Everyone makes mistakes. The Bible characters certainly did. Think of the Apostle Peter, denying Jesus three times on the night of his arrest, his faith and courage failing him at the critical moment, leaving him a weeping, emotionally shattered wreck. (John 18:13-27)
Think of King David, sleeping with Bathsheba then panicking over the resulting pregnancy, so desperate to avoid scandal that he ultimately orchestrates events to get Bathsheba’s husband killed. (2 Samuel chapter 11)
Or think of Jonah, getting a commission from God to condemn the Ninevites, but instead running away in terror from that commission as fast as he can. (Jonah 1:3) After God readjusts Jonah’s thinking via the rather humiliating use of a whale’s digestive tract, Jonah finally gets his act together and goes forth to condemn the Ninavites. (Jonah 1:17-2:2)
Except the Ninivites promptly repent and God forgives them, so Jonah throws a hissy fit about how he will now look like a fool when all that fire and judgement he prophesied doesn’t show up on time. (Jonah 3:10) God rolls his eyes and has to school him again about not being a sulky little child, especially where people’s lives are concerned. (Jonah 4: 9-11)
Faithful men of old made some horrific mistakes, and Watchtower makes mistakes too. Think of prophecy.
“1914 will be the end of the world! Oh, that didn’t happen. Hmmm. We meant to say 1925, and Moses will be resurrected then as well! Huh, the world didn’t end and Moses is a no-show (but we can still use that lovely house we built for him). Wait right, 1975 will be the year it all ends! Oh…. well it’ll certainly come before the end of the 20th century!…huh…erm…before the generation that saw 1914 passes away? OH COME ON!”
Or think of medical advice.
For example, from 1921 to 1952, the Watchtower campaigned against vaccination, presenting it as unsuitable for Christians and nothing more than a malicious con on the part of the medical establishment.
During an era when mankind was poised to make great strides in eliminating diseases such as smallpox, Watchtower recklessly stood in the way, endangering not only the lives of its followers but of all those who came into contact with them. Only in the 1950’s did they start to reverse this position, apparently due to legal concerns more than anything else. It’s hard to argue that lives were not lost or ruined as a result.
What about organ transplants? From 1967 to 1980, the Watchtower considered transplants to be cannibalism, thus putting this life-saving and life-changing treatment out of the reach of its followers. This position was reversed after 13 years, but again it’s hard to argue that witnesses would not have suffered and even died as a result of this mistake
And how could we not mention child abuse? In Austraila alone, it was recently disclosed that over 1,006 alleged child abusers were known to Watchtower since the 1950’s as operating in their congregations. None of them were reported to the authorities.
As a result of this inaction, Watchtower’s own internal records show that a significant number of these molesters continued to offend and re-offend with apparent impunity, and with no recourse available to the abuse survivors.
Of all their errors of judgement, this seems to be one of the gravest Watchtower has ever made.
So, just like the faithful men of old, Watchtower has made some terrible mistakes. There is, however, one significant difference between the faithful men of God in the bible, and Watchtower today.
In the bible, God’s people admitted their mistakes.
Peter, for example, is never recorded as having contested the accounts of his failure on the night of Jesus’ arrest. Rather, the bible narrative makes clear that he fully admitted his failures and did his best to atone for them.
Additionally, all in the congregations of the first century would be aware of Peter’s history. There was no whitewashing, no denial. Peter owned his mistake and learned from it, later being recorded as a courageous man who successfully stood firm in situations similar to the one in which he succumbed.
Likewise David, upon being confronted with the gravity of his sins, tore his garments apart and went into mourning.
If one assumes the bible as being the word of God and accepts the biblical narrative of who wrote what, then it was David himself who recorded the full depths of his mistakes in Psalm 51, acknowledging the full horror and human cost of his error. No excuses. No passing the buck. No editing of his personal history. David took it full on the chin, accepting whatever consequences God felt fitting.
Likewise, according to the religious text, Jonah himself is the author of the book that bares his name – even if most bible scholars consider the book allegorical. But assuming it is a historical account with Jonah as the writer, as befitting a humble man of God he did not attempt to whitewash his own history, or belittle his mistakes. Rather, he recorded them in excruciating detail, presenting a brutally honest chronicle of his worst failures that often cast him in a poor light.
Jonah didn’t care that it made him look bad. He knew that it was more important to acknowledge his serious mistakes, own them, and learn from them.
How does this compare to Watchtower? Let’s start with the succession of failed prophecies littering the feet of the Organization.
It has to be said, the founder of the religion, Charles Taze Russell, did occasionally admit that he’d blundered in this regard, although this didn’t stop him from setting new dates to replace the failed ones with seemingly endless enthusiasm and very little self reflection.
However as time went by and the leadership changed, this trait faded from Watchtower’s skill set. For example, the only acknowledgement of the 1975 debacle was a single published article that essentially threw the rank and file Witnesses under the bus for believing what they were told by Watchtower from the platform and in publications (never mind the fact that they are not allowed to dispute what they are told from the platform and in publications by Watchtower).
Since then, failed prophecies have not even been acknowledged as errors. They have instead been re-framed as “new understandings” or “new light.”
So the next time I leave home without my wallet, that’s not a mistake. That’s new light about the location of my wallet. And the next time I burn the toast it is not a mistake, just a new understanding about the desired status of the toast. I mean yes, I still had to eat carbonized bread for breakfast, and I’m standing at the bus stop with no money to pay the fare, but I didn’t make any mistakes, you see…
What about the other subjects? Issues where Watchtower mistakes have had a grave cost in physical and mental health? A cost in human lives? Issues such as banning vaccination and organ transplants? Or the covering up of numerous cases of child sexual abuse?
Watchtower has never apologized for these mistakes. Ever.
In fact, if you are a Jehovah’s Witness reading this, it might be the first you’ve even heard of some of these issues, so thoroughly has Watchtower whitewashed them from history and made sure that the congregation does not know.
Y’know, exactly the way Peter didn’t.
And the way David didn’t.
And the way Jonah didn’t.
I guess you can draw your own conclusions from that.