Everyone has a bad year now and then. We all have to contend with illness, accidents, unemployment, natural disasters, family problems – events that can really mess up your life for a while. Governments, corporations, and other large entities face the same issues.
Last year was a difficult year for the Watchtower Society and Jehovah’s Witnesses, a year I’m sure they’d love to forget. 2012 would have been bad as it can get for any corporation, but for a religious organization like the Watchtower it was a disaster. In a few years we may look back and mark 2012 as the “beginning of the end” for our favorite cult.
Do I expect the Watchtower to suddenly shut down operations, send all their volunteers home, sell all their Kingdom Halls, and tell all their followers to become atheists or join another church? No. I can assure you that none of those things will happen next year or in my lifetime.
Based on their performance in 2012, one could hope that the Watchtower organization might consider making major changes in their policy and doctrine – at least enough to allow them to survive through the rest of the 21st Century.
In order to illustrate just how bad things were, I’ll review just a few of the major events that involved Jehovah’s Witnesses over the past twelve months. Then I”ll try to predict how the future will shape up for them if they don’t make substantial changes.
Besides many existing JW discussion websites, 2012 saw dozens of new bloggers and YouTube videographers appear each month to criticize, belittle, and expose the truth about the Watchtower Society’s history, false teachings, and failed predictions. Classic websites and forums like JWN (jehovahs-witness.net) and Freeminds.org saw continued growth and participation. What was also surprising (and gratifying) was the number of new readers and bloggers who indicated that they were still active or associated in some way as JWs. This trend continued throughout the entire year.
One new website in particular made its presence known – JWSurvey.org. Originally created in September 2011 to act as a shell for “John Cedars’ ” Global Survey of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the site became one of the fastest growing and visited new JW discussion blogs. In January Cedars published the results of the four-month “2011 Survey.” The final numbers were generally unfavorable for the Watchtower – even among those participants who claimed to still be “active Witnesses.” Check out the final tally for yourself at http://jwsurvey.org/global-surveys/2011-jw-survey/survey-1. He arranged for UPS to deliver the results by certified package to the Governing Body at Brooklyn, New York on February 15, 2012. As expected, the Watchtower Society neither acknowledged or ever commented on the survey in any way.
Possibly the one positive note for the Watchtower was the dismissal of a federal lawsuit filed by the former elders of the Menlo Park (California) Kingdom Hall. Although the lawsuit failed and three elders involved were all later disfellowshipped, the extensive and well-documented trial transcripts became publicly available, clearly exposing the Watchtower’s power and intent to grab control and ownership of all North American Kingdom Halls – even existing Halls that are privately owned and were locally financed. Some of the evidence in the trial transcripts was quite revealing beyond the focus of the trial. During testimony a Watchtower attorney made one damning statement that contradicted the Watchtower’s claim that they were different from all other religions when he testified, “[as a hierarchy] we are no different from the Catholic Church.” Read the court records for yourself at http://ex-jw.com/menlo-park-elder-tells-all-1 .
The Watchtower’s UK branch came under fire by the press as a result of being investigated by the National Charity Commission. See article: http://jwsurvey.org/general-information/where-is-the-public-benefit. The real question for the commission to decide was whether the Watchtower organization could be defined and qualify as “a charity” under the guidelines of UK national law. While the Watchtower qualifies as a non-profit religious group in most countries, its “charitable works” often do not fit the usual legal definitions. They don’t spread their money around to help any non-Witnesses as most other churches do.They have no outreach for the benefit of non-Witness members of the local community. In some cases, helping to reconstruct damaged branch offices and local Kingdom Halls was the only “charitable works” delivered to communities that suffered from major disasters. It has been reported that even local JWs and their families can not get money, food, clothing or shelter through funds provided by the Watchtower. If and when they do, they are often obligated to pay back any funds received or turn over insurance checks to the Watchtower.
Several newspapers around the world began publishing articles referring to the July 15, 2011 Watchtower (study edition) that called apostates and former Jehovah’s Witnesses “mentally diseased.” Countries such as New Zealand, Sweden, Denmark, and the UK all have local and national laws that might be applied to this statement and treated as “hate speech.” The uproar over this particular article continued for months around the world.
