Undue Influence: Watchtower’s Compliance Strategy

I recall sitting in my Contract Law class this one time, doing the chapter on “Improperly Obtained Consensus.” One avenue of such illicit consensus was the concept of “undue influence.” I had heard that concept before, but, now, I got a chance to unpack it.

What is Undue Influence

Undue influence is a legal construct whereby a “favourable” relationship is utilised to compel someone to enter into a contract. The nature of the contract, however, is that while it usually profits the influencer, it is generally to the detriment of the one being influenced.

Undue influence, therefore, is the next-of-kin of another legal construct: “duress.” While these two concepts may experience an overlap, the difference between them is usually a matter of degree and approach. With duress, one generally employs the threat of harm to compel someone to enter into a contract – what legal philosophers would call: “gunman obedience.” With undue influence, on the other hand, one artfully harnesses what I’d like to call the fusion of trust and vulnerability; there’s usually an element of dependence involved, which endows the influencer with the ability to sway. Irrespective of which of the two approaches is utilised, however, the common dominator remains the same: compliance.

The five legal elements of undue influence,[1] therefore, include:

  1. having influence over someone,
  2. the nature of which reduces the resistance of that person,
  3. the unconscionable use of said influence,
  4. which factually induced compliance, which was
  5. to the detriment of said person.

In a court of law, if a victim of undue influence is able to discharge the onus of these five elements, this would have the effect of vitiating that victim’s consent in respect of that particular contract. Consequently, such contract would be deemed, not void, but voidable; the court would put the now “sober” victim to a fresh election; that is, either to uphold the original contract or to cancel it.

In the event of the latter – which is more probable – the contract would be nullified. The victim, therefore, would get to travel back in time, so to speak, as if the contract had never happened; if necessary, the victim would be afforded restitution or compensation, as the case may be.

Baptism: An Oral Contract?

It has always been my view that the baptism peculiar to Jehovah’s Witnesses is a contract – and an onerous one at that. You see, on the day of baptism, two questions are publicly posed at the candidates, the audible and affirmative answer of which is a pre-requisite for baptism.[2]

Now, in a previous article, I discussed the nature of these two baptismal questions, especially the effect of the second one.[3] The second question is loaded with meaning and has the effect of making you subject to “God’s spirit-directed organisation” (allegedly the “Watchtower”).

I recall reading a story about a certain Witness who wanted to nullify his baptism (as opposed to taking the path of “disassociation” with its concomitant effects) on the grounds that he was too young when he got baptised and that, consequently, he was in no position to grasp the import of the act. In legal speak, he was basically trying to vitiate his consent on the basis of lack of capacity.

Mature legal systems protect minors from, especially onerous, contractual obligations. Adult supervision is usually a prerequisite for minors entering into contracts; in the absence of such, there are various rebuttable and irrebuttable presumptions in favour of the minor. The basic idea, broadly speaking, is to protect children from the immaturity and impulsivity peculiar to their age.

In any event, the aforementioned Witness tried to invoke this “argument,” but Watchtower’s newly-minted lawyer, Philip Brumley,[4] in a lengthy letter (February 16, 1996),[5] dismissed this contention chiefly on the basis of implied ratification by said Witness as an adult, that is, by his continued association with the organisation after attaining the age of majority.

Brumley went on to state that when a person gets baptised they agree to abide by the rules mandated by the organisation through its duly “appointed representatives.” Brumley made clear that there are essentially only two avenues by which a Witness can no longer be deemed subject to the rules of the organisation, namely, by being disfellowshipped or by disassociating oneself. Of the latter, interestingly enough, he described it as a process by which an active Witness “repudiates” his Christian standing, that is, by “rejecting the congregation.”

The word “repudiation” is another legal term describing a form of breach of contract. It is an anticipatory breach evaluated objectively through the words or conduct of a person who demonstrates that they have no intention of fulfilling their obligation. (An interesting question from a Witness point of view would be: An “obligation” to whom? To God? Or to the organisation? Keep that question filed in your head as we continue).

In any event, I belaboured this issue by taking the Brumley detour in an effort to make it unequivocally clear that, even from Watchtower’s point of view, evidently, one’s baptism as a Jehovah’s Witness is a contract.

We will explore the merits of this argument further on in this article.

How the Organisation Employs Undue Influence?

Pre-baptism, the organisation builds trust in the student that it alone is the one “true religion.” It achieves this through a process I’d like to call: “flaunt-and-cover.” It exposes the student to everything that is favourable about the organisation, and shelters him from much that is negative.

