Here is the transcript from a interview with Br JR Brown from Bethel by WNYC.
New York Radio Station WNYC (AM 820 and 93.9 FM) Friday May 10, 2002 10:40 to 11:00 AM
[Radio Host Brian Lehrer's telephone interview with J. R. Brown, Director of the Office of Public Information for Jehovah's Witnesses]
Lehrer: Brian Lehrer on WNYC. One of the fastest growing religions is the Jehovah's Witnesses. Many people in our area of course have seen Jehovah's Witnesses going door-to-door, or selling the newspaper Watchtower on street corners and we though it would be interesting to find out a little more about who they are, and what they say they are all about. So with me now is J. R. Brown, Director of Public Information for the Jehovah's Witnesses. Mr. Brown, welcome to WNYC
Brown: Thank you, good morning Brian, how are you?
Lehrer: OK, thanks. First, how fast is the religion growing, and where?
Brown: Well, we're growing internationally, that's in, now, 111 branches and 235 lands around the world. We're spending much time helping people with the bible, about 3.2 million hours every day. And so we're gaining in publishers at about 1.7% as to average publishers for the year.
Lehrer: So how many members does that mean you have at this point?
Brown: Now, around the world, now, we have better than 6 million active members. By active we mean someone who actually joins with us in our work of evangelizing, and helping others in their bible study and learning about a Christian way of living.
Lehrer: And from what I've read, your membership was maybe 44,000 in 1928, 6 million, as you say, today; projections are it will double again by 2020. Is most of that taking place in the United States, or what particular other countries?
Brown: No, we're growing very rapidly in countries throughout the Central- and South-America area, the Caribbean and African lands. In other words, our evangelizing work is very intense all around the globe.
Lehrer: I've read that the Witnesses, the Mormons, and the Seventh Day Adventists, all espouse very similar "end of the world" philosophies. Would you put it that way?
Brown: Well, not exactly, because while we do believe that we're in the last days, and that the time is due for God to render his judgment, we put the emphasis on Good News. That what is ahead for mankind is a paradise earth, one in which God's Kingdom, that Christians pray for, will take over the control and government of the earth, and bring blessings to mankind.
Lehrer: What does that mean, that we're in "the last days?" as you put it?
Brown: Well, the bible has spoken about a period of time, just like our own, when conditions would be bad, they would go from bad to worse. All the major news stories now, for the most part, can find some biblical setting, and this constitutes "a sign" that in particular Jesus gave, or the prophets mention certain things. But this was to be evidence that we were living in the last days, or some refer to it as the "end times" but either way it was a time in which God would render his judgment with respects earthly affairs.
Lehrer: So does the Jehovah Witness organization have a position on how many days we have left? Do you have a number?
Brown: No! We do not have a number. That number is not given in the scripture, in fact Jesus said himself just the opposite, that no man knows the day or hour.
Lehrer: So you call it "last days" but this could go on for a few thousand years.
Brown: Well, you see, when you say "last days" that itself implies a short period of time. There are limitations. We feel it is very near, because conditions are falling in line with exactly what the bible said, as well as the behavior of people continues to deteriorate. And all of this constitutes evidence that we are in the "last days".
Lehrer: Of course, if you are growing as fast as the organization appears to be, delaying the end of the world might be in your interest.
Brown: Well, in other words, it's not totally up to us. God is involved, and his judgment. We are to keep working at matters, helping people to get in, but in the final analysis, Jehovah God renders his judgment and he decides who will inherit this everlasting future.
Lehrer: This is WNYC, AM 820 and 93.9 FM. My guest is J. R. Brown, he's the Director of the Office of Public Information for the Jehovah's Witnesses. We invite Jehovah's Witnesses to call up and tell us why you've chosen that particular religion or anyone else with questions, at 212-267-WNYC, 267-9692. What's the door-to-door thing, does that really work?
Brown: Well, that's the way Jesus started his disciples, and it is very effective. Nothing replaces a one-on-one contact with persons. And it is a neighborly expression of our love and how we feel about people. We have something that's good, that helps us in our life, and we want to share it. So we go to our neighbors and make a personal visit.
Lehrer: Um, is there a kind of percentage, you know, like do you expect, the first conversation is not going to do it, but you're planting a seed, and people come back to you in a year, or how would you say it usually works?
