reprint of the Sep/Oct 1991 Bethel Ministries Newsletter

Growing Up Within the Watchtower:

How Parents Are Taught to Influence Their Children

by Randall Watters

One of the key roles of parents in any society is to shape the thinking and aspirations of their children for the future. Parents who are Jehovah's Witnesses are admonished to be especially keen on guiding their children away from any unnecessary involvement in the "world" in order to devote more time to the work of spreading Watchtower doctrine. Ever since the beginning of the Watchtower in 1879, its readers have been told that the "end of the world" is right around the corner, and this event was specifically predicted for the years 1914, 1915, 1918, 1925 and strongly suggested for 1941 and 1975 (1) . In 1941 the Watchtower published the book Children in which the fictitious characters John and Eunice give up having children to go door-to-door in the short time remaining before the End.

Decades have passed, John and Eunice are still childless and in their seventies, and the world has not yet ended. Yet even today, the Watchtower is still encouraging young ones to sacrifice careers and even to forego marriage if it will make them more successful in the "short time remaining before the End." What future is held out for youths today in the Witness subculture?

Publicly, the Watch Tower Society likes to put forth an image of happy, normal youths among their organization. Though many Witness youth seem to be well adjusted and have normal aspirations, the ones held up as models in the congregations are often disfunctional in their personal lives, some even leading a double life, morally speaking. What is the future held out for Witness youth by their leaders?

The public image is well demonstrated in the Watch Tower Society's booklet, Preparing for Child Custody Cases (distributed by the Society's legal department as an aid in child custody battles). It encourages the selection of "spiritually minded" young Witnesses by the presiding overseer of the local congregation to testify "to show that they are normal." The booklet cautions about the rehearsal:

"Be careful that they don't get the impression that they are in a demonstration at the circuit assembly, when they would show that the first things in life are service [door-to-door preaching] and going to the Kingdom Hall. Show hobbies, crafts, social activity, sports, and especially plans for the future. Be careful they don't all say that they are going to be pioneers [full-time door-to-door evangelists]. Plans can be trade, getting married and having children, journalism, and all kinds of other things. Maybe you can show an interest in art and the theater." (p. 43)

At a Witness circuit assembly (large religious gathering), a Witness youth would truthfully point out their primary interests are religious. In court, however, Witness youths are counseled to emphasize "normal" activities and a "normal" future career. Instead of pioneering, they should indicate regular interests that other children would have, such as journalism, art and the theater, etc. The Watchtower is thereby promoting one image to the public (one of being just like other children) and another in the Kingdom Hall (of sacrificing careers and personal desires for the sake of warning others of the imminency of the Watchtower message).

The following are quotations from Witness literature showing what is actually taught to young Witnesses, both by example and direct statement. Material in brackets is added to clarify meaning or explain significance. Emphasis is added to some quotations to draw attention to key points.

On the Nearness of the New World:

"Most importantly, this magazine builds confidence in the Creator's promise of a peaceful and secure new world before the generation that saw the events of 1914 passes away." [This statement appears on the contents page of every Awake! magazine.]

", most of the generation of 1914 has passed away... Jesus' words will come true, 'this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.' This is yet another reason for believing that Jehovah's thief-like day is imminent." Awake!, April 8, 1988, p. 14. [In Witness belief, both Armageddon and the New World are due before the generation of 1914 passes away. This present world must be destroyed before this New World can become a reality. Only those associated with the Witness organization can have any hope to survive Armageddon into the New World.]

[A Witness youth from France named Samuel is quoted with apparent approval:] "For the year 2000, I visualize a world transformed into a beautiful paradise! But I don't think that either the present world or its rulers will live to see that day.... We are living in the last days of the system of things." Awake!, November 8, 1986, pp. 78.

Higher education is discouraged:

"If you are a young person, you also need to face the fact that you will never grow old in this present system of things. Why not? Because all the evidence in fulfillment of Bible prophecy indicates that this corrupt system is due to end in a few years. Of the generation that observed the beginning of the `last days' in 1914, Jesus foretold: `This generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.'

"Therefore, as a young person, you will never fulfill any career that this system offers. If you are in high school and thinking about a college education, it means at least four, perhaps even six or eight more years to graduate into a specialized career. But where will this system of things be by that time? It will be well on the way towards its finish, if not actually gone!

"This is why parents who base their lives on God's prophetic Word find it much more practical to direct their young ones into trades that do not require such long periods of additional schooling....

"True, those who do not understand where we are in the stream of time from God's viewpoint will call this impractical. But which is really practical: preparing yourself for a position in this world that soon will pass away? or working toward surviving this system's end and enjoying eternal life in God's righteous new order?" Awake!, May 22, 1969, p. 15. [Even though this was written in 1969, this policy is still endorsed... as can be seen in the following references.]

