Thursday, May 24, 2012

W2W: What Do They Believe?

***This post is part of my Witnessing to the Jehovah's Witnesses series, abbreviated W2W.***

Encountering a Jehovah's Witness can be very confusing if you aren't familiar with their beliefs.  As I wrote in my first post on this topic, I didn't know much when Peggy initially visited me.  Flipping through any given month's literature will likely give you some inkling as to how their beliefs differ from your own, but I found it more instructive to read about all of their beliefs at once, instead of being slowly introduced to them.  In fairness, I should point out that unlike some religions that refuse to share certain doctrines until potential converts have already invested a considerable amount of time (and allowed themselves to be sufficiently indoctrinated -- Scientology comes to mind), JW's are forthcoming about their beliefs. 

In my experience, Jehovah's Witnesses are quick to point out that their beliefs and yours "have so much in common."  They love God, as you do; they accept the Bible as God's Word, as you do; they even call Jesus "the Son of God" with a capital S.  So what makes their beliefs incompatible with Christianity?  Here is a sampling of the major doctrines that are inconsistent with mainstream Christian teachings:

1. They deny the Trinity.  They believe that Jesus is a created being, not God, and they believe that the Holy Spirit is merely God's active force in the world.  Although it probably won't be the opening line of the pioneer standing on your doorstep, they actually consider Jesus to be the same as Archangel Michael.

2. They believe only a "little flock" of 144,000 will go to Heaven.  They believe that only 144,000 "anointed" Witnesses will go to Heaven; the best anyone else can hope for is unending life on a paradise earth.  Chances are that any JW you encounter believes his or her eternity will be spent right here.

3. They deny the immortality of the soul.  They believe that when humans die, they cease to exist. The afterlife is something that only happens for (1) people who number among the 144,000 who have been or will be immediately resurrected to Heaven upon death, which has occurred only since Christ's invisible reign began in 1914; (2) people now living who will survive the imminent Armageddon and eventually qualify for an eternal reward; and (3) people who will be resurrected from complete corporal and spiritual death and then given the opportunity to qualify for an eternal reward. 

4. They deny the existence of Hell.  If you're not one of the 144,000 with the heavenly hope or one of the people who get to live in the eternal paradise earth, you're annihilated and just gone forever.

5. They believe Christ died on a torture stake, not a cross.  As I wrote in my post on JW history, this was not always part of their beliefs, but they now insist that Jesus died on a straight pole with no crossbar, and that "true Christians do not use the cross in worship."

6. They deny the bodily Resurrection of Christ.  They believe that Jesus was resurrected not as a human, but as a "mighty spirit person."

Of course, there are others, some of which are actually better-known among the general populace, such as their refusal to accept blood transfusions and their insistence that holidays such as Christmas and Easter and birthdays are pagan.  I think some folks may be more inclined to bring up these points first when visited by JW's; in my opinion, although they range from unnecessarily socially awkward to potentially deadly, prohibitions such as these are just symptoms of the real problem.  The real problem is that most of their theological doctrines are based on a woefully misguided and false interpretation of Holy Scripture.

Jehovah's Witnesses insist that all of their beliefs are completely based on the teachings of the Bible, and they have a verses ready for every claim.  So when you're in the middle of baking cookies and attempting to maintain order in your home while still donning your jammies and they show up on your front porch ready to "spread God's message," it's hard not to feel like you're at a disadvantage.  But remember: even though these are mostly good-hearted people who genuinely love God and want to live good lives, their belief system is whack.  It is wrong.  It is entirely unworthy of a single adherent, let alone millions.  They deserve better, and you know it.  (Deep down, I think many of them know it, too.)

It's taken a while to get this series off the ground (have I even done that yet?).  My time has been consumed with travel, entertaining out-of-town guests, enjoying the gorgeous May weather, taking care of my daughter (who almost entirely eschews naps at this point), spending time with my husband, and reading material that is actually edifying.  I don't enjoy writing these posts.  Researching Watchtower Society history and doctrines is exhausting and, frankly, irritating. 

But let's soldier on.

Friday, May 18, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday

Thank you to our lovely hostess, Jen!

