Fear and Loathing in Menlo Park

Editor’s Note: Although I have been able to accumulate a great deal of information from various sources, and have managed to make contact with several individuals familiar with the details and status of this case, I want to make it absolutely clear that I have had no personal contact with the plaintiffs or their legal assistant, either directly or indirectly. That’s not to say I haven’t tried – I have – but they have refused to communicate with me in any way. They’ve made it clear, because of the fact that I was a Jehovah’s Witness at one time and left of my own free will, that they must consider me an “apostate” and avoid any contact with me. I do not take this personally and I understand why they must take that stand.

All other contacts have either been unbaptized persons who are familiar with the situation and those involved in it, or former members of the congregations involved who have also left the religion.

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Menlo Park Kingdom Hall

Menlo Park is a small California city in San Mateo County, located between San Francisco on the north and San Jose on the south.  Its eastern edge, the Bayshore Freeway (US 101), separates it from the community of East Palo Alto.

It’s a nice little town of about 35,000 people with a population that is predominantly white (62%) and Hispanic (23%). For most of its existence, the city has been made up of middle and upper middle class families. The average income per family has been reported to be around $125,000 (USD), and the city enjoys a relatively low crime rate. Child movie star Shirley Temple Black, author Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), and singers Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac) and Joan Baez have all lived in Menlo Park. Perhaps its most famous resident has been Sergey Brin, founder of Google.

On the other side of the Bayshore Freeway from Menlo Park, snugged up against the western edge of San Francisco Bay, lies the City of East Palo Alto. No two cities could be so close to each other (literally a few hundred meters), and yet be so completely different.

. . .When it was announced that the Menlo Park Elders were being removed (all of them) there were audible gasps in the audience. Of course, the assumption is that they did something wrong, and it’s very hard to get the story out. One of the sisters is elderly and in a wheel chair. The announcement nearly gave her a heart attack and she is now in bad health. – Anonymous caller

East Palo Alto IS NOT part of Palo Alto, the home of world renowned Stanford University. Actually East Palo Alto is not “east” of Palo Alto, it is “north” of Palo Alto. It is “east” of Menlo Park. The Bayshore Freeway and Santa Clara County Airport act as effective barriers, separating a wealthier Palo Alto from its much poorer neighboring city. Palo Alto is also part of Santa Clara County, while East Palo Alto is part of San Mateo County along with Menlo Park.

Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, and US 101 (click on photo for full-sized version) - Google Maps

Unlike Menlo Park or Palo Alto, East Palo Alto has for much of its existence found itself at the lower end of the economic scale. Prior to World War 2, much of the land was made up of family farms owned by Japanese-Americans.  During the war, most Japanese families were sent to internment camps and lost everything, including their homes and land. After the war, the city was populated by African-Americans, brought to the area during the war to work in the ship building and defense industries. By the 1960s, the city was so predominately African-American, that there was actually a movement that urged its name be changed to “Nairobi.”

Due to its high minority population and extremely low economic base, crime became a major problem for the community.  In 1992, it had the highest homicide rate in the USA on a per capita basis. It has been so economically disadvantaged that for several years there wasn’t a single major supermarket within the city limits.

. . .The elders don’t feel comfortable going [to the Kingdom Hall] as a lot of the people named in the law suit as defendants attend the meetings. This whole thing has alienated the [previous] elders from their life long religion. – Anonymous non-JW contact

Like its neighbor to the west, East Palo Alto has a population of about 35,000. African-Americans have in recent years become a minority again at about 20%. The vast majority are Hispanics, but there is also a small but significant population of Pacific Islanders, including Samoans and Fijians. Whites make up less than 4% of the city’s population. The city has not prospered as its neighbors to the west and south have, and the recent economic downturn has only complicated its existence.

The Menlo Park Kingdom Hall

For nearly fifty years, a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses has existed at 811 Bay Drive, Menlo Park. The Kingdom Hall building is just a few dozen meters from a busy southbound off-ramp of the Bayshore Freeway, separated from the highway by chain-link fencing and a stand of trees. East Palo Alto is directly across the highway.

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Watchtower forgets that “Content is King”

Adapted from a post by “LostGeneration”

“Content is King” is a popular guideline to follow for those who run websites and mass communication outlets. It makes perfect sense, as demonstrated by sites like Jehovahs-Witness.net (and this one) that provide entertaining content for their targeted audiences. Even better, when content is added daily, users return repeatedly. Popular TV shows and movies are loved because they entertain customers with new content provided free or at low cost.

On the other hand, you have the content provided by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, delivered though the pages of the Watchtower and Awake! magazines and during their weekly meetings. Several recent threads on Jehovahs-Witness.net have discussed meetings and what value (or lack thereof) they offer to their audience. A recent thread by forum member “Flipper” discussed how the Watchtower Society constantly hammers meeting attendance on their “sheep.” It’s obvious that the leadership feels that too many Witnesses are skipping out on their spiritual food by missing meetings. However, there is a good reason for a lack of enthusiasm on the part of Jehovah’s Witnesses to show up for meetings at their local Kingdom Halls.

