Community and the Watchtower
    
Jerry Bergman

(Investigator 133, 2010 July)



A major reason why the Watchtower has been able to hold onto many of their members is community. Community is critically important in the acceptance of any belief structure and value system. The worldwide community among Witnesses is a major attraction of the Society.  

When I was in Europe as a student on a tour sponsored by my university, I located the local Kingdom Hall in each city that I visited. Within minutes after passing the "test" for con artists (a few questions about doctrine usually suffices), I was usually in the company of helping friends. Consequently, in virtually every place we visited, a car would pull up and I was whisked away for a personal tour of the city and intimate involvement in the local culture. My professor was dumbfounded.
    
This continued for most of my three-month visit to Europe. Our group of about thirty-five people stuck together with their fellow student tourists and explored each city that we visited. I soon knew every city we visited much better than the typical tourist. Within a short time I formed dozens of friendships with people who were complete strangers only hours before, and years later I still occasionally correspond with some.

In belonging to such a worldwide community there are no "foreign" countries, only friends elsewhere. I felt at home in every country I visited because the Witness culture in many ways supersedes the native culture. A person may be a German living in Germany, but is foremost a Witness, and usually has much more in common with an American Witness than a native German non-Witness. This "oneness" is capitalized on during Witnesses international conventions where a fortune is spent to fly thousands of persons from one country to another to reinforce Witnesses community. The sessions at the larger conventions in America are often in English, Spanish, German, and a half-dozen other languages.

After discussing the Witnesses' belief structure with about sixty Witnesses from over a dozen nations, it is clear to me that it was remarkably similar. The Witnesses constantly stressed that they are a worldwide community, fully united towards one goal — serving God.

All of their publications were written in English first, then faithfully translated into over two hundred languages. Thus, each Witness the world over reads the same material, often the same week.  Aside from uniform indoctrination, the Witness social network also served to produce uniformity.  One of the few approved (actually encouraged) rewarding activities among the Witnesses is socializing with each other. This activity is not only highly valued within the group, but is felt to be part of their work for God.
    
The Society has tried to insure group solidarity since at least the 1940s by encouraging Witnesses to talk primarily about "theocratic topics."  Witnesses are trained to use several ingenious and subtle techniques to achieve this goal. They are instructed at their meetings to constantly keep in the forefront of their mind their "hidden agendas," such as "in what way can brother or sister so-and-so be induced to become more loyal, more active in service or more committed to serving their brothers?" Any involvement, from giving talks to visiting the sick, is encouraged. A Witnesses' total social network is to be with other Witnesses and this serves as a powerful influence to produce conformity.

As Cooper found, the feelings of community are further strengthened by the Society's rule that Witnesses may have social friendships only with other Witnesses. In a real sense the local Witness congregation becomes a like-minded extended family which is a sustaining and compelling force to continue in the life style set forth by the Society.  
    
Witnesses were encouraged to come to the meetings a half hour early to
"socialize" — and they often joked about their propensity to linger around after each meeting for this purpose. During these socializing events Witnesses were encouraged to discuss "up-building topics" that reinforced the Watchtower's position on both secular and sacred issues including their belief that the Watchtower Society is God's earthly organization.

Norman Long. Social Change and the Individual. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1968.

Quirinus J. Munters. Rekrutering als raeping: Sociologische Overwegingen met Betrekking tot het Missionaire Handelen. Meppel, Holland: J.A. Boom en Zoon, 1970 (Title in English Recruiting as a Calling.)

Royston Pike. Jehovah's Witnesses: Who They Are, What They Teach, What They Do. New York: Philosophical Library, London: Watts Co., 1954.

Theodore Wentworth Sprague. Some Problems in the Integration of Social Groups with Special Reference to Jehovah's Witnesses, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1942, (Ph.D. Dissertation.). p. 270.

Lee Cooper. "Publish or Perish" Negro Jehovah's Witnesses; Adaptation in the Ghetto in Religious Movements in Contemporary America, Ed. by Irving Zaretsley, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press. 1974. p. 709.


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