What Bethel Did to My Faith
The most well know books and websites about Jehovah’s Witnesses are by former Bethelites. How do people with the conviction to devote their lives to working as volunteers at Watchtower headquarters end up so actively opposed to the religion? This is my experience.
I grew up in Tasmania, an island state of Australia, far from the Australian Bethel Branch. I was in awe of Bethel, the name given to the Watchtower headquarters and its branches. Whilst I appreciated that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not perfect, I accepted that the leadership operate directly under the influence of Jehovah's spirit, enabling things to happen that no worldly corporation or religious group can emulate.
Under Jehovah’s direction, Jehovah’s Witnesses were able to build kingdom halls in 2 days, known as the quick build arrangement. Jehovah had directed his people to develop MEPS, a world leading system for translating his publications into hundreds of languages to assist the global preaching work in fulfilment of Matthew 24:14. When it pertained to his organization, and finding true followers in this final part of the last days, Jehovah’s spirit continued to do miracles. Or so I had been raised to believe.
I remember the surreal feeling when a sister from my congregation was called in from Hobart to the Sydney Bethel to help with some project for a week. This was the ultimate privilege, and at each year's District Convention I would attend the lunchtime meeting for potential Bethelites.
In 1990, my parents were asked to move to Sydney to serve where the need was great. I was 20 at the time and moved with them to Parramatta congregation. Parramatta was 25 kilometres from the Watchtower headquarters in Ingleburn, just within the zone of congregations that Bethelites would be assigned to, and I came to know a number personally. Though I became more realistic that Bethel inhabitants were normal people, I still longed to go and serve at the hub of Jehovah’s organization. No where else was it possible to be so close to the heart of Jehovah’s organisation and Jehovah's spirit.
One time, Bethel called regular pioneers from our congregation to work in the kitchen and I worked there for a few days. I found it a really difficult time. Despite the Australian headquarter being located on a large farm with beautifully manicured gardens, the “Stepford Wife” superficiality enveloped me with sadness. I knew it was not the place I should be, yet I continued to aspire to life in Bethel. I had always had difficulties with faith, something I constantly prayed to Jehovah to provide. If I was to survive Armageddon, then Bethel was my best chance of growing in faith and being the spiritual man Jehovah expected me to be.
Whilst pioneering, I was attending university. This led to a fair deal of criticism, as at the time higher education was condemned for Jehovah’s Witnesses. (After a brief period of reprieve in the 1900’s, higher education is once again discouraged.) Upon graduation, I continued to pioneer, began working part-time as a cleaner, and applied to Bethel. I had been a student for as long as I could remember and with my studies over, spare cash in my pocket, and summer in Sydney, life could not have been better.
Within little over a month, I received an acceptance letter from Bethel, greeting it with a degree of remorse, having just entered the best time of my life. I moved into the "House of God" at the beginning of 1991.
There a two primary Bethel forms. The application form contains a long list of questions. I have always been exceedingly honest, and struggled on a couple of questions, due to some prior experiences in my life. That said, I entered Bethel very naive, and most certainly a virgin.
The second form is the "Vow of Poverty," which was renamed in 2002 to the "Vow Of Obedience and Poverty to the Order of Special Full-time Servants of Jehovah's Witnesses." The Vow is accompanied by a letter explaining the purpose is that “It documents the understanding through which each member of the Order provides his services, something that assists governmental agencies to understand better the self-sacrificing rather than pecuniar motivation of those who serve in special full-time service.” Included in the Vow of Poverty (2002) is;
- 5. To abstain from secular employment without permission from the Order;
- 6. To turn over to the local organization of the Order all income received from any work or personal efforts in excess of my necessary living expenses, unless released from this vow by the Order;
- 7. To accept such provisions for members of the Order (be they meals, lodging, expense reimbursements, or others) as are made in the country where I serve. regardless of the level of my responsibility or the value of my services;
- 8. To be content and satisfied with the modest support that I receive from the Order as long as I am privileged to serve in the Order and not to expect any further remuneration should I choose to leave the Order or should the Order determine that I no longer qualify to serve in the Order
I cannot understand how this is legal. Why is it that employees of Australian companies are protected by strict and fair legal rights, but a young, indoctrinated religious follower can sign these away, because “A religious order is an arrangement to accomplish a common religious, rather than profit-motivated, goal.” Australia has strict legislation to protect employees through provision of a minimum wage, sick leave, annual holiday leave, and contribution to superannuation (a retirement fund.) By signing the Vow of Poverty, a Bethelite is forced to claim that as willing volunteer they need not be protected by Australian workplace laws.
