Personal Experience: JAMES PENTON



My Dramatic Break from Jehovah’s Witnesses

by  James Penton

As a fourth generation Jehovah’s Witness, I had always felt free to jimdiffer with the Watchtower Society when it’s teachings were not in harmony with the Bible or common sense. My paternal grandfather, George Penton, was a medical doctor who was greatly irritated by the Golden Age’s attacks on vaccination, while my paternal grandmother, Margaret Penton, refused to break association with many who left the Witnesses during the 1920s and ’30s. Before she died in 1964, she quietly told my wife that she did not believe that the resurrection of the sleeping members of Christ’s bride had occurred in 1918. So there was always a “free-thinking” attitude in the Penton family which J. F. Rutherford and the Watchtower leadership since his day would have held to be apostasy if we had spoken openly about it. No doubt that was why I felt free to attend the University of Arizona in the early 1950s and the University of Iowa in the latter part of the same decade. I ultimately earned a Ph.D.

Why then did I remain a Witness until 1980? I think that it was that I had experienced the banning of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada as a boy during the Second World War and had watched their struggle for freedom to preach openly in Quebec after the war. I have always been a civil libertarian, and I greatly admired Witness lawyers such as Hayden Covington and Glen How for their successes before the Supreme Courts of the United States and Canada in broadening the rights of freedom of speech and the press. For that reason I published my first book which was titled Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada: Champions of Freedom of Speech and Worship which dealt almost entirely with the persecution of the Bible Student-Witnesses from the First World War through to the early 1970s and their achievements in gaining greater freedoms for themselves and all Canadians.

Yet I was somewhat unhappy with Witness teachings as early as the 1960s. I was disgusted with Fred Franz’s assertion that 1975 probably would mark the end of the present world and the beginning of the millennium. After all, I was aware of the Watch Tower Society’s failed prophecies with respect to 1914 and 1925. But I said little about the matter and remained a Witness. With the creation of the Governing Body in 1971, the renewal of the elders system, and a greater emphasis on the shepherding work in 1972, I felt that the Witness community might evolve into something less authoritarian and more positive. Yet in a few years I was disabused of that naive hope. After the publication of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada, a number of individuals began to contact me regarding the ruthlessness being practiced by the society against anyone who spoke up about abuses in the organization. Most outstanding among those persons were Richard Rawe and Jerry Bergman. Then I received a type-script copy of Carl Olof Jonsson’s The Gentile Times Reconsidered, read it and quickly became convinced that the society’s 1914 doctrine was a sham.

While this was taking place, the society’s 1975 quasi-prophecy failed, many thousands abandoned Jehovah’s Witnesses, and in desperation the Governing Body turned the clock back. More powers were given to circuit and district overseers, and greater emphasis was again placed on the preaching work; the number of publishers just had to be increased to replace those who had left. I remember vividly how, as an elder in Lethbridge, Alberta, I had to travel a hundred miles with fellow elders on a cold winter day to hear a representative from the society’s Canadian branch tell us that we must preach even if we did not have love. And when I remonstrated with him on the basis of 1 Corinthians 13, some of my fellow elders looked askance at me. It was evident they believed that what the society asserted was more true than what the Bible taught. A few days later I was visited by several of those elders who demanded to know if I felt that the society was the Lord’s organization and not to be questioned. I answered that I felt it was so long as it was in harmony with the Scriptures.

As that was happening my older son David was being bedeviled by the circuit overseer. Although he had been a pioneer in Quebec, ran the electrical system for circuit conventions, had to work at night to provide for his family, his “sin” was that he was attending university. So the circuit overseer made an issue of his supposed lack of time in preaching even though he had reported more time in the door-to-door work than several elders. As a result he and his wife eventually resigned from the organization. As this was happening, I began to feel the circuit overseer’s animosity. On a couple of occasions I had stated openly that more people became Witnesses through incidental witnessing than through the door-to-door work, something that infuriated a number of local pioneers who lobbied the circuit overseer to muzzle me.

But what finally caused an all-out attack on me took place after I visited Brooklyn in the summer of 1979. I was shocked at the senile nature of some of the Governing Body, met some of the workers who were thoroughly disgusted with the behavior of that council, and was shocked by the July 15 Watchtower of that year. For in one of the study articles–evidently written by Governing Body member Lloyd Barry–was a statement on Acts 20:20 which misinterpreted a quotation found in the society’s 1971 organizational manual by bobbing off a portion of it that showed that the expression “from house to house” would better have been translated as “in the various houses.” In other words, the society had recognized that the Apostle Paul did not go knocking on doors to bring in new converts, he taught in the various houses of those who were believers or prospective believers. This upset me so much that when I returned home, I wrote a long letter to the Governing Body criticizing its members over having stress 1975 and for what dishonesty promoting the preaching work. My letter was later published in James Beverley’s book Crisis of Allegiance which gives a detailed account of my and many other Lethbridge Witnesses’ ultimate break with the Witnesses.