Once the student is thoroughly “marinated” in all these favourables and is now satisfied that this must be God’s organisation, it puts the student at ease (“reduces resistance”), the student becomes pliable. This state of affairs is then used as a springboard to gradually navigate the student down the path of baptism. Keep in mind, Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t study the bible with you simply to impart information, but to make you a member. This is borne from the fact that when a student doesn’t make “progress,” he’s usually side-lined (unless the Witness conducting the study happens to be a regular pioneer who’s low on “return visits,” he might then convert the bible study into a “magazine route” and visit the person once a month to drop off the latest magazines, keeping any potential embers burning, not to mention, the process legit).

The actual individual studying the bible with you may himself be a true believer, he may bear no ill-will towards you, but, undoubtedly, the organisation itself – its hierarchy, the Governing Body – must certainly be aware of the historical and material shortcomings of the organisation, to the extent that, if they chose to be forthright about it, to be absolutely transparent, they must certainly appreciate that thinking people would think twice before readily reconciling themselves to the idea that this indeed is God’s organisation.

Despite this knowledge, however, the organisation (unconscionably) chooses either to ignore or to downplay these critical and decisive facts. In fact, they go so far as to discourage the student from critically evaluating any information that undermines what they’ve been taught; they systematically dissuade the student from giving audience or putting stock into anyone who says anything negative about the organisation. Thus, these “nay-sayers” are depicted as either ill-informed or unwitting agents of the devil who threaten the student’s eternal salvation with their spiritual pollution.

Effectively, then, if this influence wins over, the student fails to engage with the evidence, he fails to make an honest appraisal of the facts, thus becoming a “prisoner” of what renowned author, Chimamanda Adichie, once aptly described as: “the single story.”

Flaunt and cover…

To nurture compliance, the organisation appeals to the student’s emotions by invoking his fundamental love and loyalty to God. For example, as was the case during the time when I came into “the truth” – it was still the era of the Require Brochure, which said:

“Not everyone will be happy to see you studying the Bible, but do not let that stop you. Your eternal future depends on your getting know God and doing his will despite any opposition.”[6] [Italics mine]

They then quote scriptures that purport to support their proposition, the likes of Matthew 5:10-12:

“Happy are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake, since the kingdom of the heavens belongs to them. Happy are you when people reproach you and persecute you and lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against you for my sake. Rejoice and leap for joy, since your reward is great in the heavens; for in that way they persecuted the prophets prior to you.”

In so doing, the organisation follows the pattern of cherry-picking all the favourable scriptures and applying them to themselves, while assigning all the unfavourable scriptures to whomever happens to be a pain in their backside at the time. This pattern, of course, is trite; it’s nothing new in the field of religion, it’s a time-and-tested strategy.

From the get-go, students are primed for compliance, they are given the “right” answer long before they even know how to formulate the question; this is achieved by anticipating what is probable and then controlling the narrative of that experience, way in advance, so that when it materialises (and materialise it will), the path has already been carved for the student, the yellow brick road has already been paved, thus requiring minimal intellectual processing on the student’s part. There’s almost no thought to it, it’s automatic; thus, it is a type of antecedent compliance.

“As you learn more from the Bible, you may find that some well-meaning people will urge you to stop such studies. They may worry that you will change your beliefs. But do not let anyone stop you from forming the best friendship you can ever have.” [7] [Italics mine]

When sincere people try and dissuade the student from studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses – and thus being grafted into them – the student immediately thinks: “My bible instructor told me this would happen – the reproach, the persecution, the lying – and, look, it’s actually happening; yes, this must be the true religion, the devil is trying to deter me; why, the same thing happened to Jesus, he was hated without cause.”

Thus, when these sincere people try and highlight relevant facts about the material deficiencies of the organisation, this effort inadvertently reinforces the idea in the student’s mind that the organisation must be the true religion; I mean, why else would people speak negatively about these lovely people? Look how nice they are; they visit me every week, they teach me the bible, they’re so polite, they’re well dressed.

Granted, individual Witnesses may sincerely be all of these lovely things; but, the issue isn’t about loveliness, it’s about accuracy… it’s about truth. Yes, we could spend the whole day talking about the otherwise prima facie loveliness of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but, when we’ve finally exhausted that topic, we’d have to sit down and talk about how accurate they are in their beliefs or how correct they are in their practices.

Care should be taken not to conflate these two distinct issues. Loveliness. Accuracy.

Always remember the bottom-line of all of this, the preaching work is more than just a warning message, it’s to enlist you. It is a recruiting mechanism that borrows its authority from Jesus’ directive to make disciples. However, without grasping the full import of this peculiar baptism, several unsuspecting people actually get induced by this influence to the point where they consummate their confidence in the organisation’s assertions of itself, via water immersion.

