Composite Christ

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Feb 272011

Those Jehovah’s Witnesses who claim to be of the 144,000 refer to themselves by many titles: the remnant, the faithful and discreet slave, and the anointed to name a few. I say that they refer to themselves by these titles because the governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses who claim to be the spokesman for the 144,000 teaches that it is the remnant of the 144,000 in their role as the faithful and discreet slave who are responsible for the teachings put forth in the pages of The Watchtower and other publication of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. So when Watchtower publications speak of the faithful and discreet slave or the remnant or the anointed, the writers are referring to themselves.

Knowing that the words “Christ” and “Messiah” mean “anointed” and having taken this title on themselves certainly puts those self-proclaimed “anointed” Jehovah’s Witnesses in quite an elevated position. In fact they at one time, taught that they themselves plus Jesus Christ constituted a composite Christ:

“Messiah’s kingdom once established, Jesus and his glorified church constituting the great Messiah, shall minister the blessings to the people they have so long desired and hoped for and prayed might come.” – Millions Now Living Will Never Die, 1920, p 88

“The word Christ signifies anointed. Anointing means designation to official position in God’s arrangement. The Christ is the instrument or channel for the blessing of mankind. The Christ is composed of Jesus the great and mighty head, and 144,000 members.” – The Harp of God, 1921, p 187

“The new creation is The Christ. The Christ is a composite body made up of many members. The Head of The Christ is Jesus Christ, God’s beloved Son. Those who are taken from amongst men, justified, begotten and anointed by the spirit of Jehovah, and who then continue faithful unto death, will constitute the members of The Christ complete.” – Creation, 1927, p 192

While they no longer claim to be part of a “composite Christ”, in more recent times, this self-styled ‘anointed’ have proclaimed that in order to keep in a good relationship with God, one must remain united with them.

“To keep in relationship with ‘our Savior, God,’ the ‘great crowd’ needs to remain united with the remnant of spiritual Israelites.” – The Watchtower, November 15, 1979, p. 27

And finally they tell the other sheep that that attitude toward them (the “anointed”) and how they treat them will be the determining factor in their judgement by Christ.

“Your attitude toward the ‘wheatlike anointed brothers’ of Christ and the treatment you accord them, will be the determining factor as to whether you go into ‘everlasting cutting-off’ or receive ‘everlasting life’.” – The Watchtower, August 1, 1981, p. 26)

Notice in these quotes from the Watchtower that the “anointed” soften the blow of their words by referring to themselves in the third person. If you take the third-person speech out of that last quote, these who claim to be the ‘faithful slave’ are really saying:

“Your attitude toward the US and the treatment you accord US, will be the determining factor as to whether YOU go into ‘everlasting cutting-off’ or receive ‘everlasting life’.”

Behavior (Control) During Prayers

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Nov 212009

I generally avoid using terms such as mind control cult when talking  about Jehovah’s Witnesses, but every so often the writers of the Watchtower publish something that makes it hard not to. Although I was a Jehovah’s Witness for over two decades and have been out now for over a dozen years, it still amazes me the degree to which Witness leadership seeks to exercise control over their followers.

The November 15, 2009 Watchtower study article (page 6 par 19) contains an example of this:

When we are being represented in public prayer, we need to display reverential “fear of God.” (1 Pet 2:17) There may be a proper time and place for some actions that would be inappropriate at a Christian meeting.(Eccl 3:1) For instance, suppose someone sought to have all in a group link arms or hold hands during prayer. This might offend or distract some, including visitors who do not share our beliefs. Some marriage mates might discreetly hold hands, but if they embraced each other during public prayer, those who got a glimpse of such conduct might be stumbled. They might think or get the impression that the couple was focusing on their romantic relationship instead of reverence for Jehovah. Out of deep respect for him, let us therefore “do all things for God’s glory” and avoid conduct that could distract, shock or stumble anyone.- 1 Cor 10:31,32; 2 Cor 6:3.

The first step to understanding this paragraph is grasping the concept of “being represented in prayer.” Not all Jehovah’s Witnesses are allowed to pray at meetings. Only “spiritually mature” men are allowed to open or close meetings with prayer lest some spiritually less mature man (or God forbid, a woman) might say something not in keeping with current Witness teaching or something that is otherwise inappropriate.

