How Race Affects Your Position In The Kingdom Hall

a personal testimony

the author wishes to remain anonymous

My first formal contact with Jehovah's Witnesses was in the winter of 1970 while I was at home recovering from an organ transplant. I had just finished my second year of college. My college friends had abandoned me now that I could no longer run with them. My best friend from high school and his brothers stopped by one day to pay me a visit. One of his brothers asked me what I thought about one day being able to live without a physical disability. He suggested that I have a Bible study so that I could learn more about God's promise of a new earth where all sicknesses and even death would be removed. Since I had a lot of free time on my hands during my recovery period, and the thought of living without a physical disability was interesting, I accepted the invitation for a Bible study. A Bible study was arranged. My Bible study was in the "Truth" book. With plenty of free time on my hands while recovering from surgery, I read the "Truth" book in about 3 days, and requested more literature to read.

My previous religious experience was with the Church of Christ when I was a child. I was never baptized in that religion, and only went because my parents sent me to church. The only thing I remember about the Church of Christ is their social rules against dancing and music in the church. Many of the young people viewed the church as a social gathering place to show off their new clothes, or to brag about their material possessions. I stopped going to church when I started college.

I was able to make rapid progress in my Bible study since I hadn't been heavily indoctrinated with other religious beliefs. After about two weeks of Bible study I was invited to attend the meetings at the Kingdom Hall. I was a bit reluctant to attend at first since I had always been a very shy, private person. But my friend and his brothers assured me that I would be welcomed at the Kingdom Hall, and that everybody was friendly. I had no real social life since my college friends had abandoned me. So I accepted the invitation to attend the Kingdom Hall.

It was true, the people at the Kingdom Hall did indeed welcome me with open arms. The Kingdom Hall was predominately black, with only two white families present. Many seemed truly concerned and sincere about my recent surgery. I decided to return for another meeting since the first was okay. Well, I went to another meeting, and another until it was assumed that I would be going to every meeting on a regular basis. Because I couldn't drive, the family of the brother studying with me would pick me up, along with their large family. I also rode with them to all of the assemblies.

Everything was fine for a while. At first the friends were very warm and friendly. But, as we got to know each other, things began to change. Some people were openly shocked when they learned that I had an organ transplant (they felt it was akin to cannibalism). Others openly called me an educated fool for having wasted my time going to college. I was even accused by some of thinking I was better than them because I had gone to college and was articulate, and others went out of their way to correct or straighten me out for any mistakes I made. Some even thought that I was freeloading and lazy because I didn't have a job or car. This attitude prevailed even after I went back to work after my recovery (which was not 100%).

 

The Social Life

Even though most of the friends at the Kingdom Hall were very friendly, my natural shyness kept me from developing a lot of close personal friendships. And, despite having been in the "world" until I started studying the "Truth" at age 2_, I was a little bit naive. I saw mostly the good in people. Thus it was a shock to discover that once I got to know most of the Jehovah's Witnesses at the Kingdom Hall, I discovered they would gossip about each other. Some even wondered if I was "funny" because I was single, considered a good catch, but didn't seem interested in the sisters who pursued me.

I did eventually became engaged to a sister who lived out-of-town. I was still studying when I met her, and she kept our friendship secret from her parents for several weeks. When I finally met her parents at a wedding rehearsal for her sister, her father kindly informed me that he could not allow his daughter to see me or talk to me until I was baptized. I was reminded that dating was a very serious matter, only for those who planned on getting married. Since I was to be baptized in several months, we found ways to keep in touch.

I was baptized in 197_, and saw her again at a wedding that year. Our relationship resumed anew. I had been told that the average JW girl wouldn't allow you to hold hands until you had been dating for several weeks, and not to expect a kiss until several months. Well, that girl almost devoured me every time we were alone. I was also naive enough to believe that love and the "Truth" would conquer any problems between two Jehovah's Witnesses.

The first thought out of her daddy's mouth when I asked him for her hand in marriage was, "You will have to earn more money to support my daughter in the lifestyle she is use to." I had returned to work but was working part-time until a full-time position became available. I was hired under a city government handicap hiring program. I felt fortunate to have a job at all.

My fiancée and her father thought that I felt I was too good to do physical labor since I had been to college. As hard as I tried, I could not find a job at a "good-paying" factory. No one was willing to hire a person who was a safety risk. Finally, the arguments about my income and my incentive to do physical labor caused us to end our engagement.

