On September 1st 2012 the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses took on a distinctive new look, and a bold new role for the Watch Tower Society. Rather than continuing to maintain its three previous websites (jwmedia.org, watchtower.org and jw.org), Watchtower has now effectively put “all of its eggs in one basket” by revamping JW.org to serve as the single point of contact for people seeking to access Jehovah’s Witnesses online.
To Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves, this change isn’t unexpected, even if the timing is a little slack. The decision to amalgamate the three websites was announced at meetings worldwide five months in advance, at the beginning of April 2012. A letter was read out at these meetings, dated April 2nd 2012, which said (in part):
“To enhance the effectiveness of our use of the Internet, the Governing Body has decided to consolidate the three sites into one site called jw.org. The Web site will be completely redesigned. It will be appealing and easy to navigate using either a computer or a mobile device.
The redesigned jw.org Web site is planned for release around the beginning of June 2012. It will paint an appealing picture of our preaching work, branch offices, Kingdom Halls, and conventions.
A newsroom section will provide up-to-date reporting on events affecting God’s people worldwide. Selected features from our magazines that can be presented more effectively on the Web site will now be published only on jw.org. These include the following: ‘For Young People,’ ‘My Bible Lessons,’ and the Gilead graduation report from the public edition of The Watchtower and ‘For Family Review’ and ‘Young People Ask’ from Awake! In addition, a series of online articles available only on the Web site will provide concise, clear answers to questions about the Bible and about Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
According to the above, the redesigned website was scheduled for launch at the beginning of June 2012. However, for some unknown reason, the launch was postponed by three months to the beginning of September.
Appealing, but how factual?
Visually and functionally, the new website is a clear improvement on its predecessor. The images are sharp and striking, and the color scheme is well-chosen. The menus are clear and not overly complicated. In that sense, the Society has achieved its objective of producing a website that is “appealing and easy to navigate using either a computer or a mobile device.” However, as with any material produced by the Society with a view to providing religious instruction, the actual content rather than the appearance should be of utmost interest to discerning readers.
In its April 2nd letter, the Society declared that a primary focus of the new website would be to “paint an appealing picture of our preaching work, branch offices, Kingdom Halls, and conventions”. No doubt any religious organization would understandably be concerned about portraying its beliefs and practices in a favorable light. However, should not such a website also present information in a way that is honest, and not misleading – especially since its purpose is to direct outsiders to worship the “God of truth”? (Psalm 31:5)
True, certain more complex doctrinal views may be hard to grasp for the uninitiated. However, in such instances, nothing is stopping the Society from presenting a brief but candid explanation of these more controversial beliefs; simply stating that more information is available in the publications that are available for download (or by clicking on a link to a digital version of a relevant Watchtower article).
You would certainly not expect an organization that prides itself on spreading “the Truth” to provide information on their official website that is misleading, or only partially true. However, a closer inspection of the new JW.org website reveals that this is precisely what the Watch Tower Society has done. Take for example the “Frequently Asked Questions” section. One question asks “Do You Feel That You Are The Only People Who Will Be Saved?” Here is the stated answer:
“No. Many millions who lived in centuries past and who weren’t Jehovah’s Witnesses will have an opportunity for salvation. The Bible explains that in God’s promised new world,there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.(Acts 24:15) Additionally, many now living may yet begin to serve God, and they too will gain salvation. In any case, it’s not our job to judge who will or won’t be saved. That assignment rests squarely in Jesus’ hands.—John 5:22, 27.”
Despite initially answering “no”, the above statement goes on to contradict itself by implying that only three groups of people have a chance to be saved by God. These are…
- Those who were alive before Jehovah’s Witnesses existed
- Jehovah’s Witnesses
- Those who aren’t yet Jehovah’s Witnesses, but who will become Jehovah’s Witnesses before Armageddon
As far as the original question is concerned, the answer should be a straightforward “yes”! When Armageddon strikes, Jehovah’s Witnesses DO feel that they are the only ones who will be saved. The answer is therefore both self-contradictory and misleading – and frankly, the significance and ramifications of the question warrants greater honesty and transparency.
