Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) are well-known for their door-to-door solicitation and distributing literature, such as their Watchtower and AWAKE! magazines. However, most people do not know of the authoritarian BITE Model policies that affect JWs. Consequently, former JW elder Isaac Carmignani, a friend and colleague, shares critically important facts about this religious organization.
Carmignani was raised a Jehovah’s Witness (JW) and was baptized at age 11. He experienced severe corporal punishment, a well-known cult practice as a child. From 1995 to 2006, he was an elder in the JW organization; however, in 2007, Carmignani formally disassociated himself. He disagreed with their interpretation of the Bible and the belief that only JWs were good Christians while all other Christians were evil. In fact, a member was not allowed to enter any church other than a Kingdom Hall; the name JWs call their meeting places.
History of Jehovah’s Witnesses
In 1879, Charles Taze Russell (later known as Pastor Russell), influenced by Millerite and Adventist teachings, published a religious journal in Pennsylvania. It was well received among people troubled by distressful world events, which were anticipating Jesus’s second coming that would result in a long-awaited 1,000-year Judgment Day. That fear can motivate people to give their time and money to recruit others. Soon an association of believers named “Bible Students” was organized in 1881. Russell named the association ZION’S WATCH TOWER TRACT SOCIETY. That association was legally incorporated in 1884 in Pennsylvania, known today as the WATCH TOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY OF PA, INC. Within a few years, another corporation was formed, known as the WATCHTOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY OF NEW YORK, INC., both of which are large and powerful religious entities used by JWs leaders to direct the “spiritual” lives of millions of believers.
When C. T. Russell died in 1916, the organization, known by members as the Watchtower Society, was gradually taken control of by its legal counsel, (Judge) Joseph F. Rutherford. He ignored Russell’s legal will and became president of the Society in 1917 through means that the Bible Students saw as a hostile takeover. Rutherford moved the organization toward a centralized structure he termed a “theocracy,” and in 1931, changed the religion’s name to Jehovah’s Witnesses.
JWs believe that when they die, only 144,000 of their members will go to heaven while the rest of JWs will live on a paradise earth. Carmignani notes that even though most of the members since this doctrine was introduced over 140 years ago, who claimed to be of the 144,000 heavenly number, have long since died, thousands more JWs are still claiming they are going to heaven too. In effect, the number never decreases when a head count is made. This is one of many confounding pieces of their doctrine. Raymond Franz was born into the organization and rose to its highest power structure, The Governing Body. He realized that the leadership was not following God or the Scriptures and he resigned. he later wrote the book, Crisis of Conscience. Many members exited the cult as a result. Recently, Anthony Morris III left he governing body but no information is yet forthcoming if he was demoted or resigned. or what?
Rigidity and Constriction
The patriarchal structure of the group is another issue. Males have the final say on spiritual matters in JW’s congregations and in the home. However, most JW men take this a step further, although it’s not an organizational policy, and demand final authority in secular matters, too, as it’s believed the husband is the head of the household. It is also decreed that people must marry within the group, and marrying someone outside means you’re not marrying in the Lord. There are so many do’s and don’ts connected with this religion that non-Jehovah’s Witnesses generally avoid discussions about the restrictions.
Corporal punishment of children involved using belts, spoons, paddles, and hands. Like many destructive cults, children are expected to behave like adults. Punishment is delivered to program children to be obedient to authority figures. Normal child play is frowned upon, especially when the family is at a meeting. It is well established that violence to discipline children creates trauma.
JWs require members to follow a specific type of dress code. Their lives are filled with excessive Bible study and disproportionate meeting attendance. Because of believing that being a part of the world is unacceptable, they shun holidays such as Christmas, Mother’s Day, and birthdays which causes the group to fit well within my BITE Model of Authoritarian Control.
