An Historic Broadcast

Brother Lett opens this month’s JW.ORG TV broadcast with the statement that it is historic. He then lists several reasons we might consider it to be of historical importance. However, there is another reason he does not list. This is the first time we have used the TV broadcast medium to solicit funds, something most of us never thought we’d live to see.

I recall a conversation with a Canadian brother now living in the United States. Back in the late 70s, the brothers began utilizing free broadcast time that Canadian television was obliged to provide as part of its licensing agreement with the government. A weekly program was produced which used a discussion format to explore various Bible themes. It went over well, and since the Canada branch was being built then, funds were allocated to produce a TV Studio right in Bethel. However, after considerable work was done, the direction came down from the Governing Body to can the whole project. It seemed a shame, but then came the televangelist scandals of the 80s, and suddenly the Governing Body’s decision seemed prescient. So the irony for us old timers is to now see the Governing Body doing the very thing we looked down on the televangelists for doing.

Of course, Brother Lett would disagree with this statement. About the 8:45 minute mark he says:

“But now I would like to address the valuable things that may have first come to mind. Material possessions, or financial giving as support. As you know for over 130 years this organization has never solicited for funds and it is certainly not going to start now. We don’t send out monthly statements to each of Jehovah’s Witnesses specifying a dollar amount that should be submitted to finance the work worldwide.”

This is a strawman fallacy. Defining solicitation with a process we do not employ doesn’t mean that we do not engage in the practice in other ways. “To solicit” is defined thus:

  • Ask for or try to obtain (something) from someone
  • Ask (someone) for something
  • Accost someone and offer one’s or someone else’s services as a prostitute

After watching Brother Lett speak for 30 minutes about the financial needs of the organization, there can be no doubt that his discourse fits like a glove with the first two definitions. Yet he seems to feel that as long as he says it isn’t so, we’ll believe it isn’t so. For instance, he says:

“Sometimes, we may feel a little shy to talk about the financial needs of the organization. That is understandable, because we in no way want to be categorized with other organizations, religious and otherwise, that coerce their supporters to donate.”

How do the other religions that Brother Lett refers to engage in coercion? Would claiming that the need for funds comes directly from God be considered coercive? If you are led to believe that God wants your money, then not giving it means disobeying God, right? Would that not be the method he is referring to by saying that other religions use coercive methods which we want to avoid? Certainly.

Yet that is the very method he uses immediately after making this statement. To justify the Governing Body’s call for more money, he refers to Exodus 35:4, 5 where Moses says, “This is what Jehovah has commanded…” Moses is asking the Israelites for funds to build the tabernacle or tent of meeting that would house the Ark of the Covenant. But it really isn’t Moses doing the asking, is it? It is God through Moses. The Israelites could have no reason to doubt this, for Moses came with all the credentials needed to identify him as God’s spokesman or channel of communication. By contrast the members of the Governing Body have not split the Red Sea nor turned the Hudson River to blood. Nor has God declared them to be his representatives. It is they who have declared their own appointment to the post. So on what basis are we to believe they speak for God?  Because they, believing themselves to be God’s channel, are asking for funds on Jehovah’s behalf?  Yet we are expected to believe this is not solicitation or coercion.

To establish their credentials, Brother Lett says,

“Please think about this, today how many publishing companies print publications in the many languages that Jehovah’s organization does? The answer, none. And why is that?  It is because they cannot make a financial profit.”

It took me only seconds to prove this statement is untrue. Here is an entity that prints God’s word in more languages than Jehovah’s Witnesses do, and does so on a non-profit basis.  (See also Agape Bible Organizations) Spend a few more minutes on the internet and you’ll find many other organizations that give the lie to Lett’s self-serving declaration.

To deepen his appeal for more money, Brother Lett continues:

“For one thing, the financial needs in the field have accelerated at a pace unlike any time in the recent past.”

