Recently, I received a phone call from an elder in the local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He wanted to arrange a meeting with my wife and me. I inquired as to the nature of the meeting and he stated that “certain accusations” had been made against me. He said a meeting involving my wife, me, and a couple of elders should be held as soon as possible in an effort to “sort out the facts” and to make sure we hadn’t “enticed” anyone else.
Strangely, though, regardless of anything I might or might not have ever done, the Watchtower Society does not recognize me as one of its members. The Watchtower Society reported the number of Witnesses worldwide to be 6,741,444 last year. In order to be counted amongst these ranks a person must be an active publisher. That is, they must go door-to-door at least once a month. I have not performed this activity for well over a year, and my wife has not done so for over two years; neither of us, therefore, are counted as members of the congregation. Consequently, I fail to see why the elder felt he had any jurisdiction over me or my wife. It’s as if I walked out of a job a year ago and only now does my ex-boss call to inform me I may be fired for conduct unbecoming his company.
Nevertheless, I inquired as to who made these accusations. The elder initially resisted providing me with any information, but as I reasoned with him, he divulged that four people had written letters to the elders stating that they were concerned about some of my recent actions. I reminded the elder that if his primary concern is to follow Theocratic order, he should provide me with the names of my accusers so that I may contact them in person. His response was that the people did not live nearby, upon which I said I was not adverse to making long-distance calls to speak with the accusers in the hope of sorting out the matter. He then went back to his original intent, saying again that it would just be best if we met with them. I reminded him that the correct course of action would be for those people to contact me directly if they have issues with me, and that, by going directly to the elders, they violated the very teachings they claim to support. Since, according to that elder, the accusers are all members of Witness congregations, they are the ones “dirtying” the congregation by their willful refusal to follow the Watchtower’s direction.
As proof, consider these excerpts from the October 15, 1999 Watchtower, in the article titled “You May Gain Your Brother”:
“If your brother commits a sin, go lay bare his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother." Clearly, this is not a step based on mere suspicion. You should have evidence or specific information that you can use to help your brother to see that he committed a wrong and needs to set matters straight. It is good to act promptly, not letting the matter grow or letting his attitude become entrenched. And do not forget that brooding over it can damage you too. Since the discussion is to be between you and him alone, refrain from talking to others beforehand to win sympathy or improve your self-image.
Jesus showed that after the first step, you should not give up trying to gain your brother, to keep him united with you and others in worshiping God acceptably. Jesus outlined a second step: "If he does not listen, take along with you one or two more, in order that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every matter may be established."
He said to take 'one or two more.' He did not say that after taking the first step, you are free to discuss the problem with many others, to contact a traveling overseer, or to write to brothers about the problem."
Clearly, then, if the elder is worried about the cleanliness of the congregation, his first order of business should be either to inform me of the names of my accusers, or – in case he wishes to protect their anonymity – to contact them and remind them of their error in not following the Watchtower’s direction and to recommend that they approach me regarding any issues. I said as much to the elder, and he twice agreed that I was correct on this point.
Finally, he said he was unsure how to proceed. I exhorted him to do the right thing. He said he would confer with the other elders.
Less than an hour later, he called me again. I missed his call, but he left a voicemail stating the situation was “more than I can handle”. I returned his call. He said that the elders were unwilling to give me the names of the accusers (and, though he didn’t say, I assume the elders were unwilling to remind the accusers that they should have approached me directly). He insisted, instead, that we address ‘some’ of the accusations. These included two things: 1) Writing to the Watchtower Society and 2) Celebrating my son’s birthday.
Let’s take these one at a time:
1) I am unable to find any indication that writing to the Watchtower Society is considered an offense. I had questions, the local elders were unable to answer them, the Witnesses’ literature was unable to answer them, thus I wrote to the Watchtower Society. My letters were a sincere desire to learn the truth; something every Witness ostensible places in high regard. The Watchtower Society’s periodicals contain articles titled “Questions from Readers” and “From Our Readers”, thereby encouraging correspondence between them and their readers. Also, if writing the Society is some kind of sin, I am dumbfounded as to why no one has attempted to ‘correct’ my error during the twenty-one years that have elapsed since I first wrote the Watchtower Society.
2) It is true that I willfully celebrated my son’s second birthday, a fact easily discovered on the web. For the record, I also celebrated his first birthday. It has never bothered my conscience that each year, on my birthday, my parents and grandparents (all active Witnesses) called to wish me a happy birthday. Nor did it bother me when, in 1994, I attended a birthday party for the son of a close Witness friend. Nor did I feel there was any sin in allowing friends and family (all active Witnesses) to host birthday parties for my son shortly after he was born.
If it isn’t clear already, my issue here is not whether or not I did celebrate a birthday (clearly I did) but whether or not it was wrong in the first place.
