The Watchtower Bible & Tract Society: In Crisis!

Whenever there is a question about an organization’s motivation there are two places I look first:

Money & Power

Anyone who honestly looks at the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society’s activities and methods will see these two common denominators standing out like no other.

When you look back at the founders of the religion you’ll find some interesting facts:

Charles Taze Russell was an entrepreneur and businessman. His successor, Judge Rutherford was a lawyer and put himself through lawschool selling books and encyclopedias door to door.

I think that Russell really believed his teachings. He was the dreamer and visionary for the Watchtower. He was quite a scholar and I believe that in his view, “truth was where he found it”, and he found it in some very unusual places. Russell was known for his kindly manner and belief that Christians are individuals who can make their own decisions as bible students. It is also interesting to note that until his successor arrived on the scene, all congregations were governed democratically by vote and each congregation was autonomous. They, and they alone, chose their elders and not the Watchtower. They were a growing movement but not growing fast enough, that is until someone else came on the scene.

In stark contrast to the dreams and visions of Charles Taze Russell, Judge Rutherford was a pragmatist. He was a lawyer and a door-to-door salesman. He fundamentally changed the structure of the Watchtower from an autonomous collective with the power to question anything taught to them, to a group of people and congregations that were wholly subservient to the organization both mentally and financially.

Many of the officers in the organization fought Rutherford’s radical changes and were subsequently disfellowshipped and sent packing.

More than any other, Judge Rutherford changed the landscape of the Watchtower forever and many would argue for the worse. He took a fundamentally independent group of bible students with some strange beliefs and turned them into an army of salespeople hawking magazines and pamphlets door to door to anyone who would buy them!

Having been a salesperson for most of my adult life I can say without question that Rutherford’s early exposure to commercial door-to-door sales of books no doubt influenced his vision of where the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society was headed. He also understood the value in establishing a unique religion like no other. It was important to differentiate himself from the other churches and to cast condemnation their way so that he could maintain that his was the only truth. This is a fairly common ploy in sales and manufacturing. If you can engineer your offering in such a way as to separate it from “the pack” then you’ve created your own unique market niche’. Those of us in business understand the immense profitability of doing this.

Rutherford, once in power, didn’t waste any time establishing his niche’. He busied himself in writing entire series of books and pamphlets bearing his unique vision of “God’s plan.” Rutherford’s vision differed greatly from that of the bearded and long haired Russell both philosophically as well as doctrinally.

Suddenly Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving became pagan holidays.

Suddenly Jesus came down off the cross and a pole was put in its place.

Suddenly living a good Christian life, taking care of others and giving your time and money to charity was placed into the “not so necessary” category while the door to door sales of books and pamphlets became the prime directive.

“Religion is a snare and a racket!”

“Advertise Advertise Advertise the king and his kingdom!”

These were the sales slogans of the new Bible Students!

The term “Bible Students” was just too general and broad a name for the organization. It didn’t fit into Rutherford’s plan of having a truly unique religion so he came up with a novel idea:

Give the organization a unique name that was legitimate but at the same time controversial! The newly dubbed Jehovah’s Witnesses (Jehovah being the English version of the name of the Hebrew God of the old testament) were sent to the remotest areas of our country bearing phonographs and wearing billboards. This was Rutherford’s marketing campaign for the new Watchtower Society and business was booming! The prior emphasis on Christ’s role in the salvation of a Christian was removed and the worship of Christ was forbidden. The organization now led by Jehovah (and Judge Rutherford) was the new channel of redemption and still is to this day!

Changes inside the organization were engineered to occur simultaneously.

Instead of being a Christian it was much more important to appear as a Christian to the public eye. Any honest Jehovah’s Witness will admit that extreme importance is placed upon how you appear to the “world”.

Beards were shaved and hair was cut, not only from Jehovah’s Witnesses but from Jesus Christ Himself in the illustrations of the new Rutherford authored publications. The bar for acceptable dress was raised to that of business formal. A school was later started to teach new converts how to sell the organization’s books and magazines more effectively. That school survives to this day!

These moves were designed specifically to equip and mobilize the largest known door to door book sales force in the world!

Suddenly everyone was required to report their hours in field service as well as their book and magazine sales on a monthly form and submit it to the congregation elders. These elders weren’t necessarily the old elders of Russell’s administration, but new ones, who were hand picked by Brooklyn headquarters for their loyalty to Rutherford! Jehovah’s Witnesses are still required to report their time in field service to this day. They call this a “time report” but it is nothing more than a sales report.

A Jehovah’s Witness’s activity in the door to door ministry directly determines their status in the congregation. If anyone wishes to progress to positions of authority or to “be used” by the organization then the first thing scrutinized is their activity in field service. If a person wishes to go to Bethel to work for free on behalf of the Watchtower Society (considered by the rank and file as a huge honor) they have to engage in sometimes years of pioneering (90 or more hours in the door to door preaching work per month) in order to get the local elder recommendation to go to Bethel!

