Song’s Refrain: “There must be some way outta here.”
Bumper Sticker: Make Love Not War
New Words: Viet Nam, Space Race, Hippie
HEMET, CALIFORNIA – 1960. In Hemet I was to also face the draft issue as some JWs are conscientious objectors just as individuals from other denominations. I presented my case for ministerial classification before the draft board in Riverside and was given the classification as an ordained minister.
Life settled into that rhythm of the growing family with two boys, Shawn and Dane, during the next three years. I dearly loved my boys and was what I think was a natural father. I had always loved children – still do. Shawn was the “accident” and then we decided if it was to be a family, it would mean at least two. Now with two boys we would try for a girl. We had somewhere agreed in our “old age” to have another child, and this we would do fifteen years later. Of course, all of this type of family thinking was greatly discouraged because “Armageddon was so close.”
I remained very active in the local congregation. I now look back on many warm friends. Particularly, I remember Winifred Wright who was a brother who worked for me and at the same time was a close friend. Also, Gary Clark, with whom l studied the Bible. Kenny Otta was also someone I like very much after I had studied the Bible with him. These, and their families, are still JWs.
There were also those politically motivated and self-righteous judgmental attitudes which seem to be embedded in every congregation of JWs. These are often passed off as “imperfections.” I was to learn that when there were these jealousies, ambitions, dissensions, wicked suspicions, and down right evil among JWs it was always just “imperfection.” But, the same things in “Christendom” was proof of false religion. The JW whitewash is magnificent! I now believe it is formulated and bottled on one of the Watchtower Farms somewhere.
One episode regarding the “traveling overseer,” or circuit servant, illustrates these political jealousies. At this time I was being used in a variety of positions within the congregation – Bible study servant, Ministry School servant, and Book Study servant. Also, I was approaching the spring celebration of the Memorial or Lord’s Evening Meal. It was to be the first of over thirty assignments to give the “Memorial” talk. The Russians had launched sputnik and the Space Race began.
A circuit overseer, Brother Pate, came and took serious exception with my profession of anointing and summarily removed me from every privilege. He stated my claim to be one of the anointed was proof enough of my immaturity and lack of qualifications.18 He stated a mistaken notion which is not in harmony with the publications, but is a common view among many JWs: “the door to heaven was closed in 1935.” Several came to my rescue (Al Mullins, Donald Warmboldt, Eldrid Merrill), including one district servant who was later to become a member of the Governing Body, Theodore Jaracz.19 The whole matter reflected this ongoing struggle among “servants” (later called “elders”) which was to obtain within every congregation I was to associate with.
|18||QUALIFICATIONS. This judgment by elders is not rare and I am aware of many examples of this kind of judgmental criticism of those who claimed to be “born again.” A sister who partook for over 20 years and was into the twilight of her life was taken aside by elders and convinced she was not one of the anointed. She stopped partaking of the annual emblems at the Memorial. It is possible over the years I had spoken to more of the anointed that any among the vast group of JWs, probably over 100.|
|19||T. JARACZ. At this time in 1960 he did not profess anointing. A couple years later in Newport Beach he and I were working together door to door on Balboa Island and he asked me various questions regarding the anointed and my own hope. That next spring he partook for the first time.|
To illustrate Pate’s attitude was an episode when I worked with him alone in field service. He began to test me with questions: “What does New Heavens and New Earth say on page 154, paragraph so and so?” He did this over and over and each time I had to confess I did not know. “You see, you have an immature knowledge.” I decided that would never happen again so I reinforced my study of the publications until I would be able to answer those questions. I surely must have been among the first dozen to read completely every newly released publication.
To support my growing family, I started the first of many cleaning businesses, Spic & Span.. I say “first” because I was among the first, if not the originator, of many JWs who would develop janitorial or cleaning businesses mirrored after my own. I came to help scores to get started in this business as it allowed certain freedom to pursue spiritual, or theocratic matters, while being self-employed. My speaking assignments took me throughout southern California, as did the scores of Funeral Talks. As many learned of my self-employment business, I was often asked to help in the formation of their own businesses. I would often travel to spend a day or two teaching men how to wash windows, clean carpets, or polish floors. JWs were to become well-known as trustworthy janitors who would not steal. Unfortunately, some of my own JW employees did steal from me and my customers.
