The Not So Good Samaritan

“‘Who of these three seems to you to have made himself neighbor to the man who fell victim to the robbers?’ He said: ‘The one who acted mercifully toward him.’ Jesus then said to him: ‘Go and do the same yourself.'” – Luke 10:36-37 – New World Translation

I feel it is only fair that I start my post by stating that although I am an ex-Jehovah’s Witness, I am not a Christian.  In fact, I am an agnostic atheist.  The point of my post today is not to examine whether or not the God of the Bible exists, or to discuss if Jesus was a historical figure.  I’m looking at Christianity from the perspective of what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe.  They certainly believe that they are the only true Christians on earth today.  Whether or not someone belives in God or the Bible the majority of people would, no doubt, describe a true Christian as someone who lives by the ethics laid out by Jesus in the Bible.   Here I will examine one aspect of Jesus’ teachings in relation to Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Balthasar_van_Cortbemde_-_The_Good_Samaritan
The Good Samaritan[10]
As part of his teaching, Jesus often used parables[1] to explain his ideas.  One of the most famous of these, the terminology of which has even made it into everyday vernacular in many countries, is the parable of The Good Samaritan.

Jehovah’s Witnesses like to use the parable of the Samaritan in a very specific way, i.e. they use it as a way of promoting fellowship within the organisation with different people, perhaps those who are from other backgrounds or those with whom they have less in common.

“Jesus gave this parable in answer to the question: ‘Who really is my neighbor?’ (Lu 10:25-29) He knew that the Christian congregation would come to be made up of ‘all sorts of’ people​—including Samaritans and Gentiles. (Joh 12:32) This parable taught his followers that they should go out of their way to show love to others, even those who may be very different from them.

“ASK YOURSELF:

    • ‘How do I feel about brothers and sisters who are from different cultures?’
    • ‘Do I spend time mainly with those I have things in common with?’
    • ‘Could I open my heart wide by getting better acquainted with fellow Christians who have a different background?’ (2Co 6:13)

“Whom can I invite to . . .

    • work with me in the ministry?
    • come to my home for a meal?
    • join my family for our next Family Worship evening?”[2]
jw samaritan
Is this really what it means to be a “Good Samaritan”?

Personally, I find this interpretation very narrow and also very self-serving of the organisation.  They restrict the message to apply to only those within the Jehovah’s Witness organisation.  At times they claim that this isn’t the case:

“Like the neighborly Samaritan in Jesus’ illustration, we want to help suffering people, including those who are not Witnesses. (Luke 10:33-37) The best way to do so is by sharing the good news with them. ‘It is important to make clear right away that we are Jehovah’s Witnesses and that our primary mission is to help them spiritually, not materially,’ notes an elder who has helped many refugees. ‘Otherwise, some may associate with us only for personal advantage.'”[3]

But it is clear from this quote that the assistance offered is “sharing the good news with them”.

The Watchtower organisation aparently ignores the question that Jesus answered by using this parable, namely “Who really is my neighbour?”  He wasn’t answering the question, “who is my brother?” He was specifically talking about those who are from a different cultural and religious background.  It is usually accepted by most people who aren’t Jehovah’s Witnesses that being a “good Samaritan” is about extending support to those who are strangers:

“Some Christians, such as Augustine[4], have interpreted the parable allegorically, with the Samaritan representing Jesus Christ, who saves the sinful soul. Others, however, discount this allegory as unrelated to the parable’s original meaning and see the parable as exemplifying the ethics of Jesus.

The parable has inspired painting, sculpture, satire, poetry, and film. The colloquial phrase ‘good Samaritan’, meaning someone who helps a stranger, derives from this parable, and many hospitals and charitable organizations are named after the Good Samaritan.”[5]

cached.imagescaler.hbpl.co.uk
Logo of the UK Samaritans a non-religious charitable organisation offering support to distressed individuals[11]
If someone isn’t a Jehovah’s Witness, help is not available to them from the Watchtower organisation other than to offer them a Bible study.  There is no assistance on offer even in times of crisis or emergency.  Aparently according to the Watchtower organisation, Jesus only wanted people to offer spiritual help, rather than practical help.  Although, I think the parable is fairly clear that this isn’t the case.

Another reason that the Watchtower organisation gives that they won’t offer physical assistance to anyone other than Jehovah’s Witnesses in time of great need, such as during a natural disaster or local crisis, is that they don’t want to be seen to encourage what are referred to as “rice Christians”.[6]  This pejorative term refers to:

“a convert to Christianity who accepts baptism not on the basis of personal conviction but out of a desire for food, medical services, or other benefit”[7]

The position of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is summed up by a missionary serving in Cambodia:

“‘When a country like Cambodia opens up, you get greater freedoms to operate,’ said Vernon Elvish, a missionary with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who arrived here in 1992.

