PBS show “Knocking” (JWs)

PBS show “Knocking” (JWs)

The upcoming PBS movie (and later, full-length DVD) called “Knocking” looks as though it will present JWs in a very flattering light. That’s a little bit astounding to me – the director’s mother is a JW, but the son isn’t. Judging by many of his published articles, he’s gay – so it’s a little strange that he would promote the JWs – and that they would work with him as they obviously have. I’m not sure how they could have gotten cooperation for the film without some involvement or approval from Brooklyn, although they say not. There’s nothing wrong with making a documentary of JWs and their lives, of course, but it would a shame if there were no discussion at all of some of their dark aspects. To me, it is a measure of how this country has changed that this kind of film is now being funded – is it just me, or do the far right fundamentalists bear more and more of a resemblence to Jehovah’s Witnesses? If only they shared that prohibition on voting!

They won’t pledge allegiance. They won’t go to war. They won’t accept blood transfusions. Civil Libertarians? Holocaust martyrs? Medical revolutionaries? Chronicling the unpopular stands of three Jehovah’s Witnesses, KNOCKING reveals how this misunderstood and often derided Christian group has contributed to society in ways far greater and more surprising than a knock on the door.

My gut feeling is that it will be something very close to a PR piece/witnessing tool. I read a terrific letter by Alan Feuerbacher to http://www.knocking.org, the website of the PBS film in the making. I’ve taken some nuggets from the Feuerbacher letter, but it is really worth the read:

Children who are baptized as JWs — even as young as 7 or 8 years — are treated exactly the same as adults in terms of shunning. There are many stories of young teenagers doing the normal teenage stupid things, and ending up being shunned for life by their entire families.

In the early 1950s, the long-standing teaching that God lives on the star Alcyone in the Pleiades constellation was formally jettisoned. In the early 1950s, the long-standing claim that vaccinations are a work of the devil was abandoned. This was to facilitate travel by Watchtower officials, who had to have certificates of vaccination for international travel. In 1945, the notion that vaccinations violate “the everlasting covenant between God and Noah” was applied to blood transfusions, and over the next decade this was gradually built into a complete ban on transfusions.

In 1877, Russell predicted the complete end of all nations by 1914. This became a staple of Bible Student teaching. When that failed to occur, Russell’s followers gradually decided that the end had occurred, but invisibly. In 1877, Russell predicted that the long-awaited “resurrection of the saints” would occur in 1878. In 1878, when “the saints” failed to appear, Russell predicted that they’d appear in 1881. When that failed, he claimed that they were indeed resurrected, but invisibly. When “the end” failed to appear in 1914 but WWI began, Russell claimed that Armageddon had begun, and predicted it would end in 1918. In 1918, Joseph Rutherford, second president of the Watchtower Society, began an advertising campaign called “Millions Now Living Will Never Die”. He predicted that Armageddon would occur in 1925. Between 1918 and 1925, many Bible Students prepared for “the end” by selling their property and engaging in preaching for the “Millions” campaign. When 1925 rolled past uneventfully, nearly 3/4 of the Bible Students quit. ..

In 1966, the Society began predicting that “big things” would come not later than 1975. By the next year, this had grown into a nearly definite prediction that the battle of Armageddon would come by 1975. When that failed to happen, the rapid growth of the JWs in the years between 1967 and 1975 reversed. In 1993 to 1995, upon realizing that its teachings about “the generation of 1914” were about to go down the tubes, the Society drastically revised its ideas, and made the idea virtually meaningless. Most JWs barely noticed.

Thank you Alan! You inspired me to write a brief note of my own to the makers of this film:

To whom it may concern-

I grew up a JW – and now that I’m 41, my family and I are only now recovering. They can be very destructive to families. I hope that you have taken the time to find out about some of the negative aspects and basic cruelties of this group. They are extremely apocalyptic in tone, and while the rank and file JW is a decent person, the leadership is extremely controlling and authoritarian. I get heartbreaking emails from people who are dealing with JWs and are desperate for any kind of advice about what to do about situations such as JW grandparents who convince their disfellowshipped daughter to sit outside while they come into her house to visit their grandchild, grandparents not allowed to see their grandchildren because the grandparent is a non-JW and a “worldly influence” on the child, children and teenagers given the silent treatment and shunned from the only people they really know – rather than being offered spiritual healing or guidance – when they make mistakes (they don’t use the word “sin” very often, and they use the word “grace” even less).

The mindset created is that the elders and especially the “governing body” are really God’s chosen and can do no wrong. The God that is portrayed is a cruel taskmaster who can never be pleased with anything less than perfection, which no-one can achieve. They feel surrounded by an evil “worldly system of things” that is going to be destroyed very soon, and they devoutly believe that no-one but JWs will survive. They are paranoid and separatist and thrive on stories of persecution of their members as evidence that they are correct. In America, what counts as persecution can be quite microscopic in scale.