Under the subheading "Alternatives to University" in the article entitled "Young People Ask ... How do I Choose a Career?" (Awake!, March 22, 1985, pp. 1718) they say:

"After consulting their parents, many young people have decided against long-term education because of the uncertainty of the future. `The time left is reduced,' says the Bible.... [Vocational training in high school is then recommended.]

"A Christian's view of the future should also affect his choice of career. With `the world passing away,' a career based upon worldly ambitions is most unrealistic. Bible prophecy indicates how short-lived such a career would be.

"For this reason, many young people among Jehovah's Witnesses are choosing a career in full time Bible education... a volunteer work of helping people to understand the Bible. `But,' you may ask, `how can somebody make a living that way?' In order to support themselves financially, many have first received practical training in a trade."

The Witness youth handbook, Questions Young People Ask: Answers That Work spends four pages discouraging a university education. (pp. 175179) It concludes:

"In view of these facts, many Christian youths have decided against a university education. Many have found that the training offered in congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses... the weekly Theocratic Ministry School in particular... has given them a real edge in finding employment."

At the end of this chapter are five questions that reveal the tone of the argumentation found in this book: "Why do secular careers often fail to bring personal happiness? Why should all God-fearing youths consider a career in the full-time ministry? What are the claimed benefits of higher education, and do such claims always hold true? What dangers might university education pose? What alternatives to university education can a youth consider?" (p. 179)

The Watchtower of April 15, 1986, (pp. 2830) spoke to young Witnesses: "As you think about your future, no doubt questions run through your mind. Should I go to a university and seek a career as a doctor, a lawyer, or a scientist? Does the dream of climbing the corporate ladder to financial success and recognition intrigue me? Would I become a famous name in the arts through acting or painting? Or, as a youth devoted to Jehovah God, should I choose the full-time ministry as my lifetime career...?"

After giving two testimonies... one of a young man who quit his university studies after joining the Witnesses so that he could pioneer (full-time mission work), and the other of a young man who began pioneering in his last year of high school... the article concludes:

"Youths, how will you use your future? For yourselves or fully for Jehovah? Prayerfully consider the goal of full-time service now in your youth. Imitate Jesus by living the rest of your life `for God's will.' It will prove to be a protection from harmful worldly ambitions, careers, and associations. Analyze your circumstances and set a specific date as your goal for entering full-time service. Work toward it. Pray for Jehovah's help to attain it." [Pursuing a "worldly career" is viewed as selfish, as opposed to the goal of full-time service now "for Jehovah." The idea that God might call one to a secular career that can be dedicated to His glory is foreign to the Watch Tower Society.]

Start preparing for a ministry career before graduating from school:

"Keeping in mind the limited value of physical exercise and the superlative benefit of godly devotion will help you to make balanced decisions when it comes to after school activities....

"How about using your time to help others spiritually? Interestingly, some young ones among Jehovah's Witnesses in Japan start to make the ministry their career while they are still in school. They buy out their time before and after school to help others to know the Creator." [From the article "Young People Ask...What About AfterSchool Activities?" Awake!, December 8, 1986, p. 18. Extracurricular activities are discouraged. door-to-door "service" is recommended in its place "before and after school."]

Singleness is commended:

"Putting your years as an unmarried Christian to the best possible use in Jehovah's service will bring present satisfaction and peace of mind. Doing so will also contribute to your spiritual maturity and stability. If you remain single for the Kingdom's sake until the end of this wicked system of things, Jehovah will not forget your self-sacrificing efforts in his sacred service.

" If you diligently pursue Kingdom interests [religious activities like door-to-door work and attending congregational meetings] as an unmarried man or woman, you will enjoy many blessings. Then if you should get married later in life, you will enter wedlock with greater experience and a rich spiritual background." [From the article "Singleness... A Rewarding Way of Life." The Watchtower, November 15, 1987, p. 20.]

Childlessness is commended:

The Watchtower Society has no stated policy regarding childbearing. They state the decision to have children is a personal matter. But, they do remind couples of the nearness of the End and commend those who have decided to remain childless `for the sake of the Kingdom,' in order to have a fuller share in the Witnesses' religious activities:

"Some young couples have decided to remain childless. Although the wives had maternal instincts just as strong as those in other women, they decided, in agreement with their husbands, to refrain from having children in order to devote themselves to serving Jehovah full-time. Many of them have served as pioneers or missionaries...

"Many married couples throughout the world who have relinquished the joys of parenthood have been able to serve Jehovah in the circuit work, the district work, or at Bethel. [Remaining childless is a condition of continuing in these responsible positions.] These likewise look back with satisfaction over their lives spent in serving Jehovah and their brothers in these special privileges. They have no regrets. While they have not had the joy of bringing children into the world, they have played a vital part in furthering Kingdom interests in their various fields of activity...