1. I've been working on these quick takes since yesterday afternoon.  I've been frustrated by how long it's taken me to finish them, but as of about 4 pm on Friday, I am delighted that they are not finished yet, because now I get to talk about awesomeness.  Remember my Secret Sister?  Oh yeah, she totally struck again!  She sent me a Mothers' Day gift, which arrived in the mail today!  It came in this adorable bag, which is a gift in and of itself:

 Wanna know what it was?
My tremendous photography skills at work.  I do weddings and bar mitzvahs.
Isn't it a gorgeous pendant?  I love it!  And thanks to her sweet note, I finally know what to call this beautiful ocean-y looking material: abalone (ah-baloney, or ah-balogna, if you will).  I bought an abalone ring at a craft show when I was 11 and wore it until the band broke.  I still have the ring, though, because I thought it was so pretty and I wanted to find more jewelry like it someday.  Secret Sister, how did you know this?

2. It gets even better!  My parents-in-law brought me back some beautiful abalone earrings from a vacation they took last year.  I'm pretty sure they and this pendant were made for each other:
Like that glow from the flash on my kitchen counter?  Talk about professional.
I wear these earrings frequently 'cause I'm crazy about them, and now I have a beautiful abalone and pearl pendant to wear with them!  Thank you, Secret Sister!

3. Secret Sister mentioned in her letter that she shared my previous blog post about her with friends, which includes some people in Syracuse.  I wonder if Secret Sister is from Syracuse?  (Like my Cathsorority sister Kate!)  I admit I have never been to Syracuse myself, but it has long been dear to my heart, because of this fellow pictured with a very young Elise:
Yeah, she was 1.5 months here. Wow.
I don't call him Otto, because I named him Orangie when I got him in 1990 (which apparently was the same year SU settled on the name "Otto"...but he's my Orangie, just as my OSU plush is Mr. Buckeye, not "Brutus").  My dad went to a seminar on autism that year at SU, and he brought back the plush orange for me and an SU ballcap for my brother.  Orangie has been my most beloved stuffie for a very long time now.  So, Secret Sister, I'm not sure if you're from Syracuse, or if you just happen to know some people there, but just thinking about Syracuse always brings a smile to my face!

4. It's been a busy spring here.  Starting last month, every weekend has been notable: we traveled to Ohio for Easter, my sister-in-law visited us from Virginia, we sold my craptastic car because it wasn't worth paying for repairs anymore, Colin went to a martial arts tournament in Columbus, and my parents-in-law visited us for Colin's graduation.  Last weekend, Elise and I traveled to Ohio again for Mothers' Day, and this weekend, my college roommate and her boyfriend are visiting us.  The following weekend is Memorial Day, and it remains to be seen whether we'll be doing anything for that.  The weekend after that is my friend Tracy's baby shower.  The good times keep on rollin'!  (Except for the car thing.  Oh well, I hated that bucket-o'-bolts.)

5. Yesterday I got the notion in my noggin' that we should host a Memorial Day cookout.  I've been itching to invite people over for some kind of get-together.  Just to provide some context, my husband and I are a pair of classic introverts who basically live as hermits.  I am beyond awkward and terrified of social situations.  We hardly ever have anybody over.  But I really want to.  Do I dare?

6. After months of making exclusively brown rice (when I make rice, I's not the only thing we eat, don't worry), I picked up some jasmine white rice for a Thai dish I made.  The Thai dish was terrible (courtesy of the horrible sauce), but the rice was awesome.  And it cooked super fast!  Yay jasmine rice!  On the other hand...
7. Elise is a lot bigger now.
I love her.
Happy weekend!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

W2W: History Lessons

***This post is part of my Witnessing to the Jehovah's Witnesses series, abbreviated W2W.***

In my last post in this series, I addressed the importance of loving our Jehovah's Witness neighbors, all of whom are made in God's image and are of infinite worth to Him.  Today's post will give some historical background on the Watchtower Society and the Jehovah's Witnesses.

The Early Years: Adventist Influences and C.T. Russell

The group now known as Jehovah's Witnesses was begun in the late 1870's under the direction of Charles Taze Russell.  Russell was interested in the Adventist teachings initiated by William Miller several decades before.  Miller and the those in the Adventist movement concentrated on prophesying the Second Coming of Christ (ergo, adventist), which they did based on Biblical passages from the Book of Daniel. 

