 comments attached were supportive and sympathetic to Witnesses, and the few that were not were mostly traceable to a single vitriolic person—Witnesses would call this one an “apostate,” for they almost always are; no one else could work up such a frenzied passion, even infecting entire nations.

The Witness organization gives this unjustified persecution maximum exposure. As Paul told Agrippa, “this thing has not been done in a corner.”  This Witness organization did not permit that, even if they failed to stop what is in essence a sure Bible prediction. Our Russian brothers will forever know that their courageous stand spurs honest, hungry, and humble persons to look into the faith now on display as heretofore uninterested persons check jw.org to see if it is truly extremist. When they see that it is not, how will they respond? The world reels from one calamity to the next, and distressed people seek explanation and comfort. Perhaps that is the greatest contribution our Russian brothers make to Jehovah’s service—to point to where answers may be found, even if “with persecutions.” (Mark 10:30)

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

FECRIS Rebuked by the Hamburg District Court for Defaming Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Be it proactively or in response to a summons, the reason you legally defend the good news in court is in order to give a witness. You do it to keep the path open for witnessing, as with Paul’s “defending and legally establishing of the good news,” (Philippians 1:7) since there are ever factions that would like to rule it illegal. And often the defense you present in itself becomes a witness.

“Why, you will be haled before governors and kings for my sake, for a witness to them and the nations.  However, when they deliver you up, do not become anxious about how or what you are to speak; for what you are to speak will be given you in that hour,” says Jesus. (Matthew 10:18-19)

So it is that Jehovah’s Witnesses challenged FECRIS in a German District Court with regard to 32 separate statements from them, each one picked up and even acted upon by some as though fact. Please rule as to whether or not they are defamatory, they asked the court.

It all makes for a witness when you publicly expose ones lying about you, and that is why you do it. If it leads to a reversal of unjust policies, that is icing on the cake. Word on the street is that, while the friends in Russia are obviously distressed at the villainies visited upon them, they also take consolation that their own undeserved suffering serves to focus world attention on the kingdom hope they proclaim.

FECRIS, is the acronym for the “European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Cults and Sects.” It is funded by the French government, and it is the source of significant trouble for Jehovah’s Witnesses and a host of other “new religions.”

“New religion” is the scholarly term for any religious group originating in relatively recent times. Scholars deliberately choose “new religion” over “cult” to sidestep the incendiary overtones of the latter word. Non-scholars favor “cult” because they wish to make it as hot as possible for the “new religions.” The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has identified FECRIS as a main international threat to religious liberty.

The Hamburg court agreed that 17 of the 32 FECRIS statements of Jehovah’s Witnesses were, in fact, defamatory. (Actually, it was 17.5–one was partly defamatory.) This, despite the court’s recognition that there is much latitude in making critical statements of a religion, and that even an incorrect expressed opinion nevertheless is usually protected speech. Even so, FECRIS, with 100% hostility toward the Witnesses, had crossed the line of what was permissible 55% of the time. They were just flat-out lying, to put it in layman’s terms. And yet, ones with influence pick up on their lies, and even implement law based upon them.

There can be no better example of this than Russia. It turns out that the VP of FECRIS, Alexander Dvorkin, rides high in Russia as a government minister—exercising a duel role. He is a chief architect of the ban of the Jehovah’s Witness organization as “extremist.”. Therefore, police arrest Jehovah’s Witnesses in that land, and they do so violently, with fully armed FSB teams (the American equivalent of SWAT teams). After all, if you declare someone “extremist,” you must treat them that way. If you arrest them as you would a jaywalker, you proclaim to all that you know full well they are not extremists and that your entire premise is a lie.

It all falls upon Dvorkin, and his Western FECRIS organization. Anti-cultism in Russia is a Western import. It is not native Russian at all, just like the communism of 100 ago was not Russian, but was injected into that land in hopes destabilizing the Allied powers of World War I. Is Russia forever to be manipulated by outside powers?

Armed with FECRIS ideology, Dvorkin shouts “CULT!” in the crowded Russian theater with “facts” that are incorrect 55% of the time. Thus he and his FECRIS is responsible for the mayhem that results. Each time a Witness is beaten, jailed, detained, robbed of belongings, or harassed, it falls upon him.  It is the same as how someone shouting “FIRE!” in a crowded theater would be held accountable. Hopefully, now that his credibility is seriously undercut, the government may reassess the degree to which they wish to rely upon his “expertise.”

