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Jehovahs witnesses and higher education by Gerritt Loesch Talk by Gerrit Lösch, member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s witnesses, given in Italian during a special JW convention on May 22, 2005 in the city of Monza, near Milan, Italy. He expresses the official JW view on higher education. —— I posted this in response to a previous question where I gave a quick summary of the changes in our viewpoint on University Education over the years. Thanks to Ann O’Mally for finding it. Agape!
Legal Seminar: South African Bethel The Legal Seminar The seminar was a full day event held at the “residence hall.” I had come with my wheelchair bound friend, from the same congregation. We were a few minutes late, so as we rolled in into the foyer, we got handed our seminar pack, our bottled water, and lapel badges by two pretty ladies (hell yeah, I still remember that). This was the same residence hall that I had shook Anthony Morris’ hand a few weeks ago prior to his official Branch Visit talk in South Africa on Sunday, January 11, 2015, with his “sidekick” Anthony Griffin. The seminar was split between matters that were strictly legal, and those that were more tax related; of course, there was an obvious overlap between the two as can be expected. The key speakers were select members of the Branch Committee, in-house legal counsel, and those from the accounts department. A lot was said about Europe, Africa, the U.S., Hayden Covington, child custody, divorces, Advance Medical Directives (“blood cards”), alternative service, Road Accident Fund, legal battles here, legal battles there, tax etc. The bottom-line was this: There’s a lot going down, and we’d appreciate your assistance in these affairs. It should be noted, however, that “these affairs” require tertiary qualifications… higher education. South Africa Bethel - Tax and Legal Seminar Group Photo (Feb 28, 2015) South Africa Bethel – Legal and Tax Seminar Group Photo (Feb 28, 2015). I’m on the bottom left, sporting a pair of shades on my head. the Australian branch sent out a letter, dated November 18, 2015, to all Service Committees throughout the congregations of Australian. The letter was “confidentially” seeking for baptised members of the congregation who were “qualified as solicitors, barristers, certified practising accountants or chartered accountants.” But all of this exploration was to be done discreetly “without consulting the publisher” (I suppose this is how they canvass for potential seminar candidates). Now, let’s juxtapose these two events, the South African seminar and the Australian request letter, and contextualise them. The Point The organisation tells folks not to pursue higher education, in fact, if you are an appointed person – Elder, Ministerial Servant, pioneer – and you attend university, your (spiritual) qualifications automatically come under review. What does that tell you? That the organisation has a default disdain for higher education. But now, at the same time, they secretly sponsor select bethelites to obtain these very “worldly” qualifications, using funds donated by some of the simplest Witnesses, many of who have complied with this “mandamus” from the “Faithful and Discreet Slave.” But, then, per chance that you didn’t comply with this mandamus, and remain a Witness, they implore you to use your “worldly gifts” in service to God, namely, in furtherance of the organisation – to a large extent, free of charge. What’s wrong with this picture? And if you take the global downsizing that the organisation has been conducting lately, where veteran bethelites are sent home and special pioneers being sent up the creek without a paddle. Why? Because it’s now becoming too expensive to accommodate them. A burden. And, yet, many of these bethelites forfeited higher education in order to at the full time service, now you’re telling them to hamba kahle (“go well”)? C’mon, man, c’mon. What is wrong with this picture, people If the organisation was cool and was like, you know, “Go to university, don’t go to university, that your decision to make, as long as you are aware of the challenges.” That would be one thing. But what we’re seeing here is the constant badgering badgering badgering. There has to be some kind of accountability here. You can’t enjoy the assets of other people’s labour without taking ownership of the liabilities peculiar with that asset, as well. It’s immoral. This whole thing is just patently duplicitous. Scandalous. Why all these backdoor “transactions?” You say one thing on stage, but, then, em’va kwethu you do something else. Hai wethu. Conclusion Brimstone and humour aside, I personally don’t have a problem with the organisation seeking professional assistance from willing qualified Witnesses per se. It is the duplicity that irks me. It is the selfishness of their approach that vexes me. It is the ruination of people’s lives that ticks me off. It is the unconscionableness of their methods that pisses me off, treating genuine people as expendables and collateral damage for their own selfish gains, gains which they clothe as “divine service,” service to Jehovah. If it were up to me, I’d have Governing Body pipe down on their take of higher education and to resist this laughable attempt at gaining some kind of moral high ground in this matter. #LegalSeminarBethel #ThinkingWitnesses
