Many of you will remember the unprecedented May 2015 JW Broadcasting episode in which Governing Body member Stephen Lett disclosed a shortfall between anticipated income and expenditure.
Witnesses were urged to give of their “valuable things” to offset this shortfall and make important construction projects possible. The Bible account of Israelites parting with their gold and silver for the construction of the tabernacle was invoked as a comparison.
Even Caleb and Sophia have been enlisted by the Governing Body to urge Witness children to part with their ice cream money for “kingdom interests.”
Fast forward to the winter of 2016, and a new picture is emerging of how some of these “valuable things” have been spent. Watchtower’s new World Headquarters at Warwick is now complete a year ahead of schedule, and it is already clear that no expense has been spared on its construction. Even the drain covers, it would appear, have been customized to feature the Watchtower logo, as this picture uploaded to Instagram reveals:
In my new book, I tell of how I once wrote to Watchtower as a 20-year-old pioneer to ask about the extensive use of the Watchtower logo in literature and videos, not to mention on Kingdom Halls and Watchtower facilities. It struck me as a direct contravention of the organization’s stance on idolatry, since according to the Scriptures God’s people are not to make “any carved image having the form of any symbol.” (Deuteronomy 4:16)
I no longer have the letter I received in response, but it went something along the lines of “we don’t worship the Watchtower symbol, and anyway it’s ok because Solomon’s temple had pomegranate sculptures on it for artistic purposes.” (Interestingly, the same reasoning can be found in a 2004 Watchtower article.)
Of course, I didn’t buy it. Any image used in a religious context could be argued as contravening the rules on idolatry expressed in Deuteronomy, and no appeals to ornamental fruit on Solomon’s temple could change that. I was, however, somewhat relieved when, about ten years later, rules were introduced to the effect that Kingdom Halls were no longer permitted to display the Watchtower symbol. I was an elder at the time, and it seemed a step in the right direction.
Now, it seems, the organization of 2016/2017 is all about symbols, logos and motifs being used in worship. The JW.org logo is everywhere, and is even used by Witnesses when making souvenirs (including jewelry and badges) to be handed out at international conventions. A modified version of the logo adorns the backdrop to all JW Broadcasting videos, and the logo is prominently displayed on all Kingdom Halls and Bethel facilities.
Now, to cap it all off, the Watchtower logo has returned to the fore to the extent of featuring prominently on the new Headquarters building – both on the architecture and, it seems, the drain covers.
Apart from this raising questions over idolatry, one cannot help but feel astonished at the lavish spending. JWsurvey already reported some months ago about consternation among Bethelites regarding Warwick’s remote-controlled lake.
It emerged that photos of specialist contractors in breathing apparatus working on a special valve had been removed from the JW.org site because, at that time, Watchtower was in the process of terminating the assignments of bethelites and special pioneers due to a shortage of funds. The timing of these photos could not have been worse.*
When you factor in other lavish features of the new HQ, such as the above wrap-around illuminated sign – not to mention reports on the “ExJW” Sub-Reddit of a heated driveway leading to the main entrance and Hunter Douglas blinds being installed – it is clear that no expense has been spared on the new Warwick compound.
For those of us who are becoming increasingly aware of the horrifying scale of Watchtower’s child abuse problems, the extent to which the Governing Body is padding its Warwick nest is nothing short of obscene. Other religious entities that have faced similar exposure over child abuse mishandling have already apologized and implemented policies for compensating victims, but despite continuing scrutiny from the Royal Commission in Australia, the Governing Body shows no signs of taking its responsibilities seriously in this area.
To put it simply, money that should be being set aside for compensating a multitude of abuse victims is being squandered on giving the likes of Splane, Jackson and Morris an opulent place to live and work.
At the very least – it is now painfully apparent that taking the ice cream money of JW children was more about giving the Governing Body the luxury they apparently feel they deserve, and less about urgently tending to “Kingdom interests.”
* I am aware that Watchtower has recently released an article and video showing the organization being praised for its work on “Blue Lake” because homes downstream are now safe from flooding. However, it could be argued that if “life and property” in the local community were seriously at risk this should have been a problem for the local authorities to deal with – not Watchtower. Certainly, local authorities are in a much stronger position to tend to the urgent needs of residents when they are not deprived of tax revenue due to religious exemptions. In Brooklyn, for example, Watchtower has faced criticism for not helping the community enough in light of how much money it has saved through its tax-exempt status.