In November 1954, the Douglas Walsh trial was held in the Scottish Court of Sessions, in which the Watchtower Society tried
to establish before the British court that certain of its members were ordained ministers. High ranking leaders of the Society
testified, including vice-president Fred Franz and legal counsel for the Society, Haydon C. Covington. Covington's testimony
before the attorney for the Ministry of Labour and National Service included the following:
Q. Is it not vital to speak the truth on religious matters?
A. It certainly is.
Q. Is there in your view
room in a religion for a change of interpretation of Holy Writ from time to time?
A. There is every reason for a
change in interpretation as we view it, of the Bible. Our view becomes more clear as we see the prophesy fulfilled by time.
Q. You have promulgated -- forgive the word -- false prophesy?
A. We have -- I do not think we have promulgated
false prophesy, there have been statements that were erronious, that is the way I put it, and mistaken.
Q. Is it
a most vital consideration in the present situation of the world to know if the prophesy can be interpreted into terms of
fact, when Christ's Second Coming was?
A. That is true, and we have always striven to see that we have the truth
before we utter it. We go on the very best information we have but we cannot wait until we get perfect, because if we wait
until we get perfect we would never be able to speak.
Q. Let us follow that up just a little. It was promulgated
as a matter which must be believed by all members of Jehovah's Witnesses that the Lord's Second Coming took place in 1874?
A. I am not familiar with that. You are speaking on a matter that I know nothing of.
Q. You heard Mr. Franz's
A. I heard Mr. Franz testify, but I am not familiar with what he said on that, I mean the subject matter
of what he was talking about, so I cannot answer any more than you can, having heard what he said.
Q. Leave me out
A. That is the source of my information, what I have heard in court.
Q. You have studied the literature
of your movement?
A. Yes, but not all of it. I have not studied the seven volumes of "Studies in the Scriptures,"
and I have not studied this matter that you are mentioning now of 1874. I am not at all familiar with that.
from me that it was promulgated as authoritative by the Society that Christ's Second Coming was in 1874?
that assumption as a fact, it is a hypothetical statement.
Q. That was the publication of false prophesy?
A. That was the publication of a false prophesy, it was a false statement or an erronious statement in fulfilment of a
prophesy that was false or erronious.
Q. And that had to be believed by the whole of Jehovah's Witnesses?
A. Yes, because you must understand we must have unity, we cannot have disunity with a lot of people going every way,
an army is supposed to march in step.
Q. You do not believe in the worldly armies, do you?
A. We believe
in the Christian Army of God.
Q. Do you believe in the worldly armies?
A. We have nothing to say about
that, we do not preach against them, we merely say that the worldly armies, like the nations of the world today, are a part
of Satan's Organization, and we do not take part in them, but we do not say the nations cannot have their armies, we do not
preach against warfare, we are merely claiming our exemption from it, that is all.
Q. Back to the point now. A false
prophesy was promulgated?
A. I agree that.
Q. It had to be accepted by Jehovah's Witnesses?
That is correct.
Q. If a member of Jehovah's Witnesses took the view himself that that prophesy was wrong and said
so he would be disfellowshipped?
A. Yes, if he said so and kept persisting in creating trouble, because if the whole
organisation believes one thing, even though it be erronious and somebody else starts on his own trying to put his ideas across
then there is disunity and trouble, there cannot be harmony, there cannot be marching. When a change comes it should come
from the proper source, the head of the organisation, the governing body, not from the bottom upwards, because everybody would
have ideas, and the organisation would disintegrate and go in a thousand different directions. Our purpose is to have unity.
Q. Unity at all costs?
A. Unity at all costs, because we believe and are sure that Jehovah God is using
our organisation, the governing body of our organisation to direct it, even though mistakes are made from time to time.
Q. And unity based upon an enforced acceptance of false prophecy?
A. That is conceded to be true.
And the person who expressed his view, as you say, that it was wrong, and was disfellowshipped, would be in breach of the
Covenant, if he was baptized?
A. That is correct.
Q. And as you said yesterday expressly, would be worthy
A. I think - - -
Q. Would you say yes or no?
A. I will answer yes, unhesitatingly.
Q. Do you call that religion?
A. It certainly is.
Q. Do you call it Christianity?
I certainly do.
Fred Franz, then vice-president of the Society, also answered questions for the attorney for the Ministry of Labour and National
Q. In addition to these regular publications do you prepare and issue a number of theological pamphlets and books from time
Q. Can you tell me this; are these theological publications and the semi-monthly periodicals
used for discussion of statements of doctrine?
Q. Are these statements of doctrine held to be
authoritative within the Society?
Q. Is their acceptance a matter of choice, or is it obligatory
on all those who wish to be and remain members of the Society?
