They are a familiar sight walking through residential areas, all dressed up with their Bibles and literature. Eagerly, they go from house to house ready and willing to warn of a looming doomsday they believe the Bible foretells.
They are Jehovah’s Witnesses, and their ministry has been the subject of controversy from its inception. Their “in your face” approach to religion has historically been met with mixed feelings.
Modern democratic society does generally allow people to visit homes with a religious message, but what if their motives are more far-reaching? Suppose their endgame is to acquire a new volunteer for their religious corporation, and they’re willing to stretch the truth to make this happen? Is it right of them to bring deception to people’s doorsteps in an attempt to increase their chances of gaining a human resource?
Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t immediately tell those to whom they preach the whole story of what it means to be in their religion. One example of this is that they don’t explain that membership in “good standing” requires a special type of maintenance.
Retaining a “good standing” as a Witness requires maintaining a social distance from unbelievers. Before you can even join you’ll be expected to change your standards as regards relationships, and keep it that way.
What Witness preachers neglect to mention early on is that joining them could very well mean breaking ties with friends and family. That crucial information doesn’t come in until much later.
In the beginning, they’ll say a simple home Bible study under their tutelage, using only their literature, will answer all of life’s big questions. It’s going to be quite some time before they start to list the “bad associates” you must avoid if you wish to make progress.
Divide and conquer
In March of this year JW Broadcasting (the new Jehovah’s Witnesses televangelist channel) showed a short film featuring a fictitious boy named Marcus whose mother had recently been baptized (skip to 00:27:29)…
Marcus is not a Jehovah’s Witness, but his recently-converted mother begins studying with him, taking him to meetings and on the door-to-door ministry. Just before the film is played it is introduced by Governing Body helper John Ekrann, who says:
“…there is a great need for more zealous workers in the organization today. If you’re young are you trying to determine what to do with your life? Maybe pioneer? Work at Bethel? Or maybe pursue a career? It’s a big decision to make and requires many sincere prayers to Jehovah for wisdom. But if you are in a religiously divided household it could be that you are facing some unique challenges when deciding your future. This young man is going through just that…”
Notice how Ekrann is keen to emphasize to unconverted children, his target audience, the organization’s “great need” for workers. This statement reveals the real purpose of the Witness preaching work: to recruit workers for the organization.
The film is about a boy whose mother was reached by their ministry. It speaks directly to the children of parents who have passed through the entry process, and attempts to hook them in too.
The video depicts Marcus going through a type of tug-of-war between his mother, who wants to indoctrinate him, and his father, who wants him to have a career. The interactions between the father and son are predictable. The unrealistic script shows neither understanding nor empathy for the painful position one is thrust into when their loved one is captured by undue influence.
For instance, such a person will start noticing changes in their loved one’s behavior. Information or ideas that they previously wouldn’t have been opposed to are suddenly dismissed, marginalized and even avoided altogether. Irrational fears develop due to phobia indoctrination, and their very thinking noticeably alters as they put on the “new personality.”
It can be a terrifying experience for someone whose loved one is subjected to subtle mental coercion. Steve Wells, creator of the useful tool the Skeptics Annotated Bible recently did a superb interview on JW Podcast. In it he recounted his experience with his son when he noticed that he was being drawn into a cult (interview begins at 00:06:08)…
In the JW Broadcasting propaganda film the father’s anxiety is eventually pacified when his son explains how the religion helped keep him out of trouble with drugs and girls. Again, the script is written by JWs who seem completely out of touch with unbelievers like Steve Wells, who have been forced into situations similar to that of the father in the video.
Though unsurprisingly not depicted in the film, Watchtower does know of the troubles that result from their conversion of someone who has a family. For example, apart from giving harmful and wholly inappropriate advice on how to counter domestic violence, the infamous “Selma and Steve” February 15th 2012 study edition of The Watchtower admitted that “unbelieving spouses may feel abandoned or threatened when their mate leaves to participate in Christian activities.”
When someone you love is subjected to mental coercion before your very eyes, there is understandable anxiety. Very little of this, however, is portrayed by the father character in the film. Realistically, a father would be extremely uncomfortable with the idea that his wife and son were joining a religion he didn’t believe in – especially one that practices shunning and coerces members to forgo higher education and a career in favor of becoming volunteer canvassers.
The father in the story is a threat to Watchtower’s goal of acquiring his son’s life as a resource for its purposes.
The film shows a “bethelite” visiting the congregation from headquarters. The bethelite spends time with Marcus and fills the older brother/father-type role. His influence ends up being a strong factor in Marcus’ decision to abandon his father’s aspirations in favor of pursuing his life as a Witness.
This is very bad news that Marcus must break to his father. Again, the father character shows only signs of mild anxiety, even though a stranger from New York is tugging his son away from a real life towards a multi-million dollar doomsday cult.
Propaganda is never realistic.
While the short film is a heavily sanitized version of real events that often take place, it still clearly shows the Watchtower’s “divide and conquer” strategy in accumulating life-long volunteers.
Isolation from support
As you can clearly see from Watchtower’s own writings and productions, their goal is to enter family environments and convert the family entirely or draw certain individuals away for themselves. That’s why they shamelessly refer to the “sword” mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 10:34 in excusing the way relationships are dashed to pieces. This devastation is partly accomplished by isolating converts from unbelieving friends and family, or any who are opposed to their loved one being subjected to undue influence.
Most who grow up outside of the Watchtower environment will have naturally built up a support network of friends and family. Anyone who can genuinely support the recent convert will be targeted as a threat to the indoctrination process. Without isolation from that key support network there is a much less likelihood of indoctrination taking root.
Not so harmless
So, when you see Jehovah’s Witnesses, whether in some public place or at your doorstep, don’t be fooled by their innocent appearance. Keep in mind that, while individual Witnesses are usually very kind and generous people, they represent a callous religious institution bent on destroying your relationships with anyone who doesn’t embrace their doomsday predictions.
The Witnesses you interact with might actually be the friendliest people you have ever met. But please remember that the Watchtower corporation most certainly is not your friend. It wants you as a resource.
If you or someone you love has been subjected to undue influence there are many resources available for you to peacefully handle the situation. Steven Hassan, a leading cult expert, has written several books on the subject of undue influence, the most recent of which is the 25th Anniversary edition of his most popular book Combating Cult Mind Control.
Please don’t just watch helplessly as a cult works its subtleties on someone you love. Educate yourself on how to intervene without resorting to aggression. If you do so, you will have a good chance of turning the tide in helping someone wake up from corrosive indoctrination, and get on with enjoying life with you in it.