I have been reading and praying and researching and thinking a lot over the past months. I am coming to believe that there are some things about this way that are not right. I don’t think that ‘the truth’ and what Jesus taught are entirely synonymous.
I am bringing these things up to you because I want to be honest, and I honestly want to do what is right. If I am wrong, I want to know about it. I’m not looking for a reason or excuse to leave or anything like that—I just want to know what is right. I have heard it said that many people in this way are fine people, but misguided, and I don’t want to be so naïve as to reject that without proving it, just because it is uncomfortable to hear.
Please forgive the directness of my questions if they cause any offense. I have found in the past that finding the truth often requires asking and answering direct and uncomfortable questions. I have unfortunately never gotten especially skilled at being tactful about it.
Here are some of the things that I have been thinking about:
1. I don’t think Paul’s letters are to be taken as doctrine. Paul wrote in 2 Tim 3:16 that all scripture in profitable for doctrine, but when he wrote those verses his letters weren’t part of the Bible yet, so he wasn’t referring to his own letters when he said that. While he did talk about what the scriptures said often, he was talking about the Old Testament scriptures, and he never referred to his own writings as scripture.
I think the same about the other letters in the New Testament. Besides this, God said ‘this is my beloved Son; hear Him.’ This was when the disciples were putting Moses and Elijah at the same level as Jesus by saying they should build three tabernacles (if I understand that correctly), and God was telling them that Jesus was the one they needed to listen to. It makes sense to me that the same thing would go for Paul and the others in the New Testament—they can be good examples but their words were not doctrine.
2. This leads to a second thing. I don’t think that dressing differently (skirts/dresses, long hair, no makeup, etc) is right for people following Jesus. The parts of the Bible that talk about how we should dress are all written by Paul as far I know: on the other hand, Jesus said in John 13:35 that love would denote his disciples. He said nothing about their appearance.
It is difficult to explain a lot of the things Paul wrote without accepting them as sexism; but looking at his letters as simply that—letters—I can accept that the sexist things Paul said against women were part of Paul’s human nature or simply the culture at the time, and not to be taken as doctrine, like Jesus’ words were.
To me, intentionally making one’s physical appearance different by avoiding makeup and wearing skirts and having long hair in buns is more in keeping with what Jesus said about the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23. As far as I know, Jesus never said anything about how people should dress or present themselves apart from Matt 6:16–18, which does not condone it.
Some have said that these choices in appearance are a personal conviction. I think personal convictions are a wonderful thing to have, but I think that by definition, they are also personal. If wearing a skirt and no makeup or jewelry is a personal conviction, there should be no judgment toward a woman wearing pants and earrings at convention. But there is. If anyone does this, the general attitude of others is, ‘they don’t have a clear vision yet’. I know this is true because I engaged in many similar conversations with many people, and have heard a few accounts of people taking those who don’t dress ‘appropriately’ aside and quietly encouraging them to fit in visually.
3. I think professing publicly is wrong. Jesus never required anyone to publicly make a statement to others; he even avoided it— ‘according to your faith be it unto you.’ In the Old Testament it was a sin when David numbered the people. It seems to me that all that professing publicly does is make it possible for others to label/judge a person’s relationship with God. If a person’s relationship with God is a personal thing between them and God, why is it being made a public announcement?
4. I think that putting limitations on who can and can’t take part in a meeting is wrong. Jesus taught us to treat each other with love, not judgment (Matt 5:43-47; Matt 7:1-5). I’ve heard many accounts of divorced and remarried people being told they couldn’t participate, and of people in this way requiring visiting couples (who are not a part of meetings) in their homes to sleep in separate bedrooms if they are not married. How can these things be done without judging another person? I’ve met divorced people who had the same spirit as everyone else in the meeting and heard stories of people who knew someone in the meeting was divorced and remarried but couldn’t tell who they were by their spirit. If the spirit is the same, why is this done?
The same goes for drinking, smoking, gambling, doing drugs, pre-marital sex, going to movies, watching TV, dancing, and probably a few other things, and also for workers telling people that they need to ‘resolve these issues’ before they can profess, or in order to continue actively participating in meetings. I feel very strongly against this. Jesus accepted people where they were—he never put any conditions on how they had to be before he would associate with them. I’ve noticed that ‘the friends’ in general tend to be rich/well-off people who have their lives figured out. I always thought this was because God had blessed them for serving him. What if it’s because people who haven’t got their lives figured out (and are therefore much less likely to ever be well-off or rich) aren’t allowed to profess, or are allowed, but face subtle discrimination if they do?
5. I think the concepts ‘the truth’, ‘the world’ and ‘the friends’ are at least unhealthy and possibly also wrong; at any rate, I am getting very uncomfortable with using them. I know that they are de facto names, and that no official name has been given to the organization, but the fact that any name is used at all to refer to it means that the organization is distinguishable from other things.
The only criteria Jesus gave to distinguish his disciples from others was whether they had love towards each other. That was all—nothing about whether they were part of any organization or not.
So why is there a separate name for ‘the truth’? Are we saying that ‘the friends’ love each other and ‘the world’ doesn’t? If that is what we’re saying, it is false—most people in the world love others. If that is not what we’re saying, we are using some additional criteria to distinguish ‘the friends’ from ‘the world’, which in turn means that we are not using Jesus’ definition for his disciples anymore. I don’t think there should be any concept of ‘us and them’.
