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, what ever that was.
For some reason, I was put in the position to advance quickly in the organization. Like many Bethelites, I had already been appointed as a ministerial servant. I was assigned to a congregation that had 7 elders, yet they wanted me to be the 8th. I was assigned to the pressroom instead of more menial chores, and learned to run a large rotary printing press in several months time. I was assigned as a roommate to an older Bethelite (Milan Miller) who was quite knowledgeable and set up printing presses all over the world. I made good friends right away, and gained the favor of all my overseers. My tormented youth became a distant memory—I was leading a new life… finally!
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. So it took me 3 years to go from SR (self-righteous) to BA (bad attitude). Bethel categories, cool vs. geek. You become a BA when you get your own room and a good roommate, and quit busting a nut to get ahead. This “Jack” was not a dull boy! I owed most of my “corruption” to the boys in the pressroom, who were the rowdiest bunch I knew at Bethel. Hard, physical, sweaty work requires having some fun when you can grab it.
My luxury was a slice of pizza and a beer once or twice a week, and hanging out with your buds in your room or out in the congo to which you were assigned. Weddings were especially fun (at least among the black brothers and sisters) and that is where the sisters taught me to dance to the Bee Gees. Yet I still managed to be diligent in all my responsibilities. I was a workaholic then, and I still am.
|experimental 1975 press||Randy faking out||hazing in progress|
|hazing in the pressroom||bldg 3 flr. 6 circa 1975||after work|
|pressroom boys||Linwood cong. friends||view from my room|
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.
|fun with printing||Margaret Hotel fire circa 1979||view from the room|
After a year or so I lucked out and bid on a very choice penthouse apartment at the corner of the 107 Columbia Heights building, a piece of luck only made available because the Towers Hotel had just opened up and all the older guys with seniority were bidding on the rooms. As you can see from the picture, taken from my room, I could see from the Statue of Liberty all the way across the Manhattan skyline, including the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, from the 10th floor! A view like that was worth millions, and I made $14 a month.
Brooke and Harley Miller lived next door to me. Harley was a heavy in the Service Dept. and was always on the hall phone. Why they were too cheap to put a phone in his room I’ll never know. His wife was almost never seen; she was one of the lucky wives of valuable Bethelites that Knorr turned a blind eye to when they didn’t participate in any “theocratic” activities. She lived in her bathrobe!
I later learned (at breakfast, of course) that two guys down the hall were having a gay old time with their buddies, but like most Bethelites, I had never met a gay person and thanks to Knorr and his frequent homophobic rantings, I recoiled in horror at all guys on the streets who wore blue jeans and tennis shoes (Knorr’s earmark of being gay, which included almost everyone on the streets!).
I once remember one poor fellow who ran up to the door attendant in my building and cried out that he had just been raped. How can a guy be raped? It was deeply troubling. We were taught that males should not touch other males, and most sisters as well. Knorr was so well-balanced. I like Ray Franz much better—he gave the wedding talk for one of my best friends, Ron McGee. Ron was cool; he married a crazy black girl.
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?”
Randy walking with Albert Schroeder circa 1986 unwittingly (6 years after leaving)
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!