As I have discussed in a previous article, vast swathes of the Earth’s populace (approximately one-third, in fact) either live in lands where there are no Jehovah’s Witnesses, or extremely low publisher-to-population ratios (1 in a million in Bangladesh). What will happen to these billions of people in Arab or communist lands who have never heard of Jehovah’s Witnesses when Armageddon comes? Will Jehovah kill them all? According to the new JW.org website, the answer is ambiguous, but actually “yes”.
Sadly, this is not the only example of dishonesty and evasiveness on the new website. Consider, for example, the question related to disfellowshipping – which asks “Do You Shun Former Members of Your Religion?” The answer given reads as follows…
“Those who were baptized as Jehovah’s Witnesses but no longer preach to others, perhaps even drifting away from association with fellow believers, are not shunned. In fact, we reach out to them and try to rekindle their spiritual interest.
We do not automatically disfellowship someone who commits a serious sin. If, however, a baptized Witness makes a practice of breaking the Bible’s moral code and does not repent, he or she will be shunned or disfellowshipped. The Bible clearly states:Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.—1 Corinthians 5:13.
What of a man who is disfellowshipped but whose wife and children are still Jehovah’s Witnesses? The religious ties he had with his family change, but blood ties remain. The marriage relationship and normal family affections and dealings continue.
Disfellowshipped individuals may attend our religious services. If they wish, they may also receive spiritual counsel from congregation elders. The goal is to help each individual once more to qualify to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Disfellowshipped people who reject improper conduct and demonstrate a sincere desire to live by the Bible’s standards are always welcome to become members of the congregation again.’
The above statement completely overlooks two key scenarios, namely…
- What happens to those who are disfellowshipped despite not having broken the Bible’s moral code? (e.g. those who decide that they no longer agree with the organization and feel compelled to speak out and warn others about perceived doctrinal flaws or damaging practices)
- What about teenagers or young people who are disfellowshipped and shunned by their parents because they are viewed as being old enough to leave the family home?
Of this latter group of individuals, a recent Watchtower article said…
“Consider just one example of the good that can come when a family loyally upholds Jehovah’s decree not to associate with disfellowshipped relatives. A young man had been disfellowshipped for over ten years, during which time his father, mother, and four brothers “quit mixing in company” with him. At times, he tried to involve himself in their activities, but to their credit, each member of the family was steadfast in not having any contact with him. After he was reinstated, he said that he always missed the association with his family, especially at night when he was alone. But, he admitted, had the family associated with him even a little, that small dose would have satisfied him. However, because he did not receive even the slightest communication from any of his family, the burning desire to be with them became one motivating factor in his restoring his relationship with Jehovah. Think of that if you are ever tempted to violate God’s command not to associate with your disfellowshipped relatives.” (The Watchtower, April 15th 2012, page 12, paragraph 17)
So, not only do Jehovah’s Witnesses shun family members who are disfellowshipped (apart from the extremely narrow exception to this rule that is provided in the FAQ), but the Watch Tower Society actively coerces parents to consider the shunning of their own children as being “God’s command” – even though the bible counsel at 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 says nothing about shunning being applicable within the family circle.
The FAQ answer mentioned above gives evidence that family members CAN be exempted from shunning, albeit only if the disfellowshipped one is the head of the household. Yet, Paul’s words in 1 Cor 5:11-13 simply prescribe shunning for “anyone called a brother” (meaning, according to the context, “anyone called a brother” in the congregation who unrepentantly sins). Paul does not say anything in this scripture about the family circle, and he certainly doesn’t say anything about family heads in particular.
Therefore, we might well ask, why should deviant teenage sons and daughters be any less deserving of meaningful loving contact with their parents (especially at such a vulnerable stage in their lives), given that the bible states nowhere explicitly that family members are to shun one another? Why show mercy in one application of scripture in this important area, but not in another – especially when crucial family ties are involved, and mental and emotional wellbeing is at stake? (1 Tim 5:8; Matt 9:13)
For whatever reason, the Society doesn’t want visitors to its website to know that shunning IS cruelly and unmercifully enforced against disfellowshipped family members who are old enough to leave the family home, even though this is clearly spelled out in a members-only Watchtower Study Edition as being “God’s command”. If this is truly “God’s command”, then why does the Society fail to mention (or admit to) this aspect of shunning on its website when answering a direct question on the matter?
