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.
For most of our readers who are fairly up to date on the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses, our last list of celebrities held no real surprises. Rock celebrities like Michael Jackson and Prince had well publicized relationships with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. George Benson and Jill Scott have maintained lower profiles and have kept whatever connections they have to the JWs more or less to themselves and have let their talents define them.
Mickey Spillane was our odd man out last time. Younger generations may not even know of him or his rough and tumble Mike Hammer crime novels. Those of us who were raised in the 1940s and 1950s remember him well.
This time we introduce five more celebrities (actually more than five, as you will see) that are, or have been, Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their names and reputations will be well known to most everyone, but their association with the Jehovah’s Witnesses less so.
Here is our second list of celebrity Jehovah’s Witnesses:
- Venus and Serena Williams (athletes)
- Wayans Brothers (actors, comedians)
- Teresa Graves (actress)
- Eve Arden (actress)
- Ja Rule (rap singer)
You hear a knock at your door. When you answer, you find one or more Jehovah’s Witnesses standing there. Oh yes, you remember them; they were the nice people who you spoke to a couple of weeks ago when they came by and left a free Watchtower and Awake! magazine with you. You were polite to them during that visit, so they have marked your address down for a “go-back” (revisit).
“Hello. We just wanted to stop by and drop off the latest issues of the Watchtower and Awake! magazines for you to read,” says a JW. “There are some really good articles in them announcing God’s kingdom that will soon rule the Earth.”
You reach out to accept the magazines and thank them. The JW continues, “We’d very much like to offer you the opportunity to have a free weekly Bible study in your home. This will be your opportunity to learn about all the great things that are promised to mankind within our lifetimes. You do have a Bible don’t you?”
After confirming that you do have a Bible somewhere around the house, but admit that you have hardly ever read it, you think about it and then respond that having a Bible study might be a good thing.
I can speak from experience: being raised in a Jehovah’s Witness family can be tough for many children and downright disastrous for others.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in a JW family in the 1950s when many of the Watchtower’s restrictive rules had not yet been fine-tuned nor enforced the way they are today. I also had the good fortune to have a father who loved sports and wanted my brother and me to participate in organized athletics such as Little League and high school teams. Dad would often want to play catch and even join us when we’d play in pickup games with our neighborhood friends.
My father was an exception to the JW rule by letting us play on Little League and other sports teams. Even back in the 1950s and 1960s, most of the other JW kids were not allowed by their parents to participate in team sports or to join in on other school activities. JW children were supposed to be spending their spare time at home studying the Watchtower or out “in the field service,” knocking on doors trying to “place” the Watchtower Society’s magazines and books.
Several years ago a friend, who was still a Jehovah’s Witness at the time, sent me a list of “Ten Signs of a Cult.” His purpose was to prove to me that the Watchtower Society and its followers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, was not a cult, but a legitimate Christian religion.
At the time I just looked at the list he’d emailed me and laughed, because for me it proved just the opposite. I wondered what this fellow had been smoking and wondered if he was reading the same list I was.
I’m not sure where this originated or who its author was, but I think that it can be realistically used to compare The Watchtower Society to other religions that would be commonly considered as “cults.”
- A cult has an absolutely authoritarian leadership that refuses to be held to any meaningful accountability.
- A cult has no tolerance for questions or critical inquiry from within or outside of the organization.
Are you currently a Jehovah’s Witness or someone studying with the Witnesses and considering being baptized? Maybe you are a non-Witness family member who wants to get more background about the religion. Or are you an ex-JW wanting more information to support a decision to remain outside of the Watchtower organization?
Here are five great books that we can easily recommend that are available through local bookstores and Amazon.com. We feel that these books are educational and informative about the Witness religion and history, but do not present the facts in an angry or totally negative manner.
In our order of preference [click on book title for more information]: