[From ws17/9 p. 28 –November 20-26]

“Be courageous and strong and go to work. Do not be afraid or be terrified, for Jehovah . . . is with you.”​—1 Ch 28:20

(Occurrences: Jehovah=27; Jesus=3)

This article is supposedly about being courageous.  The theme text doesn’t come from the Christian Scriptures, but from the time of Israel, specifically the building of the first temple.

Like Solomon, we need help from Jehovah to be courageous and complete the work. To that end, we can reflect on some past examples of courage. And we can think about how we can show courage and get our work accomplished. – par. 5

Nevertheless, courage is required for our salvation as Christians, something we can see in reading Revelation 21:8:

“But as for the cowards and those without faith…their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur. This means the second death.”” (Re 21:8)

Cowardliness results in death, but bravery or courage is one of the qualities that brings life.

Given that, what is the work the article is referencing as corresponding to Solomon’s temple-building work, and how does this relate to the other examples of courage cited from paragraph 5 thru to 9?

Joseph, Rahab, Jesus, and the apostles displayed an inner strength that motivated them to perform good works. Their courage was not overconfidence. It came from reliance on Jehovah. We too face circumstances that require courage. Rather than rely on ourselves, we must rely on Jehovah. (Read 2 Timothy 1:7.) – par. 9

The article is going to focus on “two areas of life where we need courage: in our family and in the congregation.” – par. 9

Situations Requiring Courage

“Christian youths face many situations in which they need to show courage to serve Jehovah….The wise decisions they make about good associations, wholesome entertainment, moral cleanness, and baptism all call for courage.” par. 10

Decisions about who to associate with and what movies to watch call for courage?  It takes courage to not engage in sexual immorality?  What’s the point of this?

Loyal love to both Jehovah and our neighbor is involved in making these choices.  The other fruits of the spirit come into play as well.  For example, self-control, goodness and kindness, to varying degrees.  It is hard to see what role courage plays in deciding what movie to watch, or whether to get baptized.  Are young people in the organization experiencing strong pressure not to get baptized, perhaps from school mates or members of the congregation?

Whatever the case, it seems the real purpose behind this reasoning is to suggest that it takes courage to avoid higher education.  The Bible says nothing about avoiding high education, but this is a drum that the organization beats on a regular basis, and it is beating it yet again here.  Thus, when paragraph 11 starts out by saying, “one important decision young ones must make involves their goals”, we are to understand that setting a goal takes courage.  What goals take courage?  Paragraph 11 continues: “In some lands, young ones are pressured to set goals that center on higher education and a well-paying job. In other lands, economic conditions may make young ones feel that they must focus on helping to provide materially for their families. If you find yourself in either situation, consider the example of Moses. Raised by the daughter of Pharaoh, Moses could have set his goals on attaining prominence or economic security. What pressure he must have felt to do so from his Egyptian family, teachers, and counselors! Rather than give in, Moses courageously took a stand for pure worship.”

So those who do not pursue higher education are like Moses?  This comparison is absurd.  Moses was raised and educated in the wealthiest family in the nation.  At forty years of age, long after he’d already received his “higher education”, he decided to free the Israelites on his own.  Admittedly, that took courage, but it didn’t turn out well.  He ended up murdering an Egyptian and he had to flee for his life.

What similarity is there in that account with one of Jehovah’s Witnesses deciding whether to seek education after high school?  It seems that whatever Christian quality there is—love, loyalty, faith, joy, or courage—the Governing Body can find some way, however tenuous, to apply it to avoiding the scourge of higher education.

Paragraph 12 states: “Jehovah will bless young ones who courageously work at setting spiritual goals…” Depicted below are two sisters who have supposedly foregone getting an education so that they can work in maintaining and building properties for the Organization.  Where in the Bible are Christians told to set spiritual goals that involved construction projects?

In paragraph 13, the black-and-white approach to service to God is again promoted:

“Satan’s world promotes higher education, fame, money, and having a lot of material things as good goals.” – par. 13

So all higher education is from Satan?

The vast majority of people who seek higher education just want to live a decent life, free from poverty.  They want to provide for a family.  They often do this at some risk, because there is no certainty about getting a job, despite the cost of tuition. Others decide to forego the education and devote themselves fully to God.  This is not a requirement that Jehovah imposes, however. It’s a personal choice, or at least it should be.

Let’s put the whole pioneer thing aside, because there is nothing in the Bible about pioneering.  (If we were Catholics, we’d be talking about becoming a nun or a priest or a missionary.)  The fact is, it’s a personal choice and everyone’s circumstances and personality make-up are different.  We’re not all cookie-cutter copies of each other, so we should be allowed to make our own decisions free from outside pressure.

You want to speak about courage?  How about the courage needed to stand up to the Organization and the peer pressure of an indoctrinated congregation and go out and seek higher education because your conscience tells you it is the right thing to do, when everyone is pushing you not to?  That takes real courage, especially when doing so means that your Father will likely lose his privileges in the congregation.  On the other hand, bending to the will of the crowd out of fear is cowardly.

We show courage when we help our children to set and reach spiritual goals. For instance, some parents may hesitate to encourage their child to pursue a career of pioneering, to serve where the need is greater, to enter Bethel service, or to work on theocratic construction  projects. The parents may fear that their child will not be able to care for them when they are old. However, wise parents show courage and put faith in Jehovah’s promises. – par. 15

That first sentence should read: “We show courage when we help our children to set and reach spiritual goals as defined by the Organization.