Furthermore, the FAQ answer regarding shunning only cites “breaking the Bible’s moral code” as being grounds for disfellowshipping. Nothing is mentioned about the many who are disfellowshipped and shunned despite not having contravened the Bible’s moral code – i.e. those who have merely had a change of heart about whether Jehovah’s Witnesses have the true religion, and wish to express themselves on the matter. Such ones are routinely disfellowshipped and shunned, both by former friends and family members alike, under the trumped-up charge of “apostasy” (a word applied in scripture to those who deviate from Christianity, not the Watch Tower Society).
This brings us to another interesting FAQ on the new website, which poses the question “Are You Tolerant of Other Religions?” Here is the Watchtower’s answer…
“We follow the Bible’s advice to “respect everyone”—regardless of their religious beliefs. (1 Peter 2:17, Today’s English Version) For example, in some countries there are hundreds of thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Even so, we don’t try to pressure politicians or lawmakers into restricting or banning the work of other religious groups. Nor do we campaign to have laws passed that would impose our moral and religious convictions on the general community. Instead, we extend to others the same tolerance that we appreciate receiving from them.—Matthew 7:12.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses seemingly have a very narrow understanding of what “tolerance” means. They feel that tolerance, in a religious context, merely means not trying to manipulate governmental authorities to bend to their whims when legislating or dealing with other religious groups. The Society surely realises that being religiously tolerant actually means far more than just this narrow and rather curious application, which is an apparent dig at other religious organizations that have caused problems for Jehovah’s Witnesses in the past. However, rather than looking at other religions when it comes to exercising tolerance, perhaps the Watch Tower Society ought to look at its own record more closely. (Matthew 7:3)
Put simply, if Jehovah’s Witnesses do indeed “respect everyone regardless of their religious beliefs”, then they have a very peculiar way of showing it. As just one example, consider how the Watch Tower Society reacts to those mentioned above in this article who leave Jehovah’s Witnesses on religious grounds and are thus labelled as “apostates”. Notice how they are described in the following quote from a recent Watchtower article…
“Suppose that a doctor told you to avoid contact with someone who is infected with a contagious, deadly disease. You would know what the doctor means, and you would strictly heed his warning. Well, apostates are ‘mentally diseased,’ and they seek to infect others with their disloyal teachings. (1 Tim. 6:3, 4) Jehovah, the Great Physician, tells us to avoid contact with them. We know what he means, but are we determined to heed his warning in all respects?” (The Watchtower 2011, July 15th, page 16, paragraph 6).
Yes, not content to shun those who leave the organization for religious reasons, Jehovah’s Witnesses aggravate such ones still further by branding them as “mentally diseased” – a deeply insulting slur, both for apostates and those who genuinely suffer from mental illness. Using such vindictive and hateful language hardly befits a group of people claiming to “extend to others the same tolerance that we appreciate receiving from them”.
As many of you will be aware, former believers are not the only ones who are on the receiving end of the Watch Tower Society’s unique brand of “tolerance”. Consider just a few quotes about the Catholic Church as taken from the book Revelation – It’s Grand Climax At Hand!…
“For thousands of years, Babylon the Great has been bloodguilty, and she is a gross fornicatrix. For example, the policy of the Roman Catholic Church of forbidding her priests to marry has resulted in gross immorality on the part of many of them, not a few of these today contracting AIDS.” – page 272, par. 3.
“The Catholic Church thus shares responsibility for consigning thousands of Witnesses to concentration camps; its hands are stained by the lifeblood of hundreds of Witnesses who were executed.” – page 270, par. 15.
“Why must the great harlot symbolize more than the Roman Catholic Church or even all of Christendom?” – Study question on page 235, par. 3.
So, to summarize, according to a still widely circulated publication of the Watch Tower Society, the Catholic Church is (1) part of the great harlot of Babylon the Great, which is, in turn, a “gross fornicatrix”, (2) responsible for its own priests contracting the AIDS virus, and (3) responsible for the executions of “hundreds” of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nazi concentration camps. If you were a Roman Catholic, do you think you would consider Jehovah’s Witnesses to be tolerant or respectful of your beliefs after reading the above passages?
I have highlighted just three of the 12 FAQs on JW.org, but I could provide more examples of ambiguity or deception on this website if pressed to do so. My question is, why is it all necessary? If Jehovah’s Witnesses have “the Truth”, then why misrepresent these beliefs or try to hide them from outsiders? Why can’t the Watch Tower Society be proud of its beliefs and present these without any spin or trickery? Only they will know the answers to such questions.
