I’ve been thinking about the theme of this year’s Regional Convention: Don’t Give Up! It’s an oddly prosaic theme, don’t you think? What is its purpose?
That brought to mind a recent discussion with a close friend who asked what congregation I was now attending. Since I no longer attend, there ensued a brief discussion about the reasons why; reasons which my friend was not willing to dwell upon. Instead, in an apparent attempt to “encourage me” and probably herself as well, she gushed about the recent Zone Overseer’s talk. I’d heard it was all about the Governing Body, but “No. No.” she disagreed. It was very encouraging. It showed how very close to the end we are.
I’ve found this to be a common attitude when speaking with different ones about the foibles of the Organization. They will ignore the evidence of hypocrisy that the UN membership (1992-2001) demonstrates and dismiss the growing child sexual abuse scandal as a misunderstanding of the Organization’s position. They will decline to engage in a Scriptural discussion about the truth or falsehood behind core JW doctrines, and excuse the failings of the leadership of JW.org as “just the imperfections of men.” They do all this, it seems to me, because of the dream. Like Cinderella laboring in a menial life of servitude, with no hope of anything better, they dream of Jehovah swooping down like some sort of fairy godmother, waving his magic wand, and poof, they’re with prince charming in paradise. In one fell swoop, and very soon indeed, the banality of their life will end, and their wildest dreams will come true.
It is this attitude that the 2017 Regional Convention seeks to exploit. The convention does nothing to improve one’s knowledge of the Christ, nor to strengthen one’s relationship with our savior. No, the message is this: Don’t give up because we’re almost there; you’ve almost won the prize. Have you lost a loved one? Don’t give up and you’ll be with them in just a few more years. Are you suffering from some serious illness? Don’t give up and within a few years, you’ll not only be healthy, but young as well. Are the kids at school bullying you? Are your workmates giving you a hard time? Don’t give up and before you know it, you’ll be the last one laughing. Are you struggling economically? Don’t give up and in a few more years, you’ll have the wealth of the world for the taking. Are you bored with your lot in life? Is your job unfulfilling? Don’t give up and in no time at all, you’ll be able to do anything you want.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not dissing the wonderful hope and the solution to life’s problems that the Kingdom of God will bring to mankind. However, when this becomes the be all and end all of our faith, we’ve lost our balance and when you are off balance, it is easy to tip you over. Evidence we have lost our true focus as Christians comes when you challenge the precept that the end is, as Anthony Morris III put it in the concluding convention talk, “imminent”. Suggest to a witness that the end is not so near—put it off 20 or 30 years—and you’re in for an unpleasant discussion or rebuke. It is not enough that God will bring this wicked system to an end. For Witnesses, it is vital that he do it quickly—we’re talking single-digit years here.
Of course, the end will come in God’s good time and it could be tomorrow for all we know. However, it is only the end of the current system of things. It isn’t the end of wickedness, for there is more in our future. (Re 20:7-9) What it is in reality is the beginning of the next phase of God’s process for salvation, already in effect since before the first man was conceived in Eve’s womb.
Focusing on “the end” to the exclusion of all else leaves one open to emotional manipulation which, as we’ll see in this and the next article, seems to be what this convention is all about.
Why Focus on the Imminence of Armageddon?
The Convention opens on Friday with the talk by Governing Body member, Geoffrey Jackson, “We Must Not Give Up—Especially Now!” and ends on Sunday in the closing talk by GB member, Anthony Morris III, with the assurance that “The end is imminent!”. Given that much of the criticism Witnesses get comes from the many failed “end-of-world” predictions that are part of JW history, one might wonder why they are punching this particular “tar-baby” yet again. The answer is, simply, because it still works.
With Cinderella-like mentality, Witnesses desperately want to be free of the drudgery of this system and the Governing Body promises that if they stay in the organization and do what men tell them to do, then very soon—very soon—they will have their wish fulfilled. Of course, this wish comes with conditions. They don’t have to be home before midnight, but they do have to stay inside the Organization and obey its Governing Body. If we start focusing on our history and dwell on past prophetic failures, they might lose their grip over us. The problem is that some of our history is so recent that it remains in the memory of living Witnesses. The events surrounding 1975 for instance. What to do about that?
