Wednesday, June 2, 2010

In Memoriam: Raymond Franz

I wrote last Fall about how a book changed my life. The book was Apocalypse Delayed and is a history of the Jehovah's Witness movement by a historian and former Jehovah's Witness elder, James Penton. That book was the beginning of the end for me as a Jehovah's Witness.

There was another book though that made all the difference for me in the emotional aftermath of coming to learn the truth about the Jehovah's Witnesses. That book was Crisis of Conscience, written by Raymond Franz.

Franz died today at the age of 88, after a brain hemorrhage as the result of a fall. Allow me to now pay tribute to a man I deeply admire and respect.

From 1971-1980, Franz was a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses, the highest of the spiritual order of the JW Watchtower organization. There are only 12-18 members of this body at any given time and they preside over the operations of the 7 million Jehovah's Witnesses worldwide. They are responsible for overseeing the preaching work, the interpretation of scripture into official JW dogma and all international operations. They're basically the top dogs of the JW world.

During the mid 70's, while doing research for the writing of a new JW publication, Governing Body member Raymond Franz began to realize how misguided and dogmatic many of the Jehovah's Witness interpretations of Scripture had been. He felt pangs of conscience and by the end of 1979 he had reached a crossroad:

"I had spent nearly forty years as a full time representative, serving at every level of the organizational structure. The last fifteen years I had spent at the international headquarters, and the final nine of those as a member of the worldwide Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses. It was those final years that were the crucial period for me. Illusions there met up with reality. I have since come to appreciate the rightness of a quotation I recently read, one made by a statesman, now dead, who said: 'The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie - deliberate, contrived and dishonest - but the myth - persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.' I now began to realize how large a measure of what I based my entire adult life course on was just that, a myth - persistent, persuasive and unrealistic." (Crisis of Conscience, p.273)

Feeling that he could no longer be part of the Watchtower's unyielding dogmatism, in 1980, at the age of 58, Franz left the Headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses along with his wife, Cynthia. According to the Wikipedia article on Franz, this is how things unfolded after he and his wife left the Brooklyn headquarters:

"In March 1980 Franz and his wife took leave of absence from the world headquarters for health reasons and moved to Alabama, where he took up laboring work on a property owned by another Witness. The following month a committee of the Governing Body raised concerns over the spreading of "wrong teachings" emanating from headquarters staff and began questioning headquarters staff on their beliefs. Staff were also questioned about comments Franz had made that may have contradicted Watch Tower doctrine. Franz says that on 8 May 1980, he was told that he had been implicated as an apostate. He was called back to Brooklyn on May 20 for two days of questioning by the Chairman's Committee. Franz claims the discussion concerned allegations that some Witnesses were meeting privately to discuss various teachings of the Watch Tower Society that may have constituted apostasy.

Franz says that on 21 May 1980 he was called to a Governing Body session, questioned for three hours about his Bi
ble viewpoints and commitment to Watch Tower doctrines and agreed to a request to resign from the Governing Body and headquarters staff. Franz says he refused the Watch Tower Society's offer of a monthly stipend as a member of the "Infirm Special Pioneers". The Governing Body investigation resulted in the disfellowshipping of several other headquarters staff.

On 1 September 1980 the Governing Body distributed a letter to all Circuit and District overseers stating that apostates need not be promoting d
octrines to be disfellowshipped. The letter stated that individuals who persisted in "believing other doctrine despite scriptural reproof" were also apostatizing and therefore warranted "appropriate judicial action".

On March 18, 1981 Franz's employer in Alabama submitted a letter of disassociation from Jehovah's Witnesses. A Watchtower article on September 15, 1981 announced a change of policy on disassociation, directing that those who formally withdrew from the religion were to be treated by Witnesses as a disfellowshipped wrongdoer and Franz, who continued to socialize and eat with his employer, was summoned to a judicial hearing on November 25 and disfellowshipped for disobeying the edict."

In 1982, Time Magazine did an article on Franz entitled "Witness Under Prosecution", detailing the events of Franz' experience in the Jehovah's Witness organization and what lead to his expulsion.

You can also watch a video of Franz from an interview done in 2007, where his life experience is summarized.

Franz, although the highest member of the JW order to be expelled for apostasy, was by no means alone. The early 80's saw many Jehovah's Witnesses worldwide disfellowshipped (and subsequently shunned) for questioning the official JW dogma. The Watchtower organization made a clean sweep through its ranks, stamping out dissension in any and all forms.

I was only a child, but I do remember hearing many talks at the time at JW meetings about the perils of questioning ones faith and the organization that God had chosen to deliver spiritual truth, namely the Watchtower. I also remember going to large conventions of Jehovah's Witnesses and seeing "apostate" picketers outside the building with signs trying to alert us to the lies we were being exposed to. But being the good little JW girl I was raised to be, I turned from these heretics, terrified that even just looking at them would bring me God's disfavor.