Why have these needs accelerated at such an unprecedented rate? Is it because of unprecedented growth? Let’s see. He continues:

“A recent analysis of the needs for kingdom halls here in the United States showed that 1600 new kingdom halls or major renovations are needed, not sometime in the future, but right now.”
“And worldwide we are in need of more than 14,000 places of worship not including ongoing future growth”

Last year there was a 1% growth rate in the United States. According to the 2015 Yearbook, the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the U.S. increased by 18,875. If we assume an average congregation size of 70 publishers, that represents just 270 congregations. Since most halls are used to house multiple congregations, this represents conservatively a need because of growth for 135 additional kingdom halls assuming that none of the existing halls has room for these new congregations. Yet we are told that there is a desperate need for many times that number. Why?

Worldwide the need is for 14,000 halls according to Lett. That would be enough for 30,000 congregations. Yet, according to the 2015 Yearbook, the total number of congregations grew last year by only 1,593. Even if we allow for one hall for every congregation, that still leaves us to explain why an additional 12,500 kingdom halls are urgently needed.

If they are asking us for money, they really need to explain why this sudden expansion is needed at a time when the worldwide growth is slowing down based on the organization’s own statistics.

Brother Lett assures his audience that the funds do not go to line the pockets of anyone. Be that as it may, they do go to pay for the mistakes and misdeeds of a body of men claiming for itself the title of “faithful and discreet slave”. As a result of decades of indiscreet policies, the Organization has been punished by multimillion-dollar judgments involving child abuse for their failure to protect the most vulnerable members of the congregation. And there are many more cases still pending before the courts. When Moses appealed for contributions to build the tabernacle, funds were not also used for other, unstated purposes. When Moses sinned, he paid for his sins himself. He took responsibility.

If the Governing Body is to avoid hypocrisy—i.e., misrepresenting the facts—it needs to tell those from whom it is soliciting funds precisely where all this money is going.

To further explain the need for this unprecedented and historic solicitation for funds, Brother Lett goes on to state:

“We however, are accelerating our method of translating publications into indigenous languages. This involves building or purchasing regional translation offices or RTO’s.  These will be strategically located in the part of the country with the highest concentration of native speakers of the language. Providing the structures in various regions of the country reduces the need for costly construction expansion at the local office. But in the next two years however upwards of 170 of such facilities—RTOs—are needed. Depending on the country and the cost of materials an RTO can cost from one to several million each. Hence we have another reason we need to increase our finances.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses have been doing translations in all the major languages for many decades. These additional RTOs are for indigenous languages. They cost from one to several million dollars each. Yet we are expected to believe this is cheaper than the cost of branch office expansion. All a translation office needs is people, desks, chairs, and computers. Yet even on land we already own and using free labor so that the only cost is the materials, we are to believe that it is still cheaper to go afield and buy or build elsewhere.  Brother Lett is saying that adding a few offices for a handful of native language translators on land we already own and using free labor, will cost more than a several million dollars?

Okay, be that as it may, if we need to locate these RTOs close to indigenous populations, we are usually talking about areas where land is cheaper. There aren’t a lot of indigenous populations in Manhattan or downtown Chicago, or along the banks of the Thames, for example. Yet we are to believe that an office to house a handful of translators is going to cost at least a million and often several million to set up. We are talking about approximately half a billion dollars based on Lett’s numbers.

The New Policy

According to Brother Lett, another reason for the need for more money is that the Organization cancelled all congregation mortgages. Why was this done?

“In actuality, the mortgages were cancelled so as not to be a hardship on some congregations and circuits…. As explained at the time it was to equalize the reimbursement of such expenditures over the entire brotherhood.”

If his words were really true—if he is not lying when he says the reason was to equalize and not impose a hardship on congregations without many resources—then why does the letter that cancelled the loan payments include an italicized requirement on page 2 to make a resolution for an amount at least as much as the original loan payment?  Saying all loans are cancelled while directing the elders to pass a resolution asking for contributions in the same amount as the previous loan payment and calling this a loving and equitable arrangement is patently hypocritical.

