“The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.” (Mat. 12:37 New Living Translation)
“Follow the money.” (All the President’s Men, Warner Bros. 1976)
Jesus instructed his followers to preach the good news, make disciples and baptize them. Initially, his first century followers obeyed him faithfully and zealously. One of the complaints the religious leaders had was that the disciples had ‘filled Jerusalem with their teaching’. (Acts 5:28) The disciples used their resources, including the unrighteous riches, to promote the spread of the good news and to help the poor and assist the needy. (Luke 16:9; 2 Cor. 8:1-16; James 1:27) They did not use it to build meeting halls. Congregations met in the homes of Christians. (Romans 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Philemon 2) Only when the apostasy gradually resulted in the creation of a centralized ecclesiastical authority did the building of grandiose edifices take center stage. Over time, and in many countries, the Church became the largest single landowner. To maintain control over these properties, the church banned priests from marrying so that there would be no dispute with heirs over ownership. The church grew obscenely rich.
The Christian congregation lost its spirituality and became the most materialistic of all human institutions. This happened because it lost its faith and began to follow men rather than the Christ.
When C. T. Russell began publishing Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, he set up a policy for funding the work which continued to be followed well into the 20th century. For instance:
“BACK in August, 1879, this magazine said: “‘Zion’s Watch Tower’ has, we believe, JEHOVAH for its backer, and while this is the case it will never beg nor petition men for support. When He who says: ‘All the gold and silver of the mountains are mine,’ fails to provide necessary funds, we will understand it to be time to suspend the publication.” The Society did not suspend publication, and The Watchtower has never missed an issue. Why? Because during the nearly eighty years since The Watchtower stated this policy of reliance upon Jehovah God, the Society has not deviated from it.” – (w59, 5/1, Pg. 285, Sharing the Good News by Contributing Personally) [Boldface added]
Our stated position back then was that ‘while Jehovah was backing us, we would never beg or petition men for support’. That was something the Churches of Christendom had to do to get funding, because Jehovah wasn’t backing them. Our financial support was the result of faith, while they had to engage in unscriptural methods to fund themselves. In the May 1, 1965 issue of The Watchtower under the article, “Why No Collections?” we wrote:
To pressure members of a congregation in a gentle way to contribute by resorting to devices without Scriptural precedent or support, such as passing a collection plate in front of them or operating bingo games, holding church suppers, bazaars and rummage sales or soliciting pledges, is to admit a weakness. There is something wrong. There is a lack. A lack of what? A lack of appreciation. No such coaxing or pressuring devices are needed where there is genuine appreciation. Could this lack of appreciation be related to the kind of spiritual food offered to the people in these churches? (w65 5/1 p. 278) [Boldface added]
You will notice that, among other things, soliciting a pledge was seen as “unscriptural”. Use of this technique indicated a weakness. It indicated something was wrong; that appreciation was lacking. It was suggested that the reason for the lack of appreciation was a poor diet of spiritual nourishment.
What is a pledge?
The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines it as, “A promise of a donation to a charity, cause, etc., in response to an appeal for funds; such a donation.”
We began to use pledges a few years ago. (We don’t call them pledges, but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…well, you get the picture.) This change seemed a little odd after more than a century of funding based solely on individual voluntary contributions, but these were small amounts being asked for to address specific needs, so we all let it slide without raising any objection that I’m aware of. Consequently, resolutions were passed by congregations to make a monthly or annual donation (“promise of a donation”) in response to a written “appeal for funds” by the branch office to fund programs such as the Traveling Overseer Assistance Arrangement, the Kingdom Hall Assistance Arrangement, and the Convention Fund—to name only three.
This method for funding our work has just been ratcheted up to a whole new level with the reading of a letter to the congregations directing all to pledge a personal monthly contribution to support the worldwide construction work.