Zachary Linderer said he wanted to go to college to major in the field of science, but growing up as a Jehovah's Witness, higher education was prohibited by his parents. Courtesy Luke Vander Ploeg Growing up on Long Island, Zachary Linderer was obsessed with science. He grew up a Jehovah's Witness, and like many others in the faith, he was homeschooled his whole life. By the time he got to high school, Linderer knew that he wanted to go to college for something in the sciences: physics, oceanography, something in that realm. But he realized at a young age that wasn't going to be a possibility. "I knew that it wasn't going to be encouraged that I get an education," Linderer says. "My dad told me that he knew people who were into science, and it dragged them right out of the organization, right out of the truth." The organization that Linderer is talking about is the Watchtower: the governing organization of Jehovah's Witnesses. The view that higher education is spiritually dangerous is very common among Witnesses, and for Linderer, it meant that his parents wouldn't support him going to college. Still, he knew that he wanted to study, so he decided to keep his ambitions a secret and figure out a way to attend on his own. Close to high school graduation he let his plans slip to a couple of his Jehovah's Witness friends. Word got back to his family. "When they found out, my dad and uncles made fun of me," Linderer recalls. "It really squashed my hopes. I knew I wasn't going to get their support, and without their support, it was really obvious to me at the time that I wasn't going to be able to do it on my own." With only a few credits left before high school graduation, Linderer dropped out. He had no prospects of education beyond high school, so getting the diploma seemed pointless. He struggled to find work after moving out of his parents' home, which eventually led him to get certified as an electrician. Still, that longing to study science haunted him. "I think I had that feeling at 17 years old or so that that was what I wanted to be, what I needed to be," Linderer says. "There's been this hole ever since then." From the top down Linderer's story is a common one for children raised as Jehovah's Witnesses. Pew Research shows that only 9 percent of Witnesses get undergraduate degrees. That's well below the national average of 30.4 percent and the lowest of any faith group. The likely reason for this trend is the religion's official warnings against college. Witness leadership declined to speak to NPR for this story, but Anthony Morris III, a member of the governing body of Jehovah's Witnesses, outlines the organization's policies clearly in a video on the organization's website. The Watchtower Organization discourages higher education for two basic reasons. First, higher education is spiritually dangerous. In the video, Morris warns parents that "the most intelligent and eloquent professors will be trying to reshape the thinking of your child, and their influence can be tremendous." He goes on to say that continual association with non-believers in an academic setting can "erode thinking and convictions." Witness leadership also discourages higher education because they believe it's a waste of time. Jehovah's Witnesses have been predicting the end of the world since the religion's founding at the end of the 19th century. By their rationale, time in college would be better spent out on the streets, converting persons to become Witnesses. Morris makes it very clear that the Watchtower organization doesn't discourage education, but rather secular education. "If parents and young ones are motivated to pursue divine education," Morris says, "the quest for higher secular education becomes less and less of an issue." Amber McGee (Back) says although she didn't fulfill her dreams to go collage because she grew up as a Jehovah's Witness, she'll pass those dreams on to her children. Courtesy Luke Vander Ploeg More material problems The lack of higher education can translate into more tangible problems for Witnesses. Pew research also shows that Jehovah's Witnesses are among the lowest earners of any religious group. Amber McGee falls in that category. She grew up a Witness in rural Texas. Like Linderer, she was home-schooled from a young age. Her parents wanted to protect her and her siblings from worldly influences. That decision wasn't easy on her family. "My mom, who was supposed to be our home school teacher, was not capable of doing it, emotionally mentally," McGee recalls. "She had three young children. She was by herself, very far from family, and even grocery stores and that sort of thing." McGee's mother never finished high school herself, and the pressure of trying to teach three children was too much for her. She gave up on homeschooling them when McGee and her twin were in third grade. The kids were forced to fend for themselves using workbooks. When she had trouble with a subject, McGee says she'd just pass her work off to her twin, and vice-versa. This left both of them with significant learning disabilities. McGee says that when she got excited about a subject, her mother would often shut her down. "I told her how much I found history fun," McGee says. "She told me, 'Well, that's not important because it doesn't have any bearing on your future, and it won't be any use in the paradise." This "paradise" refers to the heaven on earth that Witnesses believe is coming after the end of the world. McGee barely graduated high school. In mathematics, she never made it past the seventh grade level. That's made life difficult for McGee. She's now 34 years old, and the most she's made in a year is about $14,000. McGee and her family left the Witnesses about a year ago. They're doing better now financially, but it's still far from what McGee had hoped for her life. She had wanted to be nurse growing up, but with no support from her parents and very little education, she didn't feel it was possible. Today, she struggles with that same feeling that Linderer talked about: the feeling of being robbed of something. It's a sentiment shared by most of the more than 100 ex-Jehovah's Witnesses that I heard from while reporting this story. Still, McGee says she isn't letting that feeling stop her from retaking her life. "I was taught very, very young to stop dreaming, to not have dreams," McGee says, "that you'll never be a famous person or a doctor or a nurse. It's not possible. So now, as an adult, at 34 years old, I'm learning to start dreaming again." Even if it's too late for some of her dreams, she definitely hopes to pass them on to her children.