My Flight In and Out of the Watchtower

by Jeff Kline
 
I was born a nothing. That is to say, my family had no religion. In my early years, I never heard my dad speak of God, nor my mom of Jesus. Grandpa K was a pipe smoking loner. 47 years in one company, and they noticed not that he retired. Grandma K, was I believe, a woman of faith, though it was the deep, abiding sort. She had a Bible on the end table in their modest home, but it was dusty whenever I had seen it, and I never saw it open. Grandpa had a garage that always housed a Studebaker, from right up the road at South Bend. The Hoosier Edsall.

Grandpa and Grandma W were imbibers, a little loud, and had lived paupers lives as far as I could determine for the most part. John Dillinger supposedly had spent a few nights in the same cell as my Grandfather one time. Then on a pass-thru looked 'em up, spent the night in the midst of their humble home, and left Grandma a pair of fresh 100 dollar bills as he left. Grandma always told the story with a glow - her only claim to fame, or infamy perhaps. No religion was ever mentioned in their home that I recall in the early years.

Mom was the 7th child of 8 children. She was headstrong and argumentative, liked a mental challenge, and was the planter of the seeds that bound to me to a religion for most of my first 48 years of life. Dad was a veteran of a little police action in a place called Korea. His memories of that place made the inside of a beer stein look pretty good the first few years he and mom were married. I recall him coming home from work with the smell of fiberglass resin on his clothes, and beer on his breath. He left the beer behind before I was too old. Must have drowned the memories by then. We used to fish a lot, and at the age of 3, at the call of my mother, I tried to walk on water. I was not Jesus however, and my salvation from that juvenile choice of action, came from above, in the person of my mother, as she leaped over fishing boats to rescue me from following her command. I do not recall it except as a construct of my parents memories.

I saw a picture once of a blonde haired boy of about two, sitting with my young father on a sofa, and in the background a well lit and decorated Christmas tree. Both the little boy and the young father were smiling. I have no memory of that Christmas tree, or any other from those times, except from that faded photograph. I saw no demons in the picture. Another photo of my two siblings and I playing in the yard was taken close to the time that our family accepted the "truth". We looked happy enough in that picture.

On one of those days, it was a hot day. Summer in Indiana. Muggy. And the tar on the road in front of our home had developed bubbles. Recall when the tar used to do that? I don't know if it does that anymore - or maybe life keeps me too far away from close observation of the tar bubbles these days. Anyway, the tar was bubbling that day, because my sister and my brother and I were out popping the bubbles on the pavement. Life was pretty boring in that little midwest town in 1959. I was headed for five years old. My siblings were staggered just behind me by a year apiece, and Mom was likely sitting on the porch as we pursued our adventure just a 100 feet away. We were so enamored with the task at hand, that we had not noticed a large, black automobile parked at the edge of our yard. I looked up as I lead the family precession, and nearly collided with it. In a moment of fear of something different in our safe little world, we ran to the house. Mom was on the porch, and a nicely dressed lady in her 50s was with her. This was odd. Mom's circle of friends did not include this person. And no one that we ever knew owned a large black car like that one, especially not one with a person sitting in it ready to drive off with this lady when she returned.

The lady's name was Velma. And she smelled like some sort of flower as I recall. She was giving mom literature, and they were saying a good-bye. She must have been there for some time before we knew it. Velma made arrangements to return, that much I was able to gather from the conversation. I had no idea at the time that her visits with my mother would effect the rest of my life.

 
I could hear it. I lay on my back in the soft grass of Indiana summer searching for it. Then I spot it. Way up. The source of those mystery sounds - a small private plane, flying at fairly high altitude, but well in sight. I wanted to soar up there like that. To dance in and out of the clouds, looking below at the patchwork of the real world below, as I levitated far above it all.

I was maybe 6 or 7 when I would spend my time doing that. Dreaming of someday being the pilot of that plane, and looking down to see other little boys and girls watching me with similar intrigue. I had become a boy loner. I knew that something in my life was far different than that of others. While I enjoyed playing outside and doing all the things little boys do, I was always maintaining vigil that I didn't join in things that were against Jehovah. You know, playing army, saying the pledge of allegiance, voting for anyone in school office, accepting birthday cards or valentines or Christmas presents. I was aware, even at this young age of the dangers of friendships outside of the "truth." And yet, the reality was that I was not in the "truth" for the most part. Let me explain.

My mom became what I would refer to as a "Witness at heart" in the previous year or so. I recall attending what was clearly an assembly of Jehovah's Witnesses sometime during 1960. I don't think I had ever been to one before, and it was actually a few years before I would attend one again. I recall my mother leaving the seats and returning with a swimsuit on, carrying a towel. I believe we were in South Bend or Elkhart, Indiana, though I doubt I ever knew the precise venue. After a few words to those with whom we were seated, she disappeared down the aisle to the front. That was the day we became Jehovah's Witnesses. Of course only mom was dipped below the symbol that day, but all of us had to begin the process of falling in line with the religious objectives and doctrine of this faith from that day onward. Unlike the typical JW, mom did not fall right into the weekly program. We made only occasional meetings, in spurts, over those first few years. But I was slated to begin another phase of my life that  same year - school.

