Crisis of Conscience

I have just finished reading a book considered taboo to my old system of beliefs. The book enjoys such infamy simply owning a copy would bring down the judgment from church elders. I didn’t even know the book existed until the last year or so, and didn’t know of the events it depicted until the last few years. The organization I belonged to has done such a thorough job of sweeping it all under the carpet that it is probably safe to say only 10-15% of its seven million adherents know of its existence. The book is entitled Crisis of Conscience by Ray Franz.

Ray Franz was a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) from 1971-1980. The Governing Body is a small group of men (9-15 members) who perform all administrative functions for the global congregation of JW’s. These men are among the few (144,00 total) JW’s feel are chosen for heavenly life. Ray was among their numbers until he started taking issue with certain organizational procedures. He and those associated with him were eliminated with extreme prejudice.

When I say “eliminated” I don’t mean a mafia-style hit. I mean excommunication, otherwise known as being disfellowshipped. (Exactly what will happen to me if anyone finds this blog;). Men and their wives who gave decades of faithful service and only took issue with an unbiblical rule. They wanted to remain servants of Jehovah but were kicked out of their homes at the headquarters, losing lifelong friends in the process, in a trial reminiscent of that endured by the Christ in the hours before his death.

Is this a book filled with lies and exaggerations, as many opponents claim? No. The honesty of the writer, and the deep-seated sadness, come through with every word. For those who prefer their evidence in black and white, he has documented evidence supporting his claims. He reveals a number of situations that happened while he was on the Governing Body–from dogmatic stances against oral sex to healthcare and political decisions that have resulted in the deaths of many. He concludes with the assumption that the religion will never experience any reform as its adherents are captives of the concept that God has only one organization–and that is the Watchtower organization. As long as followers subscribe to that belief wholeheartedly any inconsistencies will be ignored. And books such as this, will be avoided as if they carried the black plague.

In the concluding chapter of the book, he quotes a friend as saying, “The mind which renounces, once and forever, a futile hope, has its compensation in ever growing calm” (345). This made me think of the initial psychological shock I experienced upon realizing I had spent my life subscribing to beliefs that were inaccurate. Doctrines that had been such a part of my mentality that every word and action mirrored their apparent reality. It is hard to turn our backs on the only thing we have ever known and believed in. But once I did, and I allowed other truths to break the veil of obscurity my mind had hidden behind, I experienced a calmness and freedom from fear.

Did I know I was living my life in fear? No. I knew I was never good enough and would never be good enough, but I was told everyone else was living in fear–not JW’s. Yet, I had been taught to look at only the bad in the world as evidence of its coming destruction. To never befriend non-witnesses as they would die at Armageddon. To fear for my own salvation lest I do anything that may cause me to become disapproved. I no longer need to micro-manage my life and I have felt the shackles fall away and the heavy yoke that Jesus said was “kind” has finally become what he described.

I recommend this book to anyone who has ever felt the need to answer the stabbings of their conscience in opposition to popular opinion. It takes courage to stand alone, as the analogy says, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered.”

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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. You can only be disfellowshipped if you agree that the elders exercise authority over you. If they demand meetings and you refuse, saying that you are not part of their organization, and you don’t recognize their authority to discipline you in any way, they are powerless. Attempting to disfellowship you after that is slander and can be met with a civil lawsuit. There’s significant case law supporting this position.

    However, agreeing to meet with them, even if only to ‘give your side of the story’, grants them authority, and reduces your chances of being able to pursue the issue in court. You would also have to demonstrate you had not been self-identifying as part of the organization.

    So, no, the blog is not enough. You have to still be hanging around the fringes and working within the system for them to have the authority to DF you.

  2. Hmmm, thanks for the info Ty. I have heard of people DF’d in absentia, but will have to evaluate how I identify myself.

  3. When I was approached, I made my position known and didn’t back down. They couldn’t get away from me fast enough. I haven’t heard a word from them since. Elders are like voodoo. They can only affect you if you believe in them.

  4. Yes, I can see how anyone who stood up to them would be an oddity. We are so programmed that they have absolute authority it is hard to forget a lifetime of enculturation. That’s why I have just been trying to avoid them until I gain enough strength and knowledge to convince myself, absolutely, that they have no hold on me.
    Again, I appreciate the info you shared. I have been freaking out every time I think there may a judicial meeting in my future. Did that when I was 21, never want to do it again. 🙂

  5. One question, Ty: Did you actually threaten them with a lawsuit?

  6. They won’t necessarily DF you, I think they get around it by claiming that you disassociated yourself by disagreeing with their beliefs. That’s what they did to me. You don’t even have to say anything to them. If they have any evidence (from family members divulging conversations, e-mails, blogs) that you openly disagree with their beliefs they can just claim that you DA yourself which has the same effect as being DFed. They will even make the same announcement. They no longer say “x has been disfellowshipped” or any descriptors they only say “x is no longer one of jehovah’s witnesses” which gets around any slander laws.

    They don’t want anybody that can actually debate with their beliefs around and all will be removed with extreme prejudice by some means.

  7. The book “Captives of a Concept” is based on something Ray Franz said in his “Crisis of Conscience”…

    “I try in my own mind and heart to understand the feel-ings of all [Jehovah’s Witnesses], including those of the Governing Body. Based on my own [60 years] experience among them I believe that they are, in effect, the captives of a concept.

    “The concept or mental image they have of ‘the organization’ seems almost to take on a personality of its own, so that the concept itself controls them, moves them, or restrains them, bmolding their thinking, their attitudes, their judgments…The …concept of ‘the organization’… becomes, in fact, the dominant, controlling force.”

  8. Don–Thanks for posting on my blog. I have actually read your book. I read it before Crisis and enjoyed the simplicity of it. Especially how you broke it down to the concept of 1919 and how if Jesus inspected the congregation at that time and approved it why does the religion now bear no resemblance to what it was then. Thanks again for the comment!

  9. “Did you actually threaten them with a lawsuit?”

    No, it wasn’t necessary. They kept asking me leading questions, like, “do you consider yourself a JW?” I kept repeating that I didn’t have to answer that or any other question they asked. I made it clear that I felt they had no authority.

    There’s no reason to threaten until you feel threatened. If they threatened me with any sort of disciplinary action, my response would have been that I would consider such action slanderous.

    The Tower’s stance has been to avoid lawsuits from former members at all costs. Even the hint that you’re willing to go to court over it will generally back them off.

    But the main thing is to not go along with any of the process.

    “Will you meet with us?” I see no reason to.
    “Do you consider yourself a witness?” I am not obligated to answer questions from you.
    “We want to come by and talk to you.” Please don’t, we have nothing to talk about.

    etc…


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