In Part One of our 2016 review, we managed to scrape the surface of some of the more significant articles which dealt with the ongoing and very troubling issues which have plagued the Jehovah’s Witness organization for the past several years. The reality is that these child abuse problems have actually been a scourge on the organization for many decades, but as it happens with such matters, it takes many years for the facts to come to light, just as it happened with the Catholic church and other institutions . Besides these critical issues, there were a significant number of events which occurred in 2016, and which affected the lives of Witnesses across the globe.
On a somewhat lighter note, on January 5th 2016, JW Survey senior editor Lloyd Evans captured the essence of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ belief that God is looking after their efforts to construct buildings, acquire materials, and even print books in the nick of time, while failing to credit God for the permission of the brutal tragedies which affect mankind of a daily basis. Evans pointed out the irony of Jehovah’s hand in providing sand for the Philippine hurricane relief efforts, while making one ponder why Witnesses died in that tragedy in the first place. In fact, the proportion of JWs who passed away was in fact higher than the general population.
Watchtower Scraps Literature- in a Big Way
In a rather shocking announcement as reported by Survey on January 15th 2016, Watchtower announced the discontinuation of multiple publications which were key doctrinal guidebooks for Witnesses, including the “Creation” book, the “Isaiah” books, and the infamous “Revelation” book. These resources were invaluable documentaries on their respective subjects, but were also highly criticized even by Witnesses themselves. I will never forget one elder who looked me straight in the eye and declared that he “just didn’t get” the Revelation book- the latest commentary on the book of the Bible filled with visions, beasts, and apocalyptic explanations of verses. These explanations directly linked scriptures in Revelation to Jehovah’s Witness conventions and proclamations in the opening decades of the 20th century.
The abandonment of the blue “creation” book was not as much of a surprise, as well established criticisms of this publication had already rendered this book a repository of misquotes and misinformation regarding scientific evidence for the evolution of mankind; and the Watchtower writing department was better off removing this item from their arsenal of literature.
One of the most under-reported stories on JW Survey was the ongoing legal battles taking place in Russia, where years of religio-political tug of war have occupied the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ legal department nearly as much as their child abuse cases. Russian authorities in multiple cities have issues restrictions or bans on Watchtower literature, considering much of it to be subversive and extremist.
As reported by JW Survey contributor Susannah, The Russian city of Vyborg blocked shipments of Witness-ordered Bibles under the premise that they were extremist in nature. While JW Survey in no way condones censorship of religious or non-religious materials, the fact that Witness Bibles (and other literature) have been singled out is a powerful sign that Russia, like other European countries, is taking indoctrination seriously.
Among the most critical blows to the Witness organization has been the ban on its most powerful propaganda tool, the jw.org website. In a 2015 news release, Watchtower stated:
Seven months after the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation declared www.jw.org to be extremist, Russian authorities banned the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The ban became effective on July 21, 2015, when the Russian Federation Ministry of Justice added jw.org to the Federal List of Extremist Materials. Internet providers throughout Russia have blocked access to the website, and it is now a criminal offense to promote it from within the country. Russia is the only country in the world to ban jw.org.
The fight for religious freedom in Russia will likely continue for many years for Witnesses, and while we support freedom of choice, there is a distinct double standard in place when Witness attorneys appeal to the Universal Declaration of Human rights, yet deny the Declaration’s mandate permitting a person to leave their religion without devastating consequences. The results include loss of friends, family, and complete ostracism and humiliation that accompanies the public announcement of a person’s disconnection from this religion.
Jehovah’s Witnesses in Prison
Following statistics gathered in 2016, Jehovah’s Witnesses released the chart below indicating just how many faithful followers have been jailed for their conscientious objection to military service.
For many pacifists, this is an agreeable and noble cause. But for Jehovah’s Witnesses, there is a sinister footnote attached to their objection to war: Until recent times they were banned from alternative services, forcing many into prison instead of performing substitute community service.
