February 1, 2016 is upon us. This is the deadline for the worldwide downsizing of Bethel families.  Reports are that the family is being reduced by 25%, which means thousands of Bethelites are frantically looking for work.  Many of these are in their 50s and 60s.  Many have been in Bethel most or all of their adult lives.  A downsizing of this size is unprecedented and on the whole a completely unanticipated development to many who felt their future was secure and that they would be taken care of by “Mother” until their dying day or Armageddon, whichever came first.

In an apparent attempt at damage control, the Bethel family got an “encouraging” talk delivered by Edward Algian which has been posted on tv.jw.org for your viewing pleasure. (See Edward Aljian: An Important Reminder)

It opens with the question: “Why does God permit suffering?”

The reason according to the speaker is that Jehovah needs to vindicate his sovereignty.  We are reminded that based on one of our Kingdom songs, “Soldiers of Jah do not seek a life of ease.” (Forward, You Witnesses – Song 29)

Brother Aljian then goes on to relate three Bible examples of faithful individuals who suffered.

  1. Sarai suffered when Hagar, her maidservant, began to despise her, because she was barren, while Hagar was pregnant with Abram’s child.  Jehovah didn’t warn Abram of the impending disaster and so did not help Abram to avoid the suffering.
  2. Jacob suffered when Joseph was reported as dead. Even though he had communicated with Jacob in the past, Jehovah didn’t tell him that his son was not dead, and thus end his suffering.
  3. Upon his resurrection, Uriah might resent that David murdered him, took his wife, and yet was redeemed and considered the king by which all others were measured.  He might blame God.

With these illustrations in hand, Brother Aljian asks, at about the 29-minute mark, “How can we each uphold Jehovah’s sovereignty?”

Answer: “By maintaining joy in Bethel service, or we could say, by maintaining joy in sacred service over all.”

At the 35-minute mark, he gets down the meat of his talk when he discusses what he calls a “job change”.

Reportedly, there is much dismay and growing resentment as the hopes and dreams of individuals who have grown to feel entitled by their status as Bethelites are dashed.   What they need is an attitude adjustment so that they can feel joy in their role to uphold Jehovah’s sovereignty despite the hardships of this…what was it again? Oh yeah…this “job change.”

Misapplying Bible Accounts

The Organization is very adept at taking a Bible account and misapplying it to support some new teaching or policy.  This is no exception.

Consider all three accounts just reviewed.  Ask yourself, “In each case, what was the cause of the suffering?”  Was is some decision that Jehovah made?  Not at all.  He was not responsible in any way.

Sarai was the architect of her own misery.  Instead of faithfully waiting on Jehovah, she came up with the plan to provide Abram with an heir through her maid servant.

Jacob’s misery and suffering was due to the wickedness of this ten sons.  Was he to some degree responsible for how these men turned out?  Perhaps.  But one thing is for sure, Jehovah had nothing to do with it.

Uriah suffered because David stole his wife, then conspired to have him killed.  Though he later repented and was forgiven, there can be no doubt that Uriah’s suffering was due to a wicked act of King David.

Now thousands of Bethelites are suffering.  If we are to extend the three object lessons from the talk, we must conclude that this is also not Jehovah’s doing, but the act of men.  Is it wicked?  I’ll leave that for Jehovah to judge, but it clearly is heartless.

Consider, when a worldly company permanently lays off longtime employees, they offer them a severance package, and they hire placement firms to assist them in finding new employment, and they hire counsellors to assist them with the emotion trauma of suddenly being “out on the street”.  The best the Governing Body could do was to give three-month’s notice and a pat on the back, with the assurance that God will take care of them.

Is this not a variant on what James counsels us to avoid doing?

“. . .If a brother or a sister is in a naked state and lacking the food sufficient for the day, 16 yet a certain one of YOU says to them: “Go in peace, keep warm and well fed,” but YOU do not give them the necessities for [their] body, of what benefit is it? 17 Thus, too, faith, if it does not have works, is dead in itself.” (Jas 2:15-17)

Another way the Organization tries to distance itself from responsibility before God and men is by the use of euphemisms.  They love to put a kinder face on the things they do.

What we have here are massive, permanent layoffs with little or no financial provision nor job placement.  The brothers are being sent on their way to fend for themselves.  Yet with a smile on his lips, Edward Aljian calls this a “Job Change.”

He then goes back to his examples to explain that ‘Jehovah did not tell those servants how to avoid their suffering and He does not tell us everything either.  He does not tell us how we will be serving him next year.’  The implication is that none of this is the doing of men.  Jehovah had given these brothers a job in Bethel and now he’s taken it away and given them another job, to preach—presumably as regular pioneers.

So any hardship and suffering that these brothers endure, any sleepless night, or days without a square meal, any difficulty in securing a place to live is all laid at Jehovah’s feet.  He is the one kicking them out of Bethel.

Again, James has something to say about this attitude:

“. . .When under trial, let no one say: “I am being tried by God.” For with evil things God cannot be tried nor does he himself try anyone. . .” (Jas 1:13)

Finally, Brother Aljian tries to be encouraging with these words:  “Let’s not forget that Jehovah’s permission of human suffering is temporary and that he will abundantly reward those who uphold his sovereignty.”

This sounds good. This sounds scriptural. What a shame that it is not found anywhere in Scripture.  Oh, we have to be prepared to suffer for the name of Jesus to be sure—a name not mentioned anywhere in the talk—but to say we are to suffer to uphold God’s sovereignty?…Where does the Bible say that? Where does it even use the word “sovereignty”?

We shall have to see whether the rank and file swallow down Edward Aljian’s message that this is all God’s doing and we should take it joyously, or whether they will finally start to realize that these are merely the acts of men trying to conserve a dwindling reserve of funds.