Is the Watchtower organisation facing the biggest crisis of its history?
Recent developments make me think they might be. The problems they are facing are not just lack of funds but also draining authority, and the two could be a heady and explosive mix.
One of the best analyses ever written of the Watchtower was a book called "Trumpet of Prophecy" by sociologist James Beckford in the 1970s. I don't have the references but Beckford noted an important aspect of Watchtower ideology: whatever problems occurred at a local congregation level, ordinary members always envisaged such problems as local aberrations. The top of the organisation was viewed with utmost respect, even sanctity. Any injustices that ordinary Witnesses faced were conceived as a result of evil among local low-level representatives. The leaders of the organisation were kept in the highest esteem. They were like the imaginary friend who was always on your side. If an elder treated you bad, you just knew that the GB would disapprove of them, if only they knew the details of the situation. When the magazines said, "wait on Jehovah" it felt like they were saying: "we know many local elders are bad, but unfortunately you have to put up with them for now, the GB is on your side".
It's hard now for ordinary JWs to maintain the delusion that the GB are exemplary or that they're on your side as an ordinary JW. In fact I'd say it's near breaking point. Which feeds into lower donations, which causes the GB to behave more erratically and lose further authority, which in turn feeds into yet lower donations. It's a vicious downward spiral.
The early tremors of the earthquake, looking back, might be instances like when Jaracz brushed aside the Panorama reporter: "we don't answer questions". One pioneer said to me on the ministry the next day: "I don't like that man". Then there was cancelling the book study. Didn't the GB realise that for ordinary JWs this was socially the most important meeting? And giving the false gas price explanation too. Don't think people didn't notice. And then there was the September 2007 KM that put a stop to organised independent Bible study. Then the branches started closing in places like Austria and Swizerland that had had branches for over a century.
Then came the real shocks to the system. The number of anointed started going up fast. Not only that but no good explanations were offered. Then a series of wacky explanations of the generation, each weirder than the last, until the ultimate overlapping absurdity was settled upon. More branch closures, cut backs, layoffs, begging for money. The GB broadcasts with their weird mannerisms, gold watches, pinky rings, tight pant talks, begging for money. And begging for more. And showing off charts with overlapping Franz. And more begging. And more closures. And confiscating money from congregations. And promising more building. And then announcing building to stop. And then printing a calendar of building projects when building projects have been abandoned. And mishandling abuse cases, and disastrous appearances of GB member at the Royal Commision, and disastrous media coverage. And more begging, and more confiscation of congregation funds, and more cut backs, and lay offs...
Ordinary JWs no longer revere the GB. They no longer imagine they are on their side. The GB have become a bunch of weirdos who keep harassing them for more money. Leaders who claim God's backing but have to keep cutting back the organisation. And when they don't get enough money just from asking, they confiscate it from congregations. And tell congregations they can't spend their own money as they see fit.
They don't just face money problems. There has been a serious ideological breech in the JW organisation. Which feeds into lower donations, increases the GB's panic, produces more cutbacks and weird behaviour, more loss of authority, and so on and so on. If they don't get a grip soon I think they face the biggest crisis of their history. The combination of lack of funds and dwindling authority could be their downfall.
There was a post on here a few weeks back, about a widening gap between "social witnesses" and "true believers".
It used to be that JW belief fell along a pretty evenly distributed spectrum, from full-on conservative company men to liberal "weak" witnesses. Most JWs fell between those 2 extremes.
Now it seems that all of the stresses pointed out in the OP are in effect "Pushing up the middle of the bell curve". People are being forced to choose between 2 extremes: moronic adoration and docile servitude, or else doing just the minimum to get by and still belong to the social club.
I suspect that this development may be fueling the (presumed) monetary crisis. I'd bet the large majority of donations came from that middle group on the spectrum, the ones dumb enough to stay in but smart enough to get a decent education and a decent job (instead of a treadmill of minimum wage jobs while pioneering).
