Are Jehovah's Witnesses a Cult?

The Truth About the Watchtower Judicial Committee Process, as Told By a Former Elder

“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.

jc no scripChapters 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!

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“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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16 replies »

  1. I think you guys got all screwed up. Jehovah’ organization is not mandatory for everyone. It is a choice you make once you grow up. Some find it amazing and interesting; while many of you think you guys knew better. Go ahead If you think so: There are many free thinkers there at the KH. It is a matter of ego. If you let your ego blow up then you become an apostate. Nothing bad came out of WT bible. It is the people that are imperfect and sinful. No society thrives without a law. JW of WT never stop anyone of you from studying just like your mother did. You should accept Jesus and Jehovah and do what is right for yourself always read the bible. Do not disrespect the elders. Why? This is because you won’t disrespect your teacher or employers.

    • Josiah-Umezurike, did you even read the article? This article was not about Jehovah’s organization being mandatory. Changing the subject is the typical tactic of someone who knows they are wrong. This comment does not address one single point in the article. All you do here is make a personal attack about my ego because I have pointed out the truth about the judicial process of the Watchtower. Personal attacks instead of addressing the subject is also the typical tactic of someone who knows they are wrong. Whether or not I have a big ego has nothing to do with the facts presented. If you are not an elder, you will not have access to the Shepherd the flock book, unless you look for it online. You may want to ask yourself why that is. Why does the Watchtower have to hide their elder’s manual from the sheep? Second, perhaps you can explain for me exactly what the scriptural basis is for a judicial committee where the accused is questioned in secret, the proceedings are not transparent, and the accused does not get the benefit of any representation. I await your answer. I’d like to see you attempt to present facts without making baseless assumptions about my character. Stick to the subject at hand.

      • I left the organization over a decade ago. My mother is nagging me to go back and seek help from the elders for all of the sins I committed while away. I have been disfellowshipped before and it was the most traumatic thing that I have ever been through. I am still traumatized and have nightmares about my time in the “truth”. I feel like I need a support group. Thank you all for making this video for those of us who feel so isolated and alone.

      • Hi Deborah, I hope you’re on social media, there are a lot of exJW groups on Facebook you can join who offer support. You can find a few links on the Links page of the site above. If you’re not comfortable coming forward, you can make up a fake name and just not share pics so you can cruise around privately.

    • Many free thinkers at the Kingdom Hall? “Deliberately spreading teachings contrary to Bible truth as taught by Jehovah’s Witnesses” is literally a disfellowshipping offense, according to the elder’s handbook, “Shepherd the Flock of God,” page 65. No, it’s not a matter of ego; if Spike has an ego, he’d stay in the congregation and wield his power over others as an elder. Jehovah’s Witnesses have the biggest egos, thinking they alone know the truth from the bible, even after so many failed predictions and changed teachings. As for disrespecting the elders, they’re not god to demand respect no matter what. Many have been proven to hide child molesters, they’re guilty of domestic violence, they physically abuse their own children. They don’t deserve respect; many of them deserve to be in jail.

