“Hi, this is Brother Elder, and I’m calling to invite you to a judicial committee.”
That statement is feared by every one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and in many ways it drastically affects the choices they make in their life. Why is that the case? Simply put, the results of the judicial committee can cause all of your friends and family to shun you. A scary prospect indeed! So why do people get invited to a judicial committee and how do they work?
Myself, I served as an elder as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses for almost 10 years, and I sat on several judicial committees. I was involved in disfellowshipping people, resulting in their friends and family shunning them until they changed their “sinful course.” I am now sharing that experience and knowledge to help right the wrongs that I did as an agent of what I now realize to be a rather malicious publishing company.
Why are people invited to a judicial committee? Simply put, the Watchtower has created a rules-based religion. If you break one of their rules that they consider to be serious, they will invite you to such a committee. Most of the people get caught up in a judicial committee due to breaking rules of a sexual nature, meaning any sex outside of marriage. However, there is a lengthy list of things that can get you disfellowshipped and shunned. The elders have a secret book titled, “Shepherd the Flock of God,” that regular Jehovah’s Witnesses are not allowed to see. That book contains a section that is 13 pages long and that details what sort of offences require a judicial committee. Yikes!! Needless to say, there are a number of ways to find yourself in a judicial committee, and you aren’t allowed to see the rule book that tells you what they are.
How does this judicial process work? It is your basic Star Chamber trial. The elders serve as the prosecutors and the judges. The accused faces them alone, with no support and no representative, with the exception of minor children that can have parents present, or married women who can have their husbands present (see this post). People can provide testimony on behalf of the accused, but not character references. Such a person is invited only to give their testimony, and then dismissed directly afterwards, leaving the accused again to face their judges.
Interestingly, there are no scriptural grounds of any kind for anything even remotely resembling a judicial committee. I challenge you to try to find any. I can’t.
People who are invited to a judicial committee are considered guilty. Period. Elders can go to great lengths to collect evidence of guilt before inviting someone to a judicial committee, and most often they will not inform the individual that they are collecting such information. Nobody is ever invited to a judicial committee unless the elders have some sort of proof or reason to believe the individual is guilty. The point of the committee is not to establish guilt, but rather to determine the appropriate punishment.
Chapters 5 through 12 of the secret “Shepherd the Flock of God” book are instructions for the elders about the judicial process. Out of 142 pages in a book given to elders as a guideline for “shepherding the flock,” more than half are about the judicial process! In addition to that instruction, the elders receive letters from Bethel (the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses) with specific instructions regarding the handling of various spiritual crimes. Regular JWs are also not allowed to see these letters.
To prepare for a judicial committee, the elders are supposed to read three specific chapters of the “Shepherd” book, and may spend time researching through the files of letters from Bethel for further instruction. Based on all this, you might say that the Watchtower seems to be preoccupied with disfellowshipping people! Then they have the gall to say that they don’t shun people on their website! Incredible.
There are four possible outcomes of a judicial committee. The first is that the individual is reproved privately. This happens when the elders are convinced that the individual is repentant enough for whatever sin they committed, and few people or nobody knows about their sin. The second is public reproof. In that case, an announcement is made to the congregation that the individual has been reproved. Most times, the congregation will severely limit any association with someone who has been reproved, so it is like “disfellowshipping light.” The third is disfellowshipping, meaning that your friends and family will begin to shun you until (or if) you are reinstated. The fourth, which is almost unheard of, is that the committee realizes that no offence worthy of disfellowshipping is committed, and the judicial committee is cancelled.
The task of the individual invited to the judicial committee is, therefore, to prove to the elders that they are repentant enough that they should only be reproved. This task can be difficult, or sometimes impossible. A few things are necessary to convince the elders of repentance. First, the individual has to admit their guilt. Second, they have to acknowledge that their actions have hurt Jehovah, brought reproach on his name, and damaged their relationship with him. The following is from page 91 of the “Shepherd the Flock” book:
“6. In Greek, two verbs are used in connection with repentance. The first stresses a changed viewpoint or disposition. The second emphasizes a feeling of regret. Therefore, repentance involves a deep regret over a damaged relationship with Jehovah, remorse over the reproach brought upon Jehovah’s name and people, and a sincere longing to come back into God’s favor. It includes a heart-motivated rejection of the bad course as something repugnant, hated. (Rom.12:9) Such an attitude should be demonstrated by “fruits that befit repentance,” making evident to an adequate degree a sinner’s claimed repentance.-Luke 3:8; it-2 pp. 770-777.”
So the elders know what they are looking for, and if they don’t see it, they don’t consider the person to be repentant. The accused has no direct access to this information, though they can find similar instruction printed elsewhere in Watchtower literature, should they choose to search for it.
However, there are times when a sin is considered to be so serious that a plea of repentance won’t be accepted. The location of that invisible line is depends on a number of things: the gravity of the offence, the person who committed the offence and their history, the elders sitting on the committee and their view of the offender, and the general reputation of the offender. From page 92 of the Shepherd the flock book:
“9. While there is no such thing as automatic disfellowshipping, an individual may have gone so far into sin that he may not be able to demonstrate sufficient repentance to the judicial committee at the time of the hearing. If so, he must be disfellowshipped, allowing time to pass for him to prove his repentance. Or it may be that the individual has been dealt with judicially a number of times in the past. Because he appeared repentant, he was reproved each time. Now he has sinned again. In such cases his life course may indicate a lack of repentance. -w81 9/1 p. 26 par. 23.”
This is a rough summary of how the judicial process works, though a considerable deal more can be said about it. Jehovah’s Witness are taught to believe this is a loving process with the intent to restore the individual to Jehovah. Aside from some oftentimes sharp scriptural counsel, or counsel from the pages of the Watchtower, no real help of any discernible kind is given, but punishment for mistakes is doled out freely and generously. I must have been drinking the Kool-Aid by the gallon to think such a thing was loving!
When I reflect on the horrible process the Watchtower publishing company used me for, I truly and deeply regret it. Had I possessed the freedom of mind that I now do, I never would have participated in such kangaroo courts. There were times when I decided to disfellowship people because the rules said that was necessary. I never liked that, even back then. I felt as if my hands were tied by the enormous amount of rules, and the ever-present demand to follow them.
For a publishing company to make such a mockery of justice in such a heinous way, and then have the gall on their website to answer the question of whether or not they shun by saying “No” long before they tiptoe around the truth of the matter, is beyond unacceptable. That they further deny crucial knowledge or support to individuals caught up in their judicial web, and then pretend the purpose of their disciplinary hearings is to help the individual, is preposterous. The judicial committee and the whole Watchtower judicial process should be renamed for what it is: The Watchtower Emotional Abuse and Control Process!
“Spike Raynor” is the pen name of a former elder of the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Visit his own YouTube page here for more insights on the Watchtower practices and policies, and listen to his story below:
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