Randy was happy to contribute his experience. Due to health issues, however, he asked if we could accept his submission based on things he’s already written. So that’s what we’ve done. The following experience was taken as excerpts from randallwaters.org. A lot was skipped, but Randy’s descriptions of life at Bethel are so accurate and revealing that we just hated to skip any of it.
LEAVING BETHEL FOR MORE PRESSING MATTERS
I was born in Oklahoma City in 1952. The last church I went to in my youth was the Garden Grove Community Church in So. Calif., as my mother worked as one of Dr. Robert Schuller’s secretaries. Although his church is now more famously known as the Crystal Cathedral, back then it was the only drive-in church in the world, converted from an outdoor movie drive-in, with car speakers and all.
Being typical Okies, we loved the country and my dad bought a small farm when I was in my teens and we raised all kinds of animals, including horses, dogs, cats, chickens, a raccoon, a goat, rabbits, snakes, quail, and much more. I also had guns and went hunting with my dad on occasion. The horse was later replaced by a motorcycle to terrorize the hundred miles of dirt roads behind our house. I could forget about church… this WAS my church.
My Insecurities Led Me to the Witnesses
One day I visited my folks and found a little blue book called the “Truth That Leads To Eternal Life” in their drawers, that my mom had bought from the Jehovah’s Witnesses just to get rid of them. It seemed to have all the answers, which the churches didn’t.
I was hooked.
This happened in Canoga Park in 1972, a year before all JWs were to give up smoking or be disfellowshipped. I smoked a pack a day and tried everything to quit, without success. I realized that I LIKED smoking, and that was my problem! So one day I was sitting in the driveway and just started crying, because I could not quit. I put my heart in the Lord’s care, as I gave up trying. I couldn’t even ask for a miracle.
I got one, however! The next morning I woke up and didn’t grab for a cigarette. I DIDN’T WANT ONE. What?? This was too weird. This happens to NOBODY (none that I ever heard of, anyway). The Lord actually TOOK AWAY THE DESIRE to smoke, and to this day I haven’t had the desire at all and haven’t smoked once either.
I got baptized in 1972 at an assembly and soon was appointed as magazine servant in the Canoga Park Kingdom Hall, where I lived at that time. I went door-to-door with the pioneers, often doing unworked territory in Topanga Canyon where all the hippies lived, and locked apartments that we conspired to sneak into. We developed sneaking into an art! It wasn’t too long before I asked my dad if I could work part-time at my job at Valley Park Ford as a tune-up man, and he set it up so I could work 3 days a week while I pioneered. We would put in 140 hours a month like it was nothing.
I must say the best thing that happened to me as a Witness was breaking out of my shy cell and learning to speak to people, even those who hated me. I was soon giving public talks.
By 1974 I was a card-carrying TRUE BELIEVER in the WT as being the only true religion, and all others would be destroyed soon at Armageddon.
I took a trip up the California coast in 1974 to ascertain where I could pioneer where the need was greater. I found one congregation in San Luis Obispo that had only a couple of pioneers, yet had a whole town of 30,000 to cover, of which 15,000 were students. I went out 6-7 days a week and knocked on almost every door in San Luis Obispo in 6 months, and ended up with 6 “Bible studies” that got baptized from my efforts.
In late 1974 there was a Kingdom Ministry that sent out a call for Bethel volunteers to serve a minimum of 4 years in the Big House for $14 a month. Now, this was a real test for me. I hated big cities, and was scared to death of New York City, especially the cold and hot extremes of weather. (California boy here!) Not to mention that back then New York had about the worst crime rate in the nation
Let’s Go To Bethel
TIME IS SHORT! I felt that, with the fear of world events that seems to draw so many into the JWs and other cults. We all want to live in a secure family, and some of us prefer to lose our identity in something much larger than life. It does wonders for any insecurities!
Fortunately for me, one of the elders in the San Luis Obispo congregation had recently returned from Bethel, and told me all about it. All the fights, the smoking, the crime, and the idiosyncrasies of the old men who lived there. For that reason it was no surprise to see these things when I got there in November of 1974. I came in with a class of over 100 “new boys,” all of whom signed away their personal lives for at least 4 years (by the end of the first year over 50% of them had left prematurely, with a black mark on their record). One fellow who joined me from Hawaii en route to New York on the plane was a young man named Dennis, who after his first year, was caught visiting the brothels of 42nd Street Manhattan and was disfellowshipped and sent back to Hawaii. The next day President Nathan Knorr “had him for breakfast” in front of 2000 fellow Bethelites, outlining at the morning text discussion exactly what Dennis had done. Within an hour, half of the Witnesses in Hawaii knew what Dennis had done and the poor man was in ruins. This was common treatment for anyone who dared to embarrass Knorr and his New World Society. I knew that would never happen to me! I would rather be DEAD.