The faith that manages to grow in such an environment is not a healthy one, and in fact there is a high incidence of psychological problems in the group. On the one hand, they teach their members to courageously stand up to “worldly powers of Satan” but on the other hand they demand total submission to their authority, no matter how many times they change their predictions, policies, and rules. They have completely missed any message of Christianity that would advocate for compassion, forgiveness, or charity.

I still agree with a few things that I learned – I still don’t salute the flag for example. But as for lionizing them… the only thing they ever did for America was to fight for certain kinds of religious freedom. I suppose I am grateful for the small mercy that they don’t vote. I don’t find fear and hatred and scapegoating to be particularly Christian values.

All baptised JWs are considered ministers (although they somehow don’t use that title for the women…), but the elders of the congregation must be obeyed totally, immediately and without question. These men have no calling, have gone to no school, have no divinity degrees or psychological training. They read their “public talks” from scripts mailed to them from New York. They lack education, training, or wisdom – and yet they control the lives of everyone in their congregations. There is no forum for discussion or questioning of anything at all. It is a theocratic kingdom, and they meet in Kingdom Halls.

My website has several blog posts, some advice to newly recovering JWs, recommended books, and a list of other online resources.

As a former Jehovah’s Witness, I am considered to be a member of what they call the “evil slave class” – basically a slave of Satan.

So while you’re presenting them as a heroic, civic-minded and tolerant group, I do pray that you keep these other niggling details in mind….

The PBS version of the letter began with “I understand that PBS will be showing a film called “Knocking” about Jehovah’s Witnesses. From what I can tell from the site, it would almost have to be made by JWs themselves in order for permissions and access to take place. I ask you to consider the possibility that you are being used as a mouthpiece of the governing organization / publishing empire in Brooklyn.” – and ended with “So while you’re giving them a public space to present as a heroic, civic-minded and tolerant group, I do pray that you keep these other niggling details in mind. Perhaps some commentary will be in order if this film goes forward?”

Might be worth an email to CPB or to PBS. There are other funders, including http://www.filmarts.org/

See also:
Exchange at Free Minds
Article by director at SF Weeklyl

Engardio, Joel P. “Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Untold Story of Resistance to Nazis.” The Christian Science Monitor, 6 November 1996, 88:240, pp. 1&13.

Update August 31, 2005: A response from PBS!

Thank you for taking the time to write to PBS about our programming. We value and appreciate receiving viewer comments. However, there seems to be some misinformation about this program. It has not yet been submitted to or reviewed by PBS, so we are unable at this time to respond to your specific concerns. Should the program be submitted to PBS for broadcast consideration, it will be reviewed subject to our editorial standards. You can access these standards at http://www.pbs.org/aboutpbs/aboutpbs_standards.html.

This program is being produced in association with the Independent Television Service. The Director of Communications for ITVS is Jim Sommers and ITVS’ Director of Production is Mary Ann Thyken. At this stage in the film’s production, please direct comments and inquiries to Mr. Sommers (who can be reached at 415-356-8383 x242) or Ms. Thyken (who can be reached at 415-356-8383 x249). For your additional information, the ITVS offices are located at 501 York
Street, San Francisco, CA 94110.

Again, thank you for your letter to PBS. We appreciate your concern for our programming. We hope you continue to enjoy and support the wide variety of programs available on your local PBS member station.

Sincerely, Jennifer
PBS Viewer Services

Well, a quick look back at the “Knocking” site confirms that they have taken off any reference to PBS. Interesting.


14 thoughts on “PBS show “Knocking” (JWs)

  1. Heidi
    thanks so much for bringing this to everyones attention.
    I have put a post on Ronnies site (and on my little site!)
    Well done you!

  2. ahh…good old liberal hate masquerading as ‘tolerance’ and ‘examination’.

    Do you ever teach?….or just b*^@% on this blog?
    Comment from VirusHead

    Hi “Jay” – otherwise known as “marc” and “atkinson” and “margaret” and so on. Nope, not teaching now. And I’ve edited your naughty word, since you never never use those words..

  3. .
    QUOTE FROM KNOCKING.ORG: By fighting for their right to live and worship as they choose, Jehovah’s Witnesses won legal victories that protected civil liberties and free choice for all Americans.