During these younger years I was to become acquainted with one of the vices among most JW men, drinking immoderately. I was introduced to beer and other alcoholic beverages. Like many of my peers among the “servants” (later, “elders”) I would develop a serious problem with alcohol. Since the Bible does not condemn moderate drinking, virtually all elders and ministerial servants (or, deacons) drink and a large number drink heavily. Most medical experts suggest two to three drinks a day as moderate. My self, and most elders I knew, imbibed far beyond that. It is true drunkenness is a disfellowshipping matter, but usually this most become public. I was to learn throughout the next thirty-five years that virtually every responsible male I knew, at all levels throughout the organization, drank immoderately and were often drunk.
It seemed well known that Judge Rurherford liked his bourbon and there is a movie film of him downing a double bourbon before one of his famous radio speeches. Years later, while standing around a desert campfire with the Branch Overseer of Fiji he related the story of a $168.00 (US) liquor bill left with the branch after the week-long visit of a Zone Servant. He alleged this to be Albert Schroder, later a member of the GB. Also, later, I was to hear charges of the Judge’s own severe drinking habits. There were rumors he had run into trouble in San Diego because of his drinking.
Though there are periodic articles warning about this, the reality is most are serious drinkers, and many are the jokes about a Bethelite’s ability to hold his liquor. Only when the matter becomes notorious, as in the case of a former vice president and legal council of the Society, Supreme Court attorney Hayden Covington,20 who was disfellowshipped for drunkenness. Many others drink to access but escape this humiliation of excommunication. It will depend on the congregation elders and their own degree of alcoholic abuse. I now believe it is the pressure among these men which make them victims of secret alcoholism. I can say that every “elder” in my own experience was seriously immoderate. Some were often drunk but nothing was ever said about this. On more than one occasion I was to stand around a wilderness camp fire with a circuit overseer, missionary, even Branch Overseer (now called “coordinator”), passing a bottle of Jose Quervo tequila around for generous guzzles.
|20||COVINGTON. He was the civil rights attorney who defended Cassius Clay (Mohammed Ali) in his draft board problems. The famous boxer went to jail.|
This problem with drinking, along with certain difficulties with my wife, was to lead to a major deviation on my part. I became involved with a young woman who had come to me with her problems. We developed a liking for one another, and though we never committed “fornication” (and thus technically adultery from the JW viewpoint) my affections momentarily were turned from my wife which amounted to emotional betrayal. I realized my error, went to the congregation servant – who was later to be disfellowshipped himself – and confessed this to my wife. She took some of the blame for this as she admitted to me. We worked together and healed the wound to some extent, though I believe my wife never really forgave me. I do not blame her for this. It was my own error.
When I realized the degree of my own deviation I went into the local mountains and continued in prayer for most of the day – face-down in the dirt – begging for the Father’s forgiveness with groaning tears. I reaffirmed my devotion to God and resumed intense Biblical studies.
1961: CORONA DEL MAR. Because of the above, and my desire to start over, we moved to a prosperous beach community with the highest per-capita income in the United States, Newport Beach, California. [The Space Race had begun in earnest with the orbiting of the first American in April around Memorial time.] A third baby, a daughter, April Dawn, was born. I was to become highly involved with the local congregations. With my brother-in-law, Bob Parsons, I also started one of the largest house cleaning companies (White Glove) in southern California, catering to the rich and famous. I was to clean the homes of John Wayne, Buddy Ebsen, Ann Miller, the Nixon family, the Haldermans, the Irvine family, a former Secretary of State and a multitude of very wealthy American families in Orange County. In business with my brother-in-law we were to have six trucks working around the clock. Because we hired only JWs we became very well known and respected.
