Part 4: The Society's Campaign Against Apostasy

Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the plank in your own? How dare you say to your brother, “Let me take the splinter out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own? Hypocrite! Take the plank out of your own eye first, then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye.-- Matthew 7:3-5 Jerusalem Bible

In war, even weapons of mass destruction cannot outmatch the sheer power of words. Its strength lies in its ability to subtly corrode one’s view or mold it to something else. Or both. Surely the use of propaganda among the nations during times of national crisis and warfare give evidence of this, with all its incomprehensible fury and appeal to the basest of human nature, motivating its listeners to action.

Today, there is a war that is going on that doesn’t involve weapons of mass destruction, but its effects can be measured in words and the actions of those that listen to those words. That war is being driven by the organization known worldwide as Jehovah’s Witnesses, and its opponent is a conglomerate of individuals who leave that organization for any number of reasons, sometimes after decades of faithful service.

The war is against apostasy.

Since the days of Paul and Peter, there have been those who tried to subvert the faith of others who had come to believe that Jesus was the Christ. There have been those who claimed that the resurrection that was such a fundamental hope among Jews had already occurred. Paul’s appeal to the congregations as he watched them grow in number was to not lose the love they had at first, not go after these men who not only disagreed with the way things were being taught regarding Christ and the resurrection and the passing of Mosaic Law, but were seeking followers of their own to espouse their own views… in effect making men into slaves with themselves as authority on Scripture.

Having been counted among the clique of Pharisees at one time, Paul must have felt angry that the same thing was happening all over again in the name of Christianity, but his later letters showed that he had come to accept that it must be so once the apostles passed from the scene, for even Jesus had predicted that weeds must rise up before the harvest. Those same letters contained admonishment to not become a victim of that manner of teaching, not abandon the teachings he had brought them about the Christ.

So what is apostasy according to Paul, according to the Bible?

This is how it is defined in the Insight on the Scriptures:

*** it-1 126 Apostasy ***

This term in Greek (a•po•sta•si'a) comes from the verb a•phi'ste•mi, literally meaning “stand away from.” The noun has the sense of “desertion, abandonment or rebellion.” (Ac 21:21, ftn) In classical Greek the noun was used to refer to political defection, and the verb is evidently employed in this sense at Acts 5:37, concerning Judas the Galilean who “drew off” (a•pe'ste•se, form of a•phi'ste•mi) followers. The Greek Septuagint uses the term at Genesis 14:4 with reference to such a rebellion. However, in the Christian Greek Scriptures it is used primarily with regard to religious defection; a withdrawal or abandonment of the true cause, worship, and service of God, and hence an abandonment of what one has previously professed and a total desertion of principles or faith.

That is the textbook definition. We are going to use the last part of this definition to further our discussion:

In the Christian Greek Scriptures it is used primarily with regard to religious defection; a withdrawal or abandonment of the true cause, worship, and service of God, and hence an abandonment of what one has previously professed and a total desertion of principles or faith.

Before we go on, it needs to be understood that the Society itself uses its literature to target two specific groups: non-Witnesses and Witnesses. While not every single article is written to a specific group, since there are numerous articles that discuss matters that are of a general nature such as an article on flora and fauna, many articles are written to a specific audience. This can be anything from the fear of being a victim of crime or the internet being directed at non-Witnesses, to a current understanding of Ezekiel being directed at Witnesses.

The articles that have been discussed in the June 22, 2000, Awake! magazine seems to have been written to non-Witnesses, as I’ve briefly shown in Part 3 of my response. That is an important distinction for us to make because the advice contained in the Society’s discussion of propaganda, while sound for all individuals, is apparently not intended by the writer to be a concern for Witnesses or the writer is not aware of the advice and admonitions given by the Society to Witnesses concerning being critical of the information that the Society itself dispenses, much less to act upon such information when found questionable or incorrect.

This would either indicate that the writer is not aware of a double-standard within the organization or it is not applicable advice when it comes to the Society’s literature, as though the Society is somehow above such critical examinations:

How shall we view the spiritual food provided by this “faithful and discreet slave?” Should it be viewed critically--‘Oh, well, it might be true then again it might not be and so we have to scrutinize it very critically’? [1]

If we have once established what instrument God is using as his “slave” to dispense spiritual food to his people, surely Jehovah is not pleased if we receive that food as though it might contain something harmful.[2]

Here we have advice given to Witnesses who are a part of the organization known worldwide as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Yet what did the article, on page 10, say?