Pioneers & Bethelites had very little to contribute, and the "spiritually weak" chose not to. It was all (or mostly) those guys in the middle.
So now what?
The middle guys who are falling to the hardcore side are giving up their full-time work to pioneer in Bolivia or Ecuador or Costa Rica...they no longer contribute.
The middle guys who are falling to the softer side are saying "wait a minute...I'm going to get old in this system and I'll have to retire...I'd better start investing my money." They no longer contribute.
Either way...no one is contributing.
Part of me says "they've got a billion dollars in real estate sales in the pipeline...there can't be a money crisis".
Then the other part of me answers "well. if there really were a financial crisis, what would it look like? How would it differ from what we are seeing...closing branches, Bethel & SP layoffs, a halt on construction projects, radical slashing of printed literature"
I don't know that there is a financial crisis in WT-world, but it feels right. It is a solution that fits all the available evidence.
Oh...I hope you are right. I go back and forth on this issue also. Time will tell...soon, I hope.
When the GB were out of sight ordinary JWs could project onto them whatever they wished to believe about them. Mainly that they were thoughtful, spiritual, moderate men presiding over a successful expanding organisation.
Now that the GB are always in your face begging for money, announcing cutbacks and weird doctrine, the illusion is well and truly shattered.
As authority dwindles and donations drop they could be reaching a point of crisis rather than merely a gentle decline.
SBF, I think you make good points. My observation here locally is that a lot of people are uncomfortable with how the GB presents itself on the videos (classless and tacky), but no one is talking. (The silence is LOUD!!!)
As for the book study, eliminating that was a big mistake. They should have eliminated the school/service meeting instead, people really find that boring, at least the book study had some social aspect to it people enjoyed.
When it comes to the overlapping generation doctrine, anointed numbers going up, and the ARC hearings, I notice that if you bring it up the subject gets changed quickly. Hmmmm..... no one is talking.
Meanwhile, my elderly mother (who actually has the means to do so) hasn't given anything in ages. She's so confused by the changes she doesn't think about giving more money. (And will I remind her? Noooooooo) She won't watch the videos either, they make her "nervous".
Everyone else here locally is of modest income and doesn't have much to contribute. Serves them right.
SBF, I agree. All the crazy changes and now being able to peer at the men behind the curtain, are mind boggling.
Changes in the organization have been happening so fast, so furious, so rapidly, so crazily, that I think the GB wants the rank and file to be breathless with all this "activity"! The GB are hoping the rank and file will think, "wow! Jehovah must be speeding up the work! Look how everything is happening and changing so fast! Light is "flashing forth" at breakneck speed! Jehovah's day must certainly be coming soon!"
But, as you say, the GB drastically seem to misunderstand people. They have no clue how to really lead and motivate people. They know only fear, guilt, pressure, do more.... They do not see that their flock, rather than being energized (well, maybe there are some), are confused.
All these changes:
- a website !
- broadcasting studio
- Witnessing Carts
- allowance of Blood fractions
- a New Bible
- Worldly music & dancing allowed in KHs
- Letters from the GB or branch people signed, "Best WISHES"
- new songs
- F&DS is now the GB
- a new meeting format (CLAM)
- new videos and screens at KHs
- new KH building directives and committees (LDC)
- closures (Branches)
- layoffs (at Bethels)
- reduction in magazines in format & frequency
- boring new light that only elevates the GB & other leaders over and over again, (dukes, Kings, some other new light thing with a fancy long name, starts with an "A" - sorry, memory failing me)
- special talks featuring GB members who rant (tight pants) rather than encourage
- not to mention all the things you said!
oh my gosh. It is head spinning.
But I feel like the flock are not impressed, but are stressed and confused. Too many changes, too much weirdness, too many things allowed now that were terrible, evil things before (iPads, Internet, televangelists, dancing and playing worldly music at Kingdom Halls), conventions being opportunities now to sight-see and "have the time of your life!", blood fractions, national flags allowed to be displayed at KHs if the law demands it (Chile), membership with the UN was okay (because it was for a "library card", uh huh), mounting media reports of child sexual abuse cases....
