I WAS IN MY LATE TWENTIES when I began engaging in some really deep Bible study. I’d even read the entire Bible in 49 days! As I did I noticed a number of things that didn’t seem to fit with “the truth” as I knew it. Many of the prophesies said to have occurred around the 1914 period seemed, to me, to be yet future. I also noticed things like Acts 11:26 that said Jesus’ followers were called Christians “by divine providence” and I wondered, if that was the case, why had we chosen the name “Jehovah’s Witnesses”? Why not just call ourselves Christians? I also saw how, in The New World Translation, numerous scriptures in the New Testament that were clearly referring to Jesus had been altered to Jehovah, with no basis in the original language texts for doing so.
As I approached 30 years old I began to seriously wonder if I might be anointed. As I read the Bible, the sections about Christians receiving an “anointing” through Christ and being “born again” really resonated with me. I definitely felt different to most Jehovah’s Witnesses I knew. I tended to think in a more spiritual, abstract way than my Witness friends. I never really felt like I fitted in.
At the time The Watchtower was teaching that the heavenly calling of 144,000 had been completed in 1935, so any new anointed ones would be “replacements” for ones who had become unfaithful and fallen away from “the truth”. The general thought was that, when choosing a replacement, Jehovah God would pick someone who was much older than me, someone who had many decades of faithful service as a Jehovah’s Witness behind them. Me? I was too young to be seriously considered a suitable choice as one of the anointed.
So I tried to put thoughts of heavenly life to one side. Surely I was just imagining things? But the idea of life after death on a spiritual plane wouldn’t go away. Over the next four years, I thought about it often, especially at memorial time when I felt I should be partaking of the bread and wine. As the emblems came around and I passed them on to the next person, I felt really bad, as if I was disowning Jesus.
Meanwhile, as an elder responsible for shepherding and teaching the flock, to aid me in my assignments I had assembled an extensive theocratic library containing hundreds of Watch Tower publications going all the way back to the 1800s. It was in 2004 that I first read Barbour’s book Three Worlds and the Harvest of This World and learned about the rapture that failed to materialise in 1878. I also read all of Russell’s Studies in the Scriptures and saw how his predictions for 1914 were not only based on “the seven times” of Daniel chapter 4, assumed to be the same as the “gentile times” or “appointed times of the nations” of Luke 21, but also on Egyptian pyramidology. The book Divine Plan of the Ages had a pull-out section inside the front cover with a diagram of several pyramids called “Chart of the Ages”. I was also intrigued to find that the covers of the Studies in the Scriptures books I had in my collection each bore a gilded emblem of the Egyptian “Wings of Ra”, based on Russell’s interpretation of Malachi 4:2 which referred to “the Sun of righteousness [arising] with healing in his wings”. It all felt very Freemason-like.
Despite Russell’s predictions failing miserably, his successor Joseph Franklin Rutherford vowed to continue Russell’s work initially without making changes, even claiming that Russell was still directing the work from “beyond the veil”—from heaven. How Russell communicated with Rutherford was left to the imagination! Nevertheless, despite Rutherford’s 1922 statement that repudiating Russell’s teachings was equivalent to repudiating the word of the Lord, it wasn’t long before Rutherford began to display “prophet” tendencies of his own and started to undo much of what Russell had taught. I learned that during the 26 years of Rutherford’s tenure, he not only changed Russell’s teachings beyond any recognition, but he slowly and steadily steered the Watch Tower Society in a completely new direction. This, I discovered, by reading the dozens of books published by Rutherford—which, frankly, weren’t a patch on Russell’s writing style. Although Russell was wrong about dates, he did at least seem to have a grip on what it meant to be an anointed Christian.
Instead of “organisation being wholly unnecessary” as maintained by Russell, Watch Tower became increasingly organisational through the 20s and 30s, even corporational. For example, it was Rutherford, in 1920, who introduced the requirement for publishers to report to the Society the time they had spent preaching each month, a practice that has been maintained to this day. I always felt reporting field service time was wrong. It felt like a way of controlling the masses—slaving for men—and contrary to Jesus’ words at Matthew 6:1-4: “‘Take care not to practice your righteousness in front of men to be noticed by them; otherwise you will have no reward with your Father who is in the heavens. So when you make gifts of mercy, do not blow a trumpet ahead of you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be glorified by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when making gifts of mercy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your gifts of mercy may be in secret. Then your Father who looks on in secret will repay you.'”