Out of the 100 brothers who came to Bethel in my class, only two were assigned to the pressroom, where books and Bibles were printed. Myself and Lewis Williamson. Lewis was from a holler in Kentucky and because of my okie background we became close buds.
Lewis and I both ended up working on the big MAN web presses that printed all their Bibles as well as anything on the fancy Bible paper (which is really the same paper used to roll cigarettes). There was no air conditioning in the factory, and we would run those big presses in the summer with 100 degrees outside and 110 degrees inside, sweating our butts off and breathing the heavy ink that the presses spewed out constantly. For my first year of Bethel I had a constant sore throat just from all the ink in my lungs! But we both became press operators in less than a year. I was also the only one in my group that I know of that got assigned to room with a Bethel “heavy,” Milan Miller, who traveled around the world setting up the MAN presses, which were worth about a half million apiece at the time. In addition to sharing a great room in the 117 Columbia Heights building, I learned a lot about the Society from Milan, a kind little man that I respected a lot. The rest of the new boys got assigned to live with up to 4 or 5 others in the Towers Hotel, which had been newly purchased and renovated for housing. Try sleeping with 4 others in one open room, who come in from their congregation meetings at all hours of the night, and many of them were fond to drink! Not fun. But I had lucked out.
Every new boy is assigned to a Bethel table and is expected to show up at least every morning for breakfast and the daily text discussion with Knorr or Franz or some other Bethel overseer. Four on each side of a long table, with a table head on one end and a table “foot” on the other. The table head was a Bethel Elder (a step above a regular elder, more on that later), and the foot was usually the same or a regular elder who could take over if the table head was missing. Food was passed from one side and if you were #10 you may not get too much to eat! Most all the food was grown on several farms the Watchtower owned in the New England area, including livestock, fruit and vegetables. That’s how we could live on $14 a month. It was virtually a commune.
At my table, they had one of only two single sisters that I knew of at Bethel. Her name was Judy Martin, and as far as I know she is still at Bethel, as I see her picture, slightly aged, in some of the publications to this day. I grew to love this girl secretly, but didn’t tell her for a long time. When I finally did, she was not at all interested. I was crushed. But I was lucky it didn’t work out, for she never would have left the Watchtower.
(When I first arrived at Bethel I went up to the tower top at 124 Columbia Heights and looked around all of Manhattan, saying to myself, “This is the only safe place in New York City!”)
I quickly gained a lot of experience in the Pressroom, running several presses and even becoming a press mechanic for a few months, and was then put on a special project. We were testing new nylon plates for the MAN presses that would save much time and end up with better quality printing. We were trying to get away from using lead plates with raised type on the presses, which was time consuming and the quality was not good. This eventually led to the Society purchasing a huge 2-story press from Wood Hoe which had never been tested, for $1.6 million. It had printing cylinders 6 feet long and 4 1/2 feet in diameter. Each revolution of the cylinders would produce 4 complete “Truth” books, and create about 100,000 of them a day, with an elevator that shot the unfinished books upstairs to an automated bindery.
This machine was a monstrous joke! It had failed to work properly for three experienced press mechanics, so I was assigned to get it working if it was possible. The biggest problem (aside from causing the entire building to sway and shutting down the lathes in the machine shop below us, as well as installing the massive rolls of paper every 35 minutes without stopping the press), was the untested quality of the plate cylinders themselves. The cylinders, while huge and very heavy, were made up of thousands of laminated rings of metal, some of which were magnetic to hold the new nyloprint plastic plates onto the press without special clamps. What the big problem was that as temperatures inside and outside the metal changed, the rings became like the different layers of a laminated wood table all moving or sliding against one another so that they were no longer smooth. The results were that the press printed books that looked like they were printed with rubber stamps, with light and heavy spots. After finally getting the other mechanical bugs out, I ran 100,000 books that were so bad they had to be recycled. Max Larson, the factory overseer, took me off the project and declared it a lost cause, eventually selling the press to China or something. I still have a copy of one of the books, that was sewn together but not yet bound, but which was improperly cut by the upstairs bindery into the shape of a perfect tombstone, and I wrote R.I.P. on the front to keep as a souvenir.
