Copyright © 1999BEACON All rights reserved.
Our Search for Truth and Justice
It was a hot summer day in 1940 in Grand Coulee, Washington. I was playing in a tub of water out on our front lawn when an amicable-looking couple came walking up the hill toward our house. They came to deliver a load of books that my father had bought from them at his hardware store downtown. I ran dripping wet to hear what they were saying to my mother as they explained to her about the books. They were Jehovah's Witnesses, and they had been ministering from store-to-store when they met my father. As they talked, I was deeply impressed by what they were saying, even at six years of age. The seemingly ordinary incident is etched indelibly in my memory, as vividly as if it happened only a few days ago, for it was the beginning of a profound change in our life course, and thus began our quest for truth and justice.
There were four people, called "pioneers" and "special pioneers," who had come to our area to bring the message of the Watchtower religion. As we continued to study the Bible with them, I was especially drawn to the older man of the group whose name was Gus Gerkhe. His loving devotion to God and honest spirituality shined through his patient, detailed reasoning of the Scriptures. Few people I have ever known since could match this man for his warmth, kindness and justice in dealing with people, and it has held a lasting influence on me until this day.
Two years after that first encounter, I was the first one in my family to be dedicated ("consecrated" as we called it then) and baptized at the tender age of eight years and five months on September 20, 1942, in Spokane, Washington. My mother was baptized the following year. World War II was raging and mobbings against the Witnesses were not uncommon because of our stance of political neutrality, refusing to fight in the war or even salute the flag, at a time when emotionally-charged patriotism was at a peak while the country's young men were dying in battle.
The pioneers who had come to Grand Coulee eventually moved away to other towns, some distance of two or three hours away, to promote more new congregations. As they left our group with no adult men, it fell upon my mother to assume the role of all "servant" positions for our little congregation, conducting the meetings mainly in our home for about the next six years. I was the only Jehovah's Witness child in our elementary school. I was required to leave the classroom whenever they said the "Pledge of Allegiance" to the flag or stood for the National Anthem. After school some kids would chase me down the hill to a sand pit for a scuffle. I staved them off as best I could by hitting them with my little metal lunch box. Then I got the bright idea of putting a sack of rocks in the lunch box to give it more weight. I started hollering back at them one of the popular kid jeers of the time, "two on one, two on one is [coward's] fun." That succeeded in getting them to come at me one kid at a time, and my rock-filled lunch box made an effective defense that way. This persecution only heightened my conviction that we were in an important work for God Almighty in a critical time, and were under attack for our efforts by Satan the Devil.
In 1948, post-war patriotism had somewhat simmered down, and more pioneers moved into our area to promote Bible studies and build the congregation. Thereby, the congregation grew and the meetings were moved from our home to a building my father owned in town. Although he never joined the Witnesses himself, he was always favorable to them and supported my mother and me in our dedication. So by the time I was in high school, there were other Witness kids whose family's had been attracted to the message of Jehovah's Witnesses. One English teacher became quite interested in letting us have discussions during class; even debate with classmates of the evangelical faith to allow both sides of the issues to be presented. Quite a change from the situation in my elementary school years.
On May 1, 1952, at 18 years of age, I entered full-time "pioneer" service in Ephrata, Washington. By October that year a congregation was formed, and I continued to pioneer with that congregation for over 22 years. In all honesty, I have wonderful memories looking back over those years. I had some exhilarating experiences and met a lot of good people from various backgrounds, and our congregation prospered. That is not to say there were never any down times or trouble situations with people who caused problems. There was a time we experienced a rather severe setback for adversity in the congregation; but we tried to deal with it according to Scripture and the Society's leading, and matters eventually straightened out.
December 9, 1962, was a day of one of the greatest blessings of my life, when I married my wife, Frances. She has been a faithful partner, and we feel divinely guided in our united quest as matters have turned out in our lives. My wife Frances was born into a large family in New Mexico, living in poverty where 75 years earlier her grandfather rode from Tennessee to lay claim to a "Spanish land grant." Frances says they were poor, but they didn't know it because in the Great Depression, who wasn't poor? She had to quit school in the seventh grade to help out with all the children in their family. The family had moved back to Kansas when, at age sixteen, Frances took a job in a nearby city to help support the family. It was a waitress job at the town's finest hotel. In the beginning, she was so country "green" that the city folk amused themselves with antics like sending her out to buy "left-handed tea cups" and the like. But she did well in her job, and eventually learned to cook for the restaurant as well. By then she was making more money than her father and dutifully turned over her checks to help with the family support. Her father, although an atheist, was a morally straight and honest man, and he instilled these values in his children, not even neglecting a periodic fatherly visit to town to see that his daughter did not fall prey to any wrong influence. He cautioned against "cliquish" religions and how they could be oppressive. So, in growing up, Frances had never belonged to a church or even read the Bible.