The idea of being stumbled over one thing or other is a common theme in Jehovah’s Witness teaching and culture. Jehovah’s Witness leadership take perfectly valid warnings about stumbling from Jesus and Paul and effectively employ them to their own ends. If they want to prevent the rank and file Witness from engaging in some practice or from adopting some form of dress or grooming, all they have to do is mention that someone might be stumbled over it. By doing that, they implicitly give permission for all Jehovah’s Witnessnes to be stumbled over it. At that point all the true Witnesses will refrain from that behavior.

By doing it that way they have effectively banned the practice or mode of dress without doing so explicitly. They have avoided the appearance of a mind control cult while exercising  the same amount of control over their followers as would any cult.

Nov 032009

In their sixth and final point, the writers of the Awake! article tell us:

6. When the laity are Biblically uniformed, they can be easily be misled by clerics. Indeed, history contains may examples of such abuses.

I have to agree with this point. I agree that Biblically uninformed and misinformed Jehovah’s Witness laity have been mislead by their clergy – both paid and unpaid. Now, having said that, I will say that this point is really moot. Whether we are Jehovah’s Witnesses or Congregationalists or Baptists or Methodist or are non-denominational, we need to take responsibility for our own Biblical literacy. If we abdicate that responsibility and leave it to others whether it be an organization or elders or pastors, we are just setting ourselves up for failure and disappointment.

The problem with the Jehovah’s Witnesses is that they are taught that the way to be Biblically informed is to stick with the organization’s program of “Bible” study. The organization does not really foster spiritual growth, but keeps its adherents in a perpetual state of spiritual immaturity and spiritual dependence on the organization for their spiritual food. The same does happen within Christendom, but only within very unhealthy churches. There are a lot of very healthy churches out there and I have been blessed to have been able to fellowship with many of them. Those healthy churches foster spiritual growth in the individual Christian and within the church as a whole. While the scene in Christendom is not perfect, it is not nearly as bad as the writers of the Watchtower and Awake would like to paint it.

Jehovah’s Witnesses & Clergy – Part 4

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Oct 282009

In the third and fourth points that they present, the writers of the Awake! article bring up the subject of finances and the clergy. First, point number three:

3. A paid clergy class can impose a heavy financial burden on the laity, especially when the former have lavish lifestyles.

This is a sweeping generalization that was presented with neither evidence nor example. How many of the clergy really have lavish lifestyles? Yes there are a few. In 2007, accusations of financial improprieties spawned an investigation of TV preachers including Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Eddie Long, Joyce Meyer and Paula White by Senator Charles Grassley who is the ranking Republican on the Seanate Finance Committee. But are these really typical of the clergy? Clergy such as those being investigated by Senator Grassley are very rare. Most clergy are not on television and do not enjoy a lavish lifestyle.

Rather than relying on generalizations based on a small minority, I did some research on just how much pastors in mainline denominations are paid. The Massachusetts United Church of Christ’s “Clergy Compensation Booklet” for the year 2000 contains salary guidelines for 2001. The salary guidelines range from $24,000 – 36,000 per annum for a pastor with 0-3 years experience serving in a church with 0-150 members to $45,000 to $67,500 per annum for a pastor with over 10 years experience in a church with over 1000 members1. The Illinois UCC guidelines for 2009 call for a base salary for a newly graduated pastor serving a church of up to 75 attendance of $32,130 and up to $46,130 for a pastor of 15 years experience serving a church of 400+ average weekly attendance2. Salaries such as these will hardly support a lavish lifestyle.

In an ancillary point, the writers try to draw a distinction between Christian clergy and Jehovah’s Witness overseers.

Christian overseers, on the other hand, care for their financial needs by doing normal secular work, thus setting a good example for others.

It is true that elders in local congregations are not paid. But neither are the elders in most churches that I know of.

The “Christian overseers” that are mentioned here evidently do not include circuit and district overseers and members of the branch committees and the governing body. All these are compensated for their work as overseers and are not engaged in any sort of secular work.

The circuit overseer is the overseer that the rank and file Jehovah’s Witnesses are most familiar with. He visits each congregation about twice a year, each visit lasting a week.  At the end of each visit, the circuit overseer submits his expenses for the week to the congregation he is visiting and they reimburse him for those. He is also provided with a monthly stipend, a leased car (a Buick, last I knew), health insurance, and housing. And, as I mentioned earlier, these are members of the Order of Special Full-Time Servants and as such have taken a Simple Vow of Poverty which allows them to receive their compensation and other contributions from congregations and their members tax-free.

