Jehovah's Witnesses have said "the end" is "very soon" for more than a century

CultNews Summary of "Christ is returning, but maybe not next year, Witnesses say, by David Briggs, Charlotte Observer, August 14, 1999

Delecia Wilcox, 45, believes Jesus will one day rule over a paradise Earth free of wickedness and death within her lifetime and so does 75-year-old Louise Bell.

Angelo Natali, 72, also insists that this new world order is imminent and millions living now will never die.

All three are Jehovah's Witnesses, an organization known for repeatedly forecasting "the end," an activity that has proven to be a useful tool when recruiting new members. Many Witnesses seem fearful of being found unprepared for "the end," like someone caught uninsured in a car crash.

Jehovah's Witnesses have survived as an organization despite numerous failed dates set through its past prophecies, which predicted an immediate end of the world. Nevertheless its founders built their religious kingdom largely based upon such fruitless claims.

Hundreds of thousands of Witnesses routinely get together to discuss "bible prophecy" at regular regional district conventions, assemblies and/or conferences. But today Witnesses are reluctant to set specific dates for the end.

"Everyone believes it's going to happen in our lifetime," said Donald Madzay, an elder in the Brunswick West congregation in Cleveland at one regional convention. "We believe it could happen any day. So we live that way, as if it could happen tomorrow," he advises.

Witnesses seem to live in world filled with fear and suspicion, seeing almost anything as a potential a sign of the end.

"Look, now is the day of salvation," proclaimed a sign above the speaker's podium at the Kingdom Hall in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

Jehovah's Witness have as many as five meetings a week and some members volunteer 50 hours a month or more going door-to-door recruiting for the group. All this is rationalized by a sense of urgency brought about largely by the group's prophecies, which often seems to create a crisis mentality amongst its adherents.

Gail Gordon, 46, spends 70 to 80 hours a month recruiting. She feels an urgent need to save others from some claimed future destruction, which apparently includes all non-believers outside the Witnesses.

"It's like being in a burning house. You certainly would appreciate someone waking you up," says Gordon.

Charles Taze Russell was the founder of Jehovah's Witnesses. He claimed that Jesus would return in 1874 and that Armageddon would commence in 1914.

Russell later told his followers that this timetable had somehow been reset to 1918.

A popular slogan amongst Witnesses was, "Millions now living will never die."

But that didn't include Russell who died in 1916.

"Judge" Joseph P. Rutherford then succeeded Russell as the organization's absolute ruler and quickly began to manufacture his own prophecies. Rutherford said that the "full restoration" of humanity would occur in 1925.

Other failed dates set by Witnesses through prophecies have included 1941, 1954 and 1975.

Witnesses repeatedly adjusted such teachings. Now they say in 1914 Jesus did establish his kingdom, but in heaven, where it cannot be seen by earthly mortals. And they currently appear to discourage any fixed dates for their prophecies.

In a 1995 Awake Magazine, which is an official Witness publication, the claim was still made that this world would not pass away before the generation alive in 1914 dies out.

One observer commented, "What's happened in recent years is they've sort of fuzzified this kind of stuff."

But all these predictions and the conversions they generated have paid off for the Witnesses.

Jehovah's Witnesses claim a worldwide membership of nearly 6 million and reportedly 1,040,000 in the US alone.

Some experts say that the failed prophecies actually may have made the organization stronger "by separating the chaff from the wheat, the true believers from the hangers-on, and thereby reinforced in-group cohesion."

Devout Witness Hugh Kidd, 51, seems to confirm this observation. He insisted at a recent conference, "Very soon, God's kingdom will take effect on Earth."

However, "very soon" has been the refrain of Jehovah's Witnesses for more than a century.

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