Some years later, Frances moved to New Jersey and worked at the Cherry Hill Inn at the Garden State Race Track. She once had the pleasure to serve Princess Grace Kelly when a wedding reception was held for her there. It was also there that Frances met and worked with another waitress who was a Jehovah's Witness. Through their friendship, Frances' interest was piqued for the Bible and she was drawn into association with Jehovah's Witnesses in 1955. Later, Frances moved again, this time to Washington State where she had some relatives living, and resumed her association with the Witensses in the same circuit where I lived. That is how we met and later married.
For the most part, our lives were happy in those years. Being Jehovah's Witnesses, the direction of the organization at that time served to fulfill our quest until sometime in the early 1970s. Then changes began to occur, almost imperceptibly at first, that in due time allowed events to unfold that turned our lives around as dramatically as had that first visit from the pioneers who came to our home in Grand Coulee in 1940 when I was six; only now it was in reverse.
Significantly, what started the trickle of events before the flood of things to come happened in 1972 when the Watchtower Society instituted the "elder arrangement" for congregation leadership, replacing the former system of having three appointed overseer positions (one congregation overseer, an assistant overseer, and book study overseer). At that time I was the "congregation overseer" in Ephrata. When instructions came from the Society to consider all qualified brothers for appointment to leadership in the congregations, I met with the assistant congregation overseer, the book study overseer, and the other baptized brothers in our congregation to discuss the Scriptural requirements for elders (based on 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, and 1 Timothy 3:8-13). In considering which of the others might qualify, the general consensus was that none of them met the Scriptural criteria. Some of them were embroiled in numerous litigations for alleged shady business dealings, both with members and nonmembers alike. Others of them we deemed were not "spiritually mature" for the responsibility of leadership, being known for such things as indiscriminate gossip and even slander in the congregation. They had caused stumbling of several innocent people who in some cases eventually left the organization. As we were well aware that our view of these fellows was the general perception of them in the congregation, and considering the vital role of responsibility and power over people's lives the position held, we determined that we could not in good conscience recommend them for eldership; and for this they became incensed.
For whatever reasons unknown to us, the Society, through the Circuit Overseer, then directed the congregation in nearby Moses Lake to recommend the appointment of elders for our congregation, which they did. By such action, if the Society did not intentionally chart the course of events that would follow, they must share the burden of responsibility for the consequences of those appointments, for they claim that such appointments are by divine direction of "holy spirit." In this case, the appointments were of men whose reputations had previously been fully disclosed. Can it be any coincidence that the elder appointments were from among the very brothers we had previously declined to appoint in our Ephrata congregation, and included two who just happened to be relatives of certain committee members in the Moses Lake congregation? One of them being the man with several litigations filed against him at the time. The Circuit Overseer was well aware of these facts. The situation being as it was, I, for reasons of conscience, declined to be recommended for appointment as an elder in the congregation.
The congregation was then in the hands of men deemed by many of us to be of dubious reputation, and having a penchant for power. Not infrequently, I found myself at odds with these "elders" because I defended people in the congregation being falsely accused of wrong-doing. In one example, two young brothers who pioneered together during summers, and at other times, one being only 12 years old, were accused of homosexuality and of selling and using drugs. (One of the boys later left the organization and joined the Navy.) There was a case of an older brother in the congregation who became disabled, not able to walk. The elders went to his home and prayed over him, and then declared he was healed. They told him to throw away his medicine and get out going door-to-door. When he could not, they accused him of lacking faith. Perhaps the most bizarre situation was when they arranged for a non-baptized musician, who played piano at a local bar, to play for the singing at the Kingdom Hall on Sunday. This fellow was reputed in our community to be a panderer for prostitution in the little town of Wheeler not far from Moses Lake. The man had defrauded one Witness resident out of $40,000 in a carpet-laying business, and eventually, with the law hot on his trail, he fled town.