I may have volunteered, but most certainly had become a full-time employee for Watchtower, obliged to work a minimum of 44 hours over a five and a half day week, with strict hours and job description. The monthly allowance was just $95, with an $80 monthly travel allowance if you owned a car, and $400 annual bonus. The annual amount of less than $2,500 may seem impossible to live off, when the average wage at the time was around $40,000, but Bethel provide a free shared room, food, laundry services, and second hand clothes through “grab.” I learnt to be frugal, to the point of budgeting the number of chewing gum pieces I could afford a week.
I applied for my first credit card whilst at Bethel, and was provided with the a letter from the Accounting Department verifying my income.
With great difficulty I persuaded the bank to provide the credit card account, and was given the lowest credit limit I have ever heard of - $500.
I graduated university with a Bachelor of Commerce and hoped to assist at Bethel in the accounting department. I was told instead that Bethel is a place to learn humility. My first assignment was as factory cleaner. For my first eighteen months I cleaned over 20 toilet bowls daily and untold numbers of windows and floors.
Bethelites share a room, and my first roommate, Shane, had been in Bethel a couple of years before I arrived. He warned me to be careful, as a person can be kicked out for “wearing the wrong colour socks.” Later I found out that he had been publicly reproved in Bethel shortly before I arrived. Two other Bethelites, himself and a newly interested Bible study drove a V8 Ford Falcon to Kings Cross, Sydney’s notorious red-light district. They pulled over and spoke to a streetwalker. She asked if she could join them, and one of the Bethelites told the prostitute how beautiful she was, and how much he would love to have sex with her, but he couldn’t because he was a Jehovah's Witnesses. On the highway back to Bethel they sped at speeds of over 200 kilometers an hour. The Bible Study was deeply offended and told his Study conductor, who spoke to the Bethel elders. Two Bethelites were expelled from Bethel, but my flat mate was publicly reproved instead, as he had been an unwilling accomplice is the back seat of the car.
The first month at Bethel is hard on most people for three key reasons:
- Missing the preaching work
Bethel life comes as a shock, as it is highly regulated life. When I was at Bethel, there were bells for when to wake up, when to have breakfast, when to start work, for lunch and finally finish work.
For most young men, Bethel is their first time away from home and it is a struggle missing family and friends. (It is rare for single sisters to be invited in, unless as part of the infirmary. Couples no doubt experience their own set of issues.) When I arrived at Bethel, I remained in Parramatta congregation and did not suffer the loneliness to the extent others did.
To be invited to Bethel, an important requirement is to be a regular pioneer. Some exceptions are made for certain skill sets, and for when there is a need for construction projects, but in general most people at Bethel have pioneered, devoted many hours to preaching each week. Once in Bethel, I was doing less spiritual activities. More than everything else, the difficult part for me was coming to the realisation this was not a place of holy spirit, but just a factory.
Within the first two months I had my first experience to prove Bethelites were no different than the worldly people I had worked or schooled with. An elder in his late thirties was walking down a stair case towards me as I was walking up it. I said “Hello Spansey”, greeting him by the nickname that I had heard others refer to by. He turned on me, grabbed me by the neck, threw me against the staircase wall and threatened “If you ever call me that again I will kill you, my name is Brother Spans-Marrae.”
