Thirty-Five Years in the Watchtower
by Burt Noyes
"Everyone believing that Jesus is the Christ, has been born from God." (1 John 5:1----- NWT)
As I read this verse, it was as if scales had fallen from my eyes. (Acts 9:18) I had come to appreciate in a more complete sense God's mercy and grace, and how important my relationship with his son Jesus was. Thirty-five years of training and indoctrination by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society were quickly being eroded by a new-found desire to understand God and his Holy Word, the Bible. (1 Corinthians 11:3) This conversion from a man-made religion to a faith and belief based on God's Holy Spirit and truth was really a culmination of events that started in the mid- 1960's.
It was in 1965 that my father was first exposed to the Jehovah's Witnesses. His marriage to my mother was on the rocks, and lack of fulfillment both personally and secularly made him a prime target for the Watchtower teachings. He was a brilliant man who had wasted his vast potential on drinking, womanizing and the fast life. The opportunity to be a "somebody" in the Watchtower Organization coupled with the gloom-and-doom prophecy of 1975 proved a powerful draw to him, as it did to hundreds of thousands in the late 1960's to early 1970's. By 1966, when I was three years old, my father and mother both became baptized JWs. In the next few years, my grandparents, 2 aunts, and uncle took the same step.
My father made rapid advancement, becoming a Book Study Conductor in the local congregation and was appointed an elder when that arrangement was established in 1973 (my grandfather was appointed at the same time). My life and training were centered around the JWs from 1966 on, and our family looked forward to the end of the "system of things" in 1975. My parents continued having children, until I had six younger brothers and sisters.
Meetings and field service were automatic, and there was never a question as to what was the priority in our family. I was repeatedly told that I was so fortunate to be able to grow up in the very last days of this "system", that I would never have to worry about graduating from school, finding a job, or having a family in this system. Nevertheless, I continued to do well in school, consistently being at the head of the class.
In 1970, my father had been asked by the Circuit Overseer to go and help an inner-city congregation in Rochester, NY. The congregation was mostly black, and was meeting in a shambles of a Kingdom Hall on Berlin St. Unbeknownst to him, the C.O. (who was Asian) was a racist, and had it in for the congregation servant. (title formerly given to the Presiding Overseer) My father, being idealistic and naive, ended up serving as a unknowing accomplice in an effort to remove this faithful man.
The C.O. sent in other white elders, and with the help of one black elder, succeeded in removing this faithful man from his post and also stripped him of his pioneering privileges, which he had done continuously for over 20 years. The matter was viewed so seriously that my father and the black turn-coat elder actually made an appearance before the Governing Body in Brooklyn Headquarters. The GB ruled in favor of the white elders and the faithful black brother was removed. (so much for God's spirit-directed organization)
( Interestingly, as years passed on, the brother was restored to his eldership, while all the elders who railroaded him have drifted away or became inactive.)
After the fiasco, my father decided to move the family to the Finger Lakes of NY, where we attended a congregation with a mixture of local farmers and commuters to the city of Rochester. The cong. was under the control of a eloquent, powerful, but young presiding overseer, and half the congregation was related to this elder. As a result, the elder body was split into two factions, the country elders vs the city elders.
While attending this congregation, the much-anticipated year of 1975 came and went. One of my most vivid memories was seeing the book "Famine 1975" in the Kingdom Hall library. The WatchTower Society had had used this book liberally in support of it's now failed prophecy.
There was a different attitude in the post-1975 period. My aunt, who by the way had 6 children, had been putting off dental work on all of her children in the early 70's, thinking that it wasn't necessary to do so with the "New Order" so close at hand. Discouragement over the delay of Armageddon was also evident in the activity of the congregation. Field service and meeting attendance was noticeably declining, and our family service activity on weekends wasn't "automatic" anymore.
Meanwhile, the situation in our family was deteriorating. My father who had seven children, was loaded with debt, and lost his job; also, a deep rift had developed in the congregation, pitting my father and another elder against the country faction.
It all came to a head when serious wrongdoing was uncovered in the P.O.'s family. Such wrongdoing as incest, rape, adultery, drunkenness, spouse and child abuse had become entrenched in the cong. and the P.O. was using his power to cover up these sins and protect his family and position. (I always found it amazing that such people could tolerate, even participate, in such wrongdoing and then have the nerve to shun a disfellowshipped brother or sister.)
The situation became so in tolerable that my father asked to be deleted, which the elder body was more than happy to do. After his deletion, my father became inactive, even missing the most-hallowed annual Memorial Celebration. My younger brother followed suit, while my mother and I tried to keep ourselves and younger children active in the congregation.
