I don’t mind admitting it. When I decided to make a series of videos to compliment articles on JWsurvey about the “Worst Convention Ever” (the “Remain Loyal to Jehovah” 2016 regional convention) I bit off way more than I could chew.
I’m honestly not sure I would have committed to it if I’d known in advance there would be so much work involved.
The idea to do a video rebuttal series came to me after a Circuit Overseer leaked a batch of material intended for use at the convention, including 46 videos, to myself and a number of other exJW activists.
As overwhelmed as I was by the overload of digital cultish manipulation, I figured the videos could be grouped together into six parts, and thus dissected relatively easily.
But then, last month, we had an extra leak – and it changed everything. We now had three days’ worth of “official” video footage filmed at one of the conventions showing, not just the dramatization videos, but how the Governing Body wants them to be presented.
This turned everything on its head. A six-part series became a nine-part series as we scrambled to accommodate the extra material.
So, rather than being (as it was intended) a straightforward summary of the miscellaneous material not covered in the previous 4 parts, Part 5 is now arguably one of the most shocking videos in this series so far.
Why? Because it now deals with the talks given on the Friday of the program. And, well, there’s no easy way to put this: the Friday material alone proves that Watchtower has gone full-on cult, and unashamedly expects to be able to control the minds of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Loyal in thought
Arguably nothing screams “cult” and “mind control” like a charismatic speaker emphatically urging his audience to have “tight control” over what enters their minds. In Jose Cintron Jnr,* a raven-haired bethelite with a hypnotic glair, a creepy grin and a penchant for melodrama, that is exactly what Watchtower have given us.
Despite his talk, titled “Maintain Loyalty in Thought,” being scripted for him by the Governing Body’s teaching committee (as is the case with almost all convention talks), Jose throws himself into it with gusto as though he had written every word himself.
Here is a man who has zero qualms in asking thousands to “bring their thoughts into captivity” and fill their brains only with Watchtower’s endless flow of propaganda.
The most cringe-worthy moment come when Cintron Jnr, who also makes an appearance as Sennacherib in the Hezekiah drama, deviates from his script slightly to ask his audience whether they would hesitate for a moment to dial 911 if they were to discover an intruder in their homes in the middle of the night.
The irony should be glaring to anyone who is aware that calling the police is precisely what a Witness is NOT supposed to do if they become aware of a far worse crime than breaking and entering – the sexual molestation of a child by a fellow Witness.
Don’t ask questions!
Jose’s talk was the first of a three-part symposium emphasizing the need for loyalty to Watchtower in thought, word and action. Chosen to handle the second part, dealing with loyalty in “word,” was the rather more robotic Cameron Haynes.
The main thrust of Haynes’ talk, as evidenced by the dramatization video, was to remind Witnesses not to speak against the elders. Apparently, no matter how poorly-behaved your elders are, if you have a grievance against them the last thing you should do is discuss this with others. After all, elders answer only to Watchtower, and not those they are appointed to serve.
A more intriguing application of the need for loyalty “in word” arose in comments apparently directed at those who may question “new light,” or organizational adjustments, such as the recent scrapping of the much-loved Theocratic Ministry School (which has been replaced with a bible reading and door-to-door practice session).
Haynes admits that such changes might test the loyalty of Witnesses, but reminds them to greet these with “excitement” nonetheless. He then cites the example of the apostle Peter pledging his loyalty to Christ in John 6, when many disciples are repulsed by his teachings. This, apparently, establishes that Witnesses should support Watchtower doctrine even when they don’t understand it.
This chimes with what we have already seen with outrageous teachings such as that of the overlapping generation, which is based on an explanation that makes no logical sense. The Governing Body wants its followers to know that they don’t owe any coherent breakdown of their teachings. The role of rank and file Witnesses is to follow – not question, or even understand.
Better than life
The final talk of the Friday morning program has the telling title: “Jehovah’s Loyal Love Is Better Than Life!” The speaker used in the official convention footage, Reginald McCoy, seizes his opportunity to remind the audience that being a Jehovah’s Witness is indeed better than one’s very existence.
“Life without Jehovah’s loyal love would be meaningless and purposeless, which really doesn’t make for much of a life at all,” he says. “Jehovah’s loyal love does not change. That is why it is in fact better than life… having Jehovah’s loyal love is worth more than our own existence.”
Bear in mind: ordinary members of the public are invited to Witness conventions (at least in theory), meaning non-Witnesses are expected to stomach being told their lives are meaningless unless they pledge themselves to the organization.