Lett’s Fallacy of False Equivalence

To demonstrate that the cancellation of hall loans was done altruistically and with God’s blessing, Brother Lett engages in the following line of reasoning:

“We also have heard from Circuit Overseers and others that some of the brothers and sisters may have a misconception about some of the recent policy changes that have been instituted. For example, all congregations that had a kingdom hall or assembly hall loan to pay off were informed that their mortgages were cancelled. Now if you think about that, it’s amazing, isn’t it? All their loans were cancelled. Can you imagine a bank telling homeowners that all their loans were cancelled, and that they should merely send into the bank each month whatever they can afford? Only in Jehovah’s organization could such a thing happen.”

What is misleading about this statement is that the two situations are not equivalent. Let us take the example of the bank forgiving loans and make it really equivalent to what the organization has done, and then we’ll see if a bank wouldn’t do the very same things the Governing Body has done.

Imagine a bank has lent out money to many homeowners and has been receiving monthly mortgage payments for many years. Then one day, the bank issues a policy change cancelling all the mortgages, but asks home owners to continue paying the same mortgage amount if they can.  Seems like a recipe for bankruptcy, but hold on, there is more.  As part of this arrangement, the bank assumes ownership of all properties. The residents—no longer home owners—are allowed to stay in their homes indefinitely, but should the bank decide to sell any home because it feels it can turn a profit, it will do so without requiring the permission of the dweller. Instead, it will take the money and build the person another home elsewhere and pocket the difference. The resident is not allowed to sell his home and pocket the profit.

This is equivalent to what the organization has done, and there isn’t a bank in the world that wouldn’t jump at the chance to do the same if the laws of the land permitted it.

A Practical Application

To illustrate what this really amounts to, let us take the case of a congregation in a poor area of a large metropolitan center. These impoverished brothers and sisters obtained a loan from the organization to build a modest kingdom hall. The total cost of the hall because of the depressed area it was built in added up to only $300,000. Still, they have struggled for years to make the payments. Then they are told that the mortgage on the hall they own—the deed is in the name of the local congregation as all deeds have been for decades—has been cancelled. They are overjoyed. There are a number in their congregation who are in very sore straights and so they decide to use the funds now freed up to provide financial assistance in line with what the first century congregation used to do. (See 1 Timothy 5:9 and James 1:26)

In the interim, a gentrification has occurred in that area of town. Property values have soared. The property will now fetch upwards of one million dollars. The Local Design Committee decides that it can sell the property and build a better hall in a commercial area a few miles away for about $600,000. The local brothers are beside themselves with joy. Four hundred thousand dollars in profit will truly alleviate the suffering of so many in the congregation. However, their joy is short-lived. They are told that the hall does not belong to them. It is owned by the Organization and the profit from the sale must go to the organization for the worldwide work. All those years the brothers were paying a mortgage on a hall they thought they owned, but now they learn that this is not the case. Additionally, they are required to pass a resolution committing to pay a fixed amount every month toward the worldwide work. According to the letter of March 29, 2014 page, if some months they fail to meet their resolved commitment, “the elders should determine what amounts from the congregation funds that are available at the end of the month will be applied toward the resolved monthly donation(s) and whether the shortfall should be made up in the future months.”

In commenting on the loan cancellation policy, Brother Lett states:

“Some businessmen in the secular world might think this was a disastrous policy change.”

Can there be any doubt that were secular businessmen made fully aware of the true nature of this policy change, they would be falling over themselves to take part.

The Accumulation of Material Things

There is no evidence that the contributions of first century Christians were used to build places of worship. All contributions were to relieve the sufferings of others and were entirely voluntary. That is why Brother Lett had to go back to the Hebrew Scriptures to find some justification for this worldwide building program. But even that justification fails to hit the mark upon careful examination. Yes, Jehovah did ask the people to contribute to build a tent of meeting. That tent united them as a nation for they were to come to it three times a year no matter where they lived in the country. That tent persisted for hundreds of years. Jehovah did not ask for anything more. He did not ask for a temple to be built of wood and stone for his name.