The 1983 Witness publication “United in Worship…” stated:
“An examination of the historical facts shows that not only have Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to put on military uniforms and take up arms but, during the past half century and more, they have also declined to do noncombatant service or to accept other work assignments as a substitute for military service. … Many of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been imprisoned because they would not violate their Christian neutrality.” – United in Worship of the Only True God p.167 [bold ours. This publication has since been abandoned by the Watchtower Organization]
In his book I Wept by the Rivers of Babylon: A Prisoner of Conscience in a Time of War, author Terry Walstrom details his traumatic experience of being escorted to federal prison by sheriff’s sedan during the Vietnam war, despite being offered an alternative service job at a Texas hospital. Loyalty to the Witness organization was paramount, and enforced. Terry told JW Survey that his congregation elders sealed his fate by verbal coercion:
“It was private conversation with the Overseer and his assistant in the library of the Kingdom Hall after a meeting with the door closed. I was told that I couldn’t tell anybody that I had been instructed about anything–that I had come to the conclusions ON MY OWN conscience.”
Terry spent the better part of two years of his life in federal prison, was raped, abandoned by his girlfriend and his Witness friends, then finally returned to society with anything but a hero’s return.
As reported by JW Facts, Watchtower has since altered its policy on alternative military service, but only due to extraordinary political pressure initiated in Bulgaria to maintain their tax-exempt status as a charity. It seems their integrity is directly linked to financial gains rather than application of their once held principle of absolute neutrality.
Blood and Tears
In 2016, global tragedies came in many forms, but none so insidious as the senseless deaths of many innocent victims of Watchtower’s long-held position on the non-transfusion of blood or blood components, a necessary medical procedure in the modern age.
We were introduced to a 13 year old girl from Australia named Phelicity Sneesby, who suffered from a congenital heart defect, which rendered her in need of specialized care. She was featured on the February 2016 JW Broadcasting program, where her parents were prompted to convey that Phelicity’s only hope for survival rested in the hands of an American hospital in Ohio. What they failed to mention was that this hospital was the one place where Jehovah’s Witness pediatric patients could receive critical care in a manner which avoids the use of any blood products. Instead of exploring every avenue of life-saving treatment, her Witness family pushed her through the horrific gauntlet that no parent would ever consider subjecting their child to.
Phelicity was interviewed and used as a propaganda tool for Jehovah’s Witnesses, having become baptized, then pioneered, which is the Witness equivalent of being a full time minister, devoting at least 70 hours per month preaching religious doctrine. When her body finally gave out, her final wish to return to Australia was facilitated by a GoFundMe campaign, which raised $248,000 US for the medically supervised return flight, after which she died. We are deeply saddened at the loss of this young girl, whose life was cut short without the possibility of obtaining the highest level of care granted to children who have no religious restrictions on their medical care.
In the February 12th Friday Column article by contributor Karenne Gionet, we cried together when we learned of the disturbing death of Karenne’s brother Donald, who would have turned 58 years of age, were it not for Watchtower’s ban on treatment for his Leukemia, which would have saved his life. As Karenne pointed out in her article, Jehovah’s Witness elders stood watch, not out of deep concern for the welfare of her brother, but for the enforcement of Watchtower’s deadly blood policy, a practice which has continued to this very day, and has been refined into a globally organized team of enforcers known as the Hospital Liaison Committee. Donald passed away on February 2nd 1986
As if Watchtower’s homicide rate seemed it could not possibly get worse, the world was stunned on October 12th 2016 with the death of 27 year old Eloise Dupuis, a pregnant mother who was rushed to the hospital following complications from a midwife assisted birth. Her loss of blood was so great that there was but one solution a blood transfusion. This treatment was flatly denied by her husband, her father, and her alleged signature on a form which demands that no blood products be used in her medical treatment. This document is sponsored and produced by the Jehovah’s Witness organization, and enforcement of their medical treatment policies rests in the hands of an elite group of Jehovah’s Witness elders who descended upon the Hôtel-Dieu de Lévis Hospital near Quebec City. As reported by several close (but non-Witness) friends of Eloïse, the elders and family did everything possible to enforce Watchtower policy, adding insult to deadly injury by blocking access to Eloïse until her untimely death.
