A Memorial to a False Prophecy

January 27, 2011

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:

The May 15, 1984 Watchtower is a memorial to the false prophecy heralded by Witness leaders that the generation alive in 1914 would not pass away before Armageddon

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:

Watchtower Leaders Trying to Salvage 1914 Teaching

Were Watchtower Prophecies About 1914 Fulfilled?

What’s Wrong With the Witnesses?

The Gentile Times Reconsidered by Carl Olof Jonnson (order info) Refutation of the Watchtower’s 1914 chronology

The Bethel “Generation of 1914”

December 21, 2010

The headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses, with several factories and residence buildings known as "Bethel," has been in Brooklyn Heights since 1909

For Jehovah’s Witnesses, their Bethel headquarters in New York is the place from which their work is governed and directed. Pastor Charles Taze Russell, the first president of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, moved their headquarters to Brooklyn from Allegheny, Pennsylvania in 1909. Except for a short stint during World War I, Brooklyn remained the nerve center of the Witness Organization until much of its operations were transferred upstate to near Wallkill and Patterson, New York in the last decade. The Witnesses still maintain a high profile visibility in Brooklyn Heights but it appears they will continue to transfer the rest of their operations upstate in the near future and may soon put their buildings in Brooklyn up for sale.

I blogged a few months ago how Witness leaders were trying to salvage their teaching that Christ had returned invisibly in the year 1914 and inaugurated the last generation before Armageddon by re-interpreting how long that generation will be. In short, at last summer’s assemblies Witnesses were told that this generation actually was two generations that overlap each other — thus extending the deadline for Armageddon many more years. (A video explaining how this new interpretation was explained to the rank and file membership can be watched here or listened to here.)

This “generation of 1914” teaching has fueled great zeal among Jehovah’s Witnesses for many years and many watchers of the movement feel its demise would be catastrophic to the membership. This is perhaps one reason Watchtower leaders are still trying to retain the “generation of 1914” teaching, even if it’s now interpreted as two generations that somehow overlap into one long “generation” over 100 years long.

The first indications of a crisis of faith over this “generation of 1914” teaching began to appear in the late 1970s. Part of this was precipitated after the failure of predictions for the year 1975 that had been referenced in Watchtower publications. Some Witnesses started questioning the chronology Watchtower leaders had developed for the 1914 date for Christ’s return. One Swedish Witness submitted a study to the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses suggesting that a reevaluation was in order. (The correspondence between this Swedish Witness and Watchtower headquarters can be downloaded here.) Former Governing Body member Raymond Franz revealed in his memoir Crisis of Conscience how a secret meeting of this ruling council discussed a proposal by 3 of its members to change the beginning of the “generation” from 1914 to 1957, an idea that was voted down. (The memorandum for the 1957 proposal can be seen about 2/3 of the way down this webpage.)

The significance of 1914 in Jehovah’s Witness’ belief came under more scrutiny as it was challenged after a schism began in 1980 which involved some Witnesses at Bethel headquarters. Eventually, the Swedish Witness who had submitted the study calling for a reevaluation of the 1914 chronology was expelled from membership, but his study was later published under the title The Gentile Times Reconsidered. In turn, Watchtower publications began to heavily emphasize 1914 and anyone who questioned the chronology or 1914’s significance could similarly face disfellowshipping or expulsion from membership and experience shunning from family and friends still within the religion.

As an example, the May 15, 1984 Watchtower magazine pictured several older Bethelites from Brooklyn headquarters as tangible evidence that there were still faithful elderly Witnesses of this “1914 generation” who would not pass away before the End:

Older members at Bethel, the world headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses, pictured in 1984 who were tangible proof that the generation of 1914 would not pass away before Armageddon. Now, nearly 27 years later, they are likely all deceased

When I first saw this magazine cover back in 1984 I recognized many of these people from when I worked at Bethel headquarters in the mid-seventies. Looking back at it now many years later I have struggled with the names and with some help from other former Bethelites we were able to identify many of these Bethelites pictured in this 1984 Watchtower. All names are identified but there are two names that we only have the last names of (a chiropractic doctor and his wife who were temporary workers at Brooklyn Bethel) and I welcome readers who may recognize them to help me get their full names for this listing. UPDATE 4/26/11: All names have now been identified — thanks for those readers who helped in the identification.

These are the Bethelites who were asked to pose for this 1984 Watchtower cover in support of the belief that those alive in 1914 would not pass away before Armageddon. No criticism of these individuals is meant. It's the false teaching of the Watchtower leaders that is being criticized.

Now, nearly 27 years later, they have all passed away, along with the rest of the 1914 generation.

To use another example:

Here is a picture of the Witnesses’ Governing Body taken in 1975 at Brooklyn Bethel:

Picture of the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses (1975), used courtesy of http://www.freeminds.org

Many long-time Witnesses will remember these former leaders. These members of the Governing Body from 1975 were:

upper row, left to right: Daniel Sydlik (deceased April 19, 2006), Theodore Jaracz (deceased June 2010), Raymond Franz (resigned in 1980, deceased in 2010), Lyman Swingle (deceased), Lloyd Barry (died in 1999), Milton Henschel (deceased 5th president, top), William Jackson (deceased, bottom) Karl Klein (died Jan 2001), Grant Suiter (deceased), Albert Schroeder (deceased March 9, 2006), Leo Greenlees (forced to resign, now deceased)
bottom row: Ewart Chitty (forced to resign, now deceased), Frederick Franz (deceased, 4th president), Nathan Knorr (deceased, 3rd president), George Gangas (deceased), John Booth (deceased), Charles Fekel (deceased).

The Governing Body “Generation of 1914” have all passed away. (Some of the above pictured Governing Body members were born after 1914, however.)

Not shown in this picture are Governing Body members appointed since 1975. Three of these newer members have also passed away. They are: John Barr (deceased), Carey Barber (deceased), Martin Poetzinger (deceased). (Poetzinger was also pictured on the 1984 Watchtower cover above.)

The current Governing Body members have all been appointed since 1994. The current members are: Gerrit Losch, Samuel Herd, Geoffrey Jackson, Steven Lett, Anthony Morris, Guy Pierce, and David Splane.

Recently, a video that was shown to new Bethelites (made in the mid-eighties) was posted onto You Tube. I include it here as it includes commentary from older Bethelites and older Governing Body members who have now all passed away:

Still, Witness leaders still cling to the 1914 teaching and explain the “generation of 1914” as still in effect, reaching back with an overlap to those older Bethelites, who have all passed away.

It’s not surprising that Witness leaders are forced to try to prop up their 1914 generation teaching, even if it strains credulity. As Wikipedia points out, there are only 3 surviving veterans from World War I (fought from 1914-1918). The power of the Witness’ leadership is tied to receiving a “divine appointment” soon after the supposed invisible return of Christ in 1914. So, to change the 1914 teaching could undermine their spiritual authority over Jehovah’s Witnesses. This “overlapping” of generations to make up the “generation of 1914” before Armageddon has bought them more time.

For further reading:

Watchtower Leaders Trying to Salvage 1914 Teaching

“This Generation” Teaching Changes for 6th Time in April 15, 2010 Watchtower

1914: The Touchstone of the Watchtower (study that demonstrates the falsity of the Watchtower Society’s 1914 chronology)

1914 and “This Generation” by Raymond Franz

When Prophecy Fails — The 1975 Fiasco Viewed From Inside Bethel

What’s Wrong With the Witnesses

Ten Things I Won’t Do On Halloween

October 31, 2010

I thought this was a refreshing piece on Halloween from an Orthodox perspective. Please post any comments over at the original article.