From that time to the day I left I was a floor overseer in building 3-6, in charge of all the Bible printing. (The day before I left I was appointed Assistant PRESSROOM Overseer.) That gave me time to learn how to work with the brothers in a personal way, as an overseer and a big brother in a sense, because they were all so young and inexperienced, and Bethel caused a lot of turmoil for most guys in one way or another. Taken away from home and all former friends, you work in New York City 5 1/2 days a week, make $14 a month meaning unless you have your own money you can’t go anywhere much or barely even see a movie. You have to eat in 20 minutes and walk through the snow or heat to the factory twice a day, only to come home and often not even have enough time to eat dinner because you were assigned to one of the 280 congregations in NYC and the subway might take you 45 minutes or more to get there (in suit and tie), so you would be late for your 3 meetings during the week if you sat down at the table after work. Then on weekends you were expected to go out in service and be a ministerial servant or elder or something in your local congregation! No time to think for yourselves, all the thinking was done for you.
Five of my six years at Bethel were very enjoyable, despite the “boot camp” atmosphere. The last year was intriguing to say the least, but often uncomfortable.
I was pretty lucky because I was only robbed once by 13 year-old kids with guns. (After they got my watch and $10, one came back to apologize because his mother went to church!) Back then, most of the violent crimes were committed by young thugs, as they couldn’t be easily prosecuted because of their age. We would walk through the projects and sometimes bottles would be thrown at us, but I stayed at Bethel for 6 years, going out to Linwood several times a week and often alone late at night, and I never got harmed. I attribute that to being street-wise and to PRAYER.
Although Linwood already had 7 elders, they liked me so much they pushed the issue of my becoming an elder without me knowing it. Policy was you had to be 30 to be an elder, but they had recently made some exceptions for 25 year-olds IF the congregation elders pushed the matter, and they did. I was one of two of the first young elders to be appointed at Bethel at that time at 25 years old! I was pleasantly surprised, and within a year, due to the friendship of Tom Cabeen and others in the pressroom (Tom was my overseer), I was appointed a Bethel Elder.
[As] of 2006, Bethel no longer appointed this position, probably due to mistrust and jealousy. Why? Because a Bethel Elder, who was a regular congregational elder that was valued also as a leader at Bethel and nominated by one’s overseer, had an unusual amount of authority, much like a circuit overseer, only better. You were trusted more than a circuit overseer, because you worked at the Big House and knew what the old guys really wanted of you, and you were daily accountable to them. You knew their cultspeak and all the hidden rules that the local elders didn’t know. You knew when to keep your mouth shut, and how to report certain problems within the congregations.
What privileges did Bethel Elders have? For one, they became table heads, could give comments at the family Watchtower study, could deal with moral or emotional problems with Bethelites, and were allowed to attend special meetings with the Governing Body members (this was to later be providential in allowing me to sit in and hear Bert Schroeder rail against the wicked apostates in 1979). But more interestingly, they were allowed to act as weekend circuit overseers in a sense, visiting congregations within a 200-mile radius of NYC for a special Friday night talk, Saturday field service and meetings with the local elders, and a special talk on Sunday. I did this every other weekend, and got to see Boston, Philly, New Haven, Mahwah, Ebbetts Field, Mystic, Wilmington, Bel Air and countless other New England cities. The Society paid my travel expense.
What was a real learning experience was to see all the problems in the congregations that you didn’t see in NYC. I never gave manuscript talks from the Society, I made up my own. I had three slide talks that I liked to give. One of them was called, “Growing Up.” After giving it to a congregation near Watchtower Farms in upstate New York, I was pulled aside by one white elder who complained about an interracial slide in my talk. They just happened to have a young couple, the boy was black and the girl white, and they had been trying to discourage them from dating. Apparently I made them mad! Hypocrites! I learned so much at Bethel.
In the next section, I will lay the groundwork for the Ray Franz Incident that occurred in 1979, which was the greatest shakeup the organization had seen in decades, and would lay the groundwork for the coming demise of the entire Watchtower organization as we know it. I will reveal the final days of Nathan Knorr (3rd president) and his resistance to the Governing Body arrangement, the outspokenness and strangeness of Fred Franz (4th president) as well as his demise, the writing of Aid to Bible Understanding and why it is no longer in print, along with another book that dared to change doctrine under their noses, and the rise to power of Ted Jaracz and his cronies who are still in charge.
My Story part 2: Trouble At Bethel
By my third year at Bethel I was really enjoying it and determined to make Bethel a life career. Although my desire to marry Judy, the single Bethel sister, did not work out, I would just stay and be single if I had to. I did not like the grind of life on the outside. I could never see myself working a 9-5 job (still can’t after 30 years), having a family and settling down. I was a March hare, full of energy and the desire to be the best in my field, whatever that was.
