QUESTION: Why is the Watchtower closing down and selling so many kingdom halls? Are that many JW’s leaving the organization?
I really have no insight into the Watchtower’s financial state. The Watchtower is a private corporation and is not required to publicly disclose its financials. What I do know, though, is that the leadership of the organization has apparently been tempted to implement a scheme to extract equity from their real estate holdings due to inflated property values. This is most evident from the sell-off of the Brooklyn headquarters that had been in operation for a century. Supposedly the sale of all the various buildings in Brooklyn Heights fetched around a billion dollars. That’s a lot of money for a non-profit organization.
Coupled with that, because the corporation’s board of directors has at their disposal a virtual army of competent volunteer construction workers, apparently the temptation to exploit them for extravagant projects is simply too great. The same scheme is in operation in the UK, where the valuable Mars Hill properties are being sold off and a new branch facility is going to be built in an industrial wasteland.
As for the shuttering of hundreds of kingdom halls, this development is truly stunning. Many hundreds of thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses have donated their precious funds and devoted their time and energies to building and maintaining thousands of beautiful kingdom halls throughout America and Europe. Whereas these physical structures were all ceremonially dedicated to Jehovah, it turns out that the Watchtower owns them and can do with them whatever they want.
Of course, things wear down. Buildings need to be maintained, repaired or replaced. And demographics change. For example, some inner city kingdom halls may fall victim to urban decay and become unsuitable meeting places. But that is not the case with many of the kingdom halls that have been put on the market in recent years. They appear to be perfectly functional facilities in nice suburban areas. (Here are a few of the properties on the market)
Evidently, because meeting attendance is on the wane and growing numbers of JW’s are simply abandoning their faith altogether, apparently the leadership of the organization do not expect the trend to reverse itself in the future, and consequently, they are simply shutting down congregations with dwindling numbers and putting the facilities up for sale. The many faithful witnesses who funded and built the kingdom halls have no say in the matter whatsoever, nor do they ever see a penny of what they thought they had permanently dedicated to Jehovah returned to them.
The situation is similar to what occurred in ancient Israel, which Jehovah addressed through Amos. Speaking of the leading men of that day, Jehovah said of them: “They hate those who give reproof in the city gate, and they detest those who speak truthfully. Because you demand farm rent from the poor and you take his grain as tribute, you will not keep dwelling in the houses of hewn stone that you have built nor drink the wine from the choice vineyards that you have planted. For I know how many your revolts are and how great your sins are —You harass the righteous, you take bribes, and you deny the rights of the poor in the city gate.” —Amos 5:10-12
Essentially, Jehovah’s Witnesses are renters and their offerings to Jehovah are taken from them by the owners of the land. Congregants borrow money from the Watchtower to finance the construction of a kingdom hall. The WT charges them interest. Then, when the loans are paid off Bethel may evict the congregants and sell the property. Meanwhile, the Governing Body and their small cadre of lawyers and rent extractors live in luxurious condominiums. Jehovah says though, they will not continue dwelling in their castles made of hewn stone. (See more on Amos)
While the organization has apparently suffered a falling off in donations and been hit with multi-million dollar judgments in child abuse cases, it is hard to believe that the Watchtower is having serious financial problems —especially after their billion dollar, Brooklyn windfall. But even if they are experiencing a budgetary shortfall, where is their trust in God? Jesus once told Peter to go catch a fish. And when he did it had a gold coin in its mouth. God can do anything.
Charles Russell was a wealthy man. As a good steward of what was entrusted to him, he used his own money to start up Zion’s Watch Tower. And he promised never to solicit for money. As Russell once said, if at some point in the future funding for the Bible Student’s ministry dried up they would consider that as an indication from heaven that it was time to suspend publishing. Where is that faith today?
Contrast that with Judas Iscariot —one of Jesus’ twelve apostles. He was also the treasurer and carried the money box. As it turned out, though, he was a thief and was helping himself to the money entrusted to him. Think of it, Judas was ripping off the Son of God. And, of course, he did much worse than that.
While the Watchtower’s business operations are much more sophisticated now, basically the underlying motive is the same —greed. And as was the case with Judas, we may expect the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses to do much worse in the future —becoming outright apostates. It is even so written.
But for now, Jehovah is content to let them fill up the full measure of their sin. Soon, though, once the ferment has become thoroughly ripe —or should we say completely rotten —then the conflagration will begin. And there is no one who will be able to quench the flames until it has consumed those who have offended Jehovah to his face.
The sinners in Zion are in dread;
Trembling has seized the apostates:
‘Who of us can live where there is a consuming fire?
Who of us can live with unquenchable flames?’