The Watchtower announced that starting in January 2013 the public version of the Watchtower and Awake! magazines would be reduced from 32 to 16 pages and in size. In June, 2012 the Watchtower’s official websites would be merged under the single domain JW.org and that site would be completely redesigned (they pushed this out to late August). Several foreign branch offices would be shut down and properties sold off. It was also announced that all Brooklyn Bethel properties would eventually be put up for sale. http://jwsurvey.org/cedars-blog/branch-closures-and-fire-sales-a-growing-trend-for-the-society
In a “Mini-Survey” conducted by JWSurvey.org only 3% of respondents agreed with the Watchtower’s doctrine and practice of “shunning” disfellowshipped and disassociated former members. Even more surprising was their response when individual JWs were asked what they would do “if the Watchtower discontinued shunning”: 54% replied that they “would leave the organization and not return.” It’s encouraging to know that possibly half of all Jehovah’s Witnesses would leave if they could do it and not lose their friends and family. At the same time, it is a sad commentary on the real reason so many JWs stay in a religion they don’t really believe in – the Watchtower’s use of their family as hostages to keep them in.
The 2012 summer district assemblies were held throughout North America and Europe using the theme title “Safeguard Your Heart.” Jehovah’s Witnesses were treated to three days of speeches, plays, testimonials, and music that constantly emphasized that they should (1) be obedient to the organization, (2) spend more hours in service, and (3) donate more of their money to finance the world-wide preaching work. More of the programs were tightly scripted, pre-recorded, and sleep-inducing. There was one major release that turned out to be an embarrassment:
On Saturday afternoon, just before that day’s sessions ended, a new DVD was released to the attendees. Designed for children under ten years old, the “Become Jehovah’s Friend: Listen, Obey, and Be Blessed” DVD contained three cartoon segments. Governing Body member Anthony Morris III introduces two very short animated films that feature Caleb, a little boy of undetermined age. The animation is in the style of Disney’s “Toy Story” films. The point of both cartoons seems to intend to cripple critical thinking and reasoning by children. One story shows Caleb goaded by his mother into throwing away a plastic toy wizard named “Sparlock” given to him by a friend. Why? “Jehovah hates it and it makes Him sad.” The other cartoon segment focused on obeying parents and what might happen to a child if they disobey. The last part is a Kingdom Song sung by a children’s choir illustrated in a style similar to cheaply made 1950s TV cartoons.
Within hours of its release, all three segments were on display on several YouTube.com locations. Within a week, dozens of satirical versions were online and Watchtower critics worldwide were adding “Sparlock” to their screen names. There were “Sparlock” T-shirts, videos, blogs, and even a comic book or two. Before the second week of district assemblies began, Sparlock and the new DVD video had spread around the world. In spite of that fact, for the next several weeks, Jehovah’s Witnesses attending the assemblies acted like they had never heard of the DVD and vigorously applauded when they heard an announcement about its release.
The Watchtower Society embarrassed themselves by issuing and enforcing DMCA takedown notices through YouTube.com , Vimeo, and individual websites. That action forced critics to reconstitute their own videos and used the Fair Use Act to create satirical and comedic versions. Technically and legally the Watchtower won this battle – but ultimately lost the war against its critics. Dozens of satirical versions of those videos are still available on YouTube.com. Here is an excellent review of the effects of this video.
On June 14th, an Alameda County Civil Court jury found the Watchtower guilty of protecting pedophiles and putting children in danger in Kingdom Halls. Candace Conti, a 26-year old woman molested by an active JW when she was 9 and 10 years old, decided that she would not quietly accept a settlement from the Watchtower and then go quietly into the night forever keeping her secret. She found a highly qualified attorney experienced in these kinds of cases and asked him to file suit – but not to accept any settlement offers – to expose the truth about the Watchtower’s failure to protect its own children and to demand that they change their policies. The jury came back with a verdict of “guilty” and awarded Miss Conti $28 million in combined compensatory and punitive damages. (This has since been reduced on appeal to $11.8 million.) Miss Conti’s is the first successful case of this kind against the Watchtower. The pedophile who molested Miss Conti is reported to still be a JW in good standing in a central California congregation. More importantly, dozens of secret documents revealing the Watchtower’s continuing policy of protecting pedophiles and punishing parents who report criminal activity to the police have been made public. You can read as well as see and hear Ms. Conti and her attorney tell their story in detail: http://ex-jw.com/watchtower-embarrassed-in-court and http://jwsurvey.org/cedars-blog/the-watchtower-punished-society-loses-legal-battle-over-child-abuse-case .