Despite my broken engagement, I was still a "good catch." There were sisters who didn't care how much money I made, or if I could drive. Three years later I married a sister who also lived out-of-town. I only dated sisters away from my town because I had this thing about dating sisters from the local Kingdom Halls. Everybody was into your business, and if the relationship didn't work out, the Kingdom Hall was divided on who was responsible for the breakup.

My wife and I moved to a newly-built Kingdom Hall in a predominately white, middle- income neighborhood. There were only a few black families at the Kingdom Hall, and I can still count on two hands the number of blacks we encountered in field service in our territory. I later learned that the congregation we were attending had split from another congregation, and that the majority of the Jehovah's Witnesses formed the new Kingdom Hall to get away from the blacks from the original congregation.

My brief stay at that Kingdom Hall was a modified hell on earth. I can remember several occasions after the meetings when a group of friends would be together talking, and a brother would walk up and invite everyone in the group except the blacks to eat lunch or join in a outing. This happened too many times to pass off as an occasional oversight. I can remember having the Theocratic School Overseer publicly counsel me for "haughtiness," and for relying on "worldly education" after I had a part on the Kingdom Ministry School. Yet, never offer the same counsel to the few college-educated whites at the Hall. I remember once in service when a householder told me to get away from his door because he didn't like N*****. The brother with me didn't say or do anything to ease my hurt. Most often, all of the blacks would be assigned a car group of their own, and be sent into the rural territory.

I was given the assignment of arranging the guest speakers for our Kingdom Hall. I tried to balance the speakers by inviting black speakers. I was removed from that responsibility after we had six black speakers to come to the Kingdom Hall in a two-month period. Most were good speakers, better than the speakers from our Kingdom Hall. None of the black brothers at the Kingdom Hall were appointed as Ministerial Servants or Elders despite excellent service records, good teaching and speaking skills. All of the black friends had to work, thus there were no black pioneer sisters. Many of the white brothers were self-employed and had prosperous businesses. They dressed better, drove nicer cars, had better homes, and generally had a better lifestyle than the blacks. But the black friends weren't envious or jealous of the whites. We truly believed that because we were Jehovah's Witnesses we were all equal. We just wanted to be accepted as peers. Invite us to dinner! If we couldn't afford to go at that time, maybe we would be able to another time. Let us ride with you in your car in field service, and you ride in our car sometimes. Invite us to dinner at your house, and accept our invitation to dinner at our house.

Don't get me wrong, not all of the whites at that Kingdom Hall treated the blacks as I have described. There were a small number of whites who showed no obvious signs of discrimination. There were some whites who tried very hard to overcome their prejudices against blacks. We were invited to several homes for dinner, to some get-togethers, etc... But the actions of the majority took its toll on most of the blacks at the Kingdom Hall. One by one, the black families started moving away. By the time we left the Kingdom Hall there were only two black families left. A few months later at a Circuit Assembly we ran into a couple of the elders from the old Kingdom Hall while eating lunch at a downtown restaurant. They came to our table and offered an apology for the way we had been treated. I played ignorant. But one of the elders asked me to not make it hard on them. They had asked the two remaining black families why the other black families had left. The elders learned that the reason was because of the racist attitude that was prevalent at the Kingdom Hall. The elders said that they were learning from the way the blacks had been treated. Since we were still in the same Circuit, I saw many of those white friends for a number of years. I believe that most of them had truly learned their lesson and were now genuinely respectable to blacks.

Funny, that area of town has grown from mostly rural farmland to the largest subdivision in the county. Blacks, Asians, and other minorities have moved into the area en masse. That Kingdom Hall had to learn how to deal with minorities. Unfortunately, the experiences at that Kingdom Hall had a negative impact on the original black families at the Kingdom Hall. It shaped my current belief that most Jehovah's Witnesses have some inward racial attitudes despite any outward sign of racial acceptance.

After leaving that predominately white Kingdom Hall we moved across town to a racially-mixed part of town to a Kingdom Hall that was racially-mixed, but predominately black. I had several friends there and we were welcomed with open arms. Some of the whites at the Kingdom Hall had interracial marriages in their families. The racial attitude there was a complete 180 degree turn-around.

We quickly fit in with the friends and had a wonderful spiritual and social life. It was nice to see black faces at the door, and even the whites in the territory were used to seeing black Witnesses at their door. We enjoyed being asked out to dinner and to get-togethers on a regularly basis. Within two years I was appointed as a Ministerial Servant, and was quickly put to use giving talks at home and away; and assigned to be the congregational Literature Servant.

