Watchtower has started recruiting delegates for a fresh round of international conventions in 2014/2015, to be held in eight countries. (To skip straight to the details, please click here) But the news follows revelations that regular district conventions in the USA for next year will undergo drastic cutbacks.
A local newspaper in the State of Washington seems to have inadvertently leaked information related to a surprising shift in strategy on the part of Watchtower for conventions in 2014, and possibly beyond.
Owners of a convention venue in Washington have been informed by Watchtower that no convention will be booked for next year due to “consolidation.”
Kris Watkins, president and CEO of the Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau in Kennewick, told the Tri-City Herald, “What they told me is the decision has been made nationally to downsize the number of conventions from 400 to 100. They’re simply consolidating.”
For some time now it has been rumored in online Witness circles that District Conventions will either be reduced in scope or phased out entirely as the organization continues to downsize. Although it is unclear precisely how Watchtower plans to slash 400 conventions down to 100, this revelation would certainly seem to indicate that drastic changes are afoot – at least in America, if not further afield.
Interestingly, the Tri-City Herald reporter failed in attempts to verify the development with Watchtower officials. “Multiple calls Thursday to the Jehovah’s Witnesses were not returned,” said the reporter, Loretto J. Hulse.
Despite being alerted to this change in strategy, Tri-Cities CEO Kris Watkins apparently remains hopeful that Watchtower will be returning to book her venue in 2015. “We were surprised, but not shocked. They’ve done this in the past,” she said. “It’s one of the larger groups to come to the Tri-Cities and really does affect many levels of our economy — retail shopping, hotels, dining, sightseeing. All those activities have a major impact.”
While it may be true that Watchtower has switched its local convention arrangements in the past, it certainly isn’t true that Watchtower is in the regular habit of scaling down conventions in America from 400 to 100. In fact, it’s unheard of. Watkins’ optimism that Watchtower will return in the near future to boost the local economy once more is therefore likely misplaced.
Why the changes?
Precise reasons for the change will always be speculative, but clues may be found in Watkins’ use of the words “downsize” and “consolidating.” It goes without saying that third-party convention venues are enormously expensive to rent. Though many see district conventions as money-spinners for the Society due to the three-day influx of donations, it may well be that the proceeds are either struggling to meet overheads or are otherwise failing to provide a justifiable profit margin for Watchtower. If that is the case, reducing venue rental costs would certainly make sense.
Nevertheless, the hinted changes leave many questions. For example, how can Watchtower slash 3 in 4 conventions next year, but still provide a convention program for more than 1.2 million American publishers and their families? Will Watchtower-owned circuit assembly facilities be utilized? If so, how will the Society justify calling these makeshift events “district conventions” when the program will be heard by, in most cases, a radically smaller local audience? And will these changes affect America alone, or other countries too?
International Conventions for 2014/15 announced
Even if plans for district conventions in America in 2014 are currently something of a mystery, JWsurvey can reveal that Watchtower is well underway in its recruitment drive for next year’s International Conventions.
In a letter dated July 30, 2013 (addressed to all service committees in the United States branch territory), elders have received detailed instructions for those wishing to apply for next year’s events, which are to be held in the following cities…
- Melbourne, Australia – October 2014
- London, England – August 2014
- Quito, Ecuador – January 2015
- Frankfurt, Germany – July 2014
- Athens, Greece – June 2014
- Seoul, Korea – September 2014
- Mexico City, Mexico – November 2014
- Harare, Zimbabwe – August 2014
Prudence, or discrimination?
Of particular note in the instructions for new applicants is the insistence that those with significant health difficulties should not apply as delegates. As the letter to elders states on the first page…
“We ask that the elders be very open with those who are not in good health or are dependent on another person to function. If a person has poor health or frailties due to age or some other handicap, it is best to inform him that he should not apply. In the past, applications have been received from individuals with serious sight or hearing limitations not corrected by glasses or hearing aids. Others suffered from severe obesity and could not walk long distances or stand for extended periods of time. In such cases, long trips under difficult physical conditions could prove harmful to the person’s health and may also adversely impact the activities of other delegates. Therefore, all applicants are encouraged to give serious and prayerful consideration to their health limitations and personal safety before applying to become a delegate.”
It is understandable that the rigours of travel require that international convention delegates must have some degree of autonomy if they are to be considered for selection on an individual basis. Even so, the array of physical ailments considered prohibitive by Watchtower does seem overly restrictive, to the point of being discriminatory in some cases.
For example, if you are a deaf publisher who wants to attend an international convention simply to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the association, even if you cannot get the full benefit of the program, based on the above directions you could find yourself being dissuaded from applying by your elders.
And if you are a wheelchair user there is no way you will be allowed to go, no matter how independent you are. The “Applicant Instructions” document to be issued to all interested in attending stipulates: “All applicants should be in good health and not in need of the assistance of someone else, nor dependent on a wheelchair, an auxiliary oxygen supply, or similar health-related devices.” Surely Watchtower should not be arranging these events if they are not available to all, including those with disabilities?
Exemplary publishers only
Another intriguing feature of the instructions is that, as in previous years, selection is to be based on a publisher being considered “exemplary” by his elders. Approval to attend an international convention may even be withdrawn if the delegate loses this status, including up to the day of departure!
“If an individual selected to attend a special convention loses his exemplary status and is no longer qualified to attend, the delegate should be thoroughly informed of the reason for your decision. Such a person would be fully responsible for any financial loss associated with his abrupt disqualification as a delegate, even up to the time he was supposed to depart.”
It is remarkable to think that, having donated hundreds if not thousands of dollars to Watchtower in order to attend an international convention, a publisher can still be blocked from going if he is stripped of his “exemplary status” without being able to claim a refund. This direction flies in the face of Christ’s words at Mark 2:17, where he said, “Those who are strong do not need a physician, but those who are ill do. I came to call, not righteous people, but sinners.”
Convention accommodation cover-up?
Finally, one more strange feature of the instructions to elders relates to accommodation. As indicated, in order to become an official Watchtower delegate to an international convention, you need to part with hundreds if not thousands of dollars depending on where you are travelling to or from, and the grade of hotel you are staying in. This money is paid straight to Watchtower, who takes a sizeable cut before paying all your travel and hotel expenses themselves at a heavily discounted bulk purchase rate.
Now it seems Watchtower is prepared to let “longtime, faithful servants” with limited funds attend, but they don’t want everyone to know about it!
The bold and underlining in the following quote are the same as in the original letter…
“Special rooming: Confidentially, we will be asking the host branch office to poll local brothers to determine if some might be able to provide limited rooming provisions in private homes. This information is not to be made known to the applicants in general. However, if the elders are aware of a longtime, faithful servant, perhaps with many years of full-time service, who is not able to fully finance such a trip, he could be encouraged to apply and the secretary can check the box on the electronic jw.org application that this delegate qualifies for the special rooming provision, if available.”
Though it is commendable that special allowances are being made for delegates who are not able to “fully finance” their attendance, it is astonishing that these provisions are to be kept secret from ordinary congregation members.
The only conceivable reason for withholding such information is because Watchtower wants to receive as much money as possible from those wealthy enough to bear the full cost, and seeks to give the impression that those without money cannot attend, when in truth they are admitting that it IS possible for arrangements to be made without hotels if sufficient organizational effort is put forth.
The whole thing smacks of the incident in Matthew 21:12 when Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers and traders who were profiting from those coming to worship at the temple. International Conventions are big business for Watchtower and an ingenious means of generating a large amount of income from a core customer base of wealthy publishers. The fact that deception is now being employed to yield maximum profits will not bode well with most sincere Witnesses who learn of this subterfuge.