By The Editor
First written in 1983, and then updated in 1992, 1999, and 2002, Raymond Franz’s Crisis of Conscience has become THE CLASSIC Jehovah’s Witness autobiography. Ray was the nephew of the Watchtower Society’s chief Bible translator, ghost writer, and prophet, Frederick Franz. Ray was (along with his uncle) an original member of the reconstituted and re-purposed Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Crisis of Conscience was first released in 1983, just three years after Ray Franz found himself on the Watchtower Society’s very short “hit list” – and after he was declared to be an “apostate” and “trouble-maker.” When he voluntarily took a leave of absence from his assignment and left his residence at the Society’s Brooklyn Bethel complex, his peers put him on trial in abstentia in what was essentially a “kangaroo court.” Those “holy men” declared Ray “guilty” and later announced that he’d been “disfellowshipped as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses” after his 40-plus years of dedicated and faithful service as a missionary, teacher, elder/overseer, researcher, and writer. The Society wanted him out so desperately, that they actually disfellowshipped Franz for violation of a rule that had not yet been written. The rule? Simply eating a meal with his “disassociated” employer and landlord!
Franz’s autobiography and memoir describes his expulsion from the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion and the events that followed at Bethel headquarters. He explains how the firestorm created around his case set off a wave of dissension and a sequence of traumatic events that would change the tone of Witness teachings, discipline, and doctrinal logic forever. The JW religion, once thought of as just a refuge for evangelical zealots with a quirky set of beliefs, was soon given a closer examination by outsiders like Time magazine and many big city newspapers. Those events would also shake the faith of many long-time Witnesses who were still in shock after the complete failure of the Society’s failed 1975 prediction. Anyone at headquarters (and many serving within local Kingdom Halls) who spoke up in defense of Franz, soon found themselves branded as apostates and “evil doers.” The Governing Body began dealing with any dissent within the ranks with an iron fist and even more restrictive guidelines.
Perhaps the real strength and value of he book is its role as a study of the internal workings of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society during the presidencies of Nathan H. Knorr and Frederick Franz between 1950 and 1981. The internal politics and power-brokering that went on during that time would set the shape of the Watchtower’s leadership for the next half-century. The revelations about how the Society really works at the headquarters level will make any sincere observer wonder how Jehovah God and Jesus Christ could possibly want to have anything to with such an organization.
Raymond Franz joined the headquarters staff in Brooklyn, New York in 1965. His duties included researching and writing the books Aid to Bible Understanding, and Commentary on the Book of James. He was appointed to the Governing Body in 1971.
Even though Time magazine reported on the events at Brooklyn in February 1982, Franz refused interviews by the news media for the next two years. Finally in 1983, Franz decided to speak up and tell a part of his story, but only after the Watchtower published several articles criticizing the motives and character of several other Witnesses. Among them were men and women who, like Franz, had served faithfully in their assignments for decades and punished with expulsion when they publicly disagreed with the methods and teachings of the Watchtower.
When Franz wrote his book, he stated that it might prompt average Jehovah’s Witnesses to reconsider the complaints and concerns of other JW defectors. He hoped that his book would lead to more definitive, honest and loving discussions of the actions and responsibility of the Governing Body. He knew there were both scriptural and functional problems within the Governing Body – and serious divisions within the organization, even at the highest levels.
One of his main concerns was the emphasis being placed on “loyalty to an organization,” and a falling away from love of God and fellow Christians. He described the actions of the current Governing Body as frequently unjust and cruel. He pointed out that many decisions seemed based on political expediency and not logic or Biblical direction.
Crisis of Conscience was a major change in direction from most books previously published about Jehovah’s Witnesses. Marley Cole’s self-published (and partly financed by the Watchtower Society) book, Jehovah’s Witnesses: The New World Society, and A. H. MacMillan’s Faith on the March, (also financed and publicized by the Watchtower) were so full of praise for the Society and its leaders, that both could have been penned by the Watchtower’s own writing department – and maybe they were. Crisis… was 180 degrees from those books, not because Ray Franz hated Jehovah’s Witnesses – far from it – but rather because he was a lover of truth. In his heart, he really wanted the Witnesses to succeed in their preaching work. Ray Franz had higher hopes for the organization and saw it crumbling under its own weight of political and financial mismanagement. More than anything else, he decried the lack of love for the brothers.
Crisis… was followed two years later by former Witness James Penton’s book, Apocalypse Delayed. Also considered by many to be a classic in this genre, Penton’s book covered much of the same material but with a more professorial and historic viewpoint. Raymond Franz followed up in 1991 with his own critical review of the Watchtower’s history and teaching – In Search of Christian Freedom.
Sadly, Raymond Franz died on June 2, 2010 at age 88, after suffering a head injury. He is greatly missed by all who knew him personally and by the readers of his two classic books.
Anyone who is seriously considering joining (or leaving) the Jehovah’s Witnesses, should take time t0 read both of Raymond Franz’s books. If time allows, include Apocalypse Delayed as well. These are serious and well-researched studies of a modern religious movement and should be in the library of everyone with a sincere interest in the “Truth” about Jehovah’s Witnesses.
A heartfelt review of Ray Franz’s Crisis of Conscience…
Editor’s Note: Having personally read every word of the books mentioned in the review several times, I can attest to the fact that they are all “page turners.” Most are available at larger public libraries, but for those who love to read, they should be considered as valuable additions to any personal collection. Copies can be purchased from Amazon.com, Commentary Press, or Freeminds.org.