By allowing this, however – by perpetuating this – the Watchtower creates illegitimate Witnesses in so far as their failure to supply the student with the critical information necessary to make a truly informed decision. This failure amounts to a misrepresentation by omission; it is a misdirection by non-disclosure. Really, it is a disservice of the vilest sort; because, at the end of the day, it’s the student who will be punished when he eventually discovers that which the organisation failed to tell him, that which would have otherwise informed his decision to either subscribe to their baptism or not.

When the student eventually discovers that the real truth about the organisation is irreconcilable with what he thought – what he was led to believe – his conscience may compel him to disassociate himself (an ethical person can’t promote something he disagrees with); however, it is in that moment that it will dawn on him that he’s a prisoner. Why? Because if he leaves (for whatever reason), it will be framed as a “repudiation” against God, which merits denigration, castigation and ostracism.

However, honestly now, if you re-trace this odyssey to where it actually began, it will be self-evident who the real skelems are; it is the ones who induced the unsuspecting student through a mechanism of flaunt-and-cover.

The organisation teaches something as the truth and on the basis of this “truth,” people – in good faith – make commitments to “Jehovah” (the organisation). For years, sometimes decades, people preach this “truth,” defend this “truth,” fight for this “truth,” go to prison for this “truth,” lose family for this “truth,” make life-altering decisions based off of this “truth,” make sacrifices for this “truth,” endure a lot of abuse for this “truth,” sometimes even die – yes, actually die – for this “truth.” And, then… the “truth” changes.

These changes have a propensity of happening at a time when it becomes irrefutably clear to any thinking person that the particular “truth” in question is losing currency. Why? Because demonstrable evidence is exposing that “truth” to be a falsity. So they (the Governing Body) change it, pre-emptively, by invoking the concept of “New Light;” they might even suggest that “Jehovah” revealed it. Thus, it would seem, truth has a shelf-life.

Some people don’t care for the changes (and this, I might add, does illustrates – if a demonstration were necessary – that not everyone who is a Witness is in it because they believe it to be the truth; for such ones, I posit, there is usually an emotional web that neutralises any fastidiousness for accurate information; or, otherwise, they don’t know enough to grasp the import of the change or its collateral effects on those who were induced to put stock in it). That said, there are those to whom the changes do matter – and rightly so, I might add.

Now, you can question the motives of those to whom it matters, but, think, is that not a misdirection? Does that approach not hint of clinical narcissism? You preach something as truth, enlist people on the basis of that “truth,” you benefit from that “truth,” you even ostracise those who challenge this “truth,” and, then, when the “truth” fails the litmus test, you want to question people’s motives when they take issue with the changes? Asseblief tog…

As mentioned, a key ingredient of undue influence is that the influencer benefits from said influence at the expense of the one influenced; without exhausting ourselves about the merits of whether or not the organisation is indeed the one and only true Christian organisation, what cannot be denied, by any fair-minded person, is that throughout the subsistence of a particular “truth,” the organisation benefitted – sometimes magnificently so – from it. To question the motives of those who thoroughly subscribed to these erstwhile “truths” emanating from “God’s sole channel of communication” is only secondary to the main inquiry – if at all. (Proverbs 13:12) To default to this line of questioning amounts to blaming the victim; and, this, I might add, from a group of men who refuse to take any material ownership of their magnificent contribution to the grim state of affairs.

A Contract With Whom?

At first glance, the “contract” of your baptism seems to be between you and God; but in reality, however, the contract is between you and the organisation. How so?

Through water immersion, the soon-to-be Witness tells himself that the procedure is simply an overt manner of symbolising his (private) dedication to Jehovah. In fact, even the Bible Teach book lends itself to this view:

“Remember, too, that you have made a dedication to Jehovah God himself, not to a work, a cause, other humans, or an organisation.”[8] [Italics mine]

If the above statement is true, then your dedication is not to the Governing Body (“any human”) or the Watchtower corporation (“any organisation”). Consequently, if there’s ever a conflict between what any human or any organisation tells you to do and what God, through his word the bible instructs you to do, then you’re obliged to remain loyal to God, not so?

After all, the biblical formula for baptism is that disciples should be baptised “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit” and that these ones should be taught all things that Jesus commanded.[9]

However, what formula does the Watchtower organisation promote?

“It is the baptism itself that identifies you as […] one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”[10] [Italics mine]

Return to Jehovah

The 16-page brochure that equates returning to the organisation with returning to Jehovah.

If you replace the words “Jehovah’s Witnesses” with what they were formerly known as, namely, “Bible Students,” it becomes clear that the above statement suggests that baptism identifies you with an organisation; and if you attach the second baptismal question,[11] it broadens the scope of this statement by making clear that the baptism associates you with the Watchtower corporation.[12] This, right here, of course, is a deviation. In its correct approach, baptism is a visual manifestation, or symbol, of one’s personal dedication to Jehovah. It is not a mechanism for identifying oneself with any denomination or organisation.[13]

The Watchtower, therefore, has insidiously – presumptuously even – inserted itself into the “divine” equation; they have adulterated it and usurped it for their own means. How?

