In recent years, videos have become integral to the way Jehovah’s Witnesses receive information from their leaders the Governing Body, or “faithful slave.”
Nowhere is the explosion in the use of visual media more apparent than at Watchtower’s annual regional conventions, at which Witnesses now receive a barrage of well over 50 highly-polished, meticulously produced videos over three days.
Ever since Watchtower got serious about converting conventions into video propaganda marathons, organization insiders – including concerned elders and circuit overseers – have been leaking the video material to activists like myself in early summer, just before the convention season is due to start.
They have done this, at great risk of being discovered and punished, in the hope that an early warning of the gruesome content soon to be unleashed will help thinking Witnesses and relatives of devout believers to brace themselves for the onslaught of manipulation, guilt-tripping and fear-mongering in store.
For example, in 2016 I was able to produce a nine-part series of videos titled the Worst Convention Ever drawing attention to some of the more alarming visual specimens from the “Remain Loyal to Jehovah” regional convention. Among the more disturbing content was a trilogy of videos reminding JW parents of the need to shun their disfellowshipped children, and even a drama depicting a group of Witnesses huddled in a basement during the Great Tribulation, awaiting persecution by authorities under Satan’s control.
The 2017 “Don’t Give Up!” convention was not quite as relentless in its stomach-churning awfulness, but still managed to include material attacking homosexuality, denying Watchtower’s false predictions related to 1975, and even suggesting that children have a role to play in preventing their own molestation.
The 2018 “Be Courageous” convention program hasn’t even been released on JW.org yet, but months before the first events are due to start we already have reason to expect similarly jaw-dropping material thanks to an unprecedented leak of unfinished convention video files to JWsurvey.org, complete with timers and greenscreen.
Six videos have been sent to JWsurvey by a Watchtower insider, apparently intended for a symposium designed to remind Witnesses of the need to show courage. Without being able to consult the program, it is unclear precisely which talk these videos are intended for, or what the overall theme is, but based on the numbering of the videos (compared with the numbering from previous years) I would guess that they are due to be shown on the Friday afternoon. (The videos are numbered 44 to 49, and in the 2017 convention video similar numbers were allotted to the Friday symposium featuring the 1975 denial video.)
I have taken the liberty of making a 28-minute YouTube rebuttal to three of the six videos, which you can see here…
…but for a more comprehensive review of all six leaked videos, fasten your seatbelts and get ready for another voyage into Watchtower’s twisted twilight zone of cringe-inducing cultiness!
I have embedded the material below (which is now hosted on Russia’s “Rutube” video-hosting platform) for your convenience.
Message 1: “Worldly” workmates may bully you into getting politically involved
We’ve all been in that situation. We’re going about our own business at work when suddenly we’re ambushed by a colleague demanding we join a protest or sign a petition against a piece of legislation that threatens the company with cutbacks and layoffs. After politely declining, the conversation soon escalates to the point where we are told that our position at the company “is under serious consideration depending on the outcome of this discussion.”
Actually, if I’m being completely honest, I’ve never been in this situation and I’ve never heard of any friends or relatives being in this situation either. That’s not to say it’s impossible for such a thing to happen, but at the very least it is extremely unlikely that someone would be jettisoned from their work simply for refusing to take sides politically. In some countries, employment laws even prohibit such behavior. In the United Kingdom, companies could be pursued through a tribunal on grounds of unfair dismissal for firing an employee based on religious or political opinions.
But none of this has stopped Watchtower from devoting considerable time and resources to exploring this specific scenario in full HD by telling us the fictional story of Mark O’Brien – a Jehovah’s Witness who works in a factory that looks suspiciously like a Bethel workshop.
Watchtower needs to make Witnesses fearful and paranoid about Satan’s world by convincing them that “worldly” people are thuggish, threatening and unyielding (unlike Jehovah’s organization, which separates people from their families for disagreeing with the leaders), and the story of Mark, dreamt up by their Writing Department, well serves this purpose.
It is unclear whether Mark was sacked and exposed to financial peril as a result of not putting a squiggle on a piece of paper, but his elders applaud his heroics regardless. His is a much-needed story of “courage” – or example of unswerving loyalty to Witness teachings – that will provide an invaluable shot in the arm to a congregation apparently “anxious about unstable world conditions.”
Message 2: Allies of the LGBTQ community are hostile and confrontational
In recent years, Watchtower has grown increasingly vocal about its homophobic stance. We have seen a string of children’s cartoons, worksheets and magazine articles, all geared toward reminding Witnesses that it is their right – indeed, duty – to object to other people’s relationships if these relationships are same sex.
