Favoritism and the "Jim Crow" Laws Among

Jehovah's Witnesses

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The Story

of Greg

and Penny

Peterson

 

Greg Speaks Out

My family was baptized in July 22, 1962 in Northridge, Calif. By 1966 my two sisters were regular pioneers as well as my father. My mother was never a regular pioneer nor do I remember her vacationing pioneering in her 36 years as one of Jehovah's Witnesses. My brother occasionally vacation pioneered in the summer. I too vacation pioneered in the summer, for I was 5 years younger than my youngest brother and 10 years younger than my oldest brother, six and seven years younger than both of my sisters. But we all were devout Jehovah’s Witnesses because my father believed it to be the Truth.

Back in February 1962 we were all baptized as Baptist, all except my mother, and we were all enjoying the church until one day my father (after his Bible discussion with the JWs) informed us that we were going to all sit down and study with the Witnesses each week. When July 22, 1962 arrived we all were baptized as JWs, because my father wanted it that way. Gregory was 10, Frank was 15, Marie was 16, Cynthia was 17, my mother was 38, and my father was 40.

In July 1966 my family decided to move to Dallas, Texas to serve where the need was greater. My father wanted to be closer to my oldest brother who was not a JW but was married with three children, to give him the opportunity to learn the "truth" as we were taught. My brother was 25 years old at the time, and for various reasons never became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but his wife and three children later all became dedicated JWs.

That year my family attended the District Assembly in Dallas at the Market Hall. It was a good assembly in many ways because people of all ethnicity attended, and just down the freeway where three years earlier John F. Kennedy (one of the civil rights champions) was assassinated for what many people believed was his stand on civil rights and his brother’s stand on prosecuting organized crime. So in many ways the 54,000+ that were gathered in Dallas under the name of Jehovah's Witnesses was refreshing to a city that had a bad reputation as a town of bigots and murderers.

But was this really a case of genuine love and racial harmony in this group called Jehovah's Witnesses? Indulge me a little as I relate facts to you that can be verified regarding their true racial harmony.

In the city of Texarkana (on the border of Texas and Arkansas) the JWs held an assembly. Again the blacks and whites assembled together, but this time they had a rope that ran across sections of the seats that separated the black brothers from the white brothers. Now you might say, "The law prevented them from meeting together, so it wasn't the JWs, it was the government." But remember this is the organization that said they would rather die than violate their conscience. These are the same people who refused blood transfusions because of what they felt would be a violation of a Bible principle. So are we to conclude then that the "Jim Crow laws" were to be obeyed over the Bible principles and over their own moral consciences?

Let's take a closer look at the Watchtower Society's handling of the "Jim Crow laws" in the South. Right after the 1966 convention in Dallas, Texas where there seemed to be such racial harmony, the circuit assemblies were all segregated in the South, and for Texas it continued segregated until the early 1970's. Not only were the circuit assemblies segregated, but also the Kingdom Halls were segregated, and we had a segregation of the circuit overseers and district overseers too. As you might have already guessed, the black circuit and district overseers served the black congregations and conducted their assemblies and the white circuit and district overseers did likewise for their white flock.

I know some will reason that the Society was just being cautious, and was concerned for all the brothers’ safety, and this again shows the love on the part of the Governing Body. Yet the laws of segregation had already been challenged, knocked down and changed for all of the U.S. Worldly people were so sick of and embarrassed by segregation and the "Jim Crow laws" that all government facilities, schools and public places had to remove the "for whites only" signs. People were moved so much by their consciences that many were thrown in jail and some even killed over the right of integration. But the "mother organization" was teaching her children who lived in the South to be good little segregationists. "Mother," by her actions or non-actions, was saying to her southern white children, "When the larger conventions are in town and the cameras and media are too, take off those clean white robes and white cone hats, because people might get the wrong impression and think you are for segregation."

When I think of all the garbage "mother" got us to eat and then brainwashed us into thinking "MMM-mmm Good!" and that "mother" always gives us "what we need when we need it," I just want to regurgitate.

In 1969 (at the suggestion of the Society) Brother Rock (our circuit overseer) asked my family to move to Tyler, Texas. We obeyed, because we felt if we would turn down this assignment it would be as though we had turned down Jehovah, and 1975 was just around the corner. The one white congregation needed help also, but we weren't able to help them. So two white sisters and one Spanish sister moved to Tyler to help the whites, again blacks with blacks and whites with whites, since you don't mix color with your whites. (Oh, I'm sorry, I was thinking of washing clothes.) Anyway the three sisters who moved to help the white congregation were regular pioneers, too. So we all joined forces and worked the assigned and unassigned territories around Tyler. In accordance with the Society's suggestions, the blacks preached to the blacks and invited them to the black congregation, and the other three did likewise for the whites and Spanish-speaking persons.

