Michael Makes the Grade
The Moonwalker’s modesty; his religion’s educational oddity
Day 357, Week 51, Article 50
Jehovah’s Witnesses discourage their youth from attending college? Why build a short-lived career in a dying system of things? And with all the sexual immorality, illicit drug use, alcohol abuse, and God-dishonoring teachings (e. g. the theory of evolution) permeating the campus atmosphere of more than a few colleges and universities, many Witnesses elect not to use the world “to the full,” as they see it. (1 Cor 7:31, New World Translation) A crushing student loan that hangs like the sword of Damocles may be the final ingredient in a recipe for disaster! Therefore, when raised around the religion, neither Michael Jackson nor any of his siblings was encouraged to seek a higher education. However, Michael still made the grade.
The King’s Own College: The King of Pop was the proud owner of an extensive library. As he toured the globe, the Gloved One grabbed as many books as he could get his hands on as he moonwalked into quaint bookstores. Not surprisingly, the man was not only an autodidact, but was a polymath too. As far as Witness education was concerned, he admired the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead where missionaries were trained; where graduates would receive a diploma officially recognized by the state of New York. But Michael was troubled that a more robust history of the modern-day organization was not told; a history that involved African Americans.
Blacks in the Back of Class?: Jehovah’s Witnesses pride themselves in participating in “a worldwide Bible educational work.” Through several corporations they produce Bible-based literature in an unprecedented 500 languages! But in teaching its own history, some believe the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania sends African Americans to the back of the class.
For instance, the newly released 62-minute DVD entitled, Jehovah’s Witnesses–Faith in Action, Part 1: Out of Darkness (2010), available in initial release in seven languages (English, German, French, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish) details the history of the Watch Tower Society. Given the fact that American history has been largely Eurocentric, Michael doubtlessly would have liked an acknowledgement (no matter how small or seemingly insignificant) that Blacks were at least in the peripheral mix during the Society’s humble beginnings in connection with founder Charles Taze Russell. A couple of points can be made along these lines:
(1) First, the predecessor to the Pennsylvania corporation, Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society, was founded February 16, 1881. The president was William Henry Conley of Allegheny, Pennsylvania, a wealthy businessman who (along with his wife) made charitable contributions to a school for African Americans. This is a little known fact among Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was in the Conley’s home (called “Bethel”) that the first recorded “celebration of the Memorial of Christ’s death was held,” according to one source. Russell served as secretary-treasurer of Zion’s Watch Tower until, as per the same source, “In December 1884, the Society was incorporated with Russell as president.” Then, “In 1896, the Society was renamed Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society,” of which it can accurately be said that Russell was the first president.
(2) Second, several well-educated Black men associated with Adventist William Miller preceded Russell in preaching about Christ’s return. Miller believed Christ would visibly return in 1843. Methodist minister George Storrs adopted Miller’s view and preached this message for about two years before parting with Miller. As detailed in the DVD, Russell was greatly influenced by Storrs on this subject.
Not mentioned in the DVD is the fact that according to African American Religious Cultures: Volume 2 (2009), “Several prominent black preachers such as Charles Bowles, William Foy, and John Lewis proclaimed the apocalyptic message of the Advent Awakening alongside Miller in the 1840s. Their gospel pointed to the return of Christ in October 1844, drawing on prophecies of Daniel and Revelation.” In fact, “Foy’s preaching attracted the likes of Frederick Douglas (whose daughter later converted to Adventism).”
A “Witness” Education?: The September 2007 issue of the monthly internal Witness organ Our Kingdom Ministry asks if the Governing Body (in its role of representing all spirit-anointed Witnesses) endorses “independent groups of Witnesses who meet together to engage in Scriptural research or debate?” The succinct answer? “No, it does not.” The article goes on to say: “Some have pursued an independent group study of Biblical Hebrew and Greek so as to analyze the accuracy of the New World Translation. Others explore scientific subjects related to the Bible. They have created Web sites and chat rooms for the purpose of exchanging and debating their views.” Critics say the spirit of the sometimes inflexible stance of the recently deceased Theodore Jaracz, a staunch Governing Body member sometimes called “The Boss”, may have been behind the article.
Whatever the case, certain Witnesses have concluded that while the Governing Body doesn’t officially “endorse” such independent study, the Bible itself actually encourages deep study of God’s infallible Word, which was written in Hebrew and Greek. (Prov 2:1-9; Acts 17:10, 11; 1 Cor 2:10) Though knowledge of the original languages is not required to commune with God, there certainly isn’t a prohibition against studying these to enhance Scriptural understanding. Ironically, while other Witnesses see the Governing Body’s position as intellectually stifling–even suffocating–the new Witness publication, The Origin of Life–Five Questions Worth Asking (2010), counters: “Far from squelching curiosity, the Bible encourages us to prove some of the most fascinating and challenging questions that humans have ever faced…We urge you to pursue your quest for truth. You can find answers that are fascinating, thrilling, reasonable–and based on convincing evidence.” Granted, this brochure misidentifies its wonderful Reference List as a “Bibliography,” but this does not detract from the incredibly thought-provoking material presented.
Some Witnesses are convinced that you can ‘make use of the world’ and not use it “to the full,” just as married men can still have wives and simultaneously “be as though they had none.” (1 Cor 7:29-31, NWT) The point is as they see it: Whatever the legitimate human endeavor or enterprise you’re involved in, don’t give it precedence over spiritual interests. And regarding most of the unsavory pitfalls that one is likely to encounter when living on campus enumerated at the outset of this article, these can be avoided when acquiring a college or university degree on-line.
Finally, regarding the racist theory of evolution, a fair-minded Michael Jackson would have given the Witnesses a good grade for making this frank statement: “Many humane and sincere scientists have been horrified by the way that some violent bigots have used the evolution theory to support their racist aims.” (The Origin of Life–Five Questions Worth Asking, 2010) A pretty strong statement for the Witnesses. Michael would have given them an “A”-men!