A few weeks ago I blogged about “The Bethel Generation of 1914” — a group of 16 elderly staff members who worked at the headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York — who were pictured on the cover of the Watchtower magazine in 1984. Millions of copies of this particular issue were distributed all over the world in scores of languages.
At that time, now nearly 27 years ago, some dissenters in the religion were questioning the 1914 doctrine taught by their leaders: that the generation of people alive in the year 1914 would not pass away before the End (Armageddon). To combat this, Witness leaders prepared a series of articles in their main journal to defend their teachings about 1914:
“1914: A Marked Year–Why?” — April 1, 1984 Watchtower
“1914: A Focal Point of Bible Prophecy” — April 15, 1984 Watchtower
“1914 and YOU” — May 1, 1984 Watchtower
“1914: The Generation That Will Not Pass Away” — May 15, 1984 Watchtower
It was this last Watchtower cover that featured these elderly Bethel workers as tangible proof that the 1914 generation would not pass away. The point made in these articles was to hold out the hope of the End and the “New Order” (a re-creation of the world after Armageddon) before the generation represented by these people would die off. For example, these statements from those articles:
Yes, you may live to see this promised New Order, along with survivors of the generation of 1914–the generation that will not pass away….You along with survivors of the generation of 1914, may live to see a New Order.
The prediction was firm: “the generation of 1914–the generation that will not pass away.” The conditional “you may live to see this promised New Order” in these Watchtower articles was to proclaim this possibility to the general public to make the promise their own by joining the religion.
With the help of a few friends who also served at Bethel during the 70s and 80s we have now identified all of these 16 who were featured on that Watchtower magazine cover. Their names are below. 14 were longtime workers at Brooklyn Bethel headquarters. 2 were temporary workers who left shortly after the picture was published. Biographical detail from the Social Security Death Index (a public record) has been added when available but all 16 have passed away. Click on the image to enlarge detail:
No disrespect is meant towards the memory of these Bethel workers (or their families) who posed for this picture. I remember several of them and all of them were kind individuals who were pleasant to live and work with in the headquarters “family.” This criticism is being leveled solely at the Jehovah’s Witness’ leadership which propagated the lie which impacted millions of followers. Watchtower leaders were wrong to put God on a time-table tied to the year 1914 and to assure their followers to live their lives accordingly.
For example, many rank and file members were strongly counseled by the Watchtower Society to forgo higher education and careers because of this prediction which has now proven false. Many of these same people are now making plans for retirement.
This 1984 Watchtower magazine cover can be seen as a memorial to a false prophecy. It is hoped that younger Jehovah’s Witnesses who are now facing renewed pressure from Watchtower leaders to avoid college and career plans might be encouraged to seek their dreams and not listen to such leaders who clearly do not speak for God.
For further reading:
The Gentile Times Reconsidered by Carl Olof Jonnson (order info) Refutation of the Watchtower’s 1914 chronology