A Question of Fear, “Truth,” and Life
A close acquaintance, upon hearing that I was no longer participating in services of the TRUTH religion, asked “what is wrong?” Because of the general belief among members that the TRUTH is the ONLY WAY God meant for women and men to live their lives and the ONLY WAY one could have any hope of an afterlife in heaven, members often assume that those who leave do so only because they have become (#1) UNWILLING or unable to follow the strict requirements of the organization, (#2) or that they have somehow become seriously offended by the actions of other members.
Thus, my friend wanted to know exactly what had happened to cause me to LOSE OUT on the “only thing worth anything in the world!” When I told her that my decision was not in any way an action stemming from negative circumstances, but was undoubtedly one of the most positive actions in my life, she was unable to comprehend.
Being freed of the control of the organization’s many facets gave me the opportunity to search for answers to basic questions and expectations about life. While I have not found answers to all of my questions, I have been able to at least address such questions in a fashion that has given me a better means to live life and face death. I could not have done this if I remained a faithful member of the TRUTH, since raising such questions was in compatible with being a member of the organization.
It was not easy to leave the TRUTH behind, even though the final results were positive. The process required much self-examination and seeking answers to questions that, from early childhood, we were taught should not be asked. These questions had to be dealt with privately for the most part, since other members who were close friends, were reluctant to participate in questioning the religion which dominated their lives.
Furthermore, the circumstances that caused me to leave the TRUTH were also the source of a most profound disappointment, which was hard to overcome. I had been taught from early childhood that this religion was a very special entity, that the ministers were, without doubt, SERVANTS OF GOD. The realization that the organization was about something other than true spiritual matters was a shattering revelation. The social aspects of the religion were also an integral part of my life. The dependence on its social structure, and the desire to shield myself from negatives about the TRUTH are key reasons it took me many years to fully and permanently leave it behind, even though I realized the void between the high ideals and the reality of the organization.
Much of what happened to cause me to leave had roots in questions I had from the very beginning of my active association with it. For clarification of events, let me first provide a few facts regarding my life and my PROFESSING in the TRUTH.
Some Personal History
I was born in Mississippi in 1947, the last of three children. A brother was 18 years older, and my sister died in a tragic automobile accident at a young age. Thus, much of my childhood was essentially spent as an only child. I understand my parents had PROFESSED in the early 1940s. My father did not continue in the organization at that time, although he did profess later, after retirement.
In the mid-1950s, we moved to Flint, Michigan. At first, I did not want to leave the familiar setting of the South. I would later come to prefer life in Michigan. There were far more FRIENDS (#3) in Michigan.
I professed at age 13 — not at one of the annual CONVENTIONS, as is often the case with youngsters who are raised in the organization, but at a GOSPEL MEETING during the spring of 1961. The WORKERS presiding at the GOSPEL MEETING were Alva Goff and Jerome Frandle.
During my younger years, I had heard a lot of stories about folks who PROFESSED, but were only SERVING half-heartedly. I determined that if I did PROFESS I would not be so labeled. Thus, I tried to do everything that was expected, including speaking a short TESTIMONY in every MEETING. My conduct was likely notable at the time, since there were several youngsters (and older people) who did not take an active PART in MEETINGS on a regular basis, though they still were PROFESS ING.
Thus, I gained the reputation as being FAITHFUL IN THE WAY (#4). This reputation was noted by Al Goff years later when he wrote, after hearing of my departure from the WAY.
I went to college during the height of the Vietnam war, 1965-1969. I started at a junior college in my hometown of Flint, then transferred to Michigan State University in East Lansing. At the time, Michigan State had 40,000 students, including several FRIENDS (the actual number would vary from time to time, but averaged around 6-8 in number, as I recall).
I graduated in December 1969, and was drafted shortly afterwards, in February 1970. I entered as a conscientious objector (CO); this CO status enabled me to serve as a uniformed soldier, but with no requirement to carry a weapon. I served in Vietnam, spending almost half the one-year tour as a medical corpsman with an infantry unit (the 2nd Bn., 27th Inf., 25th Infantry Division), and the remainder as a jeep driver and clerk for the 6th Convalescent Center in Cam Ranh Bay. I received an early-out from the Army, due to military personnel reductions, in October 1971.
After an initial, unrewarding job in Flint, Michigan, I obtained a job in Alabama in May 1972. I was first located in Camden, a town of about 2,000 in the southwestern part of the state. This area was isolated from the few FRIENDS in the State (few in number compared to Michigan). In 1977 I moved to Montgomery, where there was a MEETING, which I attended very infrequently for a short period (mostly when my parents would be visiting, as I recall).
By the end of 1974, I no longer felt the organization was an essential part of my life, although various circumstances kept me associated with it to some degree for some time beyond that. The last MEETINGS I attended, and in which I took an active part were in December 1978 – while visiting childhood FRIENDS on a vacation to Michigan. Looking back on this period in my life, during which I remained in contact with some members, and attended MEETINGS infrequently, I gained valuable insight into the organization.
While I could have been satisfied leaving it behind in 1974 or 1975, the additional time did allow me to analyze what was happening in the TRUTH. Consequently, I left with an understanding of the spiritual value it had given to my life (none). Many acquaintances in the TRUTH still remain valuable to me.
From early childhood, I had been indoctrinated with the idea that the TRUTH was RIGHT, and the ONLY WAY one could possibly be associated with God and go to heaven after death. Although the vast majority of talk at MEETINGS, and other conversations with WORKERS, stressed the negative events that would occur if one did not participate, I came to have high positive expectations of this system of beliefs that espoused such absolute principles.
The WORKERS taught that the ONLY WAY one could partake of true blessings in life was to hear the GOSPEL from one of the ministers that preached in the “two-by-two” WAY, which they said had its origins in the teachings of Jesus. They also taught the ideas of heaven and hell: the latter being some place that was so much worse than anything humans could experience in life in this world. Their teachings indicated that people would go to one of the two places after death; there was absolutely no alternative. The only way to heaven, according to them, was to (1) hear the word from the ministers sent by God in the “two-by-two” fashion; (2) believe that the son Jesus had died to redeem our sins, and show such belief by PROFESSING; and (3) being faithful, willing, and obedient to the Lord. (In spite of the redemption provided by Jesus’ death, other requirements were to be met.)
I began to think that I should do something to save myself from the awful consequences of ignoring the warnings with which I was bombarded during frequent and numerous MEETINGS, as I contemplated the message the WORKERS were providing. Questions regarding the existence of universal truth that would be the savior for all humanity were important issues to me. I wanted to resolve such questions before agreeing to follow the strict requirements of the religion. I also felt some urgency to resolve such questions in case I should meet an untimely death and face whatever consequences there might be.
Since one of the conditions was to hear about Jesus from the mouth of a WORKER, and not from radio, television, or even simply from contemplating the Word of God or some facet of the natural world, I began to ponder the logical meaning of this requirement. Needless to say, this brought some disturbing possibilities to mind. What about people who never even had the chance to hear a WORKER speak?
Not only were there literally billions of people in modern society who would NEVER be able to hear such words from the handful of WORKERS in existence today, the implications of this requirement back through time (to Jesus’ day) were clear: only a minute percentage of the people on this planet would ever have the chance to accept or reject the Jesus and the WAY that the WORKERS were teaching! Was this coming from a righteous, just God?
As I formulated some questions regarding the justification of this requirement and asked them of the SENIOR WORKER, Al Goff, during the later winter and spring of 1961, I learned little. Regarding the opportunity to hear the “true word of God,” the ministers contended the relevant item was the availability of the ministers within the boundaries of the various states throughout the world. If there were such ministers within any particular country, then, God would lead them to any “honest souls” that would be receptive to the “word.” That was something, I was assured, we could “trust” in. (I was told that failure to have such trust was a sign that we were not fit for the kingdom of God. Thus, I soon abandoned questions along this line for fear the ministers would think I had no faith in God’s Word.) Although this subject was closed by the WORKER, I thought of another angle that perhaps I could pursue.
If the current world was covered by the availability of the Word of God, the possible exception of some communist countries, what about former ages? This was an idea formed, in part, by learning that WORKERS, had come to the United States only as recently as the early twentieth century.
So, I asked about native American Indians who had no contact with people from Europe or the Middle East (including any WORKERS) until at least 1,500 years – or even 1,900 years ago, until the ministers arrived in North America – after Jesus died and this “requirement” was instituted?
Answer: Since they could not have heard the GOSPEL from the WORKERS and “obeyed,” then they would go to hell.
Question: But is this the sign of a just God?
Answer: They would most assuredly go to hell but God would allow for their particular circumstance.
Question: You mean there are different types of hells?
Answer: No, there is only one hell, but God does consider different situations and hell may not be as bad for some as for others.
Question: (not asked): But, then this must mean there are at least different degrees of hell???
I was asking these questions at the time I was 13 years old. I knew even at that age there was a limit beyond which I should not go, and soon sensed I was fast approaching that limit with my questions. It was suggested to me that I probably would not be able to resolve all my questions, but that I should have faith in God and all such questions would be answered in “due time.” I remember one ELDER who would often say in TESTIMONY that all questions would be fully answered at some time that was appropriate to God. He repeated this so often that I still remember it clearly. Was this some hope that his own unresolved questions would someday be answered?
Now, I had a problem at this young age. In order to avoid hell, I needed to believe in something that I still had serious questions about. Although the assurance that any and all questions I had would be resolved in good time seemed inadequate, it was the best hope I had for clear answers. My conclusion was that, in the event of some unfortunate accident or fatal illness, I wanted to avoid hell, and that I had better stand up in MEETING (which would indicate a choice to follow in the WAY) and worry about resolving unanswered questions sometime in the future. Thus, I PROFESSED one evening my belief in what they were preaching. The emotion dominant in this action was a negative one – fear. I suspect without the use of fear there would be few converts.
