A Sinister Start for the Governing Body

In 1975 Nathan H.Knorr, president of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, was in bad health – diagnosed with brain cancer. He could no longer function or continue to maintain his reputation as a “semi-benevolent dictator” that defined him during his 33-year presidency. Knorr’s genius had been his organizational skills, deferring to vice president Fred Franz for theology and any other issues involving “divine inspiration.”

The Problem with Freddie

When I worked at Bethel headquarters Brooklyn during the early 1960s, only a fool couldn’t see that Fred Franz’s mental state lacked a motor, crankshaft and both turn signals.

Was Knorr blind to this fact? I don’t think so. When he and Fred Franz reached the pinnacle of their unchecked power, both believed that God talked personally to them, but Fred in particular. Knorr may have reasoned that God prefers to reveal new truths to “odd-looking, semi-crazy men with poor social skills.”

Knorr himself lacked most social graces and style. Because Franz could speak with authority, Knorr

Fred Franz and Nathan Knorr at New York International Convention

Fred Franz and Nathan Knorr at New York International Convention

may have figured that Fred’s unique personality gave him a “God-like aura” to rank-and-file Jehovah’s Witnesses.

On the other hand, Nathan Knorr wasn’t a fool. By the mid 1960s he’d set up an organizational filter by giving several key men at Bethel the freedom to question (and hopefully “filter”) Fred’s more bizarre predictions and interpretations.

Looking back, one can only speculate why Fred’s “Armageddon is coming in 1975” managed to sift through that filter. My guess is that it may have been caught, but Knorr kiboshed any plan to stop it, thinking his own poor health was God’s way of telling him that “The ‘Big A’ is really on its way!”

The “Filter” takes over

Regardless, the filter had functioned long and well before that slip-up. It should also be noted that one of the filter members was Ray Franz, Freddie’s nephew, who wasn’t afraid to challenge his uncle’s megalomaniacal spins.

Ray Franz was unique among the leaders at Bethel because he had no interest in power. He didn’t pose a threat to those who jockeyed for position in the Bethel hierarchy during Knorr’s declining years. Ray’s passion was love and kindness toward the brothers, not harsh legalistic dictums.

As Nathan Knorr’s health began to decline in the mid 1970s, the men who made up Knorr’s filter, well aware of Fred Franz’s mental state, decided to restructure the organization. Instead of being led by a strong president, they would take over management as a “Governing Body,” with Knorr and Franz as members.

Like most skewed Jehovah’s Witness dogma, this change would be framed as being “Bible-based” and “actually in place since the 1940s.”

When the idea of a governing body was first proposed to Knorr and Franz, they protested. It meant the “Governing Body” – and not the president – would have control of the Organization’s doctrines and policies. Although he and Franz were powerless to stop the change, Knorr insisted that more hardcore members be appointed. Seven of Knorr’s “yes men” were called in to Bethel from outside assignments and asked to serve on the new Governing Body.

It’s clear that the makeup and attitudes of today’s Governing Body are consequences of those original Nathan H. Knorr appointments, but that very first GB will be most remembered for enacting a very sinister doctrine during its initial five-year tenure. Let me explain:

The new Governing Body takes control

On January 1, 1976, the Governing Body officially assumed responsibility for managing the Organization. Seventeen old men (including Ray Franz, Fred Franz and Nathan Knorr) now controlled policy and doctrine for the Watchtower. According to The Watchtower magazine, from that point on God gave “divine revelation” to all members on the Governing Body – not just to Fred Franz and Nathan Knorr.

Original Governing Body

Original Governing Body

While Ray Franz served competently on the GB, he found something lacking in his life. He started reading his Bible far more intently than he had ever done before. He didn’t read it with a Watchtower publication to tell him how to interpret things, but rather with an open mind. He encouraged others to do the same, praying for understanding, alone and in small groups.

Soon, he and hundreds of other Bethelites began to question the policy on the doctrines about the 144,000, 607 BC as being a Bible-based date, and blood transfusions. To Ray’s credit, he brought his concerns to GB meetings, where he could be very convincing. However, like most religious groups at the governance level, Ray knew that change takes place very slowly.