Governing Body member Anthony Morris III has gone so far as to blame gay people for child sex abuse, and has even tried to expose them as architects of a global conspiracy to accentuate the male form.
As recently as last year’s “Don’t Give Up!” convention, the firepower of Watchtower’s video-making machine was turned on the LGBTQ community in the three-part drama “Remember the Wife of Lot.” After one of his daughters brings home a friend from work, Brian (the patriarch of the family) pounces on her passing mention of having lesbian parents by launching into an awkward, unconvincing refutation of homosexuality that seems to only succeed in making everyone want to exit the room as quickly as possible.
But it seems Watchtower still isn’t done with trying to make gay and lesbian people feel miserable. In the above video, “Sally” is shown being subjected to a public display of outrage and intimidation by a professed Christian woman who scorns her for failing to wear a rainbow-colored wristband in support of LGBTQ rights.
Having failed to persuade anyone that Jehovah’s Witnesses have the right to tell gays and lesbians whom they may or may not love, or how they may or may not express their love, an exasperated Watchtower has resorted to this shabby attempt at portraying allies of the LGBTQ community as sneering, hostile and confrontational – precisely the attitude that Watchtower itself exhibits against gays and lesbians through its publications.
This is shallow, overt propaganda the type of which Goebbels would have been proud. It makes no meaningful arguments. It puts forth no logical, rational reasons for opposing marriage equality. Rather, the makers shamelessly indulge in the tried and trusted method of bypassing the debate altogether by character assassinating their opponents. These are cheap, juvenile tactics unworthy of most teenagers, let alone an organization claiming the sole approval and guidance of the Creator of the universe.
Message 3: Witnesses who can’t stomach ambushing people with their beliefs need to “pray, hope in Jehovah, and act!”
In 2006, Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide participated in the distribution of a “Kingdom News” tract titled The End of False Religion Is Near!, the cover of which showed ominous storm clouds and lightning, strongly implying that all but members of the Jehovah’s Witness religion could anticipate violent, fiery annihilation from the heavens. I was a ministerial servant at the time of the tract’s release and recall participating enthusiastically, albeit somewhat nervously, in its circulation.
Of course, I couldn’t have known at the time how hypocritical the tract was. Part of its tirade against false religion included the following words (bold is mine):
In Western lands, church groups ordain gay and lesbian members of the clergy and urge governments to recognize same sex marriages. Even churches that condemn immorality have tolerated religious leaders who have sexually abused children. What, though, does the Bible teach? It plainly states: “Do not be misled. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men kept for unnatural purposes, nor men who lie with men … will inherit God’s kingdom.” (1 Corinthians 6;9, 10) Do you know of religions that condone immoral sex?
Unquestionably, given how much we now know about the extent to which Watchtower has “tolerated” or covered up the sexual abuse of children over many decades, the same tract would need to be worded quite differently if released today!
Anyway, fast forward to 2018 and, despite its hypocrisy and sanctimonious message, Kingdom News no. 37 is unexpectedly celebrated in this video, which depicts “Sister Spencer” struggling with fear due to memories of an unpleasant encounter during the 2006 campaign.
Again, “worldly” people are depicted as fearsome and threatening. An angry householder confronts Sister Spencer, who has hastily given him the tract before retreating from his doorstep.
“Hey, what’s this about?” the man yells after her. “Are you trying to tell me that my religion is false and yours is true? Get off my property! You call back again, I’m gonna set my dog on you!” The dog barks and snarls in confirmation of this threat.
Rather than answer the question, Sister Spencer and her partner huddle together, staggering down the driveway as though they are fleeing a war zone. Perhaps they are dumbfounded by the frenzy of shouting and Alsatian teeth, or perhaps there is just no easy way to tell a total stranger: “Yes, I believe that if you don’t abandon your religious beliefs and embrace mine, you are worthy of annihilation at Armageddon. Have a nice day!”
More than a decade later, Sister Spencer continues to struggle with fear due to this incident. Fortunately, her elders visit and give her the advice she needs. Next time she struggles with apprehension at the prospect of ambushing people she doesn’t know with a message that amounts to “believe as I do, or be killed,” she must mutter the mantra “pray, hope in Jehovah, and act.” (Please take a moment to write that down if it seems too complicated.)
