Messianic Confessions

CHAPTER SIX
Back to Newport Beach – 1970s

DECADE FOUR – 68-78

Song’s Refrain: “ ... the end, my friend.”
Bumper Sticker: “Have You Found Him?”
New words:
ecology, environment, Viet Nam

Finances began to get very slim and we decided to return to California and Orange County in 1969. I had stopped “pioneering” on the day my second son Dane said, “Dad, you don’t talk to us anymore.” Our family was always a very close one, though I was often occupied with “theocratic matters” and there was much demand on my time and attention. We often went camping, backpacking and other forms of family recreation. How much my family was damaged to some inattention on my part will become clear.

Upon returning to Orange County I was to be thrust into more political intrigues and jealousies. I had yet to figure this all out. I viewed most of it as my brothers’ imperfections. But, it goes beyond that. It reaches degrees of outright hate among a group supposed to be marked by their love for one another. Though this may be true among some select groups of friends, it is not true on other plateaus. The very nature of an organization tightly controlled, with “corporate ladder climbing” virtually encouraged, the result will be infighting, ambition, jealousies, slander, and viciousness.

The whole ongoing spirit bothered me greatly. I think it may be my nature to first blame myself and so I tried to discover what I was doing wrong. I went to two men I highly respected to be honest with me. The first was Tom Sutton, a young intelligent man who also professed to be one of the anointed. I explained my feelings about conduct and attitudes on the part of elders which seemed unchristian to me. I asked what I was doing wrong. He told me: “Brother Miller, do you know what your problem is?” I told him that is why I came to him. He said: “Your problem,” he paused, “is you are guileless.” I did not understand. “You are an innocent and genuine Christian who thinks everyone else is the same as you.” I told him I could not go through life suspecting my brothers. He shrugged. (Years later he too was to be disfellowshipped for reasons I do not know. I have tried to find him since without success.)

The second elder was the son of Herald Toutjian, Jonathan, with whom I was a good friend and who had served with me in the same congregation. I put the same problem to him in my own tears. He said: “Mark, you are the congregation servant. You are a pioneer. And, you are one of the Anointed. That is a very big target to shoot at. You have three strikes against you.” I confessed that I could not believe Christian men and women would behave in the manner I had observed throughout all the congregations I had been associated with.

It is true many of these evil characteristics were present in the Corinthian congregation in the First Century. Paul warns these Christians who had deviated:
‘For I am afraid that somehow, when I arrive, I may find you not as I could wish and I may prove to be to you not as you could wish, but, instead, there should somehow be strife, jealousy, cases of anger, contentions, backbitings, whisperings, cases of being puffed up, disorders.’ (2 Corinthians 12:20 NWT) The existence of these among modern JWs would only prove they have become Corinthianized.

Newport Beach was probably one of the wealthiest congregations in the world. On one occasion the Kingdom Hall could not pay its rent and the elders called on me as the presiding overseer to give a talk on the subject. I went out in the parking lot and counted the Rolls Royces, Porsches, Mercedes Benz, BMWs and other luxury automobiles. One JW doctor was driven to the meeting by a chauffeur. I used this in my talk and that night many hundreds of dollars came into the contribution boxes. Many of these rich JWs were quite arrogant and their multi-million dollar homes were retreats for members of the GB.

When it came to slander this congregation in Newport Beach was particularly vile. The sisters were largely a nest of hateful gossip and slander. Was it due to the materialistic atmosphere of Orange County? It is hard to say. But, it was at its worst in Newport. I was constantly thrust into serious struggles for power and the attendant anger and hatred which resulted. I always thought it strange that men should try “to be somebody” among an organization held in such distaste by many outsiders. But, remember these men believe only they will survive Armageddon to become the only religion in the New World.

I will not detail all of this nastiness because there was just too much of it. I was to finally serve as Presiding Elder, something like the pastor, of ten different congregations. Newport was by far the worst. I went on to serve in half a dozen congregations, most quite large by JW standards: Corona del Mar (one of the wealthiest in the world), Costa Mesa, Santa Ana, Fountain Valley, Nicholls Town Bahamas, and Idyllwild.

I was to find some respite from this political nastiness among a largely “colored” congregation in Santa Ana. It was quite large, over 150 “publisher cards,” when most congregations are divided at 100. JWs could have enormous congregations of thousands if it were permitted. However, now I feel keeping the congregations very small is a controlling factor. A congregation of 1,000 would become hard to control from Brooklyn if it developed a certain political clout. Even this one, with attendances of over 200, sometimes 300 and even 400, became a source of jealousy even by traveling overseers.

On one occasion our congregation was having a visiting speaker who was formerly the Branch Overseer of Liberia, Africa. There were 400 in attendance. As we emptied out, the circuit overseer, Russell Cantwell, entered the Kingdom Hall for the next meeting. He kept mumbling in a disgruntled manner: “Personality cult worshippers!” This jealous man was to be called to Brooklyn Bethel to head up the Correspondence Department.

I learned humble people love the Bible and if this is presented to them in language they can understand, they will come from miles away to hear just such a speaker. People would come from afar just to hear the Watchtower Study being conducted. Why? The Bible was being presented as it truly is, without the Watchtower filter. Then we had a degree of freedom in the preparation of our public talks, allowed to prepare just about any subject we wanted. For some years, I prepared my own outlines, rather than use those provided by Brooklyn. For example: “The Word–Who is He According to John?” and “Steps to Heavenly Glory.” These talks were to be recorded and received wide attention. I do not say this, or anything else I have mentioned, in arrogance or pride. I think those who know me see a different man.