Along with their monthly stipend, their leased car and their other benefits, circuit overseers are often greeted by some in the congregations with the “green handshake”.  I knew of a couple of families in my old congregation who would slip the C.O. a hundred at each visit – tax-free, of course.

Bivocational Pastors

A phenomenon among Christian denominations that goes almost without notice by the Jehovah’s Witnesses is that of bivocational pastors. These are pastors that also have secular jobs. Now that I have looked into this, I’ve found there are more of them than I ever realized. There are enough among Southern Baptist churches that there is a Southern Baptist Bivocational Ministers Association. In a 2002 press release “Bivocational Ministry Emerging As Option” that organizations says “In fact, only 60-65 percent of churches have what bivocational ministers prefer to call “fully funded” pastors.”

I work with two bivocational pastors. Both have challenging positions as engineers where we work along with their pastoral duties. I was recently chatting with one of them about his schedule. He works secularly from 9:00 to 5:00 (or later) then his pastoral appointments begin at 6:30 PM and his day doesn’t end until midnight or 1 AM. Then of course, Sunday is extremely busy.

Point number 4 that the writers of the Awake! article raised speaks to the motivation of the clergy.

4. Because a clergyman may depend on others for financial support, he might be tempted to dilute the Bible’s message in order to please the parishoners.

Yet another generalization that is presented without any evidence. This is an assertion that they have made before, but with no examples. While this may occur, is it really the norm? I would say that it is much more common that a Jehovah’s Witness elder would be careful to preach and teach what he was expected to knowing that to do otherwise could cost him his family and friends rather than a few bucks.

In summary, while the Jehovah’s Witness leadership and those who write for them attempt to call into question the motives and work of the clergy, from what I have seen, most of them are people who are answering a calling to their ministries and working hard to do with is right.

  1. Clergy Compensation Booklet, Third Edition, Commission for Leadership Development, Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ, 2000 []
  2. 2009 Guidelines for the Call and Support of Ministry Leadership, The Ottawa Table of the Illinois Conference UCC []

Jehovah’s Witnesses & Clergy – Part 3

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Oct 102009

Now, let’s get back to the article in the August, 2009 issue of “Awake!”

The article raises 6 points where they say that the churches have deviated from the Bible and where harm has been the result. The first point reads:

1. The separation of a clergy class implies that one must have a special calling to be a minister of God. Yet, the bible says that all true Christians should serve God and praise his name. (Romans 10:9, 10) As for ministering within the congregation, Christian men in general are encouraged to reach out for the privilege, which is the custom among Jehovah’s Witnesses. – 1 Timothy 3:1

The clergy-laity distinction does not imply anything like that. It does imply that different people are called to different kinds of ministries, some of which involve leadership. This is what Ephesians 4:11 tells us. :

Eph 4:11 (NASB) – And He gave some {as} apostles, and some {as} prophets, and some {as} evangelists, and some {as} pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

And while we are on the subject of callings and ministries, let’s also include the fifth point that the writers of the Awake! article make. I think it is very closely related to the first:

5. The clergy-laity distinction tends to cause lay people to relegate religion to the clergy, while the laity just turn up for weekly services.

While this may be the case in some churches, it is very different from what I see in the churches where I am involved. The pastors are not the only ones involved in ministry. Lay people serve as Sunday school teachers, ushers and greeters.  Others are involved in music and technical ministries. At my church, we recently had several of  our youth travel to the mid-west to minister to the elderly in a nursing home, another group went on a short-term mission to Guatemala and last Sunday we heard from a woman in our church who had traveled  to Ethiopia to minister to orphans there.

Besides those ministries that are more or less tied to a church, there are many other opportunities for ministry within various communities. For several years I was involved in the Christian Motorcyclists Association. CMA is one of several  ministries that serves the motorcycle community. A few years ago, I came across 8 different ministries at Bike Week in Laconia NH. There are also aircraft, boating, hiking and various sports related ministries where Christians minister to others within the community of the sport or activity they enjoy.

Along with all that there are also ministries that reach out to people of various professions, ages and ethnicities.

From what I have seen, the churches that are thriving are the ones where the clergy actively encourage the laity to be involved in various ministries. Many churches will periodically have ministry fairs where each ministry has a table or a booth where members of the congregation can find out more about the ministry and how they can be involved.

But all of this ministry activity by lay people in churches receives scant attention from the writers of Watchtower publications.

In the next part we will cover what the Awake! article says about the clergy and finances.

