“How many of our brothers have been affected?” During my years as a Jehovah’s Witness, that was usually the first question on the lips of friends and family whenever reports came through of a catastrophic natural disaster.
Watchtower literature frequently acknowledges that Witnesses are by no means immune from natural disasters, even hinting that such calamities are proof that we are living in the last days.
One scripture often referred to when disaster strikes is Ecclesiastes 9:11, in which King Solomon laments that “time and unexpected events” befall everyone.
I recall this bible verse being one of the few that made sense to me growing up as a believer, and especially in the wake of my mother’s death from cancer. The writer was essentially saying: “Shit happens, get used to it.”
I left the Witnesses in December 2013, but if I were still a believing member of the organization, I would struggle to reconcile the words in Ecclesiastes with the increasingly superstitious rhetoric of Watchtower and its leaders, who seem to leap on any fortuitous incident as evidence of “Jehovah’s hand.”
A perfect example can be found in the January 2016 episode of JW Broadcasting in which Travis Brooks, a design and construction worker for Watchtower, credits Jehovah with delivering sand needed for a kingdom hall build by means of a typhoon. (Skip to 04:25 in the video below to see Brooks interviewed.)
[Edit: The typhoon most likely referred to was Typhoon Maysak, which killed four people, injured ten, and caused $8.5 million worth of damage to property.]
No thought is given to the possibility that this was merely a fortunate coincidence. In the mind of Brooks, divine manipulation of the weather was the only answer for sand becoming readily available, thus enabling the success of a building renovation. And the Governing Body clearly ratified the “miracle,” because they signed off on the episode in which this experience is related.
But if you were one of the relatives of the 33 Jehovah’s Witnesses who perished on November 8th when Typhoon Haiyan ploughed into the Eastern seaboard of the Philippines, you might be less endeared by the sand story.
How could Jehovah use one typhoon near the island of Yap to deliver sand for building a kingdom hall, while allowing another in the Philippines to kill 33 of his worshipers – 22 of whom were huddled together seeking shelter in, you guessed it, a kingdom hall? Either Jehovah had no hand whatsoever in delivering the sand for the building project, or he DID have a hand but has woeful prioritization skills in how and when he chooses to tinker with the isobars.
But the sand story was no one off. As recently as October 2013 (a month before Haiyan) Geoffrey Jackson climbed on the stage of the Jersey City Assembly Hall (the Stanley Theater) and told the gathered throngs that Jehovah was responsible for engineering a cooler summer so that more copies of the latest New World Translation edition could be printed.
Perhaps it’s just me, but at no point during my Witness upbringing do I recall Watchtower’s leaders, either directly or in their publications, claiming that Jehovah was manipulating natural forces to their benefit. Perhaps an over-enthusiastic elder might give some ill-advised anecdote in a congregation talk in which divine intervention was hinted at, but there was always plausible deniability as far as Watchtower itself was concerned.
But all that has now changed. Over the last three years, despite Typhoon Haiyan furnishing the most grisly evidence that Witnesses are NOT immune from natural forces, the caution and sobriety of past leaders has melted away. Today’s Governing Body are deluded enough to insist that Jehovah DOES control the weather, even if it is only to assist their building and printing endeavors.
I can only hope these increasingly outrageous claims will register with thinking Witnesses, causing them to ponder which is more likely: (1) that Jehovah uses the weather to bulldoze some kingdom halls but to provide building materials for others, or (2) that the men who claim to represent him are actually deluded, narrow-minded narcissists who are detached from reality and utterly unworthy of respect and credibility.