reprint of the Jul/Aug 1994 Free Minds Journal

The Punishment Vibe Among Jehovah's Witnesses

by Randall Watters

Perhaps you, like myself, were lucky enough to be raised in a home where punishment was not the dominant attitude of your parents. Many of us weren't so lucky, however. Our parents made sure we knew that we would be disciplined for every infraction of their protocol, either physically or through a popular "punishment vibe" that includes the following:

Unfortunately, the members of the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses were raised in such households, unless they later became converts to using this "vibe" to control the masses (JWs now number over 4 million). When I arrived at Bethel (their world headquarters) to work for four years (and can you believe I actually stayed for six years, and even LIKED it?), this attitude was quite obvious, as it emanated profusely from most of the overseers, and even a large percentage of my peers. Fine-tuning and mimicking this attitude got you promotions to ministerial servant and elder positions. If you were really plucky and impressed your superiors with your theocratic redneck attitude, they could then "trust" that you were one of "them," and you might in time become a Bethel elder (you were almost Governing Body then!). How do I know all this?

I was one of these geeks, too. I came to Bethel already versed on what to expect, so I not only survived the first year (50% didn't, even though they signed up for four years), but I had the attitude DOWN. It was no wonder that I was given all the best positions, and was appointed as an elder at 25 (though they had just passed a ruling say you had to be 30), and a Bethel elder at 26.

Right before I saw the light in 1980 and resigned, I was actually turning in some brothers for questioning the organization. Anyone who did not have the right attitude was watched and weeded out. I, though not being raised in this environment, was a convert to it. Actually, it had its own thrills (or "high," if you will), which "drug" we all enjoyed immensely.

After this new drug wore off, however, I began to actually love the brothers I worked with, and sought their own spiritual and emotional growth. I began to treat them as adults, taking the chance that they might abuse this trust.

This was really the core spirit of the Watchtower organization: Lack of trust. I knew from the start that a God of love would be at least as smart as my own parents, and would not use punishment tactics on his children, but would earn their love through trust and mercy. Even if this love and mercy was abused, most would turn around in time and love their Father all the more. I tried it on those who worked under me. I would leave my floor (I was a floor overseer in the factory) and expect the work to be done by the brothers without me nagging them, and they appreciated this trust. They knew I cared for them and wanted to help them.

Our floor became a model floor for tours, as it was neat and very efficient and productive as well. I ignored the advice of MY overseer, who continually said, "You can't trust the brothers." "Give `em a rope and they'll hang themselves."

"Wheels" (as we called him) was creative when it came to punishments for those who wasted too much paper on the press, took off early for lunch, etc. (He once pulled out all the stops when he suggested that at lunch time, instead of rushing through showers and waiting at the locker room door to leave, you might even help your brothers get ready. "Wheels" made sure we had no shortage of locker room jokes, at his expense!)

I might mention at this point that I had come to believe that God, assuming He was more mature than even good parents, was above the "punishment vibe," and would use love, trust and mercy to help us grow up. I knew that parents who used this Victorian tactic were themselves sick and needed help, so God certainly wouldn't use it. If good parents consistently used a much more effective and loving way of raising their children that didn't engender a lack of trust and low self-esteem, then God could not be so immature that He would use it, or condone its use.

To be honest with you, this was the main reason I left Bethel, even more so than the doctrinal issues at hand. For the first time in seven years, I finally saw that the Watchtower leadership based their control on suspicion and lack of trust. In 1979-1980, during the big shakeup at Bethel, the proverbial "curtain" was pulled back from the wizard's booth, (did you ever see the Wizard of OZ?).

It was like an Elk's club meeting, only worse. These men were name-calling, slandering, disguising the truth of the real issues at hand, and making everyone afraid to even question their authority. My respect for them went from 95% (very high for even the Bethel scale) to 0% (very LOW on my scale). You might say that I grew out of Bethel, and then the organization, because I got tired of sandbox politics (more on this later!) Fortunately, I kept my sense of humor through this whole thing (wait `til I get going on THAT!) editor

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