Now, of course, I’m not holding my breath. Perhaps they will say, “Well, he doesn’t lie all the time. We’ll stick with him.” It is a bizarre world in which we live, increasingly irreligious, but a fine parallel one might consider is when the US Supreme Court ruled during WWII that Witness children could be compelled to salute the flag. A wave of persecution broke out across the country that saw widespread destruction of property, and even some Witnesses lynched. In the aftermath of what had been unleashed, three of the justices gave to understand they thought the case had been decided incorrectly. Another two retired and were replaced by ones thought more agreeable to individual liberty. The case came before the court once again, just three years later, and the decision was reversed. Would that such a thing were to happen in Russia. 

“FECRIS comes out of the Hamburg decision with its image of an organization of ‘experts,’ who deserve to be supported by taxpayers’ money in France and elsewhere, deeply shattered,” comments religious scholar Massimo Introvigne. “It rather emerges as a coalition of purveyors of fake news, which systematically use defamation to attack groups they label as ‘cults.’ Hopefully, the German decision will become a model for others in different jurisdictions, teaching FECRIS-affiliated anti-cult movements that they may have powerful patrons but are not above the law.”

Introvigne covers the 17 false statements in a piece he writes for BitterWinter.org. A handful of FECRIS statements were actually just fed them by their VP Dvorkin and uncritically repeated. They are that among the  “characteristic features” of the Jehovah’s Witnesses are “illegal possession of property,” that they “took possession of citizens’ apartments,” commit “religiously motivated crimes,” and bring “adult and children to their death.” Untrue statements of fact, all of them, said the Hamburg District Court, leaving out only the adjective ridiculous.

Because the charges are Russian, I dealt with them in I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses: Searching for the Why. It turns out that others had found them outrageous as well:

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

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Dam! Dam! Dam! Dam! They’ve Grown Accustomed to My Face (spelling intentional)

grumble grumble...The daily text for today (February 7) quoted Emily Baran’s book about withstanding persecution in Russia. It didn’t quote mine. The reason it didn’t quote mine is that mine is rubbish, but even so... Mine is of the more intense time period. Hers (Dissent on the Margins) covers Witnesses standing up to Russian oppressors from the mid-1900s to her book’s 2014 date of publication. Mine more or less picks up where hers leaves off. Her time period is no slouch, but mine is where the real action is.

Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia may be rubbish but its rewrite will not be. I took it down, it was so bad, and I’m embarrassed I ever released it. The rewrite is not too far off now—even if when I say “two months” it actually means four at the very least. The same narrative is told in 2/3 the words, showcasing what survives to more powerful effect. Plus, it updates with the darker turn of current events. Let’s face it, even if the ebook was any good, the whimsical cover of a child writing Putin seems remote from the current “fight to the finish” tone of Mark Nourmair. It needs a new title and new cover. It will have both.

“Dam, dam, dam, dam! They’ve grown accustomed to my face,” to quote Rex Harrison. (The dam is spelled the friendly beaver way, for the sake of the friends. I would spell it otherwise were it not for them. But dam gets the job done. Everyone knows beavers are highly educated—graduates of Dam U, every one of them. The two forms can substitute for each other) The point is—how am I going to advance a new book as genius when I have firmly planted the notion that I originate rubbish? I’ll think of something. But someone should have told me the ebook needed work so as to make the present salvage unnecessary. That’s the trouble with the friends—they’re either too polite to tell you that your work stinks, or they have such a low bar of approval, happy to read anything complimentary, that they don’t think it does.

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Never again will I write a book after the fashion of Dear Mr. Putin. You’re supposed to start with an outline, and then progressively write to fill it out. You’re not supposed to start with hundreds of individual conversations and then shake everything you have until it all falls into one of many categories, then call each category a chapter. What a hare-brained way to write a book! My other books aren’t this way. This book made for trouble for me by far than my other four put together!