Brown: It works both ways. Sometimes people listen to us, and after a period of time, they want more information. Some persons you meet in just the right circumstance, they need something spiritual in their life, they've been looking for it, so they're will to sit down with us and study the bible. And we don't make converts, where on the spot someone decides they will become one of Jehovah's Witnesses. You have to study the bible, and understand its teachings, and embrace them, and then live by these teachings. And then you would qualify to become one of Jehovah's Witnesses.
Lehrer: Let me take a phone call for you. Here is Charles in Ridgewood. You're on WNYC
Caller: Yeah hi, um I was just wondering if you had any statistical, like if you did a statistical analysis of the percentage of minorities that are Jehovah's Witnesses?
Lehrer: In the United States? People of color in the United States?
Caller: In the United Sates, yes.
Brown: We have not done any statistical information on that, because our effort is to embrace all peoples, all languages, all races. And of course in the United States, you have many opportunities to do that. We sponsor foreign language congregations, and this helps people from wherever they come. So we've not tried to make a distinction as to minority population as compared with others.
Lehrer: But you do demographic marketing, as one would think any sophisticated organization would, right? For example, one of my neighbors in my building is a Jehovah's Witness, very nice guy, very thoughtful man, a deep thinker, even, I would say, and he's Dominican, and he goes door-to-door every Sunday, and he concentrates in Spanish-speaking communities in upper Manhattan.
Brown: Yes, and that would be appropriate. In other words, he would be serving the interests of the Spanish-speaking congregation, and that's appropriate. But we haven't tried to make a distinction as to how many Latinos, Hispanics, or black, or white Witnesses there are in any given area, because our message appeals to all people. So in whatever language they speak it, it's going to be the same. So our emphasis is on what unites, rather then what divides.
Lehrer: Frank in Brooklyn, you're on WNYC
Caller: I'd like to ask the caller if he allows his members, or the members of Jehovah's Witnesses, to vote in elections?
Lehrer: For what?
Caller: For Mayor, for City Council, for President, for Congress, for anything.
Brown: We do not form regulations that require other people to live up to what is stated. We teach them the bible. And as far as our allegiance and loyalty to a government, first is God's Kingdom, whether we're here in the United States, whether were in some European or African lands, our allegiance is first to God's government, God's Kingdom, the one that Christians are familiar with in their prayer "thy kingdom come".
Lehrer: But do you discourage voting or other civic participation, in addition to, you know, below that?
Brown: Of course we do not discourage it, because that wouldn't be appropriate. Each one makes up his own mind. And if he's decided that his allegiance is to God's Kingdom and he separates himself from the kingdoms or governments of this world, then he decides, individually, his own conscience at work, as to how he will handle the particular affairs.
Lehrer: Do you think that's common? Do a lot of Jehovah's Witnesses decline to vote?
Lehrer: Because, they think, it doesn't matter what happens in this life? Or what's the reason for that?
Brown: Not at all. Because we feel that you must be the best citizen, in whatever country you live. At the same time we feel you can't serve, really effectively, two masters. We've already decided our allegiance is to God's Kingdom, that's what we preach, and so we feel this is what we are promoting, this is what we are sponsoring, the Good News of God's Kingdom. So we do not intermingle with the politics in any country where we are. But that doesn't reflect indifference. We feel we are endeavoring to be the best possible citizens as far as obeying the laws of the land, whatever they happen to be, because this is a part of Christian teaching.
Lehrer: This is WNYC AM 820 and 93.9 FM. My guest is J. R. Brown, Director of Public Information for the Jehovah's Witnesses. Margareet in Queens, you're on WNYC.
Caller: Good morning, thank you. Mr. Brown, please clarify something for me. In the neighborhood that I live in there's quite a few Jehovah Witnesses in my building, as a matter of fact. They are very lovely people, I have no complaints about them, but my problem is this. Someone had told be a while back that Jehovah Witnesses do not salute any flag. And I feel if you are living in a country that allows you this freedom, that you should — you owe something back.
Lehrer: Same thing? Individual choice on say, reciting the pledge of allegiance in school for a Jehovah Witness child, and many are counseled by their parents not to, that kind of thing?
Brown: Yes, but she makes a very important point. We do love the country where ever we live. But when it comes to pledging allegiance, we feel that that devotion and that worship should go to God alone. Now how we show our love for the country and respect for its authority, is by living up to its laws, paying its taxes, whatever is required, supporting whatever efforts do not interfere with other activities of life, and that's how we show our respect.