Life was good for a while. But, I soon learned that jealousy, ignorance, and intolerance are not limited to a particular race. There were friends at the new Kingdom Hall who couldn't understand why I didn't drive, or was able perform certain assignments at the Kingdom Hall, but could play basketball with the brothers. I never shirked my duties as Literature Servant, never turned down a public talk or an assignment for the school or service meeting.

I also learned that gossip wasn't limited to one race. It seemed that once you got in good with the friends at a Kingdom Hall, you soon found cliques. Each clique had it's own gossip agenda. I stayed away from the gossip and didn't let it bother me too much. But my wife let the gossiping get to her.

After being at the new Kingdom Hall a couple of years I decided to return to college. I had the blessing of the Presiding Overseer, who was a very young, intelligent elder, and a good friend. He often lamented the fact that he hadn't gone to college. He was one of few friends at the Kingdom Hall who could carry on an intelligent conversation about subjects other than spiritual. He would adjust my assignments based on my work/school schedule. Occasionally, I would miss some meetings, and I had to take a Saturday class one semester. Eventually, the friends found out I was in college.

My wife started to receive nosey questions from the sisters about why I was going to college, what was I going to do when I got out, how could we afford to send me to college, and so on. Some of the elders approached me about the subject and kindly tried to remind me of the foolishness of pursuing a college education so close to the "time of the end." Some tried to get the Presiding Overseer to remove me or to limit my assignments because I was setting a bad example for the young people in the congregation. But, my friend the Presiding Overseer stood by me, and let them know that I wasn't missing any more meeting that others at the Kingdom Hall, that I was in service as much or more than most of the servant body, and wasn't interjecting any false teachings into the meeting parts.

One of my required class was Religious Studies. Each student had to pick a major religion and debate its merits and relevance to society. Naturally, I chose the Jehovah's Witnesses. Since I was the only Witnesses in the class, I had to singularly defend my beliefs. The class threw some questions at me that I couldn't adequately answer. I realized at that moment that without one of the Society's publications in hand as a reference, I didn't know much about my own faith nor could I explain my faith. I started to watch most of the friends at the Kingdom Hall while in service and discovered that most of them were helpless to answer questions about their faith without some reference book or relying on a nearby elder.

I had some doubts from the very beginning of my studying to become a Jehovah's Witnesses but I had overlooked them because of the fellowship offered. And, now that I had married a Witness I felt an obligation to remain a Witness for her sake and not question the "Truth."

However, I later started to research and read any material I could find about Jehovah's Witnesses. This was the mid-70's and the only way you could find anything out about Jehovah's Witnesses was to look in the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature or some other indexing service, and the card catalog at the local library. I did this on a regular basis and found enough material to support my belief that Jehovah's Witnesses weren't what they claimed.

As our married years progressed I discovered that my wife was very jealous. I honestly can say that I didn't purposefully give her any reason to be jealous. I later learned that one of the reasons she was jealous was that she feared that I would meet an "educated" woman in college and leave her. Her jealousy was later directed to the more educated, intelligent sisters at the Kingdom Hall. We had a number of minor arguments about her jealousy over the following years. I warned my wife that her jealousy could have disastrous results on our marriage. One of her jealous episodes led to a confrontation with another sister, who told her family, and they told others at the Hall about the situation. This incident sent my wife into a spiritual decline that eventually led to her committing immorality and being disfellowshipped for several years. Without realizing it at the time, it also destroyed most of the love I had for my wife.

Jehovah's Witnesses pride themselves on their racial tolerance. You will find a lot of racially-mixed Kingdom Halls and see a lot of racially-mixed marriages. But, a lot of the Witnesses privately don't approve of such marriages. A black brother and a white sister had to be married in a gym because the elder body refused to allow the marriage at the Kingdom Hall. Many black brothers seek white sisters because they most likely wouldn't be able to attract a world white woman. Some black sisters married to white brothers have commented that the black brothers weren't good enough for them. Before I was married I had asked a white sister to introduce me to some sisters at her Kingdom Hall. She kindly informed me that there were no black sisters at her hall (I asked to meet some sisters, I didn't specify black or white.) I see nothing wrong with interracial marriage as long as the couple married because they were truly in love, not because of an imagined status symbol.