Because of this basic structural flaw, it probably won’t be possible to redeem it 100%. But I can come pretty close. And I do have advantages. One is that I know my people inside and out. Another is that I am a pretty good storyteller. Most of what “witnessing” I do will be in the form of storytelling—just relating my conversations and experiences in field service to illustrate this point or that. Another advantage is that there is NO competition. Even in it flawed form, it is the only comprehensive record of Witness trials and integrity in the face of the Russian bear. Then too, the ebook version (maybe not Amazon—is it even possible with them?) remains free, a labor of love. Alas, I wish I had charged $300 for Dear Mr. Putin so no one would have bought it.

On the weakness side, I can’t approach Emily Baran for scholarship. I have a disclaimer on that in Dear Mr. P, and it will probably survive into the new book. Nor did I actually travel to Russia (I wouldn’t dare now) to interview people, as she has. Nor do I have any blessing from Russia Bethel, as I think she did—it does seem they rendered her some assistance. On the other hand, I have Chivchalov, who says anything he puts out can be made use of and who answers my various questions, and I have very complete updates from several human rights and academic sources.

Why don’t I just wait for the organization to put out a complete record? They probably will one of these days, just as the 2008 Yearbook featured a history of Jehovah’s people in that land up till that date. I guess I write for the same reason Baran did. Anything the brothers come out with will be spiritually on the money, but secularly maybe not so much. It will be “one world leader said,” “one human rights organization reported,” “one academic professor agreed,” without much sense of the interplay between them.

Alas, I also don’t have the support system Baran had. Baran’s is published on the academic press. Mine will be self-published. There are hoops of quality control that must be leapt for the commercial press, some are imposed upon you whether you like it or not, and it is all too easy to not leap them for self-publishing.

I am here in the world of the friends, half of whom will think, “Oh, you’re writing of the brothers? That makes it spiritual food. Is it your place to do that?” and the majority aren’t too bookish to begin with. If I start spreading the word that I’m looking for collaboration, someone will surely come along to suspect that I am pushing ahead or trying to make a name for myself. It is as I write in Dear Mr Putin:

“Books about Jehovah’s Witnesses authored by Jehovah’s Witnesses are not plentiful. This is a shame, for no outsider, even with the best of intentions, can do justice to the faith as can a Witness—they miss the nuances, and in some cases, even the facts. Three reasons account for this drought. Jehovah’s Witnesses are primarily drawn from the ranks of working people, who are not inclined to write books. Pathways of publicizing their faith are already well established and few think to go beyond them—why write a book when you can and do look people in the eye and tell them what you have to say? There is also a sense of not wanting to compete with an official channel.”

Ah well, it is what it is. I don’t want to be one of the whiners, always blaming my problems on someone else. I could work to overcome these deficiencies if I put my back into it. The fact is, even without Covid, I am a bit of a loner who doesn’t excel at networking. With Covid, I have unchained my inner hermit, and he is doing just fine, but it doesn’t make for an especially good support system. Nor am I envious of Baran, much less in competition with her. I swapped emails with her a few times. She’s very nice. She probably rolled her eyes at Dear Mr. Putin. She dropped out of sight for a time so as to be a mom, but now I see she has contributed anew in the press.

Oh—and her quote from the daily text? “Commenting on Jehovah’s Witnesses in the former Soviet Union, historian Emily B. Baran said: ‘When the state told believers that they could not evangelize their faith to others, Witnesses chatted [with] their neighbors, coworkers, and friends. When these actions landed them in labor camps, Witnesses sought out converts among their fellow prisoners.’ Despite the ban, our brothers there did not stop preaching. May you have that same determination!” 

Notice how she is an “historian” and I’m not? And yet, the description is plainly correct. It reminds me of Ray, a former brother who would go around telling people he was an historian. “How do you know that?” a householder would say and he would reply it was because he was an historian. Finally I told him to knock it off. He was a history buff, not an historian. An historian is when others recognize your expertise, not just you yourself.

I acknowledge Baran’s work in an early passage that will also survive the cut into the rewrite: “I will draw upon her book heavily for background. This particular chapter could not be written without it, and other chapters are spared many obtuse statements because of it.” I also discussed how she took vigorous exception to one reviewer’s charge (just one, out of many favorable reviews) that hers was a hagiography, heightened to “gagiography,” which is not a word. I suspected it was someone expressing personal distaste of the subject, as though it made him gag. She was inclined to think it was just a typo. Either way she was steamed about it, since it alleges lack of objectivity, the worst of all possible sins for an historian.

