I recently came across a 2005 blog post in which a former Jehovah’s Witness discusses an evolving trend in both publications and talks from the platform, which is for Witnesses to be warned more and more frequently about “Independent Thinking” in a way that I believe has problematic implications.
Unsurprisingly, this raises red flags among some who wrongly try to accuse the Witnesses of being a “cult” because cults do prosper on that very idea: the suppression of independent thought in favor of an unquestioning “following the leader” mentality. That is never what JWs have been about. Christ, and not any man, is recognized as leader of the true Christian congregation, and neither did Christ himself, nor the scriptures , nor any witness I ever studied the Bible with, ever once suggest that anything be accepted unquestioningly, on “blind faith,” and without reasoned consideration.
So while the organization of JWs may not necessarily intend their warning in any bad way (more on this below), I think there is a real danger, and sometimes very real consequences, to the implications that some elders and congregation members alike seem to be drawing from it.
Please note, I am not recommending the blog from which the article I read (referenced below) came. At just a quick glance I can already tell that in too many ways, “Doc” Bob chooses to ignore all the available evidence of Jehovah’s strong support for the modern-day organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, in a manner unlike any other religious organization you can find on earth today. (Just the worldwide activity alone in over 200 countries, with Bibles and Bible study publications routinely produced in hundreds of different languages and always offered, everywhere, entirely free of charge — an activity that continues to be carried out by unpaid volunteers and supported entirely by voluntary, unsolicited donations — that’s right, free of charge, no fund-raising campaigns, and no collections taken, anytime, ever, in keeping with Jesus’ instruction to his disciples, “You received free, give free” — is utterly unprecedented, and frankly, nothing short of miraculous.) I cannot help but think such a one-sided presentation as Bob’s is therefore deliberate, and calculated to cause harm.
However, his article discussing the trend in the JW’s view of “Independent Thinking” is mostly on point. In my own experience, over the years, I’ve heard that phrase popping up more and more often in talks from the platform, as well as in some published articles, with the implied connotation that critically questioning any aspect of the earthly organization’s published thinking is, if not quite a “sin”, at the very least, extremely dangerous.
So what’s wrong with this? Simply put, the organization is not flawless, nor should we expect it to be. The Jews of Jesus’ day had certainly introduced a great deal of erroneous thinking on top of the word of God they were charged with keeping, and yet at that time, scripturally speaking, they were still Jehovah’s people, his Witnesses. Today, the men taking the lead, from the governing body on down to congregation elders, also remain imperfect humans, no matter how spiritually inclined. I believe it’s safe to say that the vast majority are far more well-intentioned than those religious leaders of Jesus’ day, whose motives Jesus showed to be corrupt, but these men today are still just as subject to common human frailties and therefore quite capable of making mistakes, both individually and organizationally.
I think they probably mean well when they try to issue such warnings. Counsel provided against things like the dangers of the internet, various trends in modern dress and entertainment, even dangers inherent in buying in to the “philosophies and empty deception” that can be found in some modern education — all of these warnings are well-founded, and it would be unwise to ignore the scriptural reasoning behind them.
But therein lies the point. To even take counsel like this to heart in a proper way, independent thinking is absolutely required. If I do something simply “because the Watchtower said so,” or I heard it from a brother on the platform, and don’t take the additional step of convincing myself as to the thinking of Jehovah himself that underlies it, as revealed in his word, and how that actually applies to my own individual circumstances, what have I really done? I am no longer putting faith in Jehovah, but rather in men. Thinking independently of Jehovah is the real danger, according to the whole theme of the Bible itself, yet in actuality, isn’t that exactly what I’m doing if I relegate my understanding of Jehovah’s thinking to someone else, and simply take their word as to how it all probably applies to me? Worse yet, I may actually be elevating the word of men above that of Jehovah — not unlike the Jews of Jesus day whom he rightfully accused of elevating their own customs and traditions above the word of God.
Perhaps the organization believes that, regardless of where I put my faith, I am being “safeguarded” simply by listening to them, but such thinking is misguided. Faith in Jehovah means doing my best to bring my own thoughts and actions into line with Jehovah’s thinking, and not any man’s, because I have reasoned things out and concluded that his ways really are the best. That is the real and only safeguard.
The scriptures are full of exhortations that show us we must cultivate thinking ability. We must serve God with our whole mind, not someone else’s. We render sacred service with our power of reason. While I’m sure the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses does not intentionally mean to undermine this, the culture that I have seen evolving among congregation elders, and trickling down to the rest of the congregation members today, is at times beginning to resemble that of the Jew’s view of their Talmud, their own complex and voluminous collection of reasonings on the scriptures by their most learned and respected men. That is to say, everything published by the Watchtower Society, along with anything else issued from the platform is frequently treated as though it should automatically have weight equal to that of God-inspired scripture, and that simply can never be so.
As I said earlier, I have noted this growing trend for years, and it is something that concerned me all the while I was able to be an active member of the Christian congregation. The issue goes far beyond my own personal circumstances (which I have discussed in sore detail in other articles).
Recently, of course, I’ve obviously given this more thought from the standpoint of living as a transgender Christian. Jehovah’s thinking, as best as I can sincerely comprehend it from the scriptures, has room for those like myself. I absolutely have been willing to listen to alternative views with an open mind, but none of the brothers I have dealt with were ever able to present any scriptural reasoning to the contrary. Nor have they ever attempted to address any of the scriptural reasons that I patiently and repeatedly expressed to them as to why I am so strongly convinced I am doing nothing wrong, but rather continuing to live with integrity, to the best of my ability, in the best way possible for me.
Instead, they very religiously rely upon the organization’s relatively few published interpretations on the matter, which appear to be based on little to no application of scripture and some underlying, unsubstantiated and frankly very stale assumptions about transgender persons. That evidently forms the whole basis of their current thinking, and yet for them, it clearly carries sufficient weight to take the very serious next step of removing a person from the Christian congregation.
Sadly, by doing this, they close the door in a very permanent way upon the transgender Christian. I am utterly convinced this is a door that should remain open. What I believe is the appropriate exercise of “independent thinking” — properly rooted in Jehovah’s thoughts as found in the scriptures, but free of the erroneous assumption that every notion the clearly blessed, but still imperfect, human organization has ever put forth is as absolute as Jehovah’s Word itself — continues to lead me to no other conclusion.