Friday, June 4, 2010

Good bye, Ray Franz, 1922- 2010

Posted by Joel Gunz

Former Governing Body member Ray Franz's death yesterday marks, for me, the passing of an old guard of Jehovah's Witness leadership. It has been observed that, before his ouster, he, along with Dan Sydlik and Lyman Swingle could be counted on to bring a moderating voice to that group's decision-making process. Once upon a time, you could hold your own opinions about its teachings and remain a member of the congregation in good standing. To be sure, you couldn't actively promote your own ideas – that would be asking too much – but it wasn't the cardinal sin it is now to have them. That freedom was due in no small part to Brother Franz's influence (and he was a brother if there ever was one).

The capacity to think for yourself was once a valued quality; his was rewarded with a promotion to the Governing Body. In the wake of Nathan Knorr's grey flannel suit corporatizing of the Organization, he, along with his uncle Fred and others, celebrated the uniqueness of the individual. If at times he may have seemed too liberal, it was only to counterbalance other more conservative voices.

His dismissal from Bethel and subsequent disfellowshipping in 1981 changed all that. Search the Watchtower Index and you'll find that warnings against apostasy increased exponentially after that year. It's no exaggeration to say that the suppression of freedom of speech among the Witnesses now resembles that of the Communist-era Soviet Union. It would probably make even George Orwell do a spit-take. His demonization serves as a warning to any member who would speak up on behalf of the human spirit.

Ray wasn't the first Governing Body member to leave under inauspicious circumstances, but he was the first to talk about how that hyper-secretive clique operates. Not surprisingly, he was hated for it. His exit from the Organization attracted more gossip and resentment from the headquarters staff than anyone's since the rift that occurred when “Judge” Rutherford took control of the Society following Charles T. Russell's death. I recall being present at a Witness gathering where Writing Department old timer Harry Peloyan regaled an awestruck group with his version of the events leading up to the apostate housecleaning at Bethel. We listened with the rapt attention of a boy scout troop telling ghost stories around the campfire.

When I served at Brooklyn Bethel in the mid-1980s, there was still a cloud in the air from the witch hunt his ouster had provoked. Rumors abounded regarding his supposedly subversive activities. He was the poster child for the bad seed of apostasy. Still, he kept talking – and writing. I suspect that the rigors of missionary service in his early years toughened him to be able to take such a stand later on.

In 2003 or so, I found myself outside the Organization and decided to catch up on some reading. Even though my faith in the Witnesses had been shattered, ordering his book Crisis of Conscience still felt naughty, as if I were sneaking a peek at a Playboy magazine in the garage. Of course, it was an eye-opener. Reading his description of how the Governing Body actually works both dismayed me and rang true. Contrary to what I'd been taught, Ray wasn't a crank with an axe to grind. He was simply a man with a story to tell. His writings manifest the restraint, objectivity and careful wording of a man anticipating brutal cross-examination.

At its center, Crisis of Conscience is the cri de coeur of a man betrayed by an organization that he never ceased to love. Sensing that his time in this life was short (he was 80 years old when the book came out), here's what he said in its introduction:

“What this book contains is written out of a sense of obligation to people whom I sincerely love. In all good conscience I can say that its aim is to help and not to hurt. If some of what is presented is painful to read, it was also painful to write. It is hoped that the reader will recognize that the search for truth need never be destructive of faith, that every effort to know and uphold truth will, instead, strengthen the basis for true faith.”

In his way, Ray did more to help Jehovah's Witnesses than, perhaps, anyone. By resolutely sticking to his principles and sharing his experience, he has provided Jehovah's Witnesses and anyone considering joining – or leaving – them an authoritative alternative perspective on a religion that allows no room for second opinions. Thanks to him, many (myself included) have finally gotten straight answers to questions that bothered them for years. While the Witnesses may claim to be “in the truth,” it was Ray's mission to urge them to actively pursue it. By keeping his integrity and fearlessly standing up for the truth, he was a witness among Witnesses. I'm thankful for his courage to speak honestly, from a heart filled with love. He has inspired me to try to do the same.

I never met Ray. I wish I had. For me, his death finalizes that missed opportunity and is a reminder to create such opportunities while I still can.

R.I.P., Brother Franz.

13 comments:

  1. Melody Powell BlankenshipJune 4, 2010 at 11:11 AM

    Nice tribute to Mr. Raymond Franz. Thanks for sharing!

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  2. Beautiful Joel..... and so resonating. Thank you. And thank you Ray.

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  3. Wow - sad that he's gone. I read COC around '95 or so, after I'd already left the B'org.

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  4. Thank you. Ray was a truly wonderful person.

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  5. I remember being told about Ray whilst in the borg. Even thoe I was young it just didnt sit right with me, because if god could see the future why was he choosing men to be anointed who were only going to leave it at a later date. I haven't read COC but I hope to soon.

