Discovering the “Truth” – My three years as a JW

By Ian Haynes

In 1951 I was born into a loving, though somewhat nominal, Christian family, and dedicated to God in a Baptist Church. Growing up with my sister, we occasionally attended Baptist and Anglican services with mum and dad. Every night, before going to sleep, mum taught us to pray: “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, stoop to hear a little child.” God was good, and I always believed in him. As a young boy I would look at a picture I had of Jesus dying on the cross. With tears rolling down my cheeks, I asked him: “Why did they do that to you Jesus? They shouldn’t have done that to you!” In my teenage years my friends and I would sometimes return from nights out on the town in deep discussion about God and creation verses evolution. Anthony would inevitably mock me for believing that God had created us. We’d then talk about such things with Graham’s Jehovah’s Witness mother into the early hours.

Graham, however, hated such “fire-side chats” with his mother because he loathed his Witness upbringing and had no intention of resuming his former life. Rather, girls, guitars and rock music, along with other “worldly” interests, took precedence. Scarred by his past, he half expected to be killed by God at Armageddon in 1975, so my guess was that life for him was too short to waste! Graham was an intelligent, sensitive friend; an artist, who played guitar and wrote poetry, which was later published. As a young boy, he’d been my school pal, but he’d been forbidden by his mother to be my friend outside of school hours. This reduced him to tears. I can see him now begging his mum to let him play with me while she stoutly refused, telling him that he already had a friend at the Kingdom Hall. When he said that he didn’t like “that boy”, his mother rebuked him for talking in such a way about “a brother.” His mother explained to me that she had nothing against me, but that Witness children were like the Jews who restricted their friendships to their own community. She suggested that I could always see more of Graham if my parents allowed me to go to their meetings at the Kingdom Hall. That idea didn’t interest me in the least! At school Graham was known as a pacifist. Often I’d start fun-fights with him, but my rough play made him cry. He always forgave me and remained my friend. Nevertheless, after a time, he withstood my challenges and left me full of guilt. When I implored him to punch me hard in the face as a just punishment for having been so horrible, he resolutely refused. Dear Graham.

Despite our history as friends and Graham’s aversion to his Witness past, as a teenager I honestly enjoyed talking to Graham’s mother. Perhaps our talks touched that inexplicable inner hunger which from childhood had eluded identification. In search of this elusive desirable otherness, Graham and I, now free spirits, “dropped out and did our own thing”, hitch-hiking and camping in southern Ireland for several months. For some reason I sensed that this trip, unlike others we’d known, would forever change me. We traveled through all types of weather, played our guitars in bars and camped near lakes and seashores. Returning home, however, was totally devastating, for I had lost the love of my life: a most beautiful Irish girl; all that remained was the emptiness of a hippy-type life style with all its impenetrable questions: What was the point of our existence? Why had love itself hurt so much? Why had the beauty we’d found on our travels made me sense that our world had lost its meaning? Surely we were meant to love each other within a context of beauty and dignity, mirrored by the kind country folk we’d met who gave so freely yet lived so simply in their little white crofts beside peat fueled fires. With the majestically beautiful mountains, the surrounding scented greenery, the clear azure seas -, all this – and so much more – had echoed creation’s original intention and beckoned its return. The magnetism of Ireland was immense and my heart ached inconsolably.

Within this haunting ambiance, the impending paradise of which Graham’s mother spoke, sat comfortably. I so wanted to believe that it was true. Eventually I accepted, in 1970, the offer of a free “Bible study” (which in reality turned out to be a Watchtower book study) with Don, a jovial “mature brother” and Barry, who used to go to the same school as me. Barry had acquired a bit of a rebel reputation at school before his re-conversion back into the local Witness congregation, so I especially looked forward to meeting him. He became a fond friend, with a good sense of humour. This, together with an indelible experience which calmed my anguished heart, helped in my decision to eventually get baptised as a Jehovah’s Witness. Our Kingdom Hall was in Hainault Essex (England), and the congregation there seemed to be full of overwhelmingly friendly people. Attractive girls smiled eagerly, but the memory of my Irish love remained, and my loss of her had left me determined not to hurt as I had been hurt. Anyway, God, not girls, came first!