Put information to the test: “Beloved ones,” said John, a first-century Christian teacher, “do not believe every inspired expression, but test the inspired expressions.” (1 John 4:1) Some people today are like sponges; they soak up whatever they come across. It is all too easy to absorb whatever is around us.[3]

Do we have a contradiction… a double-standard? Which advice do we follow? Or is this a situation where we have a specific audience, as I inferred earlier? John, in the above-cited scripture, was referring to inspired expressions. Shouldn’t that advice be applicable to everyone trying to seek Jehovah and keep his ways.

Have there been other statements made by the Society in reference to itself that also do not follow the advice set out in the recent Awake! magazine? Surely the February 15, 1981, Watchtower statements were but isolated examples.

As can be seen in the next cited example, this sort of double-standard has been in place at least back into the 1950’s, and one could probably locate statements going back to C.T. Russell’s time:

Now some may ask, Should we accept as from the Lord and true the food provided through the discreet slave, or should we withhold acceptance until we have proved it for ourselves?… Are we to be doubtful and suspicious about each new provision?… How much more readily we can receive the slave’s provisions with confidence[4]

I quoted some other examples in Part 3, which you are invited to refer back to before we go on.

The point here seems to be that the Society wants non-Witnesses to be critical of non-Witness religions or other establishments, but Witnesses are not to be critical of the Witness establishment, contrary to the Apostle John’s own advice.

In all fairness, let me for a moment address the concerns of some that might point out that the statements I quoted above were taken from magazines that were written long before the June 22, 2000, Awake! magazine, and that makes a difference.

This has not, however, been the first time that the Society has published information about such things, written presumably to non-Witnesses just as this magazine’s articles have been. Some examples are the Awake! articles “An Open Mind or a Closed Mind--Which Do You Have?” and “An Open Mind Wins God’s Approval” which appeared in the November 22, 1984, issue. There has also been an article in the Watchtower magazine titled “Are You Open to New Ideas?[5]” That article made the powerfully poignant statement:

Even some religious people have closed minds. They are interested only in “their” religion, showing no willingness to as much as listen to the views of others.[6]

The intention, I assume, is to get the reader to be willing to examine the Witnesses’ literature and not be closed-minded about it. It might here be interesting to note that the first article in that issue features the picture of a man with his face turned away and his hand held forward in opposition, perhaps in something being offered to him. This is probably to symbolize how many people at the doors that Witnesses knock upon respond to the Witnesses’ dispensation of literature. By being “open-minded,” the person will be receptive to ideas that may directly challenge their current beliefs.

Again, those things are written to non-Witnesses, in advocating the receptiveness of ideas that may run contrary to the religious beliefs of individuals.

Yet notice the picture on page 12 of the March 15, 1986, Watchtower. There we are shown a picture of a woman standing in a doorway, a mailman walking away after having delivered the mail. We watch as the woman drops some of her mail into a trash receptacle. The caption reads “Do you wisely destroy apostate material?” Given the proximity of the mailman to the door and the immediate motion of the woman to discard some of her mail, is it possible that she never even examined it? How, then, can it be said that the information was apostate?

Receptiveness to facts and related information which then challenges our convictions, our faith, can indeed be trying, but if we revise that picture of the woman discarding the mail by making that person a householder who has just received a magazine or tract, and the mailman is one or two Witnesses, then what do we learn about ourselves?

As Witnesses, we are quick to call such people who never even bother to look at the literature “closed-minded.” I shudder to think about the sheer volume of literature produced by the Society that does end up thrown away or otherwise discarded!

But, again, what do we learn about ourselves? Aren’t we the same way? If someone offers us information, don’t we, if it is even slightly religious in nature, deem it unworthy of our attention? Aren’t we, too, interested “only in” our “religion, showing no willingness to as much as listen to the views of others?”

This brings us back to the beginning again.

What if one of Jehovah’s Witnesses decides to follow the Society’s advice to non-Witnesses and not the advice to its own ranks? What if they decide to go back over everything they have learned, this time with a critical eye, with an open rather than a closed mind? What if they come to discover that they don’t actually agree with everything that is being taught by the Society?

It would be foolish to assume that there are any Witnesses that agree entirely with every teaching of the Society. At the same time, it is not always immediately apparent how much any given Witness might disagree with the Society until they begin to think about that aspect of their relationship with the Society.

On the other hand, it is just as foolish to think that everyone in the rest of the world’s Christian religions agree entirely with their particular religion’s collection of beliefs… fanaticism aside. My question, of course, is this: at what point does one question their own religion? When one considers that every person is convinced that the religion they are involved in is the best and truest religion, so why question it, it all gets pretty confusing.

But I digress.

Returning to the war that is taking place, at the behest of the Society, is against all those that leave the organization. Without having any numbers, I’d still have to assume that there are a great majority that leave the organization over doctrinal matters, and not simply because they want to live immoral lives (more on this later).