Russell published a book in 1877 with Adventist preacher Nelson H. Barbour called Three Worlds and the Harvest of this World.  In it, they articulated their shared beliefs, including the invisible return of Christ to earth from Heaven in 1874, the expectation that God would be "harvesting" all the saints to Heaven by 1878, and the idea that all humans would be resurrected to earth for the opportunity to live an everlasting perfect life.  In 1879, Russell and Barbour split over doctrinal issues, and Russell began publishing the Zion's Watchtower and Herald of Christ's Presence monthly magazine on his own.  Russell began his meetings of the then-called Bible Student movement during the same year.  In 1881, Russell formed the Watchtower Society under the name Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society for the purpose of distributing his religious literature. 

Over the next several decades, Russell continued to preside at meetings of the Bible Students and disseminate his Watchtower publications. He also oversaw the activities of thousands of traveling preachers.  His doctrinal development reached its completion in 1904, when he published The New Creation.  In it, he asserted that Revelation 7 delineated between two classes of eternal life for Christians -- 144,000 who would reign with Christ, and another "great company" who would be perfected on a lesser plane.  He refined his teaching that Christ had returned to earth in 1874 and had begun ruling in 1878.  He gave the year 1914 as the date for Armageddon, after which all of humanity would be resurrected in reverse order (i.e. Adam and Eve would be last) for the chance to prove themselves during the Millenial Age, which he said had begun in 1874.  At the end of a thousand years of proving his or her worthiness, each person would enter his or her ultimate destiny of eternal life or death.  Russell died in October 1916.  For years after his death, the Watchtower Society referred to him as the "faithful and wise servant" described in Matthew 24:45-47.

Rutherford's Leadership

The following year, the Watchtower Society elected its legal counsel, Joseph Franklin Rutherford, to succeed Russell as president.  Rutherford made substantial doctrinal and organizational changes during his presidency, which lasted until 1942.  He announced in 1920 that Christ's reign would begin in 1925, ushering in a time of earthly paradise.  In 1925, Armageddon was redefined as a battle between God and Satan, which would culminate in the overthrow of earthly governments and heathen religion.  During the next few years, the Society discarded remaining copies of Russell's books and stopped printing them; Watchtower publications ceased referring to him as the "faithful and wise servant."   Rutherford announced in 1929 that the vindication of God's name (when millions of unbelievers were annihilated at Armageddon) was the primary doctrine of Christianity.  In 1931, Rutherford officially changed the name of the group from the Bible Students to the Jehovah's Witnesses.  In 1938, Rutherford began using the term theocracy to describe the Watchtower Society's administration, despite Russell's earlier insistence that the society itself was not a religious organization, but a literature-distributing legal entity.

Watchtower teachings on the timing of Christ's return also changed; by 1933, the date had been moved from 1874 to 1914.  In 1935, it was announced that the "great company" of believers not included in the 144,000 would actually be survivors of Armageddon, who would be put to the test for a thousand years to qualify for everlasting life in a paradise earth.  By 1939, it was announced that those spared would only be in God's "organization" (the Watchtower organization, of course).

Some of the more well-known peculiarities of Jehovah's Witness adherents were established during this time: they stopped celebrating Christmas in 1928 on the grounds that it was a "pagan" holiday; in 1935, Witnesses were instructed not to salute the flag, sing the national anthem, or accept alternate military service offered to conscientious objectors; in 1936, Watchtower publications stopped referring to the cross or the crucifixion, asserting that Christ had actually died on a torture stake.

Knorr's Leadership and the 1975 Anticipation

Rutherford was succeeded as president by Nathan Homer Knorr in 1942.  Under Knorr's leadership, the Society progressed toward corporate leadership, and ended the practice of acknowledging individual authorship of any Watchtower publication, instead attributing them to an anonymous writing committee.  Knorr expanded the central operations (headquartered in Brooklyn, NY since 1908), expanded printing production worldwide, organized international assemblies and initiated significant training programs.  He also commissioned a new translation of the Bible, released in sections beginning in 1950 (and as a complete work in 1961 as the New World Translation).

Witnesses were prohibited from obtaining blood transfusions in 1945, and starting in 1951, birthday celebrations were considered "objectionable."  Emphasis on disfellowshipping as a disciplinary measure was also increased under Knorr's leadership.