H/T: Mystagogy

Ten Things I Won’t Do On Halloween

By John Sanidopolous

Last year I wrote a controversial piece about Halloween titled “Orthodoxy and Halloween: Separating Fact From Fiction“. I want to make it clear that I am not out to defend Halloween or promote its celebration by Christians, though I do find it important to separate fact from fiction regarding this holiday, and leave each individual to observe the day as their conscience determines. Personally I prefer to keep Halloween and Christianity separate outwardly and coherent in my heart. The fictional fundamentalist folklore and mythology surrounding Halloween is in my opinion the darkest aspect of the holiday, and it is the truth that I seek to bring to light lest Christianity be undermined, as it so often irresponsibly is in society. However, I also understand it is not within everyone’s taste to celebrate Halloween, so mutual respect plays a large role in how I present the topic to Christians.

Though I am a proud celebrant of Halloween and very much enjoy many aspects of it as a cultural and seasonal celebration separate from the Church, it has become unfortunate that some things associated with the holiday must be avoided if we wish to celebrate with a clean conscience.

How did Halloween come to be as dark and sinister as it appears in our days? It’s all quite simple really if one looks at the history honestly and carefully. Halloween has its origins in the Christian Church. The mythology that Halloween has its origins in pagan times prior to Christianity arose in the 19th century among Celtic scholars who had their own personal agendas in falsifying history. The demonization of the holiday began among Christians, especially in the 1960’s as part of the counter-cultural movement in the United States. This demonization was based on the falsified history advocated by 19th century Celtic historians. However, since Neo-Paganism was on the rise in the 1960’s, Pagans and New Agers took advantage of this falsified history by claiming Christians took the notion of All Hallow’s Eve from the ancient Celts, whom they falsely claim an association with. This started an ideological war between the two factions ever since, and both were based on false ideas and information. The absurdity of the Christian arguments soon gave way to the secular overtaking of the holiday. And since Christians wanted nothing to do with Halloween, the Neo-Pagans were more than happy to come in and reap all the benefits.

Where does this leave us as Christians? Well, thankfully there are still many aspects to Halloween that leave us room to have enough fun and enjoyment without being a burden to our Christian conscience. Yet, there are still things we must avoid. And this should not alarm us nor should it cause extreme reactions, since Christians are called to weed things out in their daily lives in a secular environment. This is no different other than it is in a different context.

I cannot speak for every individuals conscience in presenting my own personal list of ten things I do not do on Halloween. But I offer this as a guide for those who are caught up in the confusion of the season.

This is my personal list of “Ten Things I Won’t Do On Halloween”, in no particular order:

1. I will not wear an unseemly costume.

I am not against Christians wearing costumes, but sometimes things can go overboard and we need to keep this in mind when choosing our costumes. For example, the Orthodox Church has specific canons that will not allow a man to wear women’s clothing nor a woman men’s clothing. This is rooted in Scripture. So no “sweet transvestites from Transylvania” either, for those who can catch the cultural reference. I would also avoid evil personifications of real figures, such as demons or serial killers, though I personally have no problem with fictional characters or even monsters. Deities or religious figures is something I would avoid too, as well as sexually provocative outfits.

2. I will not participate in Occult activity.

This includes such things as going to a psychic, a seance, or anything rooted in the New Age Movement or Neo-Paganism. It also includes paranormal games, such as playing with a Ouija board which can cause much spiritual harm. I personally enjoy haunted houses and tours, but sometimes occultic activity is implemented playfully; I will not participate in this either and will keep silent or stand back. If I find it offensive, I will mention it to the operators, though this all is very rare. I also am interested in visiting and investigating real haunted locations, but we should not invite communication with spirits of any kind as one often sees among paranormal investigators.

3. I will not attend a party that invites temptations.

Though I don’t consider myself much of a party person, over the years I have been invited to a few parties on Halloween. And like many parties, temptations could be involved either with drugs, alcohol, sex, paranormal games, etc. I personally don’t like those types of atmospheres, so I avoid them like a plague.

4. I will not subscribe to common Secular or Neo-Pagan beliefs promoted on Halloween.

The belief I have most in mind here concern spiritual matters regarding ghosts and energies and death. The occult deals with the manipulation of energy in the universe to bring about positivity in one’s life, though it can also be used for evil. The New Age mentality also, for the most part, considers ghosts to be the souls of dead people who have not been able to pass on to the next realm of existence. These are beliefs that run in contradiction to Christian beliefs and should not be subscribed to. The manipulation of energies is in fact demonic activity, while ghosts are demons who often, though not always, masquerade as innocent victims to establish their presence in our lives. This is often encountered today on paranormal TV shows, movies and ghost tours. Though I enjoy all three for different reasons, I will not subscribe to their beliefs.

5. I will not participate in pranks, vandalism or wild behavior.

Being in my 30’s, I am way past this part of my life, but when I was younger I participated in some minor mischievous behavior. However, it was all in fun and between my friends and I. Some however go a bit too far and start throwing eggs at moving cars and house windows, toilet papering the houses of enemies (also called TP’ing), spraying whip cream and foam string on cars which leave permanent damage, etc. This and similar such things I would not participate in and I plead others do the same as well. (If you happen to be a victim, here are a few tips to get you through on November 1st.)

6. I will not become fascinated with the dark side.

Interest in the macabre and the grotesque is a part of some people’s nature. I would include myself in that category, so I understand where such people come from. However people could bring it to a whole other level when they enter into total fascination with such things. I admit that I appreciate the beauty, art and history of such things, but it does not form who I am or fog my opinion or thinking so as to call good evil or evil good. Everything must be approached with moderation, and we must also realize that such allurements have their temptations as well.

7. I will not paganize Halloween.

Halloween is not a pagan holiday. Such notions are only born out of ignorance. It is a cultural and seasonal holiday that can be celebrated either for good or for evil, whatever one chooses. We are not bound by any ritual of the day that inevitably forces us to paganize it, nor does everything about it have to contradict our moral and spiritual principles. I would even consider it less confusing than Thanksgiving, which basically encourages us to break our Nativity Fast with a lot of non-fasting foods. There are some Christians who give up amidst the confusion and just hand the day over to the Devil. I am not that type of person if I don’t have to be. With knowledge comes much freedom, and research into the deeper meaning of the holiday and all its aspects is a very liberating task.

8. I will not Christianize the holiday.

Halloween was originally a Christian holiday dating before the Great Schism, but for Orthodox Christians it is no longer the case. Our days dedicated to the dead come weekly when every Saturday is dedicated to our loved ones who have passed on and we pray for them, as well certain special Saturdays throughout the Christian year. Also, our All Saints Day is celebrated the Sunday after Pentecost, which usually is celebrated in the Spring. Therefore, as I said above, we ought to keep Halloween, if we choose to keep it, as a cultural and seasonal holiday that has spiritual aspects in so much as they are natural and inspired of God, since in the autumn death permeates the atmosphere. For a Christian, such an atmosphere can aid in one’s contemplation of death, which is encouraged by the Church Fathers as an aid in one’s spiritual life, as well help one to contemplate fallen creation which awaits future glory. My pet peeve however is when I hear Orthodox people bringing in a Christianized version of the holiday to replace the seasonal and cultural, thinking instead they are replacing it with occultic aspects of the holiday. This to me shows a level of fear and vulnerability brought about by ignorance and possibly even lack of faith. I also don’t like ideas using Halloween as an Orthodox enculturation tool to have children light candles before icons prior to being awarded with a piece of candy or any other such innovation. To me, it is not the proper response to the festivities.