To me, it appears that the Society knows full well that many core beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses are almost impossible for any reasonable outsiders to accept. The beliefs surrounding shunning and the lack of tolerance of other faiths would indeed repel most thinking people from examining Witness beliefs in any great detail whatsoever. The Society would therefore rather conceal any doctrinal embarrassments in an attempt to lure people into requesting a bible study. After all, strange doctrines are always much easier to accept once people have already grown accustomed to less controversial teachings such as those presented in the first few chapters of the Bible Teach book.
An unexpected side effect
But there is another aspect to the launch of JW.org that has caught my attention, and this relates to the use of videos on certain pages of the new website. These videos, which are intended to promote various aspects of Witness work and teachings, are for the most part highly polished productions that portray Witness beliefs in an appealing light. However, it seems the Society has seriously misjudged the tendency for any videos that are launched on the internet to eventually find their way onto YouTube, and this alone opens up a Pandora’s box of problems.
For example, the Society has a number of sign language videos that are clearly designed to help deaf people study their publications. One such publication that has been “translated” into Sign Language is the book Keep Yourselves In God’s Love, which has an entire section on pages 218 to 219 entitled “Gain the Victory Over Masturbation“. As you can imagine, the sign language version of this section of the book contains some quite graphic gestures denoting the act of self-stimulation. Some YouTubers wasted very little time in taking the videos off JW.org and putting them onto YouTube – in some cases even putting the films to music.
Once on YouTube, the sign language video dealing with masturbation went viral, and reached as many as 870,000 views before being pulled off YouTube by the Watch Tower Society, who claimed copyright infringement. By this time, the video had changed the perception of Jehovah’s Witnesses for hundreds of thousands of onlookers – most of whom will have been perplexed as to why our religion goes to such extreme and graphic measures to stop its adherents from masturbating.
This somewhat drastic intervention from the Society also came too late to stop the deaf masturbation video from being lampooned on the television show The Burn with Jeff Ross on Comedy Central…
Obviously, many of you who haven’t yet researched Witness teachings from an objective viewpoint will have many reservations about your cherished beliefs being openly mocked in such a way. This is wholly understandable. However, regardless of your personal views about the practice of masturbation, nobody can deny that not one single scripture in the Bible either speaks about masturbation or condemns it directly – even though God’s word never normally shies away from condemning practices, however intimate, if it deems it necessary. Many like myself feel that it is wrong to add laws to the Bible where none exist.
Indeed, the section in the “God’s Love” book cites no less than 10 scriptures in support of the Society’s anti-masturbation stance, even though none of these scriptures discuss masturbation. Is this not a clear example of introducing a law based on nothing other than opinion and “private interpretation”? (2 Peter 1:20) Does it glorify God to create invasive and unbiblical laws that expose Jehovah’s name to public ridicule on the internet and television? If you dwell on such questions, you might hopefully begin to understand why some might feel compelled to highlight this and other similarly unfounded teachings to the wider world.
However, even videos that put a positive spin on JW beliefs can wreak untold havoc once posted on YouTube – even if they are posted by well-meaning publishers with any comments or negative feedback “disabled”. Why is this? Firstly, videos on YouTube can easily be “mirrored” (or copied by others) and then commented on freely. Some comments left underneath such mirrored videos will inevitably be left by those who have had a negative experience within the Witness faith, and feel motivated to express why not everything is as it seems.
Secondly, once you watch a video on YouTube, YouTube will automatically suggest videos of a similar topic for you to watch. Inevitably, the majority of videos on YouTube regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses are less than flattering about the organization and its teachings. This is also a nightmare scenario for the Society, because they want to be able to control what kind of material people watch about them, rather than leave a “worldly” website such as YouTube free rein to indiscriminately promote undesirable JW-related material.
For the above two reasons, having professionally produced videos in circulation on the Internet in any form is a bad idea for the Society, and yet a number have been produced already. So far, the Society has uploaded the following videos to its website…
- A video promoting the project to build a new World Headquarters in upstate New York, despite the Governing Body’s recent admission that they are uncertain of Jehovah’s will in regard to their plans
- A video showing the recent project to display literature on stands in the center of Manhattan, hosted by Robert Warren. Robert works in the Watchtower’s “Office of Public Information”, but keeps referring to “the Witnesses” throughout the video as though he is an impartial reporter.
