JW special Convention Special Report July 16, 2017 in the The Sunday Business Post by Barry Whyte.

Sunday Business Post article

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Please please read the pdf’s here courtesy of The SBP.

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The Sunday Business Post cover the JW Convention at City West. Report by Barry Whyte. He shows how there is deeply dangerous policy of the denial the rights to obtain blood transfusions. Millions of people have been affected for over 50 years. Also the hideous splitting of families by the non biblical policy of disfellowshipping. Then a kangaroo court and no due process in their internal courts.

The Sunday Business Post
Page 16 and 17

Special Report July 16, 2017

For him, the
end times are
not to be feared,
but welcomed.
‘Jehovah’s
Witnesses are
not afraid,’ he
says. ‘In fact, it
excites us

Stephen Taylor is the overseer for circuit three of Ireland’s five Jehovah’s Witnesses circuits. This year, he is also the chairman of the organisation’s annual convention.
Last Friday morning, he was standing in front of a crowd of 6,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses –
that is to say, virtually every single one of them in Ireland – giving a lecture on endurance. Indeed, endurance is the very theme of this year’s conference; and not without very good reason, as Taylor points out, in an increasingly turbulent modern world, torn by war and famine and terrorism. But for Jehovah’s Witnesses, such horrors are in fact a good sign – a sign that the world has entered the end times and that God is about to intervene to save the faithful. Taylor directs the congregation to a chapter
from the Bible (to be specific, Hebrews, chapter 10, verses 36 to 39) which illustrates his point. “For you need endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the fulfilment of the promise,” he recited. “For yet a very little while and the one who is coming will arrive and will not delay.” To bolster his point, Taylor introduces a video from Anthony Morriss III, one of the global governing council of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York – effectively one of the religion’s highest cardinals.
On the video, Morriss applauds his fellow Witnesses for their hard work throughout the
year, not least in helping to build a new, plush headquarters on more than 100 acres of land in upstate New York. “However, other things that have taken place in the last year haven’t been so positive,” he warns in the video. “We know you have been watching, that there have been natural disasters, disease epidemics, political unrest, murderous attacks, and terrorist strikes in one place after another. “Perhaps you have personally experienced ill health, economic challenges, the loss of a loved one in a death, or opposition to the stand you are taking as a true Christian. “Drawing close to our heavenly Father will aid us in the stability and the strength to overcome the most daunting  obstacle, and strengthening our loyalty to Jehovah now is essential to remain loyal during future tests, including the upcoming great tribulation.” The crowd applauds loudly, if politely.
✽ ✽ ✽
Despite their small numbers – just over 6,000 members in Ireland, and eight
million worldwide – everyone knows a little bit about Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Most people are aware that they travel door to door to talk about God, or that they exude a slightly unworldly and pious air, or that they eschew smoking and voting and refuse blood transfusions. But all that only scratches the surface of an organisation that has grown swiftly in size in the last 30 years. What few people know is that Jehovah’s
Witnesses are an insular, self-contained community that can often be ruthless in rooting out members who fail to live up to its standards. Most Irish people are entirely unaware of the – especially their keen desire for the arrival of the end times. Mark and Ros Scully live in Kimmage in Dublin. They were raised by Jehovah’s Witness parents and made the decision to become baptised to the faith when they read the Bible themselves and began to understand the gravity of the prophecies contained within. For both Mark and Ros, those prophecies – particularly the crucial one that God is readying himself to intervene to rescue the faithful – are a source of hope in difficult times. “We’re waiting for God to act on behalf of the whole human race that is suffering so much with problems that we can’t solve for ourselves,” Ros told The Sunday Business Post. “That’s the whole point of this convention: to keep going, we’re nearly there.” That’s part of the reason why they don’t vote in earthly elections, Mark said. There’s hardly any point. “For someone to vote, they have a conviction that this candidate or that candidate is going to be the best option to solve whatever they see as the big issues,” he said. “Respectfully, we contend that however well-meaning any politician is, they don’t have the answers.” “We’re just looking to give our support to God’s kingdom,” Ros added. These views reflect the wider core tenets of the Jehovah’s Witness faith. Mark O’Grady lives in Galway and was raised
in a Jehovah’s Witness family. For him, the end times are not to be feared, but to be embraced and welcomed. While others may look at Donald Trump’s US presidency, the instability caused by Brexit, the regular eruptions of terrorism and violence, and the warnings about climate change chaos as looming disasters, he sees them differently.
“The difference is that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not afraid. In fact, it excites us,” he says.
“This convention has shown us how we can endure these times. “We might still get a shock when we read them in the news and are upset by it, but at the same time it’s only a sign of good things to come very soon [when Jehovah intervenes].” Rebekah Ogrin lives in Galway, and has taken the decision to work part time in order to dedicate more of her life to spreading her faith. She works three days a week and then goes door to door on Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays and sometimes Sundays to speak to people about Jehovah.
“You can see that people are becoming more closed off because of the increase in violence in the world. People are afraid,” she says.
“But I do think in general when you look across every span of what’s happening in the
world, it gives you a moment of pause to think: things are not okay. “I do believe God has a set time already to act. For God, nothing is impossible.”
✽ ✽ ✽
The Jehovah’s Witnesses have a long history in Ireland, stretching back to their founder, Charles Taze Russell. But it is by no means a pleasant one. Russell was born in Alleghany in upstate New York in 1852. A student of scripture from a very early age and, he founded the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania in 1881. The purpose of the organisation was to publish religious tracts and treatises, which would then be distributed by what were known as colporteurs – effectively door-to-door salesmen of Bibles and religious texts. That organisation would, after a number of splits and schisms, become the Jehovah’s Witnesses. But long before that, Russell had visited Ireland and planted the first seeds. Having arrived in 1891 while on a trip from the US to Cork,
he disembarked in Cobh and worked his way northward to Dublin and Belfast, setting up a number of local congregations as he travelled. The method of propagation was the same in Ireland as it was in the US: small groups of Bible scholars would distribute the religious pamphlets to the doors of other churches. But while the method was the same, the ground was substantially less fertile. Catholic Ireland was a land more used to religion being fed to the faithful, rather than the Protestant evangelical tradition of debating the meaning of particular chapters or passages of the Bible. As a consequence, it took a while for the Jehovah’s Witnesses to get a foothold in Ireland. Though the organisation was growing in scale and membership in the US – going from a company that spread religious texts to a full blown religion with a very strict moral code – it was having difficulty dealing with the dominant religious organisation in Ireland at the time.