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An Interesting Twist in a Child Custody Case

By Richard E. Kelly

Although a bit apprehensive at first, I was recently asked to help a non-JW mom in a child custody hearing. Due to the story of my own childhood, Growing Up in Mama’s Club – A Childhood Perspective of Jehovah’s Witnesses, she believed I could help convince the court that her three school-aged children should not be baptized as JWs, if that was their choice, until they were 18 years old.

She’d married a disfellowshipped JW and early on made a non-binding verbal agreement with her husband that their kids would not be raised as JWs. After their divorce, the dad had a change of heart. He was reinstated and began attending meetings sporadically. Several months ago, he started taking the kids to the Kingdom Hall on the Sundays he had custody. As soon as the mom found out, she filed a complaint.

The mom did her homework and provided good documentation to the court to support her concerns. Then she petitioned for me and another ex-Bethelite to be her expert witnesses. The questions and our testimony were to be as follows:

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Takeover in Menlo Park – Part One

A small group of Jehovah’s Witnesses, former elders at the Menlo Park (CA) Kingdom Hall, have filed a lawsuit in federal district court charging several ranking representatives of the Watchtower Society with “Conspiracy, Conspiracy to Commit Fraud, Collusion, Fraud, Extortion, Defamation, Mail and Wire Fraud, and Religious Fraud.” [United States District Court For the Northern District of California: CV10-3907 – click here to read the actual complaint as filed in court.]

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe, as all Christians do, that theft of another’s property, and then lying about it, is a sin. In fact, three of the Ten Commandments speak to this issue:

The 8th Commandment: “You shall not steal.”

The 9th Commandment: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

The 10th Commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house…nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”

For the most part, faithful Jehovah’s Witnesses try to live by these standards, even though they teach that Jesus replaced those Ten, and in fact all the Law of Moses, with just two commandments as recorded in Mark 12:30, 31:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

It’s clear that true Christians would not consider using theft, misrepresentation, outright lies, or illegal manipulation to take away the property of another brother – or anyone else. It would be considered a “sin” – a clear violation of the commandments of both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. Baptized Jehovah’s Witnesses are often punished by being reproved or disfellowshipped for violation of those commandments, and that’s in addition to any secular legal penalties.

We might argue about some of the predictions, teachings, and practices of the Watchtower Society. But most of us, Jehovah’s Witnesses and non-Witnesses alike, would assume that every Christian should strive to follow those clear commandments. Most would agree that a “Christian” stealing from another brother is not really a “Christian” at all, but would be considered “an evil one, demon possessed, or serving Satan.”

Apparently the Watchtower Society’s leaders feel that they are not bound by the same rules that apply to rank and file Jehovah’s Witnesses. There have been many past examples, but the latest and most blatant violation by the Society of the Lord’s Commandments is taking place in Menlo Park, California (USA).

How Kingdom Halls were built and financed in the past

Like most Kingdom Halls built between 1945 and 1970, the Menlo Park Kingdom Hall was financed and managed by local Jehovah’s Witnesses. In order to hold the deed, order utilities, and meet local land use and building codes, a non-profit corporation was formed to hold title to the property. In most cases, little or no financing help was forthcoming from Bethel Headquarters in Brooklyn, NY. Any loans or mortgages were arranged locally, usually through a bank or a private party – often arranged with the original owner of the land or by a wealthy JW who was willing to guarantee the Note.

Trustees of the Kingdom Hall corporations were selected from among the local Kingdom Hall servants, and usually included the Congregation Servant, the Assistant Congregation Servant, and one or two others. If one of the Trustees left the Kingdom Hall for any reason, including death or disciplinary reasons, the Trustees would nominate a replacement. The nominee would be announced to the assembled congregation and a vote was taken to affirm the appointment.

Local contributions and donations paid for the mortgage, utility bills, insurance, and maintenance. The Watchtower Society rarely assisted local congregations financially, except in very extreme situations not fully covered by the Hall’s insurance policies.

Menlo Park’s Kingdom Hall

This was basically the method used to build the Menlo Park Kingdom Hall. The local brothers and sisters OWNED the Hall at 811 Bay Road, just a stone’s throw from the Bayshore Freeway (US 101). There was easy access to the Hall from surrounding communities. It was the “parent” of several other local Kingdom Halls built over the next 50 years. As the local community grew, so did Jehovah’s Witnesses within the region.

