March 17th, 2008

_Crisis of Conscience_ by Raymond Franz

This version includes information through 2004.

I was born in 1969 and I remember news coverage of Watergate, so it's unsurprising that I remember in some detail the excitement and nuttiness leading up to 1975. While the Watchtower, Bible and Tract Society's publications were cagier in predicting what might happen in 1975 than they had been about other predictions in earlier decades (going back to a first prediction associated with 1881, when they were still called Bible Students and were more obviously Adventist), people Got the Message and joined up in droves starting in the mid- to late 1960s. Since both my parents were raised JW, they had some perspective and kept their heads down and lived their lives with the understanding that The World might not End in 1975, and they would still have kids to feed, a mortgage to pay, a car to keep running, etc. Because my primary experience of life was at home, I had a fairly judgmental perspective on how foolish other JWs were for "falling for" yet another possible prediction. After all, no one knows either the day or the hour, not even the Son but only the Father, right? Silly me. My parents had to be extraordinarily discreet to live the life they did.

In any event, the demoralization, decrease in membership and restlessness afterwards was entirely expectable. The next piece of excitement (because HQ never did an adequate job of explaining why they were wrong, oh, wait, they _weren't_ wrong, people jumped to unjustifiable conclusions because, remember, neither the day nor the hour. . .) was an article in Time magazine in the early 1980s. A member of the Government Body had stepped down/been disfellowshipped/disassociated and then written a book about it. This is that book.

The elder I called when I disassociated myself gets a mention on page 83. My judgment was good at the time, and I have a little more reason now to support it: Robert Lang was always a decent guy. Which is probably why he stopped being at HQ not too long after that Time magazine article and came out west where I first met him as a tweener.

A lot of ex-JWs seem to go thru a pretty unpleasant phase in the wake of their departure, and I did my level best to avoid it. The family shit, of course, I was stuck with, along with the loss of everyone I knew outside of a couple high school friends, a few relatives who had never been "in" and a bunch of college and work friends (I'd been doing a fade). But I could avoid spending a lot of time resenting The Organization, or trying to find a replacement religion, or otherwise Finding Meaning. I figured there was more than enough meaning for me in paying my bills and not being suicidally depressed all the time. Also, I'd had a mystic experience a few years earlier that thoroughly reoriented any spritual ideas that had been drilled into me from birth.

So I did not run right out and buy a copy of Franz's book in 1994. In fact, I didn't buy a copy until a year or so ago. And I only just now read it, in the context of _Under the Banner of Heaven_ to have another data point on people-leaving-wack-job-religions-from-a-very-high-position-within.

Franz continues to be a Christian who feels a close personal relationship to his Savior Jesus Christ. He's a smart man, and a man with a lot of integrity, who lives his life in a way that shows humility, compassion and forgiveness. Any schadenfreude found in this book is brought by the leader. In fact, Franz is at times irritatingly pious. Sincere, but come on. Lots of documentation. Great insider perspective, particularly since his uncle, Fred Franz, was also on the Governing Body, defined most of the post-Russell doctrine and was eventually President.

Among the scandalicious details documented within: the UN disassociation memo indicating an ongoing relationship between HQ and the UN (this is shocking once you understand how JW prophecy treats the League and United Nations); the waffling and failure to publish the true policy on hemophiliacs and repeated transfusion of blood fractions; the waffling on the meaning of porneia and the effects on marriage/divorce as a result; the anti-oral/anal sex policy and the variations in how it was enforced; the status of JWs as a cultural organization rather than a religion in Mexico (and why); HQs memos OKing purchase of a cartilla of military service in Mexico as contrasted with the concurrent policy against purchasing a party card in Malawi and the effects on both countries as a result; the definition of apostasy as including belief even without ever communicating that belief to anyone else.

And, inevitably, much more.

Should you read it? Well, if you are still a Jehovah's Witness, you _should_ but you won't. If you _were_ a Jehovah's Witness and your blood pressure and peace of mind will tolerate it, it can't hurt and might help. If you were never a Jehovah's Witness, but want some juicy stuff to ask the JWs the next time they come to your door (because pretending to be demon possessed is OLD), you can't go wrong here.

Making sense of the book requires a willingness to slog thru a lot of doctrinal detail (particularly
in the section about time prophecies). I skimmed, because I spent years reading that crap and recognized it as such after I was about 16 or 17 and see no reason to shove my head into that particular stinking pile ever again.

Franz refers to several other exposes of Witness doctrine, including Carl Olof Johnson's painstaking dismantling of Everything To Do With 607 B.C. and 1914. He also brings in relevant bits from books by ex-Catholics and ex-Protestants. It's all relevant to the Franz story, but does potentially splinter the audience down to ex (or about to be ex) Jehovah's Witnesses and those who'd like someone they care about to not be (or stop being) a Jehovah's Witness. That said, Franz isn't advocating leaving The Organization per se.