By Bridget Anderson
The phrase from Hebrews 12, “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” took on a whole new meaning for me this weekend. I was name-tagless and alone in a sea of 5,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses. I had many thoughts and observations churning around within me, longing to find release. Thus, this essay.
The first thing that surprised me was the style of the speakers. They all had the same style. It was totally devoid of humor, passion or individuality. It was striking how much “the same” they sounded; their deliveries were dry and droning, almost as though they were reading off a teleprompter, or reciting something they had memorized years ago. Not only was the boredom of the attendees palpable, one got the impression that the speakers themselves were bored with what they were saying. It was ironic, considering the subject was “Keep on the Watch” and their constant repetition that Armageddon was “at hand” (as they have proclaimed it to be for 130 years).
The uniformity of the crowd was also somewhat amazing, considering it was so large. In sitting for a stretch of three hours, everyone did exactly the same thing: eyes fastened on the speaker, Bibles rustling to look up each verse, all taking notes. I felt kind of “obvious” by just taking sips of water a few times during the talks, or looking for my gum in my bag.
One of the sessions brought up past false prophecies that the Society has given. At first, one might perceive this as commendable and honest. Unfortunately, the way it was presented was disingenuous and downright deceptive. The Society has coined phrases like “wrong expectations” for some Jehovah’s Witnesses. They neglected to mention that these failed prophecies were not merely “expectations” of some of the silly rank and file, they were the official teaching of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the so-called only “channel of God” and only true Christians on earth today!
How could this be taught with a straight face when they published and distributed numerous magazines declaring these to be “God’s dates, not ours,” and referring to themselves as “God’s only channel,” and yes, PROPHET! A book published by President Rutherford entitled Millions Now Living Will Never Die in……..1920! For years they have proclaimed in the Awake! magazine that the generation of 1914 would not die out before the End!
The speaker claimed that the disciples’ question to Jesus in the book of Acts is analogous to their situation. They said to Him, “Lord, is it at this time you will restore the kingdom?” How is this simple question even remotely related to a publishing company claiming to speak for God through their publications and Governing Body, making many proclamations about various dates and events, and spreading this news from God far and wide? I kept looking around, to see if anyone else was freaking out or amused by this line of reasoning.
Another session that was amusing in light of the Society’s history was one on how helpful and uplifting it is that we do not know the date of the end, as Jesus said. Not knowing makes us “stay on the watch” more than knowing a certain date.
Interspersed through all the sessions was a heavy dose of guilt and fear. Guilt for not going to every meeting, guilt for not having a family study each week, guilt for not singing the Kingdom Melody Songs in your mind throughout the day, guilt for not praying enough, guilt for not making adjustments so you can “pioneer” (spend a certain amount of hours per month in door to door witnessing), guilt for not studying enough, guilt for relaxing, guilt for going on vacation, guilt for the incidental witnessing opportunity you missed, etc. FEAR that you will not “make the cut” and be destroyed in Armageddon, never to be resurrected. FEAR of reading “opposing” information. Fear of worldly people trying to trip you up and slow you down. Fear of apostates and the internet!
By the end of a full day of that, I was wondering if Jehovah would be annoyed if I wasted time by lingering on the toilet too long. Holy crap! (I don’t usually talk like that, but couldn’t resist the pun!)
I was surprised how many verses they quoted from the Pauline epistles, knowing that they officially teach that those epistles are only written directly to the 144,000, the “Annointed,” the only ones who can be born again, indwelt with the Spirit, and be in union with Christ. Most of the epistles contain 2 parts. One part tells of our position in Christ by grace, the blessings of salvation, union with Christ, etc. The second part then gives exhortations based upon this positional truth. EVERY single time the speakers quoted from the Pauline epistles, they only quoted verses about some command or exhortation.
They did not, of course, reference the verses that were verses of promise, and blessings of being “in Christ.” So…one can disallow parts of one book of the Bible for most people, but one can choose to use the exhortations when it fits with one’s talk, or what one wants to prove?
Even verses from the end of Romans 6 were quoted. But of course verses 1-10 in the same chapter have no relevance, as the Society would vehemently deny that any but the Anointed are in union with Christ. This is indeed a strange and slippery hermeneutic!
Interspersed throughout all the talks were little “testimonies.” Outstanding Witnesses who could serve as inspiring examples were brought up and interviewed to tell of the sacrifices they had made for Jehovah. It just seemed so self-aggrandizing for those people who were sharing. Perhaps real sacrifices for God should not be trumpeted about. The “interviewer” would reply with little comments like “Oh good,” “that’s fine,” or “good job,” as though the person sharing was a small child being rewarded with the approval of a beaming parent!
There were several amusing incidents. One involved a woman who was sitting next to me. I had a huge binder open for note taking, and on one side was open an “apostate”-type article on the ransom theory. She thought I didn’t notice, but she appeared to be very interested in it, and I believe read as much of it as she could see.
I was also amused by a man who walked around with a sign in between sessions saying “QUIET” and “KEEP MOVING” in large letters. I really did enjoy kindergarten, and that sure did bring back some great memories of it!
I was amazed by another thing: perhaps there is just something I don’t comprehend about it, being an outsider, but when it was announced that there would be a new book of Kingdom Melodies coming out, there was uproarious applause! It was startling in the midst of the otherwise “dead” atmosphere. I guess I should get way more excited when we sing a new song at Calvary!
One person was noticeably absent from the Convention – the Lord Jesus Christ. He was only mentioned in passing a few times. The greatest and most important fact in all Christianity was not mentioned. It’s the one that gives all Christians of every stripe peace and joy in this life, and that is that Christ died and rose again, in order that we might have the free gift of eternal life, the forgiveness of sins. It was as though the Gospel had been excised, ignored, and denied. Paul determined to know nothing among them but Christ and Him crucified (I Cor. 2:20) and declared His death and Resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins the Gospel that He preached. (I Cor. 15)
Editor’s Note: I came across this very interesting little piece on Cynthia Hampton’s ex-JW forum based out of Southern California. I’m sure that many of you have enjoyed it as much as I did. It’s an outsider’s honest and fresh point of view, liberally sprinkled with humor, about what happened around her as she uncovered the facts about going to a JW convention.
The writer is Ms. Bridget Anderson of Tucson, Arizona. She is not a Jehovah’s Witness and never has been, but over time has had enough contact with them personally to have more than a basic understanding of them and their culture. She has also spent a great deal of her time researching their teachings and history.
Hopefully, if you are or were a Jehovah’s Witness, by looking through the eyes of an outsider you may now have a somewhat different attitude about the realities of attending a JW convention or assembly.
If you look very carefully, in the video you will see my family and I sitting down along the 1st base foul line about 30 rows up. This is how I celebrated my 15th birthday that Sunday, August 3rd, listening to Watchtower Society President Nathan Knorr go over the same material we heard the previous seven days!