For some reason, I was put in the position to advance quickly in the organization.
Misguided as I was by a bunch of cranky old men in high positions, I was blissful in my ignorance. I was a true believer. To me, Jehovah was in charge of this organization, and I was responsible for the authority he gave me. I would turn in anyone who talked apostasy! Yet at the same time, mostly due to my crazy youth, I could be as wild as any other Bethelite. My friends and I regularly made beer runs to New Jersey to save money. I usually had a case of beer in my closet. (Not that we had much time to drink it!) But I enjoyed life there in spite of the unbearable heat in the summer and the freezing cold in the winter in Brooklyn.
Some Bethelites are loners. They spend most of their time reading, preparing, rehearsing. I, on the other hand, did not. Nearly two years of pioneering meant I could talk to a large crowd with ease. I had no fear of people or opposition.
In my 1st three years at Bethel I became aware of the moral shortfallings of many a Bethelite, from smoking to swearing, racial fights and so forth. Some managed to avoid going to meetings at all! Their parents had shipped them off to Bethel like it was the military or something, a last chance to straighten them out. Bethel broke you: you either made the grade or ended up a nut job. A few even took the suicide route, it was so traumatic. Waking up early to bells, few females, 20 minutes to eat, often no dinner, not to mention living in New York City. I knew one guy that chickened out after the taxi ride from the airport to Bethel!
What I was at first clueless about (as most Bethelites) was the great disparity between personal opinions on matters of belief, and official doctrine. Back in the 70s, it was a rite of passage to be an elder who had been there for several years and having your own view of, say, the 144,000 or 1914 or some other prophetic date. Someone like Fred Rusk (teacher) or Fred Franz (whacked theologian) took great pride in confiding their personal opinions to a few select Bethelites, just for shock value. It was like saying, “They don’t control my mind.” In the case of a few, they didn’t. Example?
One week Daniel Sydlik (GB) came out to the family ands said that it was appropriate to be dressed up like you were going to a meeting when you come to the table (at least a tie). That went over like a lead balloon, and the rebellion was met by none other than Fred Franz, who came to breakfast all next week in an old white T-shirt that said, “Where in the hell is McCook, Nebraska?” There was no controlling him. We thought that was so rad. Freddy was idolized by many. To me he was like an old Baptist preacher with a dry sense of humor, but more than ten minutes of listening to him drove you up a wall. In some ways it was like living in an old folks’ home. Brother Maxwell Friend liked to feed the pigeons (a no-no in NYC), and brother Suiter (GB) used the breakfast podium to lash out at him without mentioning names, “Those who feed the pigeons are not our friends.” Plus there was no shortage of unintended humor, with George Gangas (GB) thanking Jehovah for his shoelaces and Karl Klein (GB) giving a lecture in his prayers. I felt like a Catholic schoolgirl with the old nuns!
The boys who lived at 34 Orange St. were infrequently busted for loud music and beer parties. To be one of the dozen or so that lived in a nearby brownstone apt. (owned by the Society) was sheer independence and was in a class of cool in its own right. But they usually didn’t stay at Bethel very long.
But alas, not all was light-hearted and fun. Serious matters were afoot! Never a dull moment in God’s household.
Skeletons In the Closet
Some were reading their Bible too much. Now as a Bethelite, we all had to read the New World Translation all the way through, and I had read it three times as well as the Living Bible. But some Witnesses questioned their dating system, notably their “Gentile Times” calculations. The trouble began when a handful of brothers were commissioned to write the book Aid To Bible Understanding. In researching their chronological dating system for the “last days,” historical research overwhelmingly indicated that their precious date of 1914 (supposedly the invisible return of Christ) was nothing more than the start of World War I. My overseer, Tom Cabeen, began to share this with me, a little each day in a hushed tone behind the printing presses. It was intriguing but dangerous! According to all historical records, Jerusalem was destroyed in 587-586 BC, a full 20 years later than the Witness date. Neither was there found any basis in the Bible for a 2520-year “Gentile Times.” Russell’s dates and concepts had been constructed with inaccurate history.