I had never been the subject of such violence before and was physically shaken. Jehovah’s Witnesses are instructed to report the wrongdoing of others, and whilst I was ashamed and embarrassed, I felt I should discuss what happened with my overseer. I spoke to Winston Paine, and he advised I forget about it, as Brother Spans-Marrae had come from a difficult background and already made tremendous changes in his life. I moved on, though admit eventually had some satisfaction at Alan’s expense. My graduation certificate arrived, and I made a few changes and anonymously left a copy on his desk.
I tried to make the best out of factory cleaning. A brother my age, Stephen Mann was assigned to work with me and we spent each day working on projects together, laughing and having a good time. The most enjoyable job was cleaning the pool. We would turn on the radio and it was great to be outside. One day the home overseer, Greg Frank, came down to the pool to check on us. He was furious, as listening to the radio was forbidden during work hours at Bethel. Shortly after, I was called to his office and told that I was not to work with Stephen, as it had been noticed that we spent too much time talking as we worked. I found the next period very difficult, and was not equipped to cope spending hours a day in quiet, with just the thoughts that circled endlessly in my head.
I had many friends in Parramatta congregation. I would leave Bethel after dinner to visit them, often arriving back at Bethel around midnight. My sister lived in Parramatta, and on weekends I would sleep at her apartment. Once a year on Saturday, Bethel held a “family night,” a fun gala night where Bethelites could entertain others with their talents. I was on saxophone as part of a make shift band, playing the song Brazil. After it ended, and everything was packed up I left Bethel and drove to my sisters.
Shortly after family night, I was called to a meeting with Brother Hamnet, one of the Branch committee. He told me that I had been seen regularly coming home after 11pm, and even on one occasion “night watch” had observed me heading out after midnight. Furthermore, I my car had been seen parked outside a nightclub near Bethel, which was untrue. He wanted an explanation, as nothing good happens after midnight. I explained that I had never been at that nightclub, that I had been heading to my sister, and that I often came home late from friends, as my room mates went to sleep at 8pm and I could not sleep before 11pm. (By this time Bethel had expanded to the extent that three people would share a small room designed for two. I was unlucky enough to share with two physical brothers, Michael and David Van Brugh, and assigned a corner the size of my single bed.)
Soon after, I was called to see Brother Hamnet again. For a period of time the main gate, which opened automatically with a swipe card, was being worked on. To enter Bethel at night meant going to the next gate, getting out, unlocking the padlock, driving through and then re-padlocking it. I found a short cut. There was an automatic gate at the adjoining kingdom hall, and between the hall and Bethel was a footpath the exact width of my car that I could drive in through instead. Unfortunately, the evening security guards, referred to as night watch, consisted of three humourless brothers. They had seen my inventive form of entrance and submitted a formal written complaint. Due to my indiscretion, the footpath came to be known as Grundy lane amongst some of the young brothers.
When I was at Bethel, it was customary for brothers to wear white shirts. I have always enjoyed a degree of flamboyance with my clothing, and preferred colourful, patterned shirts. The laundry department would joke at how easy it was to identify my clothes rack. Over time, more and more brothers started to expand their choice of colourful clothing.
At this stage, I was still working in the cleaning department and reporting to Greg Frank. I was called again to see Brother Frank. He said that he felt that I was not suited to Bethel and asked if I would consider leaving. In a stupid act of stubbornness, I told him that I felt that Bethel was good for me and would stay. I knew I was not suited to Bethel life, but to be asked to leave was to mean I had failed, and I wanted to leave on my own accord.
The following week, Brother Franz reassigned me to the kitchen washing dishes, as he felt it would be beneficial for me to have supervision. I enjoyed the kitchen, with people to talk to and have fun with, and some great people, such as Colin and Joe. Lance was head of the kitchen, and one day he proudly told me how he had managed to cut to average cost per meal from something like $1.08 to $1.06. I have heard that after I left this changed, as there were too many people taking sick leave, and a nutritionist was consulted to ensure the meals provided a correct daily balance of nutrients.
