“Recovery” is an interesting word. For I was never to truly “recover.” Something happened in those two minutes: I lost some of my memory! I could not remember many people I had known. Nor much of my life. I knew I was a JW, my wife, children, but much of my memory was gone for awhile. For years after I could not remember people I had married in ceremony, or studied the Bible with. But, once I recognized them I could then recall all unique bits of information even they had forgotten.
I remember my great interest in commercials on television. It was as though I had never seen them. I was like an alien from another world studying humanity, and watched with great interest this planet of happy people with beautiful teeth and an endless supply of soda pop. I had to relearn many things.
This memory loss was in the long run to affect my talent as a photographer. Later, when I submitted new photography to my agents they did not believe it was mine. I had lost completely that graphic, creative eye I had before. I have never been able to explain it to myself other than some damage to my right hemisphere during either the accident, the surgery, or the near-death following the surgery.
Within a month I was to have another surgery on my left knee and thereafter several months in a full brace and wheel chair. Since I was confined to an adjustable hospital bed at home, I would have almost a year to study the dearest thing to me: the Bible. I feared I had lost much of my memory of the Bible and I began a massive and concerted review of not only the Bible, but history, science and philosophy. This included reading the dozen or more volumes of Will Durant’s Story of Civilization, and a six-volume encyclopedia of philosophy, and every National Geographic issue from 1948 to the present. I reread Hemingway, Steinbeck, Faulkner, Walt Whitman and scores of other authors. I was one big sponge and every waking moment I was absorbing information.
I reread much of the many scores of volumes of the Watchtower publications. A particular project was to teach myself Greek and to examine the JW Kingdom Interlinear Translation against ten different translations. That meant essentially reading New Testaments and comparing them against the Greek sixteen times. This voluminous study broadened my Biblical knowledge but no doubt laid the ground for doubts which would manifest themselves seven years later.
Soon, in a wheel chair, I was giving public lectures again. Slowly I became involved in congregational and circuit matters. Unfortunately, this meant a return to those political struggles within those bodies of elders. About this time there was a new “arrangement” among the elders – a permanent presiding overseer. Before this the elders rotated yearly in alphabetical order. Now a new “permanent” elder was to be recommended, that is, voted on by the body of elders during the visit of the traveling overseer, or circuit servant.
This was to become the most ridiculous mess that can be imagined. This circuit overseer was among the worst politicians I had ever seen. The body of elders was very much divided by subtle forces within of which I was unaware at the time.
I was once asked to illustrate these political shenagons which should never occur among Christians. I was witness to an effort to remove a particular brother as Theocratic Ministry School Overseer. This was a most charming older man, a former Jew who was very warm and loving with the Friends. He was an effective teacher and treated all on the school with respect. He had made a major error, however. He made the mistake of counseling the wrong elder about his treatment of his mother, also a JW. His days were numbered.
The counseled elder began the subtle manipulation of elders by discussing one by one their views of the Jewish brother’s qualifications. He would begin: “Isn’t brother so-and-so mature? That is why I was surprised to find out . . . “ When he got his best friend to agree with him, he went to the second elder and said “some of us have been re-examining brother so-and-so’s qualifications. Several of us feel he ought to be replaced by . . . “ Once he had a majority he called for a general meeting of the elders. He never approached the Jewish brother nor informed me the presiding overseer what he was doing.
I found out about the matter the morning of the general meeting which I would chair. A young elder asked me my view and when I told him I knew nothing about this, he was surprised. He had been manipulated like the others. At the meeting that evening it was the first time the Jewish brother was to learn this matter was afoot. When it was suggested he step aside, he was humble enough, though hurt, to do so. However, I began around the room of a dozen men asking each one who had approached them over this matter. I went right around the room until I came to the perpetrator who turned sickly pale. Despite this, the majority, not willing to be shamed into admitting their unloving actions, voted to remove the brother. Hurt, the Jewish elder faded into inactivity, despite my many calls on him. He simply could not harmonize such conduct with Christianity. He never returned to JWs.
I returned to the full-time work as a regular pioneer, was the presiding overseer, and, one of the anointed. This marks a man and he comes in for a considerable degree of intrigue by those who would rather be in charged. I reached a point in which the last thing I wanted to do was preside over this bunch.
At this time we were very active and had a dozen or more Bible students attending meetings with us. This was also to prove to be a source of irritation and jealousy to that growing hatred among men supposed to be spiritual.
The circuit overseer had accompanied me on one of my Bible studies with a biker and marijuana dealer. I noticed the traveling overseer was going to sleep during the study. After, on the way back to the car, the circuit overseer said: “You waste your time. He will never do anything.” I stopped, grabbed the CO by both shoulders and told him: “By your next visit that man will have cleaned up, be attending meetings, and will go our in the service from door-to-door the first time.” He grumbled something under his breath.
