February’s edition of JW Broadcasting, the televangelism arm of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, featured the moving story of Phelicity Sneesby, a young Australian girl born with a serious heart condition that cast severe doubt on her chances of surviving birth. As it turned out, thanks to the efforts of skilled medical professionals, Phelicity was able not only to survive birth, but has also been able to live to the age of 13.
You can view the JW Broadcasting episode in question here, but there are a number of things in the video worthy of comment.
Firstly, Watchtower showcases the fact that 13 year old Phelicity is baptised, and presents this practice of child baptism as a positive thing that other JW parents are clearly expected to imitate. This continues the trend of Watchtower putting increasing pressure on young children commit to the Organisation long before they can make an informed adult decision based on greater life experience.
Most civilised societies do not allow children to make life changing commitments at a young age. Activities such as marriage, serving in the armed forces, voting in elections, accepting financial burdens such as a loan and so forth are deliberately kept away from children, as it is recognised that they do not have the life experience, mental and emotional stability, or the education to make informed decisions on such issues.
Yet Watchtower is increasingly putting pressure on pre-teen children to make a binding lifelong commitment of obedience to the Governing Body that they cannot take back on pain of shunning. One wonders how long it will be before Watchtower starts to glowingly report the baptism of pre-school infants.
However, there is another very important aspect to this story that you won’t get if you only view Watchtower’s broadcast.
Phelicity is dying.
The high costs of Watchtower doctrine
According to recent news reports, Phelicity is currently in the US, undergoing treatment for a complication in her condition. Sadly, it appears that this treatment has failed, and that Phelicity is now terminally ill. However, it was not possible to fly her home due to the costs involved in the special medical flight that would be required. The cost of the flight would be a colossal sum of $150,000, money the family simply did not have. They have apparently expended all of their money funding previous trips abroad to obtain treatment for their little girl, and simply could not afford to bring her home for the closing days of her life.
Thankfully help came, not in the form of Watchtower, but in the form of a gofundme campaign. For those not familiar, Gofundme is one of many crowdsourcing sites available online, where people from around the world can contribute funds to ideas, business or charitable causes.
There are three points we can learn from this.
Firstly, the root cause of having to fly a critically ill girl around the world for treatment was seemingly not a matter of the required treatment being unavailable in her home country. Hospitals in Australia capable of providing this treatment do exist, but the hospital Phelicity was taken to in the US is one that many Jehovah’s Witnesses apparently rely on for performing bloodless surgeries. Whilst no definitive statements from the family or other sources have so far been made, this strongly indicates that the Watchtower’s ever changing and contradictory “no-blood” policy was a driving factor in this family feeling obligated to bankrupt itself flying thousands of miles to obtain medical treatment that might otherwise have been easily and cheaply available had blood not been an issue.
Secondly, whilst it is clear from the comments in the gofundme page that many witnesses are now contributing to the campaign, it also appears that a huge bulk of the donated funds come from people who are, as Watchtower likes to say, “in the world.”
The kindness of the world
Watchtower frequently uses the derogatory term “in the world” or ‘worldly” to denigrate and dismiss people who do not subscribe to the doctrines and behavioural commands of the Governing Body. Watchtower literature frequently groups all non-witnesses together under a single banner, and attributes to them en-mass almost every negative human trait you can think of. Here are just a quick selection of the countless references available at jwfacts.com.
Awake 1996 October 22 p.15
Since worldly people are existing as slaves of corruption, their company cannot bring you true happiness.
Watchtower 2013 Feb study ed. p.24 “Our choice of associates. Of course, some contact with unbelievers — such as at school, at work, and when sharing in the ministry — is unavoidable. It is quite another matter, though, to socialize with them, even cultivating close friendships with them. Do we justify such association by saying that they have many good qualities? “Do not be misled,” warns the Bible. “Bad associations spoil useful habits.” (1 Cor. 15:33) Just as a small amount of pollution can contaminate clean water, friendship with those who do not practice godly devotion can contaminate our spirituality and lead us into adopting worldly viewpoints, dress, speech, and conduct.”
Watchtower 1984 October 1 pp.15, 19 Remain “Without Spot From the World”
“We must avoid the speech, conduct and attitudes that are so common among worldly individuals, but that are out of harmony with God’s Word. For instance, hatred, greediness, shameful conduct and obscene jesting have no proper place in our life. We must ‘put up with one another and be forgiving, even as Jehovah has freely forgiven us.’ (Colossians 3:13) That is not the common worldly way of dealing with others, but it is the godly way.”
Have the people of the “world” involved in this gofundme campaign been acting in the way Watchtower implies above? Wicked? Obscene? Hateful? Selfish?
$240,000 and counting says otherwise. Additionally, The Age reports that Qantas Airlines, a “worldly” business, have contacted Phelicity’s family to see if they can assist, potentially resulting in a significant cost saving for the flight.
Thirdly, it appears from the available facts that, although a number of individual Jehovah’s Witnesses have indeed come forward to donate to the gofundme campaign, the Watchtower itself has apparently not done so. This is despite its sale of properties in Brooklyn expected to net them over 1 Billion US dollars.
Why is this relevant?
Watchtower: The charity that doesn’t engage in charity.
In many countries, Watchtower is registered as a charity. By doing so, it avoids paying significant amounts of tax towards the upkeep of the social structures and institutions of the countries in which it operates, and often obtains significant help from governments that would be unavailable were they not listed as a charity.
Yet does Watchtower really qualify for such status? Significant concerns have been raised in this area, resulting in the UK Charity Commission undertaking an investigation of Watchtower’s UK arm. Does this incident shed any light on the legitimacy or otherwise of Watchtower’s claim to be a charitable organisation?
Well, here is the definition of a charitable organisation:
an organization set up to provide help and raise money for those in need.
“the charity provides practical help for homeless people”
synonyms: non-profit-making organization, non-profit organization, not-for-profit organization, voluntary organization, charitable institution; fund, trust, foundation, cause, movement
“they raised money for an AIDS charity”
In other words, this should be a perfect opportunity for Watchtower to step in and give some charitable assistance. $150,000 is a lot of money, but it’s a drop in the ocean when you’re cheerfully banking $1 Billion in real estate profits.
Did they step in?
Whilst clearly happy to feature Phelicity for propaganda purposes, and to pressure other witness parents into baptising their young children, their interest in her clearly didn’t extend to actually helping her in the final days of her life. That is something they left to their followers to handle, many of whom are already short of cash and being squeezed for even more.They did not even update the JW Broadcasting episode to highlight the gofundme campaign so that their followers would know of its existence.
Thankfully, the people of the “world” were able to step up and help out when Watchtower either could not, or did not care to, and the media outlets of the “world” were able to champion her cause when JW Broadcasting fell silent.
The thoughts and sympathies of the JW Survey team are with little Phelicity and her family at this difficult time.
For additional links on this story, please see below, and please visit the gofundme campaign if you are able to assist Phelicity and her family in this matter.