I forgot to mention that it was all right in most congregations in the South for Mexicans to go to the white congregations, because president Roosevelt had declared them "white." The three sisters and my family enjoyed our little outings in the preaching work, but the white brothers through their congregation servant Bro. Elmer Wells informed them that they needed to be going out with their congregation and not with us blacks.

Prior to this episode, the black brothers had borrowed some money to build a new Kingdom Hall for the black friends, but they didn't borrow enough. Since they had already demolished the old KH and had no other place to meet, we asked the white brothers could we meet at their KH just for the time it would take to build a new hall for the blacks. They turned us down the first time, stating it would be unfavorably looked on by the community. We stressed to them that inclement weather was just ahead and we would be willing to pay what they felt was fair, so after a secret meeting with their body servants, they gave us the go-ahead.

Well 1970 came around and even some of the churches in Tyler had integrated sparsely but at least it was a start. The whole racial climate had changed in the U.S. Interracial marriages were happening, black movies were being played in small cities in the South. Black sitcoms were on TV. Even the police department in Tyler, Texas was integrated and a black officer could ticket a white motorist, but in Texas we still weren't integrated in our Kingdom Halls. As a matter of fact our congregation overseer at that time was Bro. Max Haynes (from San Jose, California) and he talked to Bro. Elmer Wells regarding integration. He was told, "No, the white friends weren't ready for that yet." He asked the white congregation again and was told the same thing. Now a letter was sent to the Society asking why weren't we allowed to integrate. The Society informed us that they leave such matters up to the local brothers.

Later, after several more meetings with our white brothers and two circuit overseers, we finally integrated around the beginning of 1971. On September 4,1971 I married a sister from Beaumont, Texas by the name of Penny Payne, one of the few good things I can attribute to my time in the Witnesses. We lived our first two years in Tyler, Texas and we both were regular pioneers. I was finding it hard to make a living, so I decided that we needed to move to Dallas so that I could make a decent living. My father knew of my plans to move back to Dallas and so my father and mother and my sister Cynthia moved at the same time as my wife and I.

When we moved back to Dallas, it still was segregated. However, if interested ones wanted to go to a certain KH even if they were black and the congregation was white, they could go. But for the most part it was still segregated. At the KH we were attending, we had a visit of our circuit overseer, Bro. Gunther, who was white. A note of explanation: When the Society slowly moved toward integration, they didn't want to offend the white brothers, so they moved all the black circuit overseers and district overseers out to places like Watts, Calif. The friends were told they did this because of the racial tension in those places and they needed to move the white overseers out of the hotbed and bring in the blacks. Well, the Watts' riots happened around 1965. Now six years later the Society decided it was too dangerous for the white circuit overseers there!

Then Bro. Gunther asked my wife and me to move to a white congregation in one of the suburbs of Dallas, the city called Duncanville, Texas. He told us when his visit ended at the congregation we attended that he wanted us to meet him over at Duncanville. He felt we would work out well since I had shared in East Texas integrating and my wife and I were both pioneers, well spoken, young and probably just dumb enough to go for it.

At the Duncanville congregation my wife and me were the only regular pioneers they had for at least two years, and during those first two years the brothers at the meeting for field service always assigned all the whites to work together and would leave my wife and me out of the assignments and then ask us, "Do you all have someone to work with or do you have plans?" If this wasn't bad enough I sat in the congregation for two years without the white brothers ever asking me to help in any of the servant’s capacity other than the cleaning of the hall. Prior to my stay at Duncanville I had served in all positions in the congregation and quite a few at the circuit and district level, but a black in a predominantly white congregation in their minds just was not qualified. Would you say an organization that is supposed to be known for their love and racial harmony would act in such a manner?

I began to have questions and was needing answers as to why the Society wasn't doing anything about the racial problems that were quite apparent when their circuit overseers would visit. I had the rude awaking that this was an organization that does not want to be questioned, yet the Bible shows many times that Jehovah allowed his servants to question Him. I also learned how hypocritical this organization is because we are taught to encourage our Bible students to ask questions, but only until they became baptized Witnesses. Then they discover that now that they are members, they are no longer to ask questions but to blindly accept everything from "mother" or the Society without doubting.