It’s probably worth stressing that such clearly ridiculous rhetoric comes, not from the mind of the speaker, but straight from the Governing Body – as shown from the following screen grab from the final part of the speaker’s outline…
Hence, even though convention audiences will assume McCoy was giving a heartfelt plea based on his own thoughts and experiences, he was in fact parroting his masters – Watchtower. And Watchtower wants Witnesses to believe their very lives come second to the privilege of being in “Jehovah’s organization.”
Feel abandoned by apostates
The Friday afternoon of the convention offers a double-whammy of cultishness with two symposiums. The first presents the 7-part Sergei video series, while the second emphasizes the need to shun disfellowshipped family members using a trilogy of videos featuring the fictitious Sonja.
In one of the videos of the Sergei series, Sergei’s friend is shown vanishing in ghost-like fashion from a congregation meeting, which is supposed to represent his turning apostate. I was intrigued to see how Brandon Harkey, again using the outline provided for him, would present this material.
It turns out a very clever strategy is being deployed by Watchtower in further stigmatizing those, like myself, who decide to leave the organization for conscientious reasons.
Witnesses are not only supposed to fear and loath apostates like me as “mentally diseased.” They are also supposed to feel personally offended and insulted that they have been “abandoned” by their former brethren.
Harkey reads Matthew 10:35-36 where Jesus warns that a man’s enemies will be “those of his own household,” and applies the verse by saying: “Yes Jesus acknowledged here that a person’s own family, their own friends, might very well abandon them for choosing to serve Jehovah.”
Though this verse was indeed describing a scenario in which a Jewish or pagan family might expel one of their own for becoming a Christian, this has nothing to do with a Witness waking up from Watchtower indoctrination and deciding to walk.
In such a case it is the family, under orders from Watchtower, who shun the one making a conscientious stand. Far from viewing them as “enemies,” the apostate will generally continue to love his family despite the difference in beliefs, but is denied a relationship with them.
But because Watchtower recognises the manipulative value of helping Witnesses feel like victims, the verse in Matthew 10 is turned on its head. The apostate is framed as the aggressor, the one who has attacked his believing family by rejecting their faith.
Amazingly, even non-JW family friends, perhaps work colleagues or unbelieving spouses, are expected by the Governing Body to refrain from rejecting or questioning Watchtower teachings.
“Perhaps you’ve felt the abandonment that results when an unbelieving family member or friend ostracises, criticises us, ridicules us because we choose to serve Jehovah,” says Harkey, without explaining why it is incumbent on those who aren’t Witnesses to validate the beliefs of those who are.
Even current Witnesses who grow lukewarm in the face of Watchtower’s increasing cultishness, the recently-dubbed “Kevinly Class” (a nod to a character from the bunker videos), are rounded on as causes of personal anguish to devout Witnesses.
“Even within the congregation, we may at times feel a sense of abandonment perhaps by a friend who seems to withdraw from us as we’re striving to put kingdom interests first and do more for Jehovah,” bemoans Harkey.
“You turn to your friends for help, for support, as you’re striving to do more, as you’re putting spiritual goals first, but maybe you notice some seem to withdraw. Why? Well your goals, what’s most important to you, may now be somewhat different from theirs.”
Witnesses are again asked to feel affronted and attacked if those around them fail to lavish them with “support” in their quest to give everything for the organization. Such coercive rhetoric is easy to see through once you’re on the outside, but for Witnesses who are sufficiently desperate to feel oppressed and persecuted, it will work only too well – leaving countless relationships even more unsalvageable.
Martyr yourself for Watchtower
Readers of this website will already be familiar with the disturbing finale to the Sergei series, in which the main protagonist likely terminates his life for his beliefs by refusing blood. It falls to bethelite Jared Gossman to drill home Watchtower’s message that Sergei made the right choice by placing Watchtower’s interests ahead of his instinct for survival.
Gossman begins his talk by following the outline’s call to stigmatize as cowardly, thoughtless and selfish those who would “be disloyal to [Jehovah] in an attempt to preserve life.”
After reminding Witnesses of the importance of keeping their medical documents signed and up-to-date (heaven forbid they don’t get second thoughts when the time comes), Gossman urges them to make the ultimate sacrifice if called upon to do so: “How sad it would be [if] in an effort to extend our life just temporarily we sacrifice our loyalty to Jehovah and lose out on life for an eternity.”