The uproar over her death has led to a coroner’s and police investigation of this matter, and has caught the attention of lawmakers in Quebec Canada, who are stymied by the application of religious law. This edict has ended the life of a young and vibrant woman, whose son Liam will never meet his mother.
During the course of our investigation of the death of Eloïse, we were yet again dismayed to learn of the death of Mirlande Cadet, a 46 year old mother who died in a remarkably similar manner following a cesarean childbirth, and whose death is also under investigation by the coroner’s office of Quebec.
The case of Eloïse Dupuis has resulted in pronounced media coverage by the CBC of Canada and multiple additional news outlets, and has led to the formation of an active group of nearly 4,500 Facebook members who seek justice, and wish to honor the memory of Eloïse. This group is led by the aunt of Eloïse, Manon Boyer.
The Infamous Telly Awards
It was my final visit to Brooklyn Bethel before leaving the Witness organization, and our journey concluded with a 2 night stay in the beautiful 90 Sands building, where rooftop views of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges are stunning, together with the Manhattan skyline. Our missionary and circuit overseer friends escorted us into some very private areas of the Brooklyn Headquarters; but one area which was open to the public was the display of bronze and silver statuettes and certificates awards which were won presumably for excellence in video broadcasting and production. We were told that among those awards were several Emmys, which caught my attention immediately. I photographed the display, but it was not until a few years later did those photographs prove to be the key to unlocking a tragic deception.
In the early months of 2016, JW.org featured and article named “Witnesses receive Telly Awards for Video News Reporting”. And then it all clicked. The showcase full of awards displayed at Watchtower was filled, not with Emmy awards, but with Telly, Aurora, and an assortment of other certificates and awards from organizations with zero credibility, and whose sole function is to create the illusion of legitimacy by selecting multiple winners in multiple categories, then selling contestants statuettes and certificates to commemorate their “achievements.” JW Survey broke this story on March 12th 2016, and we can report that at this time. Jehovah’s Witnesses have removed their article from jw.org completely, without a trace. Multiple attempts to reach the Office of Public Information for the JW organization have gone unanswered.
The Worst Convention Ever
The summer of 2016 saw the morphing of the typical Jehovah’s Witness annual convention series from the routine literature-dominated 3-day summer assembly to an organized lecture program chock full of both short and feature length professionally developed videos. The convention theme “Remain Loyal to Jehovah” equated the concept of loyalty to God with loyalty to God’s “earthly organization”- which just happens to be…Jehovah’s Witnesses. JW Survey first received published advanced word of the convention series in the March 23rd article in which the program summary was leaked in advance. One of the first observations was the Orwellian nature of the program, which included the Friday afternoon discourse “Shun Unrepentant Wrongdoers.” It was clear that the organization was preparing to tighten it’s grip on followers to the greatest degree possible.
As the assembly series got underway, controversy ensued when a Dutch reporter was ejected from a JW convention when an assembly representative was asked about the Witnesses’s stance on homosexuality. On May 3rd 2016, JW Survey covered the related story where the Witness website JW.ORG published a homophobic children’s cartoon in which homosexuality was compared to baggage which must be left behind before a child (or any person) could make the journey safely into paradise earth the ultimate goal for nearly all Jehovah’s Witnesses.
While we could not possibly review all of the details of the 2016 convention within this article, it must be pointed out that the designation “worst convention ever” seemed fitting in view of the extraordinary emphasis on loyalty to an organization, which included highly emotional indoctrination videos featuring the shunning of one’s own son or daughter, the mandate to decline blood transfusions, and the frightening prospect of having to hide in a bunker during the imminent “great tribulation” which signals the end of the world as we know it. Our articles included:
- Additional and detailed videos on the subject of the 2016 JW convention series can be found on the John Cedars channel
The Reluctant Apostate
A welcome relief amidst a sea of propaganda, horrific child abuse reports, and the generally bad worldwide news reports of religiously motivated murders and terrorist attacks, was the announcement that Senior Editor Lloyd Evans’ multi-year research project, the “Reluctant Apostate” was nearing the finish line. With a team of dedicated editors at his side, Lloyd announced that his book was closing in on the goal of its first printing by Christmas, and we are happy to announce that this deadline was accomplished with the dedication of many individuals who supported this work through editing, moral support, and even donations which covered the cost of printing and distribution. The indiegogo campaign was a tremendous success, reminding us that the need for truthful, accurate, and heartfelt books on the subject of Jehovah’s Witnesses is greater than we ever expected. We hope that the success of this book will inspire others to tell their stories of hope and new life outside the walls of the Jehovah’s Witness organization.