Drinking Poisoned Water
There is an illustration that pops up regularly in Congregation Public Talks. It originates from one of the publications:
Is it true that there is good in all religions?
Most religions do teach that a person should not lie or steal, and so forth. But is that sufficient? Would you be happy to drink a glass of poisoned water because someone assured you that most of what you were getting was water?
(rs p. 323 Religion)
Much of the counsel in this convention is Scriptural and healthful. Many of the videos and talks are inspiring. One such is the final talk on Friday: “How You Can “By No Means Ever Fail”. It discusses the last four qualities Peter spoke of at 2 Peter 1:5-7: endurance, godly devotion, brotherly affection, and love. The talk includes two touching video dramatizations about dealing with the loss of loved ones. This might be likened to a glass of water, clear and pure.
However, could there be a drop of poison dissolved in that water of truth?
Halfway through the first video in which we see the main protagonist dealing with the death of his wife, we abruptly change gears at the 1:40-minute mark to talk about the discouragement he dealt with over the failed 1975 prediction.
The narrator begins by saying that “back then, some were looking to a certain date as signifying the end of this old system of things. A few even went so far as selling their homes and quitting their jobs.”
It should be noted that 1975 is never specifically mentioned; he only alludes to a “certain date”. Additionally, the talk outline does not make any direct mention of this portion of the first video. Here’s the relevant extract from the actual talk outline:
As you watch the following dramatization, notice how Rachel’s father put forth effort to strengthen his endurance
VIDEO (3 min.)
TO YOUR ENDURANCE, SUPPLY GODLY DEVOTION (7 min.)
As we saw depicted in the video, we can strengthen our endurance by: (1) study, (2) meditation, and (3) putting into practice what we learn
These steps will also help us to cultivate the remaining qualities mentioned at 2 Peter 1:5-7
The portion about 1975 is considered important enough to spend time and money filming it as part of a larger video, yet no reference is made to it in the surrounding talk. It’s just dropped in the video like some Stan Lee cameo.
Let us examine the message in more detail.
The use of “some” and “a few” gives the audience the impression that this erroneous belief was held by a minority and that they were getting carried away and were acting on their own. One does not get the impression that the Organization, through its publications and circuit assembly and district convention programs, was in any way responsible for promoting this idea.
I’m sure that many of us who lived through that period of JW history will find this disingenuous recasting of blame to be highly offensive. We know different. We recall that the whole thing began with the publication of the book Life Everlasting in Freedom of the Sons of God (1966) and it was the following passage that was intended to and did catch our imagination.
“According to this trustworthy Bible chronology, six thousand years from man’s creation will end in 1975, and the seventh period of a thousand years of human history will begin in the fall of 1975 C.E. So six thousand years of man’s existence on earth will soon be up, yes, within this generation.”
“’For a thousand years are in your eyes but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch during the night.’ So in not many years within our own generation we are reaching what Jehovah God could view as the seventh day of man’s existence.
How appropriate it would be for Jehovah God to make of this coming seventh period of a thousand years a Sabbath period of rest and release, a great Jubilee Sabbath for the proclaiming of liberty throughout the earth to all its inhabitants! This would be most timely for mankind. It would also be most fitting on God’s part, for, remember, mankind has yet ahead of it what the last book of the holy Bible speaks of as the reign of Jesus Christ over earth for a thousand years, the millennial reign of Christ. Prophetically Jesus Christ, when on earth nineteen centuries ago, said concerning himself: ‘For Lord of the Sabbath is what the Son of man is.’ (Matthew 12:8) It would not be by mere chance or accident but would be according to the loving purpose of Jehovah God for the reign of Jesus Christ, the ‘Lord of the Sabbath,’ to run parallel with the seventh millennium of man’s existence.”
This book was studied at the weekly congregation Book Study by all Jehovah’s Witnesses, so the idea that only “some were looking to a certain date” is an utter canard. If there was a minority—a “some”—it would have been those discounting this speculation by pointing to Jesus’ words about no one knowing the day or hour.
The video makes it sound like a few feckless fools ‘went so far as to sell their homes and quit their jobs’ because the end was near. All the blame is placed on them. None is assumed by those who consider themselves the feeders of the flock. Yet, the May, 1974 Kingdom Ministry said:
“Reports are heard of brothers selling their homes and property and planning to finish out the rest of their days in this old system in the pioneer service. Certainly this is a fine way to spend the short time remaining before the wicked world’s end.”
