Spanish JW’s Upset Over Bethel Move

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On April 1, 2009 a let­ter was sent from the Gov­ern­ing Body of Jehovah’s Wit­ness­es to con­gre­ga­tions in Spain inform­ing them that the print­ing, ship­ping, and stor­age of Watch­tow­er pub­li­ca­tions would be dis­con­tin­ued at the Madrid (Ajalvir) Branch office. The let­ter expressed con­fi­dence that the Span­ish Wit­ness­es would, despite the move, con­tin­ue to gen­er­ous­ly sup­port the world wide work and ends with an appeal to remain unit­ed under the direc­tion of the Wit­ness lead­er­ship.

At a glance, this sto­ry may seem like a non-issue, per­haps, just anoth­er exam­ple of reor­ga­ni­za­tion and con­sol­i­da­tion with­in a multi­na­tion­al cor­po­ra­tion; how­ev­er, the dis­so­lu­tion of the print­ing branch has caused con­sid­er­able hard feel­ings among some of Jehovah’s Wit­ness­es in Spain. To under­stand the rea­son we must first look at the his­to­ry behind the branch office and exter­nal fac­tors that some feel prompt­ed this abrupt move.

Ear­ly in their his­to­ry, Jehovah’s Wit­ness­es began print­ing their trade­mark Watch­tow­er mag­a­zines and asso­ci­at­ed books and tracts in-house at their “Bethel” head­quar­ters in Brook­lyn, New York. As the reli­gious orga­ni­za­tion grew and expand­ed over­seas, “branch offices” and print­ing facil­i­ties were estab­lished in dif­fer­ent loca­tions across the globe to sup­port the preach­ing work in those ter­ri­to­ries. Such was the case in Spain in 1980, where the need for a local print­ing facil­i­ty was explained at Span­ish dis­trict con­ven­tions of Jehovah’s Wit­ness­es.

At the time, expan­sion at the head­quar­ters in New York left the Watch Tow­er cor­po­ra­tion with­out the finances to build offices and a print­ing facil­i­ty in Spain and so the Span­ish Wit­ness­es were solicit­ed to fol­low the exam­ple of the Israelites in bring­ing their gold, sil­ver, and valu­able items to Moses in order to build the Taber­na­cle. (Exo­dus 35:5–9) The 1983 Year­book of Jehovah’s Wit­ness­es, reports the gen­er­ous way that the Span­ish Wit­ness­es respond­ed to this appeal.:

At the close of the con­ven­tions, peo­ple were lin­ing up to con­tribute their jew­els, gold and sil­ver rings and bracelets, so that these could be turned into cash to finance the new project. At the con­ven­tion in San Sebastián in the Basque coun­try, an elder­ly sis­ter hand­ed over a heavy gold bracelet. When asked if she was sure that she want­ed to donate such a valu­able item, she answered: “Broth­er, it is going to do far more good pay­ing for a new Bethel than it will on my wrist!”

With the unspar­ing finan­cial sup­port of the Span­ish Wit­ness­es a new branch office and print­ing facil­i­ty was lat­er con­struct­ed in Madrid. Being financed with­in the coun­try, this new Bethel was a source of pride for the Span­ish Wit­ness­es. Many would make spe­cial trips just to tour the facil­i­ty. Now some are hurt to watch as the print­ing press­es that they gave their pre­cious heir­looms to buy are shipped to Ger­many and the Bethel that they sac­ri­ficed their sav­ings to build is antic­i­pat­ed to be sold, with the pro­ceeds of the sale return­ing back to the US Watch Tow­er cor­po­ra­tion that was orig­i­nal­ly unable to finance its con­struc­tion. This sit­u­a­tion might not be near as bit­ter if it were not for the events that tran­spired in Spain that some feel to be the impe­tus behind this relo­ca­tion.

In Decem­ber 2007, after an inves­ti­ga­tion, the Social Secu­ri­ty office of Spain issued a rul­ing that the Madrid Bethel was required to pro­vide a pen­sion for those who worked in its print­ing facil­i­ties. His­tor­i­cal­ly, Bethel work­ers receive no such ben­e­fits. Upon join­ing the Bethel “fam­i­ly” they take a vow of pover­ty and are induct­ed into a reli­gious order, not unlike a Catholic monastery. While at Bethel they receive a small month­ly stipend for per­son­al items in addi­tion to room and board. Though they are work­ing in a mod­ern print­ing oper­a­tion, they are viewed as reli­gious vol­un­teers and have no work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion ben­e­fits or pen­sion to sup­port them, if injury, health, age, or oth­er cir­cum­stances should force them out of their Bethel “home”.

