What is the official stance on this issue? Turning to the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses, JW.org, we learn that they do not practice tithing. That was never the question, of course, and is a great example for the strawman fallacy often employed by the Watchtower Society. Therefore, let us take a look at the hard facts.
Bottom line, up front: Yes, the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses does indeed openly encourage its members to donate money voluntarily.
As of late, the Watchtower Society, the corporation leading Jehovah’s Witnesses has begun asking for money more aggressively than ever before. Of course, aggressively in Jehovah’s Witness lingo means referencing everyone’s obligation to Jehovah God, the need to further the worldwide preaching campaign and the immense costs the Watchtower Society faces, effectively guilt-tripping members into donating.
Here is an overview of the latest money-grabbing incidences:
- 2014: A letter was sent to all congregations briefing them on how they can increase their donations
- 2015: For the first time in its history, the annual yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses features a request for money in the letter from the Governing Body, accompanied by “real-life experiences” of Jehovah’s Witnesses who donated money to JW.org
- 2015: A music video featured on JW.org’s official broadcasting channel shows Jehovah’s Witnesses giving money earned through secular work to the Watchtower Society and donating via credit card to JW.org
- 2015: In the same broadcast, Governing Body member Stephen Lett reminds the followers that they can donate their “valuable things”
- 2015: A music video for children illustrates a child giving its ice cream money to JW.org because it had a bad conscience
These are examples from the last 12 months. In the past 15 years, the Watchtower Society has repeatedly published a box offering suggestions on how to donate money to JW.org – such as in 2014, 2013, 2012, 2007, 2003, 2002, 2001 and 2000.
So why is this noteworthy?
Well, consider what the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses wrote a couple of years ago in their Jehovah’s Will-brochure:
Over a century ago, the second issue of the Watchtower magazine stated that we believe we have Jehovah as our backer and that we “will never beg nor petition men for support”—and we never have!
It is very interesting to take a look at the original words of the founders of the Watchtower Society and Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is what they said over a century ago:
What are the implications?
Read our detailed analysis: Are Jehovah’s Witnesses the true religion?
Why not asking for money does not mean somebody isn’t asking for money: The psychological standpoint
Jehovah’s Witnesses often respond to the above assumptions by denying they’ve ever been directly asked or even forced to give money to the organization. This is something I can personally confirm: In my 21 years as a Jehovah’s Witness I was never forced to donate money. So, while this is basically true, the argument misses the point entirely, as it posits that only a direct request for money indicates somebody is actually asking for money.
Interestingly, from a psychological standpoint, the Watchtower Society is quite blatantly asking for donations. Why does it go unnoticed by so many members? Because far from saying “DONATE MONEY NOW”, the Governing Body uses subtle psychological coercion to make Jehovah’s Witnesses donate voluntarily, having them believe it was their own idea.
In a psychologically coercive environment, the victim is forced to adapt in a series of small “invisible” steps. Each step is sufficiently small that the subject does not notice the changes or identify the coercive nature of the process until much later, if ever. – The Neurotypical
Psychological coercion […] typically involves threats of rejection from or disapproval by a peer-group, or creating feelings of guilt/obligation via a display of anger or hurt by someone whom the victim loves or respects. – Wikipedia
[Religious coercion] takes advantage of social, psychological or peer pressure that has the same conformity-inducing effect. – The Nature of religious coercion, Rex J. Ahdar, July 2009
How is psychological, e.g. religious coercion employed to make Jehovah’s Witnesses donate money? Using the examples mentioned above, here are the mechanisms at play:
- Repeated use of informational material on how members can donate to the Watchtower Society, making good use of the Mere-Exposure-Effect
- Every Jehovah’s Witness wants to please Jehovah God. By implying that donations please Jehovah and further “his work”, members are effectively guilt-tripped into donating money.
- Speaking openly about financial difficulties the organization is facing, which could be resolved through “voluntary donations” and giving of one’s “valuable things”
- Merry “music videos” showing members donating money
- Bandwagon effect: the manipulator coerces followers into submission by claiming (whether true or false) that many people already have done something, and the followers should as well. Example: “HOW SOME CHOOSE TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE WORLDWIDE WORK”
Beyond that, every Kingdom Hall has one or more contribution boxes you won’t miss and every convention has several contribution boxes (that now even included credit card terminals).
In summary, it is pretty clear that the Watchtower Society doesn’t have to ask Jehovah’s Witnesses directly to donate. By using subtle innuendos the majority of their members will automatically feel morally obligated to give money. Therefore, there is no doubt that Jehovah’s Witnesses ask for money.