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Thirty-Five Years in the Watchtower

By: Burt Noyes

"Everyone believing that Jesus is the Christ, has been born from God."

(1 John 5:1----- NWT)



As I read this verse, it was as if scales had fallen from my eyes. (Acts 9:18) I had come to appreciate in a more complete sense God's mercy and grace, and how important my relationship with his son Jesus was. Thirty-five years of training and indoctrination by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society were quickly being eroded by a new-found desire to understand God and his Holy Word, the Bible. (1 Corinthians 11:3) This conversion from a man-made religion to a faith and belief based on God's Holy Spirit and truth was really a culmination of events that started in the mid- 1960's.


It was in 1965 that my father was first exposed to the Jehovah's Witnesses. His marriage to my mother was on the rocks, and lack of fulfillment both personally and secularly made him a prime target for the Watchtower teachings. He was a brilliant man who had wasted his vast potential on drinking, womanizing and the fast life. The opportunity to be a "somebody" in the Watchtower Organization coupled with the gloom-and-doom prophecy of 1975 proved a powerful draw to him, as it did to hundreds of thousands in the late 1960's to early 1970's. By 1966, when I was three years old, my father and mother both became baptized JWs. In the next few years, my grandparents, 2 aunts, and uncle took the same step.


My father made rapid advancement, becoming a Book Study Conductor in the local congregation and was appointed an elder when that arrangement was established in 1973 (my grandfather was appointed at the same time). My life and training were centered around the JWs from 1966 on, and our family looked forward to the end of the "system of things" in 1975. My parents continued having children, until I had six younger brothers and sisters.


Meetings and field service were automatic, and there was never a question as to what was the priority in our family. I was repeatedly told that I was so fortunate to be able to grow up in the very last days of this "system", that I would never have to worry about graduating from school, finding a job, or having a family in this system. Nevertheless, I continued to do well in school, consistently being at the head of the class.


In 1970, my father had been asked by the Circuit Overseer to go and help an inner-city congregation in Rochester, NY. The congregation was mostly black, and was meeting in a shambles of a Kingdom Hall on Berlin St. Unbeknownst to him, the C.O. (who was Asian) was a racist, and had it in for the congregation servant. (title formerly given to the Presiding Overseer) My father, being idealistic and naive, ended up serving as a unknowing accomplice in an effort to remove this faithful man.


The C.O. sent in other white elders, and with the help of one black elder, succeeded in removing this faithful man from his post and also stripped him of his pioneering privileges, which he had done continuously for over 20 years. The matter was viewed so seriously that my father and the black turn-coat elder actually made an appearance before the Governing Body in Brooklyn Headquarters. The GB ruled in favor of the white elders and the faithful black brother was removed. (so much for God's spirit-directed organization)


(Interestingly, as years passed on, the brother was restored to his eldership, while all the elders who railroaded him have drifted away or became inactive.)


After the fiasco, my father decided to move the family to the Finger Lakes of NY, where we attended a congregation with a mixture of local farmers and commuters to the city of Rochester. The cong. was under the control of a eloquent, powerful, but young presiding overseer, and half the congregation was related to this elder. As a result, the elder body was split into two factions, the country elders vs the city elders.


While attending this congregation, the much-anticipated year of 1975 came and went. One of my most vivid memories was seeing the book "Famine 1975" in the Kingdom Hall library. The WatchTower Society had had used this book liberally in support of it's now failed prophecy.


There was a different attitude in the post-1975 period. My aunt, who by the way had 6 children, had been putting off dental work on all of her children in the early 70's, thinking that it wasn't necessary to do so with the "New Order" so close at hand. Discouragement over the delay of Armageddon was also evident in the activity of the congregation. Field service and meeting attendance was noticeably declining, and our family service activity on weekends wasn't "automatic" anymore.


Meanwhile, the situation in our family was deteriorating. My father who had seven children, was loaded with debt, and lost his job; also, a deep rift had developed in the congregation, pitting my father and another elder against the country faction.


It all came to a head when serious wrongdoing was uncovered in the P.O.'s family. Such wrongdoing as incest, rape, adultery, drunkenness, spouse and child abuse had become entrenched in the cong. and the P.O. was using his power to cover up these sins and protect his family and position. (I always found it amazing that such people could tolerate, even participate, in such wrongdoing and then have the nerve to shun a disfellowshipped brother or sister.)


The situation became so intolerable that my father asked to be deleted, which the elder body was more than happy to do. After his deletion, my father became inactive, even missing the most-hallowed annual Memorial Celebration. My younger brother followed suit, while my mother and I tried to keep ourselves and younger children active in the congregation.


In the meantime, I was nearing completion of high school. I scored extremely high on my SAT's and had won a statewide scholastic competition, and had handfuls of scholarship offers to every major college in the country in the mail box daily. My math teacher had even arranged a special grant through a state college that would let me earn a good living in research while I earned a degree. Although I wanted terribly to go to college so I could have a career that followed my natural interests, I knew how my parents and the congregation viewed college education. To go to college would have been viewed as a lack of faith that we were in the "last days." So despite tremendous pressure from school officials and teachers, upon graduation I decided to apprentice in a trade with a brother in Rochester.


Eventually, I was blessed with a beautiful wife and four children. I served as a ministerial servant for many years and was appointed in 1994 as an elder. Although I hated my career path and was still plying my trade (now in Florida), I felt the sacrifices I had made in a educational and secular way were insignificant in comparison to the joy my family and congregation activity brought. I used to reflect on how fortunate I had been to grow up "in the truth." I genuinely felt sorry for the "worldly" people who would soon die in Armageddon.


Any doubts or discrepancies in the WT doctrine I usually swept aside as inconsequential or left it to Jehovah to clarify later. There were two items though that I couldn't set aside no matter how hard I tried. The major one was that despite my training, I could not shake the feeling that I had the heavenly hope. I knew that I couldn't or shouldn't have this desire according to the WTS, so I kept waiting on Jehovah to help me cope until he changed my frame of mind.


Much to my consternation though, I seemed to get continual reminders that I had been "called." On such occasion was at the Sunday meeting. A sister who was given to grand-mal seizures so violent she would end up on the floor started having an unusually intense seizure. I said a brief prayer to Jehovah, asking him to relieve her in this instance. As I opened my eyes her seizure stopped suddenly, surprising her husband and her friends. I was overwhelmed at this point, wondering what Jehovah meant by this. I recalled James 5:16, about the force of a righteous mans prayer, but what had just happened to me was contrary to the thinking of the Watchtower Society.


The other item that never seemed to fully resolve itself was the identity of the "great crowd." I could never see a clear connection between the "