Each day I would tell Tom, “Okay, that’s enough for today.” I had to go down in the Bethel library and do my own research on the dates, the identity of the “great crowd,” and more. I had to prove it for myself, and the history of their flip-flops and miscalculations were quite obvious. I researched speed-wise through every bound volume of The Watchtower, in their own Gilead library, from 1879 to 1979 on certain subjects. I typed my findings up and kept them as notes. I eventually became bold enough to share it with my new roommate, Robert Sullivan (still one of my roommates after 28 years) and he was shocked as well. The most obvious conclusion that one did not expect was that all these doctrinal inventions and changes were for one purpose: to control the masses. If you have ever wondered why I focus on mind control so much, here is the answer. It was the first and most obvious thing I noticed in reading their literature—how to control what you think. The actual doctrines were really irrelevant, it was how clever you are in convincing others. That is why to this day I have never engaged in debates with pro-Watchtower apologists—they have learned from their masters how to wear you out with absurd and tedious arguments, and people miss the forest for the trees in the process. Yet even the card sharks on the street were more clever (they could master optical illusions as well). The NY streets teach you a lot of things. One finding stands out:
The choosing of another class of Christians, those who would live on the earth but not be born again or anointed by the Holy Spirit, was based on this pivotal date of 1914. Counting ahead to the year 1935, President Joseph Rutherford was looking for an explanation as to why there were so many coming into the organization, while Rutherford believed the Bible spoke of only 144,000 going to heaven and ruling with Christ. He began searching the book of Revelation for some kind of answer, and Rev. 7:13-17 was seized upon. This was providential, as it also seemed to solve another of their big problems—how to gain more control over the local congregations. Up to this time, congregation overseers (called elders) had been elected into office, and many had full control of their congregations, much to the dismay of Rutherford. Now, a two-fold interpretation of this passage would “kill two birds with one stone.” First, the “elders” of verse 13 were identified as these special 144,000 (represented by the Board of Directors), and not the congregational overseers. Thus, the term “elder” was dropped, and all of the congregational overseers lost their positions of responsibility. Those reappointed would now be called by a new name, “company servants.” That meant that many previous “elders” were not reappointed to office, and Rutherford assumed complete control over who would be leaders. Many of the former “elders” became disgusted and left the organization. —The Critical Years 1975-1997, R. Watters
Knorr and Franz
Nathan Knorr was not a very likeable person—gruff and cold, he had a love/hate relationship with members of the Bethel family. He never really trusted the young brothers, even instituting working on Saturdays a half-day just to insure the Bethelites did not have enough time to take a weekend vacation. Gilead missionary students were at times denied return air or boat fare back if they could not complete their assignments, resulting in at least two suicides borne from despair.
In 1975 several key “yes men” were called into Bethel from their various responsibilities around the world, such as branch and zone overseers, to become part of a “Governing Body,” a new arrangement that was an attempt at becoming more Biblical, with more than one person making theological decisions regarding the masses. Now they could all vote on what would become “the truth” in future days!
Knorr and his resident seer, Fred Franz, did not support this new idea of diluting the power base with such “new boys.” At the Spring 1975 Gilead graduation class in Queens, NY, Franz gave a scathing talk on why he and Knorr were opposed to such an arrangement, a rare and candid moment to say the least. 2000 of us listened to this rant. Yet the new Governing Body came to pass, and Knorr died shortly thereafter, a broken man who began to cry often and soon lost his senses altogether. Franz was elected 4th President, but the GB had other things in mind for him, as he was later isolated in his last days and moved out of Bethel altogether. The Governing Body were itching to get their hands on power. This was even vocalized on more than one occasion by the soon-to-become 5th president, Milton Henschel. “What power [does the Governing Body have]?” he once said during a Bethel elders meeting that made my hair stand up. “I haven’t seen any power!” Yikes!
By 1979, the archeological dating errors became known to several in the Spanish JW community in NYC, and it got back to the GB around Memorial time in 1980. Those who “talked” were dragged before special committees set up after hours in isolated parts of the factory at 117 Adams Street. I remember that very day; Cabeen told me that Cris Sanchez was being interrogated in a closed session. Cris and Norma, the most humble people you can imagine, had aided in translating the New World Translation from English to Spanish, and had lived happily at Bethel for many years. Suddenly they were accused of “conspiring against the organization” and were called names before the others present, even by GB member Dan Sydlik. Denounced as leeches, a cancer, and worms, they were given a few hours to pack up their belongings under total silence and leave the headquarters—they were now disfellowshipped. They appealed their disfellowshipping but the appeal was denied immediately.
Others were implicated and disfellowshipped as well, such as fellow translators Nestor Kuilan and his wife, as well as Rene Vazquez. The local elders who at first believed the testimony of these ones were later exonerated by reporting them to the Service Department. Members of the Bethel family were generally in the dark about the whole thing, and most remain so to this day, believing simply the explanations that are offered by the GB that it was a planned conspiracy against Jehovah’s organization, and that these men and women were apostates and “spiritual fornicators,” being “mentally-diseased” and “corrupt.” The witch hunt was on.