Not long after arriving in the kitchen I was assigned as a waiter. This was the ideal job for me. I loved serving people, talking to them and meeting new people. I became head waiter, meeting and seating tours groups from nearby congregations. I met many nice young witnesses who invited me to parties around Sydney, and also was asked to waiter for a wedding at the lakeside suburb of Toronto north of Sydney.
As head waiter, I met and seated a number of Watchtower “celebrities.” The most highly rated were travelling Governing Body members, such as William Lloyd Barry, and Frederick William Franz. Franz is particularly important to Watchtower history. Born in 1893, he spent most of his 99 years in Bethel, was Watchtower’s leading scholar instrumental in much eschatological doctrine and fourth Watchtower President. I was told that he liked to be seated with blonde sisters, and we arranged to for Rochelle, one of the nurses to accompany him at the head table.
The other brush with fame I had was seating singer George Benson. He arrived at Bethel in a limousine and his security guard waited outside whilst George ate at the head table. Many years later I made a youtube video with short clips of famous Jehovah’s Witnesses that has had over 1 millions views, including a few seconds of a George Benson song. Whilst I don’t believe I have violated copyright, the music label lodged a claim with google, and now ads are played during my video, with the processes going to Benson, and hence I continue to serve him.
With Bethel outgrowing itself, a construction project commenced, and I was moved into a temporary dormitory, back with my original room mate and a constructionite by the name of Sven. Shane had by now spent several years at Bethel and I had noticed that he would regularly make aggressive comments against homosexuals. In the words of Shakespeare, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” One question on the Bethel Application was, “Have you ever had a homosexual relationship?”
One night, Shane was telling us his life story, and admitted to having experimented sexually with men prior to coming to being Baptised and so had to lie on his Bethel application, and how he felt guilty about lying. Shane had never made me feel uncomfortable, so I didn't mind, but Sven was upset at having learning he was sharing with someone claiming to be a “former” homosexual.
As waiter, I used to start work early to set up the kitchen and hence finish earlier than most of the Bethel family. I had grown up enjoying windsurfing, and so one day decided to windsurf on the Bethel lake. I may not have been the last to windsurf on it, but I was definitely the first.
Somehow I got the reputation as being rebellious, though a better term may be non-conformist; either way it is not a good trait for a member at the headquarters of a high control religious organization.
Each morning, all Bethel members take place at their assigned seat in the dining room for breakfast and morning worship. Under the table was a ledge to store the daily text book. One morning, Rochelle, the single nurse reached under the table for her book, only to wrap her fingers around a condom. Once again, I was in the spot light, truthfully protesting my innocence.
My constant appearance in the spotlight led the Bethel elders to decide I should be moved to a new congregation, where I would be away from the comfort of my family and friends and closer to Bethel. I was reassigned to Bradbury congregation, a poor area with many in the congregation half-hearted towards meetings. I could not stop thinking that the brothers and sisters were not that different from the few worldly people I had been at school or worked with. As a whole, I did not find them particularly kind or friendly, or anymore sincere or genuine than worldly people I had met. Why should God kill all the worldly people that had touched my life and save those in this congregation? The same applied to the Bethelites. Though there were many nice people, there were also the arrogant and haughty, the self assuming and unloving.
I had been a Ministerial Servant in Parramatta Congregation. After moving congregation you are not automatically still a Ministerial Servant, and need to be reappointed. I was asked if there was any reason I should not be reassigned. One of the struggles I had as a Jehovah’s Witness was with masturbation, which led to a tremendous burden of guilt. As “Keep Yourselves in God’s Love” states:
“A spiritually unhealthy habit, masturbation instills attitudes that foster self-centeredness and corrupt the mind. … Of course, you need to take positive steps in harmony with your prayers. For example, you would strive to avoid all forms of pornography as well as bad associates. If your problem with masturbation persists, please speak about the matter with a Christian parent or a spiritually mature and caring friend.”