She is not among those who “miss the nuances, and sometimes even the facts.” Her work is detailed and admirable. She sidesteps the red herrings. It is not easy to write of Jehovah’s Witnesses because the subject either draws or repels—strict neutrality is very hard. It is Hebrews 4:12 at work: “For the word of God is alive and exerts power and is sharper than any two-edged sword and pierces even to the dividing of soul and spirit, and of joints and [their] marrow, and [is] able to discern thoughts and intentions of [the] heart.” She thanks one mentor in her foreword for never asking, “Why Jehovah’s Witnesses?” I added, “If he didn’t have to know, then neither do I. We don’t have to know everything.”

....

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Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

“Russia’s religious persecution focuses almost exclusively on Jehovah’s Witnesses,” say Human Rights Watch

Russia’s religious persecution focuses almost exclusively on Jehovah’s Witnesses,” according to Rachel Denbar, Deputy Director Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch in a statement to christianpost.com.

This is much stronger than I would have put it, but it is also from someone more in the know. Denbar spotlights human rights violations in Russia for all causes—not just religious, but also political, journalistic, persecution of gays, etc. When it comes to religion, there is only one worth mentioning, she reports.

I have said that all minority religion in Russia is harassed, but that Jehovah’s Witnesses are in the vanguard; I said in Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia that Jehovah’s Witnesses are banned, but others are shaking in their boots that they will be next. Turns out I was wrong. They can rest easy. For all practical purposes, it is only Jehovah’s Witnesses. “You don’t see this kind of ban on other sorts of religious life,” Denbar says.

The christianpost.com article continues: “In the 2017 Supreme Court case, the actual verdict wasn’t about condemning beliefs, it was about liquidating legal entities. Whether or not someone is a believer, really has nothing to do with liquidating a legal entity,” a Witness spokesman said. “They’re using that law as a weapon and misapplying it to attack Jehovah’s Witnesses religious beliefs.”

Of course! The notion of outlawing a religious organization but not the individuals of that religion is so duplicitous that ordinary people cannot get their heads around it and just carry on as though the people themselves were outlawed. It may have been planned that way. Or it may simply represent manipulation from devious ones, even a Devious One, who prefer to remain hidden.

Yuriy Savelyev, the 66-year old just sentenced to prison, where he will rub shoulders with violent criminals and risk getting COVID-19, says: “I have found myself being accused not of a crime, but of being a follower of the religious teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I have no enemies, and for my almost 67 years I have never been brought to administrative or criminal responsibility. I am against any form of violence, be it verbal, psychological or physical.” Everyone knows it is true, save for a few fringe anticultists who equate not hanging out with those who turn 180 degrees against you as “psychological violence.” Everyone else instantly realizes the truthfulness of his statement.

“The law targets those who are extremists or terrorists or dangerous. It’s a gross misapplication of the law.” Of course, again.

And what are the chances, in any kind of a sane world, that these are the persons who would be persecuted, when there are so many who in the blink of an eye will turn to violence, and a few that specialize in it? It makes no sense from a human point of view. Therefore, persons can be forgiven if they look for a superhuman point of view—and there they can find one.

“The Devil has come down to you, having great anger, knowing that he has a short period of time....[He] became enraged at the woman and went off to wage war with the remaining ones of her offspring, who observe the commandments of God and have the work of bearing witness concerning Jesus.”

I think of a local brother with a certain dramatic flair decades ago taking a globe onstage for his public talk. He quoted Matthew 24:14: “This good news of the kingdom will be be declared in all the earth for a witness and then the end will come,” and as he did so, he put his finger down upon this or that small area of the globe in which the area king said, “This good news of the kingdom WILL NOT be be declared in my part of the earth.” The unspoken question carried an implied answer: “Who will prevail—the maker of the globe or the one who would defy God on this small section of it?”

Sometimes those who don’t like Witnesses will carry on about how they overstate their “persecution complex.” We see here from the christianpost.com that, in reality, Witnesses understate it. 

 
Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

If You Occupy Yourself with Spreading the Gospel You Just Might be a Christian

When Vladimir Putin said Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians too, “I don’t know why we persecute them,” Russian Witnesses were cautiously optimistic. They weren’t naive. They didn’t forget where they were. But when Darth Vader says, “I don’t know why we’re so mean to the Light Side,” you sort of think that maybe he will stop.