There was no kindergarten in our little school. So I began my first year of school in the fall of 1960 in first grade. I recall mom sending notes to school telling my teacher what I could not do or participate in, which was just about everything. I recall the embarrassment I felt at the innocent questions from the other students. Questions I had to answer, and for which my preparation was scant. "Why don't you celebrate Christmas? Why didn't you have your hand on your heart when we said the pledge? Did you bring your Valentines for the class party?" I spent considerable time in the principals office waiting for the class to finish another party. Sometimes I would be told to just slide my desk out to the hallway, or go to the cafeteria. Then when the observance was over, I would slink back into the room, hopeful that some in the class would not mock me for having once again missed the party. But I was faithful to Jehovah. I never participated even once in any of these pagan rights of passage. In fact, I didn't want to. I had been schooled in how wrong they were, though I did not garner the depth and breadth of the doctrine, I wanted to please God. I was not a dual-personality. I believed that my mom had found the "truth", though my juvenile comprehension of the matter was veneer-like of course. Still the concept held real power. The idea that God Jehovah was watching down and knew if I was in violation of any of his commands was always hanging like a pale over me. It created that child loner that I had become.

I recall that in that period of my life I began to have dreams of finding myself in school and looking down to realize that I was naked, or just in my underwear. I kept trying to find ways to sneak out of the classroom without detection, or ways to cover my naked privates before the class became aware. I was a late bed-wetter, perhaps not fully conquering the problem till I was in the fourth grade as I recall. I believe that these dreams and the bed-wetting were created as a result of a deep feeling of being cast outside the mold of normal behavior. I was in many ways a catch 22 child. Mom was not getting us to many meetings, yet insisting that we live the lifestyle. So I had no friends at the Kingdom Hall - they didn't even know me for the most part. And in the real world outside, I was forbidden to make friends. Anyway, who wanted to be a friend to the weird little kid who doesn't do anything? Mom had long since discontinued any holidays, and dad went along, though not a Witness himself, due to the convenience. No gifts to wrap, trees to put up an take down, or cards to buy. He liked it just fine.

The early developmental stage of life-projection was completely shattered by the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses. I could not really daydream about becoming that famous left-handed pitcher for the Cubs, or a military career, or a fireman or police officer. If it didn't directly conflict with the religious doctrine, then it was just unworthy of consideration due to the close proximity of the end. Normal development of relationships was out also - no school dances, no dating, nor even casual friendships, were in the future that I could envision. But summertime was the one escape mechanism. In the summer, living in a small town with little danger, we were allowed to play sandlot ball, or roam about somewhat, make summer friends [not too many summer holidays to avoid]. Or just daydream as I watched that Piper climbing in the clouds.

In my entire pre-adolescent life I recall zero times in which normal interaction with others of my age was encouraged. Yet, I strangely did not feel any resentment. Perhaps that was due to knowing nothing else, and a prophylactic sense of security. Another factor, that made acceptance of the religion easier, in my opinion, was that mom maintained a friendship with her best friend from before the watchtower.

Marylyn was a dyed in the wool Catholic. Stern was not a word sufficient to describe her treatment of her children. Marylyn had been as heavily indoctrinated as a Catholic child, as I had been now as a Jehovah's Witness child. She wanted to be a nun, and had in fact attended a convent for a while as a teenager. She ran away I believe. But the harsh discipline that she had at home, coupled with what she had seen in those years in the convent, had made her into a slave-driver. I recall speaking with Kathy, the oldest daughter, and close to my age, who told me that her daily lunch during school days was dependent on her return home [in those days children could go home for lunch in our little school] and getting the breakfast dishes done, lunch cooked and served to her mother, those dishes cleaned up, and then if there was time, she could make a sandwich and eat it on the way back to school. I knew that paddling and screaming and unfair treatment was a regular part of her life, as I observed it myself, and was on some occasions left in Marylyn's home while mom was busy with other matters. When my young mind heard all the denunciations of the Catholic church as expounded by the Watchtower in those days, and observed what was clearly child abuse in today's terms within the only Catholic home I was exposed to, it fit like hand in glove. Clearly the dogma that stated how evil other religions were must be correct. I saw it validated with my own eyes.   

Further observations confirmed the tainted opinions of the Watchtower organization in my little world. The neighbors were what we called "jerked over Amish". That is, the parents had rebelled against the church, bought a car, and married, raising their children as English. Surely something was not right with that religion, just as we had been told, for otherwise why did these otherwise good folks, up and leave? We lived just down the street from the Methodist Church, and it seemed as though those people fit the Watchtower view of Sunday churchgoers. They did not do any door-to-door ministry like Jehovah's Witnesses did. And when I would see them out and about town they didn't seem to be very religious at all. They never dressed as nice as the Witnesses that came around to encourage us to the meetings from time to time, and they all followed the devil's way in matters of holidays, not reading the Bible enough [it seemed], and voted and saluted the flag.

So I was becoming a prime candidate for a full mind-control sectarian religion, and didn't even know it.

We were one of those continual studies. Mom got the zeal right off and got baptized, then sit around and debated the religion with her good worldly friend, Marylyn, but never seemed to get motivated to do much else. Oh, we attended meetings on and off in those first few years, but never with regularity. I think half the spiritually strong families in the hall counted our family as a study at one point or another. Looking back, I am sure we were the gossip of the hall at times, the family that just never got it together. So I was a child in between worlds. Never at the meetings in the flesh - but always in the spirit. Always at school and play in the flesh - but without spirit.

I had no motivation to succeed in life - since life was going to be in the new world soon. Yet no ability to pursue the "truth" with a building passion, due to the family circumstance. This was pretty much the theme of my existence from the age of 5, till the age of 14. Then my building fire of desire to serve God got a grand boost.  