The result of this letter was that upon finding out about it, some of my fellow elders, acting apparently under instructions from the circuit and district overseer and perhaps even from Brooklyn itself, decided to have me removed as an elder. They did this by soliciting letters from members of several congregations criticizing me on a number of things but principally on being against the preaching work. What was particularly nasty about this was that several of my “loving fellow elders” waited to do this behind my back in December 1979 just before I was preparing to leave for Toronto on a study leave from the University of Lethbridge.

At first I resigned as an elder, but when a sister revealed to me how my letter had been leaked, I determined to take a stand. So I withdrew my resignation and met with the full body of elders. When a vote was taken the circuit overseer and four elders voted to have me removed, but three others would not go along and resigned in protest. Very quickly the three congregations in Lethbridge became split and with nearly half of the members of my home congregation refusing to comment at meetings. Naturally, I left on study leave sick at heart.

In the early spring I returned from Toronto to Lethbridge to face a specially appointed Watchtower committee to settle matters there. Eventually, that committee decided that I was not guilty of any heresy. But it did nothing to censer the circuit overseer who had proclaimed in a meeting that there was an apostate movement locally and later admitted that he was thinking of me and the three elders who had supported me. But what was more outlandish was that the committee left him and the local elders to determine whether I should or should not remain as an elder. So when I again learned that I was to be removed from that position for no good reason, my last bit of faith in the Watchtower hierarchy died. Of course I am sure I would have left the movement very shortly anyway because I had come to feel it was teaching false doctrine despite my and others’ complaints.

Shortly therafter I and a few others began to meet for study and prayer in my home, and within a short time some eighty-three persons, including a small number of children, left the kingdom hall and joined together in fellowship with us. Extremely bitter over what had happened, I decided to take court action but dropped it when I realized how expensive it was and how hard it was becoming on both me and my wife.

Naturally, the Watchtower branch in Toronto was taken aback and eventually decided to disfellowship me “for starting a sect.” But in doing so, it was embarrassed from one end of Canada to the other. I did not attend the so-called judicial hearing, but many of my supporters did. However, after my son David delivered a letter from me stating that I had no intention of appearing before a “judicial committee,” my supporters left. In the mean time, acting on a tip from Richard Rawe, a photographer from the Alberta Report magazine showed up outside the kingdom hall where the judicial committee and many loyal Witnesses were meeting. Although some of the Witnesses tried to force him to leave from in front of the kingdom hall, he waited on the public sidewalk outside it. After several hours, David and several others returned to see if the judicial committee meeting was over. At that point, the Witnesses came pouring out of the kingdom hall, and the city overseer began chasing the photographer while yelling at him at top voice. Thereupon, David called out that the Witnesses should leave the photographer alone because he was within his legal rights. At that point, an older man punched David, and he replied with a jab to that man’s face. The man was taken to hospital with a broken cheek bone, and the Witnesses tried to press charges against David. But the police would have nothing to do with the matter since David’s assailant admitted that he had struck first.

What followed was that articles appeared throughout Canada in major newspapers, the Alberta Report, and Maclean’s Magazine as stories about my disfellowshipment were repeated on radio and television. To the Witnesses I became Canada’s number one apostate, but from a publicity standpoint the Watchtower Society and local Alberta Witnesses suffered a big black eye for their heresy hunt.



Editor’s Note:

Jim Penton  has written several books on Jehovah’s Witnesses, religion, and religious persecution. We have heard that he is working on publishing a new book on religious persecution to be published soon. Also watch for updated editions and newly avaialable translations of his current works.

(The following were copied from

apocalypseApocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah’s Witnesses Paperback – August 9, 1997

22 thoughts on “Personal Experience: JAMES PENTON”

  1. The problem is Mr. Penton the world is falling apart and you like everyone else is aging and you have offered nothing better as a hope. At least the Witnesses offer a bible message of a strong hope for the future and a world where all mankind can live together in peace. What have you offered but a lifetime of tearing down and hate?