Religion was initially dubbed by Rutherford as “a snare and a racket”. There was no “true” or “false” religion, just religion, and religion was bad. At first, true to Russell’s anti-organisation stance the only name the Bible Students recognised as scriptural was “Christian”. However, in 1931 Rutherford backtracked on this in an amazing display of publicity when he announced that the Bible Students would henceforth be known as “Jehovah’s witnesses”. Interestingly, at the time, “witnesses” was spelt with a small w. In doing so, it seemed to me that Rutherford directed the organisation away from the freedom of Christianity and more towards a kind of modern-day Mosaic law, with loads of types and antitypes, and tons of rules and regulations. As time went on, this became more and more apparent.
As time passed Jesus was relegated in importance as the publications began to place more emphasis on “Jehovah” and His “witnesses”. This was, I felt, an attempt to differentiate themselves from Christian denominations whom they now classed as “false religion”, as well as to establish Jehovah’s witnesses as the only true religion. Essentially it was a very clever branding exercise.
Then there were the predictions for 1925—that Abraham, Moses and others would return from the dead in that year. Three years in advance The Watchtower had stated: “What further evidence do we need? Using this same measuring line… it is an easy matter to locate 1925, probably in the fall, for the beginning of the anti typical jubilee. There can be no more question about 1925 than there was about 1914.” Another Watchtower claimed: “The date 1925 is even more distinctly indicated by the Scriptures [than 1914].”
Of course, the resurrection predictions for 1925 completely failed. It was at that moment in my studies that I had a lightbulb moment. I realised the chance of 1914 having any scriptural relevance whatsoever was extremely slim. The entire foundation upon which the Watch Tower Society had been built was one of failed Millerite and Adventist numerology, spiritistic Egyptian pyramidology, and a lot of guesswork by several “false prophets” who had an insatiable propensity to predict the end of the world. I had no reason to believe that Jesus had been invisibly present since 1914, or indeed that any of the events associated with 1914 had come to pass.
In mid-2004 I went back to basics and began to read the Bible afresh. Instead of allowing Watch Tower publications to guide my understanding of Scripture, I began to pray for God’s holy spirit to guide me as I read the entire Bible again, this time without bias. In one prayer I even asked God to reveal the real truth to me and told Him I would follow His direction even if it got me branded as an “apostate”. Little did I know that’s exactly what would happen!
My Bible reading led me to believe that the most reasonable explanation for 1914 having manifested, as Watch Tower had pointed out, “little or no outward signs of any such stupendous event”, was that nothing spiritually relevant had occurred in that year. Christ had not returned in October 1914 and had not been enthroned as King of God’s Kingdom in that year. 1914 was a lie.
As I continued to read the Bible I came to see that the scriptures indicated Christ had been King since his anointing in 29 AD, or at least since his death and resurrection in 33 AD. Moreover, I came to realise that all of the events linked to his second presence, for example, the hurling down of Satan to the earth and the start of the heavenly resurrection, alleged to have taken place in 1918, biblically speaking, were yet future, to occur in conjunction with Armageddon.
In 2005 I wrote a letter to the governing body giving my reasons for thinking that the “first resurrection” was future. I got a reply, but it was a stock answer, pointing me back to the current understanding in The Watchtower. I shared my letter and the governing body’s reply with my dad and one or two close friends. My dad asked if I accepted the governing body’s reply. I said “No!” This was later used against me in my judicial hearing as “proof” of my apostasy.
The more I studied, the more it dawned on me that claims to the effect Jehovah’s Witnesses were chosen as God’s modern-day organisation in 1919 were highly suspect. Not only did the organisation have an extremely poor track record when it came to prophesying the end of the world, but its key teachings were based on Millerite and Adventist numerology and Egyptian pyramidology until as late as 1928-1930. Clearly, its foundation was flawed. Watch Tower doctrine was not really built on Jesus Christ but upon dates that had a tendency to fail.
Although at this time I’d not completely abandoned the idea of Jehovah’s Witnesses being “God’s people” I found it impossible to refer to my religion as “the truth” anymore since it seemed to me that so many things were, quite simply, false. Moreover, I was conscious of the fact that Jesus had referred to himself and not any religious organisation, as “the truth” (and “the way”, and “the life”). Calling an organisation “the truth” felt blasphemous to me.
It was in August 2004 that I finally identified as being of the “anointed” with a heavenly hope. Despite opposition from the presiding overseer of my congregation, I partook of the emblems for the first time at the 2005 memorial of Jesus’ death. Immediately, I drew criticism. At first, my mental health was questioned, and later my loyalty to “Jehovah’s organisation”. People started to notice that I used the name of Jesus a lot in conversation, and very rarely mentioned “the faithful and discreet slave” or “the governing body” or “the organisation”.