The narrator of the video would have us believe the Organization was playing a different tune at that time. He adds: “But something just didn’t seem right. Both in meetings and in my personal study I was reminded of what Jesus said. Nobody knows the day or the hour”. [boldface added]
Sometimes you read or hear something like this and you just want to burst out with: “SAY WHAT?!”
The principle source for feeding the 1975 euphoria were the meetings, circuit assemblies, and district conventions. Additionally, magazine articles, particularly in the Awake! magazine, continued to feed this frenzy of anticipation. All of this is a matter of public record and cannot be successfully denied. Yet, here they are attempting to do just that, slipping it into a video almost as if they hope no one notices the poison pill.
The narrator in the video would have us believe that the message at the meetings was one of sober restraint. It is true that mention was made of verses like Mark 13:32 (“Concerning that day or the hour nobody knows.” – See w68 5/1 p. 272 par. 8) What isn’t mentioned in the video is that there was always a counterpoint to dilute that Bible warning. For instance, in the same article cited above, the previous paragraph stated: “Within a few years at most the final parts of Bible prophecy relative to these “last days” will undergo fulfillment, resulting in the liberation of surviving mankind into Christ’s glorious 1,000-year reign.” (w68 5/1 p 272 par. 7)
But the Organization went even further in their attempts at neutralizing the words of Jesus. Later that same year, The Watchtower rebuked those who were trying to bring some sense into the discussion by printing the following [boldface added]:
35 One thing is absolutely certain, Bible chronology reinforced with fulfilled Bible prophecy shows that six thousand years of man’s existence will soon be up, yes, within this generation! (Matt. 24:34) This is, therefore, no time to be indifferent and complacent. This is not the time to be toying with the words of Jesus that “concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matt. 24:36) To the contrary, it is a time when one should be keenly aware that the end of this system of things is rapidly coming to its violent end. Make no mistake, it is sufficient that the Father himself knows both the “day and hour”!
36 Even if one cannot see beyond 1975, is this any reason to be less active? The apostles could not see even this far; they knew nothing about 1975.
(w68 8/15 pp. 500-501 par. 35, 36)
In the video the brother says that “in meetings…I was reminded of what Jesus said: “Nobody knows the day or the hour.” Well, in the meeting that studied the August 15, 1968 Watchtower issue, he would have been admonished not to “toy with the words of Jesus”. The context makes clear what that means. We were being instructed by the leaders of the Organization that 1975 was significant, and those who disagreed with the Party line—pointing to Jesus’ words as proof—were tacitly accused of toying with the word of God.
This video is an affront to the honest-hearted Christians who lived through that period of time and invested their confidence in the words and interpretations of the men leading the Organization in those days; what we now call, the Governing Body.
There is a difference between a falsehood, a deception, and a lie. While all lies are both falsehoods and deceptions, the reverse is not always the case. What makes a lie distinctive is intent, which is often hard to nail down. Was the writer of this outline or the producer, director and actor of this video aware they were transmitting falsehoods? It is inconceivable that everyone connected with this talk and video was unaware of the true history of these events. A lie is an untruth that harms the recipient and serves the teller. Satan gave birth to the lie when he harmed Eve and served his own ends by telling her an untruth. The flock of Jehovah’s Witnesses would benefit by an honest admission of wrongdoing on the part of their leadership. Being deceived into thinking the leadership had nothing to do with the 1975 fiasco only serves to bolster a false confidence in their latest predictions. All of this has the characteristics of a willful lie.
I look back on my time in the Organization in 1975, and I blame myself first and foremost. Sure, a person who tells you a lie is culpable, but if you have someone you trust giving you information that proves you are being lied to and yet you choose to ignore it, you are to blame as well. Jesus told me that he was coming at a time I would not think it to be. (Mt 24:42, 44) The Organization had me believing those words didn’t really apply (Now who’s toying with the words of Jesus?) and I chose to believe them. Well, as the saying goes, “Fool me once. Shame on you. Fool me twice. Shame on me.”
Words for all Jehovah’s Witnesses to live by.
The next article covering the 2017 Regional Convention will deal with a troubling new feature that has been slipped in.