In recent years, the Watch Tow­er has seen a fair share of cor­po­rate down­siz­ing. This has been par­tic­u­lar­ly felt in the Unit­ed States head­quar­ters, which has expe­ri­enced sig­nif­i­cant cut­backs with­in the New York Bethel fam­i­ly. Many men and women in their youth were encour­aged to make ser­vice at Bethel a “life career”, at the expense of fam­i­ly, edu­ca­tion, and a sec­u­lar career. They entered Bethel with the idea that they would stay there for the rest of their life, mak­ing it their “home”. Now as old­er adults they are feel­ing the sting of cut­backs as they are asked to leave their Bethel home, start­ing all over again in the sec­u­lar world with­out pen­sions or with­out hav­ing con­tributed toward retire­ment or Social Secu­ri­ty. This is the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in Madrid, where it is esti­mat­ed that up to 200 Bethel work­ers are being asked to leave with­out reas­sign­ment.

The Span­ish Social Secu­ri­ty office’s deci­sion to hold the Madrid Bethel respon­si­ble for pro­vid­ing ben­e­fits for print­ing fac­to­ry work­ers and oth­er mem­bers of the order presents a con­sid­er­able finan­cial hit in a reli­gious orga­ni­za­tion that has already expe­ri­enced hard­ships in tough eco­nom­ic times. This has caused some Span­ish Wit­ness­es to believe that the deci­sion to relo­cate print­ing oper­a­tions to anoth­er coun­try is specif­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed by the fis­cal impli­ca­tions of the Social Secu­ri­ty office’s deci­sion, despite what the Branch Office claims about the reor­ga­ni­za­tion being moti­vat­ed by oth­er fac­tors such as sim­pli­fi­ca­tion.

The Span­ish Wit­ness­es who might nor­mal­ly com­plete­ly trust the deci­sions made by the organization’s lead­er­ship have rea­son to be sus­pi­cious. After los­ing their peti­tion against pro­vid­ing Social Secu­ri­ty ben­e­fits to Bethel work­ers, the Span­ish Branch Office of Jehovah’s Wit­ness­es sent a let­ter to the local con­gre­ga­tions announc­ing the new pro­vi­sion. In the let­ter, Wit­ness lead­er­ship implies that it was they who peti­tioned Social Secu­ri­ty for entry into the sys­tem in order to pro­vide ben­e­fits. The con­gre­ga­tions were kept in the dark about the real rea­son that these con­test­ed ben­e­fits were being pro­vid­ed to those in the reli­gious order.

A sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion occurred in the Unit­ed States in 1990. At the time, Jim­my Swag­gart Min­istries was in the US Supreme Court, chal­leng­ing tax­es assessed on pub­li­ca­tions sold by the pop­u­lar tel­e­van­ge­list. Unknown to US Wit­ness­es, the Watch Tow­er, filed a “friend of the court” brief (ami­cus curi­ae) in the Swag­gart Tax­a­tion case, because the rul­ing would open the door for tax­ing the Watch Tow­er, as Jehovah’s Wit­ness­es went door to door sell­ing their Watch­tow­er mag­a­zine and asso­ci­at­ed lit­er­a­ture. When Swag­gart lost the case, the Watch Tow­er, quick­ly adopt­ed a new “dona­tion arrange­ment”, where the magzines and lit­er­a­ture were offered with­out a spec­i­fied cost, and a dona­tion request was made.

In a let­ter sent to all US con­gre­ga­tions the Watch Tow­er explained the new arrange­ment say­ing,

By adopt­ing a method of lit­er­a­ture dis­tri­b­u­tion based com­plete­ly on dona­tion, Jehovah’s peo­ple are able to great­ly sim­pli­fy our Bible edu­ca­tion work and sep­a­rate our­selves from those who com­mer­cial­ize reli­gion.”