In the meantime, I was nearing completion of high school. I scored extremely high on my SAT's and had won a statewide scholastic competition, and had handfuls of scholarship offers to every major college in the country in the mail box daily. My math teacher had even arranged a special grant through a state college that would let me earn a good living in research while I earned a degree. Although I wanted terribly to go to college so I could have a career that followed my natural interests, I knew how my parents and the congregation viewed college education. To go to college would have been viewed as a lack of faith that we were in the "last days." So despite tremendous pressure from school officials and teachers, upon graduation I decided to apprentice in a trade with a brother in Rochester.
Eventually, I was blessed with a beautiful wife and four children. I served as a ministerial servant for many years and was appointed in 1994 as an elder. Although I hated my career path and was still plying my trade (now in Florida), I felt the sacrifices I had made in a educational and secular way were insignificant in comparison to the joy my family and congregation activity brought. I used to reflect on how fortunate I had been to grow up"in the truth." I genuinely felt sorry for the "worldly" people who would soon die in Armageddon.
Any doubts or discrepancies in the WT doctrine I usually swept aside as inconsequential or left it to Jehovah to clarify later. There were two items though that I couldn't set aside no matter how hard I tried. The major one was that despite my training, I could not shake the feeling that I had the heavenly hope. I knew that I couldn't or shouldn't have this desire according to the WTS, so I kept waiting on Jehovah to help me cope until he changed my frame of mind.
Much to my consternation though, I seemed to get continual reminders that I had been "called." On such occasion was at the Sunday meeting. A sister who was given to grand-mal seizures so violent she would end up on the floor started having an unusually intense seizure. I said a brief prayer to Jehovah, asking him to relieve her in this instance. As I opened my eyes her seizure stopped suddenly, surprising her husband and her friends. I was overwhelmed at this point, wondering what Jehovah meant by this. I recalled James 5:16, about the force of a righteous mans prayer, but what had just happened to me was contrary to the thinking of the Watchtower Society.
The other item that never seemed to fully resolve itself was the identity of the "great crowd." I could never see a clear connection between the "other sheep" of John 10:16 and the "great crowd" of Rev. 7:9. Subsequent articles over the years failed to convince me of a connection, so I patiently waited for "increasing light" From Jehovah's "faithful servant."
As the 90's came to an end, I began to regret my decision to skip college. Many brothers with families and only minimal education like myself were now working extra hours to care for families that the WTS had said would never come. In most cases, the wife was also working, and this devotion to work was having disastrous effects on the JW families. Teenagers and young adults were leaving the Watchtower in droves. To top it all off, the WTS was easing it's restrictions on college education. Such a change left a bad taste in my mouth, but once again, I took solace that I had obeyed Jehovah and His will at that time.
The WTS also saw fit to change two other "linchpin" teachings. One concerned the "generation" of Matt 24:34, and I welcomed this change because it was clearly evident that the WTS had totally mis-interpreted this part of Jesus' Great Prophecy. The other change, although having less impact on the congregation, disturbed me greatly.
This had to do with the "judgement" of the sheep and goats in Matt. 25:31-46. The fact that the "new" understanding placed the event in the future did not upset me. What was appalling was that the "new light" was nearly identical to the prevailing doctrine of "Christendom". For the WTS to call this "Judgement Day" teaching wrong for so long and then make a complete reversal was very unsettling. John's words at 1 John 2:21, where he wrote that "no lie originates with the truth", made me question the source of the Watchtower's direction. How Jehovah could use his spirit to direct his organization to preach a falsehood was beyond me.
While in the midst of dealing with these diverse issues, I had two eye-opening experiences in the field ministry. The first occurred at the door of a very devout born-again woman. We started talking about Rev. 7, and she asked if I would wait while she got her Bible. Of course I was thrilled to talk to such an eager reader of God's Word, so I waited as she got her Bible. As we began talking, I was amazed at how readily she defended her beliefs from the Bible (she was more adept than many ministers I'd met in the door-to-door work). The pages of her Bible were crammed with hand-written marginal notes, and key scriptures were high-lighted or underlined. After we chatted amicably for several minutes, I ended the call, explaining that others were waiting for us (can you imagine Jesus doing that, I don't think so). Before we left, though, I commended her for being such a keen Bible reader.
