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A 'Crisis of Conscience' opens eyes - Part 1
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A 'Crisis of Conscience' opens eyes
Part 1
By Dave Havir

The writer pastors the Church of God Big Sandy and is a regular columnist for The Journal.

BIG SANDY, Texas--Since I like to help people who have been traumatized by domineering religious organizations, I would like to recommend a particular book to readers of The Journal.

Crisis of Conscience Book Cover
Crisis of Conscience is a book about the struggle between loyalty to God and loyalty to one's religion. The author is Raymond Franz, a former member of the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses. Although he wrote the first edition in 1983, I read the fourth edition from 2002.

This book has 408 pages with another 20 pages of appendixes. There are 13 chapters. If you are pressed for time, you can consider reading only the first three and last three chapters.

This book is advertised as a penetrating view of a religion's supreme council and its dramatic power over people's lives.



What's the issue?

Let's go to the beginning of the book and identify Mr. Franz's main issue.

On page 1 he writes that the examples found in his book "may have little of the high drama found in the heresy trial of a John Wycliffe, the intrigue of the international hunt for an elusive William Tyndale, or the horror of the burning at the stake of a Michael Servetus."

From page 2:

"The people I write of are from among those I know most intimately, persons who have been members of the religious group known as Jehovah's Witnesses. I am sure, and there is evidence to show, that their experience is by no means unique, that there is a similar stirring of conscience among people of various faiths. They face the same issue that Peter and John and men and women of later centuries confronted: the struggle to hold true to personal conscience in the face of pressure from religious authority. [All emphasis is Mr. Franz's.]

"For many it is an emotional tug-of-war. On the one hand, they feel impelled to reject the interposing of human authority between themselves and their Creator; to reject religious dogmatism, legalism and authoritarianism, to hold true to the teaching that Christ Jesus, not any human religious body, is 'the head of every man.'

"On the other hand, they face the risk of losing lifelong friends, seeing family relationships traumatically affected, sacrificing a religious heritage that may reach back for generations. At that kind of crossroads, decisions do not come easy."

Mr. Franz continues by showing a remarkable contrast about conscience.

On page 6 he writes:

". . . They [Jehovah's Witnesses] have taken some fifty cases to the Supreme Court of the United States in defense of their freedom of conscience . . . In other countries they have experienced severe persecution, arrests, jailing, mobbings, beatings, and official bans prohibiting their literature and preaching.

"How, then, is it the case that today any person among their members who voices a personal difference of viewpoint as to the teachings of the organization is almost certain to face judicial proceedings and, unless willing to retract, is liable for disfellowship? . . ."

Mr. Franz expressed his understanding for the need of unity, of order, of protection from pernicious teaching and of a proper respect for authority.

But on page 7 he asks some good questions:

  • What is the effect when spiritual "guidance" becomes mental domination, even spiritual tyranny?

  • What happens when the desirable qualities of unity and order are substituted for by demands for institutionalized conformity and by legalistic regimentation?

  • What results when proper respect for authority is converted into servility, unquestioning submission, an abandonment of personal responsibility before God to make decisions based on individual conscience?

Hating sin, not sinners

At this time I want to cite for you some references to show that Mr. Franz's stated motivation is not bitterness. I believe his approach is to hate the sin but not the sinner.

Mr. Franz says on page 346 that his understanding of the root cause of the problems he has encountered

"enables me to be free from brooding or harboring bitterness toward the persons involved, either individually or collectively."

On pages 347 he writes:

"Bitterness is both self-defeating and destructive. I do not know any person among those men [who participated in his disfellowship] that I would not be willing to express hospitality to in my home, with no questions asked, no issue of apology raised . . ."

Let's look at the preceding page to see why he gives these people some slack concerning their actions. He claims to understand why the religious organization shields people from personal responsibility in hurting other people.

  • He describes how the organization seems to take on a life of its own that supersedes in importance the actions of any individual. "It was the organization that did it, not us," seems to be the thinking. People do not feel a keen sense of personal responsibility for whatever hurt might be caused.

  • He continues on page 346:

    ". . . And, believing that 'the organization' is God's chosen instrument, the responsibility is passed on to God. It was His will--even if later the particular decision or the particular authoritative teaching is found wrong and changed. People may have been disfellowshiped or otherwise hurt by the wrong decisions. But the individual member of the Governing Body feels absolved of personal responsibility."

