Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Tuesday, Jan. 23, 1996
By CARSON WALKER
Argus Leader Staff
Twenty-five years ago, Gary Busselman watched his wife, Delores, die of
leukemia. As Jehovah's Witnesses, the couple did not believe in
blood transfusions or a bone-marrow transplant that may have helped
her. Today, Busselman thinks the refusal of those medical procedures was
wrong and he wants to help others who may have experienced similar tragedies.
"At that time they forbade transplants. They called it cannibalism." he
said. "She died in 1971 and in 1980 they changed their rule and members
since then can get transplants."
"I don't know if she would have recovered with the transplant, but she
threw away a 50 percent chance. She deserved that chance, since nine years
after, they changed that rule. "Busselman left the Jehovah's Witnesses in
1974. Recently, he's been using newspaper ads and telephone answering
machine to find others who may have questions about Jehovah's Witnesses
doctrine. The response has been so heavy, that the church Busselman now
attends has decided to hold a forum to answer questions about Jehovah's
Witnesses' beliefs. Harvest Covenant Church, will hold a two-hour seminar
"We're not trying to persecute Kingdom Hall." the Rev. Steve Hickey, pastor
of Harvest Covenant, said about the hall where Jehovah's Witnesses meet.
"Based on the overwhelming response to the phone line we've decided to have
a forum. "Local Jehovah's Witnesses leaders would not respond to repeated
requests to discuss the denomination's doctrine or Busselman's concerns.
But Merton Campbell of the Jehovah's Witnesses headquarters in Brooklyn,
N.Y., said members never have been forbidden from seeking medical help.
Jehovah's /See 4A
Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 1996
"I've been a member since 1938. What (Busselman's) saying is not accurate,"
Campbell said. However, current literature from the Watchtower and Tract
Society, the Jehovah's Witnesses' corporate body, explains why the
organization does not allow blood transfusions. An article in a recent
issue of the Watchtower, the Jehovah's Witnesses' bimonthly publication on
doctrine, reads: "Jehovah's Witnesses stand out as unique and often receive
bad publicity because of their not accepting blood transfusions. This
position, however, is solidly based on the Bible. It shows that God
condemns the misuse of blood, since blood is
precious in his eyes.
"As a result of examining the scriptures on this subject. Jehovah's
Witnesses conclude that the Bible's directive to 'abstain from blood' would
clearly include the modern practice of transfusing blood."
Campbell would not discuss in detail questions about the Jehovah's
Witnesses' philosophy on medical treatment. "We're not doing anything in
secret. People have been going door-to-door since the 1800s and the
organization has grown fast over the last couple of years," he said. "When
I became an associate there were only 50.000 all around the world." Now the
United States has 956,346 members and there are 5,199,895 world-wide, he
said. In Sioux Falls, three congregations of witnesses meet several times a
week at Kingdom Hall, 4900 W. 49th St. Busselman estimates about 350
Opponents often use the media "to make trouble for Jehovah's Witnesses,"
Campbell said. "We don't have much argument with them. They have the right
to say what they want," he said. "With everything, there's always somebody
who gets unhappy and disagrees.''
Busselman, now 51, spent 23 years as a witness. He left after deciding that
the group's biblical interpretations and prophecies -- particularly those
predicting the end of the world -- were not Godly based, he
said. Busselman said he now helps other former witnesses and counsels
them on what he calls the shunning they receive when they leave the
One of the Watch Tower Society's rules bars members from associating
with former members -- a practice called "disfellowship," Busselman said.
Busselman's parents, brother and other relatives who are witnesses don't
speak to him, he said.
Campbell said the Bible talks about not mixing with fornicators "We
don't hate people. We hate what they do. When they do something morally
that disagrees with the Bible, then such persons who are totally
unrepentive are disfellowshipped," he said.
For Bill Pike of Sioux Falls, that disfellowship came at age 18 when he
started smoking. "According to them, I didn't show repentance," said Pike,
37 whose parents are still witnesses. "They got out Bibles and started
blasting me why I shouldn't be smoking. When I walked out the door, I was
no longer a member. I felt that God had thrown me away. "
Campbell said smoking is a practice worthy of disfellowship:
"Smoking would be something that defiles the body and we believe we
should not smoke. And anyone who's dedicated and baptized and wants to
carry on smoking, that's his business. He can't be one of the organization."