Did I feel I had a chance of going to heaven and not hell, now that I had made a start in the WAY? You bet I did! The teachings throughout the early years of my life had not been in vain! In fact, how could I believe anything else? I had no other knowledge or point of reference with which to gauge the authenticity of the things which filled my brain during my upbringing.
I soon abandoned all the unresolved questions, perhaps for good reason at the time. I now had other things to worry about! These included ritualistic prayer, reading the Bible, somehow acting different from the WORLD throughout daily life, TAKING PART in the Sunday and Wednesday evening MEETINGS, and the Sunday and Wednesday evening MEETINGS, and the other requirements that were part of a PROFESSING person’s life. God’s “servants” instructed we should be performing these activities so that we could prove we were different from the WORLD. Furthermore, by this time I had learned that the authority held by the ministers was not to be questioned.
In spite of unresolved questions, I embraced the PROFESSION I had made with great zeal. I strived to follow all of the requirements propounded by the ministers, or at least as many as I could. I was tremendously shy throughout my teenage years, but I did gain the friendship of other young males my age who had also become members of the organization. These friendships were important in affirming the validity of what I had entered and in providing emotional support for dealing with its requirements. Remarkably, however, I never openly discussed specific incidents that concerned me. I was reluctant to discuss such items of concern, lest by doing so I would reveal wavering “faith” in the organization. Later, during my years at the university, I strived to provide support and encouragement to the young student members of the organization. There were many late-night sessions spent in conversation with fellow students who needed company or were discouraged about something. During this period, I never wavered in my professed belief that I somehow had to continue to be WILLING AND OBEDIENT TO THE END.
During my teenage years, I was preoccupied with conforming to the behavior that was expected of me. Imagine that this was much easier for males than for females. While the appearance of males was essentially little different than common conservative appearance of that time, the expected appearance of females was radically different in a number of ways. These included long hair, long skirts, and no slacks or shorts.
Mini-skirts were becoming popular during the 1960s, but were frowned on (forbidden) by the ministers. While there were various reasons given for women’s required dress, modesty was often cited. It was a puzzle to me how any of the PROFESSING GIRLS could participate in required physical education courses without the proper attire. It did not take much intelligence to understand that modest apparel for most physical exercise would be anything other than skirts or dresses.
During my adolescent years in Michigan, it was common for the FRIENDS to go ice skating together during the winter months. Seeing female WORKERS, in freezing weather, ice skating while dressed in skirts was a lesson in the impractical consequences of the dress code which was imposed on women. On a few occasions, when the mercury dipped to near-zero degrees on such outings, these ministers did have the good sense to wear pants – beneath their dresses! Most of the female FRIENDS would go skating in proper apparel – but only if there were no WORKERS around to see them. The WORKER, Willie Jones, once said, in criticizing the Amish people, that 90 percent of their religion was tied up in their mode of dress. I heard this as a young adult, and recall thinking, “how familiar!” The same could be said regarding the TRUTH. I would not forget this.
While I was able to shun such stringent requirements relating to dress because of my gender, other restrictions on my thoughts, behavior, and plans were imposed.
During my school years, several events made it clear to me that the TRUTH would have control over decisions affecting my entire life. Once in junior high school, the football coach stopped me in the hall and very loudly demanded why I was not at the team tryouts. While I was probably big enough to play effectively, I had little interest in sports, and actually had no desire to try out for the team. However, I realized at the time that my preferences did not matter in the least, since the strictures of the TRUTH at the time did not allow pursuit of WORLDLY activities. I clearly remember the feeling that, while I probably did not want to play, it was exciting to think the coach thought I was worthy at least for a tryout. The freedom to do so would likewise have been exciting, and I did not have it.
Late in my high school career, I began to apply for various scholarships to go to college. In some preliminary discussions with my guidance counselor, potential answers to questions on some of the applications were discussed. I clearly remember one question. It dealt with the reason I would want to obtain a college degree in a particular field. My reply was something to the effect, “So I can earn a living in an interesting field of work.” When the session ended, the counselor sent me on my way with the admonishment that I carefully consider the answer to that question. At the time, I knew the desired answer, but was truthful with what I felt – or, at least what the ministers in the TRUTH taught that I should feel. Building a better “world” was certainly not supported by the organization.
The attitude in the TRUTH was that College and advanced education were to be approached with extreme caution. Several WORKERS and FRIENDS at the time were totally against obtaining college degrees. One person even told me that since Jesus was a carpenter, it would be best to follow his example and learn a skilled trade. Many WORKERS, however, did think attending college was permissible, but only with specific goals. Such goals usually involved preparing for traditional professions, such as teaching and nursing, or other professions not requiring graduate degrees. Anything challenging, though, was deemed dangerous and might have dire consequences for our souls. We did not want to become so educated that we might begin to question “THE ONLY TRUE WAY OF LIFE!” I would later choose a major subject partly because it was preparation for practical work in a field where jobs could be obtained without an advanced degree. My parents both supported and encouraged me to obtain an advanced education, and I am grateful for their attitude in this.
One of my passions – perhaps my only real passion – since early childhood has been music. I talked about it often with my parents, and they apparently realized the importance I placed on it. At the first opportunity in junior high school, I joined the school band, playing the coronet. I continued playing throughout the 9th grade. There were only one or two occasions when after school work was required, so there was no problem.
In high school, however, it would be different. There, the band played at all the football games and at many other events as well. I realized the problem as soon as I registered, and received the requirements for after school activities. I dropped out before attending the first session. While that was no big loss for me, since I did not like blowing on a horn, another event would cause me to permanently abstain from playing music on any instrument.
I also took piano and guitar lessons from private teachers. I had started the piano first, since my family had obtained one early in my school career. Pianos were in high favor by the ministers, since they were often used in GOSPEL MEETINGS, to accompany the singing of hymns (from the organization’s hymnal) and informal “get-togethers”. (#5) I really wanted to learn the guitar, so my parents eventually bought me one, and I began to take lessons. I took these lessons for several years, and played in a few recitals.
As I recall, I was a senior in high school when I began receiving calls from a person I’ll refer to as T.K. T.K. wanted me to play rhythm guitar in a rock and roll band he was forming. When he first called, the idea that someone would even ask me to join a band was exciting in itself. I quickly realized that the excitement itself was all there was going to be, and I told him “no” in our first conversation.
To my amazement, he called back two or three times. I discussed the offer with my teacher. He strongly encouraged me to join. He was not surprised that I had been called and obviously wanted me very much to seize the opportunity. He told me that T.K. had a very good reputation as a musician and the band was commonly believed to be top-notch – and a first-class opportunity for me. My teacher’s praise for T.K. did make me wonder if I was proficient enough, so I told him quite seriously that I had misgivings about my abilities and asked, “Why me, there must be better?”
He said that I had reached the point where I needed interaction with other musicians, that I was certainly good enough to play rhythm, and that he had recommended me (this was news!) because I was his most advanced student. I had no recourse but to tell him the real reason I was refusing the job – that my religion viewed performing in a rock and roll band (in bars and other unapproved places) (#6) as too “worldly” and prohibited my participation.
I must admit that, at that time in my life, it was hard for me to really understand what a job in a band would entail. I was confident about the technical aspects of music and, to a major extent, about my conception of the art of music – though, at this stage, I had heard precious little popular music. In fact, my experiences with music, other than hearing an occasional radio (very infrequently, usually at school), were limited to my lessons, sheet music I purchased with my savings, and a few classical concerts of the local symphony orchestra.
After the episode with T.K. I realized that I was wasting my time learning skills that I would never be able to fully develop. Playing classical or imaginative popular music on the guitar was my long-time ambition. I felt it was a career I could live with 24 hours a day – if I was as involved as I wanted to be. I would have little time for earning a living at another job – music would have to be my primary occupation. I could not see music as a part-time hobby. Obviously, this wasn’t compatible with the rules under which I was living. With the exception of playing something for a close friend’s wedding, I have hardly touched an instrument since. My interest in listening to music has not waned, however. T.K. went on to lead a band that gained some national popularity. I’ll never know if I would have been good enough to play in such leagues. Perhaps not, but in my mind, I will forever wonder if I could have made a significant contribution to music, or if it would have led to something I’m confident I would have talent for: recording and producing music.
In spite of all these restrictions on my life, I probably could have continued in the WAY. I still viewed the lofty ideals of TRUTH as real and worthy of a great deal of sacrifice. However, life’s realities would intervene. For me, this was prompted, strangely enough, by an incident involving Spiro Agnew and a big gun.
The Shattering of My Beliefs
It took some powerful forces for me to again raise questions about the beliefs that were firmly instilled in me from early childhood. The war in Vietnam eventually served as a catalyst to provide courage for me to voice questions, not only to others, but more importantly, to myself.
For people of my generation, the Vietnam War was a preeminent concern. At first, I didn’t know what to think about it, or even if I should form an opinion at all. The teachings in the TRUTH seemed to indicate that politics and secular issues in general were things that PROFESSING people should avoid. It soon became clear that some in the organization, primarily some WORKERS, were taking a clear stand in favor of the United States participating in Vietnam. Arnold Brown, who was then the HEAD WORKER in Michigan, talked very favorably about the involvement of the U.S. for most of an hour’s sermon at the 1966 Grayling, Michigan Convention. He was very strong in his defense of the Johnson administration’s escalation of the war. I thought at the time, and since, that it was very inappropriate for him to be preaching so long and being so partisan about the issue.
