The Broadcasting Standards Commission received a complaint from the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society about unjust or unfair treatment, in Everyman: Sleeping with the Enemy, broadcast onBBC1,13 December 1998.
This judgement concerned Reachout Trust indirectly because we provided clips from a video for them to use. The judgement concerning this was as follows:
Mr Hardy (Presiding Minister of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Britain) said that cartoon and video footage had been used, which had lampooned the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses, using quotations which were not in context and originating from a source who denigrated their faith. The Jehovah’s Witnesses had not been invited to provide video footage stating their beliefs, nor had they been informed that such unpleasant parodies were being sought for broadcast. The material had not been produced by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and its origin and agenda had not been identified. The material had wrongly given the impression that Jehovah’s Witnesses believed that Jesus Christ would kill those who were not Jehovah’s Witnesses, that a Jehovah’s Witness would be “disfellowshipped” if he allowed his child to have a blood transfusion and that Jehovah’s Witnesses were willing to allow their children to die for want of medical treatment. Mr Hardy said at a hearing held by the Commission that immediately after Mr Mesruther had alleged that his son had told him that he would be destroyed at Armageddon unless he went to the Kingdom Hall, the image of a sword striking a divine judgement had been shown, conveying the erroneous idea that Jehovah’s Witnesses believed that salvation was gained by performing religious duties. Mr Hardy also said at the hearing that footage of the passing of holy bread and wine, a particularly sacred moment for Jehovah’s Witnesses, should not have been shown in a programme that was critical of them.
The BBC said that the animation and archive material used were clips from a film obtained from the Reachout Trust, said to be an organisation which opposed religious cults. Although the film was critical of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the BBC understood that it had been made by former members and included material originally made by the Witnesses. The animations were Jehovah’s Witnesses material, as was most of the archive footage used. The extracts used did not parody or misrepresent Jehovah’s Witnesses’ beliefs. The BBC said at the hearing that it had checked with the Jehovah’s Witness website that their contents accurately represented what Jehovah’s Witnesses currently believed. The extracts selected from the film did not have an agenda.
It is sad when the Witnesses feel that they must complain about material that shows the truth of what they believe – maybe they want to hide it from the public!
The Commission in part said concerning this:
The Commission accepts that the BBC made efforts to check that the material shown in the film, supplied by the Reachout Trust, did not conflict with current Jehovah’s Witness thinking, and is not persuaded by the arguments, put forward by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, that it differs considerably from that thinking. The Commission does not consider, therefore, that it was necessary for the Jehovah’s Witnesses to be asked to contribute any of their own material.
They did go on to say that they felt it sensationalised and over-simplified the beliefs and thus it ruled it unfair however it is interesting to note that it believed these were the teachings even if presented in an unfair way.
An area of controversy for the Witnesses that did come up in the above film is their behaviour in Nazi Germany. The Watchtower Society today is always seeking to present the positive stand they took in Germany and the persecution that resulted. Even as recent as The Watchtower, May 1 2000 they carried an article on the back page entitled “He Died for a Principle.” The story commemorates August Dickmann who was publicly shot by the SS because he was a conscientious objector.
As tragic as this is there is a darker side to the way the Society acted and the letter that follows typifies it. It comes from the book The Jehovah’s Witnesses by Friedrich Wilhelm Haak revised in 1997. The book is written in German and Brian Gale has translated the following letter extract.
Dear Reich Chancellor,
On the 25th June 1933 at the sports hall Wilmersdorf, Berlin, a conference was convened by some 5000 delegates of the Bible Students of Germany [J.Ws], representing several millions of Germans. These have for many years been friends and supporters of this movement. The purpose of this convention was for these representatives to explore ways, to inform fully the Reich Chancellor and the other esteemed officials of the German Empire, as well as to all other states the following standpoints:
In certain parts of the country measures have been and are being taken against Christian men and women, who are unified in their positive belief. This in essence amounts to the persecution of Christians by other Christians, in that there have been accusations against us from the clerical front (especially from the Catholics) and which are untrue.
Though we are absolutely convinced of the objectivity of government departments and individual officials, we nevertheless observe, because of the extent of our literature and demands of the examiners of the material, the content and significance of our organisation is generally being falsely judged, and also is what our religious opponents in full prejudice bring against us.
Therefore, Mr. Reich Chancellor, the conference agreement with its accompanying explanation, is laid before you (and the leaders of the German Reich) by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, so that you may accept it as documentation of the fact that the Bible Students of Germany have but one single goal in their work; they purpose to lead people back to God, to witness to and honour the name of Jehovah the Almighty, the father of our lord and saviour Jesus Christ. We know for certain that you, Mr. Reich Chancellor, will not allow such activity to be disturbed.
The Bible Student communities and their associates are universally known as being a bastion of true reverence for the Almighty and are zealous guardians of careful biblical research. Local police authorities would have to agree, the Bible Students must count as belonging to those elements in the country and amongst the people who have a great love of order. Their sole mission is to gather human hearts for God.
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society is the organising mission control body of the Bible Students – for Germany, H.Q. is Magdeburg.
The Brooklyn presidium of the Watchtower has always from its outset been German friendly. As a result of this in 1918 the president of the Society and the seven members of the governing body in America were sentenced to eighty years in jail, because the president refused to use his two magazines to incite war propaganda against Germany. These two journals ‘Watchtower’ and ‘Bible Student’ were the only ones in the entire country which rejected the pressure for war propaganda, and were therefore banned and repressed in America.