- A follow-up video dramatizing a commuter stopping to look at JW literature on a stand in Grand Central Station
- A video showing a man in South Africa expressing his appreciation for the “Simplified English” version of the Watchtower
- A video emphasizing the relief work that was launched to help Witnesses who were affected by the Japanese tsunami. Although it is heartwarming to see Jehovah’s Witnesses looking out for one another, the example set by Jesus in the parable of the Good Samaritan highlights the Christian’s obligation to help all men – not just those who share your faith.
- A video promoting the Watchtower entitled “No Other Magazine Comes Close”
Already a number of the above videos have found their way onto YouTube, prompting much discussion among those viewing them who have been impacted by the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses on a day-to-day basis. You might think this would be a welcome development for the Society – however, as I’ve explained, the very existence of YouTube and similar websites poses serious problems for the organization, and we are already starting to see the Watch Tower Society take matters into its own hands.
A Copyright Clampdown
The Society has recently started going to extraordinary lengths to curtail the influx of videos on YouTube that feature even the slightest portion of their material. For example, I recently posted a song on YouTube called “Sparlock We Love You”. The song was intended as a humorous parody of the Become Jehovah’s Friend DVD and it’s ill-fated villain – Sparlock the Warrior Wizard. The song I wrote and recorded was original, but the Society had the video removed after it had received over 10,000 views on the basis of a claim of copyright infringement (some of the pictures I used on the video were taken from the Society’s DVD).
In actual fact, under “fair use” laws, there is legally nothing wrong with using copyrighted material if it is intended as a parody for non-profit making purposes. However, I am unable to contest the decision to remove the video without potentially opening up a lawsuit and revealing my identity and contact details. Instead, I have re-uploaded the song minus any copyrighted material, which is viewable below…
To read my article on the “Become Jehovah’s Friend” DVD, please click here.
I mention the above video purely by way of illustrating the lengths that the Society will go to in pulling material off YouTube that presents its beliefs in a less than flattering light. Even the unedited version of the “Become Jehovah’s Friend” DVD was pulled from YouTube soon after being leaked, despite being described by the Society as “part of a worldwide Bible educational work supported by voluntary donations”. If you produce something that is free, educational, and intended for viewing by as many people as possible – then why have it withdrawn from YouTube? The answer: because you want to control who watches it, and under what circumstances it is watched.
The Internet – An Underestimated Foe
Considering the above, it seems the Society has seriously underestimated the internet (and YouTube in particular) by making so many of its videos available on its new version of JW.org. I firmly believe the Society will continue to publish videos on the website, the most interesting of which will soon after be pulled across onto YouTube – perhaps even by enthusiastic publishers, only to be later mirrored and dissected by those whose feelings towards the Society are less than cordial. That is certainly what appears to be happening now. The only way it could stop would be if the Society relented and stopped putting videos on its website. However, it seems committed to pressing ahead with this bold and rather naive strategy.
As already discussed, another tactic the Society seems to have embraced is that of being extremely selective in how it disseminates the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses to the broader public. As I have already demonstrated, the Society will think nothing of posing questions of itself, only to respond to these questions in an extremely misleading way, either by concealing the true answers or failing to address the question altogether.
It’s regrettable that the Society feels inclined to promote its beliefs in such a shady and underhanded manner. However, the more I learn of the Society and its methods, the less these things come as a surprise to me. The only thing that does surprise me is the naivety with which the organization has seemingly embraced the challenge of trying to charm its most threatening foe, the internet, simply by offering up this sparkling new website with its highly-produced videos.
One of the marvellous things about the internet is that, by enabling communication and the free exchange of information, it becomes extremely difficult for people to hide the truth. In such a punishing environment of debate and free speech, the Society has struggled to enjoy the success and impressive growth of previous decades. I don’t see the launch of this website changing things. In fact, by launching these recent videos, the Society seems to have made their situation a whole lot more precarious.
* To read my response to the April 2nd letter in which I explain why the Society’s internet strategy will ultimately fail, please click here.
For more information on the Watch Tower Society’s view of masturbation, click here.
To read the above article in Hungarian, please click here.