“If some tinge of doubt about Jehovah, his Word, or his organization has begun to linger in your heart, take quick steps to eliminate it before it festers into something that could destroy your faith…do not hesitate to ask for help from loving overseers in the congregation. They will help you trace the source of your doubts, which may be due to pride or some wrong thinking.
…act quickly to rout out of the mind any tendency to complain, to be dissatisfied with the way things are done in the congregation. Cut off anything that feeds such doubts.” —Watchtower, 2/1/96, p. 23-24
Naturally, many in the Bethel family were concerned and wept at the breakfast table when they heard what had happened with the Spanish brothers. I could see my chest heaving in panic, hoping others at my table did not notice that their table head was freaking out. How could they do this?? Meantime, the Service Department was busy rounding up any evidence they could in order to disfellowship Raymond Franz, as they felt he and Edward Dunlap were conspiring against the organization. Lee Waters of the Service Department even made the statement that “They (the ‘apostates’) had been building a platform [upon which to attack] for many years.” Yet there was no conspiracy, no plans, an no one wanted to leave Bethel or seize power! While Lyman Swingle (GB) stood up for Ray Franz and prevented him from being disfellowshipped at that time, Franz was spied upon and later disfellowshipped for eating a meal with his boss, a former Witness (see Time Magazine of Feb. 22, 1982, p. 66). Edward Dunlap was disfellowshipped after members of the GB pleaded with him to ignore the facts and maintain their present understanding for the sake of unity. THEY WERE THE CONSPIRATORS. THEY WANTED TO RETAIN THEIR POWER OVER THE MASSES. Very obvious!
Dozens more left the Bethel family or were disfellowshipped in the months to come, as they apparently “knew too much.” We worms kept a low profile while every day we had to listen to the various GB members, like the bootlickers they were, made continual denouncements of the ‘wicked.’ I became ashamed of the GB forevermore.
Dozens of members of the Bethel family who had been attending clandestine Bible studies every Monday night after the family Watchtower Study had to be very careful. The letters of Paul to the Romans and Galatians were of particular fascination to us, as they pointed to a much better and superior understanding of life and a relationship with Christ than the Witnesses were allowed to enjoy. I joined one of these secret studies, and we carried Watchtowers to the hideout, just in case a “spy” knocked at the door!
At this point, you are probably asking, “So what was the big secret you were learning about from the Bible?”
Schroeder’s “Salvation by Law”
GB member Albert Schroeder, during a meeting of the elders of the Bethel family on May 29, 1980 (referring to those who have questioned their absolute authority), said: “All the things they are teaching ignore the framework we have been developing all these many years.”
It is good to know that wherever the word “law” is not capitalized in the New World Translation, it is not necessarily referring to the Mosaic Law but to Law Systems Or Rules Imposed Upon Christians. This is the key message of the gospel we were learning that collapsed the Watchtower and all other cults of Christianity: Are we saved by faith in Jesus Christ, or like the “Judaizers” in the first century, must we add the rules and standards of an organization? (Gal. 5:1-4) Is the Holy Spirit so incapable of teaching the common person the message of Christ and the New Testament without a clergy class? Why do we need The Watchtower?
I took notes wherever I could, as somehow I knew I would need them later. The things being said by the GB were just too blasphemous. Albert Schroeder, speaking to elders of the Bethel family on May 29, 1980 said:
“We serve not only Jehovah God but we are under our `mother.’ Our ‘mother’ has the right to make rules and regulations for us… This book, entitled Branch Organization Procedure, contains 28 subjects; and its sub-sections involve regulations and administration. In it there are 1,177 policies and regulations… this is an improved, fine-tuned organization, and we are expected to follow its policies. If there are some who feel that they cannot subject themselves to the rules and regulations now in operation, such ones ought to be leaving and not be involved here in the further progressive work.
“Some have fallen away from the organization, NOT FROM THE BIBLE, saying there is no need for COMING UNDER LAW…This great program of organization procedure is gathering the things of heaven and earth.”
While GB member Ray Franz was away on leave of absence, a special committee was established to extract confessions of his close friends and acquaintances, to determine everything he had said in private that could be used against him. For two weeks these committees interrogated Bethelites and recorded their confessions. Then Ray was suddenly called back to Bethel and made to listen to these tapes in the presence of the GB. Raymond Franz was forced to leave.
Others were subjected to long hours of intense interrogation as the “Watchtower committees” set up a series of ten “special questions” to ask any person suspected of talking about what was going on in the GB. Many were disfellowshipped on the basis of these questions alone. Many more left under pretenses just to escape without being disfellowshipped. The absurdity of it could only be tolerated by sarcasm; we made up our own list of “ten questions.” Secret books of graffiti and political cartoons were created and passed around to those who could be trusted. You could usually tell who was in the know—those who were clueless had no sense of humor, the rest of us were amused and amazed.