Dr David Butler of University College Cork, who chronicled the growth of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ireland in the early 20th century in a paper called A Most Difficult Assignment: Mapping the Emergence of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ireland, told The Sunday Business Post that in those early days their members were frequently subject to attack and vilification, and their papers stolen from them and often burned. Indeed, in their 1937 yearbook, the Jehovah’s Witnesses described Ireland as “the darkest place in the British Isles” in which “priests follow the pioneers from place to place, find where literature has been left and immediately cause its destruction”. This was no mere
hearsay. It refers to a real incident in 1931 in which, as Butler describes it, “literature was stolen in an armed ambush, soaked with petrol and set alight, while local police, clergy and children stood around the bonfire singing Faith of our Fathers”.
The attacks on the fledgling religion continued through the first half of the 20th century –
many members “were portrayed as communist foreigners, and there were several instances of mob violence leading to actual injury”, Butler writes in his paper. By 1950, there were still only a handful of Jehovah’s Witness congregations in Ireland: two in Cork and one each in Dublin, Limerick and Waterford. In May 1956, two members were attacked in Doonass, Co Clare, which led to a district court case in Limerick at which the Reverend Patrick Ryan and nine of his parishioners were charged with maliciously damaging £3 worth of books, Bibles and other literature, as well as assaulting the two members. All of the charges were dismissed, which may or may not have had something to do with the dramatic entry of the bishop of Killaloe, the Most Reverend Dr Joseph Rodgers.
The judge presiding declared that the two Jehovah’s Witnesses had been “guilty of
blasphemy”, and that they had “come into this village [of Clonlara] and attack and outrage all that these simple Irishmen hold dear. I think the two men were lucky to escape so lightly.” Bishop Rodgers was so outraged by the whole affair that he wrote to the then taoiseach, John A Costello, expressing his anger that the attorney general could have proceeded with the case, given the “pernicious and blasphemous literature distributed and sold in my diocese”. Costello, the record shows, was not unmindful
of “the just indignation aroused among the clergy and the people by the activities of the
Jehovah’s Witnesses”, but insisted that the law had to be upheld.
Things really began to change for the Jehovah’s Witnesses of Ireland in 1965, when
Dublin played host to the organisation’s International Convention. It brought 3,500 members to the country at a time when the Witnesses had just 268 members in Ireland and 474 in the North. Soon afterwards, a national branch office was opened in Dublin. In 1982, membership numbers surpassed 2,000 for the first time. By 1989, that number had passed 3,000. By the end of 2011, according to Butler’s account, there were more than 6,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ireland.