Meanwhile, I continued to research the Watch Tower Society. The more Watch Tower publications I read, the more I uncovered things that disturbed me. Between 2004 and 2006 I discovered dozens of things that confirmed Jehovah’s Witnesses was not “the truth”. For example, I found that despite 1919 supposedly being when “pure worship” was restored, the Bible Students were still celebrating Christmas, until 1927. This was explained away as God “refining” His people, but why did He choose them if they were spiritually “unclean”? Surely, cleansing should preempt appointment?
When discussing the origins of Christendom’s holidays the publication What Does the Bible Really Teach? used the following illustration: “Do origins really matter? Yes! To illustrate: Suppose you saw a piece of candy lying in the gutter. Would you pick up that candy and eat it? Of course not! That candy is unclean. Like that candy, holidays may seem sweet, but they have been picked up from unclean practices. To take a stand for true worship, we need to have a viewpoint like that of the prophet Isaiah, who told true worshippers: ‘Touch nothing unclean!'” It would appear Jesus had no issue with eating candy from the gutter for the eight years between 1919 and 1927!
In addition to pagan holidays, I learned that Egyptian pyramidology was still being promoted as a basis for the Bible Students’ chronology right up until 1928 when Rutherford suddenly determined it to be not “God’s stone witness”, but spiritistic. I wondered why God would choose a people who were failing to heed the exhortation in 2 Corinthians 6:25: “What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?”
I found that Rutherford and the Bible Students continued to venerate the cross, displaying it visibly on the cover of The Watch Tower and on their person as a “cross and crown” badge until 1931 when it was suddenly dropped as pagan and idolatrous. Over the years the Watch Tower emblem had become a symbol of adoration, much as the blue JW.ORG logo has become today.
However, possibly one of the most disturbing pieces of research I came across was the endorsement of a book called Angels and Women published in 1924. This was a revision by a personal friend of Russell of an earlier book called Seola written in 1878. The forward of Angels and Women explains that the original manuscript was believed to have been dictated by a fallen angel desiring to return to heaven. Despite this clear association with the spiritistic art of automatic writing, and Rutherford’s later denunciation of Russell’s demonic pyramid teachings, Angels and Women was endorsed as recommended reading for the Bible Students in the July 30th and December 3rd editions of Rutherford’s 1924 Golden Age magazine, the forerunner to Awake! I began to realise that not only was Watch Tower’s history riddled with false prophecies and doublespeak, but the Bible Students were allegedly chosen by Jesus as the only true religion on earth at a time when they were openly involved with paganism, idolatry, and even spiritism.
By 2006 I was questioning everything I had ever been taught and in the process, I spoke to the wrong people, people I thought were my friends—even my dad—but who turned out to be more interested in “loyalty to the organisation” than in hearing the real truth. My dad’s response to my questions about chronology was that the governing body knew best. They were appointed by Jesus as his channel, and we shouldn’t question them. My reply was that the governing body members were “just men” and that placing them on a pedestal amounted to idolatry. That didn’t go down well! Unbeknown to me at this time, the presiding overseer—remember the psycho one?—was talking to my dad behind my back and finding out how I really felt about things. By mid-2006 I’d been summoned to a judicial hearing on a charge of apostasy.
My judicial hearing was brutal. At the start, I was told I’d been charged with apostasy and asked to make a statement. Of course, I rejected the idea that I was an apostate. I still believed it was God’s organisation, just that some of the teachings were not true. I asked if I could explain myself, using the Bible to highlight where I had issues and I was told “No”. The hearing then continued for no less than seven hours. It was basically an interrogation. The elders—of which there were four—kept asking me probing questions—Did I believe this? Did I believe that? I was told I could only answer “Yes” or “No” so I didn’t really stand a chance.