Jehovah’s Witnesses & Clergy – Part 2

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Sep 012009

Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Have Clergy?

As we examine what the Jehovah’s Witness’ leadership have to say about the clergy of the Christian churches, we need to look at whether or not they have their own clergy.

Part of their criticism of the clergy is that they constitute a class that is exalted above the laity. Watchtower publications will tell you that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a classless society and that all Jehovah’s Witnesses are ordained ministers, becoming such at their baptism as Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Although all baptized Jehovah’s  Witnesses are ordained ministers, their leadership is very hierarchical. The Jehovah’s Witness organization is organized geographically into zones, branches, districts, circuits and congregations with zones covering the largest area and congregations the smallest. In each division there are those who hold positions of oversight. The governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses oversees the whole organization.

Having served as a congregation elder for 10 years and now having been involved in other churches, it seems to me that the congregation elders, circuit overseers, district overseers, branch overseers and the governing body constitute a clergy class. While congregation elders are unpaid, all the others are compensated monetarily and with other benefits such as health insurance, leased cars and living expenses.

Overseers other than congregation elders are also members of the Order of Special Full-Time Servants and as members of this religious order have taken a Simple Vow of Poverty which allows them to receive their compensation and other contributions from congregations and their members tax-free.

While congregation elders are not paid, I would say that they are, in effect, clergy. They are said to be appointed by holy spirit, they hold ecclesiastical tribunals to decide judicial matters, the rest of the congregation are bound to support the decisions of these tribunals while not being privy to the evidence, and they are provided material by headquarters  that is not provided to the rest of the congregation.

Jehovah’s Witnesses and Clergy Privilege

Despite their proclaiming that they have no clergy class, congregation elders have on several occasions invoked clergy privilege when called upon to testify against child molesters in their midst.  Such was the case near me in New Hampshire when congregation elders refused to testify in the cases of  Gregory Blackstock and Paul Berry.

So, they try to have it both ways. On the one hand they want to allow some of their leaders to enjoy the privileges that accrue to the clergy of other religious organizations, such as tax advantages and clergy privilege, while on they other hand they try to characterize their leaders as not being “clergy” in order to differentiate themselves from the churches of Christendom. As with so many other areas with Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is a distiction without a difference.

Jehovah’s Witnesses & Clergy – Part 1

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Aug 302009

The August 2009 edition of the “Awake!” magazine contains an article entitled “Should There Be a Clergy-Laity Distinction?” This article is rife with inaccuracies and generalizations. I will attempt to cover these in a series of posts.

Before considering the content of the Awake! article, it’s important to establish how Jehovah’s Witnesses view the Christian churches and their clergy. To say that the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses is critical of Christian churches and their clergy is a huge understatement. Consider this 1994 quote from a 1958 speech by the then-vice-president of the Watch Tower Society:

14 Exposure of the clergy by the Jeremiah class has been powerful. For example, at the 1958 Divine Will International Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York City, the vice president of the Watch Tower Society presented a statement that said in part: “Without any double talk or hesitation we declare this root cause of all the crime, delinquency, hatred, strife, prejudice, . . . and mad confusion to be wrong religion, false religion; behind which is man’s unseen enemy, Satan the Devil. The men most responsible for the world condition are the religious instructors and leaders; and the most reprehensible of these are the religious clergy of Christendom. . . . After all these years since World War I, Christendom stands in a relationship toward God like that of Israel in Jeremiah’s day. Yes, Christendom faces a destruction more frightful and devastating than that which Jeremiah saw happen to Jerusalem.” – The Watchtower, March 1, 1994, p 11, “Jehovah’s Judgment Against False Teachers”

The writers of the Watchtower apply the term “reprehensible” to the clergy time and again. Here are a few examples. In the first two, the Watchtower called the clergy “the most reprehensible”,

20 As the most reprehensible ones among the people of Christendom, the clergy and religious leaders will drink the potion of death: “For from the prophets of Jerusalem [prefiguring Christendom] apostasy has gone forth to all the land.”—Jer. 23:15. – The Watchtower, Sept. 1, 1979, p. 28


Today, the most reprehensible group is identified as “the man of lawlessness,” made up of the self-exalted clergy of Christendom, who have taken the lead in opposing and persecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses.—Matthew 9:36; 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4. – The Watchtower, Jan. 15, 1988 p. 12

In 1990, the February 1 issue contained two articles devoted to the subjects of “God’s Judgement Against the ‘Man of Lawlessness'” and “Exposing the ‘Man of Lawlessness'”. In these, the Watchtower says that the clergy are more reprehensible because of their claiming to be Christian.