✽ ✽ ✽

Today, Ireland’s Jehovah’s Witnesses are a very closely disciplined congregation. Even Butler, who is generally benign in his assessment of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, describes them as “a carefully-run organisation, tightly controlled in all its aspects by central headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, and run with all the efficiency of a modern international business-house”. Many of its sternest critics come from the ranks of its former members, a lot of whom were expelled from the religion – a process known as disfellowshipping – after they were deemed to have violated the strict moral code.
Brian O’Donnell is one of those disfellowshipped ex-Jehovah’s Witness. O’Donnell had been a high-ranking member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ireland and had gone to the organisation’s missionary training centre in England, where “I got a cert that said
I was an ordained minister because I’m a direct representative of the Watchtower, as opposed to an associate member”. He continued: “What would happen was, you’d have missionary status and if there was a congregation in need of advice, someone like
myself – someone who’d be highly trained – would be sent to sort it out.” O’Donnell was also a school overseer. Despite all of this, in 2008 he was expelled from the organisation.
As he described it, he was accused of speaking ill of the organisation and was disfellowshipped in absentia. That, however, was not the end of the matter, he said.
“Being excommunicated means the rest of the church members are encouraged not to
speak to me,” he said; to shun him, effectively. “It sounds harmless, but the rest of the congregation would be instructed not to have any contact with the person, not even to say hello
on the street. In a family context, it could break families up.” While his expulsion clearly still rankles with him, he pointed out that this practice of shunning has had much more severe impacts on other disfellowshipped members. “It would be isolating. I was in it 17 years, and what could happen was that you lost all your friends. I used to do teaching in the congregation, and suddenly that’s gone. If you were the sensitive type, you’d take offence. I’ve probably got thick skin, so I moved on. “They are a very controlling organisation, and they’re going to believe I’m attacking them. But this is just my testimony, and I don’t bear any ill will against the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation. I’m just stating the facts of what happened to me. I’m not out on any vendetta. I’m getting on with my own life.” O’Donnell is not the only one who has had to get on with their own life after expulsion from the religion. The internet is full of websites on which former members point out the things they feel they couldn’t mention while they were members, and Facebook has dozens of closed groups of disfellowshipped ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses who compare notes on their excommunication and discuss the difficulties it has caused them. One Irish woman, who did not wish to be named or identified for fear it would further damage her frayed relationship with family members, described how both she and her husband were disfellowshipped after their marriage ended. She is now living with another man, and he with another woman, but she finds the loneliness difficult to bear. “I never thought I would ever leave the Jehovah’s Witnesses,” she says. “My beloved daughter and mother and all my friends and extended family shun me, and are advised to not even have contact via social media or texts. I am blocked from even seeing a picture of my daughter online.”

Mike Garde is the founder of Dialogue Ireland, an organisation that gathers information on new religious movements.

