[The following is a true story. It was one of many adventures I had while living and working at Brooklyn Bethel from 1982 until 1993.]
In the mid 1980s, Michael Jackson was touring the United States doing “Thriller” concerts in major cities in conjunction with the release of his “Thriller” album. I found out about Michael’s visit to the metropolitan New York City area from Tim, who also was a Bethel staff member. He called me at work to ask if my husband Joe and I would like to accompany Michael Jackson in field service on Saturday.
Tim’s uncles (his dad’s two brothers) were prominent JW elders from Burbank, California. He also knew many Witnesses in the area, including other elders and their families. Consequently, Tim heard firsthand what an impact Michael made on any of the congregations he attended in the late 70s and early 80s. All the elders were diligently trying to keep the congregations balanced because of having such a famous and controversial Jehovah’s Witness in their midst. It can only be imagined how difficult it was for Michael to participate in Witness activities because of reporters shadowing him constantly.
There was never a dull moment when Michael came to the Kingdom Hall and we heard about some of the comical events that occurred. Michael usually came in after the meetings started and sat in the back row so as to avoid stares and whispering.
One time the young son of a newly interested woman was in the men’s room when Michael came in. The boy was surprised to see someone who looked so much like Michael Jackson. Finally he asked, “Are you Michael Jackson?” Michael said yes. But the boy wasn’t convinced – so he asked Michael to do the “moon walk.” Michael obliged. Can you imagine the excitement of the little fellow seeing his idol doing the moon walk in a Kingdom Hall bathroom? When he came back to his seat his mother asked him why he was gone so long. He excitedly told her what had happened, but she didn’t believe him and promised him a spanking later at home.
Along with the cute things that occurred, we also heard the negatives. There were the many Witnesses who hounded Michael for money, or asked for his help to get them into show business. And there were the Witness women who wanted to date him. Of course, the elders counseled these people. They also counseled Michael because of the large number of complaints from Witnesses across the country who were unhappy about the bad example Michael was setting by his lewd behavior on stage and in his shocking “worldly” videos.
However, many young Witnesses weren’t complaining, but instead emulated and worshiped the ground Michael walked on. This was the situation in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn where we attended meetings during our Bethel years and where there were 20 congregations in 2.2 square miles. Almost all of those who attended meetings there were black, most from the West Indies, some from Africa, and African-Americans. Too many of their children were fascinated with Michael Jackson. They had posters of him hanging in their rooms and they walked like him and sang his songs
Incidentally, it was the norm for these kids to discontinue their association with the religion as soon as they could and it was thought that the actions of Michael Jackson were contributing to their exodus. “Mature” Witnesses felt he was a very bad example for the children in the organization. This was the frame of mind that both my husband and I were in when Tim called and asked if we would like to go out in field service in Brooklyn with Michael Jackson.
I learned from Tim that Michael went in the field ministry wherever he had a concert. He was accompanied by two body guards who sat in the van while he called at homes. Tim knew the woman, a Witness, who made all the field service arrangements. She was the person who asked him to go out in service with the singer and also requested that a mature married couple join them.
Of course, I was very excited about the prospect. I knew just what I wanted to talk to Michael about while we were walking door-to-door. First on my agenda was to ask about his white-gloved hand grabbing his crotch while performing on stage. I wanted to know why a man serious enough about his religion to do door-to-door evangelizing would do such a thing. Why would he lie on the floor wriggling in a sensuous way or to engage in sexually provocative dancing? Why would he sing songs such as those on the “Thriller” album, which were so contrary to our belief system (to put it mildly)?
As a mother, my desire was to kindly share with him the anxiety parents were going through because their children were idolizing his “worldly” behavior.
That evening I told Joe about the invitation. To my surprise, he didn’t show the slightest interest. I remember his words just like it was yesterday: “If I’m going out in service, I’ll go to our congregation where I’m assigned. I don’t go to other people’s congregations just to work with a celebrity, no matter what the reason. You go if you want to, but I’m not! There are many couples who might want to do this. What about some of the elders and their wives in Tim’s congregation? We had lunch with a Jehovah’s Witness Brother and Sister when I gave a talk there. They have children whose conduct they are concerned about. And since Tim is taking Michael in field service in his congregation’s territory, it would be more appropriate to ask them.”
No amount of cajoling could change his mind. Again Joe told me to go if I wanted to and that he didn’t mind. However, I decided against it because Tim wanted a married couple. I just didn’t feel that it was proper to go without my husband. When I told Tim about Joe’s reaction, he still asked me to come along. But I said no because I thought Joe’s idea was right – Tim should ask some Witnesses in his own congregation.
A few days after Tim took Michael out in service, he told me what happened. He followed Joe’s recommendation and the couple Joe suggested went out with them. They all went in a large van that no one could see into and Michael had on a hat with a large brim that he pulled down over his face. At the first door Michael did the talking and a young lady accepted a book. When she came back to the door with some money, she asked Michael if he had ever been told that he looked like Michael Jackson. He nodded and said that it happens all the time and they left.
Another cute experience happened when they were walking on the sidewalk outside of the apartments. A little fellow about six years old passed by them. When he looked at Michael he did a double take, kept walking, and then backed up and looked again. Then he walked on shaking his head and muttering, “No, it can’t be him.”
One day a few weeks later, I was walking to work with Leon Weaver, an African-American. Leon worked in the Service Department and was part of the Service Committee. I was told that before he came to Bethel many years before Leon was in the circuit work.
Inasmuch as Leon was pleasant to talk to, I thought he might enjoy my tale of how I almost worked in service with Michael Jackson, and about the cute little experiences Michael had while in service. I told Leon how Joe refused to go even though I thought we might be in a good position (Joe being a Bethel elder) to discuss with Michael how his actions on stage had such negative ramifications within the congregations. However, Leon told me that he was very surprised about Joe’s attitude. He said he and Ruby would have enjoyed spending time with Michael Jackson, and would have certainly done so if Tim had asked them.
I took it for granted that Leon was interested in having an opportunity to talk with Michael about the same troublesome things that I wanted to discuss. Especially because he worked in the Service Department. It was part of his job to see to it that the elders enforced organizational rules for so-called “Christian behavior.” I mentioned to Leon Michael’s famous “white glove.” Wow! I was thunderstruck when Leon pointedly told me that he “would have liked to shake the hand that wore the white glove” if he had been given the opportunity. He also said something to the effect that he wouldn’t have counseled the young man, but would have enjoyed being in the company of such a celebrity. I was surprised, to put it mildly, at his responses. I said nothing more, even though I felt as if I was being counseled for my “nit-picking attitude.”
That evening, I told Joe about my conversation with Leon. Joe did not agree with Leon’s views, but we kept those opinions to ourselves.
There were times like this one that it would sometimes cross our minds that maybe we (along with many other JW families) took organizational instructions too seriously. However, despite Leon’s different perspective from ours about Michael Jackson, and one which we then disagreed with him about, we continued to try to do what we thought God would expect of faithful Jehovah’s Witnesses and try to advance what we thought was “pure worship without defilement of any kind.”