At the beginning of May, congregations all over the world were told of a new “Kingdom Hall and Assembly Hall construction program” that was coming into operation.
Many Witnesses have welcomed the new arrangement, assuming it means congregations indebted to the organization for their construction costs now have their debts waived.
In reality, however, the new arrangement means all congregations are permanently indebted to the organization, and are committed to paying at least the amount of any monthly installment they were already paying… indefinitely.
This has led to the new measures being dubbed “stealth-tithing” by some, and with good reason. Rather than directly committing individuals to pledging a fixed monthly sum, Watchtower is cleverly doing this at a congregation level, leaving the elders the unpleasant task of guilt-tripping the congregation if they aren’t donating enough to honor their pledge.
Even so, the new arrangement left many questions, and Watchtower was forced to issue a letter dated May 2nd notifying elders that further direction would be given on the matter. That letter has now become available, and it brings the amazing scope of Watchtower’s cunning smash-and-grab into sharp focus.
Dated May 12th to all congregations in the United States Branch Territory, the letter instructs congregations in the US to keep on their accounts three months’ worth of utility, supplies and servicing expenses, along with a maximum cash reserve of $5,000 per kingdom hall (to be split between however many congregations share a kingdom hall).
Elders are to contact anyone in the congregation with promissory notes and find out, without coercion (to their credit), whether they want their money returned. The aim is to find out what money truly belongs to the congregation (and can thus be sent on to Watchtower) and what money is actually tied up with individuals.
Once such matters have been resolved, a “one-time donation of surplus funds” is to be made to the branch office of everything apart from the three months’ worth of operating expenses (including pledges to various assistance arrangements, i.e. Kingdom Hall Assistance, Traveling Overseer Assistance), and the permitted $5,000 reserve.
As you can imagine, this is likely to result in a windfall for Watchtower, but it is a stunt they can pull only once.
As with the sale of the Brooklyn portfolio at over a billion dollars, once Watchtower has completed its congregation smash-and-grab they cannot do the same thing again in the future.
Once all the family jewels have been cashed in at the local pawn shop, they cannot be replaced.
Publishers who have donated their hard-earned money to ensure the financial autonomy of their local kingdom halls will now be expecting Watchtower to deliver on its end of the bargain, and make sure their congregation has all its construction and heavy maintenance needs met promptly by the branch office.
So far Watchtower has shown through its unprecedented spate of branch closures, against a backdrop of increasing investment in its New York operational hub, a propensity to prioritize the needs of the leadership over those of their far-flung adherents.
If, as feared, Watchtower is running out of cash and wants the money as a financial quick-fix to ease its woes, they will not find publishers to be quite so sympathetic the next time they come to the congregations cap in hand – especially if their roofs are leaking or their walls are subsiding, the congregation coffers are empty, and nothing is being done.