The next morning was Sunday, and I was handling microphones on the main aisle in the Kingdom Hall during the Watchtower Study. A feeling of disgust swept over me as I roamed the aisle, noticing that very few people had bothered to prepare for the study. Even the elders and their families were unprepared, one even asking me for a copy since he hadn't even brought one. I thought back to that woman at the door the day before. How could these Witnesses sitting here be so arrogant to believe that they were worthy of salvation, while they would unanimously declare that woman part of Satan's seed? Who was really trying to discern God's will, who was really reading His Word and letting it exert power in their life?
At that time I realized that the Watchtower publications had replaced the Bible, and the Watchtower Society had been substituted for Jesus Christ. The JWs were smugly relying on their religious affiliation to save them, not God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. To make matters worse, they had rendered judgement on other religions, taking that away from Jesus Christ also.
A short time later, the second pivotal event took place. A brother and I were in the door-to-door ministry when we came upon a born-again Christian named Curtis M. Although he wasn't as well-studied as the woman mentioned earlier, his love of the Bible and his faith in God and Christ was very evident. We talked a few minutes, read some scriptures, and I offered him a tract. He said he would like to read it, and that he had one for me also. He went to get it, and I could see that it wasn't "apostate", but merely talked about repentance and accepting Christ.
I found myself in a serious dilemma. Being an elder (and needing to set an example for my service companion), I was obligated to not accept Curtis' tract. My conscience though, was telling me that there was nothing wrong with doing so. But I let my loyalty to the Watchtower organization over-ride my conscience, and I declined Curtis' tract. When I did so, Curtis was crushed. My declining of his tract while I insisted he take mine was clearly a message of condemnation. I tried to leave on a friendly note, but what I had done was obviously a slap to his face.
I reflected for months on that incident. I started to feel hypocritical about the WT policy on accepting literature at the door. In the field service, we regularly encouraged the householders to compare their religion to the Bible, and to see if their religion or church had the fruitage we'd expect of Christ's followers. Our publications shamelessly attacked these religions, exposing their past mis-deeds and false doctrines. Using selected Bible verses and Bible commentaries, encyclopaedias, historical records and chronicles, the WT unapologetically discredited all other religions.
Yet, despite our insistence that others investigate their religion, the WTS forbid us from doing research on it's background. Our study was restricted to what the WTS published, although we were allowed to use other Bible translations for comparative study. I started to feel that our stance on this issue was hypocritical at best, and life-threatening at worse. I still , though, avoided any material deemed "apostate" knowing that some of it focused on the short-comings of our brothers, which I felt shifts attention from the real core problems in the WTS.
My confidence in the WTS was shaken, but key events in the congregation relating to my responsibilities as an elder would push me further away from the organization. These had to do with judicial committees I served on. This judging arrangement is unique to the WT organization, although various religions have tribunals of some sort.
I was appointed to chairman of a judicial committee dealing with a case of fornication. Following instructions in the Kingdom Ministry School Textbook ( a confidential elder's manual), I was preparing my opening comments for our first meeting with the young sister who had sinned. I felt that showing her from the Bible why we had authority to form a judicial committee and how it would benefit her would be a fine way to get the proceedings underway.
You can understand my shock and dismay when I found no clear biblical support for such judicial committees. There were various scriptures about reproving the erring ones, snatching our brothers from the fire, and casting out unrepentant wrongdoers. But I was dumbfounded that such an integral part of congregational over-sight had no clear biblical support. It would seem that if such an arrangement existed in the early Christian congregations, there would be some record of it in the Bible.
Later, as I served on other judicial committees, I began to realize why they didn't have such an arrangement in the primitive church. The elders on these committees rarely reached a logical conclusion, and the clandestine nature of these hearings released the elders from any accountability to the congregation (although the accountability to God is weightier and unavoidable). It began to occur to me that the judicial arrangement was wielded as a sword, not a shepherd's staff, and was contrary to the shepherding that the elders were instructed to carry out in the Bible.
Even though I was starting to doubt much of what I had believed, I still resisted the reading of any "apostate" material. I had run across many of such "apostate" web-sites on the internet, but had "loyally" avoided them. Fortunately, an ex-JW named Mike had popped in on a JW chat-room on the internet and made a reference to Francis Hitching, who's book "The Neck of the Giraffe" was a major source of information for the Watchtower Society's anti-evolution publication "Life- How did it get here? By Evolution or Creation?" Mike claimed that Francis Hitching wasn't a scientist after all, but a paranormal researcher and occultist. Although I rejected most chat-room claims as half-truths, I felt this claim would be easy enough to verify on the internet. I used a search engine to find information on Hitching, and voila, Mike was right after all.