Message 4: Witnesses should obey their leaders even if the instructions don’t make sense
Back in 2013, myself and others were horrified to see the following words appear in the November 15, 2013 Watchtower, page 20:
Elders who are reading this article can draw some useful conclusions from the account we have just considered: (1) The most practical step that we can take to prepare for the coming attack of “the Assyrian” is that of strengthening our faith in God and helping our brothers to do the same. (2) When “the Assyrian” attacks, the elders must be absolutely convinced that Jehovah will deliver us. (3) At that time, the life-saving direction that we receive from Jehovah’s organization may not appear practical from a human standpoint. All of us must be ready to obey any instructions we may receive, whether these appear sound from a strategic or human standpoint or not. (4) Now is the time for any who may be putting their trust in secular education, material things, or human institutions to adjust their thinking. The elders must stand ready to help any who may now be wavering in their faith.
It is hard to conceive of more Orwellian, Jonestown-inducing ideology than this. Eight million Jehovah’s Witnesses were told that any instructions from Watchtower must be obeyed regardless of whether they can be logically justified!
Not long after this material was published, JWsurvey covered the story of how a Facebook experiment citing this wording had shockingly revealed that some Witnesses would be willing to take a pill if instructed to do so by the Governing Body. “With faith, I will take it,” said one of those who responded to the challenge. “Even if I perish Jehovah will remember me.”
Of all the shameful rhetoric to find its way into print in the organization’s publications in recent years, you would think Watchtower would be careful to gloss over these overtly cult-like instructions in particular, or at least not feature them prominently in a video to be displayed before millions of attendees at events to which the public are also invited.
But the Governing Body is evidently proud of being able to order Jehovah’s Witnesses to follow their every whim without any need for justification, even to the point of publicly gloating over their ability to control people to this obscene degree. Hence, in the above video, the quotation is gleefully mentioned in response to a story about a group of women resolving to go along with the instructions of elders despite misgivings on the part of at least one of them.
When members of a congregation are divided by their elders into North and South congregations, a sister named Kim takes it upon herself to try persuading her friend to resist being separated from members of her family who have been assigned to a different congregation than her. The upshot is that Kim ends up being reminded by a third, older sister, that – failing “extenuating circumstances” – it would be best to follow the direction of the elders without making a fuss.
Some who have seen this video in my YouTube rebuttal have commented that this seems a subtle means of normalizing the breaking up of families, with the organization awarding itself precedence over family ties. There could be something to this, although – speaking personally as someone whose family life is irreparably scarred by Watchtower shunning – I can’t say that having family members directed to attend a different place of worship is quite as distressing as them being manipulated to treat you as though you are dead.
The most disturbing thing about this video for me is the celebration of the Governing Body’s cult-like grip on the minds of believers, together with the way women are once again – as was the case in the 2017 Remember the Wife of Lot drama – portrayed as meddling, conniving, manipulative and demanding. The same kingdom hall scene could easily have worked if the trouble-maker in the conversation was a man. Instead, it once again falls to a woman to own the stereotype of plotting, bickering and complaining, while one of the men who control her life eavesdrops on the conversation, grinning slyly as her objections are quashed.
Message 5: Witness kids should get comfortable with the idea of mass slaughter at Armageddon
Family worship evenings are familiar to most who have been raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses. In my book, The Reluctant Apostate, I tell the story of how one such evening during my childhood resulted in my unexpected involvement in an “Amageddon drill.” My father persuaded me that the Great Tribulation was in progress and I was to run to my room and pack my things, because the family would be fleeing in the car to rendezvous with the rest of the congregation in Macclesfield Forest.
Needless to say, though for one fleeting moment Armageddon was a real, unfolding event, at least in my young mind (which is more than most Witnesses will ever be able to say), the whole thing was a ruse. My father had tricked me in an attempt to convince me to take the end of civilisation and annihilation of all non-Witnesses seriously.
Today, it seems Dad’s fear-mongering exercise was not so outlandish by Watchtower standards. The leaked convention videos include a depiction of a young boy visibly disturbed by Armageddon artwork being considered at a family worship evening to which an elder has been invited. The artwork, which features on page 229 of the God’s Kingdom Rules! book, shows either Jesus or Kenny Rogers riding to exact judgment on Satan’s hordes during God’s day of wrath.
Joking aside, this is extremely potent visual imagery to be thrusting in the faces of young children, but Watchtower apparently revels in requiring this of parents. The video shows the elder guest noticing how visibly rattled Brad is, and asking him what’s on his mind.
At this point in the video, the “Brad” in me is shouting at the screen: “Oh, I dunno Brother – maybe I’m just horrified at the thought of all my friends at school being mown down in an unfathomable bloodbath just because they don’t happen to share my religious views!”
Cleverly, though, Watchtower sidesteps this obvious question by changing it. Rather than have Brad recoiling at the incredible carnage that Armageddon represents, he is inexplicably eager to get involved in it himself.