Of those that leave over doctrinal matters, is it too difficult to understand that they would feel just as strongly about their convictions as we do? And aren’t they just as free to express themselves as we are? Or as Witnesses do we somehow come in above the laws of a land while denying other groups the right to speak out in Christ’s name?

Every Witness must realize that in order to become a Witness, any former membership or set of beliefs must be abandoned! In other words, thousands who join the organization must apostasize, or become apostates. Then, during the course of their tenure in the organization, they are considered non-apostate because they have found “the true religion” and therefore apostasy doesn’t apply to them. Finally, when they leave, not only are they given (back) the title “apostate,” but the label is given a darker, more sinister application, with loss of all that they may have gained while a part of the organization. I find it intriguing that while under the umbrella of the Society, Witnesses are no longer “apostate,” but are “approved association.”

As Witnesses, we are taught, even admonished, to speak from our heart, to produce fruitage that is in agreement with “the truth.” We are taught to be better defenders of “the truth” among worldlings and we are regularly educated on the current teachings of the Society. We are directed to take advantage of every opportunity to speak freely to one another and to others not of our sort (non-Witnesses). We are expected to be preachers!

The paradox is astounding! What we see is something quite different when someone has something negative to say about the Society and what we as Witnesses see and feel when the member of any other religion bravely speaks out negatively against his or her former religion and renounces their membership and association with it.

Again, what does this say about us? What do we learn by this?

Those that, because of their conscience, find that they can no longer run with the crowd, (and the Awake!’s discussion on propaganda demonstrates that what the majority is thinking or believes does not provide enough compulsion to go blindly along for the sake of going along) and decide to part ways with the organization face living the rest of their lives with the Society’s label.

At the same time, the inculcation to be a preacher does not necessarily diminish in the individual. They may still feel just as compelled to speak out in defense of their faith, even to their previous associates among the organization.

This is where the battle line seems to have been drawn by the Society. This is where the tools of propaganda take their root and stretch out like tenuous vines.

While you are free to speak out against your former religion (be it Catholic, Protestant, Mormon or whatever) and join the organization, you are all but forbidden to speak out against the Society either while you are a member or when you part ways (voluntarily or involuntarily).

The truths we are to publish are the ones provided through the discreet-slave organization, not some personal opinions contrary to what the slave has provided…[7]

At times we hear brothers talking complainingly about the Scriptural explanations and truths published in The Watchtower… they begin expressing their doubts to others… he [the person expressing their doubts to others] is showing a spirit of discontent[8]

If some tinge of doubt… has begun to linger in your heart, take quick steps to eliminate it before it festers into something that could destroy your faith… Cut off anything that feeds such doubts.[9]

Even with this last statement, we can see that there is an expectation to not question the Society. If we as Witnesses come across something which casts a bad light on the Society to such an extent that we begin to question the Society, we are to get rid of it. Immediately.

To further isolate the Witnesses that remain with the organization, the Society has in place a shunning policy that involves those who do not meet “approved association” status or that have been disfellowshiped. This is clearly another tactic of war, since even the nations do that with their borders in time of national conflicts. It also invites the use of propaganda since those that are kept within the boundaries can only receive the facts that are made available by the regime within the boundaries. In the case of the Society, Witnesses only know what the Society tells them. We do not look elsewhere for information, trusting that the Society will tell us all that we need to know of a matter.

In the case of a Witness that leaves the organization over doctrinal matters, there is no communication between the Witness that left and those that stayed, at the Society’s behest. Rarely is it the choice of the Witness that left to break off all communication with their former brothers and sisters. However, as mentioned a few paragraphs earlier, some who leave feel compelled to be preachers still, and look for opportunities to speak to others about the organization, their own beliefs, and possibly even their former associates within the organization.

Some have taken up their efforts on the internet, hoping to educate others the things they themselves came to realize about the Society with hopes that everyone else will make a more informed decision about whether to join the organization or not. This has only made the war between the Society and those who leave its headship a more bitter war.

Through the various tactics that the Awake! magazine admitted as propagandistic, the Society is working to maintain their authority over the remaining Witnesses by cutting off the symbolic knock on the door by former Witnesses bringing with them information that could challenge the religious beliefs of the Witness. At the same time, the former Witnesses are taking their cause to a much larger audience, through the internet, hoping that the Witnesses who wouldn’t dream of questioning the Society in view of fellow Witnesses, might find consolation that they are not alone in their beliefs and disagreements with the Society, whether they choose to leave or stay in spite of those convictions. As the article brought out:

Good educators present all sides of an issue and encourage discussion. Propagandists relentlessly force you to hear their view and discourage discussion.[10]

Long disdained by the Society, websites that actually invite discussion about Witnesses and their beliefs have come into existence. One such website is Hourglass2 Outpost, a site that itself claims:

Although this site is run by baptized Jehovah's Witnesses in good standing with their congregations, it is not sponsored by the Watchtower Society (Watch Tower Society) and is a resource free to you!

