“Mixed up” with the Witnesses beginning in 1911
Back in 1911, my mother was about eight years old when she began attending what was called the “Class.” These were meetings that were held in halls rented by the local International Bible Students. And my Great Uncle Ray was a Bible student. He wore a cross and crown pin in the lapel of his blue serge suit at Charles Taze Russell’s grave site. This just intrigued me when he came to our house and I would frequently touch this pin.
In the summer of 1931, Judge Rutherford was going to talk in Columbus, Ohio, at the Ohio State Fair grounds. So Uncle Ray, in one of his frequent visits, came to see my father and mother and said, “You have to come and hear this.” My father and mother declined but they said they’d listen to him on the radio.
So they listened on the radio and as Judge Rutherford came to his final remarks about taking the name Jehovah’s Witnesses, my mother and father were so swayed by this man, they decided to take the name Jehovah’s Witnesses.
So the next Sunday we were all swept off to the kingdom hall and we continued to go to kingdom halls for some fifty years. I could just barely read but I remember that we went up to the third floor of a rented kingdom hall, where in one area there was the Watchtower study with adults, and in another area there was a little circle of youngsters studying The Harp of God book.
On Wednesday evenings we had testimony night and everybody told how they knocked on doors and who was mean to them. We would sing out of religious hymnals and fan ourselves with fans from the local funeral home because we didn’t have any air conditioning back then – such a far cry from kingdom halls today!
In 1939, I was baptized in the Ohio River and I was ready to spend the rest of my life working for what I thought was God’s organization. Not only that, I thought it was God’s ONLY organization, but a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then.
What I thought was going to be a lifetime commitment ended in December of 1981 when my husband, Ray, and I walked away from the Jupiter, Florida, Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, never to return again.
However, Jehovah’s Witnesses won’t let you just walk away so our leaving was traumatic. There are only two ways out, physically dead or spiritually murdered. Now if you’re physically dead, they’ll do the funeral, but the other way, you’re on your own because from then on out, you’re shunned. They consider you dead and that’s the way they want “apostates” to be – dead.
My husband, Ray Marsh, came from a line of Witnesses that went back into the 1930s. His folks were Methodist. Ray’s Uncle George came to Ray’s parent’s home quite a lot. He was associated with the Bible Students, the International Bible Students, and was of the heavenly class, “the 144,000.” At the time that he started talking to Ray’s folks, there was only the heavenly class.
The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society didn’t realize there was going to be an earthly class because that wasn’t revealed until 1935! But they had to do something because in 1918 to 1922, many people came into the religion. They were called the Ruth and Esther class but because only 144,000 go to heaven, the leaders of the Watch Tower wondered about these people – what was their hope? Then it was decided that they were a secondary spiritual class who would go to heaven too, but as a secondary spiritual class that would not be sitting on thrones.
After they took the name Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1931, I think it was at the Washington, D.C. convention in 1935 when it was announced that people who it was thought were the secondary spiritual class, calling them other sheep or the great multitude, were not going to be in heaven at all. But rather it was revealed from the “lightning throne of Jehovah” that there was going to be a class upon the earth that would live forever in a New World.
But back to Ray’s family. Ray’s mother wrote to the Watch Tower Society in 1930. (She had the letter at home and one time she showed it to Ray.) In the letter, she said that she recognized the information from the Watch Tower as being the Word of God and she wanted to know what she could do. The family started attending the kingdom hall. But the children met alone and one of the older ones of the remnant, so to speak, taught the children. This went on for quite some time and the book they studied was the same as the one I studied in 1934, The Harp of God. During the study, we learned what each string meant on the harp.
In 1936, Ray was baptized in a creek just outside Zanesville, Ohio, with all of his family. He had two sisters, and Ray was the baby of the family. The day they were baptized they thought was one of the happiest days of their lives, but in reality, turned out to be the beginning of one of the most joyless times because all they ever knew of were terrible things happening.
Ray would hear his folks come home from a Kingdom Hall meeting. They would take people there with good will, but they would be mistreated. Some of the things that the servants did were not proper and it would just bother his folks something fierce, but this was just the beginning.
In 1941, Ray and his family attended the St Louis Convention and I was there too. (I didn’t know Ray at that time.) Judge Rutherford was the speaker and it was one of his last conventions. He had the children brought together in the arena and we all received a copy of the Children book.
The Judge let the young people know they shouldn’t get married. If we had any marriage plans, as the children of the New World, we should put them completely out of our minds. The young men were admonished not to marry a hank of hair and a stack of bones now. We were told to wait until the prophets came back, the ancient worthies as they were called, and let them pick out a marriage mate that would be suitable for us?