While other members of the GB worked hard to improve their positions of power, Ray took his message to the rank-and-file at Bethel and to several key members around the world. He encouraged open-minded people to start reading the Bible. As a result of his urging, many small groups formed and found themselves energized by their studies.

Ray continued to express his concerns to the GB at meetings where they asked him to share his detailed research and interpretations. He recommended that several long-held doctrines be changed and actually received over 60 percent support from fellow GB members when he asked them to repudiate the blood transfusion policy and the 144,000 doctrine.

The Effects of Knorr’s influence

Unfortunately, before the GB assumed authority, Knorr insisted that it take a 75 percent vote to change a Watchtower doctrine. Even with a majority consensus, every time one of Ray’s recommendations came up for a vote, no change could be made. That didn’t stop Ray’s efforts to correct what he believed were genuine errors on the Watchtower Society’s part.

Many years later Ray wrote about that difficult time in his life, “I had spent nearly forty years…serving at every level of the organizational structure. It was those final years that were the crucial period for me. Illusions there met up with reality. I have since come to appreciate [that] ‘the great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie—deliberate, contrived dishonest—but the myth—persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.’”

The "Ghost of Misinformation"

The “Ghost of Misinformation”

The Governing Body eventually reached consensus on one key issue: They had to stop Ray Franz’s questioning of core Watchtower doctrines.

Ray would have to be framed as “someone who no longer loved Jehovah.” He, along with hundreds of Bethelites who supported him, would have to be disfellowshipped. To make that possible, the GB reached the needed consensus to enact a sinister new policy they called shunning – a policy that would be positioned as “a new truth from God.”

A New Policy goes into effect

Before the policy was officially announced to Witnesses, all group studies of the Bible were banned at Bethel. Even if Bethelites were caught reading the Bible without a Watchtower publication, they would be dismissed and could be disfellowshipped. On April 30, 1980, Karl Klein, a member of the GB, summed it up this way when he addressed the Bethel family members, “If you have a tendency towards apostasy, get a hobby and keep yourself busy to keep your mind off of it. Stay away from deep Bible study to determine the meanings of scriptures.”

In November 1981, Nathan Knorr’s version of the Governing Body (with “Freddie” Franz as president) disfellowshipped Ray Franz. Based on what scriptural grounds? Someone saw him eating a meal with his employer (who was also his landlord)- a disfellowshipped person. The GB did not consult with him or allow him to offer a rebuttal. They simply labeled Ray “an apostate,” told everyone that “he had stopped loving Jehovah God” and was someone not fit to speak to. Ray found himself shunned by most Jehovah’s Witnesses, including many who had been his close friends, until his death in 2010.

That sinister start for the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses is now its legacy.

Author Richard KellyDick Kelly wrote this as a follow-up and to further expand on Cedar’s article series about the Watchtower’s hidden history and racist practices. Most Jehovah’s Witnesses have been led to believe that a “governing body” existed during the first century and that the modern Governing Body existed in the 1940s, shortly after Joseph Rutherford’s death. Very few modern day Witnesses are aware of the political power plays that took place at Bethel during the 1970s when the modern Governing Body was actually established. Kelly, best known for his first book Growing Up in Mama’s Club, released its long awaited sequel The Ghosts from Mama’s Club on May 1st. He invites you to visit his redesigned website to get more information about his books and to share your comments about his articles.


A Sinister Start for the Governing Body — 13 Comments

  1. Thank you again for the insights and credible research. So much is wrong with WT and its history that I am amazed by how many are deceived by it. This is not a divine organization led by God, but a worst case scenario of manmade religion.

  2. Godrulz, they are a very MANMADE group indeed. But they exist because people believe what they want to believe. This fact should behoove anyone searching for the truth to recognize that “the search” – getting the facts – is a lifelong journey. For those that choose that path, it is liberating and can give real meaning to their lives.

  3. Great article Dick Kelly! I just finished reading your book, The Ghosts From Mama’s Club. I was fascinated how you handled yourself all those years, living a religion you never believed. It was very inspiring as to how you handled yourself, amongst such adversity from family as well as from “club” members. It’s not an easy thing to do, as many of us who once belonged to the club can attest too. I hope to back track and read your first book. Hope it’s available to download on Kindle as well.

