In the January 15, 2015, study edition of the Watchtower magazine, there is a 5-page article that talks about construction work in the cities of Walkill and Warwick, in the state of New York. These two cities will soon be the home of the new headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses, while buildings that make up their current headquarters in Brooklyn are being sold.
The article praises those who have given up everything to volunteer to work at these locations, typically for a temporary length of time. Way and Debra, in their late 50s, sold their home and gave up most of everything they own to work temporarily in New York, as did Melvin and Sharon. The article lists other couples who sacrificed everything they had to serve as temporary “commuter Bethelites.” However, when you pick apart the article, you see how questionable if not downright despicable the entire situation really is, and how it victimizes many Jehovah’s Witnesses and their families.
Paying for the Privilege of Working for Free
In a footnote, the magazine explained:
“Part-time commuter Bethelites care for their own housing and living expenses while working one or more days a week at Bethel.” (“Bethel” being the word used for the headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses.)
So, not only are these volunteers working for free to help build these locations, but they must also pay for their own lodging and other expenses. I don’t know what meals are provided during the work but even if the JWs provide them with just a breakfast and lunch, you can see how expensive it would be to volunteer there. You need to find a hotel or room for rent, buy your own meals, pay to get to the location, and for everything else you need while working.
This free labor arrangement is praised despite the ongoing sale of real estate in New York owned by Jehovah’s Witnesses that is estimated to be worth $1 billion, according to ABC News in New York. The cost of the new facilities is estimated at a mere $11.5 million, according to The New York Observer. That certainly leaves plenty of room left over to at least pay for temporary housing for the workers helping to build the new facility.
Lest you think it’s expensive to provide this type of housing on a job site, temporary modular housing is quite commonly used by companies who need to bring in foreign or off-site workers, such as those in the mining, oil rigging, or construction industries. These trailers are provided by outside companies who do all the setting up and tearing down of the housing, and even empty the septic tanks and take care of plumbing and other issues. They may be simple trailers with dormitory-style rooms, but they’re typically very clean and comfortable and most of all, they’re free for the workers.
The Outright Neglect of Family
The leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses demanding that their slave labor provide their own housing, transportation, and other costs is bad enough, but the behavior of those slaves themselves is also reprehensible. Ricky and Kendra, from Hawaii, had an 11-year-old son, Jacob, to take with them to New York. The article says they expressed concern for how Jacob would adjust and that they wanted to find a congregation of other JWs with young children, but couldn’t. (Note, Jehovah’s Witness children are not allowed to make friends with children who are not JWs.) So, Jacob’s friends became the “young Bethelites” who were also in his congregation. These Bethelites would be adults also working at Bethel.
The article praises the parents who found Jacob reading the bible late at night, but I would need to call into question how healthy it is for an 11-year-old boy to be so isolated from those in his own age group. When does he have time to just play, and with whom does he play, as an active young boy? Interesting that the parents knew their son’s situation would be a concern but, even after not being able to find a congregation with other young boys, they still upended his life and took him anyway, willing to roll the dice on his emotional development and happiness.
Another interesting couple was Kenneth and Maureen, who said they arranged for family to look after Ken’s “aged father” while they were away serving at Bethel. When children become adults, of course they shouldn’t be chained to their parents, but I personally find it disturbing that they would leave an “aged father” so that they could do volunteer work that others can do just as well. When a father gets older, no doubt he wants his children around him during what are probably his final years. It also seems very presumptuous to expect the rest of the family to take care of the responsibility of an aged parent while one sibling goes off to work at a religion’s headquarters.
After couples have sold everything they have in order to pay for the privilege of being unpaid slave labor for their religion, then what? Once their volunteer assignment is over, where do they go and how do they manage? Note, many of them mentioned in the article were in their 40s and 50s, so not exactly prime candidates for starting a new career or getting a well-paying job after returning home.
The article doesn’t say what happens to them after their assignments are over, but instead simply talks about the faith these ones have that Jehovah will somehow provide for them down the road. It might be admirable to see how a person puts faith in god, but note how well Jehovah’s Witnesses are usually provided for by reading this ad on Craigslist that a former JW posted:
So, no, elderly Jehovah’s Witnesses and those who sacrifice everything for their religion are not somehow magically cared for when they get older and can no longer provide for themselves. They are even put on the spot to pay an unmanageable sum in contributions from their limited income! I find it highly suspect that the article didn’t go on to talk about those who left and how they managed to get by after giving up everything, but instead only included those who said they were sure it would all work out somehow.
All For What?
This begging of slave labor is said to be needed for new branch offices, assembly halls, Kingdom Halls, and other buildings worldwide. However, Jehovah’s Witnesses are downsizing their work, if anything. They have closed and sold off several branch offices, are reducing the amount of printing they do, and have trimmed down their conventions. Properties are sold for a tremendous profit when they do this, as they’re all built with the same type of slave labor mentioned here, and of course enjoy tax-exempt religious or charitable status in most countries.
Free slave labor to build new buildings seems to benefit no one but the leaders of the JW religion, who sell branch offices and other buildings for hundreds of millions, and even billions, in profits, which they share with no one. Jehovah’s Witnesses practice no official charitable works despite their profits and don’t even provide housing and transportation for workers, much less do they have any methods of providing for their own members who might have a financial need. Families sacrifice, not only everything they own, but also the welfare of their own children and elderly parents to simply line the pockets of their own leaders. Yet, they claim they’re somehow different than other money-hungry cults and high-control, abusive religions.
Note, too, that this begging for free slave labor was placed in the magazine ahead of the bible study articles that are covered during their weekly meetings. Yet again, their own profits and means of lining their pockets is ahead of whatever message they want to share from the bible. If the victimization of their members and their families by turning them into slaves who pay for the privilege of their own slavery is not enough, putting that ahead of the bible itself is equally shameful.
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