12 Christendom’s clergy are more reprehensible in shedding blood than other religious leaders. Why? Because in addition to taking God’s name upon themselves, they have taken Christ’s too. They thereby obligated themselves to follow the teachings of Jesus. (John 15:10-14) But they have not followed those teachings, thus bringing great reproach upon both God and Christ. The responsibility for bloodshed by the clergy has been both direct, in the Crusades, other religious wars, inquisitions, and persecutions, and indirect, in condoning wars in which members of the churches killed their fellowman in other lands. – The Watchtower, Feb. 1, 1990,  p. 17, “God’s Judgment Against ‘the Man of Lawlessness’”

and, the second article:

13 Jesus said that the “good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14) As part of this worldwide witness, God’s servants are under obligation to make known his judgment against false religion, especially the clergy of Christendom. These are more reprehensible in God’s sight because they claim to be Christian. They must be exposed so that those who want to serve God can be freed from their influence and can take the proper steps for survival. As Jesus said: “The truth will set you free.”—John 8:32. – The Watchtower, Feb. 1, 1990, p. 23,  “Exposing ‘the Man of Lawlessness’”

So, putting this all together, the Watchtower tells us that the clergy are “self-exalted”, that they “have taken the lead in opposing and persecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses”, that they bear responsibility for bloodshed directly for the “Crusades, other religious wars, inquisitions, and persecutions”, and indirectly  “in condoning wars in which members of the churches killed their fellowman in other lands.”, that they are “more reprehensible in God’s sight because they claim to be Christian.”

While some of the clergy of both the past and the present may be responsible for some of the things the Watchtower accuses them of, the Watchtower attaches blame to all of the clergy based on the principle they explain here:

38 However, it is not to be forgotten that the “man of lawlessness” is not a single individual religious leader like the pope of Rome or the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Athens, the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople (Istanbul) or other religious patriarch. The foretold “lawless” one is a composite “man,” the whole religious clergy of the professed “Christian” church. Of course, what one prominent member of this clerical “man” does attaches blame to all the other members of the clergy class for their agreeing with what is done or not protesting against it or for acquiescing in it and remaining with the clergy organization. They all share a community responsibility and culpability for what a member of the clergy class does in a representative way as when speaking or acting for the whole group. It is what the clergy class as a whole does or joins in doing through the centuries of time that fulfills the prophecy concerning the “man of lawlessness.” – God’s Kingdom of a Thousand Years Has Approached!, pp. 380-381, par. 38, “Bringing the ‘Man of Lawlessness’ to Nothing”

So, according to the Watchtower, all the clergy share the responsibility for what any of the others did. Please take note of this principle of “community responsibility” that the Watchtower invokes against the clergy. It will come up again in a future post.

Has the Watchtower Society Ever Lied?

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Sep 032005

As with so many articles here, all this started with a post to the Jehovah’s Witness Forum on AOL. A Jehovah’s Witness there wrote:

The Society has never lied to us (the learners, the readers). A mistake is different, very different than a deliberate lie. The scripture says that imposters will advance from bad to worse, misleading and being misled. This is not the case with the WT Society. Mistakes have been discerned, they have been corrected in the proper light.

That is a wonderful sentiment, one that I held for many years. But on closer examination, it does not hold up. In the 8/15/1993 Watchtower, page 9, in the article ” Why You Need to Attend Christian Meetings”, the Watchtower made the following statement:

Jehovah’s Witnesses have consistently shown from the Scriptures that the year 1914 marked the beginning of this world’s time of the end and that “the day of judgment and of destruction of the ungodly men” has drawn near.

An examination of older Watchtower publications shows that Jehovah’s Witnesses (or Bible Students as they were previously known) did have NOT “consistently shown from the Scriptures that the year 1914 marked the beginning of this world’s time of the end…” Rather, the Watchtower pointed to another date for the beginning of the “time of the end.” In the Finished Mystery book, on page 239, the Watchtower Society says:

This is without question a fulfillment of the prophecy testifying to the “time of the end.” These physical facts can not be disputed and are sufficient to convince any reasonable mind that we have been in the “time of the end” since 1799.