9. I will not participate in any blasphemy on Halloween.

Blasphemy against God, the Church and the sacred is among the worst of sins and I will not take part in anything that encourages such things. Because of certain aspects of Halloween being paganized and secularized, and thanks to the ignorance of Christians who come out fully swinging against the holiday, it should not surprise us that the holy will be blasphemed. Last year on Halloween I saw a street preacher in Salem being harassed for preaching against the “evil’s” of Halloween, but this invited only blasphemy from certain jokesters in the crowd who were willing at least to listen. It basically was not the proper atmosphere nor the right approach. There are many ways this can take form on Halloween, just like it can on Christmas or Easter, so great care should be taken to not be a part of it.

10. I will not judge those who participate in Halloween to either a greater or lesser extent than I do.

Though I do have a gripe with extremists who I believe undermine Christianity, I do not have any problem with those who choose to either abstain from the celebrations or take it in head deep. Though Orthodox Christians should watch out to a certain extent for their brethren, for we are each other’s keepers, we should be much more lenient towards non-Orthodox who are not bound by the same responsibilities we have as being guardians of the truth of the gospel of Christ. Our kindness and Christian representation should always show forth in a secular environment so that we do not undermine the hope that lies within us.

A pleasant Halloween to all!

For further reading:

The Christian, Not Pagan, Origins of Halloween

Who’s Afraid of Halloween?

When Prophecy Fails — The 1975 Fiasco Viewed from Inside Bethel

April 23, 2010

Watchtower publications teach that those who reject the message preached by Jehovah's Witnesses will be destroyed at Armageddon

This is the third article in this series:

Part 1 Part 2

The excitement for the 6,000 year chronology ending in 1975 and the idea that Armageddon, followed by the Millennium, would begin about then captured the hopes and visions of almost all Witnesses. Viewed 35 years later, it is incredulous that so many of us put our lives on hold for such a non-event as 1975 turned out to be. I explained in the first part of this series how the date was introduced to Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1966 with the publication of the book Life Everlasting — In Freedom of the Sons of God. When nothing happened in 1975, Watchtower leaders were ready with an explanation. The July 11, 1977 issue of  Time magazine contained an interview with Frederick W. Franz (who had been Vice-President of the Watchtower Society during the build up of the excitement for 1975). It accurately explains how the disappointment was first explained:

By 1968, the sect’s magazine, Awake!, was proclaiming a new date for Armageddon: “Today we have the evidence required, all of it. And it is overwhelming! All the many, many parts of the great sign of the ‘last days’ are here, together with verifying Bible chronology.” That complex chronology ran like this: Adam was created in the autumn of 4026 B.C., which meant that 6,000 years of human existence would end in late 1975. The 6,000 years would be followed by the Millennium, 1,000 years of “Sabbathlike rest,” just as God rested after six days of Creation and established the Sabbath.

Asked about 1975, Franz now says that the 6,000-year chronology is correct, but the seventh day of Creation did not begin until Eve was created. Thus the date for the End has to be extended by the amount of time between the advent of Adam and of Eve—an interval not yet revealed (previous Witness publications had stated that Adam and Eve were created in the same year).

It’s comical to the point of absurd now to think of it, but this interval between the time of the creation of Adam and Eve became a big deal for us. It was used by Watchtower leaders as a way to hold onto the 6,000 year chronology and an imminent Armageddon, while allowing some “wiggle room” as the months and years ebbed by after 1975. (Nowadays, there is little mention of the 6,000 year chronology in Watchtower publications, let alone concern about the passage of time between Adam and Eve’s creation. I doubt any JWs really believe Adam was alone in the Garden of Eden for over 35 years before he met Eve!)

We started hearing about the “Adam and Eve” problem in early 1975. Early that year, Watchtower president Nathan H. Knorr and Vice-President Fred Franz did a series of lectures to Witnesses around the world. Fred Franz’s lecture was simply entitled “What is the Significance of 1975?” and was delivered in several cities to Witnesses in special assemblies.  While he broached the Adam-Eve gap in his lectures, he remained very upbeat about Armageddon’s nearness. His nephew, Raymond Franz (who later left the religion), describes his uncle’s speech in his masterful memoir Crisis of Conscience:

In his talk, the vice president spoke of 1975 as a “year of great possibilities, tremendous probabilities.” He told his audience that, according to the Hebrew calendar, they were “already in the fifth lunar month of 1975,” with less than seven lunar months remaining. He emphasized several times that the Hebrew year would close with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, on September 5, 1975. Acknowledging that much would have to happen in that short time if the final windup was to come by then, he went on to talk about the possibility of a year or so difference due to some lapse of time between Adam’s creation and Eve’s creation. He made reference to the failure of expectations in 1914 and 1925 and quoted [Joseph F.] Rutherford’s remark, “I made an ass of myself.” He said that the organization had learned not to make “very bold, extreme predictions.” Toward the close, he urged his listeners not to take an improper view, however, and assume that the coming destruction could be “years away,” and focus their attention on other matters, such as getting married and raising families, building up a fine business venture or spending years at college in some engineering course. (page 249)

The Towers Hotel was bought in 1975 to house more Bethel workers at Watchtower headquarters

Even if we weren’t making plans for our own future, the Watchtower Society was thoroughly busy with its own plans. In early 1975 the Watchtower Society bought the Towers Hotel at 25 Clark St., which about doubled the living space for the Bethel family.  A massive remodeling of the Towers building was begun that year with volunteer Witness labor and it was connected to the other Watchtower residence buildings on Columbia Heights via a tunnel under 86 Willow St. There were several non-Witness tenants who had been living in the Towers on a long-term basis who found themselves pressured to move out of the building to make way for future Bethelites who would come to help publish warnings about a near Armageddon and the upcoming Millennium. Their sad story is documented in Barbara Grizzuti Harrison’s Visions of Glory: A History and a Memory of Jehovah’s Witnesses, pp. 136-138.

There had been, of course, some cautionary statements in Watchtower publications about the year 1975. Those were well known. About 1974, some specific back-pedaling about 1975 began. I took part in a District Convention presentation in 1974 in Pullman, Washington which cautioned Witnesses not to be dogmatic about 1975. But, those of us who took the religion seriously had no doubts regarding the essential concepts of  the 6,000 year chronology. Not one of my friends believed we’d be here in 2010, looking back 35 years and this old world still rockin’.

At the factory, when we started making the 1975 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, we joked that its army-green cover was actually “Armageddon green.” The Bethel family first heard Vice President Fred Franz’s explanation of the “Adam and Eve” gap in March of 1975 at a lecture he gave for the graduation ceremonies for the Gilead missionary school. His lecture incorporated the points he had made earlier in his global tour mentioned above. As much as I believed in the 6,000 year chronology we then espoused, I thought Fred Franz’s lecture was “over the top.” He pinpointed September 5, 1975 as the exact end of the 6,000 years from Adam’s creation. I thought of all the uncertainties there had to be to begin with in biblical chronology, let alone determining the exact date of Adam’s creation. I remember I had laughed when I first heard of how Anglican Archbishop Ussher had determined that Adam was created on a Sunday, the early evening preceding October 23, 4004 BC. Here, Fred Franz was trying to do the same thing but using his chronology.  At least he wasn’t specific about the time of day! There were other Bethelites similarly troubled. A good friend of mine, borrowing from a line in the song “Maria” from The Sound of Music quipped: “Freddy makes me laugh.” The May 1, 1975 Watchtower reported on Fred Franz’s lecture:

Another speaker, F. W. Franz, the Society’s vice- president, forcefully impressed on the audience the urgency of the Christian preaching work. He stressed that, according to dependable Bible chronology, 6,000 years of human history will end this coming September according to the lunar calendar. This coincides with a time when “the human species [is] about to starve itself to death,” as well as its being faced with poisoning by pollution and destruction by nuclear weapons. Franz added: “There’s no basis for believing that mankind, faced with what it now faces, can exist for the seventh thousand-year period” under the present system of things.