Beginning in 1966, Watchtower publications indicated that Christ's thousand-year reign would begin in 1975.  The Witnesses were highly anticipatory of that year, and although the Society never explicitly stated that Armageddon would absolutely occur during 1975, the implication was obvious in Watchtower literature.  The number of JW baptisms skyrocketed in anticipation of this event, from 59,000 in 1966 to 297,000 in 1974.  When 1975 came and went and Armageddon didn't come, disappointed Witnesses were told that their hopes had been based on "false premises."

Governing Body Leadership

In 1976, the organizational structure of the Watchtower Society changed; beginning then, the Governing Body has retained authority over the doctrines, publication materials, and administration of Jehovah's Witness congregations.  Subsequent presidents of the Watchtower Society have had considerably less influence and authority than did Russell, Rutherford, and Knorr.  In 1980, the Watchtower Society admitted some responsibility for the frenzied anticipation of the end times in 1975.  During the same year, a major housecleaning occurred within the upper-ranks of the organization, when it was discovered that some of the core members of the hierarchy disputed some of the chronology doctrines of the Jehovah's Witnesses (such as Christ's invisible return in 1914).  Many of the Governing Body members were expelled and labeled as "spiritual fornicators," "mentally diseased," and "insane."  This only hardened the attitude of the Society toward disfellowshipped members who dissented with JW teachings.

Jehovah's Witnesses
History of Jehovah's Witnesses
Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses 
Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania

Friday, May 4, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday

Visit our lovely hostess Jen for more quick takes!

1. Guess what I finally bought?!
It arrived in the mail Wednesday!  I've read a couple chapters, and I love it already.  Is it shameful that I can't wait to take a photo of myself with the book so I can add it to the customer images on Amazon?  I just want to be part of that club.

2. On Tuesday, the baby and I strolled down to a local farmer's market and bought some rhubarb. I had never eaten it before last year, but I was inspired by Coppertop Kitchen to try it in a few recipes, and we quite enjoyed it.  I'm planning to make a pie or a crisp this weekend.  I feel snazzier making a pie,, a crisp is so much easier.  (Whoops, I guess it's actually a "crunch."  You know what I mean.)

3. My hometown won $1 million in grants from Walmart's Fighting Hunger Together campaign.  Like many folks, I'm not crazy about Walmart, but I'm thrilled that my home community will be getting this money, and I hope it is spent wisely!

4. Getting back to my fascinating life, I've had a throat ailment this week. I don't know what it is.  I figured it was a cold when I first started getting symptoms, but it's been almost entirely in my throat, and usually my colds come with an unhealthy dose of nasal congestion.  On Tuesday, I had basically no voice at all; that was also the day the baby was most interested in being read to. 

5. I ended that last take in a preposition, and I'm not even gonna do anything about it.  Let's talk about grammatical pet peeves!  Here's one of mine that I've seen a lot lately and would like to address:
The expression "rein in" refers to controlling or directing something, much like using reins on a horse.  It has nothing to do with any kind of reign.  Friends, please resist the urge to put that "g" in there; it makes no sense.  Thanks.

6. My daughter has almost no summer clothes.  This is the first season that she hasn't had either tons of gifts (early babyhood) or hand-me-down/garage-sale finds courtesy of my mom (toddlerhood).  All of a sudden it's warm, and I realized a couple days ago she had literally three t-shirts (all of which have Sesame Street characters on them, which means, yes, Lindsy, you gave her two of them) and one short-sleeved onesie from our parish's school.  We went out to a consignment store yesterday and I bought a few more shirts, and she has a few pairs of shorts and some dresses, so we're getting there.  I saw a post on Craigslist the other night for a lot of girls' clothing in her size and I got quite excited, but the poster never emailed me back.  Maybe I shouldn't have tried to haggle?  It would figure that when the shy chick finally finds some pluck, it backfires. :)

7. A few nights ago we went to a get-together -- a goodbye party really -- for a young man from our church who is joining a Franciscan friary.  (Tomorrow!)  Toward the end of the evening, we were watching some YouTube videos on the TV, and after a couple minutes, Elise started begging for Elmo.  "Does she associate the TV with Elmo?" one of the guys asked.  Sir, my daughter thinks the sole purpose of televisions, and computers for that matter, is watching Elmo.  So in honor of Elise, here's one of my personal favorite Sesame Street YouTube videos (which I happen to like more than the original song):

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

W2W: First Things

***This post is part of my Witnessing to the Jehovah's Witnesses series, abbreviated W2W.***

A couple weeks ago, I invited Peggy, the Jehovah's Witness who distributes literature around my neighborhood, to come to my house so we could talk about the Trinity.  Toward the end of our talk, I asked her how she liked going door-to-door (I believe the JW word for her role is "pioneer").  She told me that she enjoyed it, because she cared about the work and she loved meeting and talking with people.  She said that most people are nice to her, even if they don't engage in conversation for long.  And she said that "when people are rude, I know I shouldn't take it personally; they're not rejecting me, they're rejecting God's message."

