2012 has certainly been a very eventful year for the Watch Tower Society. Not only did they unveil a profound new understanding of the “Faithful and Discreet Slave” at the Annual Meeting in October – they also spent the latter half of the year managing the fall-out from the Candace Conti verdict. Additionally, a new version of JW.org went online, and a new 47-year-old member of the Governing Body was unveiled to the world. The Society has definitely been keeping me busy with things to write about, that’s for sure!
As I look back on this eventful year, and the surprising developments that have affected the organization, I can’t help but look at the Society in a different way from how I viewed it only twelve months ago. You see, I grew up thinking of the Watch Tower Society as being a highly organized, well-oiled machine that could respond quickly to any situation. Now though, I am genuinely dumbfounded by how slow and clumsy the Society has proved to be when responding to developments or dispensing important information to the worldwide brotherhood. This doesn’t seem to correspond with how Jehovah’s organization is supposed to operate in the literature.
A lightning-quick organization?
The Society applies Ezekiel’s vision of Jehovah’s celestial chariot to God’s heavenly organization. In chapter 1 of Ezekiel, the ancient prophet describes the heavenly chariot moving with lightning speed. (Ezekiel 1:14) A recent Watchtower article explained how God’s holy spirit was the driving force behind the chariot-like organization, and urged that we keep pace with it by remaining “obedient and loyal” to the Faithful Slave.
“Jehovah uses his spirit to lead his organization in the direction that he wants it to go. In Ezekiel’s vision, the heavenly part of Jehovah’s organization is depicted as a celestial chariot that is irresistibly on the move to fulfill Jehovah’s purpose. What impels the chariot to move in a certain direction? Holy spirit. (Ezek. 1:20, 21) Let us remember that Jehovah’s organization is made up of two parts, one in heaven and the other on earth. If the heavenly part is directed by holy spirit, the same must be true of the earthly part. By being obedient and loyal to the direction received from the earthly part of God’s organization, you show that you are keeping pace with Jehovah’s celestial chariot and are working in harmony with his holy spirit.—Heb. 13:17.” (The Watchtower, 4/15 2010 pp. 9-10.)
You might read the above and think it would be unfair to expect Jehovah’s earthly organization to move with great speed simply because God’s heavenly organization does. Surely that would be like asking the tortoise to keep up with the hare! However, consider these comments from a 1991 Watchtower article…
“There is no question that God’s visible organization is keeping up with his celestial chariotlike organization. As did Ezekiel, Jehovah’s servants today must obediently carry out their prophetic commission despite indifference, ridicule, or even opposition. Keeping pace leads to many blessings now and everlasting life in God’s fast-approaching new world.” (The Watchtower 1/15 1991 page 26)
So we are led to believe that God’s visible (or earthly) organization is “keeping up” with God’s heavenly chariot-like organization. If this is true, then Jehovah’s heavenly chariot, or organization, is not quite as agile as Ezekiel’s words seem to convey. As an example, consider three developments from this year, each of which demonstrate extreme lethargy and slowness on the part of the Society.
Slow with responding to the Candace Conti verdict
The Candace Conti verdict may well go down as the single most damaging legal defeat in the Society’s history, regardless of whether the Society prevails with their current appeal or not. It exposed a series of events in which Watchtower allowed a nine-year-old girl to be abused at the hands of a man in her congregation who was already known to the elders as a child molester.
Within hours of the news breaking on 14th June, numerous reputable news websites were carrying the story. The internet was awash with details of the verdict and the reasons why the Society had been found legally responsible. Even so, it took six days for the Society to finally muster up a paltry 211-word statement on its official web pages. The statement, dated June 20th, did not address any of the key issues raised by the judgment, and merely attempted to shift blame for what happened onto “individual members” of the organization.
Six days may not sound like too much of a delay, but given the enormous implications of the verdict and the intense media scrutiny, the Society’s silence in the immediate aftermath of the judgment spoke volumes. It gave the impression that they were struggling to come to terms with what had happened, or were simply unable to formulate a timely and eloquent response.
Bear in mind that Watchtower knew about this verdict at the same time as everyone else, because they were on the receiving end of it! It is therefore hard for one to understand why the Society dragged their feet to the extent they did on this issue without concluding that the organization is nowhere near as slick and efficient as they often lead us to believe.
Slow with announcing a new Governing Body member
At morning worship on September 5th, 2012, Mark Sanderson was unveiled to the Bethel family in New York as a newly appointed member of the Governing Body. The news quickly spread on JW forums, but initially there was no official confirmation on the Society’s new website.
Months passed before current Governing Body member Anthony Morris III finally mentioned Brother Sanderson’s new status as part of his narration of a short video about the Gilead graduation that was released on JW.org at the end of November.
Some would perhaps argue that this lengthy delay in confirming the appointment to the worldwide brotherhood demonstrates that the Society doesn’t give undue esteem to the role of a Governing Body member. However, such ones are perhaps overlooking the fact that being on the Governing Body now effectively makes you a member of the faithful and discreet slave class mentioned in the bible! Also, Governing Body members can hardly be said to downplay the significance of their position when they demand such prominence on DVD releases, and have their positions announced ahead of them whenever they give talks at conventions or assemblies.
As with the delay to the news of the Conti verdict, we can rightly ask: just what was the Writing Department (especially those responsible for posting relevant news on JW.org) doing for two and a half months while the news of Mark’s appointment was being spread online? Do they not consider it important to update the brothers on these sorts of developments? Would they rather give third-party websites such as this the opportunity to break the news instead?
Slow with dispensing “spiritual food at the proper time”
The most obvious example of the slowness and ineptitude of the organization in 2012 has to be the shoddy and ill-thought-out manner in which the news of the “new light” announced at the Annual Meeting was disseminated to the worldwide brotherhood.