But Hitching's credentials were just the tip of the iceberg. Other articles on the site exposed many half-truths and outright lies contained in the "Creation" book. I carefully leafed through every reference, and a pattern of deliberate deception emerged. I was well acquainted with what real scientific research and peer-review accomplished, namely scientific and scholastic integrity. If the "Creation" book was so poorly researched and bore the mark of scientific fraud, what about other publications? I always felt that the WTS' integrity was unquestionable, that I could stake my life and my childrens' lives on them as God's Spokesman. To find out that such a publication could be so corrupted and biased was devastating to say the least.
I felt that my life had now reached a critical juncture. My own children were reaching the age where decisions that would determine their life-course were going to be made. On a personal level, I had given up a successful business to more fully devote myself to congregation responsibilities; now I had come to believe the WT religion for which I'd sacrificed everything was in reality a sham. A feeling of victimization and depression settled in, and was compounded by further research into the blood transfusion issue and the WTS' cover-up of it's 1934 appeal to Hitler and his Nazi party.
I decided to talk to my father, who although totally inactive, still considered himself a JW. I related to him several of the things I'd recently read, leading off with the Francis Hitching issue, which seemed to be the safest place to start. He stiffened right up, and started spouting the usual "anti-apostate" rhetoric, although I had never mentioned the source of my information. He pointed out that the new "Creator" book had just been released, and that maybe it was written to replace a suspect "Creation" book. He also reminded me that although the WTS had been wrong on issues in the past, they still proved they were Jehovah's Prophet when Knorr prophesied in 1942 that the League of Nations would rise out of the abyss. I calmed him down and assured him that I wasn't going to leave the "truth", and that I was still faithful to the organization.
The next day, my new issue of the "Awake" came in the mail. The back page of the cover sent me into shock. The article described how "well researched and accurate" the "Creation" book was, although by now the WTS surely knew about the discrepancies that it contained. That night, I went to the Kingdom Hall and used the library to research Knorr's "supposed" prophecy. What I found in the older publications was astonishing. The famous "prophecy" of 1942 by Knorr at the convention that summer was a complete reversal of what Judge Rutherford's last book published that same year had said. Not only that, but Knorr used the expression "United Nations'. How could he have known the exact name of the new incarnation, when it wasn't established until 1945?
I logged on to the United Nations website, and found a page describing the founding of itself. The United Nations was actually proposed Jan. 1, 1942, when FDR gave a nationally broadcast speech entitled "Declaration of United nations". That day, 24 different countries had signed the aforementioned Declaration, vowing to wipe out the Axis powers and set up a new world governing body. So Knorr was just repeating what had been public knowledge. To confirm my research, I wrote the Roosevelt Library and received even more corroborating evidence.
The last shred of credibility the WTS had was now cut. I delved head-first into a very intense research period. I re-read the entire New Testament and used several Bible translations and commentaries to examine every teaching unique to the Watchtower Society. Reading "Crisis of Conscience" by Ray Franz and "Answering Jehovah's Witnesses" by David Reed provided further enlightenment. Several websites on the internet added more weight to the evidence that the WTS was a grossly blatant counterfeit of Christianity.
I told the elder body I no longer desired to be an elder, citing financial and health problems as the main factors for my deletion. Although much pressure was brought on me to stay, they fulfilled my request. For the sake of my wife and children, I declined to tell them the real "truth", knowing I'd be disfellowshipped. I felt that even though I was strong enough to handle the "shunning", it would bring unnecessary hardship on my precious family. Hopefully, with much prayer and God's help, they will understand what God's will is for us and put their trust in Jesus Christ, not the usurper of hi authority, the WTS.
My long struggle with the "anointed" and "great crowd" issue has finally been resolved. A great help in this area was Jon Mitchell's "Where is the Great Crowd Serving God?" I can now eagerly and whole-heartedly look forward to inheriting God's Kingdom in the fullest sense. The uncertainty of whether I was good enough to be "saved' has been resolved in my accepting Christ as my Saviour completely and without reservation.
I pray that God's Spirit and the love of Christ will be with all those who read this witness I give. Praise be to him forever. Amen
P.S. By the way, our company hired a new installer. It turns out it is Curtis M., the same man who offered me the tract and unknowingly changed my life. It'd kind of ironic that declining his tract was more powerful an influence than if I had accepted it, don't you think? Since joining the company, we've had genuine Bible discussions that went beyond anything I ever experienced as a Jehovah's Witness.
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