“On that very night, the word of Jehovah came to Nathan, saying: 5 “Go and say to my servant David, ‘This is what Jehovah says: “Should you build me a house to dwell in? 6 For I have not dwelled in a house from the day I brought the people of Israel out of Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and in a tabernacle. 7 During all the time that I went with all the Israelites, did I ever say one word to any of the tribal leaders of Israel whom I appointed to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why did you not build a house of cedars for me?’”’” (2Sa 7:4-7)

While Jehovah accepted the willing contribution of goods and labor to build the temple of Solomon, he did not ask for it. So the temple was a gift and all contributions for it, went into building it. No deception was used to procure funds. Nor were funds used for any other purpose. And David, the one whose idea it was to build the temple gave more than anyone to its construction.

Examining the Facts

Brother Lett claims we do not coerce brothers to give money, we do not solicit funds, and we do not burden our brothers.

In the letter that went out cancelling the loans, there was a directive for the body of elders in each congregation to take any monies the congregation had saved up and send this into the local branch office. This would be solicitation if this were merely a request, but the facts suggest otherwise. Reports have come in from different sources relaying how, in congregations where the body of elders was disinclined to send in these funds, pressure was put on them by the visiting Circuit Overseer to send in this money. Since the Circuit Overseer now has discretionary power to appoint or delete any elder, his words would have tremendous force. Saying that we do not coerce has proven to be blatantly false.

But there is more. Recently brothers have been shocked to learn that the cost of renting an assembly hall has increased by one hundred percent or more.  These assembly halls are owned by the Organization, and it was by direction from the Governing Body that the various circuit assembly committees raised the rental fee based on the number of publishers in the circuit. Some larger circuits report costs in excess of $20,000 for a one-day assembly – more than double what it used to be. Imagine your landlord coming to you and saying, I’ve doubled the rent, but don’t feel I’m coercing you to pay more.

Our brothers might argue that it is still a voluntary contribution. True, we may feel guilty when the financial report is read out at the assembly telling us of our $12,000 shortfall. We may feel obliged to contribute to help out. But it is still up to us to do so. The flaw in this reasoning will not be known to most brothers and sisters, but can best be illustrated by what happened in one circuit. A letter was forwarded to us. It was sent from the circuit committee to all the local bodies of elders. It referenced direction from the organization in the circuit accounting instructions that Assembly Hall rental shortfalls should be made up by getting all local congregations to contribute the difference. This overt and documented coercive solicitation of funds was deemed a “privilege”.  So each congregation was required to contribute several hundred dollars of donated funds to pay for the assembly. At the assembly, funds were solicited. By the letter to the local congregations, funds were coerced. And we must remember, that the reason the brothers failed to pay for the rental was that an arbitrary rental hike was imposed. Yet, by Lett’s own words, the Governing Body does not want to burden anyone.

To sum up: The face that Brother Lett puts on through this broadcast is that the Governing Body is merely letting us know of a need. It is not soliciting funds. It is not coercing us. It does not want to burden us. Loans have lovingly been cancelled to lighten our load and to equalize our burden. The funds are being used wisely and discreetly and are only being used to preach the good news, a work that is facilitated by the purchase of properties for meeting and for translation.

The facts reveal that: 1) the Organization has assumed ownership of all kingdom and assembly hall properties; 2) all congregations have been directed to make binding resolutions to contribute a fixed monthly sum to the Organization; 3) all congregations are directed and pressured to send in any accumulated savings to the Organization; 4) rental fees on all assembly halls have been dramatically hiked with the excess funds being required to be sent in to the Organization; 5) assembly hall rental shortfalls are required to be made up by funds being provided directly from all congregations in the circuit.

Honoring Jehovah with Your Valuable Things

Brother Lett opens the solicitation portion of the broadcast with these words:

“The Governing Body has asked me to use Pr 3:9 as the theme for the message they would like to be shared with the entire household of faith this month.”