I remember a pivotal day in my life. I was walking around the pressroom saying to myself, “If this is really ‘God’s organization,’ then all this work and effort is worth it. If it isn’t, what am I doing here?” I would vote with my feet.
Some of the secret groups were told to stop unless they would use the Society’s publications for reference. On April 30, 1980, Karl Klein of the GB stated to the whole family:
If you have a tendency towards ‘apostasy,’ get a hobby and keep yourself busy to keep your mind off of it. Stay away from deep Bible study to determine meanings of the scriptures.
Is he kidding? A tendency towards ‘apostasy?’ This was the Holy Bible! We were all excited to learn something the Christian church has known and taught openly for 2000 years, and they call it ‘apostasy?’
Another member of the GB, Lloyd Barry, said on May 29, 1980 in addressing the elders of the Bethel family:
When we talk about law, we talk about organization. With all our hearts we need to search after that law. Jehovah doesn’t give individuals interpretation. We need a guide, and that is the ‘faithful and discreet slave.’ We should not be getting together in a clique to discuss views contrary to the ‘faithful and Discreet slave.’ We must recognize the source of our instruction. We must be like an ass, be humble, and stay in the manger; and we won’t get any poison.
At this point I expected a Heil Hitler! It was so absurd. I was writing feverously to catch all the statements. One brother stood up and asked, “Should we require the brothers to take an oath of loyalty to the organization?” Bert Schroeder even balked at that one, it was so obviously Nazi-esque. I swallowed hard in disbelief.
I learned a lot about men and their power games from my time at Bethel. I learned that those who are seeking power will do anything to keep it, even sacrificing their common sense and the friendship of others. They will find ways to justify their actions through theological arguments. One thing should be clear if you study the history of the Watchtower Society: doctrine is irrelevant. It changes all the time, as the Governing Body rewrites their own history and rewrite themselves into the Bible, as if it was written to them and only them. You can study theology until you’re blue in the face. You can know the Bible word for word. But unless you understand how they manipulate it to their own ends, you will remain clueless as to how to counter them. They will laugh at you. If you learn to call their bluff and expose their methodology, they will not challenge you further. Like the Wizard of Oz caught performing behind the curtain, they will pull the fabric of deception back in place. Learn their techniques more than their theology.
Is ‘Apostasy’ the Issue?
As Bert Schroeder said, this whole matter is not an apostasy from the Bible, but from the organization. Sure, if you leave any religion over doctrine you could be considered an apostate from that religion, but not necessarily an apostate from the Bible. Many ex-Mormons and ex-Moonies are “apostates.” This is a smoke screen for the real issue, “Who really grasps the message of Christ?”
Jesus’ death on the cross released us from a yoke of servitude to a written law (Col. 2:13-15). Yet, ironically, he promoted more absolute standards. He went a step further and clarified how one could fall short of God’s standards by what is in one’s heart, even if outwardly obeying the Law. In other words, Jesus revealed the principles undergirding the Law as being the standards to strive for. By teaching such a perfect standard of conduct, Jesus advocated a quality of faith and commitment that is actually unattainable for fallen humans, were it not for divine grace.
The difference is, God has given us the new birth and a new nature (1 Peter 1:23). A “seed” of righteousness is planted in us when we are born from above. God comes to live IN us (through the Holy Spirit), enabling us to partake of his holiness (Romans 8:9-11). Jesus made this possible through his death and resurrection (Heb. 9:11-15). We are redeemed and declared righteous. Jesus then takes that “seed” in us and forms it into a mature Christian, thereby sanctifying us. He trusts us to walk in that new nature that we now possess. We die to the old, corrupted nature (2 Peter 1:3,4).
Next, I will finalize my last days in the Watchtower when I was secretly attending a local surfer’s church!
In the last part of the story, I left off where the apostasy had begun at the Brooklyn Bethel headquarters in 1979, and some of my friends had been asked to leave. Former Governing Body member Ray Franz left a few months before I did, forced out by the anger of several power-hungry autocrats. For the first time since their appointment as part of the elite Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the newer GB members would get the taste of power that they had been craving. They got their power shortly after Knorr’s death in 1977.