He described the Witnesses as “a domineering organisation” and compares it to North Korea, but he believes that the biggest issue
for the Jehovah’s Witnesses is the one that perhaps people know best: their rejection of blood transfusions.
“I would say the main issue from my point
of view is that it’s not about their beliefs – the
belief that Jesus is in a frozen state in heaven,
or the belief that only 144,000 people are
going to the heavenly stage and the rest are
drones on earth, that’s not the main point,”
he said.

 

“The main point is the breach of human  rights in regard to blood transfusion, and the deaths of children who have been victims of that doctrine.”

Even a cursory glance at records here in Ireland shows that, on several occasions, the courts have had to intervene to save the lives of both adults and children of the Jehovah’s
Witness faith who have found themselves in medical distress and needed blood transfusions to save their lives.

 

Garde pointed out that while there have been no fatalities yet in Ireland, there have been plenty elsewhere – directly attributable to this article of faith. ”A lot of people make the point that Jehovah’s Witnesses are lovely people and nice citizens – but that’s true of everyone. If you hold principles like that, it can have a terrible effect on families,” he says.

 
David Dunlea, a spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ireland, politely disputed the idea that the refusal of blood transfusions was an abuse, or that disfellowshipping was a one way expulsion. On blood transfusions, he pointed out that while adult Witnesses are entitled to decline any medical treatment they see fit, the matter became more complex and emotional when it came to children. “The reality is that parents don’t have the
ultimate decision-making authority for their children,” he said, which can precipitate the
involvement of the courts. “But I think, sometimes, in these cases it can get cold and clinical, because what you lose sight of is that you have traumatised parents of a sick child who are trying to do their best. “They love their children, but they’re committed
to a particular way of life, and for them to have a blood transfusion can feel like an
assault on them. What we always would do in that situation, and in my experience with
the courts and the legal system, is just ask, if they were going to overturn our wishes, to
please bear in mind what that means for us, and how traumatic it’s going to be, and only
do it as a very last resort.” As for disfellowshipping, Dunlea conceded that it happened occasionally, usually when “someone chooses to follow a course that’s contrary to the core teaching and requirements” of the organisation. “We take those requirements seriously.” He pointed out that disfellowshipping wasn’t nice for anyone involved, but insisted it was never a decision taken lightly. He explained the reasons by way of an analogy. “In a previous job, I used to distribute defibrillators, and when someone is going into cardiac arrest, one of the things that the machine says is: ‘Stand clear, don’t touch the patient.’ The reason is that if you’re in touch with the patient when the shock is delivered, it could minimise the value of the shock to them, but also hurt you.
“And the only thing I could say about it is, for one thing, you only ever know one side
of the story. One person’s experience is ‘I was shunned and controlled’, but it’s only ever one side you hear. “There’s no doubt it’s difficult for everyone involved, but we stick to the Scriptures and we feel that if we do that, we can’t go far wrong.”

✽ ✽ ✽
But on Friday – the first day of the convention – none of those controversies is anywhere in evidence. Indeed, the only issue being debated is how to endure these difficult times until God’s return. It is a question that has dogged the religion in the past, especially when predictions about the end times have been made and not come to pass.
For Karl O’Grady, who is also working at translating the organisation’s Bible teachings
into the Irish language, the issue of when is a red herring: what matters is that the signs are all around us that God’s return is imminent. “In the Bible, it doesn’t give an exact time,” O’Grady said. “Jesus was asked by his disciples when it’s going to be, and he didn’t give an exact time, but he did say what would happen – the signs to look out for.
“The exact date, I wish I knew. I’ll tell you as soon as I find out.” Dunlea’s view is similar. Indeed, so convinced is he of God’s impending return that, for him, even the growth of the organisation is a secondary concern. “I don’t doubt that the numbers will continue
to grow,” he says. “I think we have something special, a way of life that is meaningful and
which will continue to resonate with people.” “But the big concentration is on when God’s day does come. I don’t know when it’s coming – but the sooner the better

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