    Thanx Ray for all your hard work in helping others and many will continue your work, you really were a messenger from God. I'm certain you'll be reading all of this from afar now. Love and Light x x x

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  6. Well written, Joel. I agree with you 100% about Mr. Franz. Can you imagine working for 40 years from a corporation that provided you with room and board, 1st class airfare to almost anywhere in the world, and a level of respect and fame that few men dream about - and then having the courage to grab your meager possessions, take your wife's hand, and simply walk away? Not only walk away with hardly anything, but moving to Alabama, living in a tiny house trailer, and raking leaves and pulling weeds to earn enough money to pay for food? That's basically what Ray Franz did. Why? Because in his heart that was the only right thing he could do. I'm sure that Mr. Franz died with a clear conscience, knowing that when he was faced with an almost unimaginable choice, he made the right move. We'll miss him. I've shed a few tears since I heard the news.

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  7. Beautiful......you have captured the essence of how we all feel about Ray Franz.......and about the kind of person he truly was, not what we were taught that he was.........I agree, his life sets a clear example for those he leaves behind.......I will always be grateful for his courage to share his experiences with the world

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  8. l write with a clean conscience and strong conviction of jw being a world wide organisation possessing the truth.Some of you may doubt that.But do not be carried away by the words and thought of people who could not remain in the truth because of their indulgence in a double lifestyles and selfish desires which is evident in thier speech and writings.This could seen in how Ray Franz conducted himself after leaving bethel by forming the (dawn).l do not potray witnesses as perfect people.But people who are determined to please Jehovah. Even SATAN cannot doubt that this is the truth.l end with an upholding of truth and challenge any one to name any organisation on this earth having the truth!

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  9. Dear Anonymous -
    Thank you for taking the time to write and share your views. While I may not agree with everything you say here, I do uphold your right to say it. In response to your challenge, I would ask you, why does there need to be an "organization on this earth having the truth?" Can't we as intelligent individuals seek truth wherever it may be found?

    Take good care,
    Joel

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  10. And where do you intend to find it.Happy if you share that on this platform since l hold on to mt challenge!

    Thank you.

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    1. Hi Anonymous -
      My path for finding truth might be different from yours. When I was a JW, the Bible and Watchtower publications were pretty much the only places where I sought truth - and I found a lot there! For instance, Jesus' words that you "reap what you sow" ring very true for me. Also, I agree with the JWs that only by putting spiritual things first can one be truly fulfilled in life. I would call that a "truth." Where I differ, however, is when Watchtower publications insist that the only right way to do it is by following the path promoted in its own pages. While I used to believe that way myself, I've since come to see that there are many ways to authentically satisfy your spiritual need, pursuing a life of "the three H's" - Honesty, Humility, and Hunger for the truth. In that way, there are millions of Buddhists, Hindus, pagans and atheists who truly are a light to the world. Here are a few areas where many have found truth:

      Many who suffer from addictions find truth in 12-Step meetings.

      Others find it in science. (It is very difficult to be arrogant when you really try to grok the size of the known universe!)

      Last year, I visited a different church each week for several months - Jewish, Catholic, Episcopalian, Buddhist, Hare Krishna, Gnostic, you name it! I saw people of all sorts pursuing truth and having spiritual communion with each other in ways that profoundly changed their lives for the better. Many of these church experiences brought me to tears as I came to realize how arrogant it was for me to assume that the only place where the "fruitage of the spirit" could be manifested was in a Kingdom Hall. That's an important point: Jesus said you would know his people by their fruits. So, if members of other churches are manifesting the fruit of the spirit, then I MUST accept that they have God's spirit. This was a difficult thing for me to accept. I really had to swallow my pride, because I observed these truths even while I was trying to get reinstated. In this case, I wasn't necessarily pursuing truth; rather, it hunted me down and forced me to look!

      Some people find truth when they look deep into their children's eyes.

      I also think it's important to "keep testing whether you are in the faith." One way to do this is by working to discern the difference between "belief" and "truth." Many (if not most) people confuse the two. Basically, beliefs are subject to change, while truths aren't. I found that much of what JWs call "precious truths" are actually beliefs, or, at best, facts. For example, I agree with JWs that the Bible does not teach the Trinity doctrine. I believe that it is a fact that the Bible is not a Trinitarian book. However, anciently (before it was appropriated into Christendom), the Trinity was simply a metaphor for the total omniscience of the supreme deity: it is a symbol for God as the ultimate Observer. In that, I happen to see a great deal of profound truth. In other words, the biblical "trinity" is not a fact, whereas the original (pagan!) concepts about the meaning of the trinity hold what seems to me to be a lot of truth.

      I would hand this challenge to you: as you continue to study the Bible and WT publications, ask yourself: Is what I am studying reinforcing a belief, or is it Truth? I'm not suggesting that you give up your beliefs - especially if they work for you. I do encourage you to simply know the difference.

      Take good care,
      Joel

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  11. Hm, I know this is an older thread. I'd just like to point out to the previous "Anonymous" that, even being here... you'd be violating church tenets.

    You know? That whole "avoiding the apostates" thing.

    I wonder if they've gotten around to tracking IPs to see what everyone's up to in the privacy of their own homes, yet...

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