In early 2017, Jehovah’s Witnesses were invited just once to write Vladimir Putin. Within two months, up to 49 million letters had been sent. They weren’t all to Putin – other officials were identified – but his was the most visible name. Trouble was not averted, yet Russia came to know of one nation on earth where every citizen cares deeply about every other.
On the surface, the letter-writing campaign was a failure. Opposition which would ultimately lead to a Supreme Court ban of the religious organization continued unabated. It has only intensified since. Two and only two groups of children have been recognized by authorities as at risk of “destructive psychological influence” - children of ISIS members and children of Jehovah’s Witnesses. At present, the stripping of parental rights for members of the two groups is an unused tool, but it is a tool that has been approved for use.
Witnesses around the world felt and feel the heat on their Russian brothers and sisters as though it were on them. They longed to do something and here was something tangible they could do. By taking part in letter-writing, they fortified their Russian counterparts, who are now in the eye of the storm.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have been banned in Russia from czarist times. Their survival and growth throughout is the stuff of Soviet legend. With the coming of ‘Perestroika’ and ‘Glasnost,’ they were granted religious freedom, but their time of freedom lasted only until 2017, and the present laws are more harsh than the Soviet’s former. They are not the only minority faith to experience persecution in Russia. All of them do to some extent. Witnesses are in the vanguard – the first to have their organization outlawed, but many are shaking in their boots that they will be next.
Books about Jehovah’s Witnesses authored by Jehovah’s Witnesses are not plentiful. This is a shame, for no outsider, even with the best of intentions, can do justice to the faith as can an insider - they miss the nuances, and in some cases, even the facts. Jehovah’s Witnesses are primarily drawn from the ranks of working people, who are not inclined to write books. Pathways of publicizing their faith are already well established. Why write a book when you can and do look people in the eye and tell them what you have to say?
What books Witnesses do author are usually of specialized concerns – standing firm during the Holocaust, clarification of civil rights though the High Courts, or even the topic of blood transfusion. What this writer attempts here he has seen no one do before.
Russian courts gave every appearance that the decision they reached had already been made somewhere from on high and it would fall upon the judge to rubber-stamp it which, of course, he did. The specific reasons for opposition were mostly absent from court proceedings. So I have supplied them, along with a defense for each one – in areas as diverse as ‘cult’ charges, shunning, donation practices, and the white-hot topic of pedophilia. The latter accusation played no role in Russian events, but it has elsewhere.
Non-Witnesses can write of the nuts and bolts of the movement to destroy the faith’s infrastructure in Russia. But they will miss the subtleties of the motive for doing so. They will miss totally the atmosphere impelling every Witness in the world to write relevant Russian officials. They will miss what the rank and file felt as they followed the ups and downs of breaking events. This book is written to supply those missing pieces.