Watchtower Political & Commercial Involvement
This article discusses the Watchtower Society's involvement with:
The Watchtower Society strongly condemns the world and its commercial, political and religious systems. Described as part of Satan's system, these are said to be shortly devoted to destruction.
"False religion’s involvement in the affairs of the political nations will lead ultimately to her own devastation." Watchtower 1985 Mar 1 p.13
"Indeed, consider what the situation will be the day after God brings this system of things to its end. Satan, his demons, and his political, commercial, and religious systems will be gone - every one of them! Satan's entire propaganda apparatus will be gone too. Thus, after the great tribulation, there will never again be printed a single newspaper, magazine, book, booklet, or leaflet that supports this wicked world. There will be no corrupting influences broadcast from worldly television or radio stations. The entire poisonous environment of Satan's world will be cleared away in one mighty stroke!"" Watchtower 1993 Apr 1 pp.17-18
Witnesses are warned away from involvement in these systems. Voting, jury duty, working in the military or religious institutions or joining related clubs are either warned against as conscience matters or forbidden and reasons to be disfellowshipped. Something as simple as painting a Church roof as a contractor can be grounds for being disfellowshipped. In Malawi, thousands of Jehovah's Witnesses were tortured and killed because the Watchtower told them it was unchristian to hold a political card as required by the Malawian government. (Yearbook 1999 pp.149-223)
Despite its scathing attacks on other Religions for political involvement and the censoring of its followers, the Watchtower Society as an organization, has not held back from political involvement and lobbying when considered beneficial for its own means. This double standard has been a major source of stumbling for many followers. Since 2001, a number of people have left the Watchtower Society on learning of its application and involvement as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Associate Member of the United Nations Department of Public Information, as detailed at United Nations NGO.
The Watchtower is vague as to its definition of politics and where it draws the line between what involvement is or is not acceptable. In democratic countries there are three main political aspects:
- Executive - General administration of state bureaucracy
- Legislative - Create and maintain laws
- Judiciary - Court system for interpretation and application of the law
Whilst all three tiers are critical to the governing of a country, the Watchtower appears to be against the Executive aspect more-so than the Judiciary and Legislative functions. However, whilst against influencing the Executive function through the election of representatives, they have not shied away from political lobbying as a form of influence. The following information shows how the Watchtower Society is actively involved in political affairs, such as through lobbying and use of the Judiciary.
Judiciary Court Systems
The Watchtower Society is proud of its extensive use of the world's court systems, claiming it has benefited the preaching work and freedom of speech for people in general.
"Legal cases involving the Witnesses have numbered many thousands, and hundreds of these have been appealed to higher courts. This has had a profound effect on the law itself and has often fortified legal guarantees of basic freedoms for people in general. But this has not been the main objective of Jehovah's Witnesses. Their principal desire is to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God. Legal action that they take is not because they are social agitators or legal reformers. Their objective is to 'defend and legally establish the good news,' even as was true of the apostle Paul." Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers of God's Kingdom p. 678
Ironically, while using the world's courts to gain freedom of speech for the organization, the same cannot be said for its own members. Open disagreement with any doctrine of the Governing Body is grounds for removal from the Organization, with members strictly forbidden from speaking to such members.
It is interesting to examine the lengths Watchtower lawyers are prepared to go when using the Judiciary system for rights pertaining to the "Organization".
In 1988, Jimmy Swaggart was taken to court in the case Swaggart Ministries v. California Board of Equalization. This regarded paying tax on profit derived from sales of religious material. See www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1989/1989_88_1374/argument/ (6 Apr 2007)
Realising a ruling against Swaggart could result in the sale of Watchtower publications being taxed, Watchtower filed a Brief of Amicus Curiae (friend of the court) for United States Supreme Court Docket # 88-1374. This was to show support for Jimmy Swaggart Ministries retaining tax exempt status. Click Here to view a copy of the Amicus Curiae that the Watchtower submitted for the Jimmy Swaggart case. Other groups to similarly do so included International Society for Krishna Consciousness of California, Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability and the Prison Fellowship. The Supreme Court ruled against Swaggart on January 17th, 1990, ordering him to pay back taxes.
