At Romans 6:1-7 Paul speaks of sin. It is a cruel master and we all struggle to break free from it. Whether it is an addiction, unclean thinking, jealousy, anger, hate, etc. we as sincere servants of God struggle against these bad leanings. Verse six of this chapter says “that we should no longer go on being slaves to sin” and how true that is. (Romans 6:6) In waking up to the fact that we have been misled by the Watchtower leadership for so many years, it dawns on us that we are not just enslaved to sin as imperfect humans. We are (or have been) enslaved to men to one degree or another also.
One example is with respect to a person’s conscience. There are many matters that the Bible is silent on; but men and their opinions rarely are silent about anything. Personal viewpoints from men going as far back as Rutherford still hold sway and shape Jehovah’s Witnesses behavior and morality to this day. The blood doctrine is at the very core of a Christian’s conscience is it not? Acts 15:29 simply says to abstain or avoid it. It does not define what a blood fraction is, or whether a 21st century medical procedure is alright or not. Yet a group of men have continuously shaped the consciences of millions via the Watchtower Organization on this very serious matter of conscience. Some have been relatively unaffected by it, while others have literally died due to these man-made policies. Romans 2:14-15 highlights that people will be held to their conscience, not by a tribunal of men, but by Christ. Why impose our own upon another? The same thought also holds true for the mundane, such as:
- Which movies will my family and I watch?
- What kind of employment will we choose?
- How about the length of my skirt? Or the kind of material it’s made of?
- What annual celebrations or holidays will or won’t I participate in?
- Will I grow a beard?
These and an almost countless number of other things are decided and laid out in great detail by articles written in Watchtower publications. Also there are “unwritten laws” that are in effect touching on many of these subjects as well. The image at the top is from a recent Watchtower article (February 15, 2011), mentioning but *not* mentioning the Twilight series of books that have been made into movies. These are quite popular among many people these days, selling millions of copies. In case you are unfamiliar, the films are basically aimed towards female tweens and teens and are romance stories quite similar to Romeo and Juliet with a tinge of vampires and werewolves thrown in. If you are a Witness, you will be considered weak and somewhat worldly in your faith if you watch one of the Twilight movies, regardless of your age. Yet they have never been mentioned by name in print.
Another more well known unwritten law is that of brothers and their facial hair. If a brother appears at the Kingdom Hall in nearly all of North America wearing a beard, either long or short, he will be considered weak and rebellious by a large portion of congregation members. He will not be given privileges in the congregation, such as carrying a microphone or being appointed as a ministerial servant. If he is already on the servant body he will be spoken to and then at some point deleted if he does not shave it. Some exceptions occur in isolated places like Alaska. However if you are located in the majority of areas in America, want to be a good Witness but also want a beard then you are out of luck. Yet you will not see these unwritten rules in print. Witnesses though clearly recognize that they exist. (See the letter at the bottom of the page written to the Society regarding wearing a beard) So finally our article title gains its relevance, and slavery comes to the fore. 2 Timothy 2:24 says that we should be “a slave of the Lord”. Yet Paul states at 1 Corinthians 7:23:
“You were bought with a price; stop becoming slaves of men.”
Is our conscience enslaved to the small group of men that are running and have run the Jehovah’s Witness Organization? They hold an enormous influence over what we think, say, and do. How we live our lives, what kinds of employment we seek, how we dress and groom ourselves and much more is at stake. The Hebrew Scriptures are quoted with respect to not getting tattoos, because some worldly nations apparently did this. But the same Hebrew Scriptures in nearby verses are not referred to regarding the necessity of a man not shaving his sidelocks and of his wearing a beard. Why the inconsistency? Well the answer is, that it really boils down to a Christian person’s conscience, does it not?