The Watchtower is allegedly attacked by “Anonymous,” an infamous, but often successful, Internet “terrorist.” While no one is physically hurt by Anonymous’ adventures, he/she/it/them have had some level of success in getting past passwords and encryption methods to get access to hard drives and databases. In this case, Anonymous claimed to have been able to crack through the Watchtower’s defenses and access secret databases containing the names of 23,000 alleged pedophiles and other criminals in Kingdom Halls and in responsible positions among Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the world. It is not clear if this was a hoax meant to disorient the Watchtower’s IT department, or if it was actually successful. There was some evidence presented online that someone had managed to get access to the Watchtower’s database at some level at one point. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ob7vynx8eVg and http://jwsurvey.org/cedars-blog/jw-org-on-alert-anonymous-attacks-the-watchtower .
A set of eleven videos documenting a live discussion about the Candace Conti case are uploaded to YouTube.com and several other websites. Recorded at a private conference held in the San Francisco Bay area of California, these videos present Candace Conti and her attorney, Rick Simons, as they describe the events that led up to her historic trial in Oakland, California in May and June. http://ex-jw.com/candace-conti-videos-now-online.
The Watchtower announces that several foreign branches are being shut down, combined or moved. One of them is the branch office in Ireland, one of the oldest European branches. Properties will be sold or transferred. http://jwsurvey.org/cedars-blog/anthony-morris-iii-attends-2012-special-convention-in-dublin.
The new JW.org website officially goes online. Completely redesigned with a pleasing format and color scheme, the site offers regular articles, e-book and PDF versions of most current magazines, study aids, and other publications. It also provides meeting and assembly schedules and Kingdom Hall addresses and phone numbers. Other Watchtower domains and websites are either shutdown all together or redirected to the new website.
The new website introduces ASL (sign language for the deaf) videos on a host of Jehovah’s Witness doctrines, policies, and other subjects. One of the ASL videos goes viral on YouTube as the signer describes the Watchtower’s policies and treatment of masturbation. The videos unintentionally turn out hilarious, especially to non-ASL viewers. The typically puritanical Watchtower falls back on DMCA to try to put out the fire, but within days the videos have gone worldwide and even turn up on comedy TV shows and YouTube sites. Read about it here and here . Watch one American comedian describe his reaction to the video.
The Watchtower Society’s Legal Department files an appeal in the Candace Conti child molestation court case in Oakland, California. The court ruled on portions of the appeal, but orders the Watchtower to post a bond of nearly $18 million.
In an obvious response to the Candace Conti court case, the Watchtower sends out an “elder letter” that tries to clarify the “two witness rule.” Unfortunately, the letter only confuses the subject and reinforces Governing Body and Service Department positions on reporting suspected child molesters or criminal acts within a Kingdom Hall or by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Read commentary here.
During the Watchtower Society’s annual meeting, they put more emphasis on “obedience” to the Society and the Governing Body. Then during a series of talks by several members of the current Governing Body, they explain what the “faithful and discreet slave” is and what its responsibilities are. Finally they announce officially that the “faithful slave” is the Governing Body, not the remaining members of the “anointed” class. That makes the Governing Body the most powerful group of men in Watchtower history and in third place of universal authority after Jehovah and Jesus Christ. Read the entire story here.
The Watchtower’s Legal Department appears before the court in Alameda, California and tells the court that the Watchtower is basically “broke” and can not afford to post the bond. They offer to put up the Society’s property in Patterson, New York as collateral. Conti and her attorney object to the offer and demand the court order the Watchtower to post a proper bond.
Whitney Heichel, a young Jehovah’s Witness woman in Gresham, Oregon (near Portland) disappears after being kidnapped on her way to work at a local Starbucks coffee shop. Within a couple of days, local police have a suspect, a weapon, and Mrs. Heichel’s body. Surprisingly, the alleged murderer is a Jehovah’s Witness in the same Kingdom Hall. According to news reports, Jonathan Holt confessed to the crime but has entered a plea of “not guilty” in court. A public memorial was held and the local Witnesses turn it into an opportunity to do some public witnessing. Dozens of Bibles and other literature are “placed” at the memorial site. The non-Witness community provides support and grieves along with the Witnesses. Several local reporters note that while this display of support is very common among the public when a tragedy like this occurs, Jehovah’s Witnesses never come together as a group to show their support in similar cases involving non-Witnesses. Several members of the public who attended the memorial complain that “it was less about Whitney and more about them wanting to convert us.”