 
Our little town of 600 people was but a dot on the map. Other than a one year foray to the great and spacious San Joaquin Valley region of California when I was 10, due to dad's being transferred, I had very little exposure to the world. But that year was great. I saw great mountains, camped at elevation, redwoods, tasted pomegranates and olives from the trees they grew on, dodged black widows, explored and conquered the streets of a little town named Patterson.

When we first arrived, my brother Tim and I were very upset. We had been told in exaggeration by my dad's boss, that we would have a mountain in our back yard! And it was, kinda. But we thought it would be literally ours to control. But the disappointment faded as we discovered the joys of freedom. Dad worked and mom let us roam quite a lot. We swam in the city pool daily. Somewhere in the archives is a photo of myself, my sister, and my brother, displaying our tan lines. A little embarrassing, since dad made us pull our shorts down enough to reveal the tan. We looked like we had joined a new ethnic group by summer's end. The toehead Caucasian had become a lot darker. But our little visit was not without spiritual guidance for long. One day, a Saturday, the JWs showed up at our house. To this point I don't recall ever having seen or even heard of any JWs in our new town. After a little small talk, the sister actually invited me out in service with her. I was sick that day, so couldn't go. But I recall the burning desire to do so. The guilt inside had built. I was only 10, yet I was already primed to understand that if I was not rejecting fleshly pleasure [biking, camping, swimming] I was headed for trouble with God. So, due to my persistence I think, mom looked up the location for the meetings. I don't believe that there was a Kingdom Hall in that little town - but a book study group met in a Hispanic family's home. We attended a few meetings there, but never a Kingdom Hall. I remember going out in service just once while in Patterson.

The embers had been stirred some. The fire was hidden below the coals, waiting to be brought to life. The seeds of willing sacrifice to this God of the Watchtower had been planted by this time for about 5 years, and I was only 10. I remember my brother and I discussing what we would do if we got to California and there were no Kingdom Halls there. How we would find a way to build one?  We knew God would bless our efforts. Of course we had no means to do such a  thing. But it shows how deeply the indoctrination goes - even for those with a fairly limited exposure to the teachings and meetings. I think, looking back, that I could have been totally separated from Jehovah's Witnesses, my parents, literature, studies, and I would still have grown up to be a Witness. I was convinced, though young, that it was the "Truth." No one could have convinced me otherwise. I remember my mother cooking steak for supper. When she handed me my plate, I rejected it with anger. The steak had drained a bit after cooking and blood [or meat juices of some sort] had pooled under the meat. I firmly stated that I would not eat such a thing, as God Jehovah would not approve of eating blood. [My juvenile opinion was that if you cooked it longer the blood went away.] Mom cooked it longer and I ate.

I recall the near terror I felt for the American flag. It was abhorrent to me. I turned away from it when I could. Once I found a little flag in the house, one of those little 4"x6" jobs you wave at parades. I carefully planned and carried out its removal and quietly burned it in the backyard trash barrel, hoping no one would see it. I was so disgusted by it's presence in my home, that was the only action I could imagine doing in rectification. I recall how simple childhood moments could and did bring great guilt upon me. Once, while playing a friendly game of tag with some kids in the neighborhood, I quite accidentally reached out my hand and as I did so, my hand parted the buttocks of the girl next door as we ran. I felt shame for weeks, and fear that I was somehow condemned for that action. This shame did not come from my parents, neither one of which proved to be prudes on any level, as I became aware later in life. That guilt came from the Watchtower's constant rants on the sins of the flesh.

Our move back to Indiana in 1966 put us back into contact with the Witnesses on a regular and more familiar way. We had another short burst of meeting attendance, then fell back to the former pattern of things. The 60s were filled with a lot of sensory intensity. I have vivid recollection of the day that John Kennedy died, the day Bobby Kennedy died, and the day I watched in horror as the streets of Detroit and Los Angeles were turned into an inferno during the riots of the late 60s. During that momentous time, I once again turned my eyes to the night sky, on that July night in 1969 to look at a moon that I knew hosted the first manned landing. I was once again in awe of space and flight. I was able to leave my body quietly behind as I pictured how marvelous it would be to have the opportunity to fly in space one day. Of course I knew that could never be, as the Watchtower was ever increasingly making us aware that the end was imminent.

It was about this time - the summer of 1969 - that I began to be drawn into a more serious attachment to the Watchtower Society. A young man came to our home that summer. I had seen him before, but it was a while back, and he had been with his parents at my home. His name was Jim Olson. He was two years my senior, and had just obtained his driver's license, and was pioneering. Earlier in that summer, in a moment of zeal, I had arisen early one Sunday morning, donned my meeting clothes, and had ridden my bicycle 9 miles to the Kingdom Hall. I think I was crying out "Hey, does anyone remember me? How about making me one of you?" But no one did seem to notice until Jim showed. He started a "Bible study" with me, and we studied The Watchtower every week. He would come and pick me up for all the meetings, and before long I was going in service, too. That study did not last long - I was primed and ready to go for a long time - as someone finally took note.