Mr. Franz seeks not to condemn the people involved.

He continues: "I express the points above, not as a means of condemnation but as a means of explanation, an attempt to understand why certain men that I consider to be honest, basically kind individuals could be party to what I feel that they, in their own hearts, would normally have rejected."

Although Mr. Franz does not condemn the people involved, he still denounces their behavior.

He continues:

"I think the concept earlier described is tragically wrong, as pernicious as it is tragic. I believe the drastic actions taken toward those persons accused of 'apostasy' were, in almost all cases, not only unjustified but repugnant, unworthy not only of Christianity but of any free society of men. Yet this effort at comprehension enables me to be free from brooding or harboring bitterness toward the persons involved, either individually or collectively . . ."

Earlier in the book Mr. Franz gives some insight concerning why he has compassion for those who perpetuate certain myths.

On page 274 he writes:

". . . In a long-distance phone call, a former Witness said to me, 'We have been followers of followers.' Another said, 'We have been victims of victims.' I think both statements are true . . . In place of rancor, I feel only compassion for those men I know, for I too was such a 'victim of victims,' a 'follower of followers.' "

Not stuck in the past

Now let's go to the end of the book and see a glimpse of his conclusion. On the last page Mr. Franz recommends that mistreated people not stay in the past.

On page 408 he writes:

"Life is 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 spiritual decline. What is done is done. The past is beyond our changing, but the present and future are things we can work with, focus on. 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 lies ahead can be fulfilling."
LEFT: Raymond Franz in 1982 at age 59. TOP: Mr. Franz more recently. The writer of Crisis in Conscience is now 81.

Why write the book?

Someone could say: If Mr. Franz were really willing to move forward, why did he write about the past in his book?

We'll let him answer the question.

On page 33 he mentions that, after nine years on the "Governing Body" of the Jehovah's Witnesses, he resigned. For two years he maintained his silence about the reason and details of his decision.

On page 34 he writes:

"During those two years, the motives, character and conduct of persons who conscientiously disagreed with the organization were portrayed in the worst of terms. Their concern to put God's Word first was represented as the product of ambition, rebellion, pride, as sin against God and Christ. No allowance was made for the possibility that any of them acted out of sincerity, love of truth or integrity to God."

He was disappointed about the approach of the leadership toward people of conscience. He described their behavior in the following ways.

  • Any misconduct or wrong attitude on the part of some who had left the organization was attributed to all who have left.

  • For those who did display a wrong attitude, no effort was made to appreciate the part that frustration, disappointment and hurt may have played in that conduct.

  • An enormous amount of rumor and even gutter-level gossip circulated among Witnesses.

Still, on page 34 he writes:

"The only ones who could have restrained such talk . . . in reality contributed to the spread of rumor by what they published."

Mr. Franz shows some excerpts of what the church's headquarters said about people who left the Jehovah's Witnesses.

On page 35 he analyzes the official material this way:

"Thus, in one paragraph, persons are described as like Satan, independent, faultfinding, stubborn, reviling, haughty, apostate and lawless. What had they actually done to earn this array of charges? Among the 'wrongs' mentioned is that of disagreeing in some unspecified way with some unspecified part of the organization's teachings . . ."

Mr. Franz describes his motive. On pages 37-38:

"This feeling for others is, I believe, a decisive factor as to the genuineness of motive . . . I know many persons who clearly evidence such [conscientious] concern, yet who are labeled as 'apostates,' 'antichrists,' 'instruments of Satan.' In case after case after case, the sole basis for such condemnation is that they could not honestly agree with all organization's teachings or policies."

Mr. Franz describes how the practice of disfellowship was used.

On page 38 he writes:

". . . After the reading of that [disfellowship] announcement no Witness was supposed to talk with the persons disfellowshiped, thereby shutting down any possibility of their expressing themselves by way of an explanation to friends and associates. For them to have done so before the disfellowshiping would have been counted as 'proselytizing,' 'undermining the unity of the congregation,' 'sowing dissension,' 'forming a sect.' For anyone to talk to them afterward would jeopardize that person's own standing, make him liable for similar disfellowshipment."

Mr. Franz mentions how disfellowshipped people found out they did not have as many true friends as they thought they had.

On page 38:

"The Scriptures tell us that, 'A true companion is loving all the time, and is a brother that is born for when there is distress.' I once thought I had many, many such genuine friends. But when the crisis reached a decisive point, I found I had only a few. Still, I count those few precious, whether they said little or much on my behalf . . ."