I felt obligated to confess that I had did not have full control over masturbation, and as such was not appointed as a Ministerial Servant. In order to assist, I had to meet weekly with a Bethel Elder, Jack Porter, to discuss if had done anything that week.
During one such session I asked Jack why Jehovah’s Witnesses could not have oral sex. Being pre-internet, I wasn’t particularly sure what oral sex even was. Jack aggressively asked how I knew about oral sex and if I had been looking at pornographic magazines. I said I hadn’t but I remember reading about it in a Watchtower. He calmed down, and told me if was a filthy and unhygienic practice of homosexuals.
Jack asked me a question that came as a shock - "Have you been with a prostitute whilst at Bethel." How could someone devoted enough to put a normal life on hold and come to Bethel, with the expectation that Armageddon would be "any time now," waste all that effort by committing fornication with a prostitute, or anyone else for that matter? Jack said it was an issue that young Bethel brothers could get lonely and end up with up a prostitute. I couldn't comprehend such a thing, but there were a number that would stand on the Hume Highway on the way to Bethel, and maybe it was a spur of the moment decision. Leaving Bethel and returning to your old congregation under such shameful circumstances would be impossible to ever live down.
I was still a virgin throughout my time at Bethel, yet instead of being proud of my self-control, felt fear and shame for hiding sin. Growing up as a Witness, I always suffered tremendously from guilt and was worried that I was worthy of destruction at Armageddon. On top of masturbation, I had engaged in “uncleanness,” things that amounted to little more than heavy petting. During a session with Jack Porter, I recalled how I had kissed a pioneer sister and felt her breasts on more than one occasion. Jack did not feel it was something to worry about as it had been some years previous, and since we were both still in full time service God had not removed his blessing. I was not aware at the time, but the Kingdom Ministry 1972 Oct p.8 outlined that a confession for something that happened 3 or more years in the past "have evidently been forgiven by Jehovah and are not practiced now."
A more difficult subject to broach was in regards to an older male Witness. Whilst in my teens this brother fondled me whilst I was attempting to sleep. Rather than stop him immediately, I initially froze. For several years I had suffered extreme guilt, not knowing whether God thought I was somehow at fault. Jack felt this was a serious matter that required a meeting with 2 elders, though for some reason not including him. In absolute shame, I had to retell the situation again. Brother Colin Lanman asked it I had enjoyed the advances of the brother, and warned me to take care not to allow this experience to blossom into homosexuality. Rather than having had the burden of guilt lifted, confession made me more confused. Yet again, the elders decided nothing further needed to be done.
I was now under the scrutiny of Jack Porter. One day I arrived at lunch with a fresh haircut. Jack called me to his table wanting to know which hairdresser I had gone to, as the style was inappropriate for Bethel. I had come straight from the Bethel Salon.
I used to be in charge of a cleaning team at the District Convention, and on the day prior to the convention, the team will arrive in the afternoon to thoroughly clean a section of the seating. At the time, the Convention was held at Warwick Farm Racecourse. I was expected to arrive mid-afternoon to help organise my team. I asked George Hamnet if I could start work 2 hours early, and leave two hours early, so as to help arrange cleaning for the convention. He said, “No.” I was in shock, and didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t asked for time off work, but rather to start earlier, and what I was doing was still part of Jehovah’s Service. A few years earlier I had a similar conversation with a “worldly” boss about needing to start early so I could attend a convention and he was fine with it. I asked again, and George point blank refused. My team had to start without me. My Bethel boss was more unreasonable than a worldly person, and prevented my from doing more work for Jehovah’s arrangement. Bethel was not a place shrouded in Jehovah’s Spirit, it was where megalomaniacs headed to control sincere and gullible sheeplike ones.
Whilst I was at Bethel, most of my childhood friends were disfellowshipped, or became inactive. Two Witness friends from Hobart, a Witness from Sydney and one from Cairns, committed suicide. Then one of my closest friends attempted suicide and ended up in hospital. He had recently been disfellowshipped. I was well aware that I was to shun him, but I could not abandon him. I kept in touch, calling him from Bethel, using the phone in the cleaning room next to the room where I lived.