“Will the brothers tell us how to fight the people who will be attacking us?” Brad asks, giving the elder an opportunity to reassure him with the account at 2 Chronicles chapter 20, in which the Israelites are asked to be spectators to the vanquishing of God’s enemies. The unfinished reenactment, complete with exposed greenscreen, shows God’s people filing past the corpses of the divinely executed.
“It was obvious that Brad’s courage was strengthened after reviewing this Bible account,” the elder later tells his colleagues, apparently glowing with pride at his teaching skills. But there is no reason for pride, either in the handling of Brad’s contrived, unrealistic question, or the Governing Body’s doomsday narrative. Millions of children will be subjected to this highly manipulative video propaganda that normalizes global genocide. It is one thing to relish such grisly, psychotic thoughts as an adult, but to gleefully thrust them on young minds is unforgivable.
Message 6: Witnesses can’t do anything without Jehovah’s help
The final video is arguably the least shocking, but there are still disturbing undertones that perfectly highlight the helpless, childlike state that is intrinsic to being a Witness.
Philip is a young Witness man who has been accepted to serve as an LDC construction volunteer – in other words, a free laborer for Watchtower’s many construction projects. After all, God may not “dwell in handmade temples” (Acts 17:24), but he sure does need a lot of stuff to be built for him in order to be adequately worshipped.
But there’s a problem. Philip is uncertain of his abilities, and frankly terrified about the assignment he’s been handed. He’s worried that he doesn’t have what it takes to fulfill his duties (even though a willingness to do hard, physical work for free is pretty much all that is required).
Enter Albert, Philip’s group overseer who kindly reassures him that, even though there’s no way he would ordinarily measure up to the task, he can do anything with assistance from God. “With Jehovah’s help, you can be courageous,” says Albert. “Go to work!”
I’m sure many in the convention audience will identify with Philip. Witness indoctrination creates a state of “learned helplessness” in which you become totally reliant on the organization; doubting your own abilities and fearful of what would happen to you if left to fend for yourself.
Only once you escape the Witness mindset do you fully grasp that you can be who you want to be, and do whatever you want to do, if you put your mind to it. As I add my concluding thoughts to this article, it should be noted that there is currently a red convertible sports car hurtling through our solar system on a trajectory that will take it through the asteroid belt. Why? Because humans had the grit, determination and self-belief to defy any who said it couldn’t be done, and made it happen.
A Reason for Optimism
As chilling as this leaked video propaganda may be, there is reason for optimism if you happen to be a thinking Witness, or former Witness, who despairs at the organization’s increasingly cult-like behavior and rhetoric.
Just think: we have access to videos that will be shown at this year’s convention months in advance – before the videos are even finished! This is only possible because there are awakened, conscientious individuals inside Watchtower, with privileged access to sensitive material, who are actively working with JWsurvey.org and other activists. Why are they doing this? Because they recognize that Watchtower is an abusive, controlling organization, and rather than leave in a blaze of glory they are doing what they can, while they can, from the inside.
Yes, it’s appalling to see how ignorant and narrow-minded Watchtower has become in its attitudes toward gay people. I believe many young Witnesses, in particular, are being prodded to reevaluate their beliefs in the face of such blatant bigotry, but this is small consolation if you are a closeted gay or lesbian person sat in the audience when those who would speak up for your rights are being portrayed as vile, shrieking monsters.
And yes, it’s never pleasant to be reminded of how controlling Watchtower is, or see the Governing Body celebrating the ease with which they can subject young minds to their doomsday fear-mongering.
But try to take heart in the knowledge that not everyone in the corridors of bethels around the world agrees with what the Governing Body is saying and doing. For years now there have been awakened operatives deeply entrenched in Watchtower who have been doing what they can to expose the lies, manipulation and abuse.
The Governing Body may be aghast that there are traitors in their midst, but they are only reaping what they have sown. You do not build a captive organization from which it is impossible to leave with dignity without trapping to your bosom those who don’t like you and will do whatever they can to quietly engineer your downfall.
With each leaked document or video, another crack emerges in Watchtower’s ironlike grip, rendering laughable their claims of universal loyalty and obedience. These are exciting times for those like myself who want to see the organization held to account for its cruelty – and not its bewildered, indoctrinated followers in far-flung lands.
On behalf of everyone at JWsurvey, I want to sincerely thank the individuals who have made these and other leaks available to us, despite great personal risks. They are the true heroes of our movement, and I am confident that many more Witnesses will break free from Watchtower’s mental bonds due to their heartwarming bravery.