You can be sure that whatever the organization said, we did, so none of us considered marriage at that time. The organization said not to get married, we didn’t get married. They said to pioneer, I went pioneering. They said go to prison, and Ray went to prison – for three years.
Ray was sentenced to five years in Chillicothe Reformatory for not obeying the draft orders. He said he was a minister and had the rights of a minister and should get a 4D classification, a minister’s classification. But the law of the land took a different course with Jehovah’s Witnesses then it did with other ministers and said “no,” so Ray spent three years of a five year sentence in prison. (While there Ray and several of the other Witness inmates wrote a booklet entitled 1,000 Years Well Spent.)
In 1946, when Ray was released, the brothers said don’t go to college, so he didn’t go to college. All they said was it’s too late to get involved in things of this system because we are now standing in the portals of the New World. Don’t get involved in anything now, but go pioneering and place these magazines and these books, that’s the main thing.
So in the same small town that Ray returned to after being imprisoned, he pioneered again which was quite a hard thing for him. He went out knocking on all these doors after he’d made the front page of the paper by not going to war but went to prison. While he was pioneering he was still on probation from prison.
Ray and I met in 1947 and shortly we were married. He stopped pioneering and began his radio and television career at that time. We decided that not only were we going to get married, but we were also going to raise a family which we did and were blessed with two sons, Barry and Randy, and a beautiful daughter, Susan.
Had we listened to the unfaithful and indiscreet slave, we would have been alone and we wouldn’t have had our beautiful children. We’d be like all the other Witnesses who are still waiting at the portals and watching for the wrong signs.
In 1979 I had been a real estate associate for a couple of years and I was doing all right. I decided to open my own business but I made a very bad theocratic mistake. I formed a corporation, and one of the corporate members was Jim Mort, a disfellowshipped ex-Jehovah’s Witness, and one of the other stock holders was Ray, my elder husband. Somebody turned Ray into the judicial committee and they called him in to ask him some questions. Ray was asked if he was in business with a disfellowshipped brother and Ray told them the truth, he wasn’t in business with a disfellowshipped brother, he was in the business of broadcasting and television. That had been his life-long job. He was a broadcaster in West Palm Beach, Florida, on a Music of Your Life radio station.
But I was operating a real estate business, and, naturally, as my husband, he had part of the stock because part of the money was his that I used to form the corporation – no different than if somebody is an investor in General Motors. You don’t know who has invested in General Motors, whether they are Christian or not Christian, but if you have an investment there, it’s an investment there. That is the way it is.
After several meetings on this matter, the judicial committee determined that we should either buy out Jim Mort’s stock or we should sell him ours. And so the corporation existed for only about five weeks because we bought him out. We didn’t want to tell Jim Mort why we were buying him out because he was beginning to come back into Jehovah’s Witnesses. His wife, who was a member of another religion, was studying with the Witnesses and he operated a real estate school.
When we attended his real estate school, we got into problems. The elders asked us, “Did we have any meals with this person?” And we did have lunch with him because real estate school is an all-day thing. We had eaten with Jim Mort so we had to say so. That wasn’t enough for our committee. Then they really were after us now that we had had a meal with a person who was disfellowshipped. We didn’t want to tell Jim, the ex-brother about the situation because we were hoping he was going to return to Jehovah’s Witnesses.
If they didn’t have enough evidence already to hang us, they brought out a picture of me that was in a real estate magazine and one of the brothers asked me if that was a cross I had around my neck. And I said, “What do you think”? He said he didn’t know. I told him it was really a rose arbor design in the blouse but as I had the jacket on, all you could see was the design which appeared to be like a cross. But since it was a kangaroo court, no matter what I said, they were out to hang us.
His name was Brother Hanneman, but after the things they did to us, after the incident with my blouse, our children renamed him Brother “Hangman.”
Having a cross around my neck was like getting caught walking into a church. It’s terrible, but it was all right for my Uncle Ray back in 1930 to have a cross and crown pinned on his jacket, but in 1979 it could get you disfellowshipped.
Well, the elders read a letter about us. We went to the congregation that night and they said they were going to reprove us for conduct unbecoming a Christian. But before they did that, they first give a fifteen minute discourse on gross sin and then everybody asked afterwards, “Which one of them is going to get the divorce?” because they didn’t know the reason for our being reproved. All they knew was that the elders were talking about gross sin and then they read a letter. They not only read the letter to our congregation, but they sent it to at least two other adjacent congregations. This was only done because Ray was so prominent in the community, in radio and television, and we had been Witnesses for fifty years, so they wanted to get notice of our reproof as widespread as they could.
One of the overseers in one of the congregations said, “I am not going to do this. I’m not going to read this letter. I know these people and I am not going to do this.” But the other brother, (George Williams), read it and because his wife had been the realtor who had turned us in, and he read the letter, he was removed because he was told not to read the letter.
