I generally avoid using terms such as mind control cult when talking about Jehovah’s Witnesses, but every so often the writers of the Watchtower publish something that makes it hard not to. Although I was a Jehovah’s Witness for over two decades and have been out now for over a dozen years, it still amazes me the degree to which Witness leadership seeks to exercise control over their followers.
The November 15, 2009 Watchtower study article (page 6 par 19) contains an example of this:
When we are being represented in public prayer, we need to display reverential “fear of God.” (1 Pet 2:17) There may be a proper time and place for some actions that would be inappropriate at a Christian meeting.(Eccl 3:1) For instance, suppose someone sought to have all in a group link arms or hold hands during prayer. This might offend or distract some, including visitors who do not share our beliefs. Some marriage mates might discreetly hold hands, but if they embraced each other during public prayer, those who got a glimpse of such conduct might be stumbled. They might think or get the impression that the couple was focusing on their romantic relationship instead of reverence for Jehovah. Out of deep respect for him, let us therefore “do all things for God’s glory” and avoid conduct that could distract, shock or stumble anyone.- 1 Cor 10:31,32; 2 Cor 6:3.
The first step to understanding this paragraph is grasping the concept of “being represented in prayer.” Not all Jehovah’s Witnesses are allowed to pray at meetings. Only “spiritually mature” men are allowed to open or close meetings with prayer lest some spiritually less mature man (or God forbid, a woman) might say something not in keeping with current Witness teaching or something that is otherwise inappropriate.
The idea of being stumbled over one thing or other is a common theme in Jehovah’s Witness teaching and culture. Jehovah’s Witness leadership take perfectly valid warnings about stumbling from Jesus and Paul and effectively employ them to their own ends. If they want to prevent the rank and file Witness from engaging in some practice or from adopting some form of dress or grooming, all they have to do is mention that someone might be stumbled over it. By doing that, they implicitly give permission for all Jehovah’s Witnessnes to be stumbled over it. At that point all the true Witnesses will refrain from that behavior.
By doing it that way they have effectively banned the practice or mode of dress without doing so explicitly. They have avoided the appearance of a mind control cult while exercising the same amount of control over their followers as would any cult.