No men­tion was made of the con­nec­tion between the new “dona­tion arrange­ment” and the Jim­my Swag­gart case, and to this day, this is rel­a­tive­ly unknown among Jehovah’s Wit­ness­es. Sim­i­lar to the way the Span­ish branch han­dled the Social Secu­ri­ty rul­ing, the US branch office spun the “dona­tion arrange­ment” as a way of sim­pli­fi­ca­tion with­out reveal­ing the real rea­sons.

The Span­ish Wit­ness­es feel slight­ed that the reli­gious orga­ni­za­tion they gave their life and finances to is now treat­ing them so care­less­ly. Equal­ly they are hurt by the lack of can­dor and hon­esty com­ing from head­quar­ters about the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion. Cur­rent­ly the dis­con­tent among the reli­gion are orga­niz­ing and mak­ing their case that any funds com­ing from the sale of the Bethel facil­i­ty should be go back to the ones that financed it the first place. They sug­gest that such mon­ey could be used in a char­i­ta­ble way, such as pro­vid­ing a retire­ment facil­i­ty for those in their ranks that are now aging, with­out pro­vi­sion, hav­ing giv­ing their life in ser­vice of the reli­gion. Iron­i­cal­ly, they are vying to pro­vide the very care that Wit­ness lead­er­ship itself is reluc­tant to give.

Source Doc­u­men­ta­tion

Min­istry of Labor and Social Affairs (Spain), Octo­ber 2, 2007 Inves­ti­ga­tion Report
Min­istry of Labor and Social Affairs (Spain), Decem­ber 22, 2007 Rul­ing
Chris­t­ian Jehovah’s Wit­ness­es, Sep­tem­ber 7, 2008 Let­ter to Con­gre­ga­tions
Chris­t­ian Jehovah’s Wit­ness­es, April 1, 2009 Let­ter to Con­gre­ga­tions

57 Responses

BrandonDecember 7th, 2013 at 11:44 pm

Did Peter go to Baby­lon expect­ing a pen­sion? Did Paul go to Rome expect­ing a pen­sion? Did either demand an account­ing for their finan­cial sup­port for the saints and how they decid­ed to use those funds? Y’all are insane. Sup­pos­ed­ly smarter than those who have to make tough deci­sions when gov­ern­ments dic­tate what should be pro­vid­ed vol­un­teer work­ers. Here in the States, it would be called pro­gres­sive-ism and lib­er­al-ism, almighty gov­ern­ment instead of almighty god call­ing the shots. I don’t know what you or these sup­posed ex jdubs have against these peo­ple, but it seems that you are try­ing to bring judge­ment upon a peo­ple and orga­ni­za­tion that have proven them­selves hon­or­able through­out the decades, irre­spec­tive of their fall­en state that we are all sub­ject to. Get a life.

JoeFebruary 13th, 2014 at 11:01 am

Does any­one know where the Eng­lish speak­ing meet­ing meet on Sun­day please? In oth­er words where is the Eng­lish speak­ing con­gre­ga­tion in Barcelona? Address, times, and phone num­ber please. — thank you!!!

Non importanteJuly 27th, 2014 at 11:33 am

Nice words, Antho­ny, but… what would »> YOU «» YOU «< where respon­si­ble to con­ti­nous­ly do your very best to orga­nize such a huge world­wide work???

Non importanteJuly 27th, 2014 at 11:37 am

…Sor­ry, my com­ment was not saved how I wrote it, so anoth­er time with­out spe­cial char­ac­ters:

Nice words, Antho­ny, but… what would YOU do, if YOU were respon­si­ble to con­ti­nous­ly do your very best to orga­nize such a huge world­wide work???”

AnnieOctober 11th, 2014 at 9:28 am

Hi! Im cur­rent­ly stay­ing in Madrid, and was won­der­ing if there is an Eng­lish speak­ing ser­vice? Please let me know. Thanks.

wilsoncoleDecember 10th, 2015 at 2:56 am

I have two ques­tions about your arti­cle.
After read­ing the entire arti­cle care­ful­ly, I failed to see a sin­gle quote from any dis­grun­tled Wit­ness in Spain.
1. Will you tell me how you know that the Span­ish Wit­ness­es are upset over the move?
2. How do you “lay off” a vol­un­teer who receives no pay for their ser­vices?

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