Thinking Witnesses have been left scratching their heads at the strange manner in which the revised New World Translation bible was released at the Annual Meeting yesterday.
Governing Body member Geoffrey Jackson was chosen to announce the release to a combined audience of nearly 250,000, and used the occasion to make jokes about sisters (female witnesses), stereotyping them as complaining too much.
Even more questionably, Jackson related how the mild summer had fortuitously enabled more new bibles to be printed in readiness for the release, and suggested that “Jehovah’s hand” was responsible for this. Those Witnesses around the world who have lost loved ones in natural disasters will be interested to know why Jehovah intervened to manipulate the weather to aid Watchtower’s bible printing project while refusing to step in to prevent the loss of human life through storms and earthquakes.
Jackson’s fellow Governing Body member Guy Pierce has also left a number who listened to the Annual Meeting puzzled. Pierce raised expectations at the start of the meeting by indicating that there would “absolutely” be “new light,” or “new bible truths” revealed. In the end there was nothing of the sort.
And in his own item on the program, Gerrit Lösch drilled home the Governing Body’s “us versus them” message by insisting that non-believing relatives are not fit for association. He also urged Witness parents to “steer” their young children towards baptism, even though this could result in the same children being shunned by their parents if they stray from the organization in later years.
A distasteful book launch
Twice during his talk announcing the new bible release Geoffrey Jackson opted to make jokes at the expense of his female audience. His first joke came when mentioning that the Governing Body had instructed brothers to make the new Bible as “witness proof” as possible, before adding that they had also made it “sister proof.” Jackson did not elaborate on what he meant by this remark, so it is impossible to say with certainty. My interpretation is that he was appealing to a sexist stereotype of women being overly concerned about how an item looks rather than what it does. Others have suggested he was merely hinting at sisters wearing their bibles out more quickly. These were his actual words from which you are welcome to form your own conclusions…
“The Governing Body asked the brothers involved with printing our bibles to do some extensive research, to test out different covers, to come up with a type of cover that is ‘witness proof’. And they went even further than that, they found some covers that are ‘sister proof’!”
In further remarks, Jackson acknowledged the lengthy shortage in the months leading up the Annual Meeting when bibles were in short supply. Instead of recognizing that the Governing Body could have done more to keep Witnesses informed and manage expectations, Jackson insinuated that Witnesses should feel guilty for getting impatient, saying…
“Of course, as Brother Sanderson referred to, and you rather guiltily acknowledged, we had a lot of complaints about ‘where are the Bibles?!’ Letters started to pour in. One sister wrote (pause for laughter), ‘We have had bibles on back order for three months! Now what on earth is happening? We need Bibles!’”
You will need to watch the video below to hear for yourself how Jackson paused for comic effect while relating the experience of an irate sister writing in with a complaint to Bethel. In making this joke, he undoubtedly drew on another disparaging stereotype of women as being overly demanding.
And Jackson’s controversial remarks did not go unnoticed even by his fellow Governing Body members.
Anthony Morris III, who is no stranger to making the occasional outrageous comment himself, joked about Jackson later in the program saying…
“Now here’s what Brother Jackson mentioned. We’re gonna repeat it – repetition’s the mother of retention – if you didn’t get it when he said it, get it this time. No reflection on your teaching Geoff, I… but I DID tell him ‘I think you’re in trouble with the sisters! It’s that one sister you’ve gotta worry about. Forgive me Mr Chairman. So here was the policy – ‘literal where possible, but never distort the meaning.’”
And later in his own item David Splane alluded to Jackson while making his own not-overly-funny joke about pronunciation in different accents…
“Everyone else up here’s been getting in trouble, I might as well too.”
Though various Governing Body members and even the audience were determined to see the funny side, it is nevertheless confusing that sexist jokes were deemed appropriate at such a “historic” and, for many Witnesses, deeply spiritual event. There is also the bible verse, “out of the heart’s abundance [the] mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45) If Governing Body members are capable of making chauvinist jokes, then there is every chance that they are, in fact, chauvinists.