“‘In one way that’s a good thing, but then you can also get the bad side of that freedom coming in,’ he said, adding that rumours of exploitation were hard to verify, but taken seriously.

“‘We’re very conscious of making “rice Christians”,’ he said, referring to those who change religions on a material incentive. ‘Our organisation is purely a religious organisation…. We don’t even teach English here, so if they want to become a Jehovah’s Witness, it’s because they want to become a Jehovah’s Witness, not because they’re getting any material benefit out of it.'”[8]

humanitarian-aid-939723_1280
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not offer humanitarian aid to non-Jehovah’s Witnesses

I have no problem with Jehovah’s Witnesses or other missionary organisations separating their preaching work from offering physical aid to those in distress.  In fact, this is preferable. It is true that historically large numbers of people became nominal “Christians” in order to obtain physical assistance.  But surely the problem isn’t that they received physical support, it was that in order for those most in need to receive aid they were required to become “Christian”?  Not that the aid was given in of itself.  This was even recognised by the World Council of Churches:

“..Acts of service, such as providing education, health care, relief services and acts of justice and advocacy are an integral part of witnessing to the gospel. The exploitation of situations of poverty and need has no place in Christian outreach. Christians should denounce and refrain from offering all forms of allurements, including financial incentives and rewards, in their acts of service.”[9]

As noted, it isn’t the “act of service” itself which is problematic or unchristian, rather the “exploitation” of these acts in order to create new converts.

matt-collamer-555626-unsplash
Helping others – something any right minded person should do

But as usual the Jehovah’s Witnesses have taken things even further to exclude providing any sort of charitable assistance to people who are not already Witnesses.  This is even though they are registered as a charitable organisation.

Even if I suspend my dislike of the intense proselytising carried out by the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their insistance that everyone who isn’t a Witness is under the influence of “Satan”, I can’t in any way equate their interpretation of the parable of “The Good Samaritan” as “Christian”.  They neither extend physical assistance to those who aren’t brothers nor refrain from very vocally condeming non-Jehovah’s Witnesses as being “satanic”.

In conclusion, I don’t believe that anyone should need to wait for their religion to tell them that it is OK to offer support and practical help to those in need.  Surely it is the human and empathetic thing to do no matter your beliefs or non-beliefs.  The narrow interpretation of the Bible that the Watchtower organisation consistently adopts, only seems to serve their own narrative of “us versus them”, rather than opening them up to carrying out works of charity to all of those who may need them.  By their teachings they instruct their members to actively avoid offering assistance to those who may be in dire need.  Do you think this is what was being taught by the parable of The Good Samaritan?  I don’t.

Thank you for reading my blog.

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[1] https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/parable
parable – noun – uk /ˈpær.ə.bəl/ us /ˈper.ə.bəl/
a short, simple story that teaches or explains an idea, especially a moral or religious idea
[2] Life and Ministry Meeting Workbook – July 2018 – Treasures from God’s Word (Luke 10-11)
[3] The Watchtower—Study Edition – May 2017 – Helping “Foreign Residents” to “Serve Jehovah With Rejoicing”
[4] It is interesting to note, that although the Jehovah’s Witnesses like to portray themselves as separate to other Christian churches, their theology has a lot in common with Protestantism:
“Many Protestants, especially Calvinists and Lutherans, consider him to be one of the theological fathers of the Protestant Reformation due to his teachings on salvation and divine grace. Lutherans, and Martin Luther in particular, have held Augustine in preeminence (after the Bible and St. Paul). Luther himself was, from 1505 to 1521, a member of the Order of the Augustinian Eremites.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augustine_of_Hippo
[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_Good_Samaritan
[6] https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/rice_christian
rice Christian – noun – derogatory
A person, especially one from South or South-East Asia, who adopts Christianity for material benefits.
Origin – Mid 18th century; earliest use found in John Henry Grose (1732–?1774), East India Company servant and writer on India. After Portuguese Cristão de arroz.

 

[7] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rice%20Christian
[8] Proselytising amid the poverty – Phnom Penh Post – https://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/proselytising-amid-poverty
[9] Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct a document issued by the World Council of Churches in 2011
[10] The Good Samaritan by Balthasar Van Cortbemde – Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp.
[11] https://www.samaritans.org/

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