The Watch Tower Society has started to accept credit card donations directly via its official website, JW.org.
Anyone with a credit card billing address in the United States, Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands can now set up an account on JW.org to make payments to the Society if they so wish.
The news will shortly be announced to US congregations via a special letter to be read out from the platform. The letter, dated July 8th 2013, begins by reminding publishers that “true Christians consider it a privilege to support the Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making work by contributing time, effort, and funds.”
It is not known at this stage whether there are any plans to expand the service to include other countries.
Publishers are already familiar with credit card machines being used to accept donations at assembly and convention venues. However, the Society now seems determined to make broader use of credit cards in gathering much-needed donations.
Here follows a screen grab of JW.org’s “My Donations” page, which is only accessible by registering for a JW.org account…
And here is a screen grab of the actual part where the donation amount is entered. Note that there is no maximum amount. The amount can be as large as you think you can afford…
An Embarrassing U-turn
The Society’s recent embracing of credit cards as a means of accepting donations raises eyebrows for two main reasons. Firstly, a credit card is a debt instrument. By accepting credit card donations, the Society are basically suggesting that it is okay for you to go into debt with your credit card provider in order to contribute to their work. Considering the number of articles published by the Society about avoiding debt and living within your means, it is curious that they should now effectively encourage going into debt so long as they stand to benefit.
A further reason for skepticism is that the Society has, on two occasions, published “Watching the World” articles in the Awake! magazine seemingly aimed at poking fun at other denominations for being desperate enough to ask for credit card payments.
Note the following 2003 article with accompanying cartoon…
(You can read the above article on this link if the text is too small.)
An earlier “Watching the World” article, from 1973, commented…
“Some religious organizations are going to new ends to acquire money. The Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church in Buffalo, New York, now accepts credit cards, not just cash donations. One finance committee member says: ‘A church can’t survive on 50-cent [cash] donations.’ Credit-card donations are up to $30. Admission is now being charged visitors to London’s thirteenth-century Salisbury Cathedral. A London Observer article calls this ‘a last-ditch attempt to find a way of meeting the desperate need for funds.‘” (g73 12/8 p.29)
Of the two above quotes, the latter does more to emphasize the use of credit cards as a “last-ditch attempt” by the Church to meet a “desperate need for funds.” Both quotes, however, are derisory of accepting credit card donations – and would almost certainly not have been published if the writers had known at the time that their own organization would adopt the same practice eventually.
A Last-Ditch Attempt?
It is certainly telling that the Society have themselves linked accepting credit card donations with desperation, because many believe (myself included) that their own situation is growing increasingly precarious.
Since 2005 the Society has been steadily reducing the number of magazine pages it is committed to printing each month, with one monthly magazine phased out entirely, and two of the remaining three magazines halved in size. The cost of paper and ink must be a key consideration in making these cutbacks, because there is no scriptural argument for reducing the amount of “spiritual food” being offered when we are apparently so deep in the “time of the end.”
Further evidence of organizational downsizing may be found in the Society’s new strategy of closing (or “consolidating“) branch offices. In years gone by, opening up new branch offices was heralded as evidence of divinely blessed expansion. Now closing them is excused as a “simplification” and an opportunity for former branch workers to engage more in the preaching work.
Reasons for Watchtower’s downsizing will always be speculative, but a likely cause may be found in the relentless spread of the internet. The Society relies on wealthy countries for the bulk of its donations, but it is precisely these countries where growth is slowing down arguably as a result of wider online availability of objective information about Watchtower and its history through sites such as JWfacts.
Conversely, growth in poor countries where there is little or no internet continues to flourish, causing a further drain on diminishing donated funds. It is such an imbalance that may be leading the Society to pursue whatever avenues are available in order to obtain money – even if this means contradicting its own previous writings on going into debt and the use of credit cards for accepting donations.