The suspect, Jonathan Holt, is first described by the elders as “an occasional visitor to the Kingdom Hall.” Turns out that both he and his wife are regular publishers there. According to police, Holt admits to having child pornography on his computer and this is later confirmed. Holt’s wife requests and is granted a divorce in record time (less than two months). Anonymous Jehovah’s Witnesses in the area stated that the former Mrs. Holt was told that she can marry again “because when her ex-husband had sexual relations with Mrs. Heichel before murdering her, he ‘committed fornication’ – thereby making her free to marry again.” If Holt had only killed Mrs. Heichel, but not forced her to have sexual relations with him beforehand, then under strict JW rules, the former Mrs. Holt would not have been free to marry again. To do so would have made her guilty of fornication. Figure out the Watchtower’s logic with that little bit of “theocratic” policy making…
Anonymous Jehovah’s Witnesses have also alleged that local elders were aware that Holt had a problem with viewing pornography, but were probably unaware of the fact that his tastes also included child pornography.
Shortly after the Heichel case begins to wind down, another case of child abuse by a Jehovah’s Witness was reported. A JW sister, if convicted, faces several life terms in Tennessee for molesting and raping her own children, including one that is disabled. Surprisingly, she also resides in the Gresham, Oregon area and is likely considered a “sister in good standing” in a Kingdom Hall located there – probably the same one that Mrs. Heichel and Jonathan Holt attended.
Later that month, the Appeals Court in the Candace Conti case told Watchtower Legal that the Patterson headquarters buildings could not be used as collateral. California law does not allow the use of out-of-state properties. If they choose to use property as collateral, and the court agrees, the Watchtower might have to put up every Kingdom Hall in the San Francisco Bay area – assuming they can actually prove they have legal ownership. This leads us to wonder if Candace Conti might eventually own the Menlo Park Kingdom Hall? We can only hope so…
Mark Sanderson, 47, was confirmed as the eighth member of the current Governing Body (according to the “newest new light” – making him third in line after Jehovah). With his appointment, and the fact that over 12,000 attendees to the 2012 Memorial Celebration also partook of the wine and bread emblems, any pretense that qualified acceptance into the “anointed class” was closed in 1935 by Jehovah has completely evaporated. This is in spite of the fact that Joseph Rutherford decreed it, Nathan Knorr and Frederick Franz confirmed it – but now it clearly does not apply. (Poor Hayden Covington!) Local Kingdom Halls may have to buy more wine and crackers to feed everyone who attends the next (2013) Memorial Celebration.
A tragic bus accident at the International Airport in Miami, Florida took the lives of two Jehovah’s Witnesses on their way to a local district assembly. Several others were injured, some seriously. Here is a detailed news report from a local Miami TV station: http://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local/Hundreds-Pay-Tribute-to-Man-Killed-in-Airport-Crash-182688091.html . Surprisingly, the Watchtower Society apparently felt this accident as an important event for Jehovah’s Witnesses was not particularly newsworthy – especially when compared to other far more mundane subjects and events. In fact, they didn’t mention it at all on their on their own website’s news page.
Australia and Norway take on the Watchtower Society
In Australia, the Watchtower faces up to $3 billion in fines and fees for ignoring Victoria State Child Protection laws. The Watchtower claimed that the law did not apply to them because their local Kingdom Halls did not manage schools, sponsor scout troops, or have Sunday Schools in their churches. The Society’s official position was that they were exempt from the law, even though all other churches were complying. The Watchtower took this position in spite of the fact that several Kingdom Halls had recent cases of child molestation. This case has been going on for a couple of years, but now the government’s attorney general is getting involved and promises action against the Society. (Interesting note: The Governing Body was called to appear before the court, but has so far refused. Also called was the “Faithful Slave Class.” The Watchtower’s legal representative stated in response that the Faithful Slave did not actually exist – it was only a “theological arrangement.”) Read more here. … Also here.
Norway is now in a “take no prisoners’ attitude. Unlike most other countries, Norway’s media and press is unflinchingly going after the Watchtower. Over the past few months, major newspapers and TV stations have broadcast stories exposing the situation in that country. Read about Norway here. One former Jehovah’s Witness, Bo Juel Jensen, is connected to the media in Norway and has shared his personal story on YouTube. We’re sure to hear a lot more from him in the next few months.
So What’s the Verdict?
Looking back I’m sure we all agree that 2012 was rather unpleasant for the Watchtower Society! You have to ask yourself, “Can Jehovah really be blessing this organization? Did he really choose them as his earthly representatives? If so, why is he treating them so poorly?”
Where do we go from here? I for one will continue to report along with many of my associates on new developments as they happen. The rather long list above only scratches the surface. There are many more serious and ongoing problems within the Watchtower that I didn’t even mention in this lengthy post. I assure you that I will keep you informed of events and updates as they happen. Come visit Watchtower Watch often and feel free to comment on any of our articles.