Mr. Franz said he believes his discussion of the absurdities that marked his time on the Governing Body is more valuable than anything he might have accomplished while he was a member of the body.

On page 39 Mr. Franz writes:

"If my past prominence could now contribute in some way to the conscientious stand of such persons being considered with a more open mind and could aid others to revise their attitude toward persons of this kind, I feel that such prominence would thereby have served perhaps the only useful purpose it ever had."

Although Mr. Franz mentions that he did not intend his book to be some kind of expose, some of the material would be shocking to unsuspecting Jehovah's Witnesses.

On page 40 he writes that his presentations of certain details

"demonstrate the extremes to which 'loyalty to an organization' can lead, how it is that basically kind, well-intentioned, persons can be led to make decisions and take actions that are both unkind and unjust, even cruel . . ."

Mr. Franz shows that he understands the difference between condemning people and discussing their actions.

On page 41 he writes:

". . . Undeniably, He [God] alone can fully and finally right all wrongs committed . . . Does this, however, call for maintaining total silence about injustice? Does it require keeping silent when error is propagated in the name of God? Is, perhaps, the discussion thereof evidence of 'disrespect for divinely constituted authority'?"

On page 42 Mr. Franz reminds the reader that the apostles and disciples spoke up against

"the very authority structure of God's covenant people--its Sanhedrin, its elders, and the divinely constituted priestly authority."

He writes:

". . . Those publicizing the wrongs did so out of respect for, and obedience to, a higher authority, and in the interests of the people who needed to know."

Mr. Franz reiterates his desire to help other people.

On page 43 he writes:

". . . My hope is that what is presented in this book may be of help and I feel it is owed to them . . ."

Protecting the organization

In the past decade many people have been appalled to watch the Roman Catholic Church ignore the children wounded by their priests as they sought to protect the image of the church and the priesthood.

Mr. Franz describes this kind of justification among the Jehovah's Witnesses.

He describes the words of a leader in the organization that reflected the thinking of others.

On page 118:

". . . In this particular session he [Ted Jaracz] acknowledged that 'the existing policy might work a measure of hardship on some individuals in the particular situation being discussed,' and said, 'It is not that we don't feel for them in the matter, but we have to always keep in mind that we are not dealing with just two or three persons--we have a large, worldwide organization to keep in view and we have to think of the effect on that worldwide organization.'

"This view, that what is good for the organization is what is good for the people in it, and that the interests of the individual are, in effect 'expendable' when the interests of the large organization appear to require it, seemed to be accepted as a valid position by many members."

His view changes

In his book Mr. Franz gives many informative details about the history of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Along the way he describes how he previously believed that the organization was the official channel of knowing God's will on the earth. Through time his belief changed.

Even though his view about government changed, notice that he was not opposed to authority, organization and teaching.

Not opposed to authority

On page 274 he writes:

"I was not opposed to authority. I was opposed to the extremes to which it was carried. I could not believe that God ever purposed for men to exercise such all-pervading authoritarian control over the lives of fellow members of the Christian congregation. My understanding was that Christ grants authority in His congregation only to serve, never to dominate."

Not opposed to organization

On pages 274 he continues:

"Similarly, I did not object to 'organization' in the sense of an orderly arrangement, for I understood the Christian congregation itself to involve such an orderly arrangement . . ."

On pages 274-275 Mr. Franz uses some interesting phrases to discuss organization.

  • The organizational structure "was only as an aid for the brothers; it was there to serve their interests, not the other way around."

  • "It was to build men and women up so that they would not be spiritual babes, dependent on men or on an institutionalized system, but able to act a full-grown, mature Christians."

  • "It is not to train them to be simply conformists to a set of organizational rules and regulations, but to help them to become persons 'having their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong.' "

  • "It must contribute toward a genuine sense of brotherhood, with the freeness of speech and mutual confidence true brotherhood brings--not a society composed of the few who are the governors and the many who are the governed."

  • It must not be "by 'making people feel the weight of one's authority' in the way the great men of the world do. It must be in the exaltation of Christ Jesus as the Head, never in the exaltation of an earthly authority structure and its officers."

Continuing on page 275 Mr. Franz writes:

". . . As it was, I felt that the role of Christ Jesus as active Head was overshadowed and virtually eclipsed by the authoritarian conduct and constant self-commendation and self-praise of the organization."


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