In the following year, I got a little distracted. Hormones I suppose. We lived on the lake, and the pretty girls were everywhere. Still, I guarded my heart from fornication, though not my mind entirely. I was in high school by then, and my grades took a little dive, due to trying to balance my hormones with my spiritual awakening. Still, I was known in the neighborhood as preacher and at school, too. My brother was chasing girls and drugs. My sister was chasing boys and beer. My mom and dad were being mom and dad. We had a couple of parties at our house, live band and all, but I barely noticed by then. I was gone to school, or out in service most of the time. I was not baptized yet - but exceeded most of the publishers in the Kingdom Hall in service. I never missed a meeting. I was always studied up for the weekly lessons. I was becoming, part and parcel, the perfect little Witness. By 1972 I was a core Witness, but still not baptized. I attended the District Convention in Louisville, Kentucky that year. Two brothers from the Hall - Don Criswell and Marvin Olson (Jim's brother) and I teamed up and drove down, and rented our own room in a boarding house. It was our first real adult adventure away from home without parents for all of us.

We had a little excitement there; Don had already attended the convention in Jackson Michigan with his mom previous to this one. So he tended to leave the sessions early and drive around town, meeting us back in our room. On the third night of the assembly, Don came in literally shaking. He smiled wryly and said " I just about got shot". Then he laughed nervously as he told us that all the houses on the street look alike and he had tried to enter the wrong one by mistake. He looked up to see the home owner holding a pistol a few feet from his head. He backed away yelling " Don't shoot lady, don't shoot." We laughed about that then and later, but now I look back and see just how tragic matters might have been. Two months after the convention, in September, I stepped out of my car in the driveway, and my mom met me. She said " You better just get in the car and head over to the Criswell's. Donnie was killed this morning in an automobile accident." I rushed over, didn't know what to say, cried with the family a little and left. Life got a whole lot more serious then. I saw that some of us would not live into the New World. That death would snatch some of us before it got here. At the funeral we heard comfort in the idea that since Armageddon was just around the corner, Don would likely be among the first to resurrected. That was 35 years ago.

The following year, 1973, I was baptized in January. In the spring, my good friend Jimmy headed off to Bethel. His parents' long time dream of such a thing, had been realized. I don't think he really ever wanted to go, though there was initial excitement in the move. That summer, I was already pioneering, and we attended the International Assembly in Yankee Stadium. Life seemed exciting as we heard both Fred Franz and Nathan Knorr tell us repeatedly that the end was about here. The use of the date 1975 was not hidden. It was out in the open. I returned, all afire for the Kingdom. Sometime just following the first of November, I was standing in front of Publix Cafe, washing the windows [ironic], when a fellow Witness stopped out front and approached me. He told me that my friend, Jimmy Olson, was dead. He had fallen from atop one of the Bethel buildings, lay there for a few days before he was found. Two of my best friends had died in about a year's time. I had to to wait on in the resurrection now. If my personal zeal had no been enough, these events drew me even closer to the organization. No one, nothing, could ever have convinced me at that moment in my life, that what I believed with all my heart was not the "Truth." The combination of my personal determination, and subsequent events that cemented the need for the Kingdom, and the constant rhetorical references to 1975 made sure of that. What had begun as a child's fantasy, fueled by time and circumstance, had become a prison of indoctrination that would last for the next 3 decades.

 
When Joseph Mongolfier launched his hot air balloon in June 1783 in France, he was not aware of the physical dynamics that made it work. After a short flight, one that made history, the 36-foot sphere crashed about a mile away and burned. His mistakes were many, but the biggest was that the construction was mostly paper. And the source of the reduction of density of the air that propelled it, was fire.

In many ways, my flight into the Kingdom mentality of the early 70s was similar. The conveyance of my faith was by hot air, not permanent, and the structure of my faith was less sturdy than papier-mache. Many hundred of thousands each year were joining our little group of Kingdom proclaimers, and we believed we were center stage and a theatrical spectacle to the world. The rush of excitement was like that of a crowd pushing into an arena, one just got carried along, begging all the way that others would follow. I was a good Witness. I recall in the waning months of my senior year of high school, packing my service bag on the way out the door to school. The final semester of my schooling coincided with my baptism, so I signed up to be a temporary pioneer, which meant 60 hours in those days of service per month. I had only a few classes to attend for that last portion of my secular education, so I would often leave the school well before noon, park on a local street, take out my territory and preach alone all afternoon. On one occasion, I offered a close neighbor, and one of my few worldly friends, a ride home after school, with the understanding that I would have to stop and work a street in my territory before we left town. When we parked my van, he started to exit also. I told him to stay. He objected that he too was a Christian, a Baptist, and objected that there was no reason he could not come along. I explained that my ministry was not open to interfaith participation. He recanted, and sat in my cold van [who had the money to keep it running as a pioneer?] while I worked the street in mid-February.

I remember one Saturday out in service with the Olson Family. Jim has already headed to Bethel I believe, but his younger sibling, his mother and father and I were out in service. I recall firmly stating that I could not understand the mental and spiritual attitudes of those Witnesses who were home that morning instead of out in the service. Brother Olson, being the fine elder he was, commended me for such a spiritual attitude. And I became a pretty good salesman for "Witness Inc." as time went on. Over the course of the next few years I was responsible for the induction of at least eight others into the faith of Jehovah's Witnesses. I was a good salesman. Persistent, and always trying to close. I always had a few Bible studies going in those days.

