The July 1st, 2004, Watchtower magazine expresses the Governing Body’s sadness and concern for the many of our brothers and sisters who have become “spiritually weak” and inactive in recent years. The 11th paragraph on page 17 states:
It saddens us, however, to notice that some of our fellow believers have grown spiritually weak and, as a result, have slowed down or stopped carrying out Christ’s command to make disciples.
The 13th paragraph comments further, asking what we may do to express our concern for discouraged brothers and sisters, saying:
We should have deep concern for those who have slowed down or stopped sharing in the ministry…How, though, may we express our concern for them?
No doubt the Governing Body is deeply concerned over the growing numbers of spiritually sickened and straying sheep. But, the question that caring shepherds ought to ask themselves is why have so many of Jehovah’s Witnesses now becoming “spiritually weak” and inactive? Surely, there are underlying reasons for the developing trend?
The article enumerates several contributing factors; citing grief, old age, depression and severe economic hardships. And no doubt many of Jehovah’s Witnesses are weighed down and struggling under the burden of these things, and more. But, is that all there is to it? Are those the only problems afflicting Jehovah’s sheep that have caused so many to become discouraged in recent years? What about stumbling blocks? Is it possible that many of the friends who have slowed down or lost their faith have been stumbled? No doubt that is the case of many. But stumbled by what?
Could it be that more than a few of our now inactive brothers and sisters have been stumbled by what they perceive as hypocrisy on the part of the Watchtower, as well as unloving and un-Christian attitudes in the local congregations? Realistically, brothers, until the Watchtower is ready to honestly address these criticisms, we should not expect any reversal of the prevailing trends.
The Watchtower has always striven to point out the world’s many social and moral ills. For instance, one of the common evils of our day is the fact that corporations and governments typically refuse to take any responsibility for wrongdoing on their part. But what kind of example has the Watchtower set in this regard? Has the Watchtower ever made a public apology? If not, why not?
Could it be that the Watchtower’s lack of candor and forthrightness is one of the major reasons why many of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been stumbled outrightly and growing numbers are not as supportive of the Society as they used to be? Perhaps the dwindling numbers of new disciples and the growing numbers of inactive brothers is indicative that Jehovah is even withdrawing his blessing.
The July 1st, Watchtower used an illustration of the uselessness of shouting instructions to a drowning man from the safety of the seashore because we are afraid to get wet. But isn’t that exactly what the Watchtower is doing by telling those whose faith is shipwrecked and those drowning in doubt, to simply snap out of it and go back to meetings and out in service? Because the eternal lives of our dear brothers and sisters hang in the balance, surely you do not want to be guilty of glossing over any responsibility on your part for their plight. Especially so since every single word from the Watchtower carries such weight with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The Watchtower article cited above goes on to offer some helpful suggestions as to how we might imitate Jesus in his merciful dealings with his apostles. But, there is one aspect of our Christian course where Jesus cannot serve as our exemplar, and that has to do with the act of apologizing to those whom we have wronged. Jesus, of course, never needed to apologize for the simple reason that he never wronged anyone. However, can the Watchtower Society and its leading men honestly make the same claim?
Let us consider a few examples of why the Watchtower should seriously consider offering a sincere and candid apology for its errors, not only to offended Jehovah’s Witnesses, but more importantly, to Jehovah God himself.
As you brothers well know, recently many inquiries from Jehovah’s Witnesses were directed to Bethel headquarters and numerous branches around the world regarding the Watchtower’s ten-year membership as a UN-affiliated NGO. We presented detailed documentation as to the depth of the Watchtower’s involvement and we requested Bethel to straightforwardly make an accounting to the brothers for having secretly made a political alliance with the United Nations.
What was the response?
Sadly, the Watchtower has flatly refused to admit any wrongdoing. In fact, the Watchtower’s carefully-crafted responses appear to blame the United Nations for changing the wording of the NGO application—this in spite of the fact that the United Nations has stated on their website that the Watchtower had to meet the same criteria as all other political NGOs!
How disappointing that those who represent the anointed of Jehovah seem to exhibit such callous disregard for the truth! No doubt many thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been stumbled by the Watchtower’s hypocrisy in the NGO affair.