There, the visitor will find an international forum that discusses, both frankly and not without a few quarrels, a wide range of issues involving the organization and the Society which heads it. But it is intended to educate.

On the other hand, the Society regularly informs those within the organization that the internet can be a source of great harm to Witnesses, because “apostates” have put up websites that “cast doubt” on the organization. They do this through the use of name-calling and generalizations, and through the propagandistic approach of “My organization, right or wrong.”

By referring to all who speak negatively against the Society as “apostate,” the Society adds to its own definition in the Insight reference. The Society then plays on “loyalty” and “fear” to further its campaign so that “loyal” Witnesses will not pay heed to either said websites or people who leave over doctrinal matters or anything that will cause a Witness to evaluate the organization they’ve become a member to. Quite the opposite of “good educators” that the article made reference to, is it not?

Add to that the use of generalities and “loaded words” and the campaign becomes still more clear:

Yes, apostates publish literature that resorts to distortions, half-truths, and outright falsehood… it would be a dangerous thing to allow our curiosity to move us to feed on such writings or to listen to their abusive speech! …For one thing, some of the apostate literature presents falsehoods by means of “smooth talk” and “counterfeit words.”… And while the apostates may also present certain facts, these are usually taken out of context with the goal of drawing others away…All their writings simply criticize and tear down! Nothing is upbuilding.[11]

The danger is made to seem real. Certainly there exist true apostates, individuals who would derive great satisfaction in turning others against God and Christ. But when it comes to those who leave over doctrinal issues and preach to others about the things they know to be true regarding the Society, we can see that the Society does not mince words: we are not to even be curious about what they have to say. Through the use of generalizations (“distortions, half-truths, and outright falsehood,” “abusive speech,” “smooth talk,” “counterfeit words”) without examining a single example, and through the use of loaded words (“may also,” “certain facts,” “usually,” “all their writings,” “simply,” “nothing is upbuilding”) a façade is created that invites all “loyal” Witnesses to perceive any that leave as evil, and most certainly to be avoided.

True to the article’s warning, even the Society is guilty of propagandistic tactics when it insults “those who disagree with them by questioning character or motives instead of focusing on the facts.[12]” Research into the many articles discussing opposers and the “evil servant” are good examples of this very approach being taken by the Society. Space does not permit me to discuss those examples in this paper.

Regarding the internet, the 1999 District Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses had this to say about the content of any website discussing Witnesses:

misinformation at best… lies at worst

The war being waged by the Society against former members is growing in intensity if last year’s (1999) District Convention is any indication. There were several talks that went into almost doctrinal approach. The advice of the Society is to stay away from the internet unless you positively must be using it, and then only in the presence of others so that you are not tempted to visit any sites other than the official website of the organization. Parents are strongly encouraged to place the family computer in a central location (wonderful advice even for non-Witness parents, I agree!) and to be aware of any websites that their children may put up. At the convention, however, the example used by the Society was of a family that had the internet, but decided that it was too dangerous for them… this instead of a family that had the internet and how they were actively monitoring its usage in their household.

As those Witnesses that leave strive to continue being preachers, as they were encouraged by the Society, they will likely search for more effective ways to inform others about the things they have come to learn about the Society, and to be a source of encouragement to others who, like them, took the Society’s advice concerning looking at things with a critical eye and deciding for one’s self what to believe or not to believe about Jehovah God and Christ… and left.

Until Jehovah’s God’s timetable for the present system comes to completion, the war will likely rage on for the Society to retain their followers.

--Timothy B Kline

Notes: As a matter of convention, I have used the term “the Society” when referring to the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, also known as “the faithful and discreet slave.” I have used the term “the organization,” when referring to the group of people who have subjected themselves to the Society. These are also known as “the New World Society,” “the Great Crowd.” The two together are believed to be “Jehovah’s organization,” or “Jehovah’s earthly organization.”

[1] Watchtower, Feb. 15, 1981, p. 18

[2] Watchtower, Feb. 15, 1981, p. 19

[3] Awake! June 22, 2000, p. 10

[4] Watchtower, Feb. 1, 1952, p. 79,80

[5] Watchtower, January 15, 1989

[6] Awake! November 22, 1984, p. 8

[7] Watchtower, February 1, 1952, p. 79

[8] Watchtower, August 1, 1967, p. 469

[9] Watchtower, Feb. 1, 1996, p. 23, 24

[10] Awake! June 22, 2000, p. 9

[11] Watchtower, July 1, 1994, p. 12

[12] Awake! June 22, 2000, p. 6

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