We were a very happy “theocratic” family. Though I was plagued with certain respiratory problems, this time in my life was among the most happy. There was considerable drinking among friends on the weekends. Our home was a social center and we were well-known for our hospitality.
We were very much involved in “the truth” and I was assigned to judicial committees to judge cases of “wrong-doing” as well as the School Overseer and Bible Study Servant. I was also picked by representatives of Brooklyn to call on persons who had written questions to the Society. I was authorized to speak for the Society and that “my answer would be their answer.” I visited persons all over southern California. There were assignments on circuit assemblies, district conventions, and a busy public talk schedule as well as the funeral talks I was called on to conduct. Often I gave a public talk every weekend, including other talks in private home congregation book studies. As always I was a most serious Bible student and many would come to me for the answers to their Bible questions.
During this period I was appointed operations overseer of very large, week-long District Conventions at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. There were over 500 persons serving in this Expediting department responsible for the movement of food supplies to all parts of Dodger Stadium. From one Sunday to the following Sunday the program was from 9 AM to 9 PM. All of these people had to be fed and that is where Food Service and Expediting came into the picture. This mass feeding was to get considerable copy in the newspapers. Government agencies would come and observe the organization for use in case of national disasters. There was considerable comaradie among us and we had our own newspaper with a cartoonist. And, of course, our own bartender, hidden among boxes with big ice chests. Drinking throughout the convention was very common among many if not all the convention departments. For eight days we got only four hours of sleep each night. It was “hell week” that garnered considerable public relation value for the Society.
Living along the beach, I became a serious “body surfer” and “belly-boarder.” My favorite haunt was the infamous “Wedge” at the mouth to the Newport harbor. Many were the sunny days challenging the monstrous waves between the Wedge and Huntington Beach pier. We were among the first in the beach communities to become “surfers”21 among JWs. Later, many younger JWs were involved in the surfing community. This was not altogether approved by certain self-righteous critics who, judging from their attitudes, felt any such enjoyment of life was “untheocratic.”
|21||SURFERS. One young man became one of the anointed and was a world famous surfing photographer for Surfing magazine, Mike Moir.|
Here in body-surfing and paipo-boarding there were to be half a dozen “brushes with death” and a dozen or more heavy surf rescues. Two come to mind: one summer Saturday at the Wedge a close JW friend, David Huffman, were body surfing during a heavy south swell. The sets were breaking over the jetty, killing two Vietnamese fishermen. At some point my friend and I were the only ones in the water, with hundreds lined along the beach. The crowd on the beach started yelling “outside” and we could see a gigantic swell forming outside the jetty. We began to swim out as fast as we could. These waves were running with consistent twenty foot walls and this one was bigger than all of them. I was able to make it down into forty feet of water and grab the sand on the bottom as this monster tried to suck me “over the falls.” My friend was less fortunate. The full fury of this giant liquid freight train fell right on him and he was rolled along the bottom, washed up on the beach two hundred yards away. He barely survived and swore never to return to the Wedge again.
The second was on another south swell day. David and I entered the water at the Santa Ana river jetty. We body-surfed magnificent fifteen-foot green walls north toward the Huntington Beach pier. We had some of the longest green wall rides I had ever experienced, over a hundred yards long, moving slowly north with the swell toward the pier almost five miles away. Soon, we realized there was no way to get through the pier and so we began to swim out around it. At this time, unknown to us, four persons drowned within a hundred feet of us, lost among the mountain-high swells. We could not see them. The lifeguards, some of the best in the world, could not reach them either. Two of the bodies were found in the Los Angeles Harbor many days later. It took my friend and I over two hours just to swim in. We ended up at the Bolsa Chica beach three miles north of the pier.
In these years there were to be a dozen lives saved in waters too dangerous for anyone with good sense. Often the lifeguard boat could not get in close enough to the surf line and the lifeguards could not get out. It was up to those who were nearby to make the rescue. Rescuing an exhausted victim without the lifeguard’s buoy or torpedo in fifteen-foot surf is an interesting experience. My friend David was to be disfellowshipped later. I heard he later married a wealthy woman.
