When I was 12 I met Johnny. He and I became the best of friends. We went everywhere together and his family became my foster family I stayed at his house so much.
But, Johnny started a bible study with me and I eventually became a Jehovah's Witness. His whole family was JW.
I married his sister, JoAnn when I got out of Federal Prison (neutrality issue during Viet Nam war). Our continued friendship was never in any doubt at all. But, I moved from Texas in 1974 to California to find better employment. I was sick of lousy JW-type jobs as a janitor or assembly-line worker. In California I got a job as an artist and my life began to turn around.
1975 passes and my wife, Johnny's sister, began losing faith in the organization. She and I split up. I was disfellowshipped. Finally, Johnny and I had our first serious argument. He was angry with me and very self-righteous in his attitude toward me.
But, oddly enough, he never shunned me!
I would write him letters and he would read them. I would call him on the telephone and he would talk to me.
When I moved back to Texas he never failed to speak to me. Same with his family. I was persona non grata; but, I was never shunned.
Within the last year and a half Johnny sought me out again. We meet once a week or so for breakfast or lunch. We always have long soul-searching talks.
Today was no exception.
In the course of our conversations I always wait for him to cue the JW discussion. I never introduce it myself. He will invariably say something or other and I'll reply in such a way that the conversation starts rolling.
Today he mentioned somebody I use to know who was "apostate" for awhile and now has gone back into the Kingdom Hall and been reinstated.
Johnny spoke: "I just don't understand brothers who leave the organization and try to get other people to leave too."
Me: "Seems logical IF they leave for reasons of conscience."
Johnny: "If you don't believe what the society teaches then just leave. Why get yourself disfellowshipped? You will lose your friends."
Me: "I suppose having your family and friends held in a hostage situation is not much of a choice, is it?"
Johnny: "What do you mean?"
Me: "What kinds of groups exist in this world that you are not free to leave without forfeiting your family and friends? It is clearly a hostage situation. The Society holds the power to "kill" you at Armageddon, as it were, if you don't do what they say. That is what a hostage holder does--they use threat of death to use you for power parlay."
Johnny: "The elders cannot disfellowship anybody for any reason other than unwillingness to ask for forgiveness."
Me: "You know THAT isn't true."
Johnny: (sheepishly) "Well, I should have said there is no scriptural reason other than failure to be contrite over which you can be disfellowshipped."
Me: "Why do you think so many people leave the society?"
Johnny: "I know of maybe 50 to 70 people personally who left the organization after 1975. I can't help but think they were only in the religion to save their own butts and didn't love Jehovah at all. So, when Armageddon did not come; they figure the danger was over and left."
Me: "You are saying that is the ONLY reason a person would leave? What about discovering your religion was guilty of FALSE PROPHECY?"
Johnny: "I don't regard the society as prophets. So, they can't be guilty of being false prophets."
Me: "They represent themselves as prophets, dont they? They speak in the name of Jehovah. They set dates. They claim the dates are "gods' dates", they declare they are the mouthpiece of God. They claim the Watchtower is edited by Jehovah. They require you regard them as the faithful and discreet slave who gives food at the proper time. If you disagree with their opinion you are disfellowshipped. So, how does this in any way differ from being a prophet?"
Johnny: "Jehovah corrected them. They don't set dates any more. Jehovah allowed them to be embarressed. Don't think God won't hold them personally responsible for any who were stumbled over the date setting."
Me: "What is the test for a False Prophet for? Isn't it to prevent people from being stumbled in the first place? If somebody speaks in Jehovah's name and sets a date under HIS authority and it doesn't happen---that is the cue to leave THAT organization. That is what those so-called Apostates are warning about. The Watchtower Society did not pass the test of the false prophet."
Johnny: "I've never read anything by an apostate that would cause me to want to leave the organization."
Me: "The charge of being a false prophet is not a clue???"
Johnny: "Why would I leave and have no place to go? I'm never going to be convinced to believe in the Trinity or Hellfire? There are no other churces that teach true doctrines."
Me: "Jesus' sacrifice provided nothing? If you believe that he is the mediator; why doesn't your calling upon him as the mediator grant you audience with Jehovah? What does the JW organization offer you but men's opinions?"
Johnny: "I have to believe Jehovah works through an organization."
Me: "Ahhhh, but you DON'T HAVE TO believe any such thing. If Jesus is the mediator between God and man why is the Society a wedge mediator between man and the Mediator??"
Johnny: "They aren't!"
Me: "Doesn't the society teach that they have the only TRUE religion because Jehovah teaches THROUGH them only??"
Me: "If you disagree with their current opinion or theory (which they claim is from Jehovah) and that changes to an opposite view does this mean:
A. Jehovah just keeps changing his mind
B.The Governing Body just keeps changing their minds
Johnny: "They are imperfect. They make mistakes. Jehovah doesn't use perfect humans to do his will. King David did all kinds of wrong things and yet Jehovah used him and praised him as his anointed."
Me: "Oh, I see. David claimed his adultry was commanded by Jehovah? David claimed killing Uriah the Hittite was required by Jehovah? David was punished for trying to do God's will and being mistaken about it?"
Johnny: (long pause) "I didn't say that".
Me:"Then your analogy to being imperfect and being like David is NOT a workable analogy. The WT society teaches and commands to be taught MISTAKES in the name of Jehovah. Then, they later claim they were only guilty of being zealous."
Johnny: "The point is---my point is just that! Jehovah makes sure all mistakes are corrected. No other religion is willing to correct thier mistakes."