During my college years, I formed a weak opinion that the U.S. involvement in Vietnam was probably correct. Despite the weakness of this early opinion, it is one that I have regretted. I consider my beliefs during my college years about this issue to be a major intellectual error on my part; I had not really seriously considered the issue or its implications. After my service in Vietnam, I tended to judge people solely on their opinions about the war; it took many years before I could provide proper perspective to the issue.
My opinions began to change on the second day of my Army service when I fully realized that the ingredient of war was simply violence against other people. There were no great principles involved at first; I realized my life could now be placed on the line concerning something or someplace of which I had little knowledge I felt that unless I was willing to die for something, then I had no right to expect others to die.
Long before entering the Army, I had thought that political opinions regarding the Vietnam war, at least in terms of advocating it, should not be an issue in the TRUTH. While many of the WORKERS favored the war strongly (as evidenced by this “preaching” of Arnold Brown and others), I always thought such support by PEOPLE OF GOD was inappropriate. Even a cursory reading of history will show that in many, perhaps most wars, people on both sides have claimed they had God on their side. While there is clearly a place for war in this world (for good or bad), I’m not sure that there is a divine will on any side (albeit some theologians argue persuasively that some wars are moral).
I would later learn that many ministers in the organization strongly favored the U.S. participation in the war because they thought it was good for “spreading the GOSPEL”! In my mind, this bordered on the ridiculous. This was a Civil War. One family member could be a guerilla for the North, another a guerilla for the South. The supposed purpose of “spreading the gospel” could ultimately mean killing one person in a family to save the other.
Would Jesus Christ, who healed the cut ear of one that came to take him to trial and death (Luke 22:51) allow such actions? Such justification for the carnage of war made me question the basis of the TRUTH. I knew the history of mainstream Christianity was rife with connections to wars and violence, however, the TRUTH posed itself as being above all other religions.
I recall only one WORKER who clearly did not partake in applauding the war. At one time I overheard Willie Jones being asked about the war. He responded that such killing, under whatever guise it was done, was a shame and the PEOPLE OF GOD should not have anything to do with it. Willie was the only minister I ever heard speak against the war; and he did it quietly, in private conversation, on the one occasion I heard him. I have always respected him for his view in this matter though unfortunately, he did not make his feelings widely known.
Perhaps one reason several WORKERS spoke publicly in favor of the war, is that there has been a distinct connection, albeit a somewhat strange one, between military service and members of the TRUTH.
Military Service by “Professing” People
In my youth, I learned many customs and social norms of the organization. Some of these dealt with military service. Even though it was often encouraged, there was one important condition. PROFESSING people were only expected to serve as conscientious objectors. Entering military service as a conscientious objector could only be done through involuntary service – being drafted. (#8) Conscientious Objector status could be gained during service, but was somewhat more difficult to obtain, as I understood it. In any event, CO status was generally viewed by the FRIENDS I knew in Michigan as an important condition for PROFESSING people, and securing this status for friends entering the military is one of the reasons the WORKERS registered with the U.S. Government – though complete exemption from military service for ministers may have been their primary concern – and one of the reasons denominational names were registered with the government for the TRUTH. The name the WORKERS used in the U.S. at this time was “Christian Conventions.”
To my knowledge, CO status was conferred on FRIENDS entering military service during World War II, the Korean, and the Vietnam wars. I have heard several stories about people already serving in the military who PROFESSED, then sought CO status. These served in all branches, including the Navy, Air Force, and Army. During the Vietnam era, draftees went into the Army, with a few going into the Marines. I did not personally know members of the sect who served in the Marines while PROFESSING. Several members did serve in the military without benefit of CO status. Some were denied such status while seeking it after entering service, while others apparently never sought it.
Failure to seek CO status was viewed very dimly by the FRIENDS I knew in Michigan. I have heard the PROFESSING status of military personnel questioned because of refusal to seek CO status.
During late 1960, the draft was a real concern for many healthy, young adult males. At some point prior to induction into service, CO status, if it was sought, had to be applied for. It was common practice among young men around Flint to seek the advice of a SENIOR WORKER when completing this application. In some cases, it seemed the WORKERS would dictate answers to all questions.
When it came time for me to complete my application, I sought out the SENIOR WORKER in the Flint area, who was Helen Green. When I went to her with the application in hand, I was much surprised when she refused to even look at it. She instructed me that CO status was not a requirement of the organization and if I wanted to apply, I was on my own. Needless to say, I was surprised and extremely puzzled by her attitude! An ELDER, with whom I later discussed it, felt as I did, since one or more of his sons had received assistance from WORKERS when they completed their applications. Helen has always struck me as an extremely intelligent person, so I later assumed that she probably had good reason to react the way she did. It would be many years before I would understand her statement that it was not “a requirement.” At the time, however, I was not about to go against the social norm amongst the FRIENDS – I set about filling out the application.
Since I was on my own in completing the application, I did a lot of soul searching, and I discussed it with a few friends. One college friend – who had several relatives who were WORKERS and was well acquainted with many requirements of the organization – suggested the organization’s attitude regarding CO status stemmed from the verse saying “those that live by the sword shall die by the sword.” I quickly concluded that such objection to carrying weapons would probably include the vast majority of soldiers being sent to Vietnam! As I recall, after much deliberation, the reasons I submitted had to do with the nonviolence and love that Jesus taught. I was successful in receiving CO status.
My Military Service
I was drafted and went through basic training at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas, as did most conscientious objectors in the Army. During the days prior to beginning the formal training period, we identified each other through the universal question, “Do you know George Walker?” This question was asked after observing potential candidates involved in various idiosyncratic behaviors – such as kneeling for prayer or reading the Bible.
During the final days of our basic training, all members of our training platoon had a mysterious interview with one of the FRIENDS who was permanently stationed at the base. We were given no explanation as to the interview’s purpose. Fellow trainees, who had nothing to do with the organization, related stories of probing questions into their lives. However, my interview was remarkable in that nothing of substance was asked. It dealt mostly with some discussion of mutual acquaintances. I was surprised at how short it was – at least as compared to the length of other trainees’ interviews.
A few days after this interview, I was offered a job as a clerk-typist on the base which required a security clearance. (I suspected, but had no proof, that the interviews conducted by the FRIEND were for the purpose of security evaluation.) I performed poorly during the interview for the clerk-typist job. I made it clear I did not want to be a typist, and the Army could do what it wanted to with me, as long as I wasn’t stuck typing at a desk. I was consequently spirited off to training to become a medical corpsman, a common assignment for Cos. Later in the jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam, I wondered how I could have so casually passed up such an attractive job offer at Ft. Sam.
In Vietnam, I was initially attached to an infantry platoon operating in the area around CuChi. I joined this unit immediately after they returned from Cambodia in the summer of 1970. On my second day in the “bush,” I had my first experience with combat; we were involved in fierce firefight – welcome to Vietnam! During the course of the following days, weeks, and months, I became familiar with combat. While I carried no weapon, serving with an infantry platoon did provide a learning experience in efficient methods of killing other people. I came to have a high regard for the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and the communist guerillas (referred to pejoratively as Viet Cong). On the other hand, the effectiveness of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) often left much to be desired. The Nixon administration’s Vietnamization policy – whereby more of the warfare burden was being shifted to the South Vietnamese forces – was being implemented at this time. The outcome of the war was certainly no surprise to me, no I would wager, to most of my comrades.
I undertook the role of conscientious objector seriously. During my military career I had the opportunity to observe many conscientious objectors, and concluded that true COs were a minority of those holding this status. During basic training, it was common to see fighting and threats of violence among trainees, all of whom were COs. During combat, many COs abandoned their objections to weapons and carried them routinely. The rules governing conscientious objector status allowed soldiers to carry weapons in designated combat areas without forcing abandonment of status in peacetime situations. Some Two-by-Twos opted to carry weapons during combat; at least one cited reasons of “personal protection.” However, I viewed conscientious objector status as applicable primarily during combat situations.
One Memorable Event
After some time, a curious event again raised serious questions about the organization. Well after dark one night, after settling in at an ambush site, our platoon was instructed to return to the night defensive perimeter (NDP) for our company’s headquarters platoon. Such movement at night was highly unusual, since the communist forces “owned” the night (alternately, the allied forces controlled the daylight hours).
Our return to the NDP was, however, uneventful. We were puzzled about the purpose for this unusual maneuver (the command hierarchy certainly stressed the importance of sending out as many ambush patrols as possible, and we had now been instructed to abort one). After arriving at the NDP, we were given instructions to be ready to be airlifted out by helicopter at a moment’s notice.
Our platoon was charged with the care of the 90 millimeter recoilless rifle which was used by the company for defense of the NDP. The 90mm was one of the largest weapons used by infantry units, though not by the most mobile elements. Its effectiveness was always doubted by most experienced infantry men (“grunts”), but it happened to be a favorite of our company commanding officer – a West Point graduate. Routinely, during perimeter attacks, he would bellow the orders to “fire the 90!” The big explosion and attendant fire belching from both ends (hence, recoilless) certainly provided a psychological reassurance while under attack. Unfortunately, it wasn’t often effective – at least under the conditions we encountered.
Since our platoon was not at full strength and the 90mm is not the best weapon for an assault mission (which appeared likely for us at this time), the platoon leader asked me to carry it, and to “fire the damn thing if you want to.” I was somewhat surprised at this request, since previously I had pointedly refused to even carry spare ammunition for the M-60 machine gun. In light of this previous refusal, however, the request did underline the platoon’s personal shortage and reduced combat effectiveness. Since I had always sought to assist whenever possible with needed chores, I agreed to carry the 90mm, but made it clear I would not fire it. I immediately began to have misgivings about my decision.