Again, our own words come back to haunt us. From the article, “Is Your Minister Interested in You or Your Money”, published in the February 15, 1970 The Watchtower we have:
“The Church seems to have developed a compulsive habit of appealing for funds-without-end-amen, whether they be for building churches or halls, for repairs, etc. . . . Now the Church seems to take pledges and appeals for granted, and sometimes as many as three are running at the same time. . . . This preoccupation with money has also made some people take a second look at the Church, and ask themselves whether they really want to participate after all.”—Femina, May 18, 1967, pp. 58, 61.
Is it not understandable why some are taking a second look at the churches? The Bible makes it clear that giving should not be done “under compulsion” but from a ‘readiness of mind according to what one has.’ (2 Cor. 9:7; 8:12) So while it is not wrong for a minister to inform his congregation of reasonable church needs, the methods used ought to be in harmony with Christian principles outlined in the Bible. [Boldface added]
Please take note that the condemnation here relates to the “compulsive habit of appealing for funds…for building churches or halls”. Also notice that 2 Cor. 8:12 is cited to condemn these practices, stating that pledges and appeals for funds are unscriptural and that such methods are out of “harmony with Christian principles outlined in the Bible.” I ask you to notice this specifically, because the March 29, 2014 Letter to the Congregations just read out at your hall states in its second paragraph:
“In harmony with the principle at 2 Corinthians 8:12-14, congregations will now be asked to pool their resources worldwide to support the construction of theocratic facilities wherever they are needed.” [Boldface added]
How can a Scripture that forty years ago was used to condemn a practice now be used to support it? How does that make any sense? Such disingenuousness has no place among a people purporting to represent Jehovah God.
So now we have become the very thing we have condemned for decades. If Christendom’s use of pledges indicates a lack of appreciation on the part of their flock due to poor spiritual nourishment, what does our copycat method demonstrate? Would this not make us part of Christendom?
A False Justification
When I was a little boy, our congregation met in a Legion hall. Not ideal granted, but it didn’t hurt our preaching work nor diminish the spirit of the congregation. When as an adult I served in Latin America, all the congregations met in private homes. It was wonderful, though at times very crowded due to the rapid growth we experienced back then. I remember as a child when our city got its first Kingdom hall, built and owned by the local brothers. Many suggested it was an unnecessary indulgence. The end was coming soon, so why spend all this time and money building a hall?
Given that the first century congregations seemed to have done quite well meeting in homes, I can see the point. Of course, our current teaching methodology doesn’t lend itself that well to homes. One option would be to change our teaching method to return to the first century model. However, the type of didactic instruction common today in the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses would not do well in a more informal, familial setting, since what we are looking for is uniformity and conformity. It has been suggested that this is why the Governing Body dropped the book study arrangement a few years back. That reasoning certainly makes more sense than the transparently specious explanation they gave the congregations for that radical change.
The use of specious reasoning continues as a means to justify this sudden need for more funds. They explain:
“Having sufficient, adequate places of worship is vital, as Jehovah continues to ‘speed up’ the gathering of “a mighty nation.” (Par. 1 of the March 29, 2014 ‘Letter to all Congregations’)
Let’s not debate for the moment if what we are being asked to fund are merely places of worship that are ‘sufficient and adequate’. After all, a million dollars per hall buys a whole lot of “adequate”. Nevertheless, if the work is being speeded up by God, we would want to do our part to cooperate, wouldn’t we? Obviously, there is going to be a growing need for money to build a growing number of Kingdom halls for a growing number of new publishers. The figures published by the Governing Body would show this.
The percentage of growth in number of congregations over the past fifteen years has been under 2%. For the fifteen years before that, it was well over 4%. How is that a speeding up?
