The Bethelites Who Almost Went Out With Michael
Jackson In Service
The following is a true story. I'm sharing it without commentary. It was part of many adventures I had while living and working at Brooklyn Bethel where I made my home from 1982 until 1993.
In the mid 1980s, Michael Jackson was touring the United States doing "Thriller" concerts in major cities in conjunction with the release of his "Thriller" album. I found out about Michael's visit to the metropolitan New York City area from Tim, who also was a Bethel staff member, when he called me at work to ask if my husband, Joe, and I would like to accompany Michael Jackson in field service on Saturday.
Tim's uncles-his dad's two brothers-were prominent Burbank, California elders, and he also knew many Witnesses in the area, including other elders and their families. Consequently, Tim heard firsthand what an impact Michael made on any of the congregations he attended in the late 70s and early 80s. All the elders were diligently trying to keep the congregations balanced because of having such a famous and controversial Jehovah's Witness in their midst. And it can only be imagined how difficult it was for Michael to participate in Witness activities because of reporters shadowing him constantly.
It was never a dull moment when Michael came to the Kingdom Hall, and we heard about some of the comical events that occurred. Michael usually came in after the meetings started and sat in the back row so as to avoid stares and whispering.
One time the young son of a newly interested woman was in the men's room when Michael came in there. The boy was surprised to see someone who looked so much like Michael Jackson. Finally, he asked, "Are you Michael Jackson?" Michael said yes, but the boy wasn't convinced so he asked Michael to do the "moon walk." Michael obliged. Can you imagine the excitement of the little fellow seeing his idol doing the moon walk in a Kingdom Hall bathroom. When he came back to his seat his mother asked him why he was gone so long. He excitedly told her what had happened, but she didn't believe him and promised him a spanking later at home.
Along with the cute things that occurred, we heard the negatives-about how many of the Witnesses hounded Michael for money, or asked for his help to get them into show business, and then there were the Witness women who wanted to date him. Of course, the elders counseled these people. Moreover, they counseled Michael because of the large number of complaints from Witnesses across the country who were unhappy about the bad example Michael was setting by his lewd behavior on stage and in his shocking "worldly" videos.
However, many young Witnesses weren't complaining, but instead they emulated and worshiped the ground Michael walked on. This was the situation in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn where we attended meetings during our Bethel years and where there were 20 congregations in 2.2 square miles. Almost all of those who attended meetings there were black, most from the West Indies, some from Africa, or were African Americans, and too many of their children were fascinated with Michael Jackson. They had posters of him hanging in their rooms; they walked like him and sang his songs
Incidentally, it was the norm for these kids to discontinue their association with the religion as soon as they could, and it was thought that the actions of Michael Jackson were contributing to this exodus. To "mature" Witnesses he was a very bad example for the children in the organization. And this is the frame of mind that both my husband and I were in when Tim called to ask if we would like to go out in field service in Brooklyn with Michael Jackson.
I learned from Tim that Michael went in the field ministry wherever he had a concert, accompanied by two body guards who sat in the van while he called at homes. Tim knew the woman, a Witness, who made all the field service arrangements, and it was she who asked him to go out in service with the singer, plus, requested that a mature married couple also join them.
Of course, I was very excited about the prospect. I knew just what I wanted to talk to Michael about while we were walking door-to-door. First on the agenda was about his white gloved hand grabbing his crotch while performing on stage. I wanted to know why a man serious enough about his religion to do door-to-door evangelizing would do such a thing; or to lie on the floor wriggling sensuously; or to engage in such sexually provocative dancing; or to sing songs such as those on the "Thriller" album, which were so contrary to our belief system (to put it mildly). As a mother, my desire was to kindly share with him the anxiety parents were going through because their children were idolizing his "worldly" behavior.
That evening I told Joe about the invitation. To my surprise, he didn't show the slightest interest. I remember his words just like it was yesterday: "If I'm going out in service, I'll go to our congregation where I'm assigned. I don't go to other people's congregations just to work with a celebrity, no matter what the reason. You go if you want to, but I'm not! There are many couples who might want to do this. What about some of the elders and their wives in Tim's congregation? We had lunch with Brother and Sister So & So when I gave a talk there. They have children whose conduct they are concerned about. And since Tim is taking Michael in field service in his congregation's territory, it's more appropriate to ask them."
No amount of cajoling could change his mind. Again Joe told me to go if I wanted to, that he didn't mind. However, I decided against it because Tim wanted a married couple. I just didn't feel that it was proper to go without my husband, although when I told Tim about Joe's reaction, he still asked me to come, but I said no, that I thought Joe's idea was good-Tim should ask some Witnesses in his congregation.
A few days after Tim took Michael out in service, he told me what happened. And, yes, he did follow Joe's recommendation and the couple Joe had suggested went out with them. They all went in a large van, which no one could see into, and Michael had on a hat with a large brim that he pulled down over his face. At the first door Michael did the talking, and a young lady accepted the book. When she came back with some money she asked Michael if he had ever been told that he sure looked like Michael Jackson. He nodded and said that it happens all the time and they left.
Another cute experience happened when they were walking on the sidewalk outside of the apartments. A little fellow about six passed by them and when he looked at Michael he took a double take, kept walking and then backed up and looked again. Then he walked on shaking his head and muttering, "No, it can't be him."
One day, a few weeks later, I was walking to work with Leon Weaver, who is an African American. Leon worked in the Service Department and was part of the Service Committee. Before he came to Bethel many years before, I was told that Leon was in the circuit work.
Inasmuch as Leon was pleasant to talk to, I thought he might enjoy my tale of how I almost worked in service with Michael Jackson, and about the cute little experiences Michael had had in service. So I told Leon how Joe refused to go even though I thought we might be in a good position, Joe being a Bethel elder, to discuss with Michael how his actions on stage had such negative ramifications in the congregations. However, Leon told me that he was very surprised about Joe's attitude. He said he and Ruby would have liked to have spent time with Michael Jackson and would have certainly done so if Tim had asked him.
I took it for granted that Leon was interested in the opportunity to talk with Michael about the same troublesome things that I wanted to discuss-especially because he worked in the Service Department where it's part of his job to see to it that the elders enforce organizational rules for so-called Christian behavior. I mentioned to Leon that famous "white glove" of Michael's. Wow, was I ever thunderstruck when Leon pointedly told me that he would have liked to shake the hand that wore the white glove if he had had the opportunity. Further, he said something to the effect that he wouldn't have counseled the young man, but would have enjoyed being in the company of such a celebrity. I was surprised, to put it mildly, and said nothing more even though I felt as if I was being counseled for my nit-picking attitude.
That evening, I told Joe about the conversation I had with Leon. He was not in harmony with Leon's viewpoint, but we kept that to ourselves. It was at times like this that it would sometimes cross our minds that maybe we, along with many other JW families, took the organizational instructions too seriously. However, despite Leon's different perspective from ours concerning Michael Jackson, one which we then disagreed with, we continued to try to do what we thought God would expect of faithful Jehovah's Witnesses and advance what we thought was "pure worship without defilement of any kind."
Contributed by Barbara Anderson