In their literature Jehovah’s Witnesses emphasize spirituality. “Spirituality” is loosely defined as a constant awareness of one’s standing with Jehovah – fear of God. If you are spiritually mature your life will reflect it. However, as the prophet Madonna sagaciously pointed out, we live in a material world. We have to make a living in order to put a roof over our heads and food on the table. How can we balance the material and the spiritual? How should your life look if you are pursuing the spiritual over the material?
First of all, let’s consider your means of living – your job. As JWs are told repeatedly, your vocation is the ministry; your secular job is your avocation. Notice that I did not use the word “career.” As the Governing Body frequently reminds us, pursuing a career in this dying old system of things is like booking a first class cabin on the Titanic. Therefore, the purpose of a job is to support you in the ministry. The unhappier you are in it the better.
Your home should be modest, which is pretty much guaranteed if you follow the above advice. Your clothing should likewise be modest, presentable business attire. Now, here’s where we run into one of those prickly little contradictions. The Bible mentions that when the Roman soldiers stripped Jesus’ clothing from him they noticed that he had a very expensive robe, “without a seam, woven whole from the top down.” (John 19:23, 24) In today’s parlance, Jesus wore a designer robe. The lesson we can draw from this, brothers and sisters, is that it’s not wrong to have nice things, but since you have a crappy job you’ll have to find them in a second-hand shop.
Now, there are those who become JWs later in life and already have a well-paying job and all the trappings of an upscale life, and there are others who have good business sense and managed to build up their window washing or janitorial service into a thriving concern. Should the other members of the congregation judge such ones as being materialistic? Heavens, no. You can be a spiritual giant and still have all the material goodies, but don’t make that your goal.
The Bible is loaded with advice like, “Keep on seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness and all these other things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33) And then there’s this oft-misquoted gem, “for the love of money is the root of all [evil] (the JW Bible says “all sorts of injurious things”), and by reaching out for this love some have been led astray from the faith and have stabbed themselves all over with many pains.” JWs interpret all of this to mean that if they put the ministry first, along with the meetings, Bible study, etc., Jehovah will see to it that they have the necessities of life.
My ex-husband’s parents were good JWs and believed it when they were told that Armageddon would come in 1975, and even if that didn’t happen their son would work his way up in the Watchtower organization to become a Circuit Overseer (CO). COs are full-time ministers and receive a small stipend from the Watchtower Society. When they visit a congregation for a week, the congregation covers their expenses. They are even provided with a very nice car. So, no job necessary.
Yeah, well, that didn’t happen. Consequently, we were always just barely eking out a living. In fact, by 1983, having passed through several very bad years, the only furniture we had was a table and chairs. We were sleeping on a mattress on the floor.
In the 1980s the Watchtower Society began producing cassette tape recordings of Bible readings, Bible dramas, and even the Watchtower and Awake magazines. We did not possess a cassette recorder, but we found ourselves under increasing pressure to buy one since we were missing out on valuable spiritual food, and we wanted to keep up with the organization. I remember feeling very irritated that the Watchtower Society had compelled us to scrape up the money to buy something that, at the time, was a new-fangled gadget, a luxury item, when we didn’t have the means to purchase a bed.
However, now the Society’s literature is available electronically at their web site, requiring everyone to purchase a computer and pay for an Internet connection. Some brothers and sisters bring iPads to the meeting instead of actual books. There was even an article in “The Kingdom Ministry” encouraging the use of tablet computers in the door-to-door ministry. Once again, after years of discouraging the flock from pursuing the latest gadgets and encouraging them to be content with “sustenance and covering,” (1 Timothy 6:8) the Society is putting subtle pressure on them to purchase very expensive luxury items. So which is it – seek first the kingdom and live in poverty, or pursue a career so you can afford to buy an iPad? If I were still a JW I’d be heading for the door right about now.