Reform and Jehovah’s Witnesses
Over the years the word reform has been used to try and think of making JWorg a better organization. In the 1990’s a group call AJWRB was formed to encourage a change in the doctrine on blood to save members lives. In 2001 the organization Silentlambs was formed to encourage reform on the issue of child abuse policies within JWorg. So the question remains will the organization ever make meaningful reforms and how close are we to that actually happening?
To understand why things have continued the way they have we might look back at the history of administration of JWorg. For almost one hundred years the organization was controlled by a monarchy. That is, one man ruled the roost and whatever he said was considered law. Russell, Rutherford, and Knorr captained the ship without any challenge. If you did challenge you were promptly escorted out the door. I recall one story of a member of Bethel calling Knorr by his first name in front of his visiting family. Knorr leaned over to him and said, “Pack your things and be out by morning.” That person was escorted out the next morning. There was not an appeal or second-guessing the king had spoken.
In the early 1970’s with the king firmly in charge reforms started to happen. A new “Governing Body” was appointed to assist in the management of the organization. At first Knorr considered this a good idea as it relieved him of many mundane duties but little did he know the sand was leaving the foundation of his control. There were liberals that were part of the GB and they wanted a less dictator ran administration. So they made some new rules about decision-making. One key rule was that a two-thirds majority must agree before any major decision could be made about financial or spiritual matters. Knorr agreed to this thinking he was firmly in control as a somewhat conservative part of the GB as well as the Chairman. Well this was not the case. Liberal parts of the GB of which Ray Franz was basically leader wanted something else. So they voted to rotate the chairman’s role to show they all were equal. This was also instituted in all congregations. The main positions: Presiding Overseer, Secretary, Service Overseer, Book Study Overseer. Watchtower Conductor, and Theocratic Ministry School Overseer were put on rotation in which each role shifted to the next person on an annual basis. On paper it seemed like a good idea in which all elders would be trained to do all positions. In reality it was a disaster, as petty people used greater authority to get payback on fellow elders for perceived slights or injustices. As a result the arrangement was discontinued after just two years.
What about the GB? It was a bait and switch scheme to wrestle power away from Knorr to give control to the collective. In the end Knorr had no choice and was symbolically turned out the pasture by the very men he thought supported him. He died a broken man but that did not prevent him from plotting his revenge. There was a hard line conservative that was completely unreasonable serving as the Branch Overseer in Australia. He and Knorr had butted heads on more than one occasion. Knorr had even disciplined him removing him from privileges but then due to certain circumstances put him back in. Knorr knew him to be a hard core conservative with a mean streak that would take out opponents working behind their backs to do so. So how did Knorr get his revenge? Knorr pulled his own strings and got Ted Jaracz appointed to the Governing Body. By doing so it was his way to say screw you all and go to hell. Not long after this Knorr passed away.
The question is what did this do to leadership of the organization? Well, there was a war to the death. In the late 1970’s the liberals’ lead by Ray Franz went to war with the conservatives lead by Ted Jaracz. Franz in 1978 got passed major reform on disfellowshipping in which DF members could actually be spoken to. It was actually a breath of fresh air in which DF members could have relationships with family and assisted or even encourage coming back to the organization. While this lasted about three years there was a back stabbing cutthroat war going on between the liberal faction and the conservative faction. I was at Bethel at this time and it was like there were two camps. If you wanted to relax you hung with the Franz group who discussed new ideas and were heavy on Bible reading and discussion.
What about Ray Franz? Somewhat wounded he moved to Georgia where he had a friend that owned a chain of grocery stores. This friend was wealthy and helped Franz get resettled along with providing employment. Due to their being close and this friend learning of the underhanded dealings of Jaracz conservatives, he not long after disassociated himself as a JW. At that time DA was viewed as you were just leaving the org but clear rules on shunning had not been established. Franz as part of his employment often went to lunch with his boss. This was reported to the GB so a new rule was voted on and created. The rule went something like this: Any person DF or DA was to be completely shunned and they used the scripture that says in part, “not even eating with such a man.” With this new hastily created rule they appointed elders in Georgia to act much like a hit squad and take out Franz. This was a statement to anyone sympathetic to Franz: If you supported him in anyway you will be taken out as well.