In due coarse of time, Frances received a phone call from a young sister who had overheard some discussion that the committee of elders were making plans to disfellowship me. We could not imagine what charges they would bring. Then one day in 1975, one of the elders came to see my wife where she worked at a local lunch counter. He informed her of their intentions to take action against me on charges of "apostasy," and advised her to cooperate. She replied that the charges were absurd and patently refused to go along with it. Subsequently, she found herself summoned to meet with the elder and he proceeded to charge her with all sorts of immoral conduct. He was quite forceful in his accusations, quoting offenses from Galatians 5:19-26. With a rolled-up Watchtower magazine in his hand, he would whack it on his knee and then point it accusingly at her charging: "That is you, sister Rawe!" (That is, in reading charges from the Bible he would say: ". . . fornication; [whack] that is you, sister Rawe!; uncleanness; [whack] that is you, sister Rawe!; loose conduct; [whack] that is you, sister Rawe! . . ." and so on.) There was absolutely no basis for the charges. Fortunately, she taped the meeting which proved to be useful later on. Soon after that meeting, in July 1975, it was announced that she was disfellowshipped. The reason was never disclosed. Naturally, it came as a shock, and in an effort to apply the instruction at Matthew 18, Frances went to the home of each of the three elders involved to discuss the matter with them personally. They refused to talk to her. One of them even ordered her to "Get off my doorstep!"
The actions of the committee were resumed against me for charges of apostasy. As I had lived in the area my whole life, and being raised a Witness, I was fairly well known among Witnesses throughout the Northwest, and the effort to disfellowship me was becoming talk around many congregations in the region. Among others, there was a well-versed, very active and capable Witness in Wenatchee, a successful businessman, who became interested in our case. In a visit with him, Frances and I sat quietly by as he phoned Watchtower headquarters and spoke with governing body member, Grant Suiter, on a speaker phone. This affluent Witness had no trouble making such a call, as he was one who made substantial monetary contributions to the Society, including some personal checks to Suiter and Knorr from time-to-time. In the discussion, which we all heard, he asked what might be done about the injustice of the situation that was occurring, considering the reputation of the elders and some of the accusations against them. Ultimately, we were advised to write a letter to the Governing Body and list the charges against these appointed as elders. In this, we were duly cautioned to use utmost care to make no charges that could not be absolutely substantiated. So, we proceeded to compile a list of offenses, including the litigations, extorsion from members and others, slander and unjust disfellowshippings. In every case, there either were tape recordings, eye witnesses, or other proof to substantiate the charges; 70 charges in all. Both Frances and I signed the letter and sent it off, expressly addressed to the Governing Body. Within about 10 days, that letter was received back from Bethel by the very men who were being accused in the letter; the congregation elders of Ephrata. They now accused me of lying about them to the Governing Body, and it was for that I was finally disfellowshipped in September 1975.
Now to really appreciate how serious the predicament my wife and I imagined ourselves to be in, you must realize that Jehovah's Witnesses expected Armageddon to occur that year (1975) in early October or there about, which was by then less than a month away. Very frightening, indeed, for believing Jehovah's Witnesses. We wasted no time appealing the action, and succeeded in getting an appeal committee to be formed from the circuit. News had spread to other congregations around the Northwest region. Obviously, Armageddon did not occur in October and we felt we had a reprieve. Over a period of five months, there were 13 all-day meetings held by the appeal committee with my wife and me and numerous witnesses on our behalf. The appeal committee considered all 70 of the charges and the proofs we submitted. What must be mentioned here is that we were told that if 69 of the charges were proved, and only one charge out of all the 70 could not be substantiated, the disfellowshipping action would be upheld. In the end, it was determined by that committee that all 70 charges were true, and that there had been no basis for the committee to disfellowship us. Our disfellowshipping was "cancelled." (NOTE: We were not "reinstated"; the disfellowshippings were "cancelled"; or, in another word, annulled, as though we had never been disfellowshipped.)
At first, the Ephrata elders denied that they had done anything wrong or lied. Rather, they claimed the disfellowshippings were reversed because they had failed to strictly follow the proper procedures. However, to their chagrin, a letter was ordered to be sent to all congregations that had formerly been notified of our being disfellowshipped, and it was to be read from the platform in each congregation, announcing that we were exonerated on all charges. A new Circuit Overseer had been assigned to our circuit, and with this news, he now found himself barraged by Witnesses in the congregations asking what actions would be taken against the Ephrata elders for the wrong-doings. Witnesses, and even some non-Witnesses, wrote to the Society. The CO eventually called the Society about the whole mess, and the next thing we heard about it was in a phone call from the CO, telling us that the Service Department in Brooklyn had instructed us to be disfellowshipped again. Of course, we were flabbergasted! I asked, "What are we being disfellowshipped for now?!" He responded, "For the same thing as before." I was in disbelief and asked how this could be! I asked the question it again, "What are we being disfellowshipped for? Again, his response was, "For the same thing." Shortly thereafter, a letter came which summoned us to meet once again with the prevailing committee, and once again we complied bringing with us 35 witnesses, including members of our former appeal committee. In the face of 35 witnesses for us, and none against, the decision at that meeting was "postponed." The Society refused to allow for an impartial committee. So when the next summons came for another meeting with the same committee of elders, we realized at long last the futility of it all. By then the corruption and absence of justice with the whole system had become so overwhelmingly evident, that we did not bother to respond to the letter or meet with them. It was while visiting my mother in Grand Coulee, attending a meeting with her there, that we heard the announcement read of our being disfellowshipped again. Witnesses in the area were so outraged by the whole course of events, with the eventual outcome, that many of them left the organization, including the active Witness in Wenatchee (mentioned above), and his wife, who had come to our aid in the beginning and had closely followed the proceedings.