It’s the content of those meetings.

For years it’s been getting progressively worse. Those who actually attend are not learning anything new – only a constant rehash of everything they’ve already heard before. This is further complicated by the fact that Jehovah’s Witnesses are specifically told not to research the Bible without using Watchtower Society publications – meaning they only absorb the material they read through the rose-colored glasses of the Governing Body.

When they comment during the Watchtower or book study meetings, they are told that they should stick to the paragraph being read, not to add anything to the material, and not take up too much time. Even the Watchtower Study conductor (who used to have a little leeway in adding his own thoughts) has been reined in lately. They are told to “walk the line and keep your own input to a minimum.”

Sitting through a typical Watchtower Study…
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeidZmxHLiY

Adding to the problem is the business-like nature of the meetings. People going to church are looking for a “spiritual” experience, a connection with their God. During the 30-something years I went to meetings, I never once felt anything approaching a “spiritual connection” to a higher power. I felt like I was attending an annual corporate shareholders meeting, just with different people getting up on stage trying to explain God and His message – with very little passion in their minds or hearts.

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Watchtower’s Pecking Order

Adapted from a post by “Mad Sweeney”

Let’s face it: The Watchtower Society is really just a big publishing corporation that happens to print and distribute religious literature. Like any corporation, it has an “organization chart” that outlines its structure, showing the various levels and what they are supposed to do. Each level supervises the level below and reports to the level above. By looking at the organization chart, you can tell “who does what to whom.” The Watchtower Society calls each of its organizational levels “classes.”

Over the history of the Watchtower, the leaders have defined so many levels and rankings that now they’ve given up trying to use the word “classes” to describe them anymore. Let me help you understand how the organization is supposed to work.

Heavenly Headquarters

At the very top you have, of course, JEHOVAH. Being “Almighty God,” He is nominally in charge of everything but doesn’t actually do anything.

Reporting only to Jehovah and in second position, you have “The Now Reigning King,” JESUS CHRIST – who, like Jehovah, is supposedly in charge of everything – but also doesn’t actually do anything.

Next in line are those of the 144,000 ANOINTED who have already died and been resurrected to heaven. They are in place and waiting to rule as “kings and priests” for a thousand years. Like their brother Jesus, and Father Jehovah, these ANOINTED also have nothing to do at present.

Earthly Headquarters

Down here on Earth, the leaders of the organization are the legal CORPORATE OFFICERS and ATTORNEYS for the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Besides being visible, this group is the first that actually does anything as you head down the Kingdom’s corporate ladder. These are the guys who decide what the “Governing Body” can and will tell the all other Jehovah’s Witnesses what they are supposed to do. Although these guys are human and therefore “visible,” for the most part they try to hide in the background and remain “invisible” as much as possible.

Supposedly “in charge” is the GOVERNING BODY. These seven men sort of do some things. For example, every Wednesday morning they meet for a couple of hours. They talk about the work their committees are doing and then decide to agree that the status quo is treating them all pretty well. If they’re feeling saucy (or mischievous), they may discuss some “new light” to spring on rank and file Jehovah’s Witnesses later in the year. They will then commission someone in the “Service Department” to put this “new light” into a talk outline – or have the “Writing Department” include it in a Watchtower or Awake! magazine article. Otherwise, the members of the Governing Body spend their time rubber-stamping orders from the corporate types above them or suggestions from the Department Heads below.

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Disfellowshipping – who’s at fault?

By Len Miller

The announcement, “John (or Mary) Doe is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses,” is repeated some 70,000 times each year in Kingdom Halls throughout the world. The Watchtower Society wants its followers to believe that these individuals became so unrepentantly contaminated with evil that it became necessary to remove them from association with faithful members.

I suggest that nothing can be further from the truth. I think these former members lost their trance-like acceptance of Watchtower teachings long before those formal announcements.

When I was a faithful adherent, I felt that if the Watchtower had asked me to stand on my head and stack greased BB’s, I would have given that task a valiant effort. That’s the way it is with hypnotized folks. It doesn’t matter what the suggestion might be, they’ll try to do it. From Wiki, James Randi, a famed professional magician and skeptic, offers the following definition of hypnosis:

“. . . [It’s] a mutual agreement of the operator and the subject that the subject will cooperate in following suggestions.”

Enter credibility. Nothing destroys confidence between parties more than when one of them sees chinks in the armor of the other. Husbands and wives encounter this all too frequently, often resulting in divorce. “Familiarity breeds contempt,” goes the expression – and that is displayed daily among couples. One spouse fails to hold up his end of the bargain by exhibiting unfaithful behavior, poor hygiene, or a general lack of respect and attention – and the other sees it. Even behavior that was viewed as “humorous” before marriage is soon seen as contemptible – after the “knot is tied.”