"So the matter of childbearing in this time of the end is a personal one that each couple must decide for itself. However, since `the time left is reduced,' married couples would do well to weigh carefully and prayerfully the pros and cons of child bearing in these times." The Watchtower, March 1, 1988, pp. 25 26.

Parents are encouraged to set pioneering as a goal for children instead of college:

The Kingdom Ministry of May 1973, p. 6 (under the subheading "The Encouragement of Parents Helps") says:

"At times the heart's desire for what is good needs to be strengthened. Parents can do much to aid their children in this regard...

"An elder in Korea encouraged his four children to pioneer. At a circuit assembly [large Witness religious gathering] he and the children were interviewed. The oldest daughter related how she had been the highest scholastically in her high school. She herself wanted to go to college at one point. However, her father informed her that, while she was free to choose such a course, she could not expect financial support from him. She changed her mind about college, and now she is enjoying many blessings as a pioneer. The next oldest, a son, told how he also at one time wanted to go to college and follow a worldly course. But his father sat down and reviewed the Scriptures with him. His father also told him that, if he insisted on following a worldly course, he would also have to find another place to live. He heeded his father's counsel and is very grateful that his father was kind but firm in his stand. The two younger children explained that they were impressed by what happened to the two older ones. From the beginning they planned to become pioneers. The youngest son gave up his high school education to pioneer."

In The Watchtower of January 15, 1952, [p. 47], parents were counseled to:

"Suggest that they become vacation pioneers [a one month commitment for 75 hours of door-to-door proselytizing] during their summer holidays... The highest career you can plan for your children is that of full-time service as a minister. ["Minister" here refers to their door-to-door preaching work.] Work and plan to help them toward that most joyful and successful of careers." [Even though this article is nearly 40 years old, Witnesses today still follow this practice. Many Witnesses who were raised in the 1950's and 1960's by this advice postponed marriage and then also postponed having children after marriage, so that they could devote more time to their proselytizing work. Some are still single or childless. Most who did eventually marry and have children found that it was too late to start a professional career, taking employment in the blue collar field instead. Still, these are raising their children with full-time ministry as their goal in life.]

Theatrical career discouraged for Witnesses:

In the Awake! of August 8, 1983 (pp. 2324) the Watchtower published this testimony of an actor who quit the theater after converting to the Witnesses:

"Now, more than a decade later, I can honestly say that I do not yearn for the stage. I am still able to practice my art each year, as a director and an actor, in the Bible dramas that Jehovah's Witnesses present in their district conventions... The difference is that we have performed with a better motive. In the theater I wanted to be the star, to receive adulation. In these Bible dramas it is the story that matters, not the actors. Thus there is no competition, no upstaging of fellow actors."

Art career discouraged:

In The Watchtower, March 15, 1981 (p. 10) the Society published this testimony of a art student who decided not to pursue an art career after joining the Witnesses:

"By 1952 I had been studying to be an artist for nearly four years. What would I do? Returning to Puerto Rico, my desire to share what I had learned from the Bible was even stronger than my desire to be an artist. Thus, in August 1952, I began serving in the full-time preaching activity as a pioneer."

Musical career discouraged:

The Awake! of August 8, 1985 (pp. 1617) published the testimony of William Mullane, who left the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City after he started studying with the Witnesses. He eventually entered "Bethel service," working full-time at Watchtower headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. Bethel workers receive room and board and a nominal monthly "allowance" to buy necessities. Mullane explains:

"After the summer vacation period, I returned to school for another semester. But I felt very differently about things then. The desire to develop as a musician was not as strong as it had once been. I now knew that there was much more to life and that music could no longer be `number one'...

"I also remember clearly my father's reaction to my decision. He pounded on the table and sternly told me that I would be put out of the house if I left school. But leave I did. Two months later I was baptized to symbolize my dedication to God, and soon thereafter I entered the full-time ministry...

"I still practice my music but only for a small fraction of the time I previously devoted to it...

"A career in [music] demands exclusive devotion. In this it competes with our Creator and the doing of his will. Music can be almost like a disease...

"Frankly, I've come to look upon musical institutions as modern-day temples of worship that require people to devote their entire lives to music. But that is making a god out of it, and surely this does not have the Creator's approval. True, music is a gift from Jehovah, but it must be kept in its place."

The February 22, 1984 Awake! (pp. 1216) published the testimony of a former Lebanese basketball star who forsook both that and his university studies to become a full time pioneer.

The December 8, 1984 Awake! (pp. 1620) published Herman Pizzanelli's testimony. He was a leading Uruguayan concert guitarist in the 1960's. After joining the Witnesses he canceled his contracts, including "a theatrical tour of Europe," because "my conscience moved me to take up the far more urgent work of preaching and other Christian activities."


1. For documentation concerning the dates set by the Watchtower, see the book Thus Saith The Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses.

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