Realizing how incredible this must all sound, I make no claim that our case was typical of Jehovah's Witnesses everywhere; of that I know better. Yet, not infrequently there have been other actions we know of, equally as bizarre in the Society's departure from justice when its own interests become challenged. Very likely, the final decisions against us were influenced by the publicity about our case and the adverse reflection it had on the Watchtower organization's delusion that appointment of elders and the actions they take are "spirit-directed" by Jehovah God. It reveals how corruption follows when an organization becomes self-serving above the values and principles on which it purports to stand; when it becomes the vehicle of power for men, and sustaining that power becomes the crucial factor above the principles of truth and justice they pretend to serve. We still have the recordings of most of the meetings and discussions throughout the course of those proceedings. If they serve no other purpose, my wife and I listen to them every once in a while just to prove to ourselves we're not crazy.
The vindictiveness of men driven by zeal for power and control over people was further demonstrated in the action taken against my mother, Augusta Rawe. Ten years after these events, she was disfellowshipped, at age 85, for "bad association,"and for no other reason, merely because my wife and I continued to visit her about once a month or so. We were the only family she had. She had known the whole truth about our situation. Yet, she never faltered in loyal service, going door-to-door for over 40 years, right up until the day before she was disfellowshipped by a directive from the Circuit Overseer. Born in 1898 to German parents in Russia, circumstances had forced her to emigrate alone to the United States when she was only 13 years old. She had become well known in the community of Grand Coulee for her many years of diligence as one of Jehovah's Witness, calling on people's homes and being a familiar sight distributing Watchtower literature on streetcorners. When she was disfellowshipped, it made front-page news in the local newspaper, and stirred indignation in that community toward the Watchtower that lingers to this day. I still keep a box of letters she received from people around the world. It is noteworthy that even so-called "worldly people" whom Witnesses believe will be destroyed by God at Armageddon show a greater sense of justice than those supposedly in "God's organization." My mother maintained her integrity to God, her steadfastness for truth, faith, justice and righteousness right up to the day she died at age 96. For this, I have no doubt about her place in God's Kingdom.
In the years following my severance from the Watchtower, I was able to devote more time to my livelihood, as well as more time for personal study of the Bible, history of the Watchtower organization, and early Christian history. Naturally, many things have come to light about the organization of which I was previously ignorant as a faithful one of Jehovah's Witnesses. I don't foresee ever becoming a member of another religion, although I do attend several Bible studies each week at various churches, and even conduct studies occasionally. Moreover, I share with others in promoting Bible study conferences which we refer to as Northwest Conferences.
About Northwest Conferences
We have held over 60 such gatherings at this writing. The focus at these conferences is doctrinal diversity where speakers are given 30 minutes to present various beliefs, followed by a 15-minute question and answer period from the audience. Attendance at these gatherings has ranged anywhere from 50 to about 250. Once an attendance reached 650 people, but the general average is around 50 which is just right for our agenda. A number of other former Jehovah's Witnesses regularly participate in these programs, as well as other participants who have attended from all over the country. Some people have the impression that the meetings verge on rancorous arguments over doctrine, but we feel the opposite is true. While the discussions may at times seem heated, the objective is to adhere to Christian behavior in presenting diverse viewpoints, and thus it serves as a lesson in tolerance, forbearance, and mutual respect for people who hold to different perspectives. As such, no reasonable subject is taboo, with the result that we have considered and debated a plethora of topics. All talks with their Q&A are taped and available. Feel free to contact me for tapes or information about the conferences at:
Phone: (509) 246-1559
Richard Rawe is a distributor of various publications, books, booklets, videos, cassette tapes, and other literature of interest to former Jehovah's Witnesses, including the Watchtower Society's "Preparing for Child Custody Cases" booklet and other information for child-custody issues with Jehovah's Witnesses. In addition, he maintains an exhaustive collection of newspaper articles about Jehovah's Witnesses from around the world. For a complete listing of literature and prices, contact Richard Rawe directly at the address or phone shown above.