His plain, ninth-floor Brooklyn office is painted in institutional green and has no air conditioning to reduce the summer heat. He gets a free one-room apartment and meals in the huge dining hall downstairs, plus the same $20 monthly stipend that the janitors get. He has been his religion's most important theologian for decades, but no one is allowed to know just which books or articles he has worked on. Though few people know his name, he has acquired more-than-papal power over 2.2 million souls around the world.
He is Frederick Franz, a short and spry 83, who on June 22 quietly succeeded the late Nathan Knorr to become the fourth leader of the Jehovah's Witnesses. For a century now, this most contentious of faiths has pressed upon an unwilling audience the message that mankind is nearing the End. Franz, a bachelor who has labored in the sect's headquarters since 1920, will not be surprised if he lives to see the destruction of the world's political order in the Battle of Armageddon, which will usher in Christ's 1,000-year reign.
Franz was planning on a career as a Presbyterian minister in 1913 when his brother sent him some tracts from the Watch Tower Society. He soon decided that the Watch Tower offered the one true interpretation of the Bible. The next year he dropped out of the University of Cincinnati without completing his junior year; he saw no sense in remaining because the movement's founder, Charles Taze Russell, had announced Oct. 1, 1914, as the date for Christ's Second Coming. Franz recalls with a wisp of a smile: "We expected the end of this system of things, that God's kingdom would take over the earth and that we would be glorified in heaven."
Russell's successor, Lawyer Joseph Rutherford, later explained that the "last days" had indeed begun in 1914, but that Christ's rule had been established only in heaven, and that his Second Coming had occurred, but as a spiritual event. Because Satan still runs the earth, the Witnesses persistently refuse to serve in any army or to salute any flag even if they must go to jail.
Rutherford's rallying cry became "Millions now living will never die!" By 1968, the sect's magazine, Awake!, was proclaiming a new date for Armageddon: "Today we have the evidence required, all of it. And it is overwhelming! All the many, many parts of the great sign of the 'last days' are here, together with verifying Bible chronology." That complex chronology ran like this: Adam was created in the autumn of 4026 B.C., which meant that 6,000 years of human existence would end in late 1975. The 6,000 years would be followed by the Millennium, 1,000 years of "Sabbathlike rest," just as God rested after six days of Creation and established the Sabbath.
Asked about 1975, Franz now says that the 6,000-year chronology is correct, but the seventh day of Creation did not begin until Eve was created. Thus the date for the End has to be extended by the amount of time between the advent of Adam and of Evean interval not yet revealed (previous Witness publications had stated that Adam and Eve were created in the same year).