reprint from the Jun/Aug 1995 Free Minds Journal
reprints of the Free Minds Journal
Claire Arbuckle's father did not like Jehovah's Witnesses. Of course, the Watchtower's pacifistic message was none too popular during World War II. Living in the army barracks in San Bernardino county didn't add much to their appeal, either. Only 17 years young, Miss Arbuckle was already distressed that the churches didn't seem to be teaching her the Bible, and complained to her dad, "I just wish there was some place you could learn the Bible without going to church!" With a seemingly sudden change of heart, her dad jokingly said, "Why don't you look up those Jehovah's Witnesses that are always out on the streets?" Claire sent her daddy out to those on the corner to ask, "How can we find where your studies are?" A year later (1944), Claire was baptized as a Jehovah's Witness, and her once-opposing father soon followed her steps. With this quirky change of events, Claire's life began an amazing episode that would last for over 40 years.
Not being one to sit around and wait for Armageddon, Miss Arbuckle signed up as a special pioneer with the Watchtower Society, and was assigned to what is now called Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Soon she was working with an older special pioneer "sister" living in a little old trailer in the town of Auburn, CO.
Not altogether fond of each other, the two split up, Claire being assigned to Ft. Scott, Kansas. The only hitch was, there wasn't any congregation in Ft. Scott yet. Naturally, with President N.H. Knorr at the helm in Brooklyn, she would just have to START one. So start one she did, just out of her teens, renting a church building in Ft. Scott for their meetings. Miss Auburn naturally became the overseer, or "Company Servant," as they were then called. The only difference between this cheeky little girl and your standard elder was that she had to wear a head covering when teaching or speaking before the male members of the congregation.
Ft. Scott was a town of 15,000, and if you know Claire you can guess she knew every house and person in that town by the time four years had passed. She worked them all. No others went door-to-door but her, yet she witnessed early in the morning until late to reach others with the Bible and the Watchtower message.
Miss Arbuckle was not your typical Jehovah's Witness, however. She preferred the Bible over the literature when it came to both her personal reading, as well as in witnessing to others. As time went on, this became more pronounced.
The town, however, became less and less tolerant of the beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses, and while handing out fliers, Claire was warned that she would be arrested if she did not stop her work. Rumors of tar and feathering were heard in the background whisperings. Certain ones would even spit on her, calling her "draft dodger" (though women were not in the draft back then). Claire began to work the businesses in place of the homes. Soon, she was arrested along with her father and another girl, both of whom were let out of jail three days later. Claire remained.
"I was not going to pay the fine," Claire now muses. "It would be an admission of guilt, and I didn't do anything wrong."
The case went to the Superior Court in Kansas. Hayden Covington was the WT Society's lawyer defending her case. Out of two pending cases, Covington decided to use the other JW girl's case as an example, and Claire went back to jail, this time "until you pay the fine!" At 23 years old, this girl didn't come out for 34 days. Treated badly and fed on meager rations, she lost 15 pounds. The Watchtower commended her for "suffering for what is right."
Claire entered the 13th class of Gilead in 1949, a select WT missionary school. Because of a hearing problem, she was not assigned overseas, but special pioneered on the eastern seaboard. She met George in 1953, an upstart 19 year-old publisher who was giving the public talk at the Flatbush congregation in New York City. They were married the same year.
George Weissman's mother had baptized him in the tub when he was eight years old. He wanted to get dunked before the 1941 Assembly began. Though his father had always opposed, George's mother had been converted by C.T. Russell himself, the founder of the Watchtower. Her baptism of George did not count in the elders' eyes, and they rebaptized George the day before he gave that public talk in 1957. George and Claire were married by Milton Henschel, now the President of the WT's Governing Body.
"Looking back over this time during the Witnesses, what stands out to you the most?" I asked George and Claire.
"Well for one, I didn't end up in Korea," George ponders, "and I don't smoke."
"The main thing that got to me was not the failure of 1975 to bring the end, but the guilt being passed off to the publishers for expecting that to happen, when it was so obvious the Watchtower had predicted it."
"Should I apologize for someone stepping on my foot?" said George. "The Watchtower had always taught me to cover for blame (sort of like saying, 'excuse me,' when someone bumps into you). Now, they didn't even follow their own advice." They began passing the blame for their prophetic blunders onto the discouraged Witnesses themselves.
Though having read Crisis of Conscience by Raymond Franz and learning of the corruption inside the Governing Body itself, George "put it on the back burner," so to speak. It wasn't long before the back burner became overloaded with WT contradictions and lies.
Now George is a gentle man, slow to anger and quick to forgive. His anger flared, however, the more he read of the inner workings of the Governing Body through Crisis and other publications. He beseeched Jehovah in prayer that he would not turn to the world. Instead, he waited seven years before he turned in his letter of resignation in June of 1992.
"One main regret is that I have one son in northern California who won't have anything to do with me," because of his notice of disassociation.
Claire had been warned of her "tendency towards independent thinking" as early as 1982, about the same time a host of articles came out in the Watchtower magazine threatening Witnesses with disfellowshipping for even questioning the WT's authority or doctrines. Rather than giving canned answers at the bookstudy, Claire preferred her own scriptural explanation of Bible passages. Soon the elders wouldn't call on her anymore to answer the rote questions. She stopped going out in service, feeling trapped liked a prisoner, muted by the leaders of an organization she had once took pleasure in.
"It wasn't like that when I joined." Claire asserts. "It just became too totalitarian." She soon came in contact with Ed Dunlap, then Ron Frye and Dennis and Pamela Swanson, ex-members who aid others in the exiting process.
Clair gives credit to the Watchtower for advice in keeping her marriage, raising her three children, and in learning not be abusive as her parents were to her. Yet the time came when the system became more oppressive than the benefits that could be derived from it. One's ability to speak freely and to worship God as HE says must become a priority.
"To others I would say, `don't be structured and parented by a totalitarian organization. Explore whatever you feel the need for in your life.'"
I asked Claire if such a major shift in a religious sense ever stifled her love for the Bible. "No, it just made me all the more interested in it!"
George's advice to others is valuable for all of us, even those who were never JWs but whose family is somehow involved in it:
"Don't go away angry. Beg Jehovah to take away your resentment towards this organization. If God gives you the power to see something wrong, protect yourself from that wrong, but not for the purpose of judging the wrongdoer. If you get judgmental, you steal from God."
George told Claire she should not be resentful-a bit of advice, George admits, was easier for her to practice than it was for him.
They began praying for their estranged JW son and his wife. Though there is still no communication, George and Claire don't miss them as much or feel hurt anymore. "We love life now."
Claire & George Weissman
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