“Jehovah’s hand” at Wallkill
Then as Jackson’s item drew to a close he related how there had been concerns among the factory workers at Wallkill about printing a large number of new Bibles over the summer months. Apparently printing is problematic during the summer due to the risk of machinery overheating. But, according to Jackson, “Jehovah’s hand” came to the rescue…
“It’s interesting when we think about the production of this [Bible] we truly have seen Jehovah’s hand in helping the project. Just one example. The brothers in the Wallkill printery mentioned to us that normally the worst time of the year to print Bibles is summertime, because of the humidity, the heat. Oftentimes they have to stop the presses. But they told us this year when they had to do a lot of extra overtime to get these Bibles ready for us, and as you can see there’s one for each person here attending our program, this year there was no stoppage of Bible production! We had the mildest summer for many many years and we thank Jehovah for that.”
I could scarcely believe my ears as I heard Jackson’s words above. Natural disasters regularly claim the lives of countless numbers of people – including Witnesses. And yet Jackson here postulates that Jehovah arranged the meteorological conditions to ensure sufficient copies of the new Bible would be printed, when he could have instead spared people from being killed by earthquakes, landslides, hurricanes and tsunamis.
This grotesque flight of fancy by Jackson reminded me of the most recent Yearbook in which “Jehovah’s hand” was said to have been involved in a plane crash that killed 153 people in Nigeria because one Witness family, whose apartment the plane crashed into, survived due to being out attending a meeting. This talk is similarly disturbing in that it dismisses the feelings of any who have lost loved ones in natural disasters by suggesting that Jehovah is so selective and uncaring in how he chooses to intervene.
Of course, these are just my opinions and observations. You are welcome to reach your own conclusions by listening to the relevant part of Jackson’s talk in the video below…
The “new light” that never was
Those in attendance at the Annual Meeting would have been forgiven for being almost giddy with excitement after the build-up offered by meeting chairman Guy Pierce.
In his opening remarks, Guy Pierce hinted strongly (to put it mildly) that “new light” would be announced – even reading Proverbs 4:18. He then said…
“Will food at the proper time be served at this occasion? Indeed it will. Will bible truths be refined? Absolutely. So we have a lot of things to look forward to in connection with this program as we proceed.”
In fact, there were no “refinements” in bible truths as understood by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Over the course of the annual meeting, two new releases were unveiled, namely the new bible revision and the JW Library app – but nothing that could remotely be considered as “new light” as Witnesses understand it.
Many Witnesses would likely argue that Pierce was just being playful and using a play on words rather than being deliberately deceptive. However, I would suggest that, given the far-reaching ramifications that so-called new light can entail (especially as announced last year), it is wrong for a Governing Body member to goad his audience in this way and treat “new light” as a trivial thing. After all, if someone doesn’t accept a new understanding propounded by the Governing Body, he or she can be disfellowshipped and shunned. It’s therefore no laughing matter.
Strange family values
Perhaps the most destructive words spoken during the program were uttered by Gerrit Lösch, the Governing Body’s longest-serving member. Lösch is developing something of a reputation for making rather strange and morbid statements from the platform.
I have already created two YouTube videos of Lösch speaking. In one he likens those who seek to pursue higher education to OCD sufferers, and in another he paints a grim picture of the methods of execution to be employed by God during Armageddon and explains how teams of Witnesses will need to scour the planet in search of bodies to bury. Lösch is clearly not the sort of person you would ask to tell your child a bedtime story.
In his latest ramblings, Lösch evokes memories of the recent “Close ranks on Satan” and “Be on guard” Watchtowers by urging Witnesses to reject association with anyone who could be classed as bad association – even if they are family members. “We must not let family ties overshadow bible principles,” Lösch cautions. “Relatives who are not in the truth and not on the way to accept it could exert a negative influence in our lives.”
Those like me who are already under pressure from more devout Witness family members who follow every word written in the literature without question will shudder at the idea that absolutism is such a popular ideology among the Governing Body. Basically, if you do not subject yourself fully to the Governing Body’s self-proclaimed authority, even if you are not disfellowshipped, expect to see less of your Witness loved ones.
