I’m a “born and raised”, as they call it – the fourth generation in my family. I’ve been at convention where there were five generations of my family, and have had two brothers and numerous cousins who have been workers. I married another born and raised, and we’ve raised two daughters. Our older daughter professed twice in Nevada, but our younger daughter did not make any commitment. In my mind I always considered myself a “faithful” – but then, of course, something happened. It surprised me, shocked me even, but I indulged the ministry in a decade of de-proselytizing – lest it was me who turned out to be so faithless that I could not trust them for honesty and integrity.
I moved from New Brunswick in 1987, crossing the Mississippi on my fortieth birthday, and settled in Nevada. In my first forty years, I’m sure I gained the reputation for being a non-conformist. I investigated anything I wanted to learn about, which raised a lot of questions and concerns from a variety of areas. Though our kids didn’t believe it, we were much more liberal with them in dress code and media exposure than others where we lived. I was quite aware that I would never be considered for being a meeting elder, but I was greatly appreciated for playing the piano at gospel meetings and leading the singing in meetings.
In Nevada, we were warmly welcomed by all the friends, and in no time felt quite at home. We had been in Nevada only two months when it was decided we would have Bible Study in our house. Within two years I was made alternate elder in our Sunday meeting, and that continued until I resigned.
I got my first shock only a couple of weeks after arriving in Nevada. In meeting one Sunday the ex-worker elder told us that Jack Carroll had taught that the workers had two main responsibilities – to bring in the people who should come in, and to keep out the people who should be kept out. I found that offensive because I did not believe it and I had never heard such a thing before. Over the next few years, I perceived that I no longer lived where my own conscience and integrity were worthy of respect.
It was in 1991 that I determined I could not trust the souls of my children to the workers. Leo Stancliff called me early on a Saturday morning asking me to go with him to find my 21-year-old daughter sleeping with her boyfriend. I didn’t go, but he did. He went where she was staying, called her out of bed to talk to him, and summarily ordered her not to speak in meetings again – this without seeing her boyfriend anywhere. Then Leo called me and told me he had made a mistake – he had forgotten to tell her not to appear in a meeting again. During that conversation, he bragged to me about his skills at putting people out of meetings, and how other workers would call him to do the task when they weren’t able to do it themselves. I was disgusted.
Our daughter got married, moved to Las Vegas, and reprofessed with her husband within a week of arriving there. But that was not the end of that matter. Leo in three subsequent discussions gave me three different reasons for what he had done. Once, he told me he had consulted with his companion and his companion agreed with him. But when I asked his companion, the companion denied having said any such a thing and had actually advised him to the contrary. My daughter got married, and Leo proceeded to snoop around their apartment to see if there was any evidence that they had a television. He didn’t see a television while he was there for dinner, and he lamented that he couldn’t look in the window because they lived on the second floor.
We finally got him off our backs after he made a scene a few feet from the door to the convention building about half an hour before meeting. We were standing together with my daughter and her husband and he approached them and demanded that they apologize to me for lying to me. I interrupted to insist that they had never lied because I had never asked them questions. He tried to get away from me, but I insisted on knowing literally what he knew they were doing. That time his explanation was something like this: The Bible doesn’t say anything about sex. It says that “laying with a woman” was a sin, and since our daughter had been observed lying on the couch with her head on her boyfriend’s knee, that it was grounds to put her out. When I got home from convention I wrote him a letter telling him I didn’t want to hear about that matter again.
In 1999 an event occurred in our meeting that precipitated our leaving. A young man in our meeting was arrested for “raping a minor”. He was released on bail, but the friends were forbidden to have anything to do with him. We were told by Linda Passage, the worker in charge at the time, that he had forced himself on the girl, it was a very perverted episode … and he was a serial pedophile. I was given the name of one of his supposed prior victims in California – whose family I knew. Linda told people that if he were to try to come to meeting at anyone’s house they should call the police and have him arrested.
By coincidence, my daughter (who had reprofessed, and had returned to town) was a parole and probation officer and was assigned to the young man’s case. She was so disturbed by what she read that she asked me to investigate. It turned out there had been no force, no perversion, and explicitly stressed that there had been no sexual intercourse. In fact, the police report stated that both individuals were found to be still virgins. So the next time I encountered the other victim’s family from California, I inquired if they knew the young man who had been arrested, and they had never heard of him. I approached Linda about this, and her response was that she had acted on the “brother workers’ instructions”, and that she and her companion did not approve of the “lifestyle” of my wife and I. I was appalled. I suspect I drew this response from her because I had told her that anything the young couple had done my wife and I had done. How was I to know that she thought making out was perverted?
