Are Jehovah's Witnesses a Cult?

A Former Elder Breaks Down the Highs and Lows of the 2017 Regional Convention

The 2017 Regional Conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses have commenced and, as they do, I can’t help but feel profoundly sad.  This is not because I miss everyone that I knew for over 30 years, not because I think Armageddon is coming any second and I’m in fear of losing my life, and not because I’m ridden with guilt over living a life that displeases Jehovah God.  I am not the least bit sad, nor do I have reason to be, about those things.  I am, however, profoundly sad for the many people who have convinced themselves that this convention is going to be one of the best times of the year for themselves.

Few events outside of the memorial of Christ’s death are built up as much as the yearly conventions for Jehovah’s Witnesses.  They are touted as a time of happiness and spiritual refreshment.  However, as I look back on over three decades of attending such conventions, I have long since come to realize the real reason why I looked forward to conventions.  It had nothing to do with refreshing spiritual teachings, or flashings of new light, or being impressed with the wisdom of the speakers on the stage.  The only thing I truly enjoyed, and I honestly believe anyone truly enjoys, about conventions is seeing old friends from far away that you don’t see that often.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, for the most part, lead lonely lives, though they convince themselves otherwise.  The average Jehovah’s Witness (JW) only associates with other JWs, and usually those in their own congregation, or perhaps local congregations.  Oftentimes they will meet other JWs from farther away, and perhaps form good friendships with them.  But, being busy with meetings, field service (their preaching and proselytizing work), and endless studying of JW literature, they often don’t have the time to develop these friendships as they would probably like.

Typically speaking, this would not matter.  However, for JWs, it is actually more important than they know.  Since JWs only associate with other JWs, and usually only with individuals who live relatively close, their choice of friends is severely limited.  Chances of finding true friendship in such a small group is difficult, both because you are always taught to be suspicious and judgmental of everyone else, including JWs, and secondarily because in such a setting, it is very difficult to find someone with whom you can truly have a meaningful friendship. (See the post, Teaching Children to Shun Others, Even Inside the Congregation.)  On top of all that, true friendship is rendered practically impossible by the fact that at any given moment, if a friend is disfellowshipped, you must shun them.  When friendship must be cut off at a moment’s notice, one becomes used to keeping a certain distance, even with their closest friends.

Conventions are the one time of the year where JWs can convince themselves that they aren’t just a small group that must keep everyone else around them at arm’s length.  It is the one time they can get together and collectively put on a show of how neat, clean, righteous and well-mannered they are.  There is strength in numbers, and during conventions, JWs feel it.  For once, they are normal and everyone else is not.

Once you get past the sheer human aspect of the convention, next you need to deal with the spiritual food that is offered at such events.  Everything is choreographed and highly controlled.  From the time the JWs pull into the parking lot, there are lines of brothers directing them where to park.  Once inside the convention center, there are brothers with signs reminding people to keep moving.  There are ample attendants watching every action of the crowd, always ready to step in if things get out of control.  There are programs telling you when to be in your seat, and announcements to remind you to get to your seat.

During the sessions there are brothers in the hall with signs reminding you to get to your seat, though many people regularly ignore such advice.  During the program you are told to be in your seat for the program, you are told to take notes, to pay rapt attention, to discuss the convention after the day’s program is over.  In bathrooms you are told to only use one towel to dry your hands.  You are reminded to participate in your congregation’s cleaning assignment after the convention.  In short, there is no lack of ways at the convention in which JWs are told what to do, where to go, and how to act.  Certainly, that must be a thing of joy.

Now to the actual convention material.  For 2017, you can find pretty much all convention source material.  This year, it includes a denial of the predictions for 1975, along with ridiculing those who actually believed the Watchtower and sold their homes, or didn’t have children to engage in full time ministry in the “very short time remaining.”  However, the following quotes come directly from the Watchtower CD-Rom from 2013, demonstrating this point.  Please look the quotes up to see for yourselves, they come from the May 1974 Kingdom Ministry, and the November 1974 Awake:

*** km 5/74 p. 3 How Are You Using Your Life? ***  

Yes, since the summer of 1973 there have been new peaks in pioneers every month. Now there are 20,394 regular and special pioneers in the United States, an all-time peak. That is 5,190 more than there were in February 1973! A 34-percent increase! Does that not warm our hearts? Reports are heard of brothers selling their homes and property and planning to finish out the rest of their days in this old system in the pioneer service. Certainly this is a fine way to spend the short time remaining before the wicked world’s end.—1 John 2:17.

*** g74 11/8 p. 11 Is This the Time to Have Children? *** 

Today there is a great crowd of people who are confident that a destruction of even greater magnitude is now imminent. The evidence is that Jesus’ prophecy will shortly have a major fulfillment, upon this entire system of things. This has been a major factor in influencing many couples to decide not to have children at this time. They have chosen to remain childless so that they would be less encumbered to carry out the instructions of Jesus Christ to preach the good news of God’s kingdom earth wide before the end of this system comes.—Matt. 24:14.

So, here we have the Watchtower in one fell swoop accomplishing the following:

  • Being dishonest about what they previously taught
  • Ridiculing the people who actually believed them and took their advice
  • Attempting to coerce others to follow the same ill-advised course they ridicule people for – sacrificing everything to spend time working for the corporation

When considered for what it is, it is extremely difficult not to consider this part of the convention to be a rather malicious attempt to derail the lives of the generation that are the grandchildren of the people duped in 1975.

Ironically, the last talk of the convention contains the admission that the system must be ending soon because the overlapping generation is so advanced in years.  That is ironic because, when I was 5 years old, the end of the system had to be close because the generation that saw 1914 was so old, and the system had to come before they died.  If you doubt me, look up the Live Forever Book on the CD-ROM, page 154 paragraph 8.

This is but some of the strengthening, timely spiritual food the governing body sees fit to ram down the throats of the JWs.  Of course, no convention would be complete without the audience being told how joyful they are to receive such food, and then being asked to give the Governing Body a veritable standing ovation for forcing them to sit for 3 days listening to that drivel.  Of course, throughout the convention they are reminded that they have to pay for this privilege, and reminded that now they can use their credit card to donate.

As I reflect back on the time I spent at the conventions, the only fond memories I have are of time spent with friends.  As I think of conventions now, I am saddened for the loss of all those attending, and for their vast, sorry, unappreciated waste of time.  Down the road, it could well be any of them the governing body ridicules for following the direction of, you guessed it, the governing body.  Nothing like blaming the victim.  There is, however, one thing that makes me extremely happy during the convention time.  That is the fact that I won’t waste my time being there.

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