Are Jehovah's Witnesses Good Parents?
The Parenting of Jehovah's Witnesses versus the Parenting of Christianity
Leaders of authoritarian religions typically reflect a parental attitude towards their followers, claiming to be the proper road to God, if THEIR disciplines are followed. The way of travel is supposedly "upward," to a more mature or glorified position in life. Therefore there is usually a "master plan," or prescribed pathway, to follow to attain such heights. Most all have their requirements for being saved. Those who donít measure up are lost, or punished, both now and in the future. Obviously, fear and guilt are automatic by-products of such an environment.
Does the use of fear and guilt, or even punishment and abandonment, have a place in human society?
One can argue it certainly has up until now, both for good and for bad. Humans find it necessary to train children up by rules and restrictions, until they are able to intelligently make their own moral decisions in life. To fail to do so in our society results in juvenile delinquency, crime and a poor quality of life for the youngsters. Is there a better way? If so, it has not yet been discovered. With Godís grace, perhaps someday parenting will take less of a toll on parents.
Religious leaders often take up where the family stops in parenting. The religion becomes a larger family, with new parents and new rules, designed to take the person to a higher form of social and spiritual maturity (whatever that might mean).
The question not often asked at this point is, What is their higher level, and is it really desirable for you and me? What guarantee is there to the new recruit that a religionís special brand of maturity, whether viewed as the "only way" or not, is really the best solution for the individual?
Those who are searching for "the truth" are often ill-equipped to distinguish between what is healthy and what is not, particularly if they are going through an emotional time. Feelings of guilt, remorse, fear, etc. may cloud their objectivity. Balanced information may not be readily available, or even sought out by the individual. Further, poor models of parenting at home may prevent them from recognizing good vs. harmful parenting, and often they end up choosing a model that is similar to what they grew up with perhaps because it is comfortable and familiar to them.
It is a well-known fact that children and mates of alcoholics develop a codependent nature around such persons, and the bad behavior is perpetuated through silent agreement. Having an abusive mate or parent can also lead to picking a mate later in life that similarly manifests such tendencies. Why? Often it is because it is the only pattern they are familiar with, the only "family" life they have ever experienced. It is relatively comfortable for them, even more comfortable than a healthy relationship in most cases. Sad but true, and very common.
Now, carrying that principle over into the world of religions, one might expect similar patterns. For a moment we will ignore those who follow the religion of their birth, and focus on those who actually look for a religion at some point in their lives.
Persons who have been abused will usually find authoritarian, abusive father (or mother) figures to tell them what to do and to punish them when they are bad. They have become comfortable with this pattern, and are often very uncomfortable in a more wholesome environment, one which requires them to make their own personal moral and ethical decisions on a daily basis. They have never been TRUSTED to make their own decisions, and therefore do not feel WORTHY of anyoneís trust. Such persons are ripe for the authoritarian religions, often called cults.
A charming young pastor, a charismatic speaker, a loving grandfather: We are all attracted to such persons at one time or another. If they show us attention, we might consider spending more time around them. If it begins to cost us time or money or even a little of our freedom, it might seem worth it. Worth it for what? A pat on the back, a smile of approval, an understanding hug? Advice? How to get closer to God? Ah, there you see how it happens. Someone offers us something to make us grow taller, fatter, stronger, and closer to what God wants of us. "See? That person did it, we can do it too, with their help." Thatís the hook.
Letís assume that the abusive parent feels they are really doing best for their child by physically beating them once in awhile. "Does not the Bible allow for it?" they say. By the same token, we can assume that many cult leaders really feel that their method of discipline and rigidity is ALSO what is best for their followers. While the sins of the cult leader may be complex, one thing is almost always true, they do not understand a better way to raise people to maturity, or if they do, they do not believe that it works in actual practice.
When I worked at the world headquarters of Jehovahís Witnesses (1974-1980) I saw the whole range of authoritarian attitudes at work. My own overseer, Richard Wheelock, always made it clear that "You canít trust the brothers." "Give Ďem an inch and theyíll take a mile," was the common attitude voiced in the factory atmosphere. Most of the other factory overseers were the same, with a few exceptions. When I was appointed floor overseer in the Bible printing department, I was the same way for the first year or so, until I realized what I was doing. There was a better model of "parenting" these young men, one that I did not comprehend until I started reading the Bible anew, without the Watchtower and its parenting models. As I began to apply Bible principles in dealing with others in a non-legalistic manner, I was richly rewarded with more friends and, not unexpectedly, better production. The morale on our floor soon jumped above that of the other factory floors I knew (because the brothers felt trusted, and acted accordingly). I could leave the floor for days at a time, and they kept things running smoothly with a minimum of contact. They became adults and loved to be treated as such. Wheelock, on the other hand, jumped out of a factory window and killed himself a few years later, the result of recurrent bouts of severe depression.
I am thankful to the New Testament writings for showing me a better way, one that does not induce anger or frustration, but a way that promotes growth and good mental health in a person. Unfortunately, the pastors of many churches do not themselves truly appreciate the principles of grace and good parenting, and so produce dysfunctional behavior in their parishioners through various forms of legalism and lack of trust. Perhaps you can copy this article and send it to those you know who may be able to benefit.
Christian Parenting In Contrast
(By Christian parenting, I am referring to Godís way of parenting his children.)
In the realm of Christian religions, there are three approaches used in advocating standards of conduct:
(1) The strict approach--a code of conduct is laid out as "necessary," and it is strict enough that only a few Christians will follow it, producing an appearance of righteousness.
(2) The merciful approach--a middle-of-the-road code of conduct is promoted that is workable (attainable) for most or all believers.
(3) The perfection approach--Jesusí perfect standards are advocated, which are really principles to be followed from the heart rather than laws.
Some churches, and all of the cults, choose method #1; many churches choose #2.
However, not only do the first two approaches fall short of Jesusí moral precepts, but the system designed for the few (#1) condemns the many and exalts the few; whereas in actuality, if RULES are to be followed, ALL are actually condemned because ALL will fall short of perfect obedience to those rules! System #1, therefore, provides a false sense of security. It is also substandard to the third approach.
System #2 is unbiblical as well. To water down the principles Christ gave and to replace them with a sub-standard law code is not acceptable to a New Testament approach. God will not tolerate sin, nor lesser standards; that is why Jesus had to die for our sins. He will only work within the perfect approach.
As Christians, we expect God to mold us and to perfect our conduct and our character. We cannot by ourselves mute the power of sin within us (nor can others do it for us!). Though it may seem a noble cause to try and alter our own heartís desires, it cannot be done through living by a law code, whether it be strict or lenient.
So we drop the law code idea. We see Jesusí lofty standards for what they are and we realize that we will never obey them perfectly, at least in this life. Thatís why we are saved by grace! So we quit following rules and allow the grace of the Holy Spirit to do his work in us. We learn to become more like children as regards humility and simplicity (Matt. 18:3). Prayers are offered for the Holy Spirit to work changes within us, giving us a new heart; a pure heart. We are praying for something that cannot be accomplished through obedience to laws and rules.
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