6. I think the notion that the only way to serve God acceptably is by joining this way is wrong.
It doesn’t make sense: there is the scripture that says, ‘God is not willing that any should perish’. Some people say that everyone in the world will have an opportunity to hear the Gospel or will meet a worker sometime, and that is their (possibly only) chance at salvation. But neither of those statements can be true about ’the truth’. There were countries as recently as 50 years ago where workers were not allowed. That would mean everyone/the vast majority of people who lived in those countries before then would never have had the chance. But if God is not willing that any should perish, how could listening to a worker be a requirement for salvation? What about the hundreds/thousands of years of native Americans before white men introduced them to Christianity? They never heard workers.
I don’t know of any commandment Jesus gave that could only be fulfilled by being part of ‘the truth’. He said to love God and to love each other—those were his two commandments.
Many of the people who are in this way express judgment, pity, or (thoughtlessly) self-righteousness towards people ‘on the outside’ or ‘in the world’; people pray for the ‘prodigals’, but are often praying for them to rejoin ‘the truth’ primarily. I believe this to be true because even if the ‘outside’ people that they are praying for clearly have a love for God and for their neighbors, as Jesus taught, but are not part of the organization, these people continue to pray for them until they come back to meeting—regardless of what their relationship with God might be. I find it difficult to listen to the prayers of others when I hear a focus on things like this, and it seems like naïve elitism and arrogance to me. I am not at all surprised when people get incensed by hearing this way described as ‘the truth’.
7. On a more organizational level, I am concerned about a number of things to do with overseers. Jesus never had them. I’ve heard some of ‘the friends’ say that Paul was the first overseer for the Gentiles; but the same people criticize Catholics for claiming that Peter was the first Pope.
I have a hard time believing that overseers have been in existence since Jesus’ time. I have read that overseers have been in authority over this way since at least close to when it started around 1900. I believe this rough timeframe to be correct. Many people say they are fourth- and fifth-generation professing, but I have never heard anyone say they are eighteenth-generation professing. Yet many people claim that ‘the truth’ has been around since Jesus’ day.
I have heard multiple accounts of workers getting different messages from the Spirit and the overseer and choosing to follow the overseer’s directions instead of the Spirit’s. This seems to be the common attitude within the organization of how this situation should be handled. I’ve never heard of a worker doing what they felt the spirit was telling them if it went against what the overseer said. How are the workers led by the Spirit if they take the overseer’s direction over the Spirit’s?
I have read multiple accounts of overseers quietly excommunicating people who questioned their actions. In this way, they have absolute authority; even questioning them or their decisions is considered a very bad thing, let alone saying anything about it.
The only people I know of who excommunicated anyone in the Bible were Pharisees. Jesus never went anywhere near it. Excommunicating is a thing of judgment, not love, and for the ‘top-level’ members of the organization to be doing it is a big red flag for me. In most instances, I don’t believe this is done using the word ‘excommunication’. I have heard accounts of a worker telling someone that they shouldn’t take part in meeting until they felt that watching TV was wrong. And of a woman who married someone who wasn’t professing being required to write a letter of apology to the overseer before she would be allowed to participate in meeting again, among other stories. This sounds like excommunication to me.
8. I think it is a big red flag that people are strongly discouraged to look up anything about ‘the truth’ online. Secrecy is a trait of cultism. It is generally considered common sense to research and think critically about things; why should this be any different? Jesus himself told the scribes and Pharisees to search the scriptures instead of just taking his word. If there is nothing to hide, why are people discouraged from getting an outside opinion? From what I’ve been told, other religions hid things like this—the preachers told the common people not to read the Bible because it was a priest’s place to tell them what was in it. But if people had read the Bible, they would have seen instantly that the priests weren’t following it.
I guess those are the big things I’ve been thinking of. I’ve tried to forget them a few times and just go back to the way things were, but I can’t seem to do that—I can’t feel like I’m being honest with myself if I ignore this. I need to get this settled one way or another, because I can’t sit in a meeting without feeling like a hypocrite or getting upset anymore. And I can’t look people in the eye when they ask what I believe either. I’m not ashamed of Jesus or God—never that—but I have to admit I am getting ashamed of being associated with ‘the truth’. I want to settle this one way or the other—either find answers and explanations to these issues that I can honestly accept, or make the changes in my own life so that I can look myself in the mirror and know I’m honestly doing the best I can and the best I know how.
I want to make it clear that I do love God and Jesus, and the people in this way. I struggle with judging others, and I see hypocrisy in myself more often than I like to admit—especially when I judge other people for being judgmental. I’m not trying to make out that I’m a cut above anyone, or that being a part of ‘the truth’ makes anyone more or less of a person. I just want to make sure that what I have is right, and if it is not, to find out what is right.
I have no intention of giving up my service to God. But I do intend to make that service the best that I can, even if that means overturning many of the things I was raised to believe. Or if it means overturning everything I have written in this letter—I just want what is right.
Responses: I got one reply from an older gentleman who seemed slightly confused and said some very sweet things that had nothing to do with any of the questions I sent. The only other reply was from a sister worker who asked if she could take my questions to other workers. None of those workers had answers either, and the sister worker I emailed responded with, “I don’t know, but we don’t need to know everything, we just need to trust.”
After a couple of years, I was forced to accept that I wouldn’t be getting any answers from the workers.