Does this mean that we know exactly when God will destroy this old system and establish a new one? Franz showed that we do not, for we do not know how short was the time interval between Adam’s creation and the creation of Eve, at which point God’s rest day of seven thousand years began. (Heb. 4:3,4) But, he pointed out, “we should not think that this year of 1975 is of no significance to us,” for the Bible proves that Jehovah is “the greatest chronologist” and “we have the anchor date, 1914, marking the end of the Gentile Times.” So, he continued, “we are filled with anticipation for the near future, for our generation.”

This new uncertainty about the 1975 prediction was quickly noticed by the press. John Dart’s article,  “Jehovah’s Witnesses Backing Away from 1975 Forecast,” published by the Los Angeles Times, was picked up by several newspapers throughout the country. As can be imagined, Witnesses were poked fun at, such as this piece by an editorial writer for the Spokane, Washington Spokesman-Review, entitled “First the Good News”. A couple of the jabs:

The Jehovah’s Witnesses, according to the Los Angeles Times, once again last week postponed the end of the world. The stock market promptly plummeted 17 points….Reports were vigorously denied that the postponement had been caused by pressure from the television networks, who feared the event would conflict with Monday Night Football….Unfortunately, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have not publicly rescheduled the event. But the trial run has served to prepare the nation’s media.

Later, as September 5, 1975 passed by unnoticed by the world, newspapers carried articles from news services such as  “End of the World Delayed Again” , published September 21, 1975 in the Boca Raton News.

Many of us realized, though, that this “Adam-Eve” gap was nothing new. The February 1, 1955 Watchtower (pp. 93-95) had made the same points about this gap. In 1963, the Watchtower Society specifically referred to the unknown time between Adam and Eve’s creation on page 286 of All Scripture is Inspired of God and Beneficial. Referring to the 4026 B.C.E. date for Adam’s creation, that book asked:

Of what significance is this today? It means that by the fall of 1963 mankind has dwelt upon this earth 5,988 years. Does this mean, then, that by 1963 we had progressed 5,988 years into the ‘day’ on which Jehovah ‘has been resting from all his work’? (Gen. 2:3) No, for the creation of Adam does not correspond with the beginning of Jehovah’s rest day. Following Adam’s creation, and still within the sixth creative day, Jehovah appears to have been forming further animal and bird creations. Also, he had Adam name the animals, which would take some time, and he proceeded to create Eve. (Gen. 2:18-22; see also NW, 1953 Ed., footnote on Vs. 19) Whatever time elapsed between Adam’s creation and the end of the ‘sixth day’ must be subtracted from the 5,988 years in order to give the actual length of time from the beginning of the ‘seventh day’ until now. It does no good to use Bible chronology for speculating on dates that are still future in the stream of time.

We had begun “speculating on dates that are still future in the stream of time” 3 years later! Soon after, in 1968, a couple of years after the first mention of 1975 in Witness publications, the Watchtower Society changed any doubt about such a gap, stating that Adam and Eve were created in the same year — 4026 B.C.E. — and the difference between Adam and Eve’s creation was greatly minimized:

Thus, Adam’s naming of the animals and his realizing that he needed a counterpart would have occupied only a brief time after his creation. Since it was also Jehovah’s purpose for man to multiply and fill the earth, it is logical that he would create Eve soon after Adam, perhaps just a few weeks or months later in the same year, 4026 B.C.E. After her creation, God’s rest day, the seventh period,immediately followed. Therefore, God’s seventh day and the time man has been on earth apparently run parallel. To calculate where man is in the stream of time relative to God’s seventh day of 7,000 years, we need to determine how long a time has elapsed from the year of Adam and Eve’s creation in 4026 B.C.E. From the autumn of that year to the autumn of 1 B.C.E., there would be 4,025 years. From the autumn of 1 B.C.E. to the autumn of 1 C.E. is one year (there was no zero year). From the autumn of 1 C.E. to the autumn of 1967 is a total of 1,966 years. Adding 4,025 and 1 and 1,966, we get 5,992 years from the autumn of 4026 B.C.E. to the autumn of 1967. Thus, eight years remain to account for a full 6,000 years of the seventh day. Eight years from the autumn of 1967 would bring us to the autumn of 1975, fully 6,000 years into God’s seventh day, his rest day. (Watchtower May 1, 1968 p. 271)

Are we to assume from this study that the battle of Armageddon will be all over by the autumn of 1975, and the long-looked-for thousand-year reign of Christ will begin by then? Possibly, but we wait to see how closely the seventh thousand-year period of man’s existence coincides with the Sabbath-like thousand-year reign of Christ….It may involve only a difference of weeks or months, not years. (Watchtower, Aug. 15, 1968, p. 499)

Dropping uncertainties about biblical chronology and proclaiming 1975 as the end of 6,000 years of God’s “rest day” to be soon followed by the Millennium had helped to generate a tangible excitement about the nearness of Armageddon and had nearly doubled the number of Witnesses. Record numbers were being baptized and we were working day and night at the factory in Brooklyn to supply Witness evangelists with literature to distribute door-to-door. We were riding an emotional high of excitement full of confidence in our prophetic expectations. However, as the 6,000 year chronology became questionable, things began to unravel. I suppressed my dismay that we’d gone from an uncertainty about the significance of the 6,000 year chronology (the 1955 and 1963 statements) to certainty (the 1975 predictions based on Adam and Eve being created in the same year), back to uncertainty (the recycled ‘we don’t know when Eve was created, so our chronology is not exact’).

As the year 1975 progressed with no End in sight, suppressed doubts began to surface among many other Witnesses also. Was the End really so imminent? Many of us had said that the exact timing of the End was not important. We had dedicated our lives to Jehovah and we would continue in His Organization regardless. Still, we had made life choices based upon the Watchtower Society’s 1975 chronology. Some of us had passed up higher education. Others had missed business opportunities or used up assets because “the time left was short.” Some Witnesses had deferred marriage or having children. We clung to the idea that our chronology was only off due to the uncertainty between the timing of Adam and Eve’s creation. Maybe Armageddon would come next year. But, several of us Bethel brothers realized also that if the End was decades or more away, we would need to consider how to support a family after our four year Bethel commitment was over. Living in the present world became a reality that had to be faced. Without specialized training or education after high school would many of us be left with low-paying, menial-type jobs?

Next: Leaving Bethel (under preparation)

For further reading on the 1975 prediction:

M. James Penton’s Apocalypse Delayed: The Story of Jehovah’s Witnesses, pp. 91-101, esp. note 11 on p. 357.

1975 Quotes from JWFacts

1975 and the Watchtower Society

“Time In Which We Are Now Interested” (Lecture given in early 1975 by Fred Franz discussing its significance)

Answers to Questions about the “Last Days” (the Watchtower Society’s current explanation about 1975 — audio and text from the 2009 District Convention)

Reading Recommendations re: Jehovah’s Witnesses

My resignation letter from Jehovah’s Witnesses (1980)

Life at Bethel, the World Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses

April 16, 2010

This is the second part of this series. The first part (which chronicles how I got involved with Jehovah’s Witnesses in the mid-1960s up until I arrived at Brooklyn Bethel in 1973) can be read here.