Did the top brass of the Russian Orthodox Church pull him aside to say, “What is wrong with you, Vladimir? Get with it! They are not Christian at all!” It is pure speculation, but for whatever reason, nothing came of Putin’s words. In fact, it has been just the opposite; persecution of JWs has only increased.

Would they dare talk back to him that way? They might. Countries that nurture a “house church” and suppress everyone else expect that church to be the spiritual equivalent of the military, a force to bind together the nation. The military top brass no doubt speaks freely before Putin, so why not the Church top brass?

At any rate, a senior cleric, Metropolitan Hilarian, is adamant that no way are Jehovah’s Witnesses Christian. Crowing at the aftermath of the 2017 ban on the Witness organization, he said: “It's hard to deny that these cultists will remain and continue their activity... but at least they'll stop openly claiming to be a Christian faith, in other words, in the market place of existing Christian confessions this product will no longer be on display.”

The reason that Putin did think Jehovah’s Witnesses were Christian, most likely, is that at the annual Kremlin picnic, his third cousin, with an interest in the Bible, bended his ear on things that Christians do. “Go, therefore, and make disciples,” Jesus said, as well as, “This good news of the kingdom will be declared in all the inhabited earth” at which point Putin reflected on who most visibly does this, openly approaching people, Bible in hand, right in their homes. It means Witnesses are Christian, he would have told himself.

But this is plebeian thinking, the Church clerics convince him. He must not be such a donkey in this regard. He is one of the ruling elite and he must act it. He must not be taken in by the fact that JWs alone, as a lifelong course, take the Christian message directly to people wherever they happen to be. It’s a ruse. They’re really not Christian.

They’ll have to correct BusinessInsider.com, too. Lamenting that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not vote, it nevertheless describes them as a “Christian denomination.” This identification as a Christian denomination is picked up by most secular sources.

Maybe religionnews.com can straighten them out. “Scholars call out Putin and the ‘escalation’ of persecution against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia,” it announces on October 2, 2020. It is a thorough article. It included the assessment of the scholars, that they “are left with the impression that Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia are being punished for their success in gaining new adherents, and because they are perceived as a ‘foreign’ religion.”

Still, it cannot close the article without stating: “They are not recognized as Christian by Orthodox and other Christian traditions, primarily because they do not believe in the Trinity.”

Ah—there is the sticking point! It is the Trinity. Lack of it is a deal-breaker. This is very strange because virtually all scholars will concede that the Trinity doctrine was 300 years in development and was cemented into place first only at the 325 CE council of Nicaea. It is not explicitly taught in the Bible. Nearly all verses said to support it, were they to be seen in any other context, would be instantly dismissed as figure-of-speech. When the impaled Jesus cries out, “My God, my God—why have you forsaken me?—What! has he forsaken himself? It makes no sense. Nonetheless, it has become the steamroller that flattens all before it.

Again and again you get the sense that the ordinary people of common sense, barring only some indoctrinated religionists, accept in a heartbeat that Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christian because they most notably approach people with the Bible. Too, their stand of non-involvement in wars most notably dovetails with Jesus’ words that “by this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” and that “all who live by the sword will die by the sword.” People of common sense instantly recognize this.

But the higher you climb in the religion food chain, the more you find ones who have educated themselves beyond this common sense. I wrote previously of how the aforementioned religionnews.com doesn’t even seem to have a category for Jehovah’s Witnesses, and furthermore opined that such a circumstance might be perfectly agreeable to the JW headquarters—on a list of “religions of the world,” they do not appear.

It is reminiscent of Victor V Blackwell, a lawyer representing our people during the tumultuous World War II years. He writes of how he would point out for this or that small town judge that, per the scriptural definition, Witnesses enrolled in full time service of preaching and teach the Word were plainly ministers. However, those judges recognized as ministers only persons who “had a church” and “got paid.”

 

 

 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

The Power of a Joke—Soviet Times and Now

Russians under communism used to blow off steam with jokes—thousands of jokes against the regime, against the shortage of goods, against the secret police—says Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius, narrating his History of Eastern Europe course for the Great Courses teaching company.