The controlling nature of the organization did not often bother me. I was so happy being controlled at that stage - thinking that obedience was Godly - that mostly I did not notice. Once though, I started a Bible study with a lady out in the country. Each time I conducted it, I always took along a sister, precisely according to the Society's direction. On one such occasion, I took an elder's wife. After the study was over, we engaged in polite conversation on the ride back to the hall. She seemed pleased with the work I was doing. The following week, as we arrived at the house for the study, an elder in the car group told me he had reassigned the student to his wife, the same sister who had accompanied me the previous week. Inside I was furious. But externally I displayed a controlled JW demeanor. He told me while the study was being conducted that the elders had determined that I was not the one who should conduct the study, since I was a single male, and she was a married woman. I waited in the car while my study was conducted by someone else. I was too young to understand just how much of my life was under observation, and controlled as they saw fit.

About that same time, I was out in service with a different elder. As someone made a call in the lake territory we were working, he took me aside, saying "Sister W has made an accusation against you. She is saying that you have come over to her house on more than one occasion, and that she believes you have an interest in her."  I about blew a gasket! I was all of 18. She was in her late 20s, married, fat, and had two children. Her husband was usually there when I had visited. And the interest in my visit was because I loved her kids. I literally almost vomited at the idea. Three things bothered me. 1) That I should be accused of thoughts I did not have to begin with, and 2) that the whole thing was done behind my back, as if others has a right to gossip and make charges like that without any basis. 3) I was tremendously upset that this brotherhood seemed so focused on fornication and temptation, that it did not display anything that resembled trust and brotherly love. Still, the fire had not yet reached my paper wings, and I held to the concept that this was God's organization.

In late September 1973, the face of our field service took on another look. We began to distribute Kingdom News # 16, apparently the 16th in a string of tracts, though I never was able to determine when the previous 15 had been issued. Must of been well before that time, since I could not find a JW in my hall that knew. Anyway, this was exciting in the extreme. The title was "Is Time Running Out for Mankind?". We all believed it was, and figured they all needed to know. The Kingdom Ministry later told us that we had placed 43,000,000 copies in the US. Then in December we did it all again with KN # 17 "Has Religion Betrayed God and Man?"

It was reported in some congregation near ours, that the brothers thought this was so close to the last time the householders would hear our message, that they were wearing athletic shoes and running, literally, door to door to distribute this tract. We had no runners in our hall, but we had some ducks. I was one of them. One Sunday afternoon it was raining so hard that one would get drenched in just moments. Sister D and I were working a row of homes in a little rural community. We never quit due to the rain, and within minutes were soaked to the skin. We really believed that we were delivering a final warning, and we had only 10 days allotted to do so by the Society.

In June of that same year, Jehovah's Witnesses took a firm stand, and created a quirky doctrine that stands even today. In the June Watchtower they decried smoking of cigarettes as pharmakia, druggery, and declared that all JWs who smoked would be given six months to quit or face excommunication. My mother was a Witness in name only by that time. I don't believe, that other than perhaps a Memorial or two, she had attended a meeting in the Kingdom Hall in the past 10 years. She had always battled her addiction to tobacco, and in fact did so to her very grave just three years ago. Somehow, though, she slipped under the Watchtower radar for a while after this magazine came out, but sometime in 1974 the elders gave me a letter to deliver to her. The letter invited her to meet with the elders, who subsequently disfellowshipped her for her connection with the spirit realm [through cigarettes] later that year.

I believe that most who eventually leave the faith of Jehovah's Witnesses have many watershed moments, triggers that wake us up, though we often fall back asleep before we finally become alert enough to leave. This disfellowshipping of my mother was one of those. The effect on her was so sweeping that it shattered everything that I thought my family stood for. Within months of her being disfellowshipped, my mother determined that, with 1975 so close, and her disapproved standing before Jehovah now, she had little to live for. Thankfully she did not turn to suicide, though she likely contemplated that. I had moved out of the house a few months previous, having determined that my worldly family was not aiding my spiritual lifestyle. I went home often to see my parents, however. On one such visit, I asked my dad "Where's Mom?" He looked back with a heavy pain I had not seen on his face before, and stated, "She has taken your sister [then 15] and moved to Colorado." I always knew the reason - she never had to tell me - she wanted to live a while, before she died forever. My dad was so angry with her, that he told her on the phone that she had better send his daughter home, or he would be out to Colorado to kill her. His words, not mine. And I think he meant it. Mom did, too. My sister was on the bus and headed home within a week.

Mom spent the next 8 years living a life of desperation. Booze, cowboys, and Rocky Mountain High. She would never be the same mom I knew after that. Even when she returned to Indiana 8 years later, she never assumed a normal lifestyle again. She had long bouts with alcohol abuse, time in jail over too much drinking, or drinking and driving, and an unsure relationship with her children. I honestly believe the Watchtower policy of attacking her when she was not really a Witness at all, destroyed her life. It certainly contributed to her disfunctional relationships with her kids, as we barely saw her during our crucial early adult years of life. By the time I saw my mom again, she was not the person I had known. Still, even as I write this, I get a lump in my throat knowing how much was stolen from our family because a religion, bent on developing an image for itself, made my mother believe she was practicing something akin to spiritism. I wonder how many others had similar experiences.

In 1974, I married the girl that still fills my life. That same year I was appointed a Ministerial Servant, the highest rank I would ever achieve within the cult. We believed that the end would come before we ever had children. We built up a little janitorial business and washed windows. We honestly thought we would never need to worry about insurance, or retirement. 1975 dawned with the firm opinion in our minds that it would not end this side of Armageddon. The sister that had accused me of lusting after her large frame, was disfellowshipped, I believe now due to her disappointment with the failure of that date. My wife and I carried on as good little soldiers, as did most of the folks in our little congregation. We expected the end. It didn't come. And we had not created the date in our minds, as we were later accused by the organization in print. They had built up expectations, and let us take the heat.