    1. I don’t know how soon Mr Penton would be able to respond, and I did not forward this message to him. However, I know him pretty well, and will attempt to respond for him. Some JWs who feel offended or attacked by Jim Penton probably think that a few books and comments made by him represent his whole life. You would likely be surprised that on a day-to-day basis most of Jim Penton’s friends thank him for being a positive and upbuilding influence on people’s lives. The great majority of his time has been spent discussing Bible truths and enjoying his relationship with Jehovah God and Jesus Christ through study, prayer, caring for his family and association with spiritual brothers and sisters. He also reaches out to others to help them appreciate Bible truths. I’ve also conversed with some of the persons who have come to know him by meeting with him at his home, at congregational meetings, and at conventions. He has been associated with a group who continue to study and learn much in the same way that Bible Students and Jehovah’s Witnesses have done through the years. Ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses only make up a portion of the persons he associates with.
      One other point I’d like to make is that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not the only persons who offer a Bible message of a strong hope for the future and a world where all mankind can live together in peace. Jim Penton appreciates that this is exactly what is held out in the Bible. It is also true that Jehovah’s Witnesses, more than most other religions, have spent a very large portion of their time and their publications tearing down other religions and even trying to take away the hope other Christians have in the Bible. Yet, where JW’s are sure they are tearing down falsehood, no one faults JWs for this. As Ecclesiastes 3:3 states, there is a time to tear down.
      If you have read Jim Penton’s books, you will know that his goal is simply to get at the truth, and there is no malice in reporting the truth. If you find anything he has written that is not true, he will happily correct it.

    2. The Problem is Namuh: Is that the JW’s continually disfellowship people for all kinds of things. Some of them even go to the lengths to commit suicide because of this. Just take a look at the organ transplant doctrine. The ORG has continually changed and these folks think they are inspired by GOD and have God’s blessing and that they are given divine instruction when to disfellowship someone. Can i ask is it the same Divine instruction that God gave them to make all these doctrinal changes? The God that led the Israelite outta the wilderness? Because I don’t remember him changing his policies as much then as he supposedly does now. Light keeps getting bright? My FOOT … lol. No it’s just the members just keep get dumber.

    3. Namuh, ha all the JW’s offer is hope, I could offer you a pet panda on a tropical island too, doesn’t make it true. Can they show any proof of anything, besides them just telling you what is truth and what isn’t? Keep drinking the kool aid, or take a step back and think for yourself. Wouldn’t hurt to at least question the JW’s would it?

    4. What the JWs offer are lies and hypocrisy.They deny their followers a decent education,or even a chance to use their own brains.If my post stops one individual from following this religion-then my effort will not be in vain.

      This religion destroys and divide families,yes they may carry out some good deeds-but so do charity workers.The Governing Body feels that they can dictate what you wear ,how you think and even to cut off your own family in the name of the Truth.

      Read about their two witness rule on-line,and how they harbour paedophiles in their congergations.They don’t mention their high profile court case in Australia on their website.Because they are full of lies and seek to mislead their brainwashed followers.

    5. No se trata de lo que la Watchtower ofrece con interpretaciones erróneas de la Biblia. Es lo que Jesucristo ofrece: “El que cree en mi tiene vida eterna…” Juan 3:36; Juan 6:47; Juan 11:25-26 Es su derecho creer y seguir a la WT!

      1. There is true hope and false hope. By falsely convincicing millions of people that Their God, they call Jehovah, is going to VERY soon restore earth to a Paradise after God kills BILLIONS of people at their feet because they don’t “know” his name, is as hopeless as anything imaginable. First of all, it isn’t going to happen, second, for Billions of people who cannot believe those false teachings, there is no way for them to grasp that hope. If JW’s really provides true hope their dates and calculated calendar gymnastics wouldn’t be some thing that would change, but be solid as a rock. After all, isn’t this the “HOPE” that millions of people through the past century have put their trust in? A true God would not play these kind of games with peoples hearts and emotions. Not a God who truly loved his creation. That God would tell His people not to even try to set dates and figure out anything to do with the end but to always be the kind of person who would be ready if called. ( death). And most of all, the true God does not have a group of men in New York he had called together to replace Him on earth. In fact, the True God says that Jesus is the way, the TRUTH , and the life. Get it? Not a bunch of men who have elevated themselves to be God in Earth. Please believe me. What you have put your heart and soul into is NOT hope.

  2. Is there any way to get in email contact with Dr. Penton? I’m currently doing my PhD research on the Witnesses and would love to be able to get in contact with him.