    QUOTE FROM PRESS.ARRIVENT.COM: However, apparently the current leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses does not believe that these hard won rights extend to those who disagree with them or their teachings and activities. Under the guise of protecting their publication copyrights, their legal representatives were successful in shutting down a web site that did nothing more than quote excerpts from various WTBTS publications. The brief quotes catalogued at the quotes.watchtower.ca site fell well within the realm of “fair use,” even under the strictest interpretation of copyright law.



  4. I made some non-critical, non-judgmental, kindly-worded suggestions and comments to the editor via their website and received no response whatsoever.

    This tells me who is really behind this production.

  5. Man what is your guys problem with the wittnesses? It was a very informative show, showing the bright side of JWs instead of the constant hate and lies that people tell for some reason. Is there a more peaceful people anywhere on this planet? One if not all the posts about what they believe are are so full of lies and popcorn its not even funny, lets get our facts straight before we start blasting someone or something its pretty ignorant dont you think? Ive know some wittnesses over the years and they are the nicest people, belive in a god that lives on some star??? give your head a shake I even know they dont believe this! They are not scientologists. Once again before people open there mouth and spew there own inward hate, get the facts right before you pass them off as truth!

  6. Constant hate and lies? Hmmm….nope, don’t see it much around here. But criticism? Yes. For good reasons, because people are hurt. Peaceful? Look at what they do to their families. You probably need to do a little more research, Josh, but it’s nice that the rank and file JW has some defenders from within. Many of them are simply doing what they think is right. That’s what makes it so heartbreaking.

  7. I lived that religion for many years, and it to me was a joyless experience.

    It controls almost every move one makes. Families are divided and that is painful.

    I was led to believe that in 1960 Armageddon was so so close and a grand New World (only for JWs) would be mine.

    What happened ? 47 years later? They do not have a monopoly on God’s love.

  8. As one of Jehovah·s Witnesses, it grieves me to hear all these lies targeted at my Christian beliefs. Most of the comments are so biased, I honestly do not recognised my own religion from them. I have been a Witness for 20 years and studied with them for eight years. In that time I have had ups and downs but I have never ever wanted to leave the Organisation. If you truly bothered to get to know us, you would find that we are humans who try very hard to be honest, hardworking, helpful and trustworthy. We would rather do someone a good turn rather than a bad one. In every Organisation you will find some not so nice ones, and I·m sure we are not immuned to this. On the whole, we try to lead good Christian lives and believe me, its NOT easy in this sex orientated, money grabbing, ME first world. Jesus said that his followers would be hated and ridiculed on account of his name, so all you J.W.
    bashers out there, remember you are fulfilling Bible prophecy. This makes me more determined to stay close to Jehovah.

  9. The “bashers” are speaking from their own experiences. My own criticism is directed toward the unethical and controlling behavior of a corporation that has put itself in the God-position. You don’t salute the flag because that is idolatry, but you unquestioningly follow a worldly organization of fallible men in Brooklyn?

    I agree that rank and file Witnesses are basically good people trying to do what they think is right. No argument there.

    But the self-justifying argument to “persecution” rings a bit hollow. What real persecution do you face?

  10. I’m catching up with your trip entries and came across this entry in your recent comments.

    I wouldn’t dream of *bashing* anyone or anything. I work very hard to be respectful to all I come in contact with. That said, it does feel necessary for me to reply to Lynn Banks.

    I was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses from the age of 5. I left that organization at the age of 33. Why? Because while there were some nice people there, the honest truth is I began to feel like a fake. I was angry all the time. I wasn’t nice to most people. I was encouraged to use corporal punishment on my children. I was told I wasn’t worthy. My self esteem was in the toilet and when my now ex husband attempted suicide I was told that in order to be a good Christian wife I would need to allow him to come home yet again.

    I could not do it.

    My feeling now is this: I am doing the best I can do. I’m processing my experiences in the most healthy ways I can find to do that. I’ve not met too many JW’s who have a healthy self esteem. I know lots of them who are discouraged every day because they don’t measure up.

    I would never claim that all Jehovahs’ Witnesses are bad. I would state that for the most part, they are not kind to others unless they are also Jehovah’s Witnesses. Yes, I could list alot of examples but what would be the point? I’m simply stating my experience.

    It concerns me to write these words because the programming is so deeply ingrained within me that it feels like a betrayal and like I’m waiting to be destroyed by Jehovah. That may or may not be. I only know what I feel and how I deal with it.

    And one more thing. It constantly stuns me that so many Witnesses visit your site. The last I knew, this kind of thing was discouraged and frowned upon. Whether you could be classified as an apostate or not doesn’t change the fact that this site would be considered inappropriate because you point out things you disagree with and question and because anyone who comes here will read those things. So, it blows my mind that anyone who is one of Jehovahs’ Witnesses would visit, let alone comment here.

    BTW, the pics of your trip are lovely.

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