Our struggle exists in the courage to ask these questions, and then in the step after that: What do we do about the bondage we find ourselves in? Do we accept it patiently with endurance, and “wait on Jehovah”? (BTW, this is a phrase that does not appear in any Bible) It can be a good axiom depending upon the circumstances. But it is of course not the same thing as “waiting upon the Organization”. Even just the learning process alone, prior to doing anything about it, is significant. It can be quite cathartic and eye-opening for us. The effort and courage to study and dig deeply into God’s Word, and do the research required to “prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” is very beneficial for us to undertake. (Romans 12:2) Truly it is “the journey”, and not just the destination that are important in our personal relationship with God and in determining whether we are slaves of men or to Christ Jesus.
I learned an interesting thing about Alex Haley, the famous author that is best known for the books and TV miniseries “Roots”. Just the process of researching and endeavoring to tell the story of what happened to his ancestors nearly bankrupted him and ruined his life. He was met initially with support, but after a couple years was told to come home, and to stop all this research and plane and ship-hopping from one place to another. But he was not even close to being finished after those planned out two-three years of research had been reached. The whole story and truth of the matter had not been accurately or comprehensively enough traced. He was met with agreeable apathy at first when speaking of his need to continue, and then later indifference, and finally outright hostility that he should be taking this long in his research. Every dime of his money had been spent, the money forwarded to him by his publishers was long gone, but still his search was not complete. He pressed on, despite all the odds and personal dangers. Despite the family opposition too- to just “come home” and forget it. …And so he finally completed the research at last, after some ten arduous years. The rest of the story is of course history; and a retelling of a dark and terrible chapter of it to be sure. Many people, particularly white America, saw for the first time the evils and horrors that the slave trade inflicted. It opened many people’s eyes up to the bare and naked ugliness of this brutal bigotry, and of the countless lives that had been lost or cheapened as a result of being in bondage to men in a literal and societal sense.
Our struggle could never be compared to what these millions of African people and their descendants endured. However it highlights in our minds that slavery to men, whether physical, emotion, mental, or financial, is evil. It is ungodly. And people can and should fight against it to gain their freedom. (John 8:32) These questions are then very valid:
- How far shall I fight for my Christian Freedom?
- How fast and how long should it take me?
- How much freedom apart from what others say or think do I personally need?
These questions are up to each person to answer. After all, our individual relationship with our Heavenly Father is at stake. Because the real question is: Whose Slave are we?
———– REFERENCE #1 ——————————————————————
WATCHTOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY OF NEW YORK, INC.
WRITING DEPARTMENT PHONE (718) 625-3600
25 COLUMBIA HEIGHTS, BROOKLYN, NEW YORK 11201-2483, U.SA
EZF:ESJ December 11, 1996
Dear Mr. _______
We apologize- for our delay- in responding to your letter letter of November 3, 1996. You ask about the propriety of a Christian wearing
As you likely have realized, the publications of the Watch Tower Society have not endeavored to make specific rules to govern dress and grooming in the tens of thousands of congregations earth wide. Grooming and clothing styles vary around the world. The Bible does not set forth specific directions on dress or grooming but does advise Christians to dress modestly and to do things in such a way as not to offend others. (1 Corinthians 10:29, 31-33; 1 Timothy 2:9, 10) Thus, one would want to consider what is commonly expected in one’s community of those who profess to reverence God or who teach the Bible to others.
A well-trimmed beard in itself would not preclude one from being in the Theocratic Ministry School, sharing in the ministry, or being baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Nor should a Christian be shunned simply for wearing a beard since this is not considered as being disorderly in one’s conduct. At the same time, the Society is not in a position to investigate the leanings and preferences of each of the tens of thousands of communities where in Jehovah’s Witnesses carry on the all-important work of making known the Kingdom good news. As Paul stated, we are “a theatrical spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men.” So it appears that the early Christians were cognizant to some extent of the impression given to others by their appearance and comportment. As you can likely appreciate, they would not want anything to distract others from listening to the message.-1 Corinthians 4:9; 2 Corinthians 4:2.