If we unpack the logic, a “Jehovah’s Witness” is not necessarily a witness of Jehovah. “Jehovah Witnesses” is an adopted name, not necessarily a state of fact. The organisation has inserted itself into the “divine” equation, and on the premise of this insertion, they speak of those who leave the organisation as “leaving Jehovah,” in as much as when they appeal to disfellowshipped people to come back to the organisation, they frame it as, “returning to Jehovah.” The word-play has a self-serving effect.

How Watchtower Benefits from Undue Influence

The reality is that, though Witnesses may satisfy themselves that they’re dedicated to Jehovah and not to some organisation, the Watchtower organisation, nevertheless, typically remains the direct beneficiary of a Witness’ service to “God.”

Think about it: Who receives your field service report? Who collects the money you donate? When you are told to “give to Jehovah,” who do you actually give? Who physically knocks on people’s doors promoting the organisation’s tenets? Who supplies more members to the organisation? Who physically builds new Kingdom Halls? Who manually operates the congregations? Who pays the congregation bills at the end of the month?

It’s you! You funnel your sacrifices to “God” through the organisation; and, of course, you do it free. Why? Because you’re doing it for “Jehovah.”

Yes… you do it for Jehovah, but who is the direct beneficiary?

It’s the organisation!

Recognise that. Recognise what’s happening. Without going into the merits of the correctness, or not, of this “beneficiary” process, it will be sufficient if one at least takes cognisance of what’s mechanically transpiring here: you’re giving to God through the organisation. Once that point is recognised, a person can, quite frankly, debate its correctness at their own leisure.


So, then, the organisation uses undue influence to induce unsuspecting individuals into an onerous baptism, which involves a contract between the individual and the organisation. The influence in question is inherited off of a claim of divine approval. This claim meets with certain success through a well-crafted process of flaunt-and-cover. The victim’s love for God is then harnessed, like a tamed horse, and ridden for the organisation’s benefit; this, however, is ultimately to the student’s long-term detriment, particularly should he ever learn the truth about “the truth.”


[1] Preller v Jordaan 1956 (1) SA 483 (A); Patel v Grobbelaar 1974 (1) SA 532 (A).

[2] A series of other “catechismic” questions are posed at the student weeks or months in advance in anticipation of this day. (Organized to Do Jehovah’s Will (2005) pages 182-215).

[3] The second question reads: “Do you recognise that your baptism identifies you as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in association with God’s spirit directed organisation?” – Organized to Do Jehovah’s Will (2015) page 209.

[4] Interesting enough, Brumley had his legal studies sponsored by Watchtower itself in the late ‘80s, notwithstanding the organisations constant denunciation of higher education and the pursuit thereof.

[5] It must be said, however, that there is an absence of an official copy of said letter; that said, having read a transcription thereof, I am of the view that it lends itself to being an authentic account: http://corior.blogspot.com/2006/02/aspect-of-legalism-of-jehovahs.html.

[6] What Does God Require of Us? (1996) page 3 para. 3.

[7] What Does the Bible Really Teach? (2014) page 17 para. 22.

[8] ‘Baptism and Your Relationship with God’ What Does the Bible Really Teach? (2014) page 183 para. 24.

[9] Matthew 28:19, 20.

[10] What Does the Bible Really Teach? (2014) page 182 para. 22.

[11] “Do you understand that your dedication and baptism identifies you as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in association with God’s spirit-directed organization?” – Organized to Do Jehovah’s Will (2005) page 215.

[12] One wonders what is really meant by “God’s spirit-directed organisation.” Are they talking legally or are they talking spiritually? If the legally, then, we’re talking about the corporation, but if spiritually, then we’re referring to what they like to term God’s visible part of the organisation which would encompass both the legal and the religious aspect of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I mean, are Jehovah’s Witnesses an organisation? Why specifically does one’s baptism identify a person as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in association with God’s spirit-directed organisation? Are the “Jehovah’s Witnesses” and “God’s spirit-directed organisation” distinct? If not, then why the “in association with?” I think they’re playing with words here.

[13] The late Raymond Franz (former Governing Body member), nephew of fourth Watchtower president, the late Frederick Franz, recalled that the latter once suggested to him that had his Presbyterian baptism been a complete water immersion, that is, as opposed to a mere sprinkling, he (Frederick) would not have needed to be rebaptised as a Witness, for his previous baptism would still have been valid. I concur. This is in line with the notion that baptism, if done properly, identifies you – and I submit, correctly so – as a Christian, not as a member of some denomination or organisation. – Raymond Franz In Search of Christian Freedom 2 ed (2007), page 115, footnote 37.