Hmm….  Would this reasoning work if you heard it coming from, say, a Catholic?  As a Jehovah’s Witness, you’d say, “Definitely not!”.

“And why not, pray tell.”

You’d answer, “Because they don’t practice the true religion, so Jehovah will not provide for them.”

It is true that our Father has promised to provide for his children, but he makes no promise to provide for us just because we are members in some religious organization, be it Catholic or Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Nevertheless, this is how Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught to think.  I know, because I used to think like this.

The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the tasting.  God says, “Taste and see that Jehovah is good…”  (Ps 34:8)  But that only applies if what we are doing is really for God. It only applies if we love and teach truth, and love and practice His law.

I have firsthand knowledge of men and women who adopted the goals that the Organization said were spiritual and approved by God.  Perhaps one case in particular might help us reason—it is hardly unique.

There was a family with two daughters and one son.  The father was a non-Witness; what we’d call an unbeliever. The mother died many years ago.  The children were all witnesses, but one daughter was what we’d refer to as a “weak Witness”. She ended up being a single mom with a down-syndrome child.  Eventually, the father of the family gets old and needs to be cared for.  The son can’t do it. He has his career as a circuit overseer. The other daughter can’t help.  She’s married and working in a foreign Bethel. It all falls on the one who, if we are going to follow the logic of this article, wasn’t courageous and didn’t put Jehovah first.  She is, however, the only one obeying 1 Timothy 5:8.  Years go by.  The circuit overseer becomes a district overseer. The other daughter’s husband gets promoted to the position of branch committee member.  They both courageously made the right choice, according to the article.  Neither volunteers to come home to care for dear, old Dad, even though the “spiritually weak” daughter asks them for help, because she is overburdened with caring for her ailing father and mentally challenged daughter.  Eventually, she suffers a nervous and physical breakdown.  No longer able to care for her daughter, the girl goes into a state facility where she dies an accidental death.  Soon thereafter the father dies as well.  The “weak daughter” bears all this tragedy alone while her siblings courageously pursue their “spiritual goals”.  The other sister continues to serve in the foreign Bethel, though that could change at any time as more branches are closed.  The brother gets sent out to pasture when the district overseers are dismissed. He, now in his 70s, lives in penury as a special pioneer.

That these are not isolated events, but represent the reality of pursuing “spiritual goals” as set by this Organization, we have only to look at recent history.

In the 2010 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses on page 31 we are told that worldwide staff at branch facilities numbered 19,829.  This grew by 25% over the next six years to number 26,011 in 2016 (yb 16, p. 176).  However, in the great downsizing that came the very next year, staff dropped by 25% back down to 2010 levels: 19,818 (yb 17, p. 177)  Now, following the rules common in industry when downsizing is needed to handle cash shortfalls, one might assume that they let go of the people with the lowest seniority.  That has not proven to be the case. Often, longtime Bethelites with 20, 25 and even 30 years of faithful service were sent packing while younger ones remained.  Additionally, many thousands of special pioneers were dropped, even ones who were longtime servants.

Does this fit with the picture painted by paragraph 15?

Why didn’t Jehovah provide for these ones by keeping the money coming in?  Why didn’t He arrange for the younger ones to return to the field leaving the older, more vulnerable ones safely in place?  Why did He so poorly manage staff hiring by swelling the ranks 25% in only six years when the growth during that time was minimal?  Why isn’t He providing for them now that they’re old, on their own, and struggling to get gainful employment in a world where an old person with no higher education can’t get much more than a job as a Walmart greeter?

Or could it be that Jehovah had nothing to do with all this?

Courage in the Congregation

The examples given in paragraph 17 about the need for courage are pedestrian.  An older sister needs courage to follow instruction from the elders to talk with a younger sister about her manner of dress and grooming? Please! (Now we’re beating the “dress and grooming” drum yet again.)  Single sisters need courage to apply for the School for Kingdom Evangelizers, or to work in the Local Design/Construction program?  Really??

Oh and then there’s, “elders need courage when caring for judicial matters”.  

Now this is one we can sink our teeth into.  Elders do need courage in caring for judicial matters and also when making decisions that affect the welfare of the congregation.  Why? Because it takes courage to stand up for what is right when everyone else wants to do something stupid, or harmful.  Having served as an elder for forty years in three countries and numerous congregations, I can say with certainty that courage is a rare commodity in elder bodies.  Going with the will of the majority is the norm. It is, in fact, actively encouraged.  When the circuit overseer wants to do something and one or two elders think it’s a dumb idea and courageously speak up, they were invariably pressured to give in “for the sake of unity”.  If they stand their ground on principle, they are branded as trouble makers.  In forty years, I saw this time and again.  Most were more concerned with holding onto their “privileges” than with doing the courageous thing.

Do you know what else takes courage?  Making a comment at the Watchtower study that corrects some teaching of the Organization.  I recall the first time I did this, my heart was in my throat.  Following the direction of the Organization doesn’t take courage.  You’re going with the flow. Everyone wants you to do this.  They’ll encourage and praise you for it.  By contrast, Jesus said:

“Everyone, then, that confesses union with me before men, I will also confess union with him before my Father who is in the heavens; 33 but whoever disowns me before men, I will also disown him before my Father who is in the heavens.” (Mt 10:32, 33)

It’s not an easy thing to confess union with Jesus before the men of the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  In fact, it’s likely going to be one of the biggest challenges of your life.  But doing that will gain you Christ’s favor and with that comes everlasting life.