With the decision going against Swaggart, Watchtower initiated the 'voluntary donation' arrangement. A letter to elders in the United States was sent on February 21st 1990, changing the distribution of magazines to a donation arrangement, effective from March 1st 1990. This was rolled out to other countries over ten year period. Information explaining the arrangement to congregations was provided in the Our Kingdom Ministry,1991 March pp.3,4 titled "Our Simplified Literature Distribution Arrangement". To ensure that the Watchtower would not be disadvantaged by the new arrangement, Witnesses were told to donate for the literature they pick up at the kingdom hall, and then also donate any money received from householders, something akin to double-dipping. A further letter to congregations followed January 24th 1991, with the following explanation for why the double donation was not to be considered donating twice.
On March 9th 1998, the Watchtower Society and the European Commission of Human Rights brokered an agreement with the government of Bulgaria. For Jehovah's Witnesses to be recognized as a religious organization in Bulgaria, the Watchtower Society had to ensure that "members should have free choice in the matter [of blood transfusions] for themselves and their children, without any control or sanction on the part of the association." The Watchtower Society guaranteed that Witnesses are free to make their own choice on the use of blood, with blood transfusions removed from being a disfellowshipping offence. This was quite deceptive, as taking blood became an offence to be disassociated instead, making any freedom of choice quite meaningless. A full discussion of this is found at Bulgaria & Blood.
In representative democratic politics, the legislative process can be influenced through voting in elections or lobbying. Lobbying by pressuring decision-makers is considered least democratic, carrying ethical issues and concerns about corruption, yet is taken advantage of by Watchtower. Most Witnesses are unaware of the lobbying being instigated out by Watchtower leaders. Direct examples are its involvement with organisations such as the OSCE. (It is also likely the real reason for joining the United Nations as an associated NGO was for political influence.)
New York City Lobbying
Watchtower hires lobbyists to influence building applications. A search of nyc.gov/lobbyistsearch (as of Aug 2014) shows an extensive list of New York properties Watchtower has used lobbyists for. In one example from 2004, Watchtower paid Fred, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, LLP(04) $59,880 to lobby for a zone change and development permit for 85 Jay St.
The Watchtower regularly sends representatives to annual conferences of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). A person repeatedly attending these political events is Mr. Marcel Gillet. A search on the Watchtower’s media web site in 2011 showed his prominent status within the Organization, working on Public Relations in Europe.
The goals of the OSCE are political, running contrary to principles the Watchtower prints in its magazines. These include:
- Legislative reviews for governments, on request, to help them bring their legislation into line with international standards;
- Publishing Guidelines for Review of Legislation Pertaining to Religion or Belief, which were drafted by members of the Panel of Experts in association with the Council of Europe's Venice Commission;
- Development of new legislation intended to foster improved relations among religious groups, including in post-conflict societies;
- Promoting dialogue between governments and religious groups, as called for in OSCE commitments. (osce.org/odihr/20056.html 25th Apr 2010)
“With 56 States from Europe, Central Asia and North America, the OSCE is the world's largest regional security organization. It offers a forum for political negotiations and decision-making in the fields of early warning, conflict prevention, crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation, and puts the political will of its participating States into practice through its unique network of field missions.
“The OSCE has a comprehensive approach to security that encompasses politico-military, economic and environmental, and human aspects.” (osce.org/who 6th Oct 2012)
The OSCE is closely aligned with the United Nations.
"The OSCE recognizes that the United Nations Security Council bears primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. Thus, the United Nations is the OSCE's primary partner organization." (osce.org/ec/43240)
Sending Watchtower representatives for attendance at these events show a different set of standards apply to the leaders as opposed to Watchtower followers.
In 2004, Jehovah’s Witnesses attended the OSCE conference alongside a colourful group of other attendees including the Sudanese Solidarity Group, Baha’is and American Jewish Committee.
For the full list of participants see osce-participants-2004.pdf
A photo from the 2005 OSCE Human Dimension event shows the truly political nature of these conferences with a medley of political flags framing the attendees.
A list of registered NGO's for the OSCE's 2005 conference on Anti-Semitism and intolerance appeared at http://osce.usmission.gov/Cordoba/Cordoba_NGOs.pdf (April 6th 2007 - no longer active). Page 3 listed as a registrant The European Association of Jehovah's Christian Witnesses as registrars and page 7 listed the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of Pennsylvania. On the registration document Watch Tower appeared alongside similar controversial groups, such as Scientology.