More congregations means a need for more halls, right? What we have here is a slowing down, and a fairly dramatic one at that. Since about the start of the new century, the growth in congregations has dropped to its lowest point in the past 60 years! A chart of publisher growth shows the same trend, as does graphing the actual growth in congregations vs. the number of publishers. To illustrate that last scenario, consider that last year we added 2,104 new congregations to the fold. It might surprise you to learn that that exact number of congregations was also added back in 1959. However, building halls to house 2,104 new congregations is trivial when just under 8 million people are doing the funding. Try adding halls for that many when the number funding the work is less than 8 hundred thousand (one-tenth of today’s number) as it was back in 1959. Yet we managed it back then without the benefit of soliciting pledges.
No one likes to be played for a fool, especially by people in whom one has invested enormous trust, believing them to be God’s Appointed Channel of Communication. At the 2012 Annual Meeting, Brother Splane of the Governing Body explained that when its members meet, the decisions reached are just about as close to the Christ as it is possible for imperfect men to reach. From this logic, it would follow that what Christ wants now is for us to build more and/or newer Kingdom halls, assembly halls, and branch facilities. One thing there can be no doubt about: If Christ really wants us to build, build, build, then he wouldn’t deceive us by using a fictional scenario to get us to pony up.
“Show Me the Money”
Only the first page of this four-page letter is to be read out to the congregation. The remaining pages are to be kept confidential, and even the first page is not to be posted on the announcement board. These additional confidential pages direct the elders to hand over any funds the congregation has saved up in local banks or has on account with the Society, and to continue contributing funds approved by other resolutions in support of other appeals such as the Travelling Overseer and Kingdom Hall Arrangements.
Now some will raise their voice in objection at this point and tell me that I’m ignoring the fact that the Organization is forgiving all the loans for Kingdom hall construction and renovation. It would certainly appear that way at first blush. But in the confidential part of the letter, the elders in halls with pre-existing loan obligations are directed to:
“…propose a resolution that is at least the same amount as the current monthly loan repayment, keeping in mind that donations will no longer be received from the “Kingdom Hall Construction Worldwide” contribution box.” (March 29, 2014 Letter, page 2, par. 3) [Italics from the letter]
I know firsthand of a congregation that has been burdened for years with a costly loan payment. They wanted to build a hall on some inexpensive property they had located, but the Regional Building Committee wouldn’t hear of it and directed them to another property which was substantially more costly. In the end, the hall cost over a million dollars to build which is a lot of money for a single congregation to deal with. However, after years of struggling to make their payments, the end was now in sight. Soon they would have been freed of this burden. Alas, under this new arrangement, they are expected to make a payment that is at least as high as what they are now paying, but with no end in sight. They must now pay in perpetuity.
Additionally, any congregation that has been freed from such a burden, having paid off its loan in the past, must now re-assume the obligation.
Where is all this money going? Are we to be given access to the financial records of the Organization? Can we commission an independent review board to audit the books? The Organization doesn’t blindly trust the local elders with the congregation accounts, but instead requires that the Circuit Overseer audit the books twice a year during his visit. That is wise. They are doing their due diligence. But shouldn’t due diligence and fiscal openness apply to all?
Some will still counter that this is a voluntary donation we are being asked to make. Each will only put what he or she can afford on the slip of paper that is being passed around like a virtual collection plate. Ah, but if the elders are being directed to donate at least the amount of the former loan payment, how are they to make the publishers aware of that requirement? The plain truth is that they have to exhort the publishers from the platform, making this a true appeal for funds. Additionally, no warning is given for this. On the spot, the publishers must make an assessment of what each can give, and then every month after that, whether it is affordable or not that month, each will feel obligated to give that amount because it was committed to in writing “before Jehovah”. How can that be considered in keeping with the spirit of 2 Cor. 9:7 which the letter unabashedly cites in support of this arrangement?
Again, a supporter of this new arrangement might argue that the body of elders is not obliged to read out any resolution, nor is the membership of the congregation required to pass it. This is done voluntarily. That is true. However, I would very much like to see what happens if a body of elders refuses to make a resolution. I daresay it will happen somewhere, and when it does, much will be revealed.