In the Watchtower structure, many folks are finally seeing chinks in the Society’s armor. The Watchtower’s contradictions and flip-flops in doctrinal matters are among the major issues. And yet it’s not surprising when the leaders of the Watchtower say there are no problems with what they teach. “Wait on Jehovah,” is their usual defense to these issues. “Simply put it on the back burner,” is another suggestion frequently used by those in authority. Many of the JW old timers have learned to just accept these responses.

The problem here is that back burners have only so much room. In my opinion, an individual’s sense of propriety becomes the overwhelming control factor. The old saw, “the Society makes mistakes because they’re human”, no longer cuts it with many JWs. Why?

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Elder reveals his secret

By “Shadow Elder, Jr.”

A few weeks ago, my father and I were out working together in the door-to-door preaching work. That morning only four of us showed up at the Kingdom Hall –my dad and I, and a married brother and sister. The other couple announced that they only had a little over an hour available for service and had some return calls to make. They would go off on their own while my dad and I would visit a territory a few miles away in a more rural area.

I am the youngest in my family. I was born into the Jehovah’s Witnesses, as was my father, and his father before him. Dad would not allow any of us to be baptized until we were at least sixteen years old, just to make sure that we truly wanted to dedicate our lives to Jehovah’s service. My oldest brother was baptized when he turned seventeen. My other brothers have not been baptized, although they do go to meetings and occasionally take part in field service. I was baptized the summer before I went to high school.

But back to my story…

My father silently chewed on his lower lip as we drove toward the territory. I could tell that something was definitely on his mind and he seemed troubled. I asked if he was feeling OK. I suggested that he might want to stop and get a cup of coffee before we started knocking on doors. He denied that anything was wrong, but agreed that a cup of coffee might do him some good.

One of our favorite little coffee shops was on the way. I’m not much of a coffee drinker. And when I do have a cup, I put so much sugar and creamers in it that I can barely taste the coffee itself. Then I find myself totally “wired” all day. But for some reason, I felt today was definitely a day when a coffee break was needed.

We sat at a little table off in a corner while we had our coffee and shared a cinnamon roll. Dad looked at me and then surprised me with “What do you think about going back to school? You always got decent grades in high school, and…” he paused, “I was wondering if you had any plans about going to college?”

“Gee, I don’t know, Dad,” I answered. “I haven’t really thought too much about it because I know the Society frowns on anyone going to college – especially a 4-year school. I don’t want to get into any trouble at the Kingdom Hall. After all, you’re an elder – I don’t want you to get into trouble either.”

Dad was deep in thought as he gazed over my head, watching people pass by the window of the coffee shop. He’d start to say something, but failed to form any words. I worried that he was going to tell me he had cancer or that my mother had some terrible disease. “Dad – what is wrong? Are you OK? Is everything OK?”

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A letter to the Watchtower

By “AA”


Editor’s Note: This is a copy of “AA’s” letter to the Watchtower. He wrote this when he had just started his intensive research into their beliefs and history. He never received a reply back from anyone at headquarters (he says it might have been because he didn’t include “Attn: Writing Committee” when he addressed it). He was hoping for and expected some kind of answer back from them – in spite of its somewhat aggressive tone. He also admits that he was bit scared asking the questions in this letter, so he’d like to know what you think. Feel free to share your comments at the end of the article. His original version (with commentary) can be found by clicking on this link to Jehovahs-Witness.net.


Dear Brothers,

I am writing this letter concerning some questions that I have acquired over time; although most have arisen from my own study, many have come from witnessing to others and discussions with my non-Witness wife. I have found adequate answers on most through deeper study, but still have a few that I think you would be better suited to address. Throughout the following paragraphs I will try to convey my questions in the fullest and most accurate way possible. With that being said, please remember that while I have these concerns I do not intend to question the authority of the Organization in any way, it is only that I have not been able to reconcile everything I have studied and have concluded that I wont be able to on my own. As 1 Thessalonians 5:21 says, “Make sure of all things; hold fast to what is fine.”

One major confusion for me has been dates. The more I study the more there seem to be, and although some are still held to be true, others have been entirely discarded or the significance has changed. The two most important dates in modern times seem to be 1914 and 1919, the former involving the invisible return of Christ, and the latter his selection of Jehovah’s Witnesses as his chosen representatives. Concerning 1919, I have not been able to discern why it is this year is important prophetically. I do know the Organization recognizes that until this date the Bible Students were still a part of Christendom’s false religion, as the May 1, 1989 Watchtower explains on pages 3 and 4. Interestingly it brings out “without any Biblical basis, they were observing birthdays and Christmas. The cross was still prominent in their thinking” as just a few reasons for not being acceptable to Christ. Paradoxically further research reveals that the cross appeared on the front cover of every issue of the Watch Tower up to October 15, 1931 and Christmas was still celebrated at Bethel until around 1925. If the Bible Students were not acceptable to Jesus before 1919 because of these practices, then how did they become accepted after while still involved in these apostate activities?

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