I started to question my faith in the Watchtower. I called various Bible study organizations, and had a number of packages posted from various religions, including from the Baha’i and a Muslim Study course. It was noticed that I was having packages delivered from various religious groups. Don Mclean, one of the Branch Committee members, spoke to me about it. He was a caring brother that was the celebrant for my sisters wedding. I asked if it was ok to research other religions, as we expect other groups to be open to our literature. He said it was fine, but to be careful and make sure I devoted my time mostly to the information provided by the Watchtower.
I spoke to Vincent Toole about my doubts. I had known and admired Vin for almost as long as I could remember. Vin had been a sheep shearer in Australia before he converted in his twenties. He and his wife Sue went on circuit work, and his first circuit was in Tasmania. Vin and Sue where remarkably charismatic. One evening whilst my father and Vin were at an elders meeting, my mother, Sue and I stripped to our underwear, and swam at Sandy Bay beach. I was maybe 11. Sue was an avid bushwalker, and on an uncharacteristically hot Hobart summer day, we walked up Mount Wellington together. The Tooles were called in to Bethel, where Vin was put through university to become a lawyer. He has a sweet tooth, so on his graduation I bought him three Toblerone, tying them together in a larger pyramid shape.
My question to Vin was how he could be so sure about his faith in Jehovah. He pointed out the window of his office to the Bethel paddock, where a large water sprinkler system is installed. He asked if I thought it could have positioned itself by chance. I said no. He said that since he had proved to himself in his twenties that Jehovah is real and Jehovah’s Witnesses have the truth, it is not a question that needs to be revisited.
I was wholly unsatisfied by that answer. Whilst Vin had converted, I was raised as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and was not confident I had enough information at 16 to make such a final conclusion. Further, such an important decision could not be set in stone. What if new information came to light. I was disappointed such an intelligent person felt comfortable that he didn't need to readdress his opinions over time.
My research into other religious groups was unfruitful. Watchtower was all I had ever known, and I read everything with my critical Watchtower eye. If Watchtower was not directed by Jehovah, it did not seem possible to prove that any of these were either. Leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses was too traumatic to consider for someone whose entire circle of family and friends revolved around the religion. I did not consider reading any apostate information or research into control techniques employed by cults, and so was unable to come to grips with where I was mentally at this stage.
I had been at Bethel for almost three years, and decided to leave. Viv Mouritz, the Branch Overseer, heard I was contemplating leaving and called me in to his office. He kindly explained that no one likes living in Bethel, that it is not natural to be so institutionalised, and we all look forward to having our own homes in the New System. But we stay knowing that it is only a short time before God will reward us. I stayed.
A wonderful couple, Debbie and Nathan Mouritz, moved in to Bethel to be trained for assignment to Fiji as missionaries, and I came to be very close to them. I also came to admire another couple, Dom and Elisha, who worked in Bethel and were assigned to Bradbury congregation. They were all full of life and fun. Dom was reappointed an elder in Bradbury congregation and his wife Elisha, was made a waitress and reported to me. She was a joy to work with and I came to have quite a crush on her. We travelled together to meetings with the Bradbury congregation. Dom visited my room once and saw I had a CD called Classics for Lovers, with an erotic silhouette of a couple embracing. He chastised me for having pornographic material, though the classical music on the album was quite beautiful.
One day Elisha did not come to work, nor the next. The following morning there was an announcement that Dom was no longer an elder or one of the Bethel family. Elisha’s best friend had confessed to having had an affair with Dom for the past seven years. Not only that, she had committed adultery with Dom in Bethel. I was crushed beyond belief for two reasons. This had befallen friends I loved and looked up to, and over time the details became even more tragic. Secondly, this event removed all doubt that holy spirit has no active part in directing Watchtower. Watchtower claims holy spirit directs the information in articles, and the appointment of elders. Dom was re-appointed an elder with a long history of adultery. If Watchtower is incorrect in saying the elders are appointed by holy spirit, there is no reason to believe the doctrine are directed by holy spirit either.