Coinciding with this new arrangement is another unprecedented change in policy. As of September 1, 2014, the Circuit Overseer—one man—will be authorized to delete or appoint elders and ministerial servants without branch office involvement. I know of Circuit Overseers who were already pressuring congregations with accumulated reserve funds to donate them to the branch, well before this new arrangement was made public. This newfound authority will lend considerable weight to their already substantial influence.
Follow the Money
As the first century became the second, then the third, then the fourth, the amount of time and money spent in proclaiming the good news diminished while more and more was invested in the accumulation of material wealth, specifically properties and structures.
Now, at a time when we have halved the monthly output of the printed spiritual nourishment that we distribute to millions in our territories, we are calling for more funds to construct and maintain buildings. Are we following in the pattern of the very church we have condemned all these years?
‘No’, the defenders would cry out, ‘because the local congregation, not the organization, owns the Kingdom hall.’
While that is a widely held belief stemming from a time when it was true, the current situation is different as shown by the following excerpts from the “Articles of Association & Bylaws” of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society to which congregations holding title to a Kingdom Hall are required to abide. [Boldface added]
Page 1, Article IV – PURPOSES
4. To recognize the spiritual authority of the ecclesiastical Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses (“Governing Body”)
Page 2, Article X – PROPERTY
(b) In the event a dispute ever arises over who is entitled to own or possess the property of the Congregation, if the Congregation cannot decide the dispute in a manner satisfactory to all of the members, the dispute will be decided by Christian Congregation of JWs in the United States, or by any other organization designated by the ecclesiastical Governing Body of JWs. The determination [of said organization] as described herein will be final and binding on all members, including those who may have disagreed or dissented.
Page 3, Article XI – DISSOLUTION
Upon dissolution of the Congregation, after paying or adequately providing for debts and obligations of the Congregation, the remaining assets shall be distributed to Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., a corporation organized under Internal revenue Code Section 501(c)(3) for religious purposes. No assets will be deemed to be received by Watchtower … until such acceptance is evidenced in writing. If Watchtower … is not then in existence and exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) … then said assets shall be distributed to any organization designated by the ecclesiastical Governing Body of JWs that is organized and operated for religious purposes and is an organization exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) …
Notice that the fourth reason or purpose for a Christian Congregation to exist is to recognize the authority, not of Christ, not of Jehovah, but of the ecclesiastical Governing Body. (their words)
What does that have to do with hall ownership? Well, what isn’t stated in the bylaws is the fact that the Governing Body, through the local Branch Office, has the unilateral right to dissolve any congregation it sees fit. Its first option would be to remove a dissenting body of elders—something the C.O. is now empowered to do—and then appoint a more compliant one. Or, as it has done many times already, dissolve the congregation by sending all the publishers into neighboring congregations. Ultimately, it can do this if it chooses and then the ownership of the hall accrues to the Organization which can put it up for sale.
Let’s put this in terms to which we can all relate. Let’s say you want to build a house. The bank tells you it will give—not loan, give—you the money for the house. However, you have to build the house they want you to build and where they want you to build it. Then, you have to make a monthly donation which will be more or less what you would have paid were you repaying a mortgage. However, you would have to pay this amount as long as you live. If you behave yourself and don’t default, they will allow you to live in the house as long as you like, or until they tell you otherwise. Whatever the case, legally, you never own the house and if anything happens, it will be sold and the money goes back to the bank.
Would Jehovah ask you to make this kind of deal?
This new arrangement merely highlights a reality that has been in place for quite some time. The Governing Body has the ultimate say over the tens of thousands of properties held worldwide in its name. These properties are worth well into the tens of billions of dollars. We have now become the very thing we have disdained for more than a century.
“We have seen the enemy and he is us.” – Pogo by Walt Kelly
[To give credit where due, this post was inspired by the research done by Bobcat under the topic “The New Donation Arrangement in the www.discussthetruth.com forum. You can find his Watchtower references here and here. A fuller text of the association bylaws can be found here.]