In the same way our Society’s presidium not only refused to take part in recent months, in the horror stories against Germany, but has even taken an opposing stand, which is underlined in the accompanying explanation; the clue to this is that the elements leading this onslaught of war propaganda (horror stories) in America, i.e., the Jews with business interests and Catholics, are also the ones who are conducting the most rigorous persecution against this Society and its leadership. By this and other resolutions hereby given, the rejection of this insidious calumny should follow automatically, i.e. that the Bible Students were actually supported by the Jews. The five thousand delegates at their convention have with great satisfaction taken note of the ensuing statement by the local government president at Magdeburg, namely that the relationship between Bible Students and communists or Marxists, as maintained by our clerical opponents, is not provable (demonstrable), and is, therefore, also slanderous (libellous). A directly related press release was reported in the Magdeburg Daily News Nr 1 04 5th May 1933.
The conference of 5,000 delegates emphasised that, because of this state of affairs, they considered it beneath their dignity to have to defend themselves further against the despicable suspicion of indulging in communist or Marxist activity. These refuted libels by our religious opponents clearly bear the mark of religious rivalry, who instead of the honest rebuke and God’s Word, would rather snuff out the truth with slander and libel.
Furthermore it was established by the 5,000 delegates, as expressed in the declaration, that the Bible Students of Germany are striving for the same high goals and ideals, as proclaimed by the government of the German Reich, regarding the relationship of man to God, namely (i.e.), the honesty (sincerity) of His creation, in response to the creator.
It was also established at the convention, that with reference to the relationship of the Bible Students to the national government (of the German Reich), no conflicts or differences of any kind exist, but on the contrary one can say – regarding the purely religious, unpolitical goals and efforts, – that these are in complete agreement with the parallel aims of the national government of the German Empire.
There has been a complaint against the alleged strong language in our literature, resulting in some banning of our books.
The conference of 5,000 delegates pointed in addition to the fact that the content of the books causing complaint related solely to circumstances and events in the Anglo-American world, and to Britain especially, which has been responsible for the League of Nations and the placing of unjust treaties and obligations upon Germany. In the above sense the statements of our literature, whether it be in respect to finance, politics or the papacy, are against the oppressors of the German land and people, yet certainly not against a Germany struggling under this burden, thus making the resulting ban fully incomprehensible.
For the German states in which even bans on our services and prayer meeting are in place, and those who have been waiting many weeks for a just solution to the gagging of their religious life, the following points are expressed:
We intend to go on complying with the imposed restrictions, since we are certain the Reich Chancellor, as well as the other states governments, will, in recognition of the real situation, lift these measures, by which tens of thousands of Christian men and women would have ultimately to perish as martyrs, akin to the early Christians.
Finally this conference of 5,000 delegates has declared, that the Bible Students or the Watchtower organisation represents a platform for the maintenance of order and security of the state (country), in addition to the demand of the national government for its own (aforementioned) high ideals on the religious front.
Above all in order that the Reich Chancellor, as leader of the people and all the other government leaders of the German Reich, and the German States, should be advised, this statement has been set out before you in some detail. This enclosed explanatory statement was read out by the secretary of the Bible Students convention (5,000 delegates) and unanimously accepted and approved by the latter, instructing them to hand over one copy of this declaration, together with the convention report to the Reich Chancellor and to each of the appropriate ministers of the German Empire and its state governments.
Following on from this most earnest application and explanation comes a humble plea, namely to grant an opportunity for a commission (delegation) from our number to present personally to the Reich Chancellor or Minister of the Interior (Home Office) a responsible and true representation of our situation. On the other hand the Reich Chancellor himself could appoint a commission, which is not opposed to us by religious prejudice and themselves would not be professionally religiously biased, but would evaluate our position totally without prejudice, corresponding to the Reich Chancellor’s own just principles laid down for such purposes. With these principles in mind we beg to quote from point 24 of the manifesto of the German National Socialist Workers party: – “We demand the freedom for all religious persuasions within the state, in so far as they do not endanger its position, or offend against the moral and ethical sensibilities of the Germanic race. The party as such supports the view of a positive Christianity, without preference to any one denomination; it combats the spirit of Jewish materialism within and without, and is convinced that a lasting recovery of our people can only succeed from the inside out”
We too are firmly convinced, that, if we are judged without religious prejudice, firstly according to God’s word, secondly to the points set out in this application (petition), then the national German government will have no cause to prevent our services or missionary activity.
In anticipation of an expeditious and favourable consent, and the assurance of our utmost respect (high regard), we are, most honoured Reich Chancellor,
Your most humble servants
Watchtower Bible and Tract Society
Haak goes on to say:
They represent themselves as being victims of the Hitler dictatorship, making out they were singled out as being amongst the first, and therefore amongst the most important sufferers. It is true that many died in camps.
It is also true that Hitler received from Rutherford on 15th June (i.e. 10 days before the J.W. Convention in Magdeburg) an obsequious address, emphasising his complete agreement with the parallel goals of the national government of the German Reich. Also included were:
1. Refusal to take part in war propaganda
2. Stand against business Jews and Catholics
3. Identification of the above people as being the most rigorous persecutors.
When the N.S. leaders clearly showed no interest in the aspirations of the American ‘sect-firm’, their supporters everywhere were called to send letters of protest to the N.S. The result is that the “Serious Bible Students” were rounded up and died in the camps. Not, however, for the leader of the German branch of the Society, Erich Frost. He it was who betrayed his Bible Student charges and their meeting places. In contrast to the wretched fate of the ordinary small ‘publishers’, he survived the Third Reich relatively unscathed, only to be re-established in office as a freedom fighter in 1945.