Also, from the March 1, 1922 Watch Tower:

The indisputable facts, therefore, show that the “time of the end” began in 1799; that the Lord’s second presence began in 1874.

The book Creation, published by the WTS in 1927 has a very detailed explanation as to why they felt 1799 was the beginning of the time of the end. Here are a few quotes. Creation, page 293:

Napoleon began this Egyptian campaign in 1798, finished it, and then returned t.o France on October 1, 1799. The campaign is briefly, yet graphically, described in the prophecy, verses 40-44; and its being completed in 1799 marks, according to the prophet’s own words, the beginning of “the time of the end”.

Creation, page 294

Twelve hundred and sixty years from 539 A. D. brings us to 1799, which is another proof that 1799 definitely marks the beginning of “the time of the end “.

Creation, page 295

From shortly after 1799, the date of the beginning of  “the time of the end”, we should expect to find an increase of knowledge, particularly with reference to the Bible.

Going back just a few years to 1921, in the book The Harp of God says on page 236:

“The time of the end” embraces a period from 1799 A.D., as above indicated, to the time of the complete overthrow of Satan’s empire and the establishment of the kingdom of the Messiah. The time of the Lord’s second presence dates from 1874, as above stated. The latter period is within the first named, of course, and in the latter part of the period known as “the time of the end.”

Another example is from the 1/15/93 Watchtower, page 5 in the article “Caught Away to Meet the Lord’-How?”:

The Watchtower has consistently presented evidence to honesthearted students of Bible prophecy that Jesus’ presence in heavenly Kingdom power began in 1914. Events since that year testify to Jesus’ invisible presence.

The WT actually taught for many years that Jesus returned (invisibly, of course) in 1874 and that he took power in heaven in 1878. So, are these just “mistakes” that were corrected in due time, or were both statements from the 1993 Watchtower deliberate attempts to misead the readers of the Watchtower as to what the Watchtower taught in the past?

Kennebunk Maine Kingdom Hall Burning – 1940

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Mar 272005

The Rest of the Story

Living just south of Kennebunk Maine as I do, I often heard the story of how a mob, irrate over Jehovah’s Witnesses’ refusal to salute the flag, attacked and burned the Kingdom Hall there on June 9, 1940. As is the case with so many things, there is more to the story.

I always pretty much took the story at face value and had never thought of investigating the details behind the incident until I came across an item related to in on E-Bay.

The Kennebunk incident took place just days after the United States Supreme Court overturned lower court decisions and found against the Gobitis family whose children were expelled from their school in Pennsylvania for refusing to salute the flag. Here is some background on the Minersville School District v. Gobitis case and the only mentions of the Kennebunk incident in Watchtower publications.

On November 6, 1935, Lillian and William Gobitis, children of Walter Gobitis, one of Jehovah’s witnesses, refused to salute the flag and were expelled from the public school at Minersville, Pennsylvania. Their case, pressed in the federal courts, attracted nationwide attention, becoming the test case for the entire country. It was fought up to the Supreme Court at Washington. Seventy-year-old lawyer J. F. Rutherford, president of the Watch Tower Society, personally appeared before the United States Supreme Court and argued the case on behalf of Jehovah’s witnesses. – The Watchtower, 7/15/1955, p 428, “Part 14: Fight Carried into the Law Courts”

Despite “Judge” Rutherford’s best efforts, on June 3, 1940, the Supreme Court, in an 8-1 decision, found in favor of the Minersville School District. The Court later reversed itself on Flag Day, June 14, 1943, in the case of West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. Quoting from former Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox, in his book “The Court and the Constitution” (1987), the Watchtower writes:

Professor Cox continues his account: “Persecution of the Witnesses increased. In some quarters, notably Texas, Witnesses were attacked by mobs for their refusal to salute the flag, and they were sometimes held as ‘Nazi agents.'” In Maine, one Kingdom Hall was burned. In one town in Illinois, the whole population “turned out to attack some sixty Witnesses.” – Awake! 6/8/1988, p. 23, “The Principal Victims of Religious Persecution”

Lillian Gobitis mentioned the Kennebunk incident in her story that was published in the Awake! magazine in 1993.