It appears however from the list of participants that the Watchtower representatives did not show up.
The main goals for the US at the 2006 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting were clearly at odds with Watchtower doctrine, promoting democracy and political will.
U.S. goals for this conference include:
- "To demonstrate U.S. commitment to human rights and democracy, and to show support for NGOs working in these fields."
- "To generate political will among OSCE participating States for implementing OSCE commitments in the Human Dimension."
www.usosce.rpo.at/HDIM/hdim2006.html (as of April 25, 2010)
The 2006 participants yet again include Mr. Marcel Gillet representing the European Association of Jehovah's Christian Witnesses.
For the full 2006 participant list see 2006 participants
2007 continued to accommodate Watchtower representatives alongside religious and political organisations.
For the full 2007 participant list see 2007 participants
The 2012 list of attendees appeared at OCSE.org.
To find more participation in more recent years, a google search on the year and term "osce final list of participants" will usually return the list as the top result. For example the search "2015 osce final list of participants" links to www.osce.org/odihr/190676?download=true, which shows that four different countries sent delegates of Jehovah's Witnesses in 2015.
In 1999, the Australian Bethel sent their lawyer, Vincent Toole and branch committee member Don Maclean, to the Hansard Committee for religious tolerance. Toole and Maclean both contributed to the conversation, requesting tolerance towards Witnesses, particularly in regards to the issue of blood transfusions, with little effect. The result may have been far more significant if the political parties knew 80,000 Witnesses would be voting to supporting their requests.
World Health Organization
Each year on the 7th April World Health Day is celebrated by representatives of the World Health Organization, NGOs, and high ranking government officials. Jehovah's Witnesses participated in this celebration in 2000.
whqlibdoc.who.int (6 Apr 2007) contained a 140 page souvenir brochure of the event. Page 7 shows the theme for the year 2000 was regarding blood.
"This is why blood safety was the theme of World Health Day 2000, but also one of WHO's priorities for the future, with the launch of a long-term programme aimed to assist national health authorities, especially those in greatest need, to establish and maintain well-organised blood transfusion services with appropriate infrastructure and trained personnel."
Page 53 says "Of note was the presence of Jehovah Witnesses at the Congress."
Though condemning the world's commercial system as part of Satan's system, the Watchtower Society has not held back from utilising it to the fullest, in the process becoming a multi-billion dollar organization. In 2010, the valuation of Watchtower real-estate in Brooklyn alone exceeded a billion dollars. By claiming religious or charity status, the billions earned over the last century have been largely tax free.
The Watchtower Society has used stocks, bonds and trusts as investment vehicles. One such trust was the H M Riley Trust, from the deceased estate of Henrietta Riley.
This trust trades in a wide spread of bonds and shares in companies such as Exxon Mobil, Coca Cola, Proctor & Gamble, Phillip Morris (one of the world's largest cigarette manufacturers) and Cardinal Health (who supply medical equipment including for blood transfusions.)
In 2007, Watchtower had an SEC filing for a $40 million dollar hedge fund through K2 STB Fund Ltd, located in the Cayman Islands. For a full description see watchtowerlies.org.
Shares have also been held in Rand, a supplier to the U.S. Department of Defence, as shown at this SEC filing as of 20th Feb 2015.
Watchtower was an attendee at the Goldman Sachs 2012 Growth Markets Summit, Growth Markets Insights: Shaping Global Investment Themes (link active as of 2 Jan 2016).
Witness school children endure embarrassment and humiliation, sitting whilst other students stand during remembrance days, anthems and flag salutes, due to the political nature of such occasions. Yet at the same time, the leaders actively attend and lobby political events.
The Watchtower Society holds associated NGO status with political organisations and sends representatives to political enquiries. If the Watchtower Society can send attendees to influence government on matters of religious tolerance why are individual Witnesses forbidden from voting or holding political cards, at the risk of torture and death?
This is yet another area where illogical Watchtower doctrine has created unnecessary suffering for members, and shown the hypocrisy of the leadership. Political neutrality is at odds with the long-term prosperity of the Watchtower organisation and will no doubt be another area in which the rules loosen over coming decades.
Written 2009. Latest update Aug 2016.
Paul Grundy 2005 - 2018