Lehrer: So saluting the flag in particular?
Brown: We pledge only allegiance to God first. And if there is some symbol that is use by a state, we respect it, we are not in any way irreverent toward it, you will never see us burning it or tearing it down. But we respect the thing for which it symbolizes.
Lehrer: Is that a problem for Jehovah Witness kids, in say the New York City public schools, which since September 11th, have had a daily pledge of allegiance
Brown: Not really, because most persons know that Jehovah's Witnesses are very respectful of any national symbol. And while others are saluting it, members of Jehovah's Witnesses just quietly observe it, they may even stand while others pledge their allegiance. So it's not that we are against the flag, or the symbol, or anti-government. We show respect for it, but we just do not vocalize allegiance to any symbol. That's not just here, that's in whatever land we live.
Lehrer: Vero in Manhattan, you're on WNYC
Caller: Hi, good morning. I have a question. I recently read that, I think it was in Costa Rica. I know that Jehovah Witnesses don't necessarily believe in blood transfusions, and they just recently had a big issue out in Latin America about that and Costa Rica passed some law that to an extent forces you to have a blood transfusion if you need it to live.
Lehrer: There's an open case in Canada too, I understand, where the Supreme Court is deciding whether to accept a Jehovah's — Jehovah Witness teenager's plea to halt blood transfusions which doctors say is necessary to keep him alive.
Brown: In regard to blood transfusion, we make a personal decision that we will obey God's law on it. It's stated in the bible, in both what is referred to as the Old Testament, and what is referred to as the New Testament. We feel that for ourselves, we will obey God's law, blood is sacred, it represents the life, and the thing that we have in mind is there are alternatives to the use of transfusing whole blood.
Lehrer: So this would be part of the Jehovah Witnesses literal interpretation of the bible, correct?
Brown: We follow the bible and how it is taught. Some of the teachings, of course, involve principles, but the matter of God's law on blood is very specific. Throughout the ages he has always forbidden to take the blood of another, whether someone is to murder another or shed his blood, if meat is to be eaten, it is to be drained of blood, and we look at the same thing applied by not transfusing the blood of another into our body. And so we opt for other alternatives, these exist today, and they can be found in hospitals that cater to our needs in that way.
Lehrer: Charles in Rockland County, you're on WNYC
Caller: Good morning. I was just — I'm going to comment — I'm going to ask a few questions, actually. One question is since 1911, I think it is, Watchtower has made, I'd probably say 7+ prophecies of end of times — exact date, and the speaker actually mentioned before that they know that no man knows the hour, but they actually made, I mean, these are public statements, they are documented and everyone knows them, and they didn't come to pass. They didn't come true. And furthermore, I was concerned, I was just wondering, if they believe Jesus is the Messiah? Thank you.
Lehrer: Thank you. Mr. Brown?
Brown: As to Charles' question, if we believe Jesus is the Messiah, the answer to that is yes, we believe he is now the reigning king, of God's messianic kingdom, which will come in for a thousand-year period, just ahead of us. And it may well be that in the past we've been very anxious to see that occur, and maybe in our eagerness and enthusiasm, some have gotten the impression that we were referring to a specific date, and making direct prophecies that on a certain day and time certain events would occur. And this hasn't been the case as far as determining a particular day, a particular hour, and a particular time. We have enthusiastically, maybe, anticipated it, to come before now, and that's normal. Even the disciples of Jesus, in their enthusiasm and desire to see the Messiah, felt it was going to happen before it did.
Lehrer: We have just a minute left. I wonder how you would explain why in an era dominated by personal choice, where people tend to pick-and-choose the aspects of various religions, that they want to practice, the Jehovah's Witness really commands people to take to whole package, would be becoming more popular.
Brown: Well, the reason is because when people make a study of the bible — and you you have to study it yourself — they see that this is a hope that they want, this is a way of life that benefits them, and that this can give them something that brings enthusiasm to their life, and gives them a zeal to live, not only now the best possible life, but on into the future. We can see now people want spirituality
Lehrer: J. R. Brown is Director of Public Information for the Jehovah's Witnesses. So there you know a little bit more, for those of you who didn't already know, about these folks who might be ringing your doorbell, or handing out Watchtower newspapers on the corner. Thank you very much for coming on today.
Brown: You're very welcome.