When we emerged from the clouds in 1976, we were disoriented. But we were still convinced that the end was just around the corner.

 
High speed fighters sometimes employ a technique called ‘terrain masking,’ a form of aerial maneuver intended to prevent anti-aircraft weaponry from focus and destruction of the airplane. Basically the pilot keeps the plane very low in altitude and shapes his flight, hugging hills and dales, with the hope that the enemy is not able to focus for long enough on the target to destroy it. Planes flying at operational altitudes are in the sights of the enemy for a long time, relatively speaking, but those flying close-to-ground altitudes reduce the effective sighting to but a fraction of that time.

In my view, and looking back, this is what the Watchtower Society did following it’s colossal failure with the 1975 predictions. In trying to answer the question; Why did you stay after THAT? I have determined that clever maneuvers lead those of us who witnessed the matter to stick with the organization, even defend it, in the years after.

1976 became a point of critical mass for many. I saw only one person leave our little congregation in the immediate aftermath of 1975. But the larger picture was clearer to those looking. I never knew why, but looking back, I think she left over realization of the false-prophecy. The rest of us stuck around. We were in a bit of a quandary as to what it all meant I suppose. But the overriding concept that this was ’God’s organization’ held us within.

The Watchtower began to issue disclaimers to it’s past predictions even before the date it had lead us to believe would mark Armageddon. In the January 1, 1975 article entitled,  "Will You Live to See Christ’s Coming?" they began to set up protection to the charges that would come if they were wrong with comments like this:

But nobody should get the idea that, simply by chronology, he can calculate the time of that "coming" of Christ for executing judgment. Christ himself told his apostles: "Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father."—Matt. 24:36.

Of course, no individual Witnesses were doing so. No individual Witness would ever dare and take on the task of calculating that time. It was in reality the Watchtower Society who had done all the speculation. For years they had made both verbal comments, and comments in print, that evoked powerful emotions, and held us in anticipation of 1975, like this one in the August 15, 1968 Watchtower:

30 Are we to assume from this study that the battle of Armageddon will be all over by the autumn of 1975, and the long-looked-for thousand-year reign of Christ will begin by then? Possibly, but we wait to see how closely the seventh thousand-year period of man’s existence coincides with the sabbathlike thousand-year reign of Christ. If these two periods run parallel with each other as to the calendar year, it will not be by mere chance or accident but will be according to Jehovah’s loving and timely purposes. Our chronology, however, which is reasonably accurate (but admittedly not infallible), at the best only points to the autumn of 1975 as the end of 6,000 years of man’s existence on earth. It does not necessarily mean that 1975 marks the end of the first 6,000 years of Jehovah’s seventh creative “day.” Why not? Because after his creation Adam lived some time during the “sixth day,” which unknown amount of time would need to be subtracted from Adam’s 930 years, to determine when the sixth seven-thousand-year period or “day” ended, and how long Adam lived into the “seventh day.” And yet the end of that sixth creative “day” could end within the same Gregorian calendar year of Adam’s creation. It may involve only a difference of weeks or months, not years.

Powerful sentiments like that, played a significant emotional role in bringing me into the organization. Without such constant reference to the end, and pointing to every event of a negative nature to "prove" it as fact, I likely would have not become such a quick convert in my late teens, perhaps I never would have. But the groundswell of interest in the Society as the place of salvation grew in the years leading to 1975, with more than one year recording in the area of 300,000 new baptisms. Mine had been among them. But by 1978 the tide began to turn. Less than 100,000 new Witnesses came to the step of baptism.

Those powerful emotions remained however, and prevented us from clear focus on the failure of the organization. Our indoctrination has destroyed a healthy view of any other religion. We had labeled it ‘false religion’ for so long, and fought so diligently against it’s doctrines in our door to door ministry, that rejection of the Witness faith was all but inconceivable to me.

Several catch phrases dominated my thinking in those days;

"Wait on Jehovah"

"Where would we go?"

"The false doctrines of Babylon the Great"

"Surviving the end"

Those of us already ‘hooked’ did not leave so readily due to the ‘loaded language‘ that seemed to put us still in an enviable position. By now we had learned not to think, and to believe we were thinking at the same time. And those that did leave were labeled as ‘pursuing worldly pleasures’ or ‘turning their backs on Jehovah.' Those evil labels worked to keep us around, to dare not question that this was still ‘Jehovah’s organization.' Still, for my part, the ministry cooled a bit in those following years. I maintained my responsibilities, and I preached above the ‘national average’ each month. But the responsibilities of adult life were taking more and more of my time.

During the late 70s my wife pressed to begin a family. I agreed. But we were disappointed to discover that we could not conceive. I recall sitting in a specialist’s office as he explained various methods that would allow my wife to have a natural child. One of them was artificial insemination. We rejected that option outright, due to the Society’s position on the matter at the time. We chose instead to pursue the adoption of a child. As with all independent decisions, it was not looked upon as particularly favorable, and I perceived that we were being gossiped about for our decision.

A new chapter of our lives was about to begin. It should have been filled with total joy, and there was some of that of course. But the ’brotherhood’ was about to show it’s true colors over the next few years. Those colors would aid us to eventually see the ’truth’ for what it was. But our realization of that fact was still many years away.