And then just a couple of years ago when he was 51-years-old, George Williams died of a sudden heart attack. We saw his brother-in-law, who was an elder, in the mall. Where all our other friends had refused to talk to us, this brother did talk to us because we told him how sad we were about his brother’s death. We just tried to keep on loving them no matter what they did to us.
So the letter was read in the congregation and we stayed and listened to the entire letter being read. They said, “Don’t you want to leave because we’re going to read a letter on you?” We said, “No, we are going to sit right here.” And after all of that we still tried to get back in.
I cried for a whole year. I sat in that kingdom hall and I cried and I cried and I would sit there and would read the Bible. And the only scripture I got any consolation from was in Hebrews where it says if the Lord loves you He is going to chasten you. And then I’d think, you still love me Lord because you’re still punishing me.
We figured all the rest of the religions in the world were of the devil and where else could we go? We had to try to come back, but they didn’t want us back.
So one Sunday morning after the Watchtower study–in the spring of 1980–a brother, Fritz Heinrick, whom we had known for many years, met us in the parking lot at the kingdom hall in Lake Worth. He had earlier tried to talk to the judicial committee on our behalf but the judicial committee was bent on keeping us out. He had sat in on many judicial committee meetings himself handing out misery and he realized the hopelessness of our situation so he invited us over to his house. Fritz told us that he and his wife were reading the Bible and their eyes were popping out at the things they were learning. I asked him which one of the publications was he using, to which he replied, only the Bible, and invited us over to show us what they were learning.
We thanked him and declined because we knew we were already in deep trouble and he wanted us to read the Bible without the Watchtower literature. We knew to stay away from Fritz and Molly because they sounded like evil slaves!
That was the spring of 1980, so in September of 1980, we sold our home and moved to North Palm Beach. Ray had our cards sent to the Jupiter Congregation which was even a little farther north than North Palm Beach. However that congregation treated us like visitors so we only attended on Sunday mornings.
We were still doing door to door work without taking the Watchtower with us. We’d just talk to people about God, or the flowers in the front yard or whatever they wanted to talk about. We stopped contributing to the organization too.
We were sitting in the kingdom hall in Jupiter one Sunday when Ray told me that he felt worse there because he wasn’t spiritually built up so he was going home and not coming back, and we never did.
There was a funny thing that happened at the Jupiter congregation. We didn’t know about it because we were just there trying to get ourselves spiritually built up, but it wasn’t working. At the same time we were attending, there were 29 other Witnesses, all from the same Tuesday night book study that left that congregation!
As a matter of fact in time the Jupiter congregation became known as the apostate capital of Florida. And we didn’t have anything to do with it, although many Witnesses blamed us for it but we didn’t even know what was going on.
When we left we were kind of lost. You know how when you’re accustomed to putting in ten hours in field service and spending five hours a week in meetings, doing nothing brings a strange feeling. For about a month we didn’t read any Witness literature or go to any Witness meetings. Our daughter wanted to get married to a young man who wasn’t even sure he believed in God! But, he was absolutely certain that he didn’t believe in Jehovah’s Witnesses. So we started to read the Bible with him with an open mind and he started listening the same way. Then we connected back with Fritz who was still reading the Bible and he told me about an article in Time magazine about Ray Franz.
He gave me Ray Franz’s phone number so I called him and asked him if he was going to start his own religion. He said, “What, do you think I’m going to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire?” I said, “Well what are you doing?” He said, “I’m just reading the Bible.”
My husband Ray had read the Bible through several times; he did some of it on government time when he was in prison, but I had not read the Bible. So I started reading the Bible and calling people who had left the Witnesses and our mailbox was always packed with letters and tracts from Joan Warren, Randy Waters, Bill Cetnar, Duane Magnani, David Reed, Ed Dunlap, and Ron Frye.
We made a lot of changes in our lives back then. We sold our condo, and had a penthouse at Old Port Cove, which is a nice community. We were third generation Jehovah’s Witnesses for fifty years. As Witnesses, all we ever knew was sorrow and anxiety. We had wonderful parents and they saw a lot of the hypocrisy in the organization because they used to come home and talk about it. But for them it was as far as it could go.
My husband, Ray, died October 16, 2006 but until he did we were so happy with our lives as Christians free from the control of the Watchtower. We spoke in many Christian churches explaining what it was like to be Jehovah’s Witnesses and outlining what we discovered about our past religion of fifty years. We attended Christian conferences, especially those made up of former Witnesses like ourselves who found Christian freedom. I’m well up in age now but I have no regrets. What I do have is peace. I love being with my children and many grandchildren who have never experienced the sorrow and anxiety I did when I was a Witness and for that I’m so happy.