No Blood Transfusions Allowed
Did you know JWs believe that God forbids a lifesaving blood transfusion? Pastor Russell did not teach this. The earliest mention in JWs literature regarding the sacredness of the blood was in 1927. Initially, JWs used verses of dietary laws found in the Torah, known by Christians as the Old Testament, to bolster the teaching of blood sanctity. In 1944, a few years after Rutherford, the president of the JWs organization, died, blood transfusions were emphasized in The Watchtower. When transfusions became an issue confronting them, in 1945, JWs leaders explained at length the requirement to abstain from blood, although there was no penalty if the constraint was ignored. However, beginning in 1961, any member who accepted blood transfusions and was not sorry was excommunicated. Due to the Witnesses’ no-blood transfusion dogma, countless JWs in need of blood died.
This is where a blood transfusion issue can arise with a JW and a non-JW spouse. If a JW marries a non-JW and the JW woman becomes pregnant, subsequently requires blood transfusions, and refuses blood, it could mean death for the mother, the baby, or both. I’ve had clients who were in this situation with traumatic outcomes.
Carmignani explains that the religion’s rules regarding blood transfusions and blood products are convoluted and difficult to understand. Although JWs’ position is religious, a complicated organizational directive suggests Witnesses learn about medical treatments to be used other than blood if such a need arises. Erythropoietin, a hormone that causes the body to make red blood cells, is a treatment JWs are told to ask for. Most JWs can’t pronounce the drug when well, let alone if they are sick. Rather than discuss the medical treatment that is complicated and confusing to them, many JWs refuse transfusions and let it go at that. This can have catastrophic consequences in cases of injuries from car accidents, complicated births, and diseases such as cancer.
Thousands of Names of Reported JWs Child Molesters in a Database at JW Headquarters
Former JW member, Barbara Anderson, became a whistleblower after she found out during the time she was a staff member at JWs Watchtower corporate world headquarters in New York that JWs child molesters were not being reported to the police by JWs appointed ministers. Consequently, children were not being protected. The religion has a bizarre doctrine that requires the testimony of two material witnesses against a purported child sex abuser to prove an accusation of child abuse. In recent years there have been countless lawsuits by women and men who had been sexually traumatized by someone in the cult. Since the group moved its headquarters from Brooklyn to Upstate New York, a state law was passed enabling child sexual abuse victims to file a civil lawsuit, even though the abuse happened many years previously. Anderson chronicles her story about this on her website.
Lost in Translation
JWs recognize their own version of the Bible, the New World Translation (NWT), which has been criticized as inaccurate by virtually every Jewish and Christian theologian. Therefore, when JWs offer to study the Bible with people but fail to disclose that the NWT is not a legitimate translation, it violates everyone’s informed consent. It’s a deceptive practice! People believe they are actually studying the actual real Bible. The group then indoctrinates members to believe they can’t understand the Bible without studying their interpretations of it.
Discrimination Against Former Members
As a religious organization, JWs are entitled to have religious tax exemption status or other subsidies in the United States and other countries. However, currently, in Norway, there is a case where the Norwegian Government is considering stripping them of this exemption. This is due to a human rights infraction, that of disfellowshipping members and their subsequent shunning by JW’s relatives and friends. This is especially problematic for children not being allowed to associate with a disfellowshipped parent or other disfellowshipped relatives. The group was deregistered because of violations of adult members’ freedom of expression and right to freedom of religion. A timeline of events and English translations of the documents between the Watchtower Society and the Norwegian Government can be found here.
Australia investigated the Watchtower Society via The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which published its case study in October 2016.
Religious organizations such as JWs don’t appear to be cults on the surface. But through investigation, digging deep into their history and into their doctrines to try to understand if what they assert is factual is extremely important. The time spent to do this can prevent us from falling prey to cult indoctrination and will also make it possible for us to help others break free from falsehood.
Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse – Report on Case #29: Jehovah’s Witnesse
Isaac’s blog: Beyond Jehovah’s Witnesses
Twitter: @isaaccarmignani Protonmail: email@example.com