We sat, alert and ready to go, throughout the night. Sometime around midnight, the radio telephone operator (RTO) reported that he heard radio traffic indicating a battalion was being overrun and was taking “extremely heavy” casualties; our mission apparently was to provide reinforcement. At that stage in the war, an overrun of an entire battalion would have been major news back home – around the world! Such an event would have likely had major political ramifications. If it was true and our company was to provide reinforcements, then the likelihood that many of us would not see morning light was much higher than the risks we routinely faced. Such thoughts were not welcome even for the combat hardened veterans – as most were at that time – in our platoon.
I had faced gunfire and booby traps dozens of times, had come within millimeters of death on countless occasions, and I had seen and touched war’s horror. While I hadn’t thought too much about the specifics of death for myself, I assumed that I should feel assured that everything would turn out okay at death. I never thought God should or would make me exempt from the death that was all too common during battle – even though I was doing His “will” by not carrying a weapon increasing my vulnerability. I had been devoid in my PROFESSION, having done almost everything that had been required by the TRUTH, so I thought I had good reason to feel confident that I had nothing to fear from death. After all, I was participating wholeheartedly in the “TRUE WAY OF LIFE”.
However, sitting there beside the cold steel of the 90mm rifle, I became extremely agitated. In fact, my emotions overwhelmed me. I was glad it was dark so my face wouldn’t betray me. What was wrong? I had agreed to carry a weapon!
This was counter to all I had been taught a “child of God” should do. All my years of social condition were screaming that I was betraying someone. God? I really didn’t think or feel so, but how could I be certain? Was the prohibition against carrying weapons absolute so that even under the present circumstances I could never be forgiven? Or, was what I was feeling merely the result of listening to FRIENDS question the characters of those who did not refuse to carry weapons? I cannot find words to describe the near panic I felt that night.
Fortunately, with considerable effort, I was able to muster intellectual resources to control, but not quell, my emotions. I had faced firefights where I could feel the breeze from bullets passing close to my skin and knew that death could tap me on the shoulder at any moment. I had endured flying aboard helicopters into “hot” landing zones on combat assaults with no protection beyond what a bag full of medical supplies afforded, fully expecting bullets to rip through me and end my young life. What, then, was this terror gripping me now? I understood that my agreement to carry the big rifle (that looked much like the bazookas of World War II) was certainly a reasonable act, given the situation and my commitment to my comrades – to help ease their burdens. Was this agreement a sin? Perhaps not, but my efforts to live a perfect life before others were being eroded – at least according to my concept of what a “saint” was supposed to be.
We were never airlifted out, and later learned we were held in reserve to provide security for an unannounced visit by Vice President Spiro Agnew. During that long night, I learned some important lessons and formed a goal. All my life (or so it seemed), I had done what the WORKERS had asked of me and avoided things of which they disapproved. I realized that they dictated virtually everything about my spiritual life. I had set up my life so that if I did what was expected (PROFESS, TAKE PART IN MEETINGS, follow the dictates of the WORKERS, etc.) and refrained from doing other things having to do with the WORLD, I would go to heaven when I died. I had assumed that all would be okay in heaven. I realized then that I knew nothing for myself about death, or what would follow. The only knowledge I had came from the now hollow words of others, and on this night these words seemed meaningless.
The thought did cross my mind that perhaps my faith still wasn’t strong enough to deal with such trials. This was a common reaction to such doubts, conditioned by a lifetime of hearing about obedience, willingness, and faith. However, I quickly dismissed this rationale because of the power of this visual and emotional experience. As I would later come to believe, knowing about death and being confident in that knowledge is important because it also provides knowledge and energy for living. “Indeed,” I thought at the time, “was it even possible to know anything of substance about death and the hereafter?” In my shaken state, I thought perhaps not, but I resolved that someday I would obtain something for myself – not dictated by others – that would truly erase any fear of death. Although it would be several years before I would realize that resolution, I now had a goal arising from that lonely, long night of illogical terror in the fall of 1970.
People in the sect often ridicule funerals of NON-PROFESSING people where officiating ministers of other faiths “preach the deceased into heaven.” Yet, the organization’s ministers occasionally remark that certain respected, deceased, individuals (usually WORKERS and occasionally ELDERS as well), who have followed the dictates of the organization to the letter, are without question “sitting on the right hand of God.” Thoughts of such disparities came to me during this night of terror. I realized, probably for the first time, that one could go through life, acting in the precise fashion dictated by the WORKERS, yet cursing God within their private thoughts. If outward actions clearly met the standards set by the WORKERS, then after death both ministers and lay people would proclaim that this person had “gone to sit on the right hand of God.” Such praise and approval for conformity of behavior were also evident throughout much of daily life. Approval would be expressed in various ways, though usually verbalized only infrequently. I realized during that night that outward conformity could, and would, fool ministers of the organization, but would be irrelevant when actually facing God Himself! I would later consider Jesus’ exhortation that anything done in the synagogues and streets for the benefit of others would cause people to “have their reward” (Matthew 6:2). Indeed!
The reward Jesus spoke was approval from others! In the TRUTH, this reward was the approval of the WORKERS and SAINTS. It seemed ironic that the very Scripture used by people in the TRUTH to ridicule others was such an accurate description of their own lives! And, I had been party to it. My conclusion, during this long night of self-examination and fear of imminent death, was that what I knew as TRUTH was nothing but a series of conventions for behavior. Any meaning for dying was irrelevant. It would take a while for me to fully face, and act upon, the consequences of this realization.
Realization – a “Requirement” Is Not Necessary
I went into war with virtually no means of self-defense because of a high ideal – that of serving a loving God who abhorred all forms of violence among humanity. I was disappointed and disheartened as I learned that my beliefs were not universally practiced in the TRUTH. Later in my Vietnam tour, after leaving the combat assignment, I attended the CONVENTION held in Saigon. While there, I had the opportunity to observe a Korean soldier who was stationed near the WORKERS’ quarters where the CONVENTION was being held. At first, I thought he did not PROFESS, mainly because he wore a weapon – a military-issued .45 automatic pistol – to the CONVENTION MEETINGS. I soon learned that this person was much respected and revered as a PROFESSING PERSON – a “godly” man. Since he held a non-combat job, I saw no good reason that he should have a weapon, regardless of his religious beliefs. (The streets of Saigon at that time were safer than many portions of major cities in the U.S. today. As I recall, I had observed other Korean soldiers about the city without weapons. The safety in Saigon was, of course, in stark contrast to the situation posed in the Vietnamese countryside. ) I was upset to learn of his PROFESSING status.
Apparently, the WORKERS saw no problem with his weapon. I had literally presented myself for sacrifice, partly in order to meet the requirements for “eternal life,” yet I was no more (and probably less) in favor with the all-powerful WORKERS than this Korean who refused such sacrifice. My confusion became anger. Where was the ideal of universal truth that I expected?
I later learned that other PROFESSING people had modified their objections to the use of weapons – at least under certain conditions. Not only did PROFESSING people carry such weapons as the .45 automatic pistol officially allowed medical corpsmen, but attitudes in civilian life certainly allowed self-defense without any consequences from the organization.
I had heard MEETING ELDERS boast how they would shoot to kill any burglars who dared to enter their house.
I no longer understood the objection to military weapons which most of the FRIENDS espoused. I had risked my life (and possibly my comrades’ lives) in a manner that was apparently meaningless as far as any requirement of TRUTH. As the minister Helen Green had informed me, there was no such requirement. However, she failed to account for the strong social pressures involved from lay persons in the organization, and she certainly did nothing to correct or alter commonly held beliefs in the region where she had responsibility as a SENIOR WORKER. Why did the vast majority of FRIENDS entering the draft see CO status? I sought such status in the belief I was obeying a tenant of a system of universal truth, which, by definition was a requirement for all people. It would be a while before I fully understood the distinction of my ideal truth from “THE TRUTH”, but it was becoming evident during my reflections on this topic.
The justification for the Vietnam War given by several SENIOR WORKERS was that the war resulted in an extension of the TRUTH. Thus, on the one hand, workers were at least tacitly encouraging people to abstain from carrying weapons; on the other hand, they were approving – even encouraging – waging war which resulted in the loss of life.
I should make it clear that in spite of my disappointment with the seeming ease with which CO status was dismissed by some in the organization, my status was warranted; I did hold such objections seriously in my own thoughts at the time of my military service. These ideas were likely influenced by my associates during adolescence and their beliefs in such a requirement. I have since modified my thoughts and currently believe that self-defense is legitimate. I no longer consider myself a conscientious objector, nor would I consider such status if entering the military. I see national defense as defending lives and property held in common by all citizens; thus it is one facet of self-defense.
After having the opportunity to reflect on the contradictions regarding CO status for several years, I have come to believe that this was a way to set members of the organization apart from others in the WORLD in a fashion similar to their requirements for women’s hair and dress. Jesus certainly made a case for nonviolence, both through His personal actions, and the rebuke He gave Peter in the garden prior to His crucifixion. The ministers never used this as a requirement, or even a desirable attitude. As I later realized, the love that filled Jesus’ life was largely ignored by the organization, so it should have been no surprise that such reasons were not used for justification.
I would speculate that there are probably two reasons the ministers allowed and tacitly encouraged members to avail themselves of CO status. First, since all U.S. Army draftees having the status went through basic training at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas (at least during the Vietnam era), a common experience was available for PROFESSING people entering the military during times when compulsory service was required.
