We all experience moments that shock us into understanding how lucky we are to just be alive – not to mention how well off we might be physically, mentally, and financially. And yet we know that everyone will face some issues and pain because adversity is a part of life. Not one of us will escape this earth completely unscathed.
Love competes with adversity. There is the love of our families and the love of our friends. We assume if they truly love us that they will step forward and help if we get sick, have an accident, or need temporary shelter or financial support.
The recent “perfect storms” of Tropical Storm Sandy (northeast USA) and Hurricane Katrina (Atlantic, Florida, Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, New Orleans) proved to be perfect examples of how much we depend on neighbors, police, fire departments, “first responders,” and even utility workers to risk their lives to save us and our property. We must not ignore the unselfish brotherly love shown by total strangers including, doctors and nurses, ambulance drivers, Coast Guard rescue teams – people who step forward, often putting their own lives and risk everything to help us when we are really in trouble.
How can we ever forget the heroism and unselfish sacrifices made by so many public safety employees and average citizens in New York on September 11, 2001?
We can never forget that without the help of so many people, including strangers we may only meet once in our lives, many of us would likely suffer or die needlessly before our personal “due dates” expire.
This phenomenon is what I describe as “Random Acts of Love.”
We too might be faced with an opportunity to help someone in their time of need. How will we react? What level of risk will we take? Will we step forward and do what needs to be done? Or will we first judge the worth of those in need by our own critical standards? Will we retreat and do nothing because the risk is just too great? Will we refuse to help someone because we feel they do not live a proper lifestyle or share our personal beliefs?
Brotherly Love in Action
In the early 1970s I was just starting my career as a manager for the largest utility corporation in the United States at that time, American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T). I had the opportunity to attend a meeting in downtown Los Angeles that included a presentation of the prestigious “Vail Award” to some company employees. Named after one of the founders of AT&T, the “Vail Award” was given to telephone company employees who had performed a public service considered “above and beyond” the norm.
When the names were announced, I realized that I actually knew two of the award winners. In fact, for a time they worked in the same building that I did and our paths had crossed many times. I never guessed that they were anything special. To me they just seemed like normal, “Joe-average” guys. Some of their co-workers knew their story, but I had no idea what they had done that would be considered “heroic.” Apparently they rarely, if ever, mentioned what they had done that would call for such a high honor.
For the very first time I learned the amazing facts when the award was presented. Only then did the audience learn that these two fellows pulled off the freeway behind a car that was burning and likely to explode at any moment. Despite dealing with the flames, broken glass, and high-speed traffic going by, they managed to extricate the victims inside the car and get them to a safe place.
In spite of the fact that they had families and careers (not to mention their own lives to live), they risked everything to save total strangers from a certain horrible death. Yes, other people had stopped to watch and help as they could, but only these two men were willing to actually reach inside that car and pull the victims to safety. I wondered how many people just drove by without even giving the accident scene a second thought.
I watched everyone stand to vigorously applaud these two men for their unimaginable act of bravery and realized two facts about that audience: There wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd – and everyone was probably wondering what they would have done if faced with the same choice those two men instantly made.
To this day I still wonder what I would have done if I had been at that accident scene. Would I have risked everything?
I don’t know what religion either of those men belonged to – or if they even went to church. I don’t care. People needed help and these fellows were willing to risk their lives and offer aid. Maybe they weren’t even Christians but possibly atheists, agnostics, or non-Christian. Maybe they had never been in a church.
I’m sure that Jesus, as he was described in the Bible, would have smiled upon them just the same.
What may surprise you is that this story is not unique. Here are links to two very similar accounts of selfless heroism by other employees of the Bell Telephone System:
Brotherly Love, Watchtower Style
You might ask: What does any of this have to do with Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Watchtower Society?
I realize that opportunities to risk your life to save someone are rare. And just like the Bell Telephone heroes, many average people will often put forth extraordinary efforts to assist someone in trouble. I’m sure that even some Jehovah’s Witnesses have on occasion offered extraordinary assistance to total strangers.
While I’m not asking Jehovah’s Witnesses to drive up and down the highway looking for people to save from car fires, I feel that there are many ways they could reach out and help other more than they do now. There are many less risky opportunities to show brotherly love to those in dire straits or facing emergency situations. What is missing from the Watchtower’s culture is this sense of community service that still exists in corporate behemoths like AT&T and many government entities. What we need to realize is that Witness culture is defined and reinforced from the very top of the organization.
Unlike many other religious organizations, the Watchtower does not support any community-wide charity activities or services to the general public. Here are some examples:
- They do not provide professional health or counseling services to the sick – not even within their own Jehovah’s Witness community.
- The Watchtower does not provide temporary housing or meals to the homeless or disaster victims (except on rare occasions only for JW families).
- Kingdom Halls do not have emergency food, clothing, or money available for brothers and sisters who are unemployed or otherwise without funds.
- The Watchtower discourages Jehovah’s Witnesses from donating clothes, furniture, or money to the Salvation Army or any other organization with religious connections.
- After major disasters, the Watchtower will loan money to local building committees for rebuilding Kingdom Halls and Assembly Halls – but will not provide loans or grants for individual JWs who have suffered losses.
- For many years, Jehovah’s Witnesses were discouraged from becoming fire-fighters. This is still true to some extent, but primarily due to the education requirements for employment by most larger departments. (There are unconfirmed reports that some of the NYFD firefighters who died during the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attacks were Jehovah’s Witnesses.)
When I challenged one local Jehovah’s Witness elder about the lack of charitable activities within his congregation, he responded right out of the Watchtower playbook:
“Our primary charity is preaching the good news and the truth of the Bible so that we can help those who are suffering to gain everlasting life. We actually do many charitable things. We give away our literature at no cost to interested persons. We offer free Bible studies. We donate our gasoline and money to support the house-to-house preaching work. We visit those who are sick and can not come to our meetings. We leave it to Jehovah to decide what happens to those outside of our congregation. We assume that He will provide for those in need whether they be Witnesses or not.”
“But shouldn’t you help those in your local community who are poor or unable to care for themselves?” I asked.
“If any of the brothers want to donate clothing or food to local community organizations, that is fine with us as long as they are not sponsored by any religious organization. As far as money is concerned, we urge them to donate only to their Kingdom Hall and the worldwide preaching work sponsored by the Watchtower Society. That way they put Jehovah’s work first in all things.”
The Two Commands of Jesus
One of Jesus’ followers asked, “[Jesus], which is the great commandment in the law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”
Jesus did not say “You shall love your Jehovah’s Witness brother as yourself.” He did not limit the distribution of one’s love only to family or fellow believers. The Greek word that is translated “neighbor” was also used as a synonym for “fellow citizen” or “countryman.” In fact, during Biblical times (and even to some extent this is still true in the Middle East) total strangers and travelers were to be welcomed, fed, and given shelter by the earliest Hebrews.
The Watchtower has since J. F. Rutherford’s time promoted the idea that Jehovah’s Witnesses should remain separate from the world – “a people apart.” How can they “love their neighbor as themselves,” when they choose to ignore their neighbors and fellow citizens altogether? Why is it that the “love” expressed by most Jehovah’s Witnesses tends to be very conditional and restricted just to those who are “active” within their congregations and even their own families?
Expect to see future articles about this subject on this website. Please feel free to share your comments regarding this important subject.