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Going to the Public Talk

The following YouTube video, while presented with a huge dose of satire, nails the basic concepts of attending a local Kingdom Hall’s “public talk.” Written and produced by an Australian observer of Jehovah’s Witnesses and their unique religious practices, this little bit of expanded reality should bring a chuckle or two to anyone who has actually attended a JW meeting.

If you think this depiction is too far over the top, I suggest that you go to a Kingdom Hall and experience a public talk for yourself.  Then decide how accurately this video portrays a Sunday meeting. My guess is that if you do go,  you’ll never want to go again.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxmJM0muVVs

Every Sunday, Jehovah’s Witnesses go to their local Kingdom Hall to hear the “public talk” and then later attend the weekly Watchtower Study, a rather boring question and answer session using an article from a recent Watchtower magazine.

Public talks are the Witnesses’ version of a sermon. They began as one hour speeches, but shortened to 45 minutes a few years ago. Although they still seem like an hour, they now last only 30 minutes.

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BBC goes to a Kingdom Hall

“The One Show,”  is a magazine show with topical reports, features and interviews from around the UK. It’s very similar to ABC’s “Night Line” or “Entertainment Tonight” in the USA. “The One Show” appears on the BBC1-TV network at 7:00 PM after local news.

After several stories about the deaths of faithful Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused blood transfusions, one of the reporters went out to find out more about Jehovah’s Witnesses. He decided to visit a Kingdom Hall and let Witnesses speak for themselves. He found out that they are, for the most part, very normal people living typical lifestyles. The reporter notes that while they are clearly Bible quoting Christians, there are some remarkable differences between them and most mainstream UK church-goers.

Although this report takes a very shallow and uncritical look at the Watchtower Society, it does give a fair presentation of typical rank and file British Jehovah’s Witnesses.  This is what we’d wish that all Kingdom Halls and average Jehovah’s Witnesses were like. Check out this video report for yourself.

BBC reporter visits a Kingdom Hall . . .
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljQA0bIS2K0

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Kingdom Halls – Who owns them?

Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t “go to church;” they attend meetings at a “Kingdom Hall.” Unlike most traditional churches, Kingdom Halls do not have altars or Christian crosses (even though the JWs are “Christian”). You won’t find religious icons, paintings, or statues of Jesus, Mary, or any saints. Nor will you won’t find an orchestra pit or an area for a choir to sit. In fact, most Kingdom Halls won’t have an organ or even a piano.

Who owns this Kingdom Hall?

Kingdom Halls are never named or memorialized after anyone – even if someone donated the land and building.

My very first visit to a Kingdom Hall was in the fall of 1951. My family lived in West Los Angeles in a small rented home on South Bundy Drive. We’d only been studying for about a month when my mother and I went to our first meeting at the Venice Kingdom Hall. At that time it was located in a rented store front just a couple of miles west of our home.

We’d only been there a couple of times before we had to transfer to the “Mar Vista Congregation,” also in a small rented store just a few miles south of our home. Even though the Venice Kingdom Hall was closer to our home, this change was forced upon us because we were told that we “lived on the wrong side of the street that was the dividing line.”

In early 1953, just before we left to go to the International Convention in New York City, we moved back to our family home in Riverside, California. Because we lived near downtown in the “University District,” we were assigned to the Riverside Central Kingdom Hall, then at the corner of 5th and Park Ave. It had been a Pentecostal church at one time and the local congregation purchased it from the owners with a loan from one of the wealthier brothers. They maintained the hall and made payments to the brother by using local donations from the members.

Who owns this Kingdom Hall in California?

Once a month, near the end of the Thursday night Service Meeting, the Congregation Servant would read the Kingdom Hall’s Financial Report. (This was typical for all congregations during that era.) The report would account for all money taken in for literature, from the donation boxes, from private contributions, and from interest earned on bank accounts. We then heard a complete listing of all expenses: utilities, cleaning supplies, fire insurance, literature purchased from the Watchtower Society, reimbursed expenses, and money set aside for reserves. One of the items reported was the payment on the remaining Note on the Kingdom Hall.

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