They had four witnesses against me. The first one didn’t show. He apparently felt that the accusations against me were over the top, so he declined to attend. One of the so-called witnesses said that when I spoke I “sounded like a born-again Christian”. That was pretty much the extent of his testimony. Another witness said he’d had a private conversation with me about 1914 and the things I’d said didn’t seem to fit with what The Watchtower was saying at the time. That was it. But nothing could have prepared me for the fourth and final witness who turned out to be my very own dad. He was wheeled in last, no doubt to finish me off. By now I was mentally exhausted. He told them my misgivings about the 1918 date for the heavenly resurrection and how his discussion with me had “confused” him. After seven hours I was a mess. At one point I was so distraught that I assumed a fetal position and was just rocking back and forth in tears. In the end, I threw up my hands and said “Ok! I’m an apostate!” just to make it stop. I’d had a mental breakdown in front of their eyes, but they didn’t care. All they wanted was a confession, and that’s what they got. I later likened the ordeal to being mentally raped. That’s how it felt. It was like the elders had got into my head and pulled out all the private thoughts I had. A week later I was put through another seven hours at my appeal hearing where the charge of apostasy was upheld.
The abuse—and now I realise that’s what it was—didn’t stop there. A week after my disfellowshipping was announced a local needs talk was given. It identified me, not by name of course, but as “someone professing to be of the anointed”. Obviously, I was the only memorial partaker in the congregation, and I’d been disfellowshipped the week before, so everyone knew who the talk was about. And this is where it gets really sick. The presiding overseer was giving the talk. In the past, I’d confided in him that I’d been sexually abused at school. Despite knowing how traumatic that had been for me, he had the audacity to use an illustration about a paedophile in his local needs talk. He likened apostates to strangers trying to lure children away from their parents. That, of course, left the congregation wondering exactly why I’d been disfellowshipped. Over the next three years, there was a lot of gossip about me. Certainly, no one ever expected me to get reinstated! So for the next three years, I was shunned by everyone I’d ever known, including my parents.
Being accused of apostasy didn’t sit at all well with me. I’d never read any literature other than the Watch Tower publications, and I’d certainly not sought out any “apostate” literature. The false prophecies, idolatry, and spiritism I had learned about, and questioned, were all contained in the Society’s literature. All it took was some digging. Maybe this is why, in my judicial hearing, I was told I should have never read the older publications!
My first experience with apostate writings came only after my disfellowshipping in 2006, in the form of Raymond Franz’s two books Crisis of Conscience and In Search of Christian Freedom. What prompted me to read these books was the realisation that being accused of apostasy didn’t necessarily make a person “wicked” or “mentally diseased”. After all, here I was being called an apostate, and yet I was an anointed Christian. Reading Ray Franz’s account of life as a governing body member confirmed all my suspicions up to this point. Ray came across as genuine, he really did. It was clear from reading his books that the Watch Tower’s 1914 chronology was wrong, and they knew it. It was also obvious that the rules on disfellowshipping and shunning had been tightened up as a result of Franz’s defection.
By now my view of the governing body had deteriorated. I no longer thought of them as God’s channel on earth. I even wondered if the governing body were apostates themselves! I felt that the words of 2 Thessalonians 2:4 applied to them: “He stands in opposition and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he sits down in the temple of God, publicly showing himself to be a god.” However, even knowing everything I did, I wasn’t prepared to admit, yet, that Jehovah’s Witnesses were a cult. I still felt it was God’s organisation, and that it just needed to be reformed from within. Obviously, I couldn’t do that as a disfellowshipped person, so I began to think about how I might get reinstated.
I had, what I felt, were good reasons to be reinstated. My disfellowshipping was, I believed, wrong. I was an anointed Christian being moved by the holy spirit, and yet I’d been accused of apostasy. I had a responsibility to help reform the organisation. How, I didn’t know, but it felt like I had a job to do and to do it I needed to be reinstated. Also, by now, I had four children, all being raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses by my wife. I didn’t want to be in a position where, as they grew up, got baptised, and left home, I would be shunned by them, and frankly, I just didn’t like being viewed by my friends as a “wicked apostate”. So from the moment I got disfellowshipped, I continued to attend congregation meetings, I think to prove a point, that I wasn’t a bad person and didn’t deserve to be shunned. Granted, I did read Crisis of Conscience in the Kingdom Hall during a meeting, but I was there every single meeting. And I kept that up for over three years.
I must just say that the three years between 2006 and 2009 were some of the most spiritual of my life. I felt free to explore my spirituality without Watch Tower telling me what I should and should not believe. I was able to associate with other born-again Christians online—not Witnesses, just non-denominational Christians—and I honestly felt, to quote Jesus, that “the truth” had “set me free”. But in 2009 I made a decision that risked me becoming enslaved all over again. In my next post entitled 10 Years of Cognitive Dissonance—My Last Stand as a Jehovah’s Witness, I will tell you how I went from being a “mentally diseased” apostate to an anointed, regular pioneer, being considered for reappointment as an elder again!