Last weekend’s Jehovah's Witness Convention in Melbourne was a great opportunity to join the insular JW world, even if just for a few hours.
Prior to last Sunday my knowledge of the world of Jehovah’s Witnesses was limited to all the things my JW high school friend, Destiny, wasn’t allowed to do. For example instead of spending the weekend being a mallrat, Destiny would be knocking on neighbourhood doors spreading the Jehovah word. Successfully I should add—she held her congregation’s highest door-knock conversation rate. (I believe this had something to do with the fact she looked exactly like Kerry Washington from Scandal.)
Besides the ban on Christmas and birthday celebrations, and the refusal of blood transfusions, the only other thing Destiny told me is that she wasn’t supposed to socialise with wordly persons AKA me. In fact, chapter five of The Watchtower Bible; “How to Keep Separate From the World”, is essentially a guide on how to effectively reject non-JW society:
Can the spirit of the world take root in your mind and heart? Yes, but only if you let it do so by lowering your guard. Its influence often begins subtly, perhaps by way of associates who may appear to be good people but, in fact, have no love for Jehovah. You can also absorb that evil spirit through objectionable literature, pornographic or apostate Internet sites, unwholesome entertainment, and highly competitive sports—really, through anyone or anything that conveys the thinking of Satan or his system.
—Chapter 5, The Watchtower Bible.
Last weekend’s Keep Seeking First God’s Kingdom International Convention held in Melbourne seemed like the perfect opportunity to join the insular Jehovah’s Witness world, even if just for a few hours.
I walked straight into Etihad stadium packed with close to 70,000 attendees and began meeting people and taking their photos. I was quickly approached by fluro-vest wearing staff who politely asked if I would mind having a JW media rep join me.
My guide was Aaron from Tamworth, NSW. Aaron is a full-time carpenter and part-time minister who attended the convention with his wife and 5 year-old daughter. Friendly and open to any question, Aaron explained that this year’s convention was rather special and exciting as, according to their beliefs, it marks 100 years since Jesus Christ began ruling God’s Kingdom in 1914.
Aaron took me through the Korean and Vietnamese convention rooms where children in spectacular national dress played on iPads as their parents and grandparents sat in groups listening to live translations of the sermons.
Before lunch I meet Breanna (that's her on the right, standing with another attendee) who had travelled with her family from Maryland, USA. Dressed in a splashy canary yellow twinset and armed with a professional Nikon DSLR, we talked color blocking, cameras, and swapped cards. Breanna’s card slayed mine, with a full color family portrait on one side and JW convention details, church logo, and her details on the back.
Over the next three hours I met JWs from Austria, The Caribbean, Norway, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, China, and beyond. Not once throughout the day was I asked about religion, my own beliefs, or handed any JW literature. Aaron seemed hyped that I was taking portraits of individuals instead of typical stadium shots with ministers and a faceless sea of people under fluorescents. All in all it was a pretty enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.
Oh and I also got schooled in some JW lexicon:
- Non JWs are referred to as Worldly Persons (makes sense)
- Persons who reject the JW message are called Goats (G.O.A.TS, makes sense)
- Armageddon is God's judgment on all non JWs (okay...)
- JWs don’t say church, it’s Kingdom Hall
- Every other religion is referred to as Babylon the Great
Text & Images by Courtney D read the entire article up on Vice.
On the main floor there were a lot of old white guys delivering sleep-inducing symposiums discussing things like, “A World Without Satan” and “Who Will Not Inherit God’s Kingdom?” (FYI it’s sexually immoral people, idolaters, and greedy people who will be disinherited by the Man Upstairs). But the real action was happening in the corridors and stairwells of the stadium with the international contingent socialising, having reunions, and taking selfies. The atmosphere was one of joy and every brother and sister Aaron approached for a photo and a chat was only too happy to discuss what they were wearing and how much they were loving Australia.