We returned with only our luggage as the total of our worldly possessions and finally settled in the mile-high art colony of Idyllwild above Palm Springs, California. This was in the winter of 1986. I was to be once again thrust into great congregational stress.
I must mention that during these last 30 years as a JW my mother and sister remained disinterested. But, before we went to the Bahamas, my sister became a JW, and soon after our return to the US, my mother was to also become a baptized JW in her seventies.
During this period I became more active with Brooklyn Bethel, submitting many letters, and more and more photography. I would average a couple trips a year, each lasting two or three weeks working with the Art and Photography Departments within the Writing Department. I would regularly meet various members of the Governing Body: Fred Franz, John Booth, Carey Barber; John Barr; Dan Sydlick, Albert Shroeder, and others. On one of these visits I was asked what my observations were. My response was not a welcome one. My sentence was: “Dour men in power suits.” I suggested one of the major problems was “hospitality,” that is, a love of strangers. I had often complained about this in writing. I knew the average laborers referred to the corporate executives as “suits.”
Paul lists “hospitality” as a requirement for elders, but I had observed that by far most elders lacked this quality. They were very clannish in their association with the general members of the congregation and seldom was there an example of a man whose house was open to strangers and visitors. Paul emphasizes this when he writes: ‘The overseer should therefore be ... hospitable.’ (1 Timothy 3:2) And, to all Christians in general: ‘Do not forget hospitality, for through it some, unknown to themselves, entertained angels.’ (Hebrews 13:2) I had observed that this qualification, along with a couple others, were completely ignored in the recommendation and appointment of men as elders. This failing was particularly prominent in southern California. I was to discover later that in some other countries JW elders were completely lacking in this Scriptural requirement: England, Holland, Switzerland being particularly noteworthy.
At any rate we find ourselves serving in another small, isolated congregation of about 30 publishers. We remained in the full-time work, but my health was progressively weakening. My wife began to work in the cleaning business to help us maintain ourselves. I was no longer able to take assignments or produce any bulk of work at all. My lung and arthritic problems were to plague me.
This new assignment plunged me into a bitter struggle within the body of elders. Formerly, this body of elders was very wealthy with the majority of men driving luxury cars and living in prestige residences. The presiding elder owned a half-million dollar home and as a consequence often entertained traveling overseers. He really was practicing simony by catering to these responsible men, including some from Brooklyn. This was to come back to haunt the whole affair. He had serious contacts and he could call in his markers to manipulate matters. Many will object to this, but those who know what was going on, will realize the truth of it.
At one evening at this home the host, with an ample bar, began to “load” drinks delivered to me. I do not remember how I noticed this was occurring, however, one of the elders present was a long time friend who had been with us in The Bahamas. I had known him to do this in the past. I happened to notice the number of “fingers” in the drinks he and the host poured for me. These men had actually video-taped a District Overseer who succumbed to such devious and deliberate intoxication. They then showed this tape to a gathering of the congregation in general with words identifying the condition of this trusting traveling overseer. As soon as I recognized what they were doing I secretly poured the drink into the bar sink and diluted it with water. I suppose it was ultimately proof of my infamous ability to hold my liquior.
Many brothers were aware of this man. They knew, for example, he would receive the contributions, convert the cash to his own pocket and write a tax-detuctible check. He got the benefit of the tax deduction as well as the extra cash. He was unable to keep any kind of confidentiality with his wife. He was known to have told his wife about a young man’s homosexual error, going so far to tell her of the exact type of sexual practice which was confidential and known only to elders. Then she spread this over the “hill.” His own son was later involved in such practices but he had successfully covered it up as presiding overseer. This entire episode is much more common among JWs than corporate executives are willing to admit. The JW whitewash is of an extraordinary kind. While many average publishers are disfellowshipped quickly for minor offenses, certain men, who, as this gentlemen once put it, “know how to play the organizational game,” can hide or get away with similar judgments.
These traveling overseers would leave our congregation with sizable contributions, probably unreported, in the form of cash. I know for sure than one received $500 and another $1,000 for their week-long stay with us. One was given a $30,000 pick-up to pull his travel trailer. About this time there was a major alternation in the Society’s dealing with this matter of the travel trailers in the United States. At some point, Brooklyn was picking up the taxes on these gifts which had to be reported to the IRS. Some traveling overseers were making $50,000 to $80,000 in gifts in the form of contributions from the congregation as well as private, cash receipts which could never be traced. But, what was reported must have put an irritating tax burden on Brooklyn.