It was confusing because we had heard that both Linda and the father of the girl had on occasion claimed to be responsible for the young man’s arrest. Interestingly, we had also heard that both of them had on other occasions blamed it on the other. At that point, I understood that it didn’t matter who did what – they were obviously both lying when it suited them.
I approached the overseer, Dick Middleton about the matter, and he denied that he had given Linda any such instruction … but said he would not intervene. He showed me a nasty letter Linda had written to the young man’s parents, and I pointed out to him where Linda had lied to the parents about their son. Dick was with Eldon Tenniswood, and the two hour meeting consisted mainly of an attempt to tell me that I was “promoting immorality among our young people”. To keep them on topic, I insisted all we wanted to know from them was how we could go about getting permission for the friends to associate with the young man. They had no answer for that.
That, of course, seemed like the end of the matter. But on another occasion, the young man asked Harold Hilton what he would need to do to be allowed to return to meetings. Harold said he didn’t know. He also asked Dick on another occasion, and according to Dick’s response, it would happen when the local elders recommended him – the catch being that the local elders had all been forbidden to have anything do to with him.
I was the only person in the four local meetings who would associate with this young man. As well as visit him in jail, we had him and his parents with our family for Christmas and New Years when he was released. Of course, the workers knew about that. I horrified a lot of people by even mentioning his name, and I got a few visits from elder brother workers from California prevailing on me to basically forget the young man – have nothing to do with him. I refused. They were seriously frustrated. I knew what they had done for this young man. He is now required to register as a sex offender for life. He is restricted on where he may live. He needs special permission to visit his relatives in other countries. Fortunately for him, he has a wife who married him for the person he is, but they have the added unpleasant task of explaining to their children what the workers had done to their father.
This whole scenario still needs to be put into better perspective, however. They were Romeo and Juliet, had no sexual intercourse, and were presumed by everyone I ever spoke with to be engaged. He was banished. BUT, in the same meeting at the same time, there was another young couple who had conceived a baby out of wedlock and who were permitted to reprofess before the baby was born. No banishment for them.
And to put it all more sharply into perspective, at this very same time parents in California were outraged at Ruben Mata’s sexual molestation of children and the workers’ efforts to “shelter him from punishment”. When I was visiting with Dick Middleton about the young man in Nevada, he admitted quite frankly to me that they (the workers) had sheltered others from punishment. But they were still not going to allow our young man to have contact with any of the friends! At every turn, I was stumbling upon duplicity and lying that came as a dumbfounding shock.
Among the things I learned over the next couple of years is that (1) shunning is in order, (2) refusing to eat with an apostate is a commandment, (3) you do what the workers say even if it bothers your conscience, (4) you don’t talk about things the workers tell you not to talk about, and (5) you can be excommunicated for not supporting a worker’s sanctions on others. I didn’t believe in any of that – I had always been taught that was not Christian-like and anyone who did any of those things was not doing the right thing. The problem now was that I could not dismiss such things as the mistake of an individual, because it was policy coming from the workers and always backed by the overseer.
While this was happening, the elder of our union meeting delivered a tirade against everyone in the room, including who was there, because we were not enforcing the commandment for wives to submit to their husbands. We received another tirade on the evils of divorce and remarriage and how the workers in 37 states were wrong. Another time a man went berserk in the meeting room, telling a young convert he would have him put in prison. (The kid had professed two weeks earlier.)
I complained to Linda about the ongoing verbal assault in our meetings, and her solution was, “after talking with Bob Williston”, to banish the novice from any communication whatsoever with the friends until he had seen a psychiatrist and given him permission to discuss himself with the workers. I was completely outraged because I had told her nothing but positive about the new kid. Then, shortly, the same elder who had delivered the tirade in meeting was arrested for domestic battery and subsequently coddled by the workers.
I got visits from the workers because: (1) I was supposedly recruiting people to associate with the young “offender” in defiance of the workers; (2) my daughter couldn’t make Bible Studies because of her schedule with work and her autistic first grader’s needs; (3) I was organizing a convention for people who had been kicked out of meetings. In fact, the overseer of California inquired of the overseer of New Mexico what he knew of the “unconvention” planned for Reno! And about this time the “father of the girl” reported me to the police for disturbing the church! Incidentally, that “convention in Reno” was nothing more than a summer vacation weekend get-together with a number of our going-to-meeting professing e-mail friends from various places in North America. Yet one of our friends in Texas was warned by a worker there that I have never met that I was having this evil convention. I cannot imagine how that came about.
