During the late evening hours of Sunday, September 10, hurricane Irma came barreling up the west coast of Florida. This hurricane was one of the strongest on record; a category 5, it had winds that reached up to 130 mph (215 kph). It is said to be responsible for some 82 deaths, and it left nearly 2 million people in Florida without power for much of the week after it made landfall.¹
More than an inconvenience, power is needed for water treatment plants so that residents can have clean water, and to run air conditioners; Florida’s extreme heat can be downright deadly, especially for elderly persons. The storm uprooted trees and fences and caused a lot of property damage, while gas and fresh food became very scarce in the days that followed.
I know all this, because I live on the west coast of Florida.
And Of Course Jehovah’s Witnesses Jumped On It
After the hurricane, I noticed that Jehovah’s Witnesses pinned an article to the front of their website, JW.org, titled, “Natural Disasters – Why So Many?”, taken from the December 2011 Watchtower. That article linked to a corresponding article in the same magazine, “Coping With Natural Disasters.”
In that second article, the last section was a bit disturbing; the section was titled, “Fellow Christians help one another.” So, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses, fellow Christians help, not just anyone who needs it, but one another.
In that section, they gave the example of “Karla,” whose home was swept away by a tsunami in Chile in 2010. According to her story, “fellow Witnesses” arrived to help her. They helped her. Nothing is said about help given to others in the area.
Along the same lines, the JW website has an article on their About Us page, where the Witnesses boast about their community service when it comes to disaster relief around the world (this page). They list things they’ve supposedly done to assist communities after disasters, but note how some of these experiences are worded (bold is added for emphasis):
- Congo (Brazzaville): When an ammunition dump blew up, the homes of 4 of Jehovah’s Witnesses were destroyed and the homes of 28 other Witnesses were damaged. Food and clothing were given to those affected, and local Witnesses took in families affected by the disaster.
- Fiji: Because of severe flooding from heavy rains, most of the 192 Witness families that were affected lost their farms, their source of food and income. Relief food supplies were provided for them.
- United States: Tornadoes damaged 66 homes belonging to Witnesses in three states and destroyed 12 homes of Witnesses. Though most of the homeowners had insurance, funds were made available to help with the recovery effort.
- Romania: Some Witnesses lost their homes as a result of flooding. Assistance was provided to help rebuild them.
- Sierra Leone: Witness doctors from France gave medical help to Jehovah’s Witnesses living in previously war-torn areas.
- Sudan: Food, clothing, shoes, and plastic sheets were sent to Jehovah’s Witnesses who have been displaced because of fighting in the country.
Obviously I have no way of knowing how much relief effort and supplies were given to people who were not Jehovah’s Witnesses; some of the experiences listed on that page do seem to indicate that other people, outside of their religion, were also helped.
However, there are far too many experiences that note only Jehovah’s Witnesses being helped; even the section title above doesn’t try to hide the limited scope of the “community services” provided by Witnesses after a disaster. Those services are for other Witnesses, first and foremost.
Heroes, Not Caretakers
Hurricane Irma arrived not long after another hurricane, Harvey, had made landfall and caused disastrous flooding in areas of Texas, U.S.A. After that hurricane, of course there were many uplifting stories of rescuers who came to the aid of strangers, and did everything they could to help out.
I don’t mean to take away from all their hard work and heroics, not in the least; however, I remember reading an article at that time that talked about the difference between heroes and caretakers. The article was making the point that, when disaster strikes, people are quick to pitch in and rebuild homes, pull people from flood waters, and so on.
Yet, many people do little, if anything, to lend a helping hand on a daily basis. Volunteers may be happy to serve food to persons displaced because of a hurricane, but it never occurs to them to volunteer at a local soup kitchen throughout the year. Rescuers may pull an elderly person out of a wrecked home and take him or her to a nearby shelter, but can’t be found reading to an elderly person in a nursing home for an afternoon at any other time.
As the article said, people want to be heroes, stepping in during the catastrophic, extreme events, but not caretakers, lending needed assistance on a daily basis.
Again, I mean no disrespect to anyone supporting others at any time; I didn’t author the article, but found it to be an interesting point. I also thought about that contrast when I read another experience from the JW’s About Us page:
- Papua New Guinea: Arsonists burned down eight homes belonging to Witnesses. Arrangements were made to rebuild them.
It’s nice that they would rebuild homes that are destroyed by arsonists, but many people need everyday home repairs that are beyond their own abilities to manage; elderly persons and those with a very limited budget may need roof repairs, new heating and air conditioning systems, and the like. This isn’t simply for their convenience; older persons especially may be at risk of actually dying due to extreme heat or cold, if they live in a home in disrepair. Water leaks from an old roof can allow for mold growth, which is very hazardous to a person’s health.
Yet, where is the everyday care and concern of Jehovah’s Witnesses when it comes to this type of relief? When I was in the religion, I don’t remember any type of organized or even meaningful efforts to take care of their congregants and their everyday needs. Jehovah’s Witnesses may boast about occasionally giving food to those affected by a disaster, but they have no food pantries or any such regular means of assistance for their congregants, or anyone else for that matter.
When I called my brother a few days before Irma hit, he said that my little sister had already gone out of state with friends, and that he and my sister-in-law had taken my mother and his in-laws to a shelter for the weekend. There was no organization on the part of the Witnesses to do this; my brother and his wife decided on this themselves, when he heard the news that the hurricane and gained strength and turned toward our coast.
Before you ask what I’ve done personally to assist others, rather than always expecting assistance, there were many people in my congregation whom I helped over the years. One woman in particular had four very young children; I offered lots of free babysitting and driving around and a shoulder to cry on during her divorce. I don’t remember anyone else in the religion doing the same, ever, or elders being concerned with how she was getting along, financially or in any other way.
As a contrast to all this negativity, I personally received tons of support from the exJW community on social media leading up to this hurricane. People were checking in with me long before it reached Florida, and were looking for constant updates as that fateful Sunday rolled around. Some even offered me a place to stay if I needed to evacuate, and others offered financial support if it would be necessary after the storm came through. Scrolling through group chats after my power and internet were restored, I can see where they were very concerned with how I was doing during the blackout.
Keep in mind, I have met very few of these people in person; most are only known through social media. I can’t say that I’ve done anything personally for them to warrant such support; I’m an exJW activist, that’s all. Yet, they showed genuine concern for me, and not just with lip service, but in practical ways, by offering a place to go and financial support.
A religion that I was involved with for my entire childhood does virtually nothing to care for others; even concern for those in their religion is hit-or-miss, at best. They don’t look after the everyday needs of their congregants or the community, and were not there for my own family during this storm. They can paint themselves as heroes on their website all they want, but even as caretakers, they only care about themselves, if they ever care at all.
¹To read more about hurricane Irma, visit this news story.