Case in point: One of the circuit overseers who served the Duncanville congregation was Bro. Simcox, whom I asked on several occasions why weren't the African-American brothers used more often at our circuit assemblies. Many of the white friends were asking us what was the problem? as these were the 90s. About the only African-American brother receiving parts regularly was Jarred Hardie who had served 4 or 5 years at Bethel and one of the ones that would just accept things and not question the Society, knowing this would be bad for his career. So when Brother Simcox came to serve our congregation, this again was a question our body of elders wanted an answer to (incidentally, the KH now was predominantly African-Americans). Bro. Simcox also knew I had written to the Society on a couple of occasions asking about this obvious oversight. So after the Sunday meeting when he met with the body of elders to read the letter he was sending to the Society regarding the spiritual health of the congregation, I asked in a very respectful way about the obvious racial prejudices, especially at the circuit assemblies. That's when Bro. Simcox blew his top! He turned very red and said to me in front of the body of elders, "If you keep asking those questions, you're going to dig a hole for yourself that you will never get out of!"

Instead of an organization based on love, politics is really the order of the day. Most brothers or elders (if they are honest) will admit that in order to have any so-called "real positions," or to get parts on the assembly you must play ball with the "good ol' boys." To question things or to get on these "good ol' boys’" bad side means spiritual bankruptcy as far as getting assembly parts. This is why at most circuit and district assemblies you have the same white ones on over and over again, not because they are the best speakers, but because they are willing to play politics and do whatever it takes to be on stage.

Even now in 1998, politics and racism are alive and well in the organization. Example: African-Americans, for the large part, could only head up the departments for cleaning and food (when there was a food department). Many African-Americans would complain, but not too loudly because the Society uses "spiritual blackmail" to control and keep them in their place. Thus if you complain, you are presumptuous, and if the complaint gets back to the right ears, you could be removed as an elder and if you were not an elder, your hopes of becoming one were slim and none.

 

Penny concludes

My name is Penny. As Greg’s wife, I knew Greg was writing letters to the Society, asking them pointed questions about the things he saw and knew should not be taking place in an organization that claims to be the only true organization and spokesman for the greatest God of the universe. Brooklyn would not respond to any of his letters through the years except one. This, in spite of him being humble enough to ask them if he was looking at this situation in the wrong way, and that he would gladly respond to counsel from the Bible. Despite their ignoring the questions, Greg persevered. Over the years Greg became known as a troublemaker in their eyes, someone who could not be "bought off" by simply saying, "If you don't keep quiet, you won't get any assembly parts and you may be removed as an elder."

As a result, when the opportunity afforded itself and they were able to get some false charges on him, they removed him as an elder, and his character and reputation were totally destroyed with Brooklyn Bethel's blessings. For once they could attempt to silence him with trumped-up charges, but he would not be silenced. In the course of time Greg was labeled an apostate -- a tactic Brooklyn uses because they know the word "apostate" scares and frightens all JWs worse than the sins of fornication and adultery. Thus they know if you are labeled as an apostate, the average Witness will not come anywhere near you.

In their final desperate attempt to disfellowship and discredit Greg, an unusual visit by a new district overseer named Bro. Koinavich was then brought in with one thing on his agenda, which was that Gregory Peterson should be disfellowshipped. When the then-presiding overseer Willie Shelton and the local body of elders attempted to let him know there were absolutely no grounds for disfellowshiping, he became visibly upset. He then stated his reason for recommending disfellowshiping was because of all those letters that Greg had written to the Society over the years! How could this new district overseer know anything about the letters, unless Brooklyn Bethel had given him the necessary information and orders to have him disfellowshipped for writing them?

So how does this leave us feeling? Hurt? A little hurt, betrayed, confused and angry at first, but now we are relieved, stronger, a lot more confident, and joyful over our new relationship with our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. How did we come to this point? By making an in-depth study of the Bible so as to distinguish the difference between man-made organizations and God, and to serve and worship Jehovah God and Jesus Christ only. Our sincere prayer and hope is that Jehovah's Spirit will be with all who make a search for the truth, because this and the doing of God's will (which is outlined in the Bible) is what will lead to eternal life, not the selecting of organizations or religions of men.

The Bible clearly states, "Keep on asking, and it will be given you; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking, and it will be opened to you. For everyone asking receives, and everyone seeking finds, and to everyone knocking it will be opened." We firmly believe these words that come, not from a man-made organization, but directly from the Son of God. - Matt. 7:7-8

With agape love,

Greg and Penny Peterson

[Note: Greg and Penny formally disassociated themselves on Dec. 20, 1997. ]


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