The most devastating incident in all those years was the morning Lois Austin stopped speaking in Sunday meeting to chastise my wife. My wife is very hard of hearing, and when she whispers to herself she doesn’t know how loud it is. No one else heard her, but apparently, she whispered something while Lois was speaking, so Lois stopped and said angrily, “Do you have something to say to me?” Everyone looked around to see who Lois was talking to. And Lois repeated herself. When my wife appeared to have no clue what was happening, Lois complained that she had lost her train of thought. That was in 2002.
The next day Harold Hilton came to town on the request of Lois, and a tribunal was called for my family. By this time my wife had had two nervous breakdowns because of our harassments, missed months of work, and was in no condition to face such an encounter. I forbade her to attend. My daughter refused to go. I went. Harold was very upset that my wife and daughter had not shown up, so I had to be frank with him and tell him he wasn’t going to have a visit with them. So I was grilled about how I and my family were disturbing the church. Actually, it was mostly about trashy misinterpretations of things I had said in meeting, all of which I had no problem explaining. During the meeting, the new elder of the meeting got up and yelled in my face and pointed his finger, and the workers appeared to have no problem with that. The elder’s wife told me twice that my wife made her “sick to her stomach”.
By that point in my life I had come to realize that workers in general are highly skilled at a number of abusive control techniques when counseling individuals. Unless you have established with them that you are going to hold them personally accountable for behaviors you will not tolerate, they have a way of turning every concern into a condemnation of you personally. Had I not had professional experience in dealing with these techniques I would have fared far worse at that meeting.
While the meeting with Harold was progressing I kept wondering how anyone less equipped to deal with such abusive treatment could possibly handle it. I even managed to admit to him that I “had a serious problem with one worker in California” and did not immediately get booted, as commonly happens. How many people would be prepared to add as I did: “But I got a written apology from the worker and I am not going to discuss that with you”? Unless you are prepared for being blindsided in this manner you have no hope of surviving unscathed. The worker who apologized, to her credit, was Linda Passage. I asked her for such an apology for the sake of my wife whom she had intimated as having a perverted private lifestyle.
As you may guess, that was a great turning point for me. My wife and daughter have not been to a meeting since that date. But Lois was not done with me. She insisted on meeting with me again, so I indulged her – in a manner. I unloaded on her about the trans-continental gossip the workers had promoted about me and the harassment we had endured from the workers, and I told her I had decided to “disentangle myself from the people who were distressing me so seriously”. She assured me that that was a wise idea. Ironically, she hadn’t figured out from our conversation that the people who were distressing me most were the workers. Her solution to all my problems was: Just wait a few years and the friends will forget everything the workers have said about you. I had come face to face with the culture of deception, duplicity, and outright lying when necessary. Saving the reputation of the ministry was of higher priority than saving souls. Whatever the foundations the friends and workers in the California jurisdiction rely on, they are certainly not what I had been taught and believed during the first forty years of my life.
Learning the specifics of the origin of the religion about that time was very helpful in our deciding to leave. It was a timely verification that I was not wrong to suspect that the ministry engages in deception – including a fraudulent claim to the legitimacy of their ministry. So I never again went to any meeting I had been assigned to. For a few years, I went infrequently to whatever other meeting I felt like going to – for the most part just to see how I would be accepted. On the whole, I was welcomed by the friends. In the years that followed I was only approached by one worker for a visit, which I declined because of my health. The last meeting I attended was in January 2008.
I’m fortunate – there is no one in my family who has commented negatively on my decisions. The best thing about my life right now is that I have no restrictions on what I may investigate and discuss. I believe I am mature enough to handle that. In retrospect, these events took a tremendous toll on me and my family. By 2004 I had lost my career, virtually all my friends in Nevada, and my health. All I had left was my family. Since then I’ve satisfactorily regained my health to be able to return to my career. I have had a lot of time to analyze what this whole episode was about. As therapy, I began to write novels about things that happen among the friends and workers – not to be a tabloid-style tattler, but to provide a non-member’s kind of observation at the dynamics of such a group as the friends and workers. It’s been a very effective way for me to study how such personalities operate in that kind of a community.
By Bob Williston
Las Vegas, Nevada USA
July 17, 2011
Bob is the author of these novels:
The Unworthy Servant
I Will Disentangle Myself…and Leave