Franz went on to write his story in Crisis of Conscience. It is the must-read book for anyone leaving the JW's or thinking about it. Where Penton's Apocalypse Delayed appealed to my mind's need for an accurate history of the JW movement, Crisis of Conscience appealed to my heart's need to emotionally connect with someone on the inside who had faced the crisis of faith that I was now facing.

Franz' writing is humble, eloquent, heart-wrenching and utterly beautiful. I shed tear after tear reading his account and what happened behind the scenes of the organization I had put my faith and trust in for so long. I was shocked and soothed by Franz' account. And also deeply inspired. Franz and his wife sacrificed much at such a late stage in life to stand for truth.

Franz devoted much of his time to writing and authored a second book, In Search of Christian Freedom, a consideration of Watchtower dogma in light of Scripture. I read this book the week that I officially cut my ties with the Jehovah's Witnesses back in August 2005. That book helped me, still identifying as a Christian at the time, to rewrite a lot of the beliefs I held. It also was the impetus for my beginning to question further the history of the Bible, Christianity and faith in general.

Franz spent the last 30 years writing, translating his books into a variety of languages and corresponding with Jehovah's Witnesses who decided to leave the fold, or who were expelled. In addition, he traveled the world giving talks about his experience. He and his wife, Cynthia, lived a simple life. Having devoted most of their adult lives to the Jehovah's Witness organization, once expelled, there were challenges in adjusting to life outside, along with the physical and financial consequences of old age. But they managed to find joy in their simple life post-Watchtower and never allowed their situation to dissuade their desire to help others.

In 2005, around the time of my official disassociation with the Watchtower organization, I sent Raymond Franz a letter sharing my experience and thanking him for his great work. I would like to share some of his reply to me from an email dated August 26, 2005. Ray was 83 at the time.

"Thank you for your thoughtful letter. It is good that you recognize the debilitating effect of bitterness. To be consumed by bitterness, and to focus attention on the negative and the erroneous solely as a means for tearing down and deprecating, reflects none of the spirit of God’s Son. I feel that there is no experience that cannot bring some benefit, if we’re willing to work to that end. Some of those experiences we characterize as negative and unpleasant can often teach more than those we view as pleasurable. At the same time that does not excuse from responsibility those who contributed to our making decisions that we would probably not have made had we not been misinformed. It was probably the rather cavalier, insensitive spirit so often manifest in Governing Body discussions that most disturbed me. "

He continued the email discussing some specific Jehovah's Witness doctrinal issues and the challenges of leaving the organization, and concluded his correspondence with the following thoughts:

"Life has its seasons and each difficult season that we weather strengthens us for the future. Life is also a journey and we cannot make progress in it if our focus is mainly on where we have been; that could lead to emotional inertia or even entropy. What is done is done. The journey inevitably contains challenge, but we can find encouragement in knowing that we are moving on, making at least some progress, and can feel confident that what is ahead can be fulfilling.

I hope that things may go well for you and wish you God’s guidance, comfort and strength as you face up to life's problems.


Raymond Franz was a gem of a man. I dare say he has done more for Jehovah's Witnesses past, present and future than any other. Crisis of Conscience will always stand as the testimony of a man who chose the high road at great cost to himself and his loved ones, a true sacrifice for the good of the many.

It is amazing to me how a man I've never met could have such a profound effect on my life. I feel a deep sense of loss today. Thank you, Ray. For everything.

tall penguin


Anonymous said...

do you know 100% that he has passed? he was set to have the life support unhooked today but i never heard official word that he died.

tall penguin said...

Yes, it has been confirmed.

Simone said...

Thanks TP. I didn't know all that. Even though I was a very good witness girl, I was never a very good bible student. So I didn't need to read much 'apostasy' (that makes me laugh now it seems so ridiculous) to prove to myself that it was no longer truth. I think I left more because of attitudes displayed, so aptly put in Ray's beautiful and personal response to you: "It was probably the rather cavalier, insensitive spirit so often manifest ... that most disturbed me."

spiritualbrother said...

A very touching tribute to a great gentleman.

Ganga Fondan said...

Exquisite tribute my friend. The guides of love always come when we most need them in moments of hardship. I know that you were one for me. I was aching for the friendship of a Tall Penguin and there you were. Love you always,


Anonymous said...

i left in 2004, thanks to listening to my conscience and the leadings of God's holy spirit, and have never been happier. and now today, that is how i live; to hell with MEN'S ideas about how i am to receive God's favor! a couple of days ago, and out of nowhere, i was moved to get a copy of 'crisis of conscience.' i have only just begun reading it, but already my heart is stirred by this beautiful man's testimony. and so much of his story sound like my own sentiments, but so elequently stated. i do not know why this book was brought to me at this time, but all i can say is, "thank you, father."