Our family took up an interest in backpacking and camping and would leave for a weekend about every other month. This came in for some criticism for it was considered “untheocratic” to miss field service on the weekend for recreation. This is very hypocritical because most of the critics did not go out in service that regularly anyway. There were many voices of gossip and slander from the self-righteous. It seemed perfectly normal to me that a father would take his family on recreational trips from time to time. We went on classic backpacking trips down the Grand Canyon and Havasupai. In south-western Colorado’s San Juan’s Needles we camped at 11,000 feet in Chicago Basin with its cirque of three fourteeners. I was to climb all of them plus other nearby peaks. Years later family recreation22 was to be encouraged by the Society, but at the time it was looked upon with a jaundiced eye.
|22||FAMILY RECREATION. The first occurrence of the phrase was to appear in a 1962 Watchtower. The next 24 years later in 1986. An art rendering on page 12 of the June 1, 1985 carried the caption: “While fellow witnesses of Jehovah are engaging in theocratic pursuits, are you and your family often heading for some recreation spot?”|
We had experienced quite a metamorphose among JWs. When we first married, marriage was just becoming somewhat acceptable, whereas it had been seriously discouraged before. (1 Tm 4.1-4) However, children were definitely out. And, then, children became more and more acceptable. But, family recreation was discouraged by peer pressure.
This was the moment in 1963 when President John Kennedy was assassinated. I remember I was in a large wholesale grocery accepting free vegetables for a convention taking place at the Orange County Fairgrounds. It was during this District Convention where I shared in the first Bible drama JWs became famous for later. I also served on the Circuit Committee as News Service Overseer.
It was also at this time that I began writing news releases and public relations materials for the southern California “district.” I would write much of the releases for papers throughout California and Arizona. This was to begin an ongoing correspondence contact with Brooklyn as I would often submit Bible questions. I had always wanted to return to writing but on those few occasions when I thought of it, my wife demonstrated a great dissatisfaction with the idea as it was “untheocratic.” Moments would arouse this desire to write, but it would fade and I would dismiss it.
Our cleaning business was very successful and soon we were looking for a beautiful two-story home in the Newport Back Bay. (This was later to be directly under the flight path from Orange County’s John Wayne airport.) I also had my eye on a new Porsche 911 or Jaguar XK-E. Then one day I looked in the mirror and asked myself what I wanted to be. I became ashamed of what was becoming a “materialistic” life-style. I made the decision right then and there to return to the full-time ministry and pioneering. I encouraged my brother-in-law, Robert Parsons, and we both rearranged the business to allow both of us to “pioneer.”
Close friends at the time were men I had studied the Bible with: a restaurateur, Victor Besancon, and an engineer, Phil Meyer. Their families would become regular camping and climbing partners. Victor and his wife were to do missionary work with us later in The Bahamas.
Both my brother-in-law and I became quite active locally and were sought out for speaking assignments and convention parts. Little did I know that jealousy and political ambitions were raising their ugly heads again. These two successful businessmen – Bob and I – both with an above average knowledge of the Bible, came in for our share of infighting and slander. Gossip and slander are a major vice among JWs. Perhaps, it is the natural consequence of any group of people claiming to be God’s Prophet and striving to become righteous. Any group of people who are highly judgmental23 of others outside their group, will, by the nature of things, also become severely judgmental of one another. This disease approaches a plague among JWs. Though there is an appearance of unity is presented to the public – because everyone has to believe the same thing or else – the truth is something else.
|23||JUDGMENTAL. Awake! Sep 8, 1997, page 13: “In Jesus’ day there were people who disdained all who did not belong to their exclusive religious group. Among these were the Pharisees.” Will anyone argue JWs do not “disdain” (scorn, despise, ridicule) other religions?|
Nazarene Commentary 2000©
Mark Heber Miller
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