The Final Years

Despite my wife's jealous attacks and the negative comments from the friends, I graduated college after years of working full-time and attending college part-time. I missed very few meetings during that period and was out in service as much or more as the rest of the servant body. A college education hadn't changed me. In fact, I usually put myself in check when giving public talks or on meeting parts. I would tone down my vocabulary, and would often play dumb so as not to appear to be an "educated fool."

It is funny though, the rest of the servant body, and 99% of the congregation only had a high school education or less. Yet, it was they who would most often give talks using "big" words that they couldn't pronounce and used incorrectly. And they would make snide remarks about a college education in their talks, meeting parts, and in their comments from the floor. Another thing that I found hard to understand was that the black friends were eager to accept a college-educated white Witness but not a black Witness. A college-educated white Witness started coming to our Kingdom Hall and the black friends embraced him without reserve. I never heard any gossip about him being a educated fool. No, I'm not being jealous. I'm stating the facts as I saw them. Some of the friends even though that the two of us were in competition. To some extent we were. The quality of our talks became better, and we often collaborated on ways to improve the various service departments at the Kingdom Hall. It was just like sports to me -- your basketball game gets better when you play tougher competition.

As I welcomed the decade of the 80's, I had a second organ transplant. The Governing Body had earlier reversed its opinion on transplants being considered a form of cannibalism. It had now been 10 years since my first organ transplant. The transplant surgery was moderately successful. I would have had a greater chance of success if I hadn't had to wait so long between transplants.

I also became a father in 198_. A beautiful baby girl was born that year. As she grew up she made good grades in school. My wife would often comment what a shame it would be for our daughter to waste getting a good education and not be allowed to further it by going to college. We had decided that if our daughter wanted to go to college we would support her decision. My wife has always felt ashamed that she didn't get a good high school education. So she wanted our kids to have a better education than she had. Still, it was ironic, but every time we had an argument, she would accuse me of thinking I was a know-it-all because I went to college. I was in a no-win situation.

Over the next several years I led a typical Witness life. I went to the meetings, went out in field service, gave talks and handled meeting parts despite my ever-growing skepticism about the "Truth." I continued to do independent study about the WTBTS and learned much. I once gave a talk (hypocritically) about how we should wholeheartedly trust the teachings of the Governing Body, and using the expulsion of members of the Governing Body during the "Great Apostate" purge as an example. Then, I discovered Ray Franz and his works. His books confirmed all of my suspicions and proved that the conclusions I had formed from my independent study were correct.

I later discovered that other Jehovah's Witnesses in my area had come across Ray's works and had discretely given the books to friends they could trust. A number of them became inactive, but none disassociated themselves. During this period my wife was still very active in the ministry, our daughter was now in elementary school, and we were expecting another child. There was more pressure on me to stay and act a JW than to leave. In the midst of this turmoil I was appointed an elder. I did not actively campaign to be an elder. I was just going through the motions. I wondered at my appointment -- it seems that just about anyone who "appears" to be dedicated and theocratic could be appointed a servant.

This was a very difficult time in my life. I was used on meeting parts regularly, gave public talks a least once every two months, and conducted a congregational book study. I had to watch what I said in fear that I would show my own doubts. I had to constantly put up a good front.

I learned a lot of things about the "Truth" as an elder. The first was the elder's handbook. You were to never let anyone see it, not even members of your family. Never leave it anywhere another Witness could pick it up, or a worldly person could steal it. This book was second in importance only to the Bible. Yet, I saw very few experienced elders use it in judicial meetings, or on shepherding calls.

I also learned that most Jehovah's Witnesses consider being an elder as some sort of status symbol, and associated an elder as being a power broker. I was now in that elite fraternity. My wife could proudly tell people that her husband was an elder. You were always well-fed when giving talks when visiting another Kingdom Hall. The friends at the Kingdom Hall you visited would either feed you at their homes or take you out to eat. Your former Ministerial Servant buddies now looked at you differently, often shying away from you now that you had a higher status than them. It is easy to see why some elders would learn to abuse their position.

I noticed that very few Witnesses actually listen to and followed the counsel of an elder. They would pick and choose what best suited them. I can't count the number of times I had to help one couple deal with their marital problems. The wife was smarter than the husband, and would not be totally submissive to his headship in raising their children. No amount of counsel would work for either of them. Eventually, the husband was disfellowshipped. Later, the wife was reproved for the same offense. Their children gave them much grief.