As you can guess the disfellowshipping did not sit well with Franz, so at that point he decided to write a tell all book to expose them as a part of his revenge. Franz was a skilled writer, in the past he had written the “Truth” book, an all time best seller with over 200,000 million distributed worldwide and credited with bringing in over one million new members. So now Franz wrote “Crisis of Conscience” that exposed many of the behind the scenes things that had went on and that he was a part of over his years of administrative service. The book struck a cord and may perhaps be credited with causing well over one million members to leave. Franz carefully guarded his copyrights and was able to carve out an income just on continued book sales out of his garage.
The book of course has been a thorn in the side of the conservatives. Hundreds if not thousands have been disfellowshipped just for the discovery that they owned a copy of this publication. The conservatives continued their rampage with Jaracz at the helm using continued manipulative and controlling actions. They beefed up the 1914 doctrine saying the generation would not pass away before the end of the world was to come. So as a result many members lived their lives in five-year increments thinking the generation was so old the end must be at any moment. Time passed and finally in 1995 they changed doctrine to say it did not mean that. Basically it was an overt admission they had lied about 1914 for fifty years. In 1992 a panel from the Awake Writing department was appointed to look into the issue of child abuse within the organization. Why? Any article was written a few months earlier about repressed memories and how they relate to child abuse. Ted Jaracz literally ran to the factory and tried to shut down the presses to prevent the article from being printed. But the person in charge had given the order and he was out of town on a Branch visit, so as a result the article was printed and went out to members. The result was a firestorm of responses sent to the Service and Awake writers in which hundreds of victims thanked the brothers for writing the article and how it gave them hope the organization was finally doing something about abuse. The Governing Body asked a panel to be formed to see the extent of abuse and make recommendations as to how to better serve the organization. The panel contacted elders, had special meetings, did research, contacted JW therapists and found shocking results. That resulted in a fifty-page report that was submitted to the Governing Body in 1992. The report gave examples to show the suffering and problems that were being caused by the current policy of the organization. At the end it made three recommendations:
1. All allegations of child abuse should immediately be reported to police.
These were proper and fair recommendations that were given as a way to address the problem as well as protect all the children of the organization. The Governing Body took this information and threw it into the trash. The conservatives would have not part of it. Why? They would lose control within the congregation, elders would not be able to control members, members could tell others about who molested their child, molesters would easily be identified as those not going in field service, police would be questioning elders about judicial matters, the Service Department could be brought into criminal investigations, so many issues were brought up that were messy for the organization to deal with by doing the right thing. Instead the GB said do nothing, and it was not till five years later in 1997 after lawsuits were starting to be filed they wrote a Watchtower article saying child molesters would not be appointed to positions of authority in the organization. Unknown to members two months later a letter was written to all elders stating that under certain circumstances child molesters could still have privileges. The conservatives were having a field day and writing two sets of books on how to deal with child molestation, one told to members and another told to elders in confidence.
On May 24, 2002 Dateline aired and exposed the flaws and major cover up of the policy on child abuse within the organization. The conservatives responded with a special insert in the August 2002 Kingdom Ministry that reinforced disfellowshipping to the harshest degree ever expressed by the organization. It used the example of children not speaking to their parents along with a DF child in the home not even eating at the same table as the family. This article was used to further distance abused children that left the organization from their families. The liberals were in such minority they had no voice or power to stop the ranting’s of the Jaracz gang. Well in June of 2010 Jaracz died and the conservatives lost their malicious leader. What has been the result? Changes are starting to happen in the organization especially over the last couple of years. It would appear there is a new group of “young gun” liberals that have taken over. They have accomplished some major makeovers of how the organization markets and presents themselves to the public. You have to give credit where credit is due; they have paid some major WWW money to overhaul their look and presentation of everything JW. If Russell, Rutherford, or Knorr were alive today they would be turning over in their collective graves.
