In 2011, Watchtower published a study article in which God was referred to as “the Great Physician.” The magazine gave advice to avoid contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses who had peacefully defected from their faith.
These protestors were “diagnosed” (by a magazine claiming God’s backing), with a contagious mental disease called “apostasy.” To this day Jehovah’s Witnesses are instructed ad nauseam to avoid such people and their supposed mental pathogens.
Knowing all this, I was surprised when I encountered the December 2014 Awake! which is entitled, “What You Should Know About Mental Disorders.” I opened it up and was quite startled by what I found inside the magazine: “According to WHO [World Health Organization], many people with mental illness refrain from seeking treatment because of the stigma associated with it.”
It is a truly twisted irony for the Awake!, a sister publication of the Watchtower, to be raising awareness of the stigma attached to mental illness. Their “apostasy” label, which they correlate to mental illness, attaches an extremely damaging stigma to ex members. It costs them their family, their friends, and often even their employment and housing.
Tens of thousands of refugees, many struggling with mental illness that is often connected with their Witness experience, have been fleeing Watchtower since its inception.
Oddly enough, the Awake! magazine then goes on to heavily promote the use of professional treatment for mental health problems. This advice flies in the face of what is taught behind the closed doors of Watchtower kingdom halls. The 2011 article on apostates, for example, did not direct them to professional assistance – instead ordering their quarantine.
Additionally, a recent Watchtower elder training video was leaked. It featured a dramatization showing two elders being approached by a distressed woman. The woman told them of her plan to commit suicide and, shockingly, the fictional elders never even mention the idea of professional assistance.
Lastly, the Awake! article has a section on spirituality which states:
“The Bible does not indicate that spirituality cures medical problems.” – Awake!, December 2014
In the above training video (which I highly recommend watching) the woman in a mental health emergency is given a type of spiritual counseling in which the Bible, specifically the Book of Job, is the primary tool used. The video trains elders to use the Bible to cure medical problems, in total contradiction of the advice found in the Awake! article.
Speaking from both sides of the mouth
While the elders in the training video were in fictional situations, their behavior and actions are based on a confidential handbook called “Shepherd the Flock of God.” Under the section “Assisting Those Who are Weak” and the subheading “Encouraging Those Who Were Abused in Their Childhood,” the psychological and psychiatric communities are mentioned in two paragraphs:
“…It must be recognized that elders as such are not mental-health professionals or therapists but are spiritual shepherds. (1 Pet. 5: 2) Consequently, you should not conduct what some may view as group therapy.It is not necessary to spend time reading secular publications dealing with worldly psychology or psychiatry. You should not take on a role similar to that of a professional therapist. Someone who has serious mental or emotional illness may need professional help. – w88 10/15 p. 27”
At first glance, this paragraph seems like sensible advice for elders to avoid taking on the role of therapists. They are not qualified professionals and are rightly told to steer clear of that role. However, nothing is said about recommending the proper treatment. Rather, the text somewhat ambiguously confesses to the need for professional help for some people.
Four paragraphs on, the handbook elaborates on just what Watchtower wants to see from their elder bodies on the subject of professional assistance (emphasis mine):
“…There are times when an emotionally distressed Christian may seek professional help. Whether a Christian or his family pursues treatment from psychiatrists, psychologists, or therapists is a personal decision. An elder should not assume the responsibility of recommending a specific practitioner or facility. He may draw attention to or discuss material in the publications that provides cautions regarding therapies that may conflict with Bible principles. (w8B 10/15 pp. 28-29; w82 6/15 pp. 25-29; w75 pp. 255-256) While participating in group therapy by a professional therapist is a matter for personal decision, there could be a revealing of confidential facts about other members of the Christian congregation during such sessions if a Christian does not exercise discretion.”
They want seeking professional treatment to be the decision of the “distressed Christian,” without recommendation from the elders. This is precisely why, in the training video, professional assistance was never mentioned to the suicidal woman. The fictional elders’ behavior is just as prescribed in the handbook, which is to be enforced in the same way as a constitution would be adhered to by a board of directors.
The above paragraph even discourages therapy if it conflicts with “Bible principles” and speaks negatively of the potential for confidential facts to be revealed to a professional.
Awake! paints a positive, progressive public image, while the secret elders handbook is mired in concerns for protecting the corporation legally.
Watchtower wants to be seen making statements such as, “Mental-health disorders are not the result of personal weakness or a character flaw.” Yet, in their elder’s training material the only mention of professional help is in a section called “Assisting those who are weak.” Clearly, there are two religions present here: the real one that operates behind closed doors, and that which is shown to the public.
The December 2014 Awake! serves as a perfect example of the unethical recruitment tactics deployed by Watchtower as part of its arsenal of undue influence.
The Awake! is given to the public, so it portrays the image Watchtower wishes to project rather than the unpleasant reality. Many Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as their potential recruits, will likely believe what the Awake! says. The article is intended to make people view the religion as reasonable when, in fact, it is anything but.
Watchtower has historically been at odds with the medical community on issues such as blood transfusions, vaccines and organ transplants. The psychiatric community, at least in my experience, was always been viewed as more of a competitor than an ally.
Yet, out of nowhere, Watchtower through this Awake! is heavily hinting at a sudden alliance with mental health professionals, all the while secretly training its elders to apply “spiritual” cures to these kinds of emergencies.
They want to have their cake, and eat it too.
The “Great Physician” outsources for aid
I have noticed a trend in how Watchtower and the medical community has interacted historically. To begin with, Watchtower boldly moves ahead with issuing medical advice, usually in the form of a divine prohibition on some treatment using ‘biblical’ reasoning.
Once the scientific community has gathered overwhelming evidence for the new technology’s overall viability, the ban is lifted (or diluted), with God lauded as wise, merciful and gracious for dispensing his “new light” at the proper time. Everything is engineered so that, whatever happens, Watchtower can always absolve itself of responsibility as needed.
For as long as I can remember, Watchtower has been condemning any sort of individual achievement in this world. Such a stigma against investing in one’s future beyond the confines of the religion naturally produces a population low in skilled expertise.
Thus Jehovah’s Witnesses, allegedly lead by “the Great Physician” who diagnoses “mentally diseased” apostates, are ironically low on competent healers and advised by the Awake! to seek aid from the educated world – the very world they’ve always condemned as deserving of nothing but a fiery and humiliating destruction.
I was always taught that Christianity was the solution for the broken of heart (Luke 4:18). Yet, according to the information presented in the December 2014 Awake!, healing the downtrodden is now being outsourced.
Good advice is good advice
Apart from the final section of the Awake! article (where Watchtower’s idea of “spiritual health” is deemed “vital”), it must be noted that it presents good advice. It is very wise for people with mental health problems to seek professional medical care in addition to any holistic approaches.
However, I feel it is important to point out that such advice runs contrary to actual Watchtower dogma and the secret instructions, both written and recorded, that are received by congregation elders from their Governing Body.
In spite of the double standards, I hope that many people will receive the care they require as a result of this Awake! article. Any direction to proper medical treatment is a positive thing. I just wish Watchtower would clean up its backstage mess rather than simply polishing its brand.