Unless an alternative job became available, all CO’s became medical corpsmen after training at Ft. Sam, which is, or was at that time, the medical training center for the Army. (Other options were limited, since upon entering military service, draftees having CO status were asked to sign an agreement that they would never seek extension of their military service beyond what would be required by the Government.) Because of this common experience from Army training and distinction as a CO, the bond between members became strong, and therefore a factor of social control was present.
The second reason CO status was useful to the organization was that soldiers so classified would have opportunity to explain to others why they were so different from other people. Such attention from OUTSIDERS increased the chances of luring other soldiers to MEETINGS. (In combat situations, this sometimes produced hostile feelings towards the CO; some soldiers did not appreciate that a medical corpsman would not defend himself, or perhaps even a wounded comrade. It is possible, however, that the apparent strength of conviction needed to retain such status might appeal to others.)
I am convinced after careful observation and agonizing over this issue that commitment to nonviolence had little, if anything, to do with the seemingly required CO status for young males facing the draft. (#9)
Life Goes On After the Military
After leaving the military, I had to deal with the aftermath of my combat experience in Vietnam. For the most part, this readjustment was made in a relatively short time. On occasion, I received support from PROFESSING FRIENDS. Since, at the time, all my close friends were members of the sect, I had no recourse outside the organization. Though there were a few memorable instances when support was provided, it is safe to say most of this was unrelated to values held officially by the organization. In fact, when I asked an ELDER about quitting a job (that was causing a lot of stress and was very difficult for me to handle), he advised me not to quit. The reason: I was still eligible for unemployment benefits from my service in the military, and PROFESSING people were to avoid collecting unemployment benefits, as these were seen as a form of welfare.
After eventually obtaining a new job in Alabama, I was located far from the organization’s social environment. On weekends, however, I often did seek out their company, even though it involved travel of 100-150 miles each way. Because of the distances involved, I was not assigned a regular MEETING, except for a FIRST-SUNDAY MEETING held at an elderly woman’s home about 50 miles from where I lived. Needless to say, such isolation from the FRIENDS was different from what I was used to in Michigan. I gradually adjusted to the situation, perhaps without realizing it, and the result was that I depended less and less on the sect.
Over the next couple of years, I had to deal with several emotional crises. These were milestones for me, often looming even larger than the Vietnam combat experience. In Vietnam, I thought the reasonable assurance of living through the night was all I could possibly ask for. I later learned that some emotional crises can take the joy of living away, and that dealing with such crises is part of the living experience.
In retrospect, my problems were probably no bigger, and certainly no less, than most young adults have to endure. An important lesson I learned during this time was similar to my conclusions during that night of terror in Vietnam: The TRUTH offered no answers and no real support regarding the things that really mattered in life (and death).
Not only did I find the organization was providing no real substance for my life, but also none of the lives of others.
During these years in Alabama, I had occasion to observe the experiences of other PROFESSING people. The TRUTH offered no solace when truly needed, only strictures. Again, if one followed the dictates of others, then communal acclaim was possible. But the organization offered little private assurance for life’s crises. By this time, I had grown to the point where approval from others meant little; I was seeking substance in my spiritual life.
All these experiences resulted in their having little to attract me by late 1974. I did, however, have two or three close friends who remained firmly implanted in the sect. Partly because of them, I remained publicly committed as a member for a while longer. I subsequently was forced to learn some lessons, perhaps more clearly than I would have otherwise. In retrospect, this was probably fortunate, for I was to come to the realization that the WAY was nothing but a fraud. If I had left in 1974 or 1975, I might have spent some time feeling I had failed in life’s most important issue.
I did change two aspects of my behavior during this time while remaining publicly committed to the organization. First, I abandoned the use of old English (reminiscent of King James’ time) during public prayer and used normal English.
In English-speaking areas, this archaic language is used by sect members for praying during MEETINGS. Secondly, I talked about things that truly meant something spiritual to me during times when I gave TESTIMONY. I would base my talks on the Bible, but they were often at odds with what the WORKERS preached or did. I was surprised that few remarks (if any) were ever made about my prayers and testimonies. I did usually try to maintain a monotonous tone to my voice, which is probably one reason few people apparently noticed anything different. I have observed that, in general, few members actually listen seriously to what is being said. This is true even in cases when some take detailed notes.
The Problem with Non-uniform Standards
One item that bothered me throughout my experience in the TRUTH organization was the non-uniform standards for many of the requirements imposed on members. For example, something would be permissible in one portion of the country or the world, while being virtually forbidden in another. Or, something would be forbidden at one time, while becoming perfectly acceptable at a later time. Some of the situations discussed above deal with non-uniform standards; it is hard to discuss any aspects of the organization without encountering discrepancies in requirements.
Requirements that are not standard throughout the U.S. or the world are related to entertainment, dress, and behavior. During my association with the organization, radios, and tape recorders were generally forbidden for members to possess or use in the eastern portion of the country. I learned during my Army service that radios and tape recorders were acceptable in Texas and most of the western U.S. In Michigan, I had heard of ministers who would refuse to ride in automobiles which had a radio antenna. It didn’t matter if the radio was being used, or even functional; the presence of the antenna, and whatever appearance associated with it was the problem. (Such refusal by the WORKERS would bring shame on the car owner.) I had friends who would purchase automobiles already equipped with radios, as were almost all cars, and cut the antenna off near the body of the car with wire cutters.
Some requirements were changed over time. One notorious example that I heard about from several people was the requirement many years ago that women wear black stockings. This requirement was abandoned during the late 1940s or 1950s. By the 1970s, black stockings had connotations of something other than modesty for women, and were actually frowned on in some portions of the country.
While there are plenty of examples of non-uniform standards, one that particularly disturbed me involved marriage to divorced persons. In many cases, such a marriage entailed the automatic excommunication of the people involved. During the 1970s, some ministers began to allow some people involved in these marriages to remain in the organization. In some cases, full participation in all facets of the organization could be resumed after a brief period of remaining silent in worship services (in other words, not GIVING TESTIMONY).
Despite the few cases where permission was granted for full participation in the organization, the common belief was that such a marriage would automatically require one to leave the FELLOWSHIP. Thus, many involved in these circumstances would make their decision quietly and leave without any explanation.
Such unequal treatment undoubtedly caused a great deal of anxiety in many people. It seemed that those who were not excommunicated after marrying divorced spouses were the ones who pleaded with the WORKERS before marriage, acknowledging the ministers’ role in directing their lives and seeking guidance. Those who did not speak to the ministers (and who I had occasion to know and observe), assumed automatic excommunication was the irrevocable result of their decision to marry, and were not approached by the ministers to discuss their situation. What concerned me was the lack of clearly articulated doctrine and rules of behavior.
If the TRUTH was, in fact, the ONLY WAY to achieve “eternal life” then why were the ministers so casual in laying down the rules they held up as absolute and in allowing the existence of different standards for similar situations? Why did they not seek out these people who became estranged? If the situations causing unequal treatment were different in some unexplained way, then where were the explanations? One minister made the point of “explaining” to one couple that the decision to excommunicate (or not) was made by God, and he was only the conveyer of the message. Is this the same God that caused clear messages to be written in the Bible and who invented the undebatable law of gravity? I hardly thought God would apply different standards arbitrarily for matters that were so important. In fact, I was convinced favoritism was being shown to those who acknowledged the WORKERS’ power and control over their lives.
Where was universal truth in these non-uniform standards? I could find none, and my suspicions of lofty claims for “TRUTH” were increasing as a result.
The Problem with Hair Length
Given my opinion of the Vietnam War, I left the Army with a desire to avoid militaristic culture. A modest goal I had was to never again look like a soldier. The obvious item of appearance for a male soldier, other than the uniform, of course, is the haircut. I knew there were “rules” regarding length of hair and beards for men in the TRUTH, so I was careful not to go too far. I only wanted not to be confused for someone in the military. (At the time, there was an Air Force base in a nearby city in Alabama, so this was not an entirely abstract objective.) My efforts in this regard would lead to a series of encounters with the OVERSEER WORKER of the State, Weldon Burgess, that would become known to some FRIENDS. This series of incidents may have eventually labeled my problems with the TRUTH as solely related to an unwillingness to keep my hair a “decent” length – at least in the eyes of the WORKERS and some others. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
Upon returning from my tour of duty in Vietnam, I visited a close friend who lived in Austin, Texas. The CONVENTION at Roundrock was held at the time of my visit. I arrived with a mustache from Vietnam but shaved it on the day I first attended the CONVENTION. My friend asked why would I do that?! At the time, I was afraid the WORKERS would have a bias regarding such facial hair. As it happened, during the first day, one of the ministers railed against such WORLDLY features as mustaches during his sermon! I knew that mustaches had absolutely nothing to do with God or spiritual well-being but I also knew that, emotionally, I just could not deal with such controversies at the time from people who were supposedly our spiritual counselors. A few years later I did grow another mustache.
Later, during my tenure in Alabama, I did grow my hair to what I would term a “modest” length. To be precise, my hair was approximately three inches long, on the sides as well as on top. I measured it as I was afraid it could become an issue, and perhaps it would be best if any discussions of the subject could be kept on an objective level, rather than subjective terms such as “too long”. It was indeed eventually brought up.
After a meeting with SENIOR WORKERS regarding alleged harassment of some of my friends by one of the FRIENDS, the topic of “hair length for men” came up.