To be perfectly honest, I have many good memories of my times at Bethel in New York. Over the years, I had made a few friendships in the Witness congregations I had been involved with, but here at Bethel I suddenly had dozens of friends, many of whom were young men like me who had given up 4 years of their lives to work at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Amid these positive aspects, however, there were some events that helped shape my exit from Jehovah’s Witnesses a few years later.

An idea of what Bethel, the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses is like can be seen in this in-house video that was shown to new Bethelites. This video was done in the 8os, about 10 years after I was there:

I love history and developed a desire to understand more fully the historical development of Jehovah’s Witness’ theology and Bethel was quite the place to do so. At that time, there were two large libraries of older Watchtower magazines and books all the way back to the founding of the movement in the 1870s. I spent a lot of my spare time rummaging the shelves in what was called the Bethel Library on the 8th floor of the 124 Columbia Heights building and also would spend time in the Gilead Library in the 107 Columbia Heights building. Such may seem superfluous in this era of downloadable PDF files from the Internet, but nothing like that was available in the mid-1970s. As I combed through these libraries, I began to realize there was a lot of strange things in older Watchtower literature. (I’ll detail this as I go along, but for fuller explanations go to the hyperlinks in the text.)

Early Watchtower literature used the Great Pyramid in support of their predictions for 1914

Sometimes, conversations with other Bethelites would prompt research in the headquarter’s libraries. For example, one morning at breakfast, the elder who had oversight of the table I was assigned to referred to a tragedy where a Bethelite had been killed in a traffic accident back in the 1920s. The elder’s name was  Ciro Aulicino (he became infamous later with regards to a controversial involvement with the United Nations). I liked Ciro, enjoyed his sense of humor,  and particularly appreciated when he shared historical tidbits from Witness history. This particular day he referred to when the Watchtower leaders “dropped [belief in the supernatural nature of] the Great Pyramid.” Very few of us knew it, but the Witnesses first President, Charles Taze Russell, had seen in the Great Pyramid of Egypt, a doctrinal and chronological blueprint that supposedly reinforced Russell’s unique teachings. Russell’s successor, Joseph Franklin Rutherford, suddenly reversed the teachings on the Great Pyramid in 1928 and began teaching that the Great Pyramid had actually been inspired by the Devil. Ciro explained that this sudden doctrinal reversal had been upsetting for some of the Bethel brothers. One Bethel worker, Ciro said, walked about in a daze after hearing Rutherford denounce the Pyramid teaching and was run over and killed by a car when he unthinkingly walked in front of it on the way to work at the  Society’s factory. Later in the Bethel library, I found the older Watchtower books that had endorsed pyramidology. Russell’s first exposition of the spiritual significance of the Great Pyramid was in Volume 3 of Millennial Dawn, pp. 303-374. In it, Russell taught the Great Pyramid supported his predictions for the year 1914. A special edition of Russell’s writings on the Great Pyramid was published as The Divine Plan of the Ages and the Great Pyramid in 1913.

The Watchtower Society built a Pyramid memorial at Russell's gravesite

Later, a Bethel friend told me of how he had visited Russell’s grave site in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and showed me pictures of the giant pyramid memorial marker erected by the Watchtower Society at Russell’s grave. As I leafed through older issues of the magazine The Golden Age (now Awake!), I discovered a 1924 issue (December 31, 1924, pp. 212-222) that cited the Great Pyramid to buttress not only the 1914 chronology, but also to support  predictions they were then making for the year 1925 (the Watchtower Society no longer claims any prophetic significance for 1925). I felt this usage of the Great Pyramid by their first President was really odd. I didn’t know what else to say but that I was glad pyramidology had been abandoned by the Witnesses. Still, I was troubled by the idea that early Witness leaders had such odd beliefs.

Russell got the dates 1874, 1878 & 1914 from N.H. Barbour, editor of Herald of the Morning

One day I was rummaging through the Gilead library (at that time in the 107 Columbia Heights building) and I saw a boxed collection of magazines, entitled Herald of the Morning. These were actual issues of the magazine that Russell was involved with before he began the Watchtower magazine in 1879. I was surprised that such rare magazines would be available for general use by Bethel family members. The historical significance of the Herald of the Morning magazine was huge. In these magazines, I read what Russell had written before the Watchtower magazine began, and I could also see what had influenced him from his association with the Herald’s editor, Nelson H. Barbour. I could see from the Herald’s cover that Russell had gotten the year 1914 from Barbour as a prophetic date — along with the years 1874 and 1878. Thus began the realization for me that the Watchtower Society had a long history of failed eschatological predictions. At the time, most Witnesses had an idealized view of such Witness history. Even now, many Witnesses do not realize how their belief system with regard to the year 1914 is radically different from Russell’s day.


"The Calendar of Jehovah God," purified from pagan influences, published in the March 13, 1935 Golden Age

In Witness belief, the year 1935 was significant because they believe an important doctrinal truth was revealed to J.F. Rutherford in that year: that only 144,000 Christians would be with Christ in heaven and the rest of the faithful would live on a future paradise earth. (Previously, it had been held that there would be a secondary heavenly group besides the 144,000.) So, I examined the 1935 bound volumes of the Watchtower and Golden Age magazines with great interest and discovered one of the oddest series of articles ever printed in Witness history. In that year, the Watchtower Society had promoted a new calendar which they called “the Calendar of Jehovah God.” Basically, the idea was that the civil calendar was tainted by paganism and should not be used by Christians. 3 issues of the Golden Age magazine detailed this new calendar and it also was promoted in the 1935 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Watchtower magazine. A few weeks after it appeared in Golden Age the whole project was shelved. Why? Apparently, saner minds decided it would make Jehovah’s Witnesses look too strange.

The two-tiered level of salvation (the 144,000 to heaven and the rest of Jehovah’s Witnesses to everlasting life on a paradise earth) was most clearly seen at the Memorial of Christ’s Death that we celebrated annually. For outsiders, the way we celebrated this (what most other groups call Communion) seems quite strange.

I happened to be assigned to the Brooklyn Heights Congregation which included the area right around Bethel on Brooklyn Heights and the lower West side of Manhattan. Our Kingdom Hall was in the Bethel headquarters complex. Our congregation had several older Bethelites who had been affiliated with the Witnesses for 40, 50 or more years. We also had 4 members of the Governing Body (the group of men who directed the Watchtower Organization.) These old-timers were all of what we called “the anointed,” part of the elect group of 144,000 who we believed would reign with Christ in heaven.  At that time only about 8,000 Witnesses claimed to be “anointed” (the number has since raised to over 11,000.) The millions of other Witnesses do not have the hope of being with Christ in heaven but only hope to live in a paradise earth. Once a year (on Nisan 14 on the Hebrew calendar) we celebrated what we called the “Lord’s Evening Meal” or “Memorial” with unleavened bread and wine and only those 8,000 plus anointed still alive would partake of the bread and wine. (The bread and wine were considered to be only symbols of Christ’s Body and Blood.) Most congregations had no partakers and would just pass the “emblems” around and no one would partake. (For the non-member, it’s quite odd to see the bread and wine passed around with no partakers.) Once in awhile, a congregation has one or two partakers. The year I was at the Brooklyn Heights Memorial in 1974 we had 25 partakers, though over 200 of us did not partake. I was an attendant (usher) and we actually had instructions on getting refills if we ran out of wine or needed more unleavened bread. I considered it a special privilege to be a part of that congregation right at the heart of Watchtower headquarters. While at the time I accepted uncritically the Witnesses’ two-tier system of salvation, I later was confronted with Scriptures that challenged these beliefs. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Next: When Prophecy Fails — The 1975 Fiasco Viewed from Inside Bethel

For further reading:

Reading Recommendations re: Jehovah’s Witnesses

My resignation letter from Jehovah’s Witnesses (1980)

Video Tour of Bethel (1990):

My Two Worlds — Deaf & Hearing

April 9, 2010

A couple of readers have commented that the blog should also reflect some personal aspects from life, so here’s one installment in that department:

One of my earliest memories is asking my Grandmother to do something for me when I was about four years old: “Grandma, tell Mommy that I want her to make a chocolate cake today.” My Grandmother refused my request and made it a teaching moment: “David, you will have to learn to ask Mommy yourself.” Both my Mom and Dad have been profoundly deaf since birth. At the time, my Grandmother was living with us and I was starting to rely on her to interpret more detailed conversations with my parents. Grandma’s gentle rebuke taught me both responsibility and an early awareness that the language my parents used (American Sign Language) is a unique and complex language.