  4. Faith, thank you for your kind comments. My first book, “Growing Up in Mama’s Club”, is avaialable on Kindle. You can check it out on my website, richardekelly.com. I also want to compliment you on our recent post. All of us have a story to tell and it not only helps the person telling that story, but it can be an even greater help to the readers. To know that you are not alone can be very comforting as you go forward, finding your happiness.

  5. Richard, thank you for the compliment in regards to my post, yes it is comforting to read about others who have experienced similar situations, and were able to find their freedom in normal society. Thanks also for letting me know that your first book is also available on Kindle. I just bought it and can’t wait to began reading.

  6. Dick,

    Thanks for the post. Dean & I enjoyed reading it and think your description of Fred Franz was right on target! The sad thing is that Dean and I were listening to the idiots!!! What a waste!

    When Dean and I were first married we went to one of Franz’s talks with my parents. He was literally perverted in his sexual descriptions during his talk. My dad was furious!!! Franz was definitely a pervert!!! And he was telling us how to live. Yuk!


    Dean and Norine

  7. I’ve read this article with mixed feelings. Does the GB really think that they are directly guided by holy spirit? I cannot accept that do and I’m sure they know very well what they are up to as a group of self-deluded men. I’m convinced that they know that the watchtower-religion is a sham and a racket…but nowhere to go after Brooklyn Bethel. I am God eternally thankful for having my eyes “annointed” to see that evil system for what it is and allowing me to THINK FOR MYSELF.

    Thank you for this site.

  8. Having just looked this up to confirm it, the employer that Ray Franz was caught having a meal with – Peter Gregerson – had not been disfellowshipped, he had voluntarily disassociated himself. At the time of his submitting a letter of disassociation the Society simply let such ones go.

    However, within six months of this letter being submitted, the Society completely overhauled its policy on disassociation and lumped them in with the disfellowshipped. As someone commented to Ray Franz, “They did everything but put your name and Peter Gregerson’s in the magazine.” Ray didn’t wholly subscribe to this, but as he says, “When I read the material…I had little doubt as to where this would lead.” And sure enough, within about three months of the new policy, Ray was disfellowshipped.

    One can’t help feeling that it was a ritual assassination job – and now the Society had their very own Emmanuel Goldstein.

  9. Hi Richard,

    It has been awhile since I have wrote you. I just wanted to get your thoughts on the ‘new light’ of the Faithful and Discreet Slave now not being the entire annointed class but the governing body…duh! They have functioned that way for years, now they are just acknowledging it? Next they will be tried untie themselves to 607 B.C.E. as that is an impossible date.

    I still have my entire family as you know in this cult. I am hoping one day the ‘new light’ change wakes them all up and I am there to help them extract themselves.

    I look forward to your thoughts.


  10. It starts out by your not really knowing anything about the Bible. They tell you things that sound good and pick out a scripture to prove their point. You don’t read the whole thing to see what context it is talking about you take it for gospel. Once they get you in they brain wash you out of fear to fall ln line and accept what ever they tell you. Then your in and don’t dare read or look at other things that are negative against their organization. You live in fear of dying at armageddon if you disobey them and if your thrown out you lose all family and friends as they can not even speak to you. That is also a form of control. Some stay so they don’t lose family. If you out then your family and friends can’t find out you know they are false teachers. That is why the shunning.

    • That is key. Don’t read outside information. When I started to study my Uncle was very firm about this, even though I was researching a ‘truth’ that seemed quite a coincidence. My woodshop instructor back in highschool told me that in his Mormon faith Jesus is Michael the Archangel. And I had at that time learned that this was a teaching of Jehovah’s witnesses as well. So, he recommended a publication which I was going to read but when I shared this with my uncle he flatly told me that it’s demonic apostate literature and could plant false ideas in my head.
      Little did I understand in my youth that all religious literature is a false light and a false hope.
      But, science and great thinkers have helped me salvage what life I have left and to tell you the truth I’m envious of humanity in the future when they finally close the chapter on religious dogma and embrace a humanitarian philosophy in our dealings with each other and a harmonious balance with nature and our evolved minds.

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