March 27th, 2012
The Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses has sent out a letter to all congregations worldwide announcing major changes in how it will distribute the “good news of Jehovah’s Kingdom” starting in June 2012.
Dated April 2, 2012, the letter states that elders will make an official announcement about the contents of the letter after the Watchtower Study during that week. Insiders leaked copies of the letter in several languages, allowing several Jehovah’s Witness discussion forums and websites to publish excerpts and PDF versions of the original letter to their readers on March 24.
The letter describes how the Watchtower Society plans to expand its use of the Internet in the next few months. The organization plans to combine its three official websites under the JW.org banner and then deactivate Watchtower.org and JW-media.org domains. The letter states, “The redesigned jw.org Web site is planned for release around the beginning of June 2012. It will paint an appealing picture of our preaching work, branch offices, Kingdom Halls, and conventions…Selected features from our magazines that can be presented more effectively on the Web site will now be published only on jw.org…In addition, a series of online articles available only on the Web site will present concise, clear answers to questions about the Bible and Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
Emphasizing and expanding its Internet presence is a major change in direction for the Governing Body and the Society. Historically opposed to the Internet since the “world-wide web (WWW)” first appeared in the late 1980s, the Watchtower has written many articles warning its members against using MySpace.com, Facebook, Twitter, and other social websites. Personal computer use and accessing the Internet has been a frequent subject at assemblies and conventions for several years. Convention speakers have warned Jehovah’s Witnesses about visiting “apostate” websites and forums that might expose the Watchtower’s past errors, false prophecies, and embarrassing leadership. In fact, many local congregations have taken a hard-line against the Internet. Some Jehovah’s Witnesses have been reprimanded or disfellowshipped for discovering facts about the Society on the Internet and then making the mistake of bringing their questions to local elders or writing letters to headquarters. The Governing Body has labeled any online resources that discuss Watchtower history and teachings not owned by the Society as “apostate sites” – even if former Jehovah’s Witnesses do not run them.
Even though current versions are hardly more than pamphlets, the letter states that starting with the January 2013 issues, both the Awake! and public editions of the Watchtower shrink from 32 to 16 pages. The Watchtower places the blame for this change on their difficulty of “acquiring paper and equipment for printing.” One benefit mentioned in the same paragraph is an expanded worldwide readership. “Since each issue will contain less material, it may be possible for more translation teams to be able to translate every issue of the Awake! and the public edition of the Watchtower, thus increasing the number of languages in which they are available.”
The “study edition” of the Watchtower will continue as a 32-page magazine. Because this “private” version is limited for distribution only to active Witnesses and their families, there are rumors that the Our Kingdom Ministry may discontinue as a separate publication in the future and its essential articles included within the “study” Watchtower.
Some critics explain the Watchtower’s change of heart on the subject of the Internet in purely economic terms: (1)The business side of the Watchtower Society has finally realized that the Internet is the only low-cost method to get the “good news of Jehovah’s Kingdom” out to the farthest reaches of the globe. (2) They’ve also discovered that delivering the message is far cheaper when a few Bethel volunteers send it out electronically – compared to expensive paper, ink, and postage required for magazine distribution.
How JWs will distribute printed literature locally has not been clearly defined in this letter. There is a possibility that local Kingdom Halls will eventually have to use local computers and printers to make copies they’ll need for local door-to-door witnessing.
In spite of its apparent change of policy, the Society’s leaders may not want to acknowledge that many active Jehovah’s Witnesses have been extensively “preaching and teaching” on the Internet for many years. You can find JWs commenting on many non-approved websites (even those strongly opposed to the Society) and starting their own discussion threads on sites like Yahoo!Answers. As a rule, these Witnesses are easy to spot because of their heavy use of “JW Truth-speak” – since most quote directly from Watchtower publications and tend to use a lot of Watchtower lingo and phraseology unknown to the public.
It should also be noted that the letter states that this new information “should be kept strictly confidential among the elders until the letter is read…” Even though “the cat is out of the bag,” Jehovah’s Witnesses won’t officially hear about these changes until after the Watchtower study on Sunday, April 8th – unless they’ve heard everything through local gossip or have been on websites like this one. In fact, some lower level elders and ministerial servants aren’t supposed to hear the announcement until it is publicly presented to the rank and file publishers in their own Kingdom Hall.