And what about the many thousands of children who have been sexually abused by Jehovah’s Witnesses? Is it possible that the Watchtower bears any measure of responsibility for this heartbreaking tragedy?
As you also well know, the mass media has widely publicized the issue of child abuse in the organization. If there ever was an occasion when the Watchtower needed to step up and take responsibility, now would be an appropriate time. But, how has the Watchtower responded to the public accusations that its policies are harmful? In the wake of the original stinging public exposes, the Society’s public relations spokesman was quick to blame a few inept elders for their mishandling of several cases. So far, though, the Watchtower has still refused to admit any guilt on its own part.
Instead of any meaningful admission of responsibility, the Watchtower’s public relations department appears to have embarked on a glitzy Madison Avenue-style media campaign to air-brush the Watchtower’s public appearance. But realistically, those who have been stumbled and hurt over the many child abuse atrocities in our congregations need more than 30-second public relations infomercials. They need to hear the truth!
Many of Jehovah’s Witnesses know the truth regarding the way the Watchtower has handled abuse cases. They know through personal experience that over the years the Society has brought subtle pressures to bear against elders and families to discourage them from reporting sexual abusers to the legal authorities. Thousands of victims and their families have been hushed by empty platitudes of “wait on Jehovah” and the Society’s oft-repeated counsel not to bring reproach on Jehovah by reporting such crimes to the police or press.
Surely, many of those who are now considered to be “spiritually weak” have, in reality, been sickened by the Watchtower’s refusal to accept any responsibility in these matters. Again, how very disappointing for the faithful slave of Christ to show such a heartless and prideful spirit!
Evidently, the Governing Body and other responsible brothers at Bethel do not feel there is any need for a confession and apology of any sort. However, the September 15th, 1996, Watchtower carries an article you may want to review. It is entitled: “Do We Really Need to Apologize?” In the concluding paragraphs of that article we read:
If we make it a practice to apologize when necessary, we are likely to find that people will respond favorably. And perhaps they will even apologize themselves. When we suspect that we have upset someone, why not make it a custom to apologize rather than go to great lengths to avoid admitting any fault? The world may feel that an apology is a sign of weakness, but it really gives evidence of Christian maturity. Of course, we would not want to be like those who acknowledge some wrong yet minimize their responsibility.
So, then, do we really need to apologize? Yes, we do. We owe it to ourselves and others to do so. An apology can help to ease the pain caused by imperfection, and it can heal strained relationships. Each apology we make is a lesson in humility and trains us to become more sensitive to the feelings of others. As a result, fellow believers, marriage mates, and others will view us as those who deserve their affection and trust. We will have peace of mind, and Jehovah God will bless us.”
What fine counsel the Watchtower magazine offers on why we need to apologize. Oh, if only the Watchtower would follow its own timely advice!
Surely it has not escaped your notice that untold numbers of Jehovah’s Witnesses and interested persons are upset with the Watchtower Society. Why not, then, be more sensitive to the feelings of those who have been offended and grieved? Many of them are long-time faithful servants of Jehovah and loyal defenders of the Watchtower Society. Don’t you think they deserve better?
Instead of going to such great lengths to deflect blame, you brothers may be sure that a candid and frank admission and request for forgiveness on the part of the Watchtower would be like a healing balm for many wounded and disaffected brothers and sisters. Instead of being perceived as a sign of weakness on your part, it would give evidence of true Christ-like humility. Your truthfulness and humility at this critical stage could possibly even infuse an entirely new spirit into the whole organization.
If you are truly “deeply concerned” about the spiritual welfare of all of Jehovah’s dear sheep, including the “spiritually weak,” you will be quick to do whatever is necessary to restore their trust in your leadership. And you may also be assured that you will have Jehovah’s blessing for following your own counsel. I am confident that Jehovah’s Witnesses are more than ready to forgive should you decide to do the right thing.
In view of the hurt and discouragement that so many of Jehovah’s Witnesses are suffering, certainly the time has come for the Governing Body of the Watchtower Society to give prayerful thought to the question: Is it time to say: ‘We are sorry’?