I learned how a strong-willed elder can brow-beat the congregation to do his will, and how the rest of the elder body would be afraid to stand up against him in the elder's meetings. Not all elders are like this, and there are many well-meaning elders in the "Truth." But one bad apple can spoil a barrel.

We moved to another congregation in 199_. This congregation was also racially mixed. However, the elder body was primarily white and elderly. The friends were very friendly. I was appointed to handle a service position that I had little experience in. My wife viewed this as an opportunity for a fresh start, to get away from the cliques and gossiping at our old Kingdom Hall.

Although I hadn't been an elder for very long, but I had been giving talks for almost 10 years. I was often commended for the good talks that I gave, and some even wondered since I was now an elder, when would I be invited to have a part on a Circuit assembly. I had noticed that basically the same brothers were used at each Circuit Assembly. So I decided to ask the Circuit Overseer what it would take for me to have a part on a Circuit Assembly. He told me that a brother needed years of experience as an elder. He also mentioned that he makes most of the choices and also relies on the recommendations of congregational Presiding Overseers in his circuit. I was told that parts are normally assigned 2-3 months in advance of the assembly.

Thus, it was a major surprise to a lot of longtime black elders to see a newly-appointed (2 weeks) white elder giving a talk at the next Circuit Assembly. To this day, many black friends in this circuit still ask how was this possible.

Until recently, there were few blacks used at the District Assemblies in our area. The situation has improved drastically. At the last District Assembly the black brothers give about 40% of the talks. I can still remember an incident that happened about 10 years ago. Our circuit at the time was 60% white, 40% black, but the white elders gave 80% of the talks at the Circuit Assembly. The brothers in the western half of the circuit asked the District Overseer to realign the circuits in our state. This realignment created a new circuit which was 70% black and 30% white, allowing the black brothers the chance to give the majority of the talks at the Circuit Assembly. A black Circuit Overseer or District Overseer is a rare breed, and I had only seen two. I have heard rumors of sightings of this very rare and unusual species.

My wife's jealousy, insecurity, and lack of self-esteem about her education eventually led her to commits immorality and be disfellowshipped. It was a total shock to me. Especially since me and another brother had recently discussed the subject of what we would do if our wives were ever disciplined. I had commented that I knew my wife would never do anything like this. Naturally, the brother reminded me of that conversation and my comments. I knew that our marriage wasn't perfect -- the jealousy was there, so were the arguments on both of our parts, and heated words were exchanged by both of us. But, I didn't think it was in that much trouble.

She was still going to all of the meetings, commenting and going out in service. She asked me to inform the elders of her wrongdoing. A judicial meeting was arranged. The elders met with her first, and then called me in for a conference. Based on my initial knowledge of the case as told by my wife, and my own previous experiences sitting on similar judicial meetings, I assured my wife that she would most likely be "publicly reproved." Their decision was to disfellowship. The elders asked me to remain an elder since I was not involved with or was considered a cause of her immorality. I received all of the customary words of encouragement from the friends, the expected invitations to gatherings so that my family could be spiritually strengthened, etc. Most were just mere words.

I later stepped down as an elder primarily because of health reasons. The stress of dealing with a disfellowshipped wife who wasn't making any progress in straightening out her life was taking a toll on me emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

Conclusion

After I stepped down as an elder I was often asked if I missed being an elder. The answer is NO! Who would miss all of the hard work involved with shepherding people who were suppose to be mature adults capable on making their own judgements? Who would want to spend hours rehearsing a generic talk prepared by a distant Governing Body that often had no relative value for your locale? Who would miss giving that talk, receiving compliments from the friend, only to see them ignoring the counsel given in the talk? Who would miss the power-broking of the elder body as they made decisions that impacted other peoples lives, often not having a clear understanding of the issues being considered?

Remaining a Jehovah's Witnesses with the knowledge I have gained about the Organization is taking a serious toll on my mental well-being. I still go to the meetings, but I don't prepare or comment. I go out in field service about once a month to stay "regular." I half-heartedly offer literature and never make "return calls" on anyone who accepts the literature. My wife and I can't have any type of discussion about my lack of interest in the "Truth" without her getting angry at me. She can't accept the fact that I no longer view Jehovah's Witnesses as being the "True" religion. She believes that my mind has been poisoned by some books I must have read, and won't allow me to share my new found knowledge with her. I will have a very serious decision to make about my marriage and remaining a Jehovah's Witness when the kids are grown and out of the house.


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