But that was not the only message Lösch was eager to convey. He also told parents to be more assertive with their children by “steering” them towards baptism – from as young as seven or eight if possible…
“Do they [children] start out as unbaptized publishers at seven or eight or so? Yes not all children are ready at that age but many would be. However some parents are holding them back. Some put the brake on the spiritual development of their children. So please parents, don’t be passive, but actively steer children towards baptism.”
This website reported recently on similar words spoken by fellow Governing Body member David Splane at a Zone Visit to Sweden. During Splane’s talk, he essentially told parents that pushing their children into getting baptized was the “wise” thing to do.
Based on this more recent talk at the annual meeting, the notion of coercing young children into making a lifelong commitment to a religious order seems to be a popular one among Governing Body members. I can only hope that thinking parents who listen to such misguided advice will remind themselves of Watchtower’s repeated instructions for them to shun teenage children who are disfellowshipped if they are old enough to leave home – as was unmistakably drilled home in a recent YouTube video.
The recklessness with which the likes of Lösch and Splane urge the pushing of baptism on children, even though they should be aware of the number of teenagers disfellowshipped year after year, is most disconcerting.
Business meeting, or publicity opportunity?
Perhaps like me you always considered the Annual Meeting to be a sober function at which business matters related to the Society were discussed in compliance with the law. As these meetings have become more public in recent years, I am steadily getting a very different impression.
Yes, achievements are read out, backs are patted, and a feeling is exuded that the organization is moving forward – but who exactly is this organization responsible to? What is the mechanism for voicing disapproval if the organization veers in a wrong or harmful direction? The fact that there isn’t any such mechanism makes the whole notion of this being an “Annual Meeting” almost laughable. There are no checks or balances, and the Governing Body can do precisely whatever it likes. The audience is just along for the ride.
Rather than serving any business function, the Annual Meeting increasingly strikes me as being a mere vehicle for projecting the personalities of the Governing Body and elevating these men before their doting audience. And they seem to love every minute.
I have already suggested that the manner in which last year’s “new light” announcement was made suggested great vanity on the part of the Governing Body. They had the opportunity and resources to disseminate a key change in understanding simultaneously to the entire worldwide brotherhood in all languages via the magazines.
Instead the Governing Body chose to spread the news to a small, select audience and let it spread slowly through word of mouth over many months simply because they wanted the instant fanfare and applause. After all, you can’t hear the brothers clapping while they’re reading the “new light” in their Watchtowers, can you? Much better to get the instant gratification and acclaim from a small audience, and keep the rest of ‘em guessing.
We see precisely the same narcissism in the way the new bible has been released. Repeatedly during this year’s annual meeting jokes were made about the scarcity of bibles and how brothers had run out and were confused about what was happening. Not once was it considered that maybe, just maybe, the Governing Body could have better managed the expectations of brothers by giving them advance notice of the change.
But why would they want to do this? Far better to keep everyone in the dark with bible stocks running dry and no explanation why. That way the Governing Body could keep the element of surprise, heighten the suspense, and ride to the rescue to fix a problem they themselves had caused. The fact that, as the “faithful and discreet slave” it is their job to provide bibles and spiritual food at the proper time is an afterthought.
Forgive me if I sound overly skeptical. It’s just the more I see the Governing Body lapping up the adulation at these events the more I see them for what they are – power-drunk deluded men who are taking out their late-life crisis on 8 million people.
And when you consider the work they should be doing, such as saving Witness children from sexual predators and bringing an end to shunning and deaths from refusal of blood transfusions – releasing a new bible and building a museum display seems as futile as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Rather than releasing a new bible I would much rather they read and apply the old one – especially the verse in Matthew 9:13 where Jesus says: “I want mercy, and not sacrifice.”
I gratefully acknowledge the unnamed persons involved in recording the annual meeting at great risk to themselves and thus making this article possible, hopefully for the benefit of all.