My emotions became quite erratic. Maybe out of pity, maybe out of infatuation, I started to shower Elisha with too much attention and she requested that I give her some space. I stepped down from being head waiter and began waitering in the secondary dining room with the construction team.
I was on the verge of losing my religion but had nothing to replace it with, so hung on to it for dear life. I couldn’t leave it as I knew that losing my religion meant losing my family too. I was stuck at Bethel, a place that I hated. At the age of 25 had no money, no valuable work skills and a crumbling belief system. I had no idea what I was facing if I left, and started to imagine how wonderful death would feel - long expanses of blackness, nothingness, peace.
A qualified Jehovah’s Witness Doctor would occasionally visit Bethel and I spoke with him about my suicidal thoughts. He asked if I had decided how I would kill myself. I hadn’t really, and explained to him how I was afraid of heights, so couldn’t jump, and afraid of pain, so could cut myself, which seemed the best option. My friend had survived an overdose, so that seemed risky too, as it would be terrible to end surviving with brain damage. The Doctor didn’t feel I had any need to be concerned, since I was not serious enough to have thought through the way in which I would kill myself, and that was the last time I spoke to anyone about my depression. Looking back, I cannot believe how irresponsible the Doctor was, both as Doctor and as Brother.
During this time, the music being listened to in Bethel became a serious topic for discussion. There was music that was considered unfit for Christians, particularly within the construction team. The cleaning team were instructed to go through everyone’s music collections whilst they were at work and catalogue any music that was unfit of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jack Porter prepared a talk for the Bethel Family’s Monday meeting regarding in appropriate music. He asked me to mix a tape of music, starting with what was appropriate, and ending with some inappropriate music from within the Bethel family. I started with some classical, then a kingdom melody, some Kenny G sax, before morphing into some gangster rap, finishing with a heavy metal rift screaming out the work Fuck. It was unforgettable, with some of the older Bethel family members looking visibly shaken. Jack explained that all the music was taken from within Bethel and as a result a few Bethelites were asked to leave.
Not long after, my parents offered to take me on a 2 month trip to South America. As a Bethelite, I was able to stay on the Bethel headquarters in Peru, Bolivia and Mexico. I knew that after spending time away from Bethel I could never face returning, so handed in my resignation as I left for my holiday. That was mid 1994, three and a half years after entering a place I should never have been. As a final gesture, on my last day waitering, I left a chocolate bar on every plate. Whilst I had been crushed by the dictatorial Bethel machine, I still valued many of the friendships I had built up over the last 3 years.
What would have been it I had not applied for Bethel? I'm sure I would still have come to the conclusion that Watchtower was not a source of truth, but have no idea what I would have done with that realisation. Possibly I would have drifted out in my twenties like many of my childhood friends, or have been disfellowshipped for some wrongdoing. But without any strong prompt to extensively research my beliefs, I would have floated through life wracked with guilt like so many that are raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses. I certainly would not have started jwfacts.com, as I would not have been privy to Watchtower’s inner workings and human element, which was an important step in taking me from the mindset that at least the religion is the most genuine one in the world, despite its doctrinal changes, to realising Watchtower is one of the most manipulative and destructive main stream Christian religions currently in operation.
I am grateful for my experience in Bethel, as it provided the groundwork for jwfacts.com, the hundreds of amazing people it has brought me in contact with, the thousands I have received emails of gratitude from, and potentially tens of thousands the site has played a part in helping successfully move on from the clutches of the Watchtower.
For more information about my life as one of Jehovah's Witnesses, see Paul Grundy - My Story
The most influential book regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses is Crisis of Conscience by Ray Franz. He was a member of the Governing Body from 1971 to 1980 at the Brooklyn headquarters.