My Grandmother soon moved out and I started assuming the interpreting role for my parents that she had performed. When I was about six, our family got its first telephone. I can remember my Dad asking me to relay messages about loan payments and calling various stores for my Mom to see if what she wanted was in stock. Phone solicitors would recognize my youthful voice and would ask to speak with my parents. I can remember a couple of times when my reply “No, they can’t come to the phone–they are deaf” was misunderstood. Thinking I had said, “They are dead,” one solicitor said: “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.” I calmly replied: “Oh, that’s okay. They’ve always been that way.” By the time I was twelve, I had interpreted loan contracts and how escrow worked when buying a home and had accompanied my Dad to a specialist when he had a serious sinus infection.

I really never thought that our family was different or that I was fulfilling an unusual role for a child. Once when I was in third grade, a classmate came home with me after school. As I introduced him to my Mom, I noticed his mouth was wide agape. Mom was pleasant to him and he sort of meekly waved to her. As we walked away to play he said, “You never told me your Mom is deaf.” I replied: “You never asked.” The same thing happened when my folks came to teacher conferences with me when I was in Middle School. My French teacher told the whole class the next day about my deaf parents. I didn’t like that sort of attention. As I got older, I tried to get out of interpreting for my folks. I could see there were two worlds: the deaf world and the hearing world. I didn’t want to be in the deaf world any longer.

I had never heard of the designation CODA (Child of Deaf Adult) until after I moved away from home and saw the Hallmark movie “Love is Never Silent.” In the movie, there’s a confrontational scene between the deaf parents and the hearing daughter after she’s moved away from home. During that scene, I broke down and sobbed like I’d never cried in all my life. In fact, I couldn’t even talk about that movie for a couple of years without starting to cry. I wasn’t angry with my parents.  Nor do I think I had an unlucky childhood. That movie began a process which helped me learn how important it is that I embrace who I am. I am in both worlds, both deaf and hearing.  My personality is different in each world.  When I sign to deaf people I’m no longer shy. If I see a deaf person signing, I want to go over and introduce myself. In the hearing world, I’m much more reserved. Since then, I’ve learned to recognize that I can live in both worlds at the same time.

I also came to realize that I can be proud of the unique childhood experience I received from my family. It has made me who I am. It has taught me some important lessons: that despite whatever obstacles one encounters in life, one should never give up – and that love is best experienced when it’s given liberally and unconditionally.

After that, I applied to work as an interpreter for a rural school district, got hired and have worked with Deaf and hard-of-hearing kids the past several years. Currently, I’m working towards getting my educational endorsements to be certified in this field. The Internet and high-speed cable modems allow me to call my parents (who live over a thousand miles away) several times a week and chat in ASL. This year Mom and Dad will celebrate their 66th wedding anniversary!

The past 30 years has seen a vast improvement of services for Deaf. We now have videophone relay interpreters and laws in many countries mandate that interpreting services be provided for Deaf in many settings. Growing up in a Deaf family is a bit different these days, though many issues remain the same. There’s a recent effort to start a TV reality show, entitled “My Deaf Family.” It has its own Facebook page and in 9 days has over 10,000 fans. Here’s a trailer:

Many Churches now have interpreted services for the Deaf and there are a few Deaf congregations — where everyone involved from pastor to parishioner is Deaf. The New Testament is online in American Sign Language (ASL). For a humorous take on the Deaf world at Church, here’s a video by Andy and Ben Olson, CODAs themselves:

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find much being done in the way of work with the Deaf in Orthodox parishes, at least from my online searches. A good series of videos on You Tube have recently been posted by Armenian Orthodox acolyte Tigran Khachikyan in ASL, who is himself deaf. Here he explains “Who is God?”:

One of my goals is to someday be able to post videos of parts of the Divine Liturgy with ASL interpretation. Perhaps that’s being done by someone already? I’d welcome comments from readers who have knowledge of such work among Deaf in Orthodox parishes.

The Journey from Jehovah’s Witnesses to the Orthodox Church

February 27, 2010

Updated 01/01/2011

Every once in awhile, I get the question: “How did you find your way to Orthodoxy from Jehovah’s Witnesses?” I always have to answer that it was not me finding my way to the Church. That puts the wrong emphasis on the  journey. The journey begins and ends with God. So, I usually answer that question with a one word answer: “God.” He does the leading. Sometimes, like St. Paul, we “kick against the goads” and our journey may have a detour or two (Acts 26:14). In the final analysis, however, God gets all the credit for the journey.

So, I begin this story (which will probably take a few installments) only to share a bit of my spiritual journey. There’s nothing special in my story. But, if some of my experiences might be of some help to others in their journey, then it will be worth the telling.

I was just a few days shy of my eleventh birthday when Jehovah’s Witnesses came to our door in Garden Grove, California in late Spring, 1965. As the oldest hearing child of deaf parents I interpreted into sign language what the visiting woman wanted to tell my Mom and Dad. Our family was nominally Protestant but we were not churchgoers. My Dad gave the Witness lady 50 cents for the book Let God Be True. A couple weeks later she returned. This time she had the magazines Watchtower and Awake! We started taking the magazines regularly from this woman. My Mom and Dad had no real interest in them, but I found Awake! (the JW news magazine) interesting reading. The Watchtower (the JW doctrinal journal) was more difficult and less interesting reading for me. We bought other JW books as this lady continued to visit us.

However, the visits from this Witness lady stirred some spiritual interest in me. I had a reverence for God and the Bible but no religious education. I started reading the King James Bible we had in the house and got several chapters into it. Soon after the chapters on Noah and the Flood I bogged down. I asked my folks to take me to church. My Mother’s family had belonged to the Presbyterian Church so I started attending Sunday School there. However, there didn’t seem to be much substance to what I was learning. In contrast, the Witness who came to our home seemed to have answers to everything and didn’t mind all my questions. Now I started actually reading articles in the Watchtower and the doctrinal books. I was invited to a public lecture at the local Kingdom Hall (the JW meeting place) and my parents took me there. It was quite a contrast from the Presbyterian Church. They sang a song or two but the meeting was focused on learning. Witness meetings are primarily lectures and studies on their doctrinal beliefs. Everyone was very friendly and I obtained more Witness literature.

I should mention here, that during this spiritual arousal which had been prompted by the visits of the Witnesses, an important event occurred. I knew my knowledge and understanding of God was inadequate, but I firmly believed God had sent his Son, Jesus, to be my Savior. So, independently of my contacts with the Witnesses, in earnest prayer I placed myself in God’s care. It was a small step at the time, but an important one. I believe that my spiritual life and journey as a follower of Jesus began at that time.

