Op-ed in the Norwegian newspaper Vårt Land 26 Juni 2020-translated from Norwegian
JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES— DISFELLOWSHIPPING, AND THE TREATMENT OF DISFELLOWSHIPPED AND DISASSOCIATED PERSONS
I have been one of Jehovah’s Witnesses for 59 years. During this time, I personally have never experienced anything that is negative or bad. I have taught students the biblical languages, and I have an intimate knowledge of the texts in these languages. Therefore, I have no doubt that the only religious group whose teachings are fully based on the Bible, are JW.
Fifty years ago, I was among those who introduced a new form of organization with elders and ministerial servants, after the pattern that we find in the New Testament. During most of the 20th century, the organization of JW functioned in the same way as the Christian congregations in the 1st century CE. But then the same thing happened that also happened in the first Christian congregations. Some elders in the congregations gave themselves more and more power until bishops appeared, and these bishops became the leaders of the congregations. In the 21st century, the members of the Governing Body (GB) have given themselves more and more power, and today the eight members of the GB function as a government for JW with unlimited power. They have the power over the teachings, the assets, and the money, and what they write and do cannot be questioned. This is a clear deviation from the original organization of the first Christian congregations.
The members of the GB have used their power in many positive ways, but also to introduce many rules and laws that are not based on the Bible. For example, during the last 15 years, there has been a campaign against higher education, and thousands of young witnesses have been pressured not to pursue this kind of education. Thousands of others have been disfellowshipped on the basis of laws that are not based on the Bible. In recent years, I have gulped down a lot of camels. But I have been loyal to the GB. However, in the last two years, the situation has escalated in a negative direction. Therefore, I wrote the book: My Beloved Religion — and the Governing Body, which discusses several serious wrong actions that the GB has done and is doing. The book was sent to the GB, and I wrote that if GB would start to do something to address the wrong actions pointed out in the book, it would not be published. That was rejected!
A clear example of an extreme view of the GB can be seen in the way persons who have been excluded or who have disassociated themselves are treated.
Disfellowshipping from the Christian congregation is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5:13-19 and 6:9-11. The texts show that persons should not be excluded because they have done one or several serious sins, but when a person is permeated with these sins. Only wicked persons should be disfellowshipped (5:13).
How is one who has been excluded be treated? Christians should not associate (synanamignymi) with such a person or eat together with him or her. This shows that there should be some distance between the Christian and one who has been disfellowshipped. In a similar, but different, situation regarding a person who did not accept the inspired words of Paul, 2 Thessalonians 3:14 says: “Stop associating (synanamignymi) with him, that he may become ashamed.” The word “association,” as it is used here, does not imply not to greet him or speak with him because verse 15 says: “And yet do not be considering him as an enemy, but continue admonishing him as a brother. Clearly, speaking with him would be required to do this.
However, there are some persons who must be treated differently from those who did not accept Paul’ s words and those who have been disfellowshipped. Who are these persons? These persons are called “deceivers and antichrists.” (2 John 7) They were people who were actively were spreading false teachings and “persons not confessing Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh.” John says about such a person who is spreading false propaganda: “never receiving him into your homes or say a greeting to him.” The point regarding what is said above is that Christians are not to associate with one who is disfellowshipped. But it was only “deceivers and antichrists” that Christians should greet or receive into their homes.
How should a Christian view one who disassociates himself and is no longer a part of the congregation? Because Christians must show love to all persons, they should treat such a person with friendliness and prudence. But the GB of Jehovah’s Witnesses has a different view. The Watchtower of 15 July 1985, page 31 quotes the JW lexicon Aid to Bible Understanding: “Such ones willfully abandoning the Christian congregation therefore become part of the ‘antichrist’ (1 John 2:18, 19).” Then the magazine says: “A person who had willfully and formally disassociated himself from the congregation would have matched that description [of being a deceiver and an antichrist].”
This means that a person who votes in an election, by this one act alone, is viewed as one who has disassociated himself from the congregation, and a person who writes a letter saying that he does not wish to be a JW any longer is put in the same group as “deceivers and antichrists.” This is one of the extreme viewpoints that we find among all the laws and rules that the GB has created as add-ons to the laws and principles in the Bible.
The conclusion is that according to the Bible, a Christian will not have a social relationship with one who is disfellowshipped, such as sharing a meal with him. But there is no scripture in the Bible saying that we should not greet such a person or speak with him. Persons who have disassociated themselves from the congregation should be treated with love, in the same way that Christians treat all persons. Therefore, that the way JW treat disfellowshipped and disassociated persons is not based on the Bible but on the decisions of the GB.
I have now been disfellowshipped on the basis of a law that is not based on the Bible but is made-up by the GB. The reason is that I have written the aforementioned book, where I criticize the GB for its deviation from the Scriptures and show that I disagree with its actions. The three elders who made the decision treated me in a cordial way. But none of them had read the book. This means that whether my criticism was right or wrong was not considered, and did not matter. Just the fact that I had criticized the GB, was in their minds, reason enough for the disfellowshipping.
It is, of course, a negative experience to lose one’s friends. But for me, this is not a catastrophe. As an elder, I have been taught to do something with actions in the congregation that contradict the Bible. I have discovered several things at the top of the organization that contradict the Bible. Having acted upon what I was taught to do as an elder, in speaking up, I have a good conscience. And a good conscience can stand against any pressure. After the publication of the book, I have received several hundred emails—several from men who recently have stepped down as elders because their conscience did not allow them to support the GB anymore, and from elders who are very much concerned about the things happening in the organization. I will keep in contact with these.
I do not want to harm my beloved religion, but negative publicity will, of course, do that. However, I look at the publication of the book as an emergency act. I know that in the coming 12 months, several thousands of my brothers and sisters will be disfellowshipped on the basis of laws created by the GB. I cannot continue to simply look the other way. When the GB definitely has refused to even consider my findings in an objective way, my only remaining recourse was to publish the book.