The phrase, “honor Jehovah with your valuable things”, occurs only once in the Bible.  However, its use throughout this appeal strongly suggests that this will become a new catchphrase, a shorthand to be used when asking for money.  Subsequently, Lett engages in what has become a disturbing practice in recent years, misapplying a scripture to support an agenda.  Given that Brother Lett is addressing Christians, it would be nice if he could find some support in the Christian Scriptures for funding requests to support building construction and organization administrative costs.  In an attempt to find such support he says,

“Well, at this point, I will borrow the words of Paul as he enumerated in Hebrews chapter 11 many men and women of faith, but then said, as recorded in verse 32, “and what more will I say, for time will fail me if I go on to relate about…” and then he listed others who had honored Jehovah with their valuable things.”

Sometimes we hear something and the only reaction is YIKES!  Other words may come to mind, but as a Christian one refrains from given them voice.  What Lett is referring to is this:

“Through faith they defeated kingdoms, brought about righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the force of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from a weak state were made powerful, became mighty in war, routed invading armies. 35 Women received their dead by resurrection, but other men were tortured because they would not accept release by some ransom, in order that they might attain a better resurrection. 36 Yes, others received their trial by mockings and scourgings, indeed, more than that, by chains and prisons. 37 They were stoned, they were tried, they were sawn in two, they were slaughtered by the sword, they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, while they were in need, in tribulation, mistreated; 38 and the world was not worthy of them. They wandered about in deserts and mountains and caves and dens of the earth.” (Heb 11:33-38)

After reading this, would the first (or even that last) words out of your mouth be, “Yes, indeed. They honored Jehovah with their valuable things”?

The Hypocrisy of the Pharisees

“Woe to YOU, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because YOU resemble whitewashed graves, which outwardly indeed appear beautiful but inside are full of dead men’s bones and of every sort of uncleanness. 28 In that way YOU also, outwardly indeed, appear righteous to men, but inside YOU are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Mt 23:27, 28)

Jesus didn’t mince words when unmasking the wickedness of the scribes, Pharisees and religious leaders of his day. Matthew records 14 instances in which Jesus refers to hypocrites. Mark only uses the term four times; Luke, two; and John not at all. Of course, by John’s day, the scribes and Pharisees had been killed off by the Romans as a consequence of the judgment pronounced upon them by the Lord, so it was sort of a moot point by then. Still, one can’t help but wonder if Matthew’s focus on them was because he, as the hated tax collector, had experienced their hypocrisy more acutely than the rest. They looked down on him and shunned him, when they were far more deserving of disdain and shunning.

The fact is, we all hate hypocrisy. We are wired that way. We hate lying. It literally makes us feel awful. The parts of the brain that fire when we experience pain and disgust are the same parts that fire when we hear lies. Hypocrisy is a particularly disgusting form of lying, because the individual—be he Satan or a human—is trying to get you to accept and trust him as something he is not. He does that usually to take advantage of your trust in some way. Therefore, his every action becomes part of the bigger lie. When we learn we have been betrayed in this way by people pretending to care about us, it naturally makes our blood boil.

When Jesus lambasted the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, he did it out of love for his followers and at great risk to himself. The religious leaders hated and killed him for exposing them. It would have been easy to be quiet, but how then could he have released the people from the tyranny of these men?  Their lies and duplicity had to be revealed. Only then could his disciples be freed from enslavement to men and enter the glorious freedom of the children of God.

The Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, like every other offshoot of Christianity began with good intentions. Its followers were freed from some of the falsehood and human restrictions of their former faith. However, like all its brethren, it has fallen prey to the original sin—the desire humans have to rule others. In every organized religion, men govern the congregation of Christ, demanding submission and obedience. In the name of God, we supplant God. While calling people to follow the Christ, we make them followers of men.

The time for such ignorance has passed. It is time now to wake up and see these men for what they are. It is time to recognize the true ruler of the Christian congregation, Jesus Christ.

Unlike men, his yoke is kindly and his load is light.