HISTORICAL VIEW: PART Three: a shift of power
In the early 1970’s there was a policy change that re-instated Elders to give oversight to the local congregations in place of a single Congregational Overseer (Rutherford had dismissed all Elders). This decision eventually led to an internal upheaval at Bethel Headquarters in Brooklyn, New York because it had the effect of pressuring leadership to make similar adjustments, that is, to likewise pass authority from one man to a group of men. At first the president, Nathan Knorr, balked at such a notion, but it was he who eventually made a motion that all matters be decided by a two-thirds majority of the Governing Body. The Governing Body was at that time a group of seventeen men with very little authority or influence. The motion was seconded by the vice-president, Fred Franz.
It was, however, these same two men who voiced the strongest opposition to the motion. Knorr once proclaimed change of authority “will be made over my dead body.” Fred Franz said that it was “an attack on the presidency.” On Dec. 3, 1975 the motion was voted on by a show of hands. Knorr and Franz refused to vote; all others voted in favor of the motion. The next day there was another vote taken with a plea that the vote be unanimous since it was going to pass anyway. Knorr and Franz raised their hands, the vote was undivided, and the Governing Body now became a governing body in fact. The monarchical days were over. The Governing Body was now, and still is, God’s channel for dispensing “meat in due season.”
The Governing Body always met in closed sessions and Jehovah’s Witnesses, as before, were never informed about expenses or investments or decisions made. The majority of the seventeen men had limited understanding of Scripture, and traditional policy was adhered to over Biblical teaching. Most of the meetings were spent deciding what was and what was not grounds for disfellowshiping.
Jehovah’s Witnesses fear being disfellowshiped because their lives are intricately entangled around the Society. Outside relationships have been severed, and dependency upon the Society fixed. To be disfellowshiped, for many, means to lose everything. A committee of three to five men meet with the accused in a secret meeting, and if found guilty an announcement is made at the local Kingdom Hall that so-and-so has been disfellowshiped, and is from that moment shunned. So after the ‘trial’ the accused person has no opportunity to explain to friends his/her side of the story (because nobody is allowed to communicate with a disfellowshiped person). And he cannot verbalize his defense beforehand as that would make him guilty of causing dissension, another ground for being disfellowshiped.
Attending another church (even for a wedding or funeral), receiving a blood transfusion (or allowing a transfusion for one’s child or loved one), immoral behavior, speaking to a disfellowshiped person (even if that person were one’s mother, son, etc.), challenging the Society’s position on any subject, saluting a flag, voting, joining the armed forces – these were all grounds for disfellowshiping.
The global influence the Governing Body has over the lives of men is certified by the decision made regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi, a small African country. The rulers of that country decreed everyone must purchase a government party card. The Society (the Governing Body) forbids its people to do so. The result was that many Jehovah’s Witnesses suffered brutal reprisals for their stand. At the same time, however, the Society condoned the falsifying of papers by young men in Mexico, through bribery of government officials, for the purpose of avoiding a one-year military service.
Again, the organization prophesied the arrival of a great Jubilee that was to last a thousand years. This time the year was to be 1975. Again, there was much hopeful expectation. Maybe this time. Again, many lives were upset as adherents made moves, sold property, and made other decisions on the basis of the prophecy. Again, the ranks swelled because of the enthusiasm the prophecy engendered. 1975 passed, however, and, as 1881, 1914, 1918, 1920, 1925, and the 1940’s, the prophecy went unfulfilled. The Governing Body was divided as to how to handle the dismay following the unfulfilled prophecy, and decided to simply say nothing. Until the numbers started to decline. Finally, in 1979 a statement was printed in the Watchtower acknowledging the error.
Still there was another problem to be confronted. The organization had for many years insisted the generation living in 1914 would not pass away without witnessing the promised millennium. But time was running out. Most adults living in 1914 were dead. Three members of the Governing Body proposed extending the 1914 date by utilizing the year 1957, the year the Russian Sputnik broke into outer space, suggesting this event could somehow be used to justify an extension. The idea was rejected but the Body was still divided on the 1914 date. (Ironically, any Jehovah’s Witnesses outside the Governing Body daring to challenge the 1914 date would surely be disfellowshiped.) The 1914 date was maintained.
In 1980 there was a ‘purging’ of the headquarters staff. Longtime faithful employees were disfellowshiped, accused of apostasy (making remarks contrary to accepted Watchtower teachings). One member of the Governing Body refusing to sign his name to material he deemed unacceptable was harassed to the point where he felt compelled to resign, and shortly thereafter was disfellowshiped (on the petty grounds he once shared a meal with a disassociated Witness). Thereafter there was added restraint on free expression, so much so that it became officially objectionable to even have thoughts contrary to the Society’s teachings. Previously, expressing disapproval of Society policy was grounds for disfellowshiping, but now even having unexpressed opinions contrary to the Society was outlawed. One district overseer, picking up a green book, explained the new policy of conformity to an assembly of Elders this way: “If the Society told me that this book is black instead of green, I would say, ‘Y’know I could have sworn it was green, but if the Society says it’s black then it’s black!’”
Knorr died in 1976, and Fred Franz replaced him as president. It was Franz’s nephew, Raymond Franz, who was pressured into resigning from the Governing Body. After two years of silence he wrote a book, Crisis of Conscience (from which the information of this article was obtained), shedding much light on the very secretive Governing Body.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses organization grew immensely since Rutherford’s death in 1942 from 108,000 adherents to well over 3,000,000 today. The Society prints two bi-monthly magazines, Watchtower and Awake!, about 14,000,000 and 12,000,000 respectively in 108 languages. The Society to this day still holds to the 1914 date, that is, that the generation witnessing the events of 1914 would live to see the ushering in of the New World. However, most of that generation is long gone. A baby born in 1914 would be 93, and anyone old enough to witness happenings of 1914 would be much older.