As the Witnesses continued to visit me, they showed me some verses in the King James Bible to prove to me that God’s name is Jehovah. God had a name? Why didn’t any other religious group use God’s name? They reasoned with me that Jesus could not be God since the Bible clearly showed that Jesus and the Father were distinct. Who was Jesus praying to if he was God? The Witnesses cited the wars, earthquakes, and famines since 1914 onwards as proof we were living in the “last days” as a fulfillment of Jesus’ words at Matthew chapter 24 about the “sign” of his return. The Witnesses explained to me that the hope of heaven was only for 144,000 people and that unnumbered millions would be rewarded with everlasting life on a paradise earth. I obtained a copy of the JW Bible translation–the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (NWT) and started using it in my studies. The Witness explanations made sense to me. Of course, I had very little religious training and nothing to counter their explanations. At that time, there really wasn’t much in the way of quality refutations of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Later I learned the significance of why the name Jehovah does not appear in the New Testament and some of the problems with the Witnesses’ teachings regarding 1914 and problems with their teaching about the 144,000, but I’ll explain that more fully in later installments.

For Jehovah’s Witnesses, their religion is “the truth.” For example, someone who has been a member for 5 years would say: “I’ve been in the truth for 5 years.” That implies, of course, that other religions were false. Other religions are considered part of “false religion,” which they identify with “Babylon the Great” from the book of Revelation. The Witnesses claim their religion is the same faith as the early Christian Church. All other Christian Churches are referred to as “Christendom” and regarded as apostate. The Witnesses who were studying with me referred me to the book The Two Babylons (written by a Protestant minister), which supposedly proved the Babylonish origins of “apostate Christendom.” I borrowed the book from my Witness friends and noticed it was primarily written to “expose” Catholic beliefs and practices. I thought that was okay. After all, I thought the Catholic Church was the most apostate church of all. I had no real knowledge of the Orthodox Church, but from I heard from my JW friends, it was probably just as bad. (I learned later how the methodology of looking for Babylonish origins was flawed.) Since I now believed that all other religions were false, I adopted the belief of my Witness friends that God was using the Watchtower Society as His exclusive agency to give spiritual food to His people. By now I had completely stopped attending any services at the Presbyterian Church and considered anything connected to traditional Christianity as apostate and spiritually unclean.

My parents started to get concerned about my growing interest in the Witnesses and they discouraged me from reading so much of their books and magazines. Even though I was only 12, my spiritual appetite could not be quenched. I decided to read the Witness literature on the sly. I kept Witness publications in my locker at school and would read them there. When I was at home alone, I’d pull out JW literature from a secret stash I had and read it. Occasionally, I’d visit my grandmother in another city and I’d walk over to the Kingdom Hall for part of the Sunday meeting. Back at home, I’d go out riding on my bicycle and end up at the local Kingdom Hall for the meeting or at a Witness home. The Witness lady started having a “Bible Study” with me in her home once a week. We read and discussed the book “Things in Which It is Impossible for God to Lie”, and would look up the cited Bible verses. I did not tell my parents what I was doing and since I was a kid who never got into trouble they didn’t quiz me about what I was doing. A few months later, my teen-age “rebellion” escalated. I would sneak out of the house to go door to door preaching with the JWs on Saturday morning or sometimes would go with friends to do so after school. Witness parents in the congregation would use me as an example for their kids. “See what David has to go through to go to meetings and field service!” Fortunately, the Witness kids did not hold that against me and I started making friendships among the other kids in the congregation.

Witnesses were told to highlight the chronology chart showing 1975 from the "Life Everlasting" book in their door to door work -- Oct. 1966 Kingdom Ministry

About this time (1966) the Watchtower Society published the book Life Everlasting in Freedom of the Sons of God. At the end of the first chapter, the book developed a chronological table from the creation of Adam and Eve stating that 6,000 years of mankind’s existence would end in the year 1975. For Witnesses, this was significant as it meant according to their understanding of biblical eschatology that Christ’s Millennial Reign could begin then. (Witnesses believe that the Millennium mentioned in the book of Revelation is a future event.) It also meant that Revelation’s “battle of Armageddon” (understood to be the destruction of all who reject the message preached by the Witnesses) could be over by then and the earth would start being returned to a paradise like the Garden of Eden. I still remember attending the local Congregation Book Study (at that time held at a neighbor’s home) as we read pages 26-30 of Life Everlasting in Freedom of the Sons of God and its explanation of the significance of the 6,000 year chronology:

“In this twentieth century an independent study has been carried on that does not blindly follow some traditional chronological calculations of Christendom, and the published timetable resulting from this independent study gives the date of man’s creation as 4026 B.C.E. So six thousand years of man’s existence on earth will soon be up, yes, within this generation….According to this trustworthy Bible chronology six thousand years from man’s creation will end in 1975, and the seventh period of a thousand years of human history will begin in the fall of 1975 C.E. So six thousand years of man’s existence on earth will soon be up, yes, within this generation….So from the standpoint of Jehovah God these passing six thousand years of man’s existence are but as six days of twenty-four hours,….So in not many years within our own generation we are reaching what Jehovah God could view as the seventh day of man’s existence. How appropriate it would be for Jehovah God to make of this coming seventh period of a thousand years a sabbath period of rest and release, a great Jubilee sabbath for the proclaiming of liberty throughout the earth to all its inhabitants! This would be most timely for mankind. It would also be most fitting on God’s part, for, remember, mankind has yet ahead of it what the last book of the Holy Bible speaks of as the reign of Jesus Christ over earth for a thousand years, the millennial reign of Christ. Prophetically Jesus Christ, when on earth nineteen centuries ago, said concerning himself: “For Lord of the sabbath is what the Son of man is.” (Matthew 12: 8). It would not be by mere chance or accident but would be according to the loving purpose of Jehovah God for the reign of Jesus Christ, the ‘Lord of the Sabbath,’ to run parallel with the seventh millennium of man’s existence.

Even though it was cautiously worded, this “new light” (new doctrinal emphasis by Watchtower leaders) about 1975 greatly excited the Witnesses I knew. I remember attending a “Service Meeting” at the Kingdom Hall where we were instructed to highlight the chronological chart (that showed the 1975 date) as proof that “this present system of things [world] does not have many years left” as we offered the “Live Forever” book from door to door. We were told “not make any predictions about Armageddon coming in a certain year” but to “let them [the people who would buy the book] read the chapter and see what the evidence indicates” so that they’d discover the 1975 date on their own as they read the book. (See scan of October 1966 Kingdom Ministry.)

The emphasis on 1975 was repeated in other JW publications as well. I remember distributing issues of Awake! magazine that emphasized the year 1975 and we’d hear Circuit Overseers (traveling representatives of the Watchtower Society) refer to the year 1975 in their lectures (such as this example from 1967). In 1970, the title of the main lecture at circuit assemblies was even entitled “Who Will Conquer the World in the 1970s?” There was genuine excitement generated by this sort of emphasis made.

The main lecture for Circuit Assemblies in 1970 was "Who Will Conquer the World in the 1970s?"

Occasionally, we’d hear a few statements by some leaders that seemed to put some cold water on our excitement about the 1975 chronology. In the main, however, almost all the JWs I knew felt that the chronology for 1975 was reliable and we felt that the world couldn’t last much longer past 1975 anyway.