While I was singled out, the workers started out in a curious way, perhaps with a diplomatic intention. The other male in the group was included in the reproach, but the blame was put squarely on the women! Apparently, the women were somehow perceived as requesting or demanding that my fellow male and I grow our hair long! I spoke up immediately to announce that I alone was responsible for my hair length, and no one else was involved. Furthermore, I wanted to know what this subject could possibly have to do with serving almighty God? Also, I demanded, what exactly was too long? Where did Jesus say anything at all about hair length, let alone give a commandment?
OVERSEER Weldon Burgess responded very quickly with a verse from Paul’s writings: I Corinthians 11:14, “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?”
I responded with the question, “What is nature?” Does it mean that God naturally does not allow male hair to grow “long”? If so, then mine would stop growing before reaching the length beyond what would be natural. Of course, any characteristic of nature was not to be confused with the issue. My contention was the “nature” Paul was speaking of was actually culture. (#10) Did culture have anything to do with serving God? The WORKERS would not respond to this query, to my disappointment. I was ready with some thoughts on the prevailing culture and modesty in the requirements for women’s dress in situations involving various physical activity. I then suggested that people in the TRUTH had been aligned with the military for a number of issues, including appearance. (I did understand that a fresh-recruit military haircut would have met their requirements.) The OVERSEER responded in a cautiously positive sense regarding this line of thought, leaving the door open.
I then pulled out some pictures of two famous military men – George Washington and Andrew Jackson (on the $1 and $20 bills). The depictions of these former generals show hair that was longer than mine. (It did not matter that Washington and/or Jackson may have worn wigs – the point was never raised. It was also irrelevant. Would it have been more agreeable if I had cut my hair short, then worn a long-hair wig? I think not.) My contention was that even in the military, hair length was a function of prevailing culture. When culture changes, hairstyles also change, albeit perhaps more slowly. Why should the TRUTH have different standards than prevailing culture for hair length? My hair definitely met prevailing cultural standards for length.
As I recall, there was some discussion after that, but it included nothing of substance. And, it was made clear that their admonishment regarding men’s hair length still stood. Mine was too long, but they would not state a length that was not. I left the meeting shortly thereafter. I was later told that the WORKERS were impressed, though not favorably, with my point regarding the old generals. Apparently, they had no counterargument.
I clearly remember leaving the Birmingham area that evening and returning to my home in Camden, some 130 miles away. I was literally shaking with emotion – to the degree I was concerned about the safety of my driving. Why? I realized there was no turning back now that I had openly challenged the authority of the WORKERS by demanding logical answers. In spite of the emotions I was feeling, I knew that I had done exactly what I intended to do – to respond to the dictates of the WORKERS by asking, in an objective fashion, what the reasons were for their demands. I would have done nothing differently if I had to do it over. Now, I realized that whatever I would feel in the future about remaining a member, the decision was made, and I would no longer be welcome in the organization; the die was cast. For a while during the long drive through the Alabama evening, I reflected on all the people I knew in the organization – parents, friends and acquaintances in Alabama, Michigan and elsewhere. There would now be an estrangement from these people, as I had observed countless times over the years happen to people who refused to “follow the will of God.”
However, the fact still remained that they could not discuss in a logical fashion why hair length was important and mattered as far as a person’s spiritual health was concerned. Oh sure, they had plenty to say regarding the display of the RIGHT SPIRIT by obeying GOD’S SERVANTS, but no reasons why three inches was too long for men’s hair. After displaying the RIGHT SPIRIT by being willing to sacrifice my life as a conscientious objector in a war, I needed answers that made sense, and was going to settle for no less – even involving something as inconsequential as the length of hair.
The question may legitimately be raised that if I considered hair length inconsequential, then why was I so insistent on logical answers? Years earlier, I had attempted to engage people in discussions regarding the war in Vietnam and the seeming requirement for conscientious objector status. I had also been involved in numerous discussions about other items over the past few years, such as the non-uniform and arbitrary standards for a variety of factors. In virtually all instances, the people with whom I was having such discussions were wary of such questions. On some occasions, I would be involved in discussions with lay people at CONVENTION time and would suggest that since no one knew answers to these important questions, then we should approach the WORKERS.
Without exception, as I recall, the FRIENDS would prohibit me from approaching the WORKERS. (A FRIEND at the Saigon Convention physically restrained me from going to the HEAD WORKER to ask about the Korean who was carrying the weapon. At the time I didn’t think it appropriate that I resort to violence in order to ask questions about non-violence, so I demurred.) After several years of inability to get straight answers to important questions, I had resolved that I would demand logical answers to virtually every question that was raised – however large or small. The war in Vietnam had given me the courage to speak up about things I believed; the shyness of my youth was overcome. Thus, by the early summer of 1976, I would not be a party to the disregard of any matter, even if that meant a high personal cost through separation from very dear and close friends – some of whom were at the meeting on that fateful evening. Sure, hair length wasn’t a big thing, but it was presented as a matter that demanded logical answers.
What was important to me throughout the confrontation with the WORKERS was my spiritual attitude. I realized that I should not hold hard feelings because of demands for which they had no logical reasons; rather, love should be felt toward them. My challenge was to understand what was going on, why they were so insistent about items for which they could provide no reasons. I had come to believe that the record of Jesus’ life taught that understanding equated to love, or at least enabled it. By this time I was coming to the clear understanding that much of what happened in the TRUTH caused a lot of pain and suffering – much of it silently, but very real and very deep for many people. Thus, I became aware that, even though the WORKERS were causing some very bad things to happen to other people, the WORKERS were to be loved, as should all people, even enemies. Their actions, however, were not.
Later that year I was informed by Weldon Burgess that I would not be allowed on the CONVENTION GROUNDS if I did not get my hair cut. Since attending a portion of the CONVENTION seemed important at the time, I did get my hair cut – not once, but three times! It was so short as to leave no doubt about my intention to conform to the dictates of the organization. I had a fleeting thought the OVERSEER would be pleased – whether he would indicate so was definitely questionable.
As it turned out, he did remark about my haircut, but in a derogatory, sarcastic fashion – within the hearing of others. I realized my days of pleasing this WORKER were over – permanently.
Months later, Weldon Burgess was speaking in GOSPEL MEETINGS in Montgomery where I had recently moved. Since this was not his usual area of operations, he was filling in as a “guest” speaker during a couple of MEETINGS. Although I now only rarely attended MEETINGS, I did stay in contact with a few of my friends in the organization. It was through them that I heard about the GOSPEL MEETINGS and was encouraged to attend – which I did on a couple of occasions. On the occasion when Weldon was presiding over the service, I arrived perhaps 10 minutes before the service was scheduled to start.
As I made my way into the room, already containing a large number of people, the STATE OVERSEER (Weldon) looked up and recognized me. In a distinctly loud voice, he spoke, calling me by name, “What happened? Did you see our announcement in the newspaper, or what?” Needless to say, I was astonished. The tone of his voice was without doubt not one of welcome, but the opposite; the statement he made, while framed as a question, was not spoken as such. For a second or so, I debated whether I should answer the seeming question or leave. I sat down in a chair, even though I felt that I should leave for the good of everyone in the room.
Later, I learned that sometime prior to this occasion, Weldon Burgess had instructed the senior minister in the FIELD where I lived that I was not to be allowed to attend the GOSPEL MEETING they were holding – at one time about 40 miles from where I lived. However, instructions to not attend were never relayed to me. I did attend these MEETINGS a couple of times, and apparently the OVERSEER heard about it and it was reported that he was angry with the senior minister.
Other incidents following the Montgomery GOSPEL MEETING made it clear that the OVERSEER did not view me as a “lost sheep” who should be brought back into the fold at any cost. Rather, Weldon clearly indicated that I was not welcome in the organization.
I was never explicitly forbidden to attend FELLOWSHIP MEETINGS, or participate in them. Perhaps this was because I had my hair cut for the CONVENTION and I had been careful not to overtly challenge Weldon after our initial discussion about hair. Perhaps others had also observed that I displayed no open hostility in the face of the OVERSEER’S public hostility – perhaps my reputation among several of the members also had something to do with the lack of an actual excommunication. Whatever the reason, I had no doubt regarding the OVERSEER’S desire that I leave the organization.
That is exactly what I did, soon and permanently. I did make a few additional attempts to get some questions resolved, but I already knew that a satisfactory resolution was not to be had.
Some Final Efforts at Reconciliation
During the final chapter of my association with the organization, I heard some sermons that surprised me and actually gave me hope that perhaps I could remain associated with the group. Several times during those last few years, I remember hearing the ministers preach both in GOSPEL MEETING and in CONVENTION that there were no laws or rules to which the ministers held members. Rather, they said, God indicated that “I will put my laws into their mind, and write them on their hearts.” (Hebrews 8:10 and Jeremiah 31:33.) All rules and laws were therefore internalized in individual members, according to these sermons – in other words, the ministers laid down absolutely no requirements on anything, including dress, behavior, etc. I heard this on more than one occasion and thought that I must have seriously misunderstood my previous experiences and discussions with the ministers regarding what is required of a true “child of God.” I had heard such sermons before, and after, the incidents with the OVERSEER regarding hair length. I soon realized that what was publicly preached and what was actually required by the ministers were entirely different.
Why was I surprised to hear such preaching during those last few years? Indeed, I had heard sermons containing these verses before. I recall reference to these verses being quite common during my younger years, (and they are probably still used). Such references were often made to point out, with pride, the lack of any formal written rules or documented organization for the sect. Now, however, I was listening to what was being said! I had been guilty, in the past, of going to MEETINGS merely to conform to expectations, and not seriously listening and studying what was being said. I doubt I was alone.
My overriding disappointment was the refusal of the ministers to acknowledge Jesus’ commandment to love.