They are using the Internet, something for years JWs were advised to stay away from as their major teaching tool. Welcome to the twenty-first century! Every marketing program needs a mascot and now all JWs are walking billboards for JWorg as they have it on everything from clothes to jewelry to buildings. Cart witnessing has been introduced much stronger than going to doors where no one is at home. Large screen TVs are now being placed in all Kingdom Halls for direct messages from the home office, cartoon characters for children along with stories and video presentation, movies with professional actors and streaming video for family, teenagers, and children, direct electronic communication for all paperwork and administrative duties of elders and ministerial servants including pioneers. They did away with District Overseers as part of upper middle management. Gave Circuit Overseers absolute authority over appointments in the congregation. Set specified donations each month from each congregation so they know how much money they have to work with. Streamlined publications and brought in outside printers for efficiency. Did away with the RBC that had a bunch of mavericks to have a new program for building that operates out of home office. The list can go on and on, but in the end this new methodology gives control directly to the home office to direct matters.
The organization is getting smarter and as a result responding to the needs of the members as opposed to simply giving rules and directives and telling everyone to obey or be disfellowshipped. It would appear they are learning to make things more appealing and interesting for members while incorporating technology as teaching tools. In my opinion this represent positive reforms within the organization. It also seems to indicate the conservatives have been beat back into the corner and the young guns are running the show. IF that is the case the organization is more open to reform that it has ever been in history. Just think about it? How hard would it be to discard the blood doctrine and say it is a conscience matter? In 1999 a new rule was made on how to deal judicially with blood. The change was, if you took blood in a moment of weakness then said you were sorry, then no judicial meeting and six months without privileges. If you took blood and said you would continue to do so, no judicial meeting you were simply disassociated, as you no longer wished to live by JW rules. Blood prior to this was classified along with fornication, adultery, theft, etc. . I recall thinking after these meetings if we are going to do this with blood why not do it with all sins? That would mean discarding the entire judicial process. No more meetings in the back room! It would vastly simplify the life for elders and the congregation could relax. If you committed fornication, you simply say you are sorry, no pioneering for six months, then you go on. If on the other hand you say you are not going to stop then you automatically DA and you can do what you wish. If you later wish to come back, you would not face a year of being shunned at meetings, instead you simply say you want to not practice the sin any longer and you are back in. It made sense to me at the time and perhaps it might make sense to those in charge now?
Finally if you want to talk about true reform what about doing away with shunning? This would be a huge step toward healing the pain and suffering caused to so many in and outside of the organization. You see without the conservatives in charge not as much control is now needed. The organization is becoming a fun place to be.
To the person reading this, how hard would you try to get your family out if they were allowed to treat you like family? Would it really be that important if being a JW made them happy and they could be allowed to accept you with unconditional love? For me personally I think my family would be happier staying within to keep them busy and if they could interact with me without fear it would just make things a lot less obtuse.
I believe the marketing and changes will mean major growth in the organization in the years to come. If that were the case then the young guns will have proven they know what they are doing and the next reform will have to be blood then shunning.
If they do it will be a better organization, it will be easier to market to, families will not be destroyed, children will have a much safer environment to function within. All religions have their quarks and flaws, but JWorg has a chance to make some huge adjustments that could make them much more powerful in their presentation. Greatness is seen in being able to admit your faults and try to do better. Holding on to the nasty harsh policies of the past makes them seem really small, yet seeing a bigger picture and being strong enough to stand for doing the right thing could bring forth positive changes and growth.
While I may never be a JW again I would hope that they as a group would be better defined in caring for their members and helping families to have unconditional love. That would be the mark of an organization directed by God.