Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Who Owns The Kingdom Halls?

The Watch Tower Society originally claimed to be a publishing corporation, and various Bible Student groups merely suscribed to their literature and much of the beliefs. This was during Charles Russell's presidency. They met in homes, and stated that they always would operate this way. Each group elected Elders, but there was not 'official' ties to the Watch Tower corporation.
In the 1930s J. F. Rutherford forced all the 'Ecclesias' (Bible Stident congregations) to register with the Society to maintain their affiliations, thus creating an organized religion (something that Russell condemned as being part of Babylon the Great.)
[bTwo very important facts remained: 1. Each congregation still owned its own property as a non-profit association or corporation in their respective states. 2. The Society continued to claim that they had no clergy distinction, and thus no heirarchy. (The Society legally claimed that they were a 'congregational' organization and not a heirarchial organization.) The Roman Catholic Church, for example is Heirarchial, with a Pope, Cardinals, Bishops and Priests, and the Chruch owns everything. The Southern Baptists, on the other hand, are Congregational. Each congregation is totally independant, and can tell the central convention to get lost if they wish.
What happened in Bonham, Texas?: The body of elders and the majority of the congregation decided to leave the Watch Tower organization. And with that, they took the Kingdom Hall. The rremaining JWs and the Society sued in court to recover the Kingdom Hall. For the first time in its history the Watch Tower Society made two important arguments: 1. They were now a Heirarchial like the Catholic Church, with the Governing Body, Branchs Overseers, District Overseers, Circuit Overseers, and Elders appointed by the Society. 2. The Society as a heirarchy, therefore, had the rightful tital to the Kingdom Hall.
This was a serious departure from all their previous claims, and is among the many issues that impressed upon me that the Society was no longer what it claimed to be.
The result?: The Society lost because the Bonham congregation was able to prove that the Society was a historically a 'congregational' organization, and as such had no legal title or interesst recorded on the deed. The Society was unable to establish legal interest.
The Subsequent Changes: Among many changes to establish legal interest was to start getting recorded on deeds as the first position leinholder when making remodel and quick build loans. (I can recall the days when we would get remodel loans from the Society, but nothing was ever recorded on the deeds.) The Society started a group insurance program for all Kingdom Halls, ostensibly to provide lower cost premiums, but also this showed an interest in each property.
And, while I did not follow the corporate changes after this, I understand that the Society started holding the deeds to local Kingdom Halls or at least assuring that each congregation was so established that its corporate by-laws would preclude losing the property if the congregation opted out of its Watch Tower affiliation.
In some religious affiliations, even though each congregation is independent, they will have corporate congregation by-laws that dispose of a church should its membership be reduced by a certain percentage. This prevents the few remaining members from getting the wealth should a church come to its demise. Rather, once a certain low membership is maintained for a period of time, then the church property becomes the property of some pre-selected charity, or the religious convention they were part of.
What did the Society do?: While, I have no doubt that the Society set up some arrangements as a result of Bonham, Texas, it was, nevertheless, done very slowly over a long time. Even by the mid to late 1980s, long after the Bonham decision, my own Kingdom Hall was solely owned by the local members as a Non-Profit Association in the State of California. The Society had no legal tital or interest in the Hall. Our remaining loan was not recorded against the property. SO, this process has taken them a long time, and even after I moved to Oregon in the late 1980s, our Kingdom Halls that we attended were still locally owned. BUt I understood that new 'Quick-Builds' were being set up with a different deal. I left in 1992 and have not followed this aspect - exactly. But some of the property deed research I have done reveals that the Society does not yet own all the Kingdom Halls. So they are still vulnerable in some respects should a local congregation decide to otp out of its affiliation with teh Watch Tower Society.
Circuit Holding Corps.: I am not aware that the Circuit Holding Corporations are for owning Kingdom Halls, but rather, for the ownership and operation of Circuit Assembly Halls. If they are being used to hold local Kingdom Hall property, then this is a new one on me.
Other State and Regional Corps.: Oftentimes local corporations will be set up by the Society to establish a legal base on which to rent stadiums and other facilities for conventions. The local corporation will engage in the negotiations and obtain the necessary permits, liability insurance, etc. Then, if something bad happens, resulting in serious injury to hundreds or thousands of people, then the Society will not be directly liable - at least they hope that it works that way. A good, but mean, injury lawyer might be able to penetrate the local corporations and nail the Society in New York.
In some states a corporation must have stockholders or own property, so in some cases in order to incorporate in a given state, the Society might have to technically issue some stock or buy a house to use for its offices. But, in other states, a non-profit corporation only has to register with 3 officers, and can use any address for its registered agent.
The Significance of Bonham: While the legal ramifications and actions taken by the Society are not 100% certain, the moral, ethical, and mostly "historical" implications were monumental. The Society moved from a lose groups of unofficial Bible Students to a highly organized heirarchial religion just like the Roman Catholic Church in almost exactly 100 years from its inception. It wnet from condemning organized religion as being part of Babylon the Great to becoming the model of organized religious corporation, just like the Catholic Church - the Society grew up to be just like her mom.


KVoyles said...

This is definitely true. I've read the letter. Furthermore, we've sent in excess of $400K dollars in the last year under this arrangement. It's beginning to feel more and more like the old PTL televanglist organization! Maybe they'll turn Patterson Bethel into a theme park with roller coasters and hot dog stands!

Anonymous said...

How do you know all of this. I leave near Bonham and was raised a JW but never heard of it. Could you provide me your sources, I'm very interested. CMACKINNON@TX.RR.COM