Me: "Other religions don't have to correct mistakes; they have fixed belief systems. JW's doctrines are based on opinions that constantly change. Pressure from outside forces them to make changes. When they are wrong--they get tons of letters and hundreds of people are disfellowshipped for nothing. There are backfires."
Johnny: "Which Jehovah can be using to correct them".
Me: "Okay. Fair enough. Correct me if I am wrong. Jehovah allows imperfect, mistake-prone representatives to MAKE FALSE STATEMENTS OVER AND OVER rather than insuring they SPEAK THE TRUTH in the first place? Right?"
Johnny: "Well, no"
Me: "The Governing Body is like a Pharmacist dispensing the medicine that Jehovah prescribes. The purpose of the perscription is to get life-giving medicine to sick people. Jehovah is the Great Physician. You seem to be saying that the Doctor Jehovah allows the Pharmacist (the GB) to give the wrong medicine to sick people rather than using a Pharmacist that will get the perscription right in the first place....."
Me: "What possible purpose can be served by choosing to speak through persons that will speak something over and over that DOES NOT REPRESENT YOU accurately?? The impact on faithful people is a hard one. They do what they are told unwittingly. They become the victims of false rules that are later revoked because of wrong opinion."
Johnny: "Each Christian has to use their intelligence to know better than to follow the silly rules. I have always learned to 'play the game'. I don't get into trouble because I never get myself in a situation where I can be outsmarted."
Me: "Are you saying the elders are not bright enough to do the right thing?"
Johnny: "I hate to say it; but, 99% of all the Elders I know are just plaine stupid!"
Me: "And that is the kind of organization the True God has put in place to represent him?"
Johnny: "I don't know of any other place to go that has something better."
Me: "Why do you think you have to go to ANOTHER ORGANIZATION? Why won't God listen to your prayers through his son Jesus?"
Johnny: "He does. He will."
Me: "So what exactly do you get out of going to the Kingdom Hall with its stupid elders, its changeable policies, it's false date-setting and constant evidence of being a false prophet?"
Johnny: "My family and friends are there. I don't want to leave them."
Me: "And that differs from a classic HOSTAGE SITUATION exactly how?"
Johnny: "We are going in circles now."
Me: "Have you ever caught the Society being wrong about something?"
Johnny : "Sure, lots of times. I don't let it destroy my faith in Jehovah."
Me: "What if they are wrong in their opinion about something vital to your relationship to Jehovah and you violate that vital thing? Would that not make you a follower of men rather than of God?"
Johnny: "I can't see that happening".
Me: "What if they are wrong about 1914? What if they are wrong about being the channel God uses to publish Truth? What if they are wrong about celebrating the Lord's Evening Meal and Jesus expects you to partake and you are forbidden by a wrong-headed theory? What if you are expected by God to help downtrodden people and instead you are only a glorified magazine saleman? What if the only effective thing you have done your whole life is put money into the hands of people in Brooklyn NY who buy real estate, invest in stocks, wield power over hapless people and change their minds at regular intervals and pass it off as flashes of revelation from god?"
Johnny: "I have faith that Jehovah is in charge and he is running his own organization."
Me; "And the false prophet test does not apply, then?"
Johnny: "They are not inspired to be a prophet".
Me: "What does the WT do that is different from what a prophet does? In what way, if any, do they differ?"
Johnny: "A prophet is inspired. The WT only calls attention to prophecy that has already been given by true prophets. They are not giving fresh prophecy. They are giving opinions about already existing prophecy. They err when they go beyond scripture. Scripture plainly teaches you cannot know the day and the hour."
Me: "What day and hour did they set in 1975? I thought it was only the year they set?"
Johnny: "You know what I mean."
Me: "So, when Jesus stood up in the synagogue and applied the already spoken words of ISAIAH to himself and further said "Today this prophecy is fulfilled" he was not acting as a prophet?"
Johnny: "Yes, he was."
Me: "Then, speaking out about when and how a previously revealed prophecy is fulfilled CAN BE the work of a prophet too?"
Johnny: "I know what you are getting at. I just refuse to believe the Watchtower is a prophet of god. They are not inspired. The GB are imperfect. When they err, Jehovah corrects them. I demonstrate my faith in Jehovah's arrangement by not thinking I'm smarter than Jehovah. I wait on Him to correct his own organization. That is not my responsibility."
Me: "Okay. Fair enough. Just answer me this: what is the purpose of the test of a false Prophet if not to identify a false Prophet when what they predict DOESN'T HAPPEN?"
Johnny: "If the society ever tries setting a date again; I'll be the first to leave. They have learned their lesson. Jehovah corrected them."
Me: "And how long was it between "no more date-setting" in 1925 when Rutherford made an ass of himself and the setting of 1975?"
Johnny: "50 years."
Me: "When they need a flurry of activity to push people into action they will act according to their Adventist roots. Date-setting is in the DNA of the Watchtower Society. Without 1914 they would be nothing and have nothing but 12 old guys sitting around with hand puppets. And their hand would be up your butt for nothing."
Johnny: "Not a pretty mental image!"
So, it was another boxing match between us. We parted friends. There were other issues covered, of course. Johnny has had nothing but trouble with elders over his five kids; almost all of whom have left the religion and believe not one thing about it. He continues to enjoy what he does. He is smart enough to be an internal thorn in the side of the "stupid" elders. He enjoys pushing their buttons. So far, it has worked for him and it gives him a purpose. But, for how long?