The Significance of Raymond Franz
In the light of the passing of Raymond Franz this week, it is clear from the reaction that many were affected by the deeds of this man. While he was called gentle by those who knew him (for the record, I never got to meet him personally) his reputation preceded him both in the ex Jehovah's Witness community, and still to this day at the World Headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses.
While his writings were indeed fair and reasonable, (I challenge anyone to read his books and find bitterness associated with him toward his former peers) I think it would be a mistake to remember Ray Franz as somewhat of a gentle, doting old man. Mr Franz was a man of dynamic action.
Consider his life. This was a man with the conviction to live in 3rd world countries as a missionary after WWII to preach what he thought to be the truth. This was a man who lived in remote areas, visited and taught strangers, all because of the deep conviction that he had. He spent his entire life through his 50's living below the poverty level, volunteering like many Jehovah's Witnesses do to preach.
It was this same conviction that allowed him to be a leader within Jehovah's Witnesses, to accept a role as a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses. It was also this same conviction and dynamism that motivated him to follow his conscience when he saw the troubling activities and conduct of the Governing Body during the 1970's.
Why would a man in his 50's resign his leadership position (though not leave the religion)? It was over principle. It was over what was right. When he resigned in 1980, up to the time he was disfellowshipped in 1981 for having a meal with a former Jehovah's Witness, Franz continued to to see the conduct of the Governing Body, and how it hurt people.
It was with a desire to help people along with his conviction and courage that motivated this man of action to write what would be the book that would define him, (Crisis of Conscience), expose the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses, and ultimately help tens of thousands of people negotiate their troubled relationship with a troubled cult.
Anyone who is familiar with Jehovah's Witnesses knows that they view any dissenting opinion, any self expression, any expression of autonomy as on par with the activities of Satan himself. The Governing Body knows best of all their checkered past, their failed attempts at prophecy, their morphed dogma, all of which destroys their own claim that Jesus invisibly chose them in 1919, even though Jehovah's Witnesses believe practically nothing that they once believed back in that year.
Ray Franz knew all of this. He knew he had an obligation to report what he saw.
The two books that Franz wrote, Crisis of Conscience and In Search of Christian Freedom, are not light and easy reads. It is doubtful that unless one is familiar with the whole Jehovah's Witness hierarchy and activities that they would mean a whole lot to you.
But to those who for decades had to live with doubts based on the changing doctrine and lies of the Governing Body, who had to put up with elders who were trained to treat their flocks with kindness only if they put up good numbers in the door knocking activity of Jehovah's Witnesses, who struggled with the cruelty of disfellowshipping, the inconsistency of the Witness blood doctrine, the unwelcome intrusion into the bedroom of married Witnesses, Ray Franz literally saved their life.
When I was a Regular Pioneer, we used to say that we were looking for the most zealous person to convert. If they were a super zealous Catholic for example, there was no doubt they would make a super zealous Jehovah's Witness.
The Governing Body missed on Ray Franz. They forgot to look at his past and see that this might have been a gentle and meek man on the outside, but inside, was a most zealous, courageous, and honest man.
Like most of us, Ray Franz did what he thought was best at the time. It is difficult to accept the truth if it differs from how one was raised to view certain matters. At one time, Ray Franz was one of the most zealous Jehovah's Witnesses ever. He thought it was the truth©. When he learned otherwise, and the damage that this caused, his zeal turned, not against Jehovah's Witnesses, but toward a simple discussion of the facts, of what was true, to help others see for themselves the facts, the truth about the truth.
Ray Franz was always about the truth. It was never about the truth© that Jehovah's Witnesses speak of. It was about honesty.
In the end, Raymond Victor Franz was not just a man of deep thought, but of deep action and conviction. His latter years bear eloquent testimony to the good that an honest, thoughtful person of conviction can do, if they will just do it.