Understanding those who knock on our doors
My first single-author book Crisis of Allegiance (Welch, 1986) has stood the test of time. It covered the drama of dissent among Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada, in particular the story of M. James Penton, then a history professor and now the most famous ex-JW in Canada.
Watch Tower Society leaders, instead of listening to Penton’s evidence of corruption and false teachings in the group, kicked him out along with his wife Marilyn, other family members and fellow Witnesses from their Lethbridge, Alta., congregation.
After his excommunication Penton became one of the world’s most influential critics of Jehovah’s Witnesses. His book Apocalypse Delayed (University of Toronto Press, 3rd ed., 2015) is the most significant scholarly study of Witnesses, period. Ever since I met Penton I’ve regarded him as a hero for his courage to keep faith in God despite Kingdom Hall hatred and worldwide attacks. Keep him in mind when Jehovah’s Witnesses show up at your door. He is now 89, but is still trying to help former members.
There are other ex-JW champions as well. In a column six years ago I also mentioned Barbara Anderson, a JW for 43 years and major whistleblower, the late Ray Franz, author of Crisis of Conscience (NuLife Press, 5th ed., 2018) and former member of the Witnesses’ Governing Body, and Candace Conti, a victim of child abuse whose lawsuit cost the Watchtower millions of dollars.
They predicted the end of the world in 1914, 1918, 1925 and 1975 … their obsession with the end of the world is ongoing.
What these ex-JWs have learned from personal experience is the totalitarian side of Watchtower leadership that runs the world’s 8.7 million members, including more than 115,000 in Canada.
There are other ex-members of note, including Paul Grundy and Eric Wilson (www.Beroeans.net) and atheist Lloyd Evans. Australians Steven Unthank and Lara Kaput, both victims of child abuse, have helped the world understand JW mishandling of child molestation. This abuse debacle has led more people away from the Watchtower than anything else in recent history.
ESTIMATED NUMBER OF JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES WORLDWIDE
On the academic front ex-JW scholar Carl Olof Jonsson has shown, based on 40 years of research, that the Watchtower leaders have bungled their understanding of eschatology and their claim Jesus returned invisibly in 1914. Jonsson was excommunicated for his research.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are not wrong about everything, and most Witnesses are decent people not deserving of the enormous persecution they receive in Russia and some other countries. However, these are basically separate issues from the task of testing Witness doctrine and practice, which makes this a group to warn others about and one whose members need rescue. My first book outlined five failures.
- The leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been false prophets over their entire history. They predicted the end of the world in 1914, 1918, 1925 and 1975. While they no longer pick a specific date, their obsession with the end of the world is ongoing.
- The movement teaches false doctrines including denying Jesus is God and therfore not to be worshipped. They also adopt the strange view that Jesus used to be Michael the Archangel.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses are victims of false scholarship. Their anti-intellectual stance cripples their research and outlook, as in their distorted New World Translation of the Bible, their claim only Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians, and deadly view that blood transfusion is evil.
- The Watchtower Society demands false loyalty. The leaders crush dissent and trap people in an echo chamber where serious examination of counter-Witness evidence is not allowed. Just try to get a Witness to look at Franz’s book, Jonsson’s research or the websites noted in this article.
- The Witness organization offers false stability, since the Governing Body can change interpretation and rules on a dime. Yesterday’s evils can become today’s commands and vice-versa.
In our witness to the Witnesses, we should trust in God who is in the business of opening eyes. I think of Eric Wilson, mentioned above. He was raised a Witness and for 60 years accepted everything. Then in 2010 through the help of God’s Spirit and sustained Bible study, he abandoned many major Witness teachings. He wrote this for Faith Today readers. "Since leaving the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I have experienced a level of spiritual freedom such as I have never known. I finally feel like God is my father, and when I read Scripture, everything falls into place."
James A. Beverley is research professor at Tyndale University in Toronto. His book on Jehovah’s Witnesses will be updated and released later this year. Read more of his columns at www.FaithToday.ca/ReligionWatch.