How the heck can this thing stand? It's foundations are crumbling, support is drying up, people are confused, nobody is talking (yet), but some people are looking around and wondering what the heck is going on.....
sir82 I've asked this before, I wonder if you have any insight. The fact that the WT look set to gain billions and yet they are acting as if they are broke seems incongruous. Is it possible that the WT borrowed against the value of their property assets and they've already spent the money? Borrowing against the value of property was pretty popular during the boom years of the 2000s. Plus they could have rationalised it as a bridging loan during their relocation. Plus they might have figured that property prices always go up so they couldn't lose.
I agree with all the well thought out points above,
I wanted to add 2 things. As to the apparent money crisis (if there is indeed such) once you start selling assets but dont have your volunteer funded cash flow, you would feel like there is a crisis if your smart.
The Org is used to its cash coming from the ranks below NOT selling of property.
As stated in the OP if that is drying up then I suspect they are very nervous, in spite of some high priced real estate they own. Its a way of life that is no more....book and magazine sales are flat. Their website has not lit the world on fire like they hoped. What next? They dont seem to know.
The other thought I wanted to add is that another change is weakening of respect for elders in general. In history, when you dont have respect for the law you get chaos and anarchy. Perhaps they worry more about that within the ranks than they do indifference?
People fading in chronic indifference or fighting back with lawsuits and websites that tell the real truth. Its going to be one or the other - perhaps both.
I can't speak to the wider issue, but this is exactly why I woke up one year ago. Growing up, I took pride in the fact that most of us couldn't even name the governing body members. These humble men were not interested in promoting themselves. No matter how crazy someone was in the hall or how strange a talk might be, I found immeasurable comfort in the watchtowers and how reasonable they appeared at the time. I love research and I was totally impressed by the mountain of literature, the rows of neat bound volumes, and the "scholarly nature" of both the insight and reasoning books.
But the changes have been a shock to my system. Any attempt on appearing deep or well researched has been abandoned. Those in congregation I was most embarrassed by now seem to be the ones that are most catered to. All the publications are now either geared towards children or people with little to no reading ability.
The broadcasts may just be the most damaging thing. Many of the more reasonable have chosen to not watch them at all for fear that their faith may be weakened. Some sit with eyes glazed and mouths slightly ajar as they gobble up everything said like it was from God himself.
times they are a changing
All posts, including OP, excellent!
I think the org is facing its biggest crisis ever. There have been problems before (like 1975), but the org could recover after such problems because, for one thing, there was no internet to really expose it, pick apart its doctrines, etc. But, also, because time hadn't really run out on its prophecies, and as you (SBF) indicated, the GB were more mysterious and revered. Also, it used to be that JWdom attracted some smart, well-read, stable people.
Now, though, it's really different, I see no way JWdom can recover from what seems to be the beginning of a downward spiral. Time has simply run out on JW predictions (and number of anointed still going up???). They've cried wolf too many times. The GB have been exposed (or overexposed), and I think many are beginning to see (even if they don't realize it yet) that members of the GB are not what they thought. Their superpowers have been taken away. The wizard's curtain has been removed and what's behind it is right out in the open for all to see.
I believe the days of attracting quality people are over. What would attract an intelligent, stable (socially, emotionally, financially) person to JWdom now? How possibly could such a person become a JW?
The slick, shiny videos and broadcasts take away from the seeming dignity and seriousness of times past. It used to be that some were attracted to JWdom because it wasn't mainstream and it wasn't like the churches they saw on TV. It seemed to focus on real, deeper Bible study. It just seemed like the real thing. But not anymore.
The preaching work is a joke compared to what it used to be. JWdom has been dumbed down and made to appeal to simpletons. JWs can't defend their teachings; most don't even really know the teachings anymore. There is nothing really to look forward to - no excitement.
Yeah, I just don't see how they can recover from this and ever again gain momentum as they did in times past after problems.