I affirmed that she should indeed not take rudeness personally.  (I did not agree that rude folks were rejecting God's message, since I do not believe that the Watchtower Organization's beliefs or publications contain it.)  But I reflected on her answer after she left, and I considered what it would be like to be in her shoes.  Was I rude to her the first time she visited, when I was tired and frustrated?  I don't think I was outwardly unkind or hostile, although I was certainly irritated on the inside.  Was I irritated with the content of the publications she was giving me?  Or was my frustration focused on the woman handing them to me?  Reflecting on this inspired me to think of a few guidelines for evangelizing to JW's.

1. Always treat Jehovah's Witnesses with dignity and respect.  I think it's crucial whenever we're evangelizing to anybody -- which is all the time, since actions speak louder than words -- that we remember to focus on the people themselves.  Focusing solely on their beliefs or practices (some of which may be trying of our patience) will dehumanize them immediately in our minds. 

Fellow Christians, don't let us ever forget what we believe.  We believe that each human is created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26), a unique, unrepeatable soul.  Marc Barnes, take it from here:
As Christians we are called to see our brothers and sisters with the eyes of God, and thus with the eyes of Love. We are called to see their immense value, not for what they do — Heaven knows we can be a vindictive, spiteful bunch — but for who they are....[W]e should allow the wonder, the mystery and the beauty of life — that unrepeatable, ever-new gift — to fill us every time we are with our fellow man. This is his commandment, that we love one another, that we see each other in the light of day, that our joy may be full.    
God knew us before forming us in the womb (Jer 1:5); we are each of infinite worth to Him.  Jesus Christ, true God and true man, suffered a horrific death on a cross for the salvation of each and every human ever created (John 3:16, John 1:29, Matthew 26:28).  He died for me, he died for you, and he died for every person who has ever hurt you, disappointed you, been cruel to you, or inconvenienced you by showing up at your doorstep while you're trying to cook dinner.  That doesn't mean we can't disagree, but it certainly means we shouldn't be rude.

Remember that the JW's ringing your doorbell don't have it easy.  I'm sure that even the most extroverted among them aren't immune to feeling intimidated or hurt during the course of their door-to-door ministry.  Dig into the depths of your heart and be a balm of charity for them.

2. Stay close to God in prayer.  Pray for the JW's who visit you, and for everyone in their organization.  Pray that their eyes and ears and hearts will be opened to the Truth.  And don't forget to pray for yourself.  I always rush to the Holy Spirit when I'm trying to evangelize.  My favorite prayer for these occasions is the beginning of the "Come, Holy Spirit":
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of thy love.
3. Put on Christ (Romans 13:14).  Evangelizing is trying and difficult; we cannot do it (or anything else, for that matter) of our own volition. Spreading Love and Truth and Goodness and Beauty requires dying to self and allowing our hearts to be transformed by God Himself.  One of my favorite verses to meditate on is Galatians 2:20: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me."

4. Remember that they are giving us an opportunity to learn.  Strange as it may sound, delving into the teachings of the Watchtower Society, almost all of which are contrary to Christian teachings, has been nothing short of a Godsend.  My research has inspired me to learn more about authentic Christian doctrine; it has also led me to spend a lot more time reading the Bible.  It has been, and continues to be, a deeply enriching experience.  Learning about God is a thankfully unending process -- there's always more to know about the Eternal and Infinite. 

Observing the JW pioneers in my neighborhood has given me a lot of food for thought about evangelizing. Even though it may sound incredible to the many of us who have no interest in joining their fold and/or are irritated by their door-to-door campaigns, they win people over all the time, people who are searching for Truth.  The Watchtower Society offers them a counterfeit, but they accept it as the real thing.  How many times have we encountered someone who was searching, seeking, hungry and thirsty for supernatural life (John 6:35), and yet failed to lead them in the Light of Truth?