Goodbye Brooklyn, Hello Warwick
The close of 2016 witnessed the sale of some of the few remaining properties in Brooklyn New York – a real estate empire which had been accumulating since the final years of Charles Taze Russell’s life, up through the buying frenzy which lasted well into the 1980s. Watchtower accumulated billions of dollars in property, then began selling their assets a few at a time as they assembled a completely new empire in Warwick, New York.
Despite the capital gains from the sale of so many properties, Watchtower made it clear that it was in desperate need of cash to continue funding its transition out of Brooklyn, which was reported by JW Survey on March 4th 2016. As pointed out by JW Survey editor Covert Fade, Watchtower saw their shortfalls coming in advance, and launched a campaign which included the unthinkable: the appeal to young children to donate their ice cream money to further the work of this multi-billion dollar religious empire.
On April 8th 2016, JW Survey further exposed Watchtower’s shameless appeal to children, exposing yet another campaign in the form of a children’s maze, where a young person could guide their coins from point A to the end of the maze, where their money lands squarely on Watchtower’s property and publishing empire.
The end of 2015 saw the slashing and sacking of long-time Bethel Headquarters workers around the globe, and the stalling of international Witness building projects – a desperate strategy aimed at funneling all assets into the new world headquarters project. Further cutbacks were initiated, and longtime “special pioneers” lost their financial allowance from Watchtower and were sent off to fend for themselves and find a job, while still maintaining their full time status as ministers of of the religion. One friend of mine lost his position at Warwick New York due to a pre-existing heart condition, which rendered him a financial liability which Watchtower was unwilling to assume.
Meanwhile, Governing Body Members are living the life of ultimate control and luxury, flying around the world to exotic destinations, traveling business class, and wearing expensive clothes and jewelry on their multi-million dollar JW Broadcasting program. It seems the notion that Jesus Christ had “nowhere to lay down his head” has little meaning for these men. It appears unjust that while the Watchtower Organization discourages higher education, their higher-ranking members enjoy all the perks associated with wealth, but with none of the education to support such income. While these men report no taxable revenue, their frequent and plump green handshakes go unnoticed by the federal government.
To conclude my review of 2016, I would like to thank all the supporters of JW Survey who have given us the encouragement to press on, to tell the truth, and to write about the things which we feel most passionately about. In 3000+ words, I have sadly omitted the many contributions of articles to JW Survey which have broadened the landscape of our website, and reached hearts in a way that we could not do alone. To those who wrote about fear, indoctrination, Armageddon, abuse, dinosaurs, science, morality, utopia, misogyny, shunning, doubts, and how life has become so much more meaningful after leaving the organization, we thank you immensely.
A special thanks goes out to those who have leaked information from inside the organization – critical files which provide insight into how the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses operates, enabling us to demystify this religion and view it as objectively as any other faith-based religion.
I also wish to thank those who shared our articles, remembering that what we write is not to destroy, but to free Witnesses and their families from a lifetime of indoctrination, and the more people we reach, the better chances we have of setting someone free.
Perhaps the ultimate dedication we can make is to Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves. Every one of us who writes an article on this site has worn these shoes, and we never thought for one minute that we had anything but the truth. We were influenced, coerced, love-bombed, and ultimately committed to the very beliefs which are unraveled as easily as a kitten unfurls ball of yarn.
We look forward to 2017 with great anticipation, as we see an exodus from undue influence through education, awareness, and above all, kindness from those of us who have been there, lived the life, and lived to tell our stories.
Happy new year from everyone at JW Survey,