The profound news that the Governing Body is now to be considered as the manifestation of the “faithful and discreet slave” spoken of in Matthew 24:45 was announced on October 5th at the Stanley Theater, New Jersey, to an initial audience of some 15,000 privileged guests and onlookers.
Within 24 hours of the words being uttered from the platform by the Governing Body members, websites such as this were carrying news of the new understanding to the farthest reaches of the planet. Even so, it took more than a month for the news to be finally confirmed on the Society’s official web pages. Moreover, unless you are able to read English, you would have been oblivious to the new understanding (unless through word of mouth) for a further month before the JW.org article was finally made available in languages other than English as late as December. This hardly attests to the organization being truly united in viewing brothers of all nations and languages with equal importance. (Acts 10:34)
Whether the Governing Body now looks back on this mess with a feeling of regret that things could not have been done more smoothly, only they will know. What is certain is that the whole fiasco made a mockery of the claim that they, as Christ’s composite “faithful and discreet slave”, deliver spiritual food “at the proper time” to ALL of their brothers around the globe, regardless of what language they speak or whether they have access to the internet. The shambolic way in which the “new light” was disseminated proved that, in order to receive timely spiritual food, you need a good knowledge of the English language, and an internet connection! This is hardly what Christ would have had in mind when he was talking to his disciples about dispensing spiritual food on the Mount of Olives.
When considering the above three examples of the organization’s slowness and ineptitude, it is difficult to accept the premise from the beginning of this article that the Society truly represents God’s earthly organization, which is so fast and agile that it is “keeping up with [God’s] celestial chariot-like organization.”
If Jehovah’s celestial chariot, as envisioned by Ezekiel, was a broken and twisted old cart, it wouldn’t be too hard to see the likeness! However, we are talking about a heavenly organization that was symbolically described as moving like lightning in any direction. When we look at the cumbersome and belated manner in which the organization has responded to a few straightforward PR/doctrinal matters, “lightning” is not a word that springs to mind in describing the speed or manner in which these things were dealt with. But this begs the question, why is the Society so very slow?
An organization obsessed with itself
Perhaps a clue as to why the Society has been so slow to respond over the past year can be found in a video that was recently uploaded to JW.org. The video, which runs to 3 minutes, 50 seconds, is a tribute to the iconic “Watchtower” sign on the roof of the World Headquarters in Brooklyn. The video is finished to an extremely high standard, and must have entailed considerable production costs. It features overhead helicopter shots of the sign itself, and even a period re-enactment of the events leading up to the sign being first installed in 1969, complete with vintage vehicles from that era. After viewing the video, and considering how much it must have cost both in donated money and volunteer hours to make, many thinking publishers will be left scratching their heads asking: “What was the point of all that?”
Not once in the audio to the video was a scripture cited. In fact, the words “God” and “Bible” were not mentioned once. It is therefore hard to comprehend how an organization that prides itself on its bible education work could have justified devoting so much time and money to a video that essentially glorifies its own manmade organization and a piece of its architectural heritage. Shouldn’t videos of this sort be focusing on Jehovah God and his inspired word, rather than the achievements of men?
The reason why the Society evidently felt the need to make this video is because it has become obsessed with itself and its image rather than its message. The Governing Body and senior figures at World Headquarters now unknowingly treat themselves and their legal corporations with the same reverence as they do God. They therefore see glorifying themselves and glorifying God as one and the same thing. It is because they are so distracted by their own self-importance that they are slow in responding to the needs and concerns of those on the outside – especially their brothers in remote parts of the world.
In their view, those who live and work at New York Bethel are the main priority, so there is nothing wrong or unusual in these exalted ones learning about “new light” or important organizational developments weeks or even months ahead of ordinary “rank and file” publishers elsewhere. The three examples cited above, where the Society showed varying degrees of apathy or lethargy in responding to pressing matters, were clear evidence of this inward-looking attitude. If you are outside World Headquarters, it doesn’t matter what you know or don’t know. You can “read all about it” when the Society is ready to tell you in its own good time, if at all.
The Society’s self-loving attitude is reminiscent of Narcissus – a character from Greek mythology. Narcissus was a hunter, and the son of a nymph and a river-god. He was extremely good-looking, and was urged to look at his reflection in a pool of water. He fell so deeply in love with his own face that he couldn’t leave the pool, and died there. It is from this account that the term “narcissism” comes – meaning a fixation with oneself.
This is precisely what has happened to the Watch Tower Society. They are so in love with their wondrous history and manmade organization that they have grown disinterested in anything else, including those who follow their teachings around the world. This narcissism on their part renders them slow to confirm new developments to brothers globally, and slow to respond to negative media stories. In their view, nothing truly matters beyond the confines of the three New York Bethels. They simply cannot help but be spellbound by their own importance.
Some will doubtless think I am being unfair, or reading too much into things. However, I believe the events I have described above, among others, clearly demonstrate that the Society is not as fast and agile as it claims to be in the publications. The reasons to this are open to conjecture, but I believe the recent video of the “Watchtower” sign is clear evidence of narcissism on the part of the Society, and this would certainly go some way to explaining why they find it so difficult to respond quickly to important developments.
If I am right, and the Society is simply powerless to react quickly and decisively as perhaps it once did, then this certainly doesn’t bode well for the organization’s future prospects. Not only is their legal situation precarious due to the Conti case, but recent branch closures and operational downsizing seem to indicate that the Society could be running out of money, potentially leaving it more vulnerable than ever before. In such a volatile situation, quick and decisive action can often make the difference between success and failure. And the Society has recently demonstrated repeatedly that speed is not an attribute that it can rightfully boast of having anymore.