In response to our first instalment looking at the documentary The Name of God, Rolf Furuli, one of the experts in the film, wrote to Reachout. I promised I would publish his email and my own reply and allow readers to decide for themselves how best to judge the film. Here is Rolf Furuli’s email and my reply:
Dear Reachout Trust
A friend of mine directed me to your article dealing with the film on God’s name. I will point to the following facts:
Fritz Poppenberg is not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and has never been. But he has found that different subjects in relation to JW are suited for documentary films.
The idea of making a film about God’s name came from Poppenberg and not from JW. He himself formed all the questions in his interviews with Gertoux and me. And as the editor, he chose the answers that he wanted to use in the film.
As far as I know, no JW had any influence on any part of the film, except Gertoux and me, who as scholars answered Poppenberg’s questions. Therefore, Poppenberg has the full responsibility for every part of the film. So, the claim that “there is a Jehovah’s Witness agenda” is wrong.
Jehovah’s Witness has not made the claim regarding the film that it is an “independent, non-denominational production.” But because no JW, or, as far as I know, no member of another denomination, has had anything to do with the film, it is per definition”independent” of any denomination.
I suggest that you print this letter below your discussion of the film.
Rolf J. Furuli
Dear Professor Furuli,
Thank you for your kind and helpful note regarding my article about the film on God’s Name. I am especially grateful that you have been able to confirm for me that Franz Poppenberg is not a Jehovah’s Witness. I thought as much but I was getting conflicting answers on the issue. Now I know and so will my readers. Perhaps you can confirm for me the association of Lorenz and Laura Reibling with the Watchtower Society if you are able. It would be very helpful to have clarity here.
I will be happy, of course, to publish your letter in the next newsletter, which I am happy to send to you if you wish.
I do understand your assertion that, since the film-maker is not a JW, and the Watchtower Society had nothing to do with the production of the film, it cannot then be regarded as anything but independent. I would take issue with the claim on several counts.
You write Poppenberg, a non-JW, formed all the questions in his interviews with you and I have no reason to doubt it. However, it is remarkable how those questions leant so easily towards peculiarly JW answers. Indeed, if he chose the answers it is remarkable how those answers chimed so with Watchtower teaching, never challenging it, but cast suspicion on mainstream Christian thinking without exception.
There is no fairly presented alternate view from mainstream Christian scholars, which makes the documentary rather one-sided. The point of my commentary on the film is to highlight the fact that there are respectable alternative views to explain and help understand what you are discussing.
While you are both the experts you say you are, no attempt is made to inform the viewer that both the experts in this film are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Declaring such an interest would lend greater integrity to the project, although I see how it might perhaps detract from credibility.
The arguments presented in the film as ‘academically independent’ are easily recognisable as influenced by and presenting peculiar Watchtower teachings. I especially think of the unjustifiable insertion of the word ‘other’ into the text of Philippians 2:9. Indeed, you quote from the NWT without informing the viewer this is the translation you are using. Is this altogether integrous?
As I pointed out in the article, the distributor, Stoops Manufacturing, is owned by and run for Jehovah’s Witnesses, indeed I am not aware of any other major outlet promoting the film outside JW circles. I came across it because it was being presented by a JW to a Christian friend as ‘an independent film that confirms JW claims.’ You may not be aware of these claims but they are being made, and understandably so since the film thoroughly promotes, from an apparently ‘independent’ view, JW beliefs regarding the Name.
The June edition of the Reachout newsletter will look further at the claims in the film and I will explain these things in greater detail. I will be sure to let you see what I have written and will be happy to consider any and all comments you may want to make. Your email will be published with the article, along with my reply, giving readers full disclosure. Meanwhile, I thank you again for getting in touch and sharing your thoughts.
To read the first of a four part commentary on the Name of God film go here