Submarine Witnesses and the Lack of Brotherly Love

 

Lawrence Sperry piloted and demonstrated the first auto-pilot controls for an aircraft in 1914, the same year that, according to the Watchtower organization, God's Kingdom took over automatic control of the heavens.

Auto-pilot systems do not work well in turbulent conditions, and in our case, the spiritual auto-pilot that had kept us just gliding along without much thought from 1975 till the early 80s had to be cut off, and flight had to be controlled manually at about that time.

I was working for a group of Witness brothers then, striping cars and adding automotive aftermarket products for new car dealers. The men I worked for were good people, but lousy businessmen. Like all Witnesses they had a superior attitude toward others, and this reflected itself in a sterling example of un-Christlike actions. The company was a franchise business, and these brothers took that to mean it was their exclusive territory - much like the witnessing territory in our home congregations. One elder in another congregation elected to begin a business doing what we were doing. In a move of utter arrogance, Pat L and Walt L, my bosses, took this man before a judicial committee and charged him with some sort of violation of Christian love in the matter. They honestly believed that he should bow out of the areas in which they worked on the basis that they were there first. I had seen this same attitude among the brothers in the janitorial businesses before. Like the mother organization often did, they would twist and bend the scriptures to fit the occasion, in this case to defend a particular territory as theirs exclusively.

Walter even explained his line of reasoning to me like this, using Biblical terminology; "In ancient Israel, a man might be a farmer. He begins his life of farming using just a small area to grow a few crops. Then as time goes on, his family grows and he needs to expand to the unused field adjacent to his home. Since all Israelites were peacefully acting together as God's people, it would be likely that he would find others accommodating to his future needs, and would yield to his demands that they allow him to expand his livelihood in such a manner. So too, should not our brothers do the same way.?" The dispute was over this other brother doing similar business to theirs, even though he had agreed to stay off the lots of the dealerships we were actively doing business with, and had honored that agreement.

I began to see that this dispute was getting ugly - and I would dare state that these people became enemies. This was a watershed moment in many ways for me. These men were clearly not acting in love by demanding that they had exclusive right to practice a certain trade within a given region of the country. They lowered themselves to criticism of the brother. his wife, and all associates of his company. They slandered his name among us as employees, even asserting that he was clearly not adjusted right in his thinking. When the judicial body failed to agree with them in the matter, they then began to accuse them of favoritism and nepotism. This was going on fairly openly for several months. And all these men were elders or ministerial servants. I honestly thought at the time that I doubted that Baptists or Catholics would have acted in such a greedy, self-centered manner. Yet my bosses, active and supposedly spiritual men, in responsible position, daily acted in ways I could not see as even minimally Christian. They rejoiced when Mike failed in some area. And they gloated when they succeeded. Yet, three times a year we all put on suits and ties and marched into the same assembly hall proclaiming ourselves to be the only true Christians on earth.

Partly due to this ugliness, and partly due to the fact that my salary was suffering due to generally poor business management by these fellows, I began to look around for a better way to make a living. I found a similar business that needed help in Oklahoma. In my first conversation with the owner there, he asked me an odd question - one that did not immediately register. He said "Do you have an uncle in Brooklyn, by the name of Fred?" I said "What?", completely confused as to why in a telephone interview I was being asked about an obscure relative in New York. He said "Fred, Freddy Franz." It finally clicked, and I assured him that I too was one of Jehovah's Witnesses, as he suspected. Arrangements were laid in place, and within a few weeks we were headed to Oklahoma.

Our only daughter, adopted, came to us in the previous January at the age of less than two months. At the agency where we first laid eyes on her, having been pre-approved as adoptive parents, the lady who brought her into the room asked my wife "Do you think you would want to keep her?" My wife, eyes filled, looked up and said "Just try and take her back." Thus began a new chapter, and now with our newest family addition, we were planning a move to a distant area. As we finalized our plans, I made sure I dotted all the I's and crossed all the T's as regards leaving the congregation. I had been serving as a Ministerial Servant for several years by this point, and wanted to make sure that I would be able to continue with little interruption once we settled into our new home. The brothers did not want us to go, and one by one, over the next couple of weeks they told me so. One of the final conversations I had with an elder before we departed was at the Kingdom Hall two or three days before we left. Brother D told me, "Jeff, look you do a lot of work here for us, good work. You conduct a book study, you have several Bible studies, you conduct meetings for service often, meeting parts, and public talks. We hate to lose you." Nonetheless, our plans were firm and we left.

Once we settled into our new home, we made our way to the nearest Kingdom Hall and began to attend meetings. I informed the brothers of my past situation, and they requested a report from my former congregation to be sent. It was. I walked into the Hall one Sunday and the Presiding Overseer approached me. He asked to speak privately with me and another elder there. We stepped into a little room just back of the stage and he handed me a letter from my previous congregation. I nearly passed out. The letter was a solid effort to assassinate my character and contained more than one lie, asserting that I had not shown mature and responsible actions, insinuated that I had actually attempt to defraud one of the elders, and that my change of location, having a new child, a different home, and a new job, made it impossible for the elders in my old Hall to make a recommendation that I remain a Ministerial Servant.