“A man stops by the office of the secret police for help in locating his parrot. They chase him away—they have more important things to do—but as the man leaves he lays great stress on how if the parrot is found, they must not think that its political opinions are his.”

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Decades later, Paul Goble keeps up with current jokes: A man formally applies to the government for a position in the Inquisition. He is told he is either 1000 years too late or 3 years too early”—this is a joke that will resonate with Jehovah’s Witnesses who are officially classified as “extremist”—a designation shared only with ISIS.

Some of the old Russian jokes (the Russian term is ‘anekdoti’) are timeless:

What’s the difference between capitalism and communism? Capitalism is man’s exploitation of man but communism is the exact opposite!

The joke is versatile enough that it can be applied to any contrasting forms of government, much as Betty McClure was able to redeem a (possible) ethnic jokes simply by applying it to her circuit overseer husband:

Dave comes from a town so backward that it’s greatest tragedy was the time the town library burned to the ground. Both books were destroyed! One wasn’t even colored in yet!

Versatility is a good thing. Maybe the Russian joke itself from Ecclesiastes 8:9, the verse of how “man has dominated man to his harm.” It is attribute of human rule itself, and can be fit to any specific type, recalculating only the new winners and losers. All human governments drop the ball. Usually it is a bowling ball. As people contemplate the vulnerability of their right and left toes, thus is decided their politics.

Professor Liulevicius goes on to state: “Scholars are still debating whether such jokes undermined the whole system by mocking it or whether on the contrary they stabilized the system by allowing people to vent some of their frustrations without ever openly challenging the regime. There’s no consensus on this,” and then he goes on to explore “the power of a joke.”

I’d say the power of a joke is that of a double-edged sword. Almost like the Word itself, it “is alive and exerts power and is sharper than any two-edged sword and pierces even to the dividing of soul and spirit, and of joints from the marrow, and is able to discern thoughts.” (Hebrews 4:12)

A concluding chapter of Tom Irregardless and Me reads thus: “If we have poked some fun at Tom Irregardless, Oscar Oxgoad, and Tom Pearlsandswine, it is to establish the greater picture that God uses people like them to accomplish feats that their higher-ups, though they have far more education, can only dream of. There’s not much that God can do with independent people, and proud ones stop him dead in his tracks. With humble ones, conscious of their spiritual need, he can do a lot.

How can you not write this in view of Jesus’ words that the high-brow do not get the sense of the scriptures because their own vanity gets in the way? At that time Jesus said in response: ‘I publicly praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intellectual ones and have revealed them to young children.” That’s who responds in the main to the Christian message: “young children.” If you present them as though Rhodes Scholars, people visit the Kingdom Hall and discover in no time at all that they’re not—so why not present them with all the foibles that young children have as well as all that is appealing?

Then, too, regarding the power of a joke, there is the Alfred P Doolittle factor: “They’re always throwing goodness at you, but with a little bit of luck a man can duck.” Humor lets you duck when you have to. Let’s face it—in any organized arrangement there will be things that don’t go your way. “Why on earth don’t they do it this way?” you’ll say, as they do it that way to thunderous applause—and use of judicious humor bails you out as a relief valve.

Of course, you can also use humor to savage things, and this I do, too—with the blade pointed the proper way, of course. Vic Vomodog—watch out! Once you laugh at something, will you ever look at it again in the same way? “I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one,” wrote Voltaire. “Oh Lord, make my enemies ridiculous. And God granted it.”

....

For years, a man has been saving up in order to buy a new car. One day the party official summons him to say that his patience, hard work, and loyalty have been rewarded—he has worked his way up the list and he can now expect his car in but 10 years time. The man asks the party official if he knows on what day 10 years out his car will arrive, to which the official consults his records and tells him. The man then asks if it will come in the morning or afternoon, and at that the official frowns. “What kind of a question is that?” he demands.

“It’s just that I hope it arrives in the afternoon,” the man says, “because the plumber is coming that morning.”

 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Biased Reporting. Et tu?—Even Us?

“The strange dynamic that is reality in “news” today is that if you are a member of a cause, you are biased and thus not reliable as a source.” This I wrote here, and it attracted an answer:

This is more and more true as the world gets more divided, more partisan, and more nationalistic. Pride in one's own cause, nation, religion or ideology causes one to be more apt to defend one's POV with bias, and condemn, with bias, those of an "opposite" POV . It happens to the best of us, and by that I mean that there have been several documented examples even within and among our own religion. 