Another former member, Dennis White of Sioux Falls, 53, now leads a
Bible study at Harvest Covenant. He was a member from age 8 until about 12
years ago. He was disfellowshipped "for conduct unbecoming a Christian,"
but didn't elaborate on what that meant. Since then his mother, three
sisters and oldest son have shunned him, White said. "I felt lost and
abandoned by God," he said.
Deon Barlow of Sioux Falls, 38, said she was a Jehovah's Witness for
only 1 1/2 years. She was recruited by a woman who came to her door "and
caught me at a vulnerable time in my life." Barlow said she was abusing
alcohol and her ex-husband was abusing her. She divorced, went into alcohol
treatment, got the job Jehovah's Witnesses wanted her to -- working for
them -- and went door-to-door 60 hours a month. When Barlow found out her
brother was dying of AIDS, she asked to visit him. A church elder consented
but frowned on it.
"My brother was detestable in God's eyes because he was gay," she said
she was told. "So when I saw him, I treated him like dirt. To this day I
regret that." Her brother has since died.
When she returned home, the woman who had recruited her found her
drinking. The elders ruled the alcohol use and the visit to her brother
were evidence enough to disfellowship her.
When contacted by telephone, the leader of Kingdom Hall in Gordon, Neb.,
where Barlow lived at the time, said he was not interested in talking and
Power of attorney
Busselman, who supports his case with reams of the WatchTower and Tract
Society's writings, said he also is concerned about witnesses who give
power of attorney, or living will privileges, to church elders, instead of
non-witness family members.
Busselman, whose two oldest sons are witnesses, said by signing power of
attorney over to an elder, the individual gives the church leader the legal
right to deny a transfusion needed to survive.
"I would sit there and watch my son die," he said. "That's why I want to
educate the community...that you will be asked to shun your non-Jehovah's
Witnesses friends and relatives and your kids will die. This is serious.
"I (also) want to contact people who the Jehovah's Witnesses has cast
away. We have a support group and I want them to know there is support here
End of world
The foundation of Jehovah's Witnesses end-time philosophy is centered
around the year 1914. Early church leaders predicted the world would end
when that generation started. Since then, doctrine has indicated that the
end of the world would come "before the generation that saw the events of
1914 passes away."
A Nov. 8, 1994, publication of one of the Jehovah's Witnesses' magazines,
Awake, explains the significance of the year 1914.
"The fulfillment of Bible prophecy indicates that we have been living in
the times of the end since 1914. Jesus described this time as 'beginning
with pangs of distress.'... The fact that we are now 80 years beyond 1914
indicates that we can soon expect the deliverance that God's Kingdom will
bring." according to the magazine.
But ]ate last year -- one year after that prediction -- Jehovah's
Witnesses fine-tuned that prophecy.
The Nov, 1, 1995, issue of The .Watchtower explains that the church will
no longer focus on a specific date for Armageddon.
"We do not need to know the exact timing of events. Rather, our focus
must be on being watchful, cultivating strong faith, and keeping busy in
Jehovah's service -- not on calculating a date," The Watchtower stated.
The society's Campbell, reading from a written statement explaining the
change, said: "This is not a major change in the witnesses' theology. They
have always believed that the 'sign' began to be fulfilled in 1914 and that
the end of this 'system of things' is close; it is not delayed or put off."
Busselman disagrees: "They change these doctrines as I change T-shirts
-- as needed."
Many Christian denominations believe that God, through the Bible, asks
people not to spend time trying to figure out a date for the second
coming. "Jesus said no one knows the date or hour," Hickey said.
By changing the prophesied dates of Armageddon, shunning former members
and changing philosophies on what medical procedures are allowed, Jehovah's
Witnesses may have hurt people, Hickey said.
"A person would have been disfellowshipped by the JW elders six months
ago for believing what they are now calling 'truth' today." he said.
"It is another thing to vacillate on teaching about vaccinations, organ
transplants and blood transfusions. When these teachings don't pan out,
it's too late. People like Delores Busselman die."
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