Any Witnesses who may squirm at the idea of martyring themselves for Watchtower are urged to think happy thoughts: “Even if we did lose our life in this system we can think about the resurrection hope that we have when circumstances get difficult. We can think of ourselves experiencing the blessings Jehovah has in store – perhaps blessings we’ve told others about for many years – but we can see ourselves there enjoying them as a reward for our loyalty.”
Since it’s impossible for dead Jehovah’s Witnesses who died refusing blood to come back and confirm they were resurrected into a paradise earth, you will have to take Watchtower’s word on this.
Shun your family
It’s no longer a secret that the second Friday afternoon symposium contains some of the most potent pro-shunning propaganda we have yet seen on a JW convention program. But kudos to New Jersey elder Josh Sable for finding a way to stamp his own creativity on Watchtower’s message of hate.
After the video is shown where Sonja is disfellowshipped and her mother won’t even pick up the phone when she calls, Sable comes up with a bizarre horticultural analogy to drive the point home.
“Did you know that it’s a pronounced cold snap in the dead of winter that triggers the lilac to bud and bloom come spring? Those frigid temperatures do something deep inside that plant to heighten its sweet fragrance, and to enhance the beauty of that cluster of flowers. When we look around Jehovah’s organization some of the most beautiful and sweet-smelling Christians are those who have allowed this internal process, or this chill of discipline, to make significant changes in their thinking and conduct. The result is nothing short of spectacular!”
Apparently when Jehovah’s Witnesses show love to one another, this is evidence that they are Christ’s true followers in fulfilment of his words at John 13:35. But when they treat their own flesh and blood with coldness and cruelty in obedience to their religious leaders – worry not! This can be justified due to some random plant’s growing cycle.
Inform on your brothers
It wouldn’t be a festival of Orwellian, cultish ideology without at least one incitement for the faithful to report on eachother to Big Brother should anybody fail to show loyalty to the hierarchy. Step forward bethelite Timothy Blazek to issue the necessary reminder.
“When it comes to our friends, this might be an area that tests our loyalty – particularly when a friend gets involved in wrongdoing that should be brought to the attention of the elders,” says Blazek.
“Never would we want to allow misguided loyalty to a friend to overshadow our loyalty to Jehovah. If you recall, as we heard earlier the definition from the Greek language of loyalty carries the thought of holiness and righteousness, so what would the loving and loyal thing be to do if a friend was in such a circumstance? Approach the friend, urge him to seek the help of the elders and the parents and to speak to them. And then tell him that if he does not do it within a reasonable period of time – you will.”
Unlike Sable with his poetic lilac illustration, Blazek is here reading directly from the manuscript furnished him by the Governing Body, with only a few minor deviations.
Thus, immediately after the shunning symposium is ended, instructions are issued that will help add to the number of those shunned.
Not a moment’s thought is given that whatever the perceived wrongdoing is, which could be anything from sexual activity to smoking a cigarette, the punishment will almost never fit the crime.
Only in the case of a crime such as child molestation could an argument be made for family estrangement being appropriate (along with prosecution by the authorities, obviously) – but ironically elders require two witnesses to take any such accusation seriously.
By contrast, at least on the evidence of this talk, when it comes to a teenage Witness having a sexual relationship with the girl nextdoor, one snitching friend is enough to set things in motion.
Counting the cost
I’ve heard it said that there is nothing new about much of the material being pumped into the minds of Witnesses at this convention. Indeed, though I never paid as rapt attention at conventions as I was required to, I can vaguely remember frequent talks similar to those listed above.
The reason why I believe this is the “worst convention ever” is because, for the first time, the Governing Body’s hate-filled manuscripts are not deemed enough. As their video production resources have swollen in recent years, they have spotted an opportunity to enhance the already-potent propaganda at their conventions with sleek video dramatizations to make sure their message about the need for absolute obedience sinks in.
As much as I would like to think all of this cultic manipulation will drift over the heads of the majority in attendance (though in many cases, surely it will), we would be naive to think this. Jehovah’s Witnesses on the whole take their faith extremely seriously, and there will likely be real-world ramifications to the talks given at this convention.
People will start being shunned who weren’t shunned previously, and people who were hitherto mentally on the fence about blood transfusions will resolve to kill themselves by refusing blood if the opportunity presents itself, as a direct result of this convention. Make no mistake about that.
The awful videos promoting shunning, hatred of apostates and martyrdom, combined with the torrent of overt calls for unquestioned loyalty, even at the expense of one’s life, convince me we have never seen a Watchtower convention worse than this. I only wish I could say with confidence it won’t be the worst of all time.
Translations: Romanian | …
*All name spellings of speakers have been guessed at, and may not be exact.