A. It is obligatory.
The British government counsellor later directed attention to certain teachings that the Society had in time rejected, including
some involving specific dates. What, he asked, if someone, at the time when such teaching was promulgated, had seen the error
in it and had therefore not accepted it? What would the organization's attitude toward such one be? The testimony explains:
Q. Did [Pastor Russell] not fix 1874 as some other crucial date?
A. 1874 used to be understood as the date of Jesus'
Second Coming spiritually.
Q. Do you say, used to be understood?
A. That is right.
Q. That was
issued as a fact which was to be accepted by all who were Jehovah's Witnesses?
Q. That is no longer
now accepted, is it?
Q. But it was a calculation which is no longer accepted by the Board of Directors
of the Society?
A. That is correct.
Q. So that am I correct, I am just anxious to canvas the position;
it became the bounden duty of the Witnesses to accept this miscalculation?
Q. So that what is
published as the truth today by the Society may have to be admitted to be wrong in a few years?
A. We have to wait
Q. And in the meantime the body of Jehovah's Witnesses have been following error?
A. They have
been following misconstructions on the Scriptures.
A. Well, error.
Again the question as to how great the authority attributed to the Society's publications is came in for discussion. While
at one point the vice president says that "one does not compulsorily accept," his testimony thereafter reverts back
to the earlier position, as can be seen:
A. These [Watchtower Society] books give an exposition on the whole Scriptures.
Q. But an authoritative exposition?
A. They submit the Bible or the statements that are therein made, and the individual examines the statement and
then the Scripture to see that the statement is Scripturally supported.
Q. He what?
A. He examines the
Scripture to see whether the statement is supported by the Scripture. As the Apostle says: "Prove all things; hold fast
that which is good".
Q. I understood the position to be - do please correct me if I am wrong - that a member
of the Jehovah's Witnesses must accept as a true Scripture and interpretation what is given in the books I referred you to?
A. But he does not compulsorily do so, he is given his Christian right of examining the Scriptures to confirm that
this is Scripturally sustained.
Q. And if he finds that the Scripture is not sustained by the books, or vice versa,
what does he do?
A. The Scripture is there in support of the statement, that is why it is put there.
What does a man do if he finds a disharmony between the Scripture and those books?
A. You will have to produce me
a man who does find that, then I can answer, or he will answer.
Note Franz's waffling. He is unwilling, even under
oath, to admit that present understanding can be in error, even though he just finished testifying that what is published
as truth today may be error in a few years.
Q. Did you imply that the individual member has the right of reading
the books and the Bible and forming his own view as to the proper interpretation of Holy Writ?
A. He comes - - -
Q. Would you say yes or no, and then qualify?
A. No. Do you want me to qualify now?
if you wish?
A. The Scripture is there given in support of the statement, and therefore the individual when he looks
up the Scripture and thereby verifies the statement, then he comes to the Scriptural view of the matter, Scriptural understanding
as it is written in Acts, the seventeenth chapter and the eleventh verse, that the Bereans were more noble than those of Thessalonica
in that they received the Word with all readiness, and they searched the Scripture to see whether those things were so, and
we instruct to follow that noble course of the Bereans in searching the Scripture to see whether these things were so.
Q. A Witness has no alternative, has he, to accept as authoritative and to be obeyed instructions issued in the "Watchtower"
or the "Informant" or "Awake"?
A. He must accept those.
To recap, Haydon C. Covington basically said that the Watchtower Society views unity as more important than even doctrinal
truth, and that this desire for unity may even result in a forced acceptance of false prophecy. Fred Franz's testimony confirmed
this, and further showed that, while the Society makes a show of encouraging people to examine its doctrines in light of the
scriptures "to see whether these things are so" (Acts 17:10,11), it does not allow its members to freely act upon
the results of that examination if the Society's claims are found wanting. Since the Society will never admit to members that
it is wrong right now, it does not truly allow them to examine its doctrines to see "whether these things were so,"
but in practice requires them to examine the scriptures to confirm that these things are so, and to "readjust" their
thinking if they are unable to do that. In other words, no matter what an individual finds, he is obligated to believe whatever
the Society teaches at that moment. At least, he is obligated not to publicly or privately disagree with the Society, and
so if he really cannot bring himself to accept some doctrine, he must pretend to accept it, and live a lie in order to remain
in good standing. Since Psalm 51:6 says of Jehovah, "you have taken delight in truthfulness itself in the inward parts,"
and the Bible says that Jehovah is a God of truth, this attitude would appear inconsistent with his will.
though the Society states it is fallible and is not inspired, no member is allowed to act on this without serious consequences
ranging from loss of congregational privileges to disfellowshipping. The Society wants every member to believe, as Covington
testified, that any member who acts on the fact that Watchtower Society leaders are not infallible is worthy of death.