Just as there are controversies and misconceptions surrounding the Jehovah's Witnesses faith, they also are surfacing about the documentary KNOCKING. Read on for the filmmakers’ responses to questions and criticisms that have arisen around the film.
Why doesn't KNOCKING challenge the theology and doctrine of Jehovah's Witnesses? For example, Jehovah's Witnesses claim to be Christian but they won't say that Jesus is God.
KNOCKING is not a film about theology. It is a film about people who are Jehovah's Witnesses; people with feelings, personalities, problems and successes like anyone else. KNOCKING follows two Jehovah's Witness families who both have unbelieving and opposing members. KNOCKING chronicles the story behind the extraordinary circumstances these families face because of their religious beliefs and differences. What they believe is not chronicled as much as how they behave. KNOCKING simply states the basic beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses without dissecting whether the Trinity (as taught by Catholics and Protestants and rejected by Jehovah's Witnesses), earthly or heavenly paradise, a common grave or fiery hell or any number of variations on Christian beliefs are "true" or not. Given the time limit of the PBS broadcast, it would be impossible to compare Witness beliefs to every Christian and non-Christian belief. Therefore, KNOCKING focuses only on what Jehovah's Witnesses believe. It is up to viewers to take that information and compare it to the myriad other faiths and belief systems that exist.
Is director Joel Engardio a “former” or “ex” Jehovah’s Witness?
Joel Engardio’s mother is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She raised Joel in the religion as a child, but Joel never joined as an adult. So he is not a former or ex member. Joel’s mother is the only Jehovah’s Witness in his largely Catholic family.
Given Joel Engardio’s background how can he tell an objective story?
The journalists’ creed is objectivity, but all journalists bring their own personal history to their reports. The fact Joel Engardio was raised as a Jehovah's Witness prompts two common reactions. Either: He never became a member so he can’t do a fair job. He must harbor some ill will or resentment and will do a negative “hit” piece. Or: His mother is still a Jehovah’s Witness, so he will do a promotional piece on Jehovah’s Witnesses to make his mother happy. Engardio rejects both scenarios. He brings to the film an insight and background that enables him to better understand Jehovah’s Witnesses, and portray that understanding in his work. At the same time, he shows both sides organic to the story. The two Jehovah’s Witnesses families featured in KNOCKING have members who are opposed to the religion and who express their view on camera.
What about claims on the Internet that Jehovah's Witnesses are responsible for thousands of deaths over refused blood transfusions—many of them innocent children?
KNOCKING deals intimately with the issue of Jehovah’s Witnesses refusing blood transfusions, and the film explicitly outlines the risks involved in such a decision. KNOCKING also interviews non-Witnesses who strongly object to the stand on blood made by their Witness family members. It would be inaccurate for the film to take the position that Witnesses’ children are dying because of the religion's stand on blood. State law in the U.S. is clear that Witness parents cannot refuse blood for their minor children if a doctor or hospital deems a blood transfusion is necessary to save the child's life. The aim of KNOCKING is to show all sides of the issue, which includes the information that new medical technology developed for Witnesses now benefits all patients regardless of religious belief. More than 140 hospitals in the U.S. now offer some form of bloodless surgery to all patients. This is an issue that is bigger than Witnesses and it is an issue that is transforming the health care landscape, which is why it is important that KNOCKING discusses it.
Are there historical documents that prove Jehovah’s Witness leadership wrote anti-Semitic letters to Hitler trying to gain favor during the Nazi regime?
A letter and legal petition written by the Jehovah's Witness leadership to Hitler in 1933, just as Hitler first came to power, do exist. These were an attempt by Witnesses to inform the German government that they were apolitical and not a threat to the Nazi regime, which in its infancy in 1933 was not the killing machine it would soon become. The action of the Witnesses from 1934 onward was a complete reversal of the language in their 1933 appeal to Hitler. Rabbi Michael Berenbaum (former director of the Research Institute at the U.S. Holocaust Museum) speaks at length on the KNOCKING DVD about this issue. The conclusion by Berenbaum and other notable Holocaust scholars that the 1933 letters are inconsequential when compared to what the Witnesses did from1934 onward, gave the producers of KNOCKING the confidence that the letters need not be mentioned in the film. But because they are an historical footnote, they are mentioned and discussed at length in the DVD extras.
What about news reports that Jehovah's Witnesses have molested children?
While it is impossible to expect nothing bad would happen in such a longstanding and large group as Jehovah’s Witnesses, it would be unfair to highlight a crime common in general society as unique to Jehovah's Witnesses. Child sexual abuse is a horrible problem in our society, especially when it happens in the trusted confines of any religious or social group. But this is a subject that would warrant an entire documentary in itself.
Isn't it hypocritical to make a film that says anything positive about a religion that does not allow actively gay members, since the producers are gay?
The producers of KNOCKING respect the fact that the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution guarantees religions the right to hold any belief, including the belief that homosexuality is wrong. But the producers also respect the fact that despite the Jehovah's Witnesses’ belief on homosexuality, the Witnesses are apolitical and adhere to a strict separation of Church and State. Witnesses do not support anti-gay legislation and would never protest or try to thwart the efforts of gay people to secure their own equal rights. In fact, in seeking their rights, Witnesses have won First Amendment cases that benefit groups with whom they disagree, including gay people. The point of KNOCKING is that all groups have the right to speak freely about what they believe—and live in peace under equal protection under the law—without resorting to legislating or forcing everyone to follow the same beliefs. Even if the producers don’t subscribe to the same belief system as Jehovah’s Witnesses, KNOCKING has uncovered why it is important for non-believers to take note of all the ways in which Jehovah’s Witnesses have intersected with civic life, and even contributed to a society more committed to personal liberties.
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Learn more about the beliefs and practices of Jehovah's Witnesses >>