This decision unleashed an almost unimaginable wave of terror. Across the country, it was open season on Jehovah’s Witnesses. People thought they were doing their patriotic duty by attacking us. Within days the Kingdom Hall at Kennebunk, Maine, was torched. – Awake!, 7/22/1993, p 15, “The Courage to Put God First”

So far, it seems like a simple case of an angry mob torching a Kingdom Hall. But there is a bit more to it. This brings us to the item on E-Bay. From time to time I check there for Watchtower related items. One day I saw a photograph up for bid that pictured two men holding Watchtower magazines. The information on it indicated that the two men were Jehovah’s Witnesses who had been arrested for assault with intent to kill after allegedly firing shotguns into the mob that was gathered outside the Kennebunk Kingdom Hall on the night of June 9, 1940, the night that the Hall was torched. I successfully bid on the picture, which is shown below.

Carrol S. Madsen and Joseph Leathers in the Sanford, Maine jail after being arrested for assault with intent to kill.

Glued to the back of the picture is the original Associated Press release about these two men.

The Associated Press press release attached to the back of the photograph above.

The next year, the American Civil Liberties Union published “The Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses”. In this work, the ACLU quotes from Mrs. Gertrude Bobb’s affidavit in which she describes the events leading up to the incident.

The Kennebunk Case

The shocking events at Kennebunk, Maine in the early summer of 1940 were preceded by a long campaign against Jehovah’s Witnesses, who maintained in the town a Kingdom Hall.

The culmination of the attack on the night of June 9 resulted in charges not against the assailants but against Jehovah’s Witnesses, who fired some shots from inside the Hall. Nobody was killed or wounded. One member of Jehovah’s Witnesses was convicted of assault with intent to kill and his conviction appealed to the Supreme Court. One man still remains to be tried. Four others were acquitted. Persons charged with burning Kingdom Hall were arrested and tried but all acquitted.

The following is from an affidavit of Mrs. Gertrude A. Bobb, a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose husband was largely responsible for the conduct of Witness work. Mrs. Bobb’s affidavit recounts events after Jehovah’s Witnesses were forced out of a rented hall because of mob violence:

“One day during the last week of September, 1939, at approximately 5 p.m. I went with Edwin Bobb, my husband, and Richard Trask to the home of a deputy sheriff of York ‘County, to tell him of the plans of the French Catholics to break up our meeting, and to ask for police protection. I waited outside in the car while my husband and Richard Trask went inside. In a few minutes they came out and I saw the sheriff swinging his arms and heard him shouting ‘Don’t come here for protection and don’t go to any other deputy sheriffs because they are Legionnaires, too. You’ll get no protection from them.

“We held the meeting without police protection. Kingdom Hall was packed with hoodlums. While I was sitting there a rock crashed in and missed my head by about a foot.

“The following Sunday night we held another meeting and Bible study in the same hall. Albout 8:30, rocks and all kinds of fruit and garbage were thrown through the windows, breaking every window in the front. There were others in the alley crashing windows in the back. We were forced to leave the building. After we left, the hoodlums crashed the doors down and broke all the furniture. The mob downstairs was estimated at about 2,000, among whom there were a handful of Salvation Army men and women in uniform. . . .

“The night after Memorial Day, a mob attacked Kingdom Hall, crashing in the front, breaking the windows and even the walls. I jumped into the car and drove to the nearest telephone to call the state police. In the meantime the hoodlums had returned and two got out of a car with their arms full of beer bottles. As they stepped into the yard to throw them, a shot was fired from the building. The two men dropped the bottles and fled.

“The next day Pat McCab, a state policeman, told my husband that our lives were in danger. He said he was telling this to us because he was afraid the whole thing was getting beyond the point where the state police could control it. My husband told him we would stick it out and protect Kingdom Hall even if we were to be shot.

“On Friday night, a large car’ swung out from the road heading right for our front doors. When they were several feet from the doors, we switched the lights on. They quickly swerved out into the road again and drove around in circles in front of the hall. I went out to take their license number. At first they warned me to go back into the house but when I wouldn’t leave, they tried to run me over.

“The next night, June 7th, our service meeting had just been completed when a hail of rocks hit the building in the rear. But when we got back there, no one was in sight. We called for an officer in Kennebunk but we couldn’t get one. We heard that a mob was threatening to tar and feather us. So we wired the Governor and the Attorney-General of Maine, appealing to them for protection. The Governor was out of town and we received no answer from him or from the Attorney- General. We made preparations to protect our lives as well as Kingdom Hall.