As you note in your letter, there are some areas of the world wherein a certain style of dress and grooming is viewed as accept-able for one who is teaching the Bible or “professing to reverence God” in the community. (Compare 1 Timothy 2:10.) In other areas the same style might be quite objectionable or even offensive to a particular community or culture. While not condemning a person who chooses a certain style of dress and grooming that does not conflict with Bible principles, when it comes to one being considered for special privileges in the congregation, we feel an obligation to leave this with the local body of elders, who are able to assess better how the matter is viewed locally.-Luke 12:48; also compare Acts 16:3 and 1 Corinthians 9:19-22.
At the same time, on matters of grooming, we do agree that this should be left to an individual’s personal decision. While a certain style of grooming, such as wearing a beard, does not prevent a person from being valued as one of Jehovah’s servants in the Christian congregation, it may have some effect on the extent he can be used for additional privileges,depending on the local sentiment. In time, a person’s preferences may even change somewhat when considering all of the factors involved.
We trust that these comments will be of some help. We take the opportunity to send an expression of our greetings and best wishes.
Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
———– REFERENCE #2 ——————————————————————
Aboard the “African Star” – After working on the book for more than a decade, Haley was stuck — and desperate
“I just love to get out in the ocean. You are really out there, thinking in ways you haven’t thought before. The best writing I ever possibly could do was after The Digest helped me go to Africa and Europe, and I was not known and I could just take my time and nobody was pressing me. God, I don’t know how long it took me. I was working slowly, slowly. When I had done all the research, nine years, working in between doing articles for other magazines, I was ready to write. I didn’t know where to go, didn’t know what to do. I knew I had a monumental task. And I got on a cargo ship. I went from Long Beach, California, completely around South America and back to Long Beach. It was 91 days.There’s something about a ship. Usually I go out on freight ships, cargo ships. (I wouldn’t get caught on a liner. How can you write with 800 people dancing?) But the freight ships carry a maximum of 12 people, and they tend to be very quiet people.
I work my principal hours from about 10:30 at night until daybreak. The world is yours at that point. Most all the passengers are asleep.
I had written from the birth of Kunta Kinte through his capture. And I had got into the habit of talking to the character. I knew Kunta. I knew everything about Kunta. I knew what he was going to do. What he had done. Everything. And so I would talk to him. And I had become so attached to him that I knew now I had to put him in the slave ship and bring him across the ocean. That was the next part of the book. And I just really couldn’t quite bring myself to write that.
I was in San Francisco. I wrote about 40 pages and chunked it out. When you write well, it isn’t a question so much of what you want to say, it’s a question of feel. Does it feel like you want it to feel? The feel starts coming in somewhere around about the fourth rewrite.
I wrote, twice more, about 40 pages and threw it out. And I realized what my bother was: I couldn’t bring myself to feel I was up to writing about Kunta Kinte in that slave ship and me in a high-rise apartment. I had to get closer to Kunta. I had run out of my money at The Digest, lying so many times about when I’d finish so I couldn’t ask for any more. I don’t know where I got the money from. I went to Africa. Put out the word I wanted to get a ship coming from Africa to Florida. I just wanted to simulate the crossing.
I went down to Liberia, and I got on a freight ship called appropriately enough the African Star. She was carrying a partial cargo of raw rubber in bales. And I got on as a passenger. I couldn’t tell the captain or the mate what I wanted to do because they couldn’t allow me to do it.
But I found one hold that was just about a third full of cargo and there was an entryway into it with a metal ladder down to the bottom of the hold. Down in there they had a long, wide, thick piece of rough sawed timber. They called itdunnage. It’s used between cargo to keep it from shifting in rough seas.
After dinner the first night, I made my way down to this hold. I had a little pocket light. I took off my clothing to my underwear and lay down on my back on this piece of dunnage. I imagined I’m Kunta Kinte. I lay there and I got cold and colder. Nothing seemed to come except how ridiculous it was that I was doing this. By morning I had a terrible cold. I went back up. And the next night I’m there doing the same thing.