There was an uproar over the new arrangement of not permitting these travel trailers any more. Our particular traveling overseer was quite verbal among the elders, as well as when out in service with the publishers, going so far as to criticize the GB who he described as “living in luxury in their ivory towers.” I was to have more than one traveling overseer directly condemn the Society for its treatment of these circuit overseers.
This gentlemen, our presiding overseer, was a contractor and involved in real estate. Some of his dealings were fraudulent and brought the wrath of the community down upon him. It was revealed he aided certain business partners to get their contractor’s license by falsifying state documents. The local real estate was up in arms over him. The time came to investigate this as it related to his office as an elder.
The whole episode became quite nasty with charges and counter charges. He enlisted his contacts right to the executive levels in the Service Department. I will not mention those names involved but they were long standing powers at the Service Desk. The man’s wife, who was a very dominating sort, would call and use the language of a sailor in condemning me for trying “to kill her family.” Ultimately a judicial committee was necessary and a meeting was arranged.
The man used his contacts at Brooklyn, men he had laviously cared for financially with his wealth. He was able to get us removed from the committee and a special committee was established. Later, we were called to a general meeting. When I saw the special committee arrive in a new Cadillac, wearing Rolex watches and expensive jewelry, I knew the case was lost. Sure enough, the man got away with it, though he was removed as an elder. Later, these very men who were judges, were removed or disfellowship for fraud themselves!
The problem of “love of money” was very manifest among JWs, including elders, in southern California. Paul taught that elders could not be “lovers of money.” (1 Timothy 3:3; Hebrews 13:2) It was clear that money did have an affect on which men were used on assembly parts. Those men who had the wherewithal to cater financially to circuit and district overseers ended up being the same ones used again and again when others, poorer men with better qualifications, were seldom used. I had written on this matter in the past and stated: “When we finally recommend men who are ‘not lovers of money’ we will get rid of many of the problems plaguing us as an organization.”
Later, an article was to appear which criticized the “clergy” of Christendom, while many elders were guilty of the very thing. Note:“ The worldliness of some clergy has even been exposed in the media in recent times, as for example the licentious and luxurious life-styles of some TV clergymen. One modern songwriter composed a song with the title: "Would Jesus Wear a [$10,000] Rolex [watch] on His Television Show?" The song goes on to say: "Would Jesus be political if He came back to earth, have His second home in [luxurious] Palm Springs and try to hide his worth?" In addition, more and more clergymen condone or practice homosexuality.” (The Watchtower of February 1, 1990, page 25) When this article appear I immediately sent a letter to the Writing Department. There were elders living in (luxurious) homes in Palm Springs, wearing $10,000 Rolex watches, and likely hid some of their income. They paid for expensive cruises, sumptuous dinners at famous restaurants, provided clothing, golf games and club memberships, and plenty of untraceable cash to corporate executives and traveling overseers.
How could we criticize these preachers with second homes in Palm Springs wearing Rolex watches, when there were elders, right in Palm Springs, and Idyllwild, who did the same thing? I got no response to this correspondence. Some of these wealthy homes in southern California and Hawaii were often visited by members of the GB. How could they ever criticize the “clergy” when they largely benefited, in amounts likely unreported to the IRS, from this same type? More and more I began to observe these double-standards.
Regarding “homosexuality” it must be stated that this is a disfellowshipping offense among JWs. However, there has been a large problem with it at Brooklyn headquarters. There had been what was described by a former Bethelite there at the time, “a homosexual wave,” which plagued Brooklyn Bethel. Any one who has visited or worked there will notice there are “effeminate” men working in responsible offices. One particular case was the personal nurse or attendant of the president, Fred W. Franz. He was described by one member of the Writing Department as a “raving fem who disgusts me.” Some of these almost flaunt this demeanor. This does not necessarily mean they are, in fact, practicing homosexuals, but anyone viewing from outside would not mistake their sexual orientation regarding the “inner man.” Others admitted to me that they found it distasteful. I do not judge these men, and others will disagree with my assessments, but I can only give my perceptions.
This whole affair, as well as other similar types in the southern California area, began to take their toll on me and my personal life. I was near a heart attack and taking nitroglycerin, Valium, painkillers, and other medications. I had stepped back and paused on one occasion, following my physician’s directions, and tried to identify the source of much of my stress. By far the majority of this stress came from being a JW elder in this type of atmosphere.
I was appointed the presiding overseer of this small congregation. Though there was a period of peace, other difficulties rose between elders and ministerial servants mutually involved in real estate and building construction. It seemed there would be a moment of peace and then an outbreak of fraudulent business practices, homosexuality, and other difficulties among JWs.
Nazarene Commentary 2000©
Mark Heber Miller
©2000 All Rights Reserved