I have learned to live with it, and perhaps even acquiesce that it must be that way. Of course, I don’t know what examples this person may have in mind, but...

Do you think I can persuade anybody that the (largely) atheist anti-cult movement is behind our woes in Russia? No. It is all the machinations of Babylon the Great is all anyone wants to hear. We are so hung up on Babylon the Great that we do not recognize that she is mostly licking her wounds these days, and a powerful atheist faction has arisen that would eradicate everyone clinging to worship of God—us no less than they. Yet we still, in the main, carry on as though publishers in Judge Rutherford’s day, announcing that religion is a “snare and a racket.” It is, but here in the West, it does not play as the most timely theme. The atheists and the skeptics perch above it all and ridicule the different religionists calling each other false. As rude as some trolls are here, I see brothers equally rude on social media with regard to tweets mentioning religion—appending insults that have little to do with the topic under consideration. Do they think themselves witnessing? It doesn’t leave a good impression. I could wish that we got training about social media besides the refrain to “be cautious” of it.*

Trained, we might be able to do some good with it. The articles posted on JW.org lately—about coping with anxiety, safeguarding children from the horror of world news, adapting them to “distance learning,” and so forth? These are excellent contributions—exactly what is needed today by anyone wishing to preserve sanity. It would take so little for ones who know how to use social media to judiciously spread this all over the internet, to the benefit of countless people. But we are advised to be cautious as to our use of it. We are not trained, and most of those who venture there with the idea of witnessing are horribly clumsy—saying outrageous things, oblivious to what their audience potentially might be.  It could be used to such powerful effect, but it is not in a nod to “caution.” 

Still, maybe the fixation on Babylon the Great, and turning a (it seems to me) blind eye to the atheists and skeptics is what one must expect of Bethel. They, more than anyone, strive to be “no part of the world.” Over time, they get to know little about it. They live primarily in the world of Scriptures, and the scriptures say that it is in the skirts of Babylon the Great (not the atheists or skeptics) that is found the blood of all those who have been slaughtered on the earth. Primarily, the sin is one of omission, not commision. Had religion not neglected to teach the Word of God, there would not be the bumper crop of atheists and skeptics of today. So who can say that Bethel is wrong to keep on harping over false religion—that picture is the overall picture, and the skeptics are but a resulting subset—even though (someone said to me) “the denunciation of Babylon the Great was needed at that time because religion was still powerful. Today it is not needed any longer.“ The way that I have phrased it is: “Why kick the old lady when she is down? We kicked her while she was up.”

Another area of seeming bias is how we speak of ex-members—as though they are all train-wrecks, and will remain so until they come to their senses and return. This is a point of great ridicule among ex-Witnesses, who take bows before each other each time one emerges who is not a train-wreck. I mean, it really does seem an example of “confirmation bias” on our part.

Still, the Word indicates that those who leave after knowing the truth are like Vic Vomodog, whose name I changed from Vomidog to please @anna, who didn’t like the image. “A dog that returns to its own vomit” is how Peter puts it, so from there comes the notion that the world will “chew one up and spit one out.” If the brothers find someone who says it in exactly those words based upon his own experience, they eat it right up and cannot relay it quickly enough. 

It used to drive me nuts. It still does, a little, but it does so less. The brothers don’t know because they obey the Bible’s own counsel to not go where they might find out. “Keep an eye on those who cause division and stumbling and avoid them,” says Romans 16:17. So they do avoid them, and thus the only window they have to look upon them is that of scripture. 

Ah, well. I would like it if they didn’t do that, but who is to say they are wrong? It’s a little like God declaring that Adam and Eve will die the day they disobey. It the long run, it makes little difference whether that “day” is one of 24 hours or 1000 years.

...
*You settle in social media like FB and Twitter just like you would settle in a physical neighborhood. As you interact with your “neighbors,“ by degrees people come to know of your faith and what makes you do what you do. I wish we did more of this, but in fact we do almost none. When we “friend” only those we personally know, whatever witnessing we do, barring some fluke, reaches only the brothers. 