Was the Governing Body paranoid of losing their control due to the doctrinal questions of some Bethel family members in 1979? Perhaps, but I believe that they were not so much afraid or paranoid as they wanted to flex their muscles. This seemed obvious to me, because of their previous ploys for power, and their haughtiness and lack of shame in how they presented themselves. They acted like gloating hyenas just having made their kill. President Knorr was out of the picture, and they were now in charge. I had to get out of there! Any respect I had for these leaders was lost within a few weeks of listening to their morning diatribes to the Bethelites, attacking the so-called “apostates.”
Coming to the Bethel table in the morning was traumatic for two reasons. Number one, it was extremely depressing; like getting verbally abused by an alcoholic father. Number two, I often knew in advance (from my friend Tom Cabeen, close friend of Ray Franz) who was going to be kicked out or disfellowshipped. I could barely eat! I would just sit there trembling and looking around wondering if anyone suspected that I was an apostate. You see, although in my heart I knew that the way I felt about the Bible was right, I was still programmed not to go against the existing leadership, and it was kind of scary. This organization was all I knew! I had no intention of leaving Bethel, and I really liked my first five years there! What would I do now?
In the meantime, my summer vacation (1980) was coming up. While I was out in California riding my motorcycle, I sprained my leg. The doctor said I could not go back to work for a month. Things started clicking in my head. I remember how strongly I felt the moment I got on the plane to California—I did not want to go back to New York! Now I had a reason not to go back. I called Governing Body member Dan Sydlik on the phone and asked him if it was okay to leave Bethel without coming back there, because I could not come back to work for a while. I also gave a reason for my leaving: I needed to take care of my family. He said that would be fine, but “we will miss you.” I called up my Bethel roommate, Robert Sullivan, and asked him if he could ship my belongings out to California. He agreed.
I felt very relieved that I did not have to go back and face the “gestapo” at Bethel—not that they suspected me of anything yet—only a few people at Bethel knew how I felt. So I was back home in Cali, and much happier. I decided that I had to think about what I wanted to do, so I just read the Bible for a month by myself. This was the best thing that had happened to me yet—time alone in meditation and prayer. This meditation time would soon figure in to my new identity as a born again Christian.
Yet I felt that I still had to give the Watchtower Society a chance. I was programmed to believe there is no other church that could represent God. Besides, I did not want to be alone. I looked to the nearby kingdom hall in El Segundo and arranged to have my elder’s papers and field report records transferred to the new kingdom hall. I did not want to request to NOT be reappointed as an elder, because that would lead to suspicion as to why.
I was reappointed as an elder and went door-to-door with the rest, but only with the Bible, no Watchtower. I met a lot of nice Christians in El Segundo! My most memorable experience in that kingdom hall was this: I was teaching the book study in the hall on a Tuesday night, and we were out in the parking lot afterwards, and some “Jesus freaks” came by and started witnessing to me about the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. I laughed and said, “Hey guys, I already know, it’s cool.” And we hustled off. Little did those Christians know what I was thinking.
What was my final defining moment that clinched my decision to leave the Witnesses? One day I saw an ad in the local paper about a church called Hope Chapel in Hermosa Beach. It was called “The People Place” and advertised a laid-back pastor teaching the love of Christ. I went to an evening service, and loved it so much! I was crying with unbelief, yet joy! I knew I would be back. After a few services I knew I had found my new home. These were my people. I grew up in the beach areas of So. California. I could worship the Lord Jesus Christ in my bare feet if I wanted to… and I did.
The thought of going back to a kingdom hall was now repulsive. It would be kind of like moving in back home to an abusive parent! So I decided to write a letter of resignation to the Governing Body members personally, and did so on January 22, 1981. I also sent a copy to the local body of elders in El Segundo. They responded by calling me to a committee meeting, but I wasn’t going to go. I told them that they already had my letter. I went surfing on the day of their committee meeting, and they disfellowshipped me for apostasy. I couldn’t have been happier.
For space considerations, we end the story here and, yet, there is so much more to Randall Watters story. For decades, he has been one of the most active in providing the types of support that so many Witnesses and ex-Witnesses need the most. The type of thinking that Jehovah’s Witnesses try to break free often takes forms that are often hard to break out of on our own. We’ve heard people say things like: “You can take the Witness out of the Organization, but you can’t take the Organization out of the Witness.” His sites have always emphasized Witnesses who are leaving don’t always realize that we develop thinking processes that are so important to understand if we want to overcome them. Literally thousands of exJWs and JWs who find themselves with their “world pulled out from under them” are greatly indebted to Randy’s work. He has been researching, interviewing, writing, collecting, printing and distributing his work especially through brochures and newsletters since 1981. The websites he has managed and so many others he has contributed to will speak for themselves. (freeminds.org, freeminds2.org, randallwatters.org) .