“On Saturday about eight cars of hoodlums began circling the hall. A weird light was thrown across our back yard and the field alongside of the hall. We later discovered it came from the home of the brother of the man who got shot, Mr. MacDonald. These cars would come up almost to the front porch but they only stayed there a moment and then swerved out into the road again. This sort of thing kept up until 2:30 in the morning when a car pulled up in front of the Kingdom Hall and three men got out and started for the Hall. As soon as the rocks started to fly, I said ‘Lights !’ Then I heard gun-fire but I couldn’t tell how many guns were fired.

“A little later the state police came and reported that two men were hurt and in the hospital. They took our names and addresses and the guns, and left. About 4:30 we decided that the mob would be after us, so we started to get our car which was about a mile away. The state police picked us up, telling us we were under arrest. They also picked up two others who were just leaving the hall to go to a friend’s house.

“Later the police said that the women had been taken into custody for their protection but that the men were under arrest, one charged with assault and attempt to murder and the other with being an accessory. Mv husband and I were put in the same cell. A little later the father of one of the boys that was hurt came up to our cell and said, pointing at Eddie, ‘I’ve got you where I want you, you fat bastard. You got my boy and I’ll get you the minute you get out.” He turned to me and said “I’ll get you too. I’ll drag you through Biddeford and make you salute something.’

“The police later told us that the mob was very vicious and that our lives were not worth a nickel out in the streets. I later learned that six of Jehovah’s Witnesses had been arrested and charged with assault and attempt to murder.”- The Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses, American Civil Liberties Union – January 1941, pp 16-19 – from

Gertrude Bobb’s account confirms the substance of the Associated Press release. On a personal note, I knew the Richard Trask that Mrs. Bobb mentions, first when he was in the Rochester N.H. congregation and later when he moved to the Kittery Maine congregation. I don’t remember ever talking with him about the Kennebunk incident.

After quoting Gertrude Bobb’s affidavit, the ACLU document went on to relate another interesting event in the history of JWs in Maine:

In another Maine village, North Windham, a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses has been convicted of murder resulting from an unprovoked assault by a garage man to whom he had tried to play phonograph records. The garage man threatened and struck the Witness with a tire iron and in a scuffle the Witness, Arthur F. Cox, pulled a gun and shot the garage man. He alleged self-defense. The case is on appeal to the Supreme Court. – The Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses, American Civil Liberties Union – January 1941, pp 16-19 – from

Another old-timer that I knew was supposedly with Cox when this happened. I’ve heard a couple versions of what happened to Cox after this. If anyone has any more information on Arthur Cox and this incident, please let me know.

Witnesses Comply with South’s Laws, Quiet on Rights Front

 Civil Rights  Comments Off on Witnesses Comply with South’s Laws, Quiet on Rights Front
Jan 232005

Amsterdam News (New York)
June 29, 1963
p. 22

Jehovah’s Witnesses condone the separation of their Negro and white members in the South, merely out of compliance with Southern segregation law. “But compliance with that law doesn’t mean that we believe that the races were meant by God to be separated or that we believe that Negroes are inferior to whites.” Ulysses Glass, an official of the sect, told The Amsterdam News this week while acknowledging the veracity of charges of segregation.

“The law doesn’t interfere with our mission of teaching God’s word. He doesn’t require that everybody must be together in order to teach his word,” continued Glass, adding that those are the reasons why Witnesses have not taken any position against the Southern law or advocate violation of it.

Won’t Fight

On the other hand, Witnesses refuse to serve in the nation’s fighting forces and salute the American flag, the first of which is mandatory of every healthy American of draft age.

They reconcile compliance with the Southern segregation law with their failure to serve in the armed forces and salute the American flag on the grounds that military service compels them to slay their fellow men while saluting of the flag abridges their religious freedom, Glass explained.

“We believe in Jesus’ teaching: ‘Give unto Caesar those things which are Caesars and to God those things which also are his,” said Glass.

“That is why we comply with Southern law and will not recognize segregation when the law is changed.” he added.

No Government

“We don’t recognize government by man, only government by God,” Glass continued.

That is also the reason why the Witnesses have not taken any position on the civil rights struggle, as also charged, said Glass.

“Throughout the remainder of the country,” Witnesses are all treated alike,” Glass stated. “Witnesses are also district supervisors (one of the high leadership positions) and are integrated here in our staff at headquarters (77 Sands St., Brooklyn).”

The charges of segregation were made by Jackie Williams, a young woman of 1296 Dean St., Brooklyn, who said she had asked clarification in a recent letter to the Watchtower Bible and Trace Sciety [sic].

Miss Williams said she never received a reply.