This morning, the website Estates Gazette published a story stating that the Jehovah’s Witnesses “is considering a sale of the majority of its UK property portfolio.” The religion is officially known as the International Bible Students Association (IBSA) in the UK, and the story went on to say:
“Primary assets include Watch Tower House, a 103,334 sq ft mixed-use building on an eight-acre plot which includes 175 studio or one-bedroom flats for IBSA staff. The building is used to publish magazines The Watchtower and Awake! … IBSA House, a 201,285 sq ft building on a five-acre plot which serves as the religious group’s main offices, is also included. The site has planning approval for a further 34,445 sq ft of offices. The phasing of the sale is under review but is expected by 2021 at the latest as the organisation moves to its new purpose-built centre in Chelmsford, Essex. However, IBSA said offices could be quickly vacated if investors requested.”
While the story does bring out that the JW leaders are moving into a new complex in Chelmsford, it is interesting to note how they are suddenly interested in unloading all these properties while they still have their charitable status in the UK; “Steve Canning, of IBSA’s London Real Estate Team, said: ‘We have been contacted by various developers but as a charity we have to go to the market to decide how we can progress.'” (Bold added for emphasis.)
Anything is possible, and no doubt the slowed growth of the religion and their reliance on their new website for recruitment has resulted in less need for real estate to house personnel and print literature, but the timing is too suspect to overlook. Just last March, the Charity Commission in the UK received a favorable court decision to move forward with their Inquiry against the religion. If Jehovah’s Witnesses were to lose their charitable status because of this Inquiry, no doubt this would have huge financial implications for them; this might include having to start paying property taxes. The publicity surrounding the Inquiry may also result in more lawsuits being filed for how they mishandle child abuse cases.
For many ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses, this property sale is actually very good news. While the religion is good at cutting their costs, even if it means reducing their staff and sending older volunteers home after years of service, any damage that can be done financially will mean less money they can use to pay for attorneys to defend themselves against claims of mishandling child abuse accusations.
I can’t think of anything else that would convince the Watchtower to start caring about how their policies affect children; after thousands of victims have come forward and talked about the devastating effects of being demoralized by elders after making their claims, the Watchtower has simply dug in their heels and refused to take any responsibility for their actions, as was shown by the Australian Royal Commission Inquiry. Maybe if they lost their charitable status and need to start paying taxes on their donations and property so they have less to spend on attorneys, they might finally make some changes. Money does make the world go ’round, as they say.
Whatever the reason for this sudden fire sale of their properties, let’s be sure we’re giving our full cooperation to the Charity Commission and are offering them the evidence they need to carefully consider the charitable status of the Watchtower. Let’s also hope that this move means that the Watchtower sees the handwriting on the wall, and they know that the outside world sees it too.