Not only did Jesus indicate that we should love – and even give our lives for those close to us – He also indicated we should love those who hated us. A close study of Jesus’ teachings also indicated (to me) that love was related, perhaps tantamount, to understanding. That is, if we truly understand someone, the capacity to love them, at least in a spiritual sense, will likely also be present. Of course He never taught that this love should necessarily extend to the actions of people, rather to the persons themselves. Love within the organization is sometimes directed at other members, but not always. While the ministers continually stress that “God’s people” are several cuts above WORLDLY folk, this doesn’t always translate into better interpersonal relations between members. Disputes are kept as quiet as possible, as if such denial would banish their existence. Love directed outside the organization, however, almost always involves “troubled” souls seeking salvation. This includes people who are attending GOSPEL MEETINGS or who otherwise display interest in the organization. Such people are often shown interest, concern, and what might be interpreted as love.
Other OUTSIDERS were looked down upon, usually with contempt. Such people were clearly “headed for hell – the Bible teaches it!” It was this lack of understanding toward others’ condition, the lack of love, that bothered me greatly.
I asked the WORKERS a few specific questions about practices that clearly were contrary to Jesus’ teachings. These questions were mainly directed to the elder WORKER in the area where I was living. Through the ministers’ admonitions it was clear that if they wanted someone to adhere to some practice, they would not hesitate to point out that language in the Bible left no doubt about what was required – there was a literal requirement (almost always, however, determined subjectively – as great license was used to establish literal interpretations). On the other hand, questions regarding practices clearly demanded in the Bible, but not followed (such as Jesus’ exhortation to fast), would be explained by saying these commandments were not to be taken literally. What was to be taken literally, and what was to be interpreted allegorically, was for the WORKERS to decide.
During these last few years of being in the organization, I also observed other things that were clearly counter to what an organization invoking Jesus Christ should advocate. These included problems in dealing with other races; the treatment of women as inferior to men; the disregarding of various teachings of Jesus; and unequal treatment of people in a variety of matters. This latter problem was perhaps the most distressing to me, due to the persecution of those involved in marriage to divorced partners, but there were many other issues.
Some incidents served to show that racial problems were not resolved within the organization’s hierarchy. I heard one HEAD WORKER (who currently is apparently at the pinnacle of the organization) refer to blacks with a pejorative term during a sermon at a CONVENTION. I overheard another WORKER tell a SENIOR COMPANION that they should not preach in communities where blacks were predominant and “waste their time,” because “blacks were not attracted to the WAY.” Did God actually create entire races of people who were lost to His TRUE WAY? While cultural differences might have been understandable, this is not what was at issue with such a remark. These ministers were claiming to hold the only keys in existence for eternal life, yet at least one of them did not think efforts should be made to extend this hope to black communities. (#11)
Finally, a Resolution to an Important Question
I finally realized there was an utter lack of spirituality within the religion. I remember once trying to inventory the doctrinal items that were clearly stressed as the most important – and how these related to spiritual goals I was forming. The obvious important items were (1) the Two-by-Two system of WORKERS and their rule over all questions of doctrine, behavior, dress, etc.; (2) MEETINGS IN THE HOME; and (3) the peculiar mode of dress, mainly for women. I remember contemplating the following questions: Remove these items that preoccupy members’ thoughts and what is left of substance regarding Christianity, as practiced by the organization? Love? No; I personally experienced the lack of it from the ministers, once I voiced innocent questions. Was there a deep appreciation for Jesus Christ, His life, and His manifestation of God?
While attending MEETING in the last couple years or so of my participation in the organization, I tried to communicate my appreciation for Jesus in TESTIMONY. I received virtually no acknowledgement that such appreciation was shared (except by one or two close friends with whom I had shared the same thoughts). Was there a true feeling that one could live life and die and be confident of safe keeping by God (or a higher power)? No!!!
This latter item was especially important to me. During that night of terror in Vietnam when I agreed to lighten the burden of my fellow soldiers by carrying the 90mm recoilless rifle, I promised myself that, should I be fortunate to live long enough, I would seek confidence that I could live and die without continual fear of what would lie on the “other side.” Since THE TRUTH did not provide such confidence, I had been searching for true spiritual guidance during the last few years of my participation in the organization. While some of this search dealt with intellectual material, such as information about other religions and near-death experiences, most of it dealt with long periods of thought and my considering possibilities about life and human existence.
My experience with the organization left me with a decided prejudice against any organized Christian religion. I had studied enough of history to understand that the Bible had been used to justify any number of actions and systems of belief. I wanted no part of any other organization that could use the Bible to restrict my thoughts and freedom. During subsequent years I did take the opportunity to learn a little of several religions unrelated to Christianity. These included Eastern religions and several pagan religions. Eventually, I realized that I actually had more respect for many of these other religions than I did for Christianity. This puzzled me, for I had long since concluded that there was value in most of the religions I had read about, and there was also opportunity for abuse in virtually all of them. I had seen nothing inherent in Christianity that would disqualify it as a legitimate religion. However, my personal and long experience with THE TRUTH had left an indelible mark on my thoughts regarding Christianity – even though I clearly understood that the teachings of Jesus were not followed by THE TRUTH.
At the end of that initial spiritual search, I did obtain the confidence I was seeking regarding life and death. The question “are you afraid to die?” could now be answered truthfully and without hesitation: “No!” In discussions with others remaining firmly committed to THE TRUTH, I had several occasions to ask the question over which I had agonized. While I thought I would find “yes” answers often, I also thought there would be a few “no’s.” While most answered affirmatively, although usually in a very indirect fashion, I was surprised that no one simply answered no – without any qualification! The closest was something to the effect, “No, if I am faithful until death in following the word of God and doing what I should be doing.” Such an answer would usually be followed by an expression that more time was needed for God to perfect His work in their life. I realized that I had a lot of company in my fears during that night in Vietnam!
Many years later I was approached by a small group of people who were members of a local church in my community. I did not welcome their knock on my door and disruption of my evening. In my irritation and desire to send them away, I decided to ask them about their fear of death. I thought this would be a sure way to promptly dispatch them, based on my experience with other “Christians.” To my surprise, they answered unhesitatingly that they were not afraid of death! The answer was not qualified in any way. At first, I thought they had misunderstood my question. They had not. However, I think they were somewhat intrigued, because instead of leaving they wanted to remain and discuss my beliefs for quite a period of time. A week or so later, they returned with other members of their church! Given my memory of answers from members of the TRUTH, I was indeed impressed with their quick, unqualified answer to this question.
From the time I had realized that the TRUTH was not based on truth, I briefly considered researching its beginning and detailing the fallacy of its teachings. Although I had no facts regarding its beginning, I was suspicious that George Walker had started it. I had tried for years to hear, either from his sermons or from those who were close to him, who he PROFESSED THROUGH. I was never successful. Most members were proud of their entry into the WAY and would usually provide details regarding it. George Walker never did, as far as I could ascertain at the time – and I made a point to ask the question of any WORKERS and older FRIENDS who would have been likely to know.
I had also tried to share my disappointments with various FRIENDS who were still committed to the organization. In all cases, these conversations regarding doubts about the sect’s teachings were one-sided. Most were concerned or alarmed about my questions; they thought such questioning was dangerous and had the potential to lead one to a lost eternity. I eventually decided that I should continue on with my life, to accomplish what I needed to do, now that I was free of the influence of the organization. I also thought that all of my friends, for whom my discussions seemed to fall on deaf ears, were adults and responsible for their lives and answerable individually to the higher powers for what they did with their time and abilities. Although I briefly considered it, I did not pursue any investigation or documentation of the organization. I simply did not need it by this time, and others appeared not to be interested.
At this time, I was very aware of the need for a good attitude toward others. Perhaps one reason I realized the importance of my spiritual attitude was because of the hostility that had been directed at me. Two important factors underlay my attitude. First, I was fully aware of my individual responsibility for my views, attitude, and actions. If I had been misled, then perhaps it was I who was primarily at fault, not the organization. Since God had given me the ability to direct my life, then disappointments or problems should not be blamed on others. Secondly, I had come to have a profound appreciation of Jesus and the things that He taught, including the tremendous message of love. (Although I was rejecting any form of organized Christianity, I had, and continued to have, a profound appreciation for what is recorded of Jesus Christ.) Hostility should not be directed at those who displaced such, rather they should be loved as Jesus taught. This love was not for their actions, but for their persons. I believe Jesus taught that actions could be despised, but not the person.
Why was I satisfied that leaving the organization was a most positive step for me? (Given the teaching and indoctrination from early in life to all young children, few who are raised in the TRUTH ever leave without feelings of fear and guilt.) The answer for me was two-faceted. First, I had come to understand that the WAY was simply a method of controlling the behavior of members. I first began to understand this characteristic during that long night in Vietnam.
While the Bible was used extensively by the organization and held as the source of authority and direction, in reality, the final authority on any matter resided with whichever WORKERS were said to be responsible for the FLOCK. If one did not follow a direct order of a SENIOR WORKER, then excommunication was the likely result – other members would be told that the excommunicated person (#12) simply chose not to follow God’s WAY. As long as one behaved in the expected manner, one could participate fully in the religion. Spiritual factors were not, in reality, part of the requirements, although they were purported to be. I would concede that spiritual factors might be relevant to the extent they would influence behavior, but one could put little or no emphasis on spirit and be quite successful in the organization. At the time I exited, I understood I needed no one to dictate my behavior – God had actually created me with a mind to use for myself, and it was safe to assume that He intended it to be used.
