By James A. Beverley
Barbara Anderson was a Witness from 1954–1997, including ten years as a researcher and writer at their headquarters in Brooklyn. She left largely because she thought the Society’s leaders were mishandling cases of child abuse in Witness congregations.
Candace Conti is one such case. Conti was molested by a man in her congregation in North Fremont, California, and won a multimillion-dollar settlement against him and the Witness organization in 2012.
Legalism and institutional blindness can affect any religious group, and Anderson and Conti give us the details particular among Witnesses.
Raymond Franz (1922–2010) and James Penton (b. 1932) highlight larger spiritual and intellectual failings. Both had given decades as faithful Witnesses, but slowly realized Society leaders cared more about image and loyalty than faithfulness to God.
Franz had been a Governing Body member for almost a decade, but was kicked out in 1981. His memoir Crisis of Conscience (Createspace, 2004 ) tells the gripping story of his increasing unrest as he served at the very top of the Society.
Penton, a history professor at the University of Lethbridge, was removed the same year. He’s from Saskatchewan and author of Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah’s Witnesses (University of Toronto Press, 2015 ).
The common thread in this foursome is the realization of the enormous price paid when institutional loyalty takes precedence over integrity.
Tragically, Jehovah’s Witnesses are imprisoned by the belief they alone are Christians, and the Governing Body members (now seven men) are God’s chosen leaders on earth. They’re not allowed to question Society policies, past or present. Most know nothing of the errors that litter Watchtower history and shape current beliefs and practices.
We benefit from the many civil liberty cases argued before the Supreme Court of Canada by Jehovah’s Witness lawyer W. Glen How.
What concerns should Evangelicals have regarding Canada’s 120,000 Witnesses and the 8 million worldwide? Mainly that Jehovah’s Witnesses have a false authority for their beliefs. They naively equate belief in God with trust in the Watchtower organization. This is the mother of all other blunders.
Second, Witnesses believe many false doctrines and theories. Contrary to clear biblical teaching, they deny Jesus is God in the flesh, died on a cross and was bodily resurrected. They accept false theories that Jesus returned to earth in 1914, heaven is restricted to 144,000 and blood transfusions are sinful. Thankfully, courts all over the world (including the Supreme Court of Canada) have intervened for Witness children who need lifesaving transfusions.
Third, Witnesses at your door need to know about their Society’s record of false prophecy. Founder Charles Russell (1852–1916) was obsessed with Bible prophecy but could never get his facts right. He kept his Bible Students (the early name for Witnesses) in a constant frenzy with his varied dates for the end of the world, based on his speculations on Scripture and (no kidding) the great pyramids of Egypt.
Over the decades Witness members pictured the world ending in 1914, 1918, 1925 and 1975. This is why Penton’s book is titled Apocalypse Delayed.
Does all this mean there’s nothing admirable about Witnesses? Of course not. Witnesses share some doctrine and ethics with Evangelicals. Most are decent, law abiding and moral. Further, citizens of many countries owe multiple freedoms to Witnesses who resisted governmental and societal discrimination.
In Canada, Witness lawyer W. Glen How argued many civil liberty cases before the Supreme Court, and we are his benefactors.
Keep these things in mind when Witnesses knock at your door.
Three other tips: (1) Some great Internet resources include www.watchtowerdocuments.com, www.jwfiles.com, www.watchthetower.net and www.freeminds.org. (2) A soft approach inviting Witnesses to help you deal with questions from your study is best. (3) Ask God to break the hold the Watchtower has over Witnesses by praying for the current Governing Body – Samuel Herd, Geoffrey Jackson, M. Stephen Lett, Gerrit Lösch, Anthony Morris III, David H. Splane and Mark Sanderson.
If you think God can’t reach them, remember Ray Franz.
James Beverley is professor of Christian thought and ethics at Tyndale Seminary. This column appears in the Jan/Feb Faith Today. Subscribe to Faith Today until the end of February for the best price ever.