      1. Hello jwanswers,
        writing about the Jehovah’s Witnesses I had difficulties to understand their organizational structure. Now I understood that major changes took place since 1971 when the Governing Body began to separate from the legal corporations. According to Mr Penton’s book „Apocalypse Delayed“ 2015, page 312 this separation was completed practically „2005 when the president of the society was no longer a member of the Governing Body.“ Searching on this process I came across other publications, which state the year 2000 as the year when this change took place, when Milton G. Henschel and seven directors resigned from the Watch Tower Society „and were replaced by new office-bearers, none of whom were members of the Governing Body.“ (George D. Chryssides, Jehovah’s Witnesses: Continuity and Change (Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2016), page 143;'s%20witnesses%20continuity%20and%20change%202000&hl=de&pg=PT122#v=snippet&q=2000%20Henschel&f=false, Access 10.8.2017)
        I have further sources substantiating this year 2000: (Access 10.8.2017) (w01 15. 1. S. 31; Access 10.8.2017) (Access 19.7.2017)
        Now my question is, „Which date is right?“ Could you forward this question for me to Mr. Penton, too?
        Desiring to write things correctly,

    1. I’ve recently left. I was made to worship this group from age the age of 3 and finally found the Truth when i was 38. I was forced by my parents to get baptized so my stepfather could (Progress) become a Elder. At 12 yrs old i was baptized told not to worry about an education. My parents pulled me out of school in ninth grade, never finished school, but I pioneered my a** off for the GB. Gosh the these poor folks just don’t know who they are really serving..

      1. Dear Greg, your details about why you left and what goes on in the JW Society makes me sad. I had so many friends I’ve never heard from again just because I couldn’t believe the teachings. I never did anything wrong at that time, but I just couldn’t accept all the continual changes as being “true”. I’m so glad I left that organization. I hope your life is better because of leaving the cult that it is.

  3. Sorry about my late response to this article however for the only past month have i started to research outside of JW pubs. My question is in regard to the statement “……Acts 20:20 which misinterpreted a quotation found in the society’s 1971 organizational manual by bobbing off a portion of it that showed that the expression “from house to house” would better have been translated as “in the various houses.” In other words, the society had recognized that the Apostle Paul did not go knocking on doors to bring in new converts, he taught in the various houses of those who were believers or prospective believers. ….”

    I would like to research (and verify) this statement about “various houses” further. Is the org manual mentioned in the article available to reference? In the NIV it does say from “ to house” so I am not sure how I can verify or research further without having the organizational manual.

    Also thank you for sharing your story it is very much appreciated.

    1. This whole discussion is extremely complex. You can find a complete rendering of this verse here.

      Some 20 bibles are represented. There are 2 ways that this verse must be read if you do not like what means.

      1. New American Standard 1977
      how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house,

      What exactly does the second “and” connect. Since I am picky, I choose to think it is (you) understood which is usually reserved for commands. In this case it is for the object of the verb teaching. The sense of this translation is that Paul is teaching only those he is speaking to. He does it publicly or by going to individual homes. It does not imply that he will go to just any home.

      The second way they represent this verse is this way.

      New Living Translation
      I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either publicly or in your homes.

      Here the intent is much clearer. “Your” is a possessive pronoun. That means it possess the noun that follows it. Your homes means the homes belong to you. The New Living Translation means that the only homes Paul will visit will be those of the people he is speaking to.

      My own feeling about this is that the Witnesses have chosen to translate it one way (the first way I’ve given). I do not have a problem with doing what they think it means. But they should recognize that how they interpret a verse like this one determines how people must conduct their lives, and thinking human beings tend not to like their own ways of doing things ignored.

  4. My 17 year old was recently disfellowshipped…. the head elder wanted to know details. Personally I believe he was turned on by it all. If you want to know more, I can be reached at [email removed]. It’s just so overwhelming I can’t even begin to write about it.

    1. That is so sad. I’ve heard of this before and know an elder who also gave this impression in judicial committees. I am going to remove your email from your original comment, but if you intended it there for anyone to ask about this situation then I will put it back. It’s not good to leave up an email address unless you are prepared for a few persons using it in ways you might not have intended. But I may follow up with you at a later time. I hope that your whole family has the strength to deal with this situation in a way that turns out well over time.

  5. I just finished reading Professor Pentons book Apocalypse Delayed third edition. What a great read very informative , objective and no sign of bitterness which was refreshing. Pleasepass on my comments to him.

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