During the annual meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses held on October 7, 2017, there were announcements made as to some odd decreases in the literature produced by the religion, and in the content that will be available on their website, JW.org. I discussed the discontinuation of their Yearbook in this column, “Jehovah’s Witnesses To Apparently Cease Publication of Their Annual Yearbook … We All Know Why,” and along with the Yearbook, the public Watchtowers and information directed at children on their site are also taking a hit.
Literature for Preaching
According to a letter sent out about their annual meeting,¹ Jehovah’s Witnesses will reduce the number of issues of the public edition of the Watchtower, and the Awake magazine, to three each per year. It was also stated, “The number of books, brochures, tracts, contact cards, and videos that will be featured in the field ministry is being reduced,” and, “Beginning January 2018, specific monthly literature offers will be discontinued. More emphasis will be placed on starting and continuing conversations.”
This is interesting, as Jehovah’s Witnesses often struggle to start and continue conversations with persons to whom they preach. Apparently the governing body fails to realize how incredibly busy people are, and how they have no time, much less any interest, in having a conversation with a stranger. Leaving someone with printed material they can read at their leisure is always a recommended course of marketing, as opposed to interrupting a person’s day with a sales pitch.
I also don’t know how to break it to the governing body, but most Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t want to engage with the general public. Not only can people be rude and nasty, but Witnesses know that most people are simply not interested in their religion, and that people may ask questions that Witnesses can’t answer; in turn, preaching is often difficult, tedious, unpleasant, and boring. Stories abound among ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses of trying to avoid talking to anyone when in the preaching work, from only pretending to ring doorbells to leaving literature in laundromats rather than with an actual person.
These may seem like insignificant points, but the governing body is supposedly guided by holy spirit when it comes to their decisions, and I would think this would especially mean decisions about the preaching work, and how to best accomplish it. However, if they’re relying on individual Witnesses to start and continue conversations as a means of sharing their supposed lifesaving, urgent message, they’re going to fail, miserably. It speaks volumes as to how important this message must be, when they rely on untrained, unqualified, lazy, bored, frustrated, individual members to relay it; it’s especially questionable when you consider how many other religions use public radio stations, television time slots, and other means of mass communication to get their message out there. A streaming online TV channel, buried on your own website, just doesn’t cut it when it comes to reaching the general public, and neither do everyday Witnesses who may secretly loathe having to start actual conversations with complete strangers.
Welfare of Child Laborers
The letter also says, “Essential literature items and videos that have proved to be effective in the ministry will remain in our Teaching Toolbox.” From what I understand, this “Teaching Toolbox” is the “Bible Study Tools” section of their website, JW.org. This section has articles, videos, and the like, meant to be shown to people when preaching to them.
This is distressing to me, because this would require the use of a smartphone or tablet when preaching to others. While everyone’s buying choices are their own decision, smartphones require cobalt, which is typically harvested using child labor in places like the Congo. Children as young as four are forced into this backbreaking labor, in all sorts of weather conditions, for a dollar or two a day. (Please see, “Meet Dorsen, 8, who mines cobalt to make your smartphone work.“) A few tech companies are working to eliminate child labor from their supply line, but others frankly don’t care; as long as they can get their materials for cheap, that’s all that matters.
Not only is the governing body overlooking this horrific practice by encouraging more smartphone use by their members in their preaching work, but consider also the cost of these devices. Even if you buy an older or used model, it can still be well out of the budget of many people, especially those in poorer areas of the world. Yet, the governing body seems to assume that individual congregants can just readily supply themselves with these items, while withdrawing their support for their congregants and this work itself by reducing literature that would make preaching so much easier, and so much more appealing to the general public.
Materials for Children
Another reduction mentioned in the letter: “No new content will be added to the following features on jw.org: “Bible Character Cards,” “Family Worship Projects,” “Illustrated Bible Stories,” “My Bible Lessons,” “Picture Activities,” “Study Activities for Children,” study guides for What Does the Bible Really Teach?, Young People Ask worksheets, and the video series What Your Peers Say. However, the existing content will remain for now on jw.org.”
These materials are obviously meant to reach children and young teens personally. Why would Jehovah’s Witnesses reduce (and potentially even eliminate, as they say the content will remain “for now” on their website) material directed at children?
I admit I have no actual insight as to this decision; however, in the column, “A Lie, a Slap in the Face to a Child Rape Victim, and an Insult to All Children of Jehovah’s Witnesses,” I note a point about a lawsuit filed by a child sex abuse victim, Candace Conti. In appealing the judgment in this case, Watchtower said repeatedly that they had “no special relationship” with Candace, as she was (according to their appeal) just the child of a congregant; they were using this argument as a way to “bow out” of their responsibility for keeping her safe from a known pedophile in her congregation.
As I bring out in that column, you can’t have it both ways; you can’t produce reams of literature directed at children in particular, hoping to recruit and indoctrinate them, but then claim you have “no special relationship” with them when they are molested and assaulted while under your roof. Considering the many lawsuits Jehovah’s Witnesses are now facing for their failure to protect children, I would wonder if reducing and potentially eliminating information directed at them in particular is an attempt to reduce their liability from such suits in the future.
Again, no one knows for sure why any of these changes are being made, and it’s common knowledge that Watchtower is bleeding money for the lawyers needed to defend themselves against lawsuits, the UK Charity Commission investigation, and the Australian Royal Commission Inquiry. Needing to streamline their materials to cut costs and maintain a healthy profit margin is not an unlikely scenario.
Whatever the reason, however, these reductions do not portray a religion that is experiencing healthy growth, or that will see healthy growth in the future; reducing literature for preaching will simply make the work harder on individuals, who will probably see fewer positive results, and who may even question why they’re being so abandoned to manage this work on their own. While reducing and eliminating material directed to children may potentially reduce some liability on Watchtower’s part when it comes to lawsuits, it can also mean less indoctrination of children as they grow up. Those same children may then be less inclined to stay with the religion; considering that Jehovah’s Witnesses have the lowest retention rate of any religion already (please see “Jehovah’s Witnesses: A Case Study in Viral Marketing”), this also does not bode well for their future.
I would write more, but I’m off to start an office betting pool for how long this religion will remain in business. I’ve got the year 2022, before my 55th birthday. You?
¹For a PDF copy of the October 7, 2017, letter regarding the annual meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses, please click: 20171007-E
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