I was an active Witness for approximately 25 years and during that time I was perpetually vexed that there was no sufficient explanation as to why Witnesses do not celebrate birthdays. Watchtower rationale on why birthdays are sinful can be boiled down to the following reasons:
a) Two birthday parties are mentioned in the bible. Neither of the birthday boys were worshippers of Jehovah. At both birthday parties, someone was killed. True, most birthday parties don’t end in murder, but since everything is in the bible for a reason, we must conclude that birthdays are not for true Christians.
b) Birthday celebrations involve giving undue attention to the individual; setting them up in a place of importance.
c) There is no indication that first century Christians celebrated their birthday.
d) Birthdays often include pagan traditions, such as cakes topped with candles and an encouragement of materialism via the giving of gifts.
Okay, let’s break these down.
First, the two biblical birthday party-related deaths: It is noteworthy that both of the deaths fulfilled prophesy, so the deaths weren’t all bad – had the deaths not occurred, God and Jesus’ words would have not come true! Also, if God really wanted us to abstain from birthdays, doesn’t it seem reasonable to conclude that he would have said so somewhere? After all, he spent pages and pages detailing sex crimes and proper disposal of human waste, so surely He didn’t leave out anything important. Why is there no law in either the Old or New Testament that simply says: “Thou shalt not celebrate birthdays”? He even saw fit to command women not to braid their hair, yet Witness women routinely flout this dictate. If we are to assume that all birthdays are evil because two birthdays (19 centuries apart) are mentioned in the bible under negative connotations, then what about dogs? Dogs are mentioned in the bible 40 times, and never once are they spoken of in a positive way. They are described as low, unclean animals that eat corpses and their own vomit. Anyone who condemns birthdays on the basis of the two bible citations, must likewise condemn dogs. And pigs. And hair-braiding.
Next, what is so wrong with giving an individual special attention on one particular day? If this truly is a reason to avoid birthday celebrations, then why are graduation parties, retirement parties, wedding receptions, wedding anniversaries and baby showers acceptable? Incidentally, a baby shower is a birthday party. What Witnesses really condemn, then, is technically not birthday celebrations, but the anniversaries of birthdays. This is especially bizarre considering they celebrate the anniversaries of weddings. I once asked an elder why wedding anniversaries were acceptable practices, while birthday anniversaries were not. He said: “Because marriage is God’s arrangement”. So then what is a birthday? Satan’s arrangement? God commanded humans to be fruitful, thus creating billions of birthdays. Never once did he command people to marry.
Next, while first-century Christians may not have celebrated their birthdays, neither is there any record that they insisted upon clean-shaven faces, or that they used birth control, or that they attended meetings three times a week, or that they produced their own literature, or that they held wedding anniversary parties or graduation parties. Yet all these things are practiced by twenty-first century Witnesses. Why the inconsistency?
Finally, the pagan tradition of candle-topped cakes surely can not be that sinful as I myself have had such a dessert placed before me on numerous wedding anniversaries. Each time I have been presented with such a cake, it has been from an active, faithful Witness. The same is true of gift-giving. While I by no means condone the rampant materialism in this country, Witnesses do not frown upon the giving of gifts on special occasions for anything besides birthdays. During my graduation party, at which every attendee was a Witness, I received 54 gifts. At our wedding and every subsequent anniversary, my wife and I receive scores of gifts, usually from faithful Witnesses. Some Witness parents even use the occasion of their wedding anniversary to give gifts to their children, as a way of making up for not celebrating their birthdays. At any rate, a birthday can be celebrated without the giving of gifts. My wife recently mentioned that, for a future birthday party for our son, she would like to invite all the kids to arrive with food or toys for animals and then all the children can go together to an animal shelter together and donate the items to the unwanted animals. To which I replied, “SINNER!”
At any rate, the elder never did provide me with the names of my accusers and, to my knowledge, he willfully chose not to inform my accusers of my desire to speak with them directly. So here, now, I give you that chance. Let’s be honest, you visit this site regularly even though you feel guilty doing so. Please address the comments above, including your justification on knowingly violating Watchtower dictates by going first to the elders instead of approaching me and what your specific scriptural reasons are for taking offense at letter writing and birthday parties. As the above Watchtower article outlined, I require specific information to help me see that I committed a wrong and to set matters straight. If you do not wish to make yourself known on a public forum such as this, please email me. If I do not hear from you within two weeks, I will assume you agree that you violated the Watchtower’s policy regarding reporting ‘wrongdoing’, that you agree letter-writing to the Watchtower Society is an acceptable avenue for finding answers, that the Witnesses’ belief regarding birthday anniversary celebrations is erroneous and that everything in this post is totally correct and reasonable.
P.S. For the record, no one was beheaded at any birthday party I ever attended.