Jehovah Witnesses dispel myths, discuss religion at Lyndhurst Kingdom Hall
Jehovah Witnesses have long been frowned upon regarding their approach. Their mission is the study of the Bible to gain enlightenment and to spread the word of the Bible or the “good news.” They also teach of a Armageddon, which they claim is nearer than most think.
The religion is fairly new compared to others and is based on Bible teachings of Charles Taze Russell who formed a Bible study group in 1870 and later founded the Bible Student movement comprised of “witnesses.” It is based on intense study of their own version of the Bible called the New World Translation and evangelism or spreading the “good word.” Jehovah Witnesses teach that the present day human existence is about to be terminated with the direct intervention of God, who will use “Jesus to fully establish his heavenly government over earth, destroying existing human governments and non-Witnesses, creating a cleansed society of true worshippers.” They see it as their mission to warn as many people as possible in the remaining time before Armageddon. All members of the religion are expected to take an active part in preaching and spreading the “good news” through the dissemination of The Watchtower publication. Witnesses refer to all their beliefs collectively as “the Truth”.
The religion is simplistic; it’s Christianity stripped down to its core, minus the crosses, icons, saints and elaborate rituals. “It was Christianity kind of reborn,” says elder Howard Carroll, a Lyndhurst resident. “A lot of churches were teaching things that weren’t necessarily in the Bible.”
The followers, which are anything but cult-like, come from all walks of life and transgress many cultures. The Watchtower is published monthly in 209 languages. Locally, followers get together in Lyndhurst at their hall on Stuyvesant Avenue on Thursdays and Sundays for “meetings.” The hall caters to local Portuguese and Spanish speaking, as well as English, Jehovah Witnesses.
“We’re very normal people with professions such as lawyers and doctors,” says Carroll, an art appraiser. “Some people feel we’re fanatics or nuts or in cults because of our zeal when they see us on the streets passing out pamphlets, but we’re just trying to be like early Christians. Our people are encouraged to be tactful, loving and kind. If someone says they’re not interested, that’s okay. We respect that and move on.”
The door-to-door days of “witnessing” has evolved to sometimes making cold calls and inviting people to weekly meetings. The all-volunteer organization has 8 million followers worldwide, 1 million in the United States. Most came from various denominations of people who were searching for answers that were written in a much clearer way than in other Christian faiths’ Bible versions, Carroll notes.
Raised as a Presbyterian, Carroll notes that Jehovah Witnesses strictly follow Jesus Christ’s teachings and the way he lived. Witnesses believe in a possibility of a personal relationship with God; and that God is kind and merciful, and would not eternally “torture” people. Although witnesses believe in Satan as a fallen angel and God’s biggest adversary, they do not believe he lives in hell.
“This puts us at odds with other religions because many take the popular stance to go along with the crowd. We stick to principles as far as morality and real family values,” Carroll says. “We stand neutral as early Christians did as far as participating in wars, for example. All of us learned to be ministers and teachers of the Bible. In that sense, many countries exempt ministers with regard to military service if they take a conscientious objection stand.”
In his late teens, Carroll explored various religions. “I found that compared to all religions, Jehovah Witnesses were closest to Bible teaching. I was impressed with fact that it is non-commercial, and everyone is on the same level, completely integrated,” Carroll explains, noting that many in his group include former Muslims, Jews and various Christian denominations.
Carroll spent two years in a ministry in Honduras as part of a teaching ministry. Back in northern New Jersey, meeting halls include Wood-Ridge, Lyndhurst, Passaic, Paterson and Nutley. During a recent Thursday night meeting, witnesses and elders discussed scripture, provided role play examples and more for their members.
“When we go door to door, we have to be selective. Don’t talk to a woman about politics, or a man on how to raise children,” joked Carlstadt resident and elder Julio Ramu.
Ramu became a Jehovah Witness when he was a teenager in the 1940s. “I remember my dad coming back from the navy during World War I. He was disillusioned and he picked up this book and said ‘this sounds like the truth,'” Ramu, who was raised Episcopalian, recalls.
After Ramu volunteered in the ministry’s Brooklyn headquarters for seven years, he got married, moved to New Jersey and worked as a welder. “I used to do door to door witnessing a lot. People were rude, sometimes indifferent, sometimes manifested interest. I probably helped 10 people to become Jehovah Witnesses, and two became elders,” Ramu reflects.
The organization features elders, ministerial servants, and an anointed class.
Doors slamming and people shutting their blinds are common for ministerial servants. “I walk away and shake the dust off my shoes,” says Margarita Barbieri, a Clifton resident and former Catholic who converted in 1985.
Zella Coley, 78, notes that the group never seeks to force anyone to change their viewpoints. “Jehovah wants a willing heart,” Coley explains. “A lot of people think we’re people chasers. They see us coming and close the doors. But we don’t want unwilling hearts.”
Basic differences between Jehovah Witnesses and other Christian sects are as follows: Christians believe God is a trinity—the father, son and the Holy Spirit, whereas Jehovah Witnesses believe they are separate entities, with God being the creator. They pray to Jehovah (God). There is no such place as a literal burning Hell. The notion of Heaven immediately after death is not an option, until the second coming of Christ. Additionally, unlike churches, one would not find crosses, icons and rituals at Jehovah Witness meeting halls where the goal is simple: to learn and educate others.
Critics love to point to Biblical contradictions, whether they exist in the King James version of the Bible or the Jehovah Witnesses’, New World Translation.
“When you study the Bible, and its apparent inconsistencies, you may find one scripture to contradict another, but the third or fourth scripture will explain that contradiction,” Carroll says.
The New World Translation is similar to King James, but with different flavors of meaning, and with simpler language. “I rate it as a superior literal translation, taken from Hebrew and Greek translations,” Carroll says. “We don’t take liberties with translations. Some Bibles are amplified.”
One of the original key translations from Hebrew and Greek is the translated name “Jehovah” used for God. From Hebrew into Greek, the translation restored the name of God to what it originally was, as cited in a Psalm 83-18.
“The word ‘God’ isn’t a name. It’s a title,” Carroll stresses.
The Kingdom Halls where the Jehovah Witnesses study is simple, with no crosses or hierarchy of church leaders, and instead looks more like a school. “We feel a restoration back to early Christianity,” Carroll says, noting that like Paul the Apostle, all those who teach should volunteer. “We learn with the goal of being teachers of the Bible, not just stocking up knowledge but learning how to teach, which we do at service meetings.”
Like the early teachings of the Bible, Jehovah’s Witnesses focus on obeying or knowing: “You can’t separate the two. If you know Jehovah, you want to obey Him. You gain happiness by serving.”