Well, the third night when I left the dinner table, I couldn’t make myself go back down in that hold. I just felt so miserable. I don’t think I ever felt quite so bad. And instead of going down in the hold, I went to the stern of the ship. And I’m standing up there with my hands on the rail and looking down where the propellers are beating up this white froth. And in the froth are little luminous green phosphorescences. At sea you see that a lot. And I’m standing there looking at it, and all of a sudden it looked like all my troubles just came on me. I owed everybody I knew. Everybody was on my case. Why don’t you finish this foolish thing? You ought not be doing it in the first place, writing about black genealogy. That’s crazy.
I was just utterly miserable. Didn’t feel like I had a friend in the world. And then a thought came to me that was startling. It wasn’t frightening. It was just startling. I thought to myself, Hey, there’s a cure for all this. You don’t have to go through all this mess. All I had to do was step through the rail and drop in the sea.
Once having thought it, I began to feel quite good about it. I guess I was half a second before dropping in the sea. Fine, that would take care of it. You won’t owe anybody anything. To hell with the publishers and the editors.
And I began to hear voices. They were not strident. They were just conversational. And I somehow knew every one of them. And they were saying things like, No, don’t do that. No, you’re doing the best you can. You just keep going.
And I knew exactly who they were. They were Grandma, Chicken George, Kunta Kinte. They were my cousin, Georgia, who lived in Kansas City and had passed away. They were all these people whom I had been writing about. They were talking to me. It was like in a dream.
I remember fighting myself loose from that rail, turning around, and I went scuttling like a crab up over the hatch. And finally I made my way back to my little stateroom and pitched down, head first, face first, belly first on the bunk, and I cried dry. I cried more I guess than I’ve cried since I was four years old.
And it was about midnight when I kind of got myself together. Then I got up, and the feeling was you have been assessed and have been tried and you’ve been approved by all them who went before. So go ahead. And then I went back down in the hold. I had a terrible head cold, flu-ish like. I had with me a long yellow tablet and some pencils. This time I did not take my clothing off like I’d been doing. I kept them on because I was having such a bad cold. I lay down on the piece of timber.
Now Kunta Kinte was lying in this position on a shelf in the ship, the Lord Ligonier. She had left the Gambia River, July 5, 1767. She sailed two months, three weeks, two days. Destination Annapolis, Maryland. And he was lying there. And others were in there with him whom he knew. And what would he think?
What would be some of the things they would say? And when they would come to me in the dark, I would write. And that was how I did every night, only ten nights. From there to Florida. I remember rushing through the big, big Miami Airport. Flew back to San Francisco. Got with a doctor, and he kind of patched me up.
I sat down with those long yellow tablets and transcribed. And I began to write the chapter in Roots where Kunta Kinte crossed the ocean in a slave ship. That was probably the most emotional experience I had in the whole thing.
Come around about 1:30 in the morning, you’ve been working since 10:30 and decide you’re going to take a little break. So you get up and you walk up on the deck. And you put your hand on the top rail, your foot on the bottom rail, and you look up. The first most striking thing is, man, you look up and there are heavenly objects as you never saw them before. You find yourself looking at planets at sea. And what you start to realize, you never saw clear air before. In some latitudes, down off West Africa, South America, on the night of a full moon, there are times you get into an illusion — if you could just stretch a little further you feel like you could touch it. And you are out there amidst all Gods firmament and then you stand and you feel through the soul of your shoe a fine vibration and you realize that’s man at work. That’s a huge diesel turbine, 35 feet down under the water driving this ship like a small island through the water. Still standing there, now you start hearing a slight hissing sound. You realize that’s of the ship cutting through the resistance of the ocean. With all that going on, feeling these man things and seeing the God things, that’s about as close to holy as you are going to ever get.”
Edited from a talk at Reader’s Digest, October 10, 1991, four months before Alex Haley’s death
Excerpted from the book Alex Haley: The Man Who Traced America’s Roots by Alex Haley. Copyright © 2007 The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc. Published by The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.; April 2007; $17.95US; 978-0-7621-0885-5.