Six months later, when we gathered for the first day of field service during the circuit overseer’s visit I had three men in tow, each with their children accompanying them, including the former biker and hemp user. When I introduced him to the CO, the traveling elder could not recognize him. That morning I took eight persons out into the door to door field service for the first time. No one helped me with so many new ones.
Regarding these elders in Newport Beach, this circuit overseer had asked what should be done about them, and I offered: “Remove them all.” “All of them?” he asked. I said, “Yes.” He replied, “Well, you know that can’t be done?” I said, “I know.” Some of these men were guilty of having disfellowshipped people who did not deserve it. They had ill-treated others who later left “the truth” for good.
During one of the body of elders’ meetings with the circuit overseer present many of these agreed that the one man they did not want to be the permanent overseer was me. Actually, though they could never conceive of such a thing, I never wanted the job anyway. At one point I said: “Anyone who would want to preside over this group is completely out of his mind.”
At one point one of the elders made the remark that he thought if any of the anointed were present and qualified they should serve in the position. The circuit overseer made the statement: “Well, we don’t really know who the anointed are.” And then turning to me, “Isn’t that right?” I had to openly disagree with him and stated: “No, that is not so. If the Bible be true then there must be anointed Christians on earth at this time otherwise the parable to the sheep and goats makes no sense at all. Surely, we would have to agree that all the members of the GB were anointed. Are you saying you don’t believe these men are anointed?” Despite all of this, the vote of some and the influence of the circuit overseer, saw the recommendation go to me. I do not have to tell you what I would endure after he was gone.
When a group of men with a degree of power want to get rid of someone in their midst, they plan intrigues and they will try to trap the man, just as the Pharisees tried with Jesus. They will gossip and slander such a man and try to undermine him. Their wives will help in this, and their friends. When a man has no flaw in his life as a Christian, there is one thing to accuse him of: “apostasy.” This was a word which began to follow me around, though only secretly, for none would dare tackle this publicly. I learned later who those were who had accused me of “apostasy” behind my back. These men were outright cowards. These were outright Nazis. Or, Pharisaic “false brothers.” (2 Corinthians 11:3, 14, 15) Every religion has them.
The spiritual condition within this JW “paradise” was well described by these Bible verses: ‘A man of intrigues keeps sending forth contention, and a slanderer is separating those familiar with one another. He is blinking with his eyes to scheme up intrigues. Pinching his lips together, he certainly brings mischief to completion.’ (Proverbs 16:28, 30 NWT) ‘The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition.’ (Philippians 1:17 NIV) ‘For where you have envy and selfish ambition there you find disorder and every evil practice.’ (James 3:16 NIV) Since these abound in JW congregations the claims of unity within a “spiritual paradise” are somewhat exaggerated.
Many were the secret letters going back and forth between Brooklyn’s “Service Desk” which controls the congregations of the United States. These were not above trying every trick they could manufacture. They tried to prejudice Bible students who were progressing toward dedication. Some suggested I was writing my own materials and giving them to these students.
An enlightening thing was to happen right in the midst of all this. I had written a letter to Brooklyn asking a question and this letter was sent back to my own body of elders, men already predisposed to hatred. A note with a copy of my letter said: “This is a question ‘apostates’ ask. Please have the body of elders look into the matter.” Two brothers approached me, surprised the Society even did this, and our conversation dispelled any misgivings they had. However, it illustrates what the Society was beginning to do. Their use of the word “apostate” was to spread to others as proof that the Society itself considered me an “apostate.”
It is true I had massive notes on a variety of subjects. I had on one occasion discussed a question regarding Daniel 11:40-12:2 with one elder with an educated background. He was later to become a graduate of the missionary school Gilead. After I did I realized my error to discuss with even an intelligent man any question outside of “the literature.”
The word “apostate” was passed around when in fact I never discussed with anyone, other than that mentioned above, any ideas I might have. Indeed, at that time, I had no ideas whatsoever that were at variance with the Watchtower. I was loyal to a fault.
I wrote scores of letters on a variety of subjects and submitted them to Brooklyn. I received thoughts and answers to each one. Though I must say now, Brooklyn had an interesting way of avoiding the question at hand, create a straw man, and then give an answer completely unrelated to the one being asked. After years I became very much exasperated with the Ninth Floor’s answers and greatly reduced any such efforts to get answers. None of these questions came any where near to an “apostate” thought.
I did realize that these local men would not rest until they had trapped me. I resented the entire atmosphere among a group supposed to be Christian. It is interesting, that of this body of about a dozen men, many were to be later disfellowshipped, become inactive, or “leave the truth.”
Nazarene Commentary 2000©
Mark Heber Miller
©2000 All Rights Reserved