The second facet of my satisfaction in leaving was the spiritual awareness I was attaining in my personal quest. For the first time in my life, I understood that life was glorious – and it was connected in a most positive way with death! Life was not merely an instrument of torture because of the necessary denials of the most precious feelings and talents with which we had been endowed. Rather, life was a journey, an exploration, an acquiring of knowledge and feelings about our existence. For me, to deny the use of any or all the human capacities in exploring the possibilities of existence was a travesty to the very purpose of our creation. To think that we were only behaving in some way to avoid punishment (hell), and go to some reward (heaven) came to seem very shallow. (I had been told by several people that, even in spite of my seeming good spirit, by leaving the TRUTH, I would most assuredly go to hell – and this was spoken very seriously, not flippantly.)
If it were true that our energies should be spent so as to avoid hell, then what value has the human experience? (This would be tantamount to conducting one’s life solely to stay out of prison. Where is the recognition of the value for positive accomplishments?) For me, the possibilities of spiritual existence needed to be fully embraced. Staying in the organization would simply not allow me to pursue this most important task. So, not only did I come to realize that I needed no one to direct my behavior, but allowing it to continue would be counterproductive regarding what I had come to view as the most important facet of my existence.
The social structure of the organization is such that members have few or no outside friends, social life, or emotional support. Thus, a decision to leave normally entails a tremendous cost in terms of one’s social support system, perhaps at a time support is most needed. Due to circumstances of my life in the years prior to leaving, and to my new priorities, the abandonment of a social support system was not a big emotional factor. I would also hasten to add that a few acquaintances in the organization remain valuable friends. Contacts with these people are infrequent, however.
At the time I left, I thought only of the process of leaving the organization. Recently, I have reflected on childhood and adolescence experiences. These laid the foundation for my entire life. I have also observed children who were born about the time I left and who are now teenagers and young adults. The transformation of some of these children has been remarkable. During infancy and early childhood, I observed a love of life and the natural curiosity in these youngsters. Casual observation of them now indicates none of the happiness I remember in their childhood years! While some such transformation probably occurs in all children, it does seem to be exaggerated by the restrictions inherent in the organization. It is no surprise to hear of these young adults contemplating entering the WORK. The demeanor currently evident certainly conforms to the stereotype. Both my experiences and observation of these young people would seem to confirm the toll on children who are raised as members of the organization. This is not to say that some other religions would not exact similar tolls on children.
However, my life would be quite different had I not been associated with the organization as a child. It is quite probable I would have a different occupation, among other differences. Some opinions and views would likely be different, even now, after successfully abandoning the organization. Would my life be better, richer without the experience of the TRUTH? I cannot answer this; it could have been the opposite. The freedom to explore other thoughts about religion, life, and death would not have guaranteed a better life; perhaps such freedom can only be fully appreciated after a struggle to gain it.
It is possible that the challenges I experienced in the organization and in extracting myself from its influence have resulted in very positive qualities in my life. Certainly, everything about the sect is not bad – a case could be made for many positive qualities. Furthermore, while the Two-by-Two organization has characteristics associated with some of the more notorious cults of the time, (#13) there are many other religious organizations that have profoundly negative impacts on others. These religions include mainstream ones as well as obscure ones.
For example, one of the most tortured souls I have ever met was a young Catholic woman who was convinced she was coerced by her church to give up a child, born out of wedlock, for adoption.
However, comparisons with other organizations and possible positive results for some members do not excuse a fraudulent exercise of power over members’ lives. It would seem intuitively obvious that children should be taught truthfully about decisions to be made in the conduct of their lives. Deceiving children by intentionally teaching false information is unacceptable. The intentional deception of adults on such matters is intellectual fraud. For young WORKERS who still believe in “the only-way-to-be-saved-from-a-lost-eternity” positions perpetuated by the organization, their responsibility may be excused. Some of them, too, may be profound victims. It’s possible that many older ministers continue to seek spiritual meaning from the organization. However, for WORKERS who know the true origins of the religion, the perpetuation of the myth of “first-century origins” for the organization is clearly fraudulent. There are many other cases of fraud within the organization, including stating that they have “no rules,” yet applying very strict, arbitrary, and undocumented laws upon the organization’s membership.
I have personally known some of the older WORKERS who are leaders of the organization. Over the years, I have tended to view their kind demeanor and spirit in a positive manner. I assumed their lack of vision regarding spiritual matters was an intellectual weakness. If God does not provide the capability to understand the organization, the individuals should not be held accountable for lack of understanding. Strong evidence has been presented that many of these WORKERS are indeed aware of the specific origins of the TRUTH. There is no question of the strength of this evidence, or of their attempts on some occasions to deny it. I admit it is somewhat difficult to understand their motive in attempting to hide such information.
They should acknowledge their lack of any association with the historical Jesus. While it is no crime to believe in a system of tenets for spiritual purposes, however unorthodox, such belief should be based on true representations. The ministers should simply admit the true nature of their beliefs and organization, not only to present (and past) members, but more importantly to prospective ones. This would include recognition of founder William Irvine, documentation of rules, organizational structure, and accounting for use of members’ donations. Otherwise, the organization remains potentially liable for civil fraud, has questionable spiritual meaning because of the deception, and certainly has no right to title itself, even formally, as “TRUTH.”
It could be argued that knowledge is the key to providing assistance to others who are still being deceived. The understanding that Jesus displayed toward others is an indication of the importance of knowledge. A reading of near-death experiences illustrates a few common feelings among the people involved: the need to understand nature, other people, the natural universe, etc. Some people who have had these experiences have spent a good portion of their lives in advanced education. The gift of human intelligence and natural curiosity should not be taken lightly. Jesus displayed a curiosity early in His life. At the young age of 12, Jesus was found “sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.” He described such activity as his Father’s (God’s) business! (#14) The message here is that knowledge of our world, our circumstances, our acquaintances, etc., is an important element of our existence. Knowledge of what influences our beings is vital. Providing valuable knowledge is perhaps one of the most effective ways to assist others. I can imagine that understanding my situation would have been easier, but not likely easy, if I had known that the TRUTH was invented by a man in 1897.
By John Frank Kelly
And Jesus answering said unto him [the devil], It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Luke 4:12
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. If ye had known Me, ye should have known My Father also; And from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him … he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? John 14:6-9
(#1) This is but one name that is commonly used by members of this religion, although the existence of a formal name is denied. When used here, the name is printed in small capitals.
(#2) Ministers of the sect go to great lengths to present it as not being an organization and members would never refer to it as such at least not during my association with it. While there is no formal documentation, it is nevertheless highly organized. I realized this early on during my quest for facts about the sect, and understood members were not being accurate in their descriptions of it. The question of organizational effectiveness is another matter.
(#3) This is the term commonly used by members to refer to lay members within the sect.
(#4) This is another name used by members for their organization.
(#5) The term “get together” was always used in place of the more common “party”. For some reason, “party” had a negative, plain WORLDLY connotation and was never used to describe their activities by members of the organization.
(#6) It would have been equally unacceptable in Michigan at that time to pursue a musical career in a classical music concert hall.
(#7) Listening to recorded music was largely forbidden throughout my tenure in this organization, since in the places I lived (first in Michigan, and later Alabama) stereos and radios were frowned upon. I made the break from these rules, however, in December 1974 when I purchased my first stereo system. This system had speakers which could not be hidden easily (even had I wanted to) and rather dominated my sparsely furnished living room. At that time in Alabama, radios and stereo systems, if possessed, were hidden when WORKERS came to visit. Over the next couple of years, there were only about two occasions when WORKERS visited me, and nothing was said regarding the stereo, although by that time, they were aware that I had other, more serious questions and concerns.
(#8) At that time, CO status could be retained by volunteering for the draft. Although volunteering for the draft enabled one to enter military service voluntarily, it was distinct from enlisting. I knew of at least one FRIEND who volunteered for the draft.
(#9) I have heard of one situation where the WORKERS have disapproved of a prospective member being involved in law enforcement work. They initially requested the person to change occupations. He did not, however, and later PROFESSED. I believe that these attitudes have more to do with a fear of court procedures (in which law enforcement officers often participate) and the potential for legal scrutiny of the organization – even if incidental or inadvertent.
(#10) Culture does have a lot to do with the organization’s rules. Women were absolutely forbidden to wear slacks or pants in the U.S. during my tenure in the sect; only dresses or skirts were allowed. When I returned from Vietnam with pictures of PROFESSING women at the Saigon CONVENTION, I had a difficult time convincing my mother that the women were indeed PROFESSING, because they were dressed in ao dais (which includes pants, along with other material), the traditional fashion for Vietnamese women.
(#11) I have heard of some members who have taken courageous stands regarding race relations in the South. Their positions undoubtedly put them at odds with members of their local communities. All stories of such courage which I have heard involved only lay members and not ministers.
(#12) If I was to be responsible for my relationship with God, then I had to accept full responsibility. I now understood that during my life previously, my supposed relationship with God was based on what others had said. Since I had now recognized the problems in uncritically accepting spiritual directions from others, then neither could I excuse my remaining shortcomings by placing “blame” on others.
(#13) Most of these notorious cults have only one person as the supreme authority. While THE TRUTH presently holds no single person at such an obvious level of authority over the entire organization, the OVERSEER WORKERS’ individual geographic areas do indeed hold such supreme power in most matters. It is individuals, rather than principles or laws that weld final judgment over members’ behavior. Increased pressure, through the dissemination of unfavorable information, may increase the likelihood of tragic reactions of some type – large or small in scale.
(#14) It is difficult for me to understand how anyone professing to be a Christian could characterize a serious inquiry of any subject – especially related to faith – as “ungodly,” antichrist or such in view of such passages as Luke 2:42-49.