Understand, I am not perfect, and no one will admit it sooner than I. But these were out and out attempts to show me a spiritual loafer, one who might even defraud his brothers. It was just venom in retribution for my exit. My failure, as far as I could see, was that I did not ask their blessing on my choices. The lies and innuendo were just thrown in to make sure that I would not be appointed here. And it worked. I almost quit attending meetings at that point. I was so disillusioned, that these men, whom I had called friends for now well over 10 years, and whom I had worked hand in hand with in what I believed was the work of God, would stoop to such tactics in revenge for my leaving the congregation. And to even lie about my conduct.

Not long after this meeting, one night I took a walk outside our apartment community. As the sun set I found myself sitting on the banks of a small creek. As I prayed in consternation over this treatment, I found that I began to wail and cry uncontrollably. Here I had trusted these men, loved these men as my brothers, and they were so willing to betray that love without the blink of an eye. Not one of them even hinted that I would be getting such a negative recommendation from them. In fact, just the opposite. They begged me to stay, insisting that they needed my help, and that Jehovah would bless my actions if I stayed. They never told me that they would curse me if I left. The pain of this betrayal was so cutting, that within a few months we made plans to move back to Indiana. I had to confront this matter head on. We were not attending many meetings now due to it, and I believed we were in danger spiritually. Over time I located another job in Indiana, and we moved back. We still had our old home, which we had rented while we were gone. During the first couple of months back we stayed busy with moving back in and getting settled again. We attended a few meetings before I approached the brothers.

The elders were holding their quarterly meeting. I heard about it, and invited myself. That didn't go over well, and what I had to say at that meeting went over even harder. When I was given opportunity to speak, I stood, and I asked each and every one of the elders present to please explain the phraseology and accusations that were made. There was a hell of a lot of "Him Hawing" but not much substance. One elder got so upset, that he stood up, stated something to the effect that if I could not accept Jehovah's word on the matter [which word was not expounded to me by the way] that there was little else to say. He got angry at my response, and charged out of the meeting. Not a single elder could defend what had been stated in the letter. In fact, I am sure they never expected that I would ever lay eyes on it all, as that was not "Theocratic" protocol. In the end, though no defense was offered, no explanation for the outright lies and innuendo, the Presiding Overseer announced something to the effect " Well, Jeff, at least you won't do what you did again." He had never explained what that was, so I walked out of the meeting more frustrated than ever. I could not believe the hatefulness that had been so liberally spread in my direction, and no explanation given. Basically they had stated "We did what we did. We have authority from God to do so. And you are out of line asking us to explain it."

Life in my spiritual paradise never felt the same after that. I had turned off the auto-pilot, and the flight had taken on a decidedly turbulent nature from that point forward. I could not stand to stay, even though I had uprooted my family now twice in less than a year over this matter.

On March 30, 1981, I was packing for a move back to the Southwest, this time to Amarillo, Texas, when my sister pulled into my drive and suggested that I turn on the television. They were showing film of a man named Hinkley shooting at the president of the United States, Ronald Reagan. I was so upset by the past year and a half that I barely paid attention. In a distant place from that one, another form of assassination had been taking place in Brooklyn, New York over the past year or so. Prominent officials had been dismissed, and many had been disfellowshipped for apostasy. The wheels were in motion that would eventually aid my departure also. A book was being written that I would not hear about for another 20 years that would change my life forever. Others were seeing in greater ways and with greater spectrum than I, the lack of love that had become commonplace among those people professing to be the chosen one's of Jehovah.

As for me, at the time, I was blaming it on the local congregation. Little did I know that this lovelessness was marking in a large way the actions of many, all the way to the top of the organization. In addition to that already stated, another area of grand concern had arisen also. Our daughter was bi-racial, and we were hearing comments through the grapevine, and occasionally head-on that smacked of racial prejudice. We were finding ourselves outcast, both due to my standing up to the elder's wrong-headed actions, and due to our having a non-Caucasian child in our home. As in the previous move, this one even more so, we received no encouragement, no positive send-off. We felt pretty alone in the world.

Amarillo, Texas was a three-year stopover. We actually had more friends there than we ever did in Indiana. The congregation was bi-racial, and we fit in pretty well. We soon learned though, that not all that met the eye was as it seemed. Without going into detail, we became aware of infighting within the body of elders, one elder who had been there recently had actually [according to reports I heard unconfirmed in details] had affairs with seven different sisters in the city, and a lot of serious sin has gone on, that had left the congregation in tumult. I worked for a brother there in the janitorial business, and often at night we would have long conversations about what we had seen in our years in "the truth". On one of those occasions, he mentioned that he was aware of Brother Franz being disfellowshipped as an apostate. He had served on the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses, and had Tom not mentioned him, I would have never known about him at all. Tom stated that he had seen the Time Magazine article in which Raymond Franz related his exit from the Watchtower religion. Over time, and particularly later when I looked back on those conversations, I began to understand that more was there than met the eye. But my memory of that would be repressed for the better part of two full decades more, before those pieces of the puzzle would fit in the picture.

Our field service fell off to nearly nothing while in Amarillo. I believe we were still suffering from unresolved, and likely unresolvable issues from our previous mistreatments. When we arrived back home to Indiana in late 1984 we had become inactive. We still believed in the doctrines and teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses, but the lack of love had taken a toll. It would be several years later before we were reactivated within this religion again. Still, we stayed in contact, attended some meetings from time to time. The turbulence had taken off vector. When we returned, it would be for a long stint of activity, but our last as Jehovah's Witnesses.

 


 

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