In the March 1968 Kingdom Ministry (page 4), Witness leaders reminded us there were only "90 months left" before the Fall of 1975 to encourage more "pioneering" in the "short period of time left" before Armageddon

So, if Armageddon was coming soon, the question I faced was: would I be among those God would preserve alive? Being faithful to God meant some specific things: Besides living a moral life (which included some distinctive Witness interpretations), it was necessary to become actively involved with attendance at meetings at the Kingdom Hall (2 hours on Sundays, 2 hours on Thursday or Friday night, and one hour at a smaller group meeting at someone’s home). It was also necessary to go from door to door discussing the Bible and distributing Witness literature. Ten hours a month door to door was suggested as a minimum. Many put in 75 to 100 hours a month in the JW evangelization work. These were referred to as “pioneers.” If I was “unfaithful” by not doing these things, I could end up being destroyed at Armageddon.

I had always been a bright student with good grades but now my energies focused on these religious pursuits. Instead of planning to go to college after high school graduation I decided I wanted to work at the Watchtower headquarters in New York as a “Bethelite.” After all, there was not much time left before the End. I was going to graduate from high school in 1972. I concluded it would most likely be a waste of time for me to go to college as Armageddon would most likely come before I could graduate from college. In addition, Witness youth were discouraged from going to college or a university as that was considered spiritually dangerous. Instead, we were encouraged to become full time door to door evangelists. I still remember the shock my high school counselor had when I told her I didn’t plan on going to college. She told me, “You owe it to God and the Church to go to college.”  I shared that at one of the Witness meetings and the audience roared.

I had, of course, completely accepted the counsel from the Watchtower Society in the May 22, 1969 Awake!:

“If you are a young person, you also need to face the fact that you will never grow old in this present system of things. Why not? Because all the evidence in fulfillment of Bible prophecy indicates that this corrupt system is due to end in a few years. Of the generation that observed the beginning of the ‘last days’ in 1914, Jesus foretold: ‘This generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.’ Therefore, as a young person, you will never fulfill any career that this system offers. If you are in high school and thinking about a college education, it means at least four, perhaps even six or eight more years to graduate into a specialized career. But where will this system of things be by that time? It will be well on the way towards its finish, if not actually gone! This is why parents who base their lives on God’s prophetic Word find it much more practical to direct their young ones into trades that do not require such long periods of additional schooling… True, those who do not understand where we are in the stream of time from God’s viewpoint will call this impractical. But which is really practical: preparing yourself for a position in this world that soon will pass away? or working toward surviving this system’s end and enjoying eternal life in God’s righteous new order?” (page 15)

However, there were moments of doubt. As an avid reader, I visited bookstores and came across the books Apostles of Denial by Edmund Gruss (a professor at a Baptist college) , The Inside Story of Jehovah’s Witnesses by William C. Stevenson and Anthony Hoekema’s study on Jehovah’s Witnesses. (These were among the better anti-JW materials I came across.)  I didn’t buy the books, but read much of them from the bookshelves in the store. My Seventh-day Adventist neighbors gave me the book God’s Channel of Truth — Is it the Watchtower?, which also challenged me about Watchtower history, especially with the documentation it gave about Beth Sarim, the house built by the Watchtower Society in San Diego, California to house Old Testament prophets (a belief the JWs had dropped in the 1940s).  While not persuaded to become either a Baptist or Seventh-day Adventist, these books planted even more doubts in my mind, but I submerged them. The doubts never completely left me and would surface periodically the next fifteen years.

By the time I was 15, my parents gave up their opposition to my involvement with the Witnesses. Even though they still disagreed with JW beliefs, they were impressed with my teenage Witness friends and felt they were a beneficial influence for me. I was baptized at a large Witness convention at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles in 1969. The baptism itself had very little ritualism about it. After a lecture, we baptismal candidates were asked two questions about our faith and our dedication to God. We were told we should get baptized without delay. In assembly line fashion over 2,000 were baptized by immersion that day in a public swimming pool. I changed into swimming trunks and followed the line to a man who dunked me in the water. He uttered no words. He said no prayer. All he did was dunk us in the water. I was excited, though, to finally be baptized!

Ironically, the very day I was baptized, the July 18, 1969 issue of Time magazine reported on our series of conventions worldwide. Towards the end of the article it referred to our predictions about 1975 (which were referenced in the special public talk at the conventions):

The Witnesses have what they believe is Scriptural proof that the end is coming. For one thing, their interpretation of Biblical chronology reveals that Adam and Eve were created in the autumn of 4026 B.C., or 5,994 years ago. Linking 6,000 years to the six days of God’s creation, they believe it fitting that there be a sabbath-like rest thereafter, beginning in 1975—though Witnesses cautiously avoid a flat prediction linked to that year. (Scan of original article)

We were all following the encouragement we received from the Watchtower Society to devote more time in the door to door work, especially in view of the times. With Armageddon so near, the lives of our neighbors were at stake. The internal monthly pamphlet Kingdom Ministry encouraged “pioneering” (spending 100 hours a month in the preaching work). The March 1968 Kingdom Ministry referred to the “ninety months left” before the Fall of 1975:

“In view of the short period of time left, we want to do this as often as circumstances permit. Just think, brothers, there are only about ninety months left before 6,000 years of man’s existence on earth is completed. Do you remember what we learned at the assemblies last summer?  The majority of people living today will probably be alive when Armageddon breaks out, and there are no resurrection hopes for those who are destroyed then.  So, now more than ever, it is vital not to ignore that spirit of wanting to do more.”

A few years later, the May 1974 Kingdom Ministry commended those who sold homes and property which would allow them funds to “pioneer” in the short time left before “this old system” (this wicked world) ends:

“Reports are heard of brothers selling their homes and property and planning to finish out the rest of their days in this old system in the pioneer service. Certainly, this is a fine way to spend the short time remaining before the wicked world’s end.–1 John 2:17.” (Scan of article)

In September 1973, my application to work at the JW headquarters in New York (“Bethel”) was accepted. My parents were extremely unhappy. Even though they were disappointed I had not pursued college, now they saw that I was giving up everything to live and work for room and board at the Watchtower’s factories where their books and magazines are produced. It was hard to disappoint them but I felt I was doing what God wanted me to do. I considered my parents’ opposition a test of my faith and I would not allow them to keep me from serving Jehovah. The local JW congregation raised the money I needed to fly to New York. I left small-town Idaho and moved to Brooklyn, New York. Talk about culture shock!

Jehovah's Witness Headquarters in Brooklyn, NY

The years before 1975 were exciting times at Bethel. The factory was working night and day to keep up with the orders for JW books. I became a lead person in the book sewing department on the night shift. There were about 2,000 Bethel workers in the factories and residences on Brooklyn Heights just across from lower Manhattan. I made many new friends with young men from all over the country who also had given up everything to work at Watchtower headquarters. We had a four year commitment but many of us wanted to stay even longer. Many of the group of guys who came in with me did not expect to finish our 4 year commitment before Armageddon would strike. I vividly remember when one day a small group of us “newboys” from the bindery were invited up to the room of our floor overseer, John Adams, before lunch. He had a commanding view from his room overlooking Wall Street and the Twin Towers across the East River. We complimented him on his view and he replied, “How many of you think that by the time your 4 years are up, this will still be here?” To be honest, I had some doubts that Armageddon would wipe out Manhattan by then, but I didn’t voice it on that occasion. Nor did anyone else. (Note: recent news reports indicate that the headquarters in Brooklyn will be relocated upstate.)

Lower Manhattan viewed from Brooklyn Bethel

Next: Life at Bethel, the World Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses

For further reading:

My resignation letter from Jehovah’s Witnesses (written in 1980)