Regarding the outlines published by the Society for use by elders – and these must be followed closely – there are no talks dealing with the death of Jesus, his ransom, or the steps to heavenly life. Most of the over 120 outlines deal with social and life-style subjects. Very few deal with prophecy. It is not unusual for the same talk to be given many times throughout the year. For example, while taking a new Bible student to several meetings in several different congregations within a period of a coupe months, the same talk was given each time: “The Godly View of Sex and Marriage.”

I just loved the Bible very much and presented this to others. It may come as a surprise that this is actually unique among a people known for their Bible knowledge. A man of note among JWs was Herald Toutjian,30 for whom I had, and still have, enormous respect. He once asked me why he could assign me to the worst attended Congregation Book Study and within a mouth it would double in attendance to become the largest. I read to him from the then manuel on JW organization, the Lamp book: “(The congregation book study servant) knows that a truly informative study, well supported, is a major factor in spiritual growth.” (page 148) Most conductors of this meeting – usually elders – are ill-prepared and a large portion of those attending have not prepared at all.
30 HERALD TOUTJIAN. Though privately to me he had been upset with the prediction of 1975, he was later to restate his views in his Life Story (w84 2/15, page 25): “Decades of expanded activity passed quickly, and the question now was, What will the 1970's bring? My two sons, Duane and Jonathan, and my daughter, Carmel-a fourth generation-were grown and had families of their own. We were expecting that 6,000 years of man's existence would be reached in 1975. Would this date bring us to the start of Christ's Millennial Reign? That possibility intrigued us.
“Now we can look back on that year and appreciate that the words of Jesus at Matthew 24:36 do not allow us to fix a date for the end. He stated: "Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father."
“The year 1925 came and went. Some abandoned their hope. But the vast majority of the Bible Students remained faithful. ‘Our family,’ explained Herald Toutjian, whose grandparents had become Bible Students about the turn of the century, ‘came to appreciate that unrealized hopes are not unique to our day. The apostles themselves had similar misplaced expectations.” (Proclaimers, page 78)

It is one thing to have memorized three dozen keys texts with which to convert people, and quite another to actually become very familiar with the Bible. I was always an intense student, and my background in history, science, religion, and philosophy only contributed to this presentation. It will be impossible to please some who will view all of this as the talk of an arrogant man. One of the common attacks made against anyone who “studies too much” is pride. It seems strange that on one level the Society encourages reading the Bible daily, and on another there is a certain peer pressure to just prepare one’s Watchtower study (something less than half do) and leave the serious study to Brooklyn. JWs remain limited in their Bible31 knowledge despite all the meetings they attend. Their studies are seriously confined to “Christian publications” and any thought outside of these is instantly suspect. But more on this later.
31 IGNORANT OF THE BIBLE. I now believe this is due to the system of studying the Bible through JW literature with very little actual Bible reading and study itself. The Pastor (Russell) had stated in the beginning that one who just read the Bible would never realize the truth no matter how long he read it, but one who read only his writings would have the truth in two years.

I suffered for many months several times over with respiratory problems and some arthritic problems which were addressed with surgeries.

I started a new cleaning business and became involved with a mountaineering company designing sleeping bags and winter clothing. We settled into life in Newport between 1969 and 1973. There were ongoing difficulties of every sort within the newly formed “bodies of elders.” This began about 1972 when a new organizational arrangement went into affect. Since each man had to be reviewed by his peers and then recommended as an elder or not, it created more problems among some. There were jealousies, charges and counter-charges. Some will say this was not the case in their area, but I can only report my own experience among some of the most sophisticated JW congregations.

Some of these meetings took on elements of the “Caine Mutiny” when a theocratic Captain Queeg went on trial with the rolling of steel bearings and every other emotion involved. One particular former congregation servant came in for a full blown attack by those men he had ruled with an iron fist for so many years. Later the poor man was to be disfellowshipped for drunkenness. I am sure this experience, though he deserved it in many ways, had contributed to his alcoholism.

The Hippie era was upon us, along with the so-called “Jesus movement.” Many surfers and young people were pouring into “the truth” and the Watchtower Society was in a metamorphose. The vice president, Fred Franz and resident scholar, had began to intimate 1975 might be the “end of the world.” This was accepted with enormous enthusiasm among JWs. In our own area some put up calendars marking off the months, weeks, and days until October 4, 1975, the predicted end. Traveling overseers and elders were quite vocal in their predictions and no one can tell me this was not the official position. Too many Watchtower spokesmen were pointing quite directly to 1975.

The October 8, 1966 Awake! was to predict: “In what year, then, would the first 6,000 years of man’s existence and also the first 6,000 years of God’s rest day come to an end? The year 1975.” (page 19) And the Watchtower: “Are we to assume from this study the battle of Armageddon will be over by the autumn of 1975, and the long-looked-for thousand-year reign of Christ will begin by then? Possible. ... It may involve only a difference of weeks or months, not years.” (w68, 8/15, page 499) By 1974 the fanatic fervor, with 1975 one year away, would state: “Reports are heard of brothers selling their homes and property and planning to finish out the rest of their days in this old system in the pioneer service. Certainly this is a fine way to spend the short time remaining before the wicked world’s end.” (Kingdom Ministry, May 1974, page 3) JW growth figures during this period must be among the greatest spurts ever experienced.

At one time in the Corona Del Mar congregation with one of the largest bodies of elders, 17 men gathered to discuss this matter in private. I was the presiding elder and listened to these men generally wanting to emphasize 1975 more and more. I called for a moderate and “balanced” approach and was seriously rebuked by those who wanted to stress the nearness of the end in 1975. In the end, most of these won out and it spread throughout the congregations and circuits.

Nazarene Commentary 2000

Mark Heber Miller

2000 All Rights Reserved