What was the result of all of these changes to the organizational model by Rutherford?

Absolute and massive success! Millions of books and pamphlets were distributed worldwide and are to this day. If there is any admiration to be had for Judge Rutherford it is for his Machiavellian methods in seizing power and ruling with an iron fist to accomplish his goals. He was unwavering in his dedication and he succeeded in mobilizing the largest non-salaried sales force in the world.

The Watchtower Today:

The Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of today is nothing more than a sales organization offering questionable religious materials. They are involved in the door to door “placing” of their publications using unpaid labor to accomplish it. Because of the religious tax exempt status of this group they are not taxed on any of their income and are not required to release reports of their massive holdings both in money and real estate.

In recent years we’ve seen a gradual and phased departure from the old “hard line” approach of Rutherford’s time. With the advent of the internet much of the Watchtower’s more questionable activities both past and present have become easily accessible to the masses. It is obvious that many of their practices in mistreating their followers and dissidents are viewed by the general public with great disdain.

The Watchtower leadership is going through severe “growing pains” and is, in my opinion, attempting to be a “kinder gentler” and more “discreet slave”. Appointing an African American non-anointed spokesperson for the organization is just one of the ways they hope to bridge the gap between mainstream culture and the old guard (the seven old men in Brooklyn).

I strongly believe that the Governing Body is desperately seeking to be perceived as a more acceptable flavor of Christianity.

Their motivation for doing this is quite obvious to anyone familiar with the publishing business.

The use of books and pamphlets and magazines is becoming less and less popular. What used to be paid paper content is now free content on many websites. Newspapers are going out of business. Borders Books, one of the largest retailers of books in the country, has recently shut its doors. Instead, companies like are selling more and more books and magazines using electronic media and it is catching on. As we move forward in the 21st century it is widely accepted that actual books will go the way of our old checkbooks and instead, computers as well as electronic media display products such as Kindle, the iPhone and iPad will be used for reading by the majority of Americans.

This has created a huge dilemma for the newspaper industry, the magazine industry, the book industry, and yes even the Watchtower organization.

The problem is this: If they continue to push magazines and books without moving into other forms of media, their contribution money will dry up in just a few short years.

However if they convert their offering to electronic media and merely “ask” for a contribution online they won’t have nearly as much leverage as they do “at the door” with a real live person asking for a donation. People will, if they wish, download their publications from their website but the prospect of getting any meaningful donations for those materials isn’t likely.

Because of their tax exempt status they can’t require a specific contribution or even that any contribution be made.

The Watchtower’s money machine is about to come grinding to an abrupt and well deserved halt.

Alternative Plans of Action:

I’ve listed some ideas as to how the Watchtower might steer its ship in the current and coming storm. These are shown below.

  1. They could attempt to legitimize themselves by relinquishing their tax free status and selling their books online to their members. However that will require that they report their income to the public and they have so far been unwilling to do so. This seems a viable but highly unlikely option.
  2. Perhaps, since they have seven million adherents they will plead poverty to them and introduce some sort of “new light” with regard to tithing or making regular contributions. They could tie the rank and file’s level of contribution directly to their individual progress in the organization much like the Scientologists and the Mormons.

This second option seems much more likely.

There will still be a need to proselytize and “study” with those who are interested in doing so to gain more converts, but the hawking of magazines and books door to door simply won’t be profitable for them in just a few years if not already.

We’ve already seen a “scaling back” of some of the watchtower’s paper publications by going to cheaper to produce formats in paperback instead of the signature hard cover that they were famous for at one time.

I fully anticipate a global change in the door to door ministry and an adoption of an online electronic format at least in the developed countries. The cost savings in shipping and labor to produce their books and magazines in an electronic format versus paper would immediately yield almost pure profit for the organization as long as they can continue to enforce contributions from the rank and file.

I believe that a strong focus on gaining converts will remain. Perhaps the new generation of Jehovah’s Witnesses will be equipped with Watchtower issued (and licensed!) iPads with the New World Translation and a bible study course on the hard drive ready for presentation at the door or on the subway. Streaming audio and video content could be downloaded to any media device from a cloud server in Brooklyn and used to recruit an entirely new generation of followers for the “seven old men in Brooklyn”. One thing is for sure: The time for a new “Judge Rutherford” to take the reigns and lead the attack against a new generation of unsuspecting “sheepleis at hand! He won’t be holding a phonograph or a billboard. Instead he’ll be sporting an iPhone and iPad.

(If any of you old timers got my attempt at humor in my last statement then congratulations!)

Remember who told you this. When it happens you’re going to laugh out loud.

Yours in Christ,

Doug Shields