How do you confuse a Jehovah’s Witness?
You invite them in for a cup of tea.
Or you could actually go to their church uninvited. My earliest memory of Jehovah’s Witnesses is they were a butt of a playground joke. The source of a lot comedy on the conservative nature of Christianity comes from the Jehovah’s Witness movement. So when arriving at the Kingdom Hall on Grove Road I did wonder, would the evangelical church live up to its ridicule? But can I call the Kingdom Hall a church? Jehovah’s Witnesses have rewritten so much of the Bible I am at risk of blaspheming when I attempt to describe my experience using common Christian terminology. What I regard as Jehovah Witness’s rewriting the Bible they would describe as reawakening the true gospel. To explain our differences I need to provide a short history lesson but first a few more childhood memories surrounding my first impressions of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Emerging from the Bible Student movement in the late 1870s in America, its founder Charles Taze Russell formed the Zion Watch Tower Tract Society, but the name Jehovah’s Witness only came into use in 1931 as a way to disassociate the group from other dissenting Bible Students. The Jehovah’s Witnesses largest innovation is The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures: a translation of the Bible by the Watch Tower Tract Society published in 1961 drawing from the Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic biblical texts that have been rediscovered, analysed and translated by linguistics. The New World Translation of Holy Scriptures is the foundation for all that is odd about the Jehovah’s Witnesses and I feel it’s the most destructive and regressive interpretation of Christ I have yet to come across. The reason for my distrust of NWT is that this week’s Sunday service ironically had an atmosphere of unconscious bullying running throughout the religious dogma.
The service matched the surroundings in that it did away with all traditions I have associated with Sundays. Gone was the beautiful lyricism of the King James Bible and in its place was a more modern language to clearly instil so called Christian values into the congregation. I missed the routine rituals of the Anglicans and Catholics or the raising of the Holy Spirit of the Pentecostalists and Charismatics. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not even say Amen. At first I was excited to think I might find a new modern interpretation of the Holy Scriptures despite the mundane surroundings but soon my excitement turned to disappointment and then anger. The service was an exercise in communal bullying that echoed my earliest school memories of Jehovah’s witnesses. And who are the biggest bullies at school? But the teachers! Not that all teachers are bullies. The majority of teachers I have met are kind hearted people with good intentions (as I am sure the majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses are) but they are in a position of authority and have a responsibility to pass on knowledge which they can abuse. A good teacher knows that education is about providing the pupil with information so they can discover who they are but a bad teacher bullies the pupil into what they think the pupil should be. Arguably a teacher can only be as good as the curriculum allows and NWT does not allow for much.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are a hierarchal organisation who puts the running of the church in the hands of its male elders. The majority of the service was overseen by the head elder who navigated the congregation through The Watchtower Study pamphlet. The Watchtower Study pamphlet had weekly articles with questions and answers, the June edition contained the following titles “Serving Jehovah with All Seriousness,” “Make Decisions That Honour God,” “The Fruitage Spirit, Glorifies God,” and “Are you Allowing Gods Spirit to Lead You.” The Watchtower Study pamphlet did not focus on full passages from the Bible but took a wide variety of scripture quotes to create a general moral guide for its reader. As the congregation did not focus on specific passages in the Bible it led them not to ask the important spiritual question of how the text relates to their lives instead they were provided with religious dogma in the form of selective NWT quotes which were presented as answers to their everyday lives. As the head elder read through the article he would pause after every passage and ask the congregation a question on what he had read, the answer would be a quote within the previous passage. The elder was not interested in the individual’s thoughts on what he or she had read, the elder did not want a personal testimony, he wanted the answer from the text. As the first answers were shouted across the hall I realised I was watching a GCSE English Comprehension Lesson with the core text being a poorly written right wing religious pamphlet and the classroom of children were actually fully grown adults. The illusion of learning had a hypnotic effect on the congregation; only the children seemed bored by the head elder’s self-important patronising tone. The exercise was not the only insulting aspect of the service as the content of NWT quotes contained everything that is vile and wrong with Christianity.
Christianity has always been strongly associated with conservative rhetoric with a firm belief in the family unit (despite Jesus’s immaculate conception) but a huge part of the Bible askes its reader for empathy and acceptance which has led to very liberal values being introduced into its society. Judging by the congregation’s dogmatic answers in Kingdom Hall on Grove Road the New World Translation seems to have rebooted the Holy Scripture without any empathy or acceptance; replacing the King James Bible’s faith in the mystery of God with clear conservative values. Answers I heard round the church hall were that “Men are meant to be leaders,” “Women must not sabotage their husband’s spiritual leadership,” “You must only flirt with the person you intend to marry,” “Family members should not be critical and the family extends to entire the congregation.” Naturally the majority of Christians I meet have more conservative ideals than my agnostic self but never was I prepared for such blatant right wing rubbish. The service not only bullied children, it bullied women but also bullied the idea of tolerance and acceptance, the very idea that the majority of Western philosophy attributes to Jesus Christ.
At least at the young age of 12 I knew I was bullying bucktooth Lee for being a Jehovah’s Witness, even when we called him names we all knew we were being cruel. The upsetting and worrying aspect of Jehovah’s Witnesses is they are not aware they are bullies or being bullied and therefore they show no sign of regret and firmly believe that they hold the truth. Despite my anger towards the service it’s important to realise that such right wing beliefs must be tolerated but should never be beyond humour.