On Wednesday evening something very rare and unexpected happened. I had a phone conversation with Anthony Morris III – a Governing Body member (and one of Advocate magazine’s Craziest Right-Wing Conspiracy Theorists of 2014).
As almost anyone outside of Watchtower headquarters will tell you – having a tete-a-tete with one seventh of the faithful and discreet slave is not something that happens every day.
But on this occasion, the odds were slightly more in my favor. I was armed with inside information from a reliable source who gave detailed instructions on how and when to get through.
Before the call I had tried a few times to get hold of various people in Watchtower HQ, with mixed success. The bethelite who screens PR spokesperson J.R. Brown’s calls did a masterful job of deflecting my request for a response on the Rama Singh misquote. I also had a nice chat with the bethelite responsible for the “Happy at Bethel” video, which will remain private because he was actually a really nice guy.
When it came time to try and get through to Tony, I had in mind that if I succeeded I would pretend to be someone else – at least for the first few moments of the phone call. Being open about my true identity from the beginning would almost certainly not result in a conversation of any significant length.
And so I concocted a humorous scenario in which I would be “Brother Cedars” – a newbie bethelite calling from the Brooklyn laundry room, and asking what should be done if tight pants or yoga pants are discovered among bethelite clothing. (If you don’t get the joke, click here.)
Tony was cordial, good-humored and polite, and took the call in good spirits. He quickly figured out that my cover story was a ruse, and after some light banter he set about trying to find out who I was. For the majority of our 2 minute, 20 second conversation he seemed under the impression that I was a high-spirited bethelite. Almost as soon as he realized I wasn’t an admirer, he put the receiver down.
Shortly after making this call I posted the obligatory video to YouTube, which clocked up 3,700 views in the first 24 hours. There was a huge reaction from viewers – the majority of which was positive. Many exJWs seem to have derived vicarious pleasure from hearing me tell a Governing Body member directly that I think he is deluded.
Some have questioned the wisdom of insulting Tony when, having come so far in getting through to him, a conversation seemed on the cards. But from the moment he discovered I wasn’t a bethelite, I knew I was on borrowed time. And I wanted any conversation with him to be on a frank and honest footing. Calling him deluded was NOT an invitation on my part for him to end the call – I was more than willing for him to challenge me on why I said that.
Others have suggested I should have kept my “bethelite” rouse going for longer so that I could elicit more information. However, that scale of deception is not in my nature. My aim from the beginning was to get my foot through the door and then be open with who I was as quickly as possible.
If, once the inevitable barrage of questions about my identity came, I had added yet more layers to my subterfuge, the accusations that I was living up to the lying, deceptive apostate stereotype would have been inevitable and deserved.
Still others have said I was “juvenile” and that my prank call represents a “wasted opportunity” to confront a Governing Body member with tough, meaningful questions on serious issues. Well, I make no secret that I have a juvenile streak in me, and I actually think humor is one of the most effective weapons against cults. If there is one thing cults hate, it is to be laughed at.
And I invite anyone under similar circumstances to see how many probing questions on shunning, child abuse or blood transfusions a Governing Body member will listen to before taking the easy way out.
I am not saying for a moment that my phonecall couldn’t have gone better. I am my own worst critic over this sort of thing, and can conceive of any number of ways I could have made more of the opportunity. Hindsight, after all, is a marvelous thing. But I can also easily envision the phonecall going much worse, and ending far more abruptly.
Despite drawing the ire of a few armchair activists, I feel my phone call was quite productive. It showed any JWs (or still-indoctrinated exJWs) who listen to it that a Governing Body member will readily be flippant about ‘bible counsel’ he expects ordinary JWs to treat with deadly seriousness.
You can imagine how a devout sister who has not long since thrown out all her yoga pants and husband’s tight trousers would feel listening to this conversation. For those on a tight budget who actually have to pay for their own clothes, these petty, capricious injunctions are no laughing matter.
But perhaps more importantly, my phone conversation with Tony reveals his unvarnished human side. He is not some saintly, mystical guru with a hotline to heaven, but a fairly ordinary old man who just so happens to be a spiritual overlord to 8 million doting followers.
Well, I say 8 million. Tony will have left this conversation under no illusions that not even everyone under the rooftops of Brooklyn bethel truly believe him to be anything special. And if he hadn’t figured that out before this incident, he certainly should have. You cannot claim the unquestioned, uniform loyalty of a group of people who you are threatening with cruel, immoral punishment if they dare to walk away.
As to whether there will be any more conversations with Governing Body members – I am sure this will be more problematic in the wake of my intrusion. But that needn’t stop me from trying.
Many thanks to Vincent Deporter for supplying artwork for this article!
For an Italian translation of the conversation, please click here.