The Grandfather of apostate websites regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses, and most visited from two decades, was freeminds.org, by Randall Watters, a Bethelite in the 1970's.
Narkissos was a poster at jehovahs-witness.com that greatly assisted me in my research. He had been at the French Bethel Branch, and after leaving worked on translating a Bible translation into French.
Barbara Anderson worked in Brooklyn Bethel during the 1980's and 1990's. She was moved to the writing department and part of the research team for Watchtower’s 1993 history book, Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers of God's Kingdom. She left as an outspoken critic of Watchtower policies regarding child abusers, and her contribution to awareness this issue in the medial and legal community cannot be overstated. Her site is watchtowerdocuments.org.
Barbara and Joe 2016
The two most visited websites since 2010 are jwfacts.com and jwsurvey.org. Whilst Lloyd Evans, author of jwsurvey.org, was not a Bethelite, he was an elder and trained under the Ministerial Training School program.
I was involved with 3 quick build Kingdom Halls. When we were building the Sheffield Kingdom Hall in Tasmania, I was standing in the main auditorium when the suspended ceiling collapsed, with ceiling tiles landing on the heads of a few workers. The Supervisor had not instructed those working on the ceiling how to properly install the hanger and tie wires. No one was seriously injured, but I did wonder why accidents would occur with a spirit directed construction project.
In 1984, Awake! printed the article MEPS—An Exciting Leap Forward in Publishing, discussing a revolutionary system Jehovah's Witnesses had developed to speed up the preaching work. They labelled MEPS one of the most advanced systems in the world.
“The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society was watching developments in this field and entered phototypesetting when most of the problems had been worked out of the system. Since 1978 the Society has been printing on rotary offset presses and has developed its own multilanguage computerized, prepress system called MEPS, or Multilanguage Electronic Phototypesetting System. It is one of the most advanced, fully automated prepress systems in the world.” Awake! 1984 Dec 8 pp.7-8
A related program was IPS, and Watchtower proudly published that IBM was looking into buying it.
“IBM is trying once again to increase its presence in the industry, and the vehicle by which it hopes to do so is an interesting package called the ‘Integrated Publishing System’ (IPS). IPS was not developed by IBM,” the report acknowledges, but “[by] Watchtower, the publishing arm of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, where it was created primarily for their internal use.” Awake! 1984 Apr 22 p.23
IBM did not go ahead with Watchtower’s IPS system, choosing instead to utilise a similar system not developed by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
When I read about MEPS as a teenager, I thought it translated Watchtower articles into other languages. In reality, it was simply a typesetting program that adjusted the fonts of each language Watchtower was printed in to fit on the same size page, so that each publication could be printed on the same size book or magazine. Whilst impressive for software at the time, it was not quite the miracle I had thought.
“The Law stated that if a person was a witness to apostate acts, sedition, murder, or certain other serious crimes, it was his responsibility to report it and to testify to what he knew. Leviticus 5:1 states: “Now in case a soul sins in that he has heard public cursing and he is a witness or he has seen it or has come to know of it, if he does not report it, then he must answer for his error.” Watchtower 1997 Aug 15 p.27
“Therefore, do not be afraid to speak up if a friend has got involved in wrongdoing. By getting help for that one, you are showing loyalty to Jehovah God and loyalty to your friend, who may one day be grateful for your loving intervention.” Awake! 2008 Dec 8 p.21
This pales into insignificance with how I felt seeing Vin Toole many years later lying in 2016 on the stand at the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Vin later told people I know that Jehovah’s Witnesses were called before the Royal Commission because of apostate persecution. The Royal Commission was not persecution, it was an investigation into 57 different organisations, and offered to assist each to improve their processes as a protection for their children. Yet Vin and the rest of the Watchtower representatives walked away feeling victimised and more worried about saving face and legal liability than accepting expert advice that could lead to safeguarding their own members.
Originally published September 2018
Paul Grundy 2005 - 2021