The Watchtower first moved to Brooklyn in 1908. For 40 years prior to that the International Bible Students had operated out of a small building in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, which is now part of Pittsburgh. Although shuttered for about a year from 1918 to 1919, ever since its reopening when Rutherford was released from the Atlanta penitentiary the Watchtower has acquired more and more properties in Brooklyn.
For more than a half-century the Watchtower facility has had a dominant presence in the heart of one of the most populous and important cities in the world – being situated right across the river from bustling Manhattan and Wall Street; and its signage has been a venerable landmark. Bethel even displays the name of Jehovah before the thousands of daily passerby.
To serve at Bethel is considered the greatest honor and privilege among Jehovah’s Witnesses. Only spiritually mature men and women are even allowed to apply. And the many hundreds (1,500) of Jehovah’s Witnesses who serve at the world headquarters also attend the dozens of congregations scattered throughout the greater New York City area and are considered to be an important spiritual presence and and a valuable influence. Not only do the Bethelites work what amounts to a full-time job, but like all other Jehovah’s Witnesses they also have a public ministry. Some particularly energetic and zealous Bethelites even serve as auxiliary pioneers.
Actually, the exodus from New York began about 20 years ago with the construction of the Watchtower’s educational center in Patterson, New York. But now the Governing Body has determined to abandon Brooklyn altogether. They are going to build a modern new headquarters facility far away from the sprawl of New York City. The Society has purchased 257 acres of land near the small town of Warwick, New York. Several of the valuable Brooklyn properties have already been sold off.
Instead of refurbishing already standing buildings, as was done in Brooklyn for the most part, the Board of Directors intends to build a roomy new headquarters from the ground up using the labor of unpaid volunteers.
It might rightly be asked though, since the original intent of C.T. Russell and his successor J.F. Rutherford in moving to Brooklyn, which was once known as the “city of churches,” was to establish their presence in the heart of a very important population center, why move now? Is it no longer important for the headquarters of Jehovah’s earthly organization to have a physical presence in the great city of New York?
And what about the spiritual value of all those spiritually mature Bethelites who now attend congregations in Brooklyn and Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx and elsewhere? Is this move motivated by spiritual considerations, or something else?
Of course, the move has been in the works for a long time, but did the 9-11 attack upon the World Trade Center right across the river from Bethel strike terror into their hearts and provide the needed impetus to expedite the exodus? Or, maybe they have adopted the survivalist’s point of view and are maneuvering to be far away from the crazed masses when the inevitable chaos and anarchy descends upon the city when Wall Street crashes? Perhaps the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses simply desires to remove itself from the grit and grime of city life and retire to the peaceful countryside? The New York countryside is indeed very picturesque. No doubt, though, underscoring all other considerations money is the prime factor. The 30-some Brooklyn properties are valued at approximately $1 billion and undoubtedly the undeveloped land around Warwick is much less expensive.
It is interesting that this move comes while the Watchtower’s lawyers are embroiled in lawsuits — pitting the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses as adversaries at law against those who were sexually abused, and whose abuses are directly attributable to the policies of the organization.
Given the present situation the prophecy of Jeremiah applies most aptly. When Jeremiah originally uttered the prophecy Jerusalem served as the headquarters of Jehovah’s earthly organization, being the place where Jehovah caused his name to reside. And although Jehovah fought their battles when they were careful to abide by his judicial decisions, he abandoned them to destruction when they rebelled.
Interestingly, when Jeremiah began his prophesying he announced that a great crash was coming from out of the north, which would be manifest in the formidable Babylonian juggernaut. Another great crash is coming. Let he that has an ear hear what Jehovah says to the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses at this moment in time:
‘“Woe to the one building his house, but not with righteousness, and his upper chambers, but not with justice, by use of his fellowman who serves for nothing, and whose wages he does not give him; the one saying, ‘I am going to build for myself a roomy house and commodious upper chambers; and my windows must be widened out for it, and the paneling will be with cedar and smeared with vermilion.’ Will you continue reigning because you are competing by use of cedar? As for your father, did he not eat and drink and execute justice and righteousness? In that case it went well with him. He pleaded the legal claim of the afflicted one and the poor one. In that case it went well. ‘Was not that a case of knowing me?’ is the utterance of Jehovah. ‘Assuredly your eyes and your heart are upon nothing but upon your unjust gain, and upon the blood of the innocent one in order to shed it, and upon defrauding and upon extortion in order to carry them on.’” – Jeremiah 22:13-17
Please note: Jehovah’s judgment is directed against the leaders of his people who, in the face of the looming crash, merely intend to build a luxurious, “roomy house” for themselves (“I am going to build for myself…”) However, Jehovah had other plans for them.
For more information on New York City in prophecy.