I rather like it that the hour requirement of pioneers has been suspended, and yet people are still being appointed as pioneers—which begs off the obvious question of...well, you know what it is. Counting time inevitably leads to curious notions of being “on duty/ off duty.“ I don’t mind seeing it suspended, in favor of witnessing that is seamlessly integrated into our lives—sometimes distinctly “on duty”, sometimes, for the most part, “off duty,” but generally so seamless that it is hard to tell.

If I was to count all the time I spend on social media, primarily my own blogging here, in that case I have been special pioneering for many years. But the notion of counting time is a provision of the organization, so it is for them to define how it Is to be done. Since they are decidedly unencouraging on witnessing via social media, I count none of it.

 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

110 Homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses Raided in a Single Day - Russia

When the song “Give us Courage” was released at the 2018 Be Courageous Regional Conventions, an accompanying video depicted soldiers in full military gear closing in on entirely ordinary and manifestly harmless Jehovah’s Witnesses, who were doing no more than minding their own business. “How cult-like!” said the ridiculers. “What is it with these people and their “persecution complex?”

In fact, the video prefigures events that have come to pass, as absurdly unlikely as they might seem. After all, arresting entirely harmless people is crazy in itself. But what multiplies the craziness 100-fold is to arrest them in full military gear including assault rifles. Yet this is exactly what was done in the Voronezh Region of Russia on July 13, 2020as 110 homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses were raided—a new record. Congregation members were forced to the ground with their faces pressed into the floor. At least two were beaten.

Many of these persons are elderly. They include women and children. There is no possibility of them offering resistance and everybody knows it. They are almost the only group whose entire history demonstrates that under no circumstances will they resort to violence. Yet they are arrested as you would terrorists.

Assuming that arrests are called for (a ridiculous assumption that we will let pass so as to pursue a greater point), why would arrests be made in such a brutal manner? Two reasons present themselves,

1) Outright hate.

2) Saving face.

If you declare people “extremists” and then arrest them as you would a jaywalker, you are only making yourself look a liar. You are only proving that they are not extremists at all, and that you well know it. Better to arrest them in military style. You may look unhinged in that event, but at least you appear to be acting in accord with your convictions, plus you are creating maximum terror against gentle people. It’s a little like beating up on girls—in a rapidly escalating game of hardball.

This calls to mind how Abraham Lincoln would say that he was not smart enough to lie—for if he did, he knew he would have to adjust every subsequent statement and action to accord with that first lie if he was to retain an ounce of credibility. Having swallowed the lie that Witnesses are extremists, Russian police forces now have to act as though they are.

The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses foresaw this. It is the most unlikely scenario in the world, and yet they foresaw it. Does this “prove” that Jehovah is with the Witness Governing Body—to transfer Brother Glock’s remarks to more readily adaptable content? Sometimes all you need do with a statement like that from Glock is to show a little flexibility. Like the boy that was spanked by his Dad and protested that he hadn’t committed the offense for which he was being punished. “Well—in that case, it’s for something that you did do for which you should have been punished but weren’t,” dear old dad said.

The world of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia is turned upside down. Even raids that do not result in their arrest result in the confiscation of belongings—typically including tablets and phones. Still, they take some satisfaction in knowing that their staying faithful under trial calls worldwide attention to the Christian course they pursue. Theirs is somewhat the response of Christians in the first century, who upon being released from punishment, “rejoiced that they had been counted worthy to be dishonored for the sake of his name.” (Acts 5:41) It is not the type of witness that most would choose, but it is a witness; it does bring to life how “you will be hated by all the nations on account of my name.” (Matthew 24:9)

I do not look forward to the experience, and living in the West as I do, it may not come. Human rights people carry much more popular sway in the West than they do in Russia, where the very concept is suspiciously regarded as a Western intrusion—so says Chivchalov. Even in Russia—“Look, the Devil will throw some of you into prison,” the apostle John warns—not all of you. Even Bart Ehrman apparently speaks for the academic community when he states that Christian martyrs of the first century probably numbered in the hundreds—they did not include everyone.

But so often in life we cannot choose our “assignment.” The trick is to be like Paul, who knew how to live regardless of his circumstances. (Phil 4:12) All reports are that the Russian brothers are facing their persecutors with enormous resolve, courage, and integrity. I pray that should it ever become my turn, I will just as readily follow their example.

 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

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.

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

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.
Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)