    • This is not about the Bible or Religion. This is about decisions that affects Constitutionally protected rights; The right to pursue happiness and enjoy your family and close associations; To equal protection and a minimum standard of judicial process where due process, and rights to a fair tribunal are essential. Instead, these paramount decisions are being tried in kangaroo courts who’s whimsical disregard for basic human rights are rampant. They abuse elders and use their kangaroo court to judicially bully the people. The bias and perfectly unethical behavior create an animus inconsistent with any type of Judicial Objectivity. Thousands of citizens have been subjected to these ‘judicial commitees’ where life altering decisions are made frivilously and as a result, families are destroyed, ties to children, parents, grandparents and grandchildren are severed, close friends and associations are threatened with the same treatment if they even dare say ‘hello’ to you, leaving any support system, completely unavailable and removed. Age is not considered, leaving multitudes of elder citizens fully abandoned and alone. Business customer base is instructed to turn their back and not use the business anymore. Once disfellowshipped by this kangaroo court they call ‘judicial committee’, suddenly, they find themselves isolated and shunned from the congregation, leaving them without friends, family or business associates to turn to in case of health problems, physically or spiritually. In some cases this creates such dispair that they commit suicide.
      In the instant case is a 74 year old man, baptised JW over 60 years ago. He is married, has 4 grown children all of which are JW, some have children. All of his friends, family and associations for 60 plus years have been members of JW in one capacity or another. Retired, and committed to field service but strapped with the struggles of his bed bound wife, he was unable to take any authorative positions within the congregation, although it was offered. Bible studies gives him the greatest joy, therefore, helping others develop spiritually becomes his top priority. Imagine his surprise when the elders called him to tell him they wanted to meet with him the next day to discuss disfellowshipping him for ‘brazen conduct’. First, he couldn’t recall the word brazen ever used in a Bible so he had to look it up. Second, where it is used, it changes the context of the verse. Brazen describes bold and shameless conduct but it replaced the word ‘lewd’. Everywhere lewd was used it intentionally refers to sexual misconduct. Three incidents over the course of about five years are attributed to the elders disfellowshipping him for ‘brazen conduct; 1. He pulled an elder aside to gently and privately correct something said by him on the podium. 2. After 4 years of study with an individual, the elders decided they wanted this Bible student to study with the elders wives (student previously had declined), unwilling to go against the students wishes, he continued studies with the student. Finally, he left a message on the answering machine of a congregation member after he had been disfellowshipped. The message offered spiritual uplifting but somehow was illegally copied and obtained by the elders. By using this recording in this ‘judicial committee’ meeting is a Breach of Confidence. Had this ambush been considered in a proper judicial setting, this tape recording should have been excluded, time to prepare would have been given, representation should have been allowed and redress (appeal) should have the power, authority and history of overturning prior decisions. Unfortunately, at no time was anything stated or brought up by him considered. Clearly, they had made up their minds and were merely going through the motions as judgement had already been passed. They do have an appeal procedure, but, the appeal committee has no history of overturning the judicial committees decision. So once again, going through the motions.
      The book, The Flock, procedurally fails to meet a minimum standard of due process in the written process of the judicial committee. Adequate notice was not given, a fair tribunal was not provided, it was done behind closed doors with no witnesses, and representation was not allowed. Elders use this judicial committees to hide administrative abuses against individuals, and anyone who cares for them, and to harass them into conformity. The elders cover and justify actions, claiming to be accountable only to Jehovah, allowing The Flock rules to govern over State and Federal laws, which in the past, has proven to give safe harbor to pedophiles. Certainly, not a history worth repeating.
      In 1971, the Watchtower mauraded the peaceful congregation of JW and have ruled with Tyranny, no accountability, completely unchecked since. For example, through the publication of NWT 2015, elders and the Governing body are changing scripture and literally writing themselves into history. If anyone questions the changes in doctrine, they are labeled an Apostate and disfellowshipped. Fear controls the congregation, threats to destroy their family, home and businesses being without any human rights consideration has oppressed any oversight. Isolating policies to socialize only through the congregation, violating their basic human rights to a fair, honest and open tribunal, quashing any opinions, ignoring their age and needs and causing them to suffer alone, with no support, and destroying any family unity, even cutting off business ties. Reputation that has taken a lifetime to build, marginalized and ruined. The complete and utter destruction of a human life. Forced to operate by a rule book that is kept secret and we are instructed not to touch it. When asked how and when he can become part of the fellowship again, the elders, informed him that he will need to swear allegiance to the Governing Body as though they themselves are the new God. Because of his conscience he will never be able to do that.
      But this is not a plea to be accepted back into the fellowship or reverse a disfellowship. This is a plea to force transparency and accountability. A plea to have a fair, unbiased tribunal consider the issues and settle them promptly and with judicial objectivity. This is how it was when he was baptized, not this theocratic order that places certain members above others. The efforts of this Governing Body has catapulted the peaceful congregants of JW into a cult style Tyranny that must change and/or be removed. As such I offer these thoughts on change:
      A culture is a deeply embedded set of values and beliefs that determine, to a greater extent, how individuals react to various situations. But if that culture does not promote merit and efficiency, it can prove to be disastrous. It needs to change and adapt to the evolving needs of its stakeholders (congregants).
      1. We must understand the existing culture.
      a) What drives a particular sort of behavior and what factors trigger different practices.
      2. We need outside help.
      a) Experts in judicial transparency, accountants, consultants.
      b) Elimination of secret rules, create uniformity.

      3. A Top-down approach.
      a) Examine GB to determine which aspects need altering.
      b) The changes cannot come from issuing a memo or instruction.
      c) A voting system to serve the majority.
      d) Supervision to demonstrate electors are activelying implementing change.
      Last, and most important,
      4. A oversight system formed where congregants in each congregation will have the freedom to actively ensure accurate doctrines and publications without fear of reprimand.

      Thank you for reading, I hope the point is clear that we must force transparency in all matters. Lives are at stake with these kangaroo courts taking place too frequently and our brothers and sisters are suffering and feeling abandoned, let down and always in their darkest hours of need.

      “Without oversight, it is the human, that must resist the temptation to take advantage… and if Satan wins the day, the human will become THAT evil slave (Matt24:48, Luke12:45). -Amy Engelhardt
      Judicial oversight was maintained by holding judicial matters at the city gate, wide open, transparent, where everyone interested can be a part of it, hear it, speak, observe. (Note: NWT 2015, places where ‘older men’ used to be has been replaced with ‘elder’ [classic case of changing doctrine])
      De25:7 “Now if the man does not want to marry his brother’s widow, his brother’s widow should then go to the elders at the city gate and say, ‘My husband’s brother has refused…
      Amos5:15 Hate what is bad, and love what is good, Let justice prevail in the city gate. It may be that Jehovah the God of armies…
      De21:19 his father and his mother should take hold of him and bring him out to the elders at the gate of his city.

  2. What judicial committee? I never even had the opportunity to go in front of a committee for my “sin”. I got a phone call from a nice and mild elder who told me nothing was going to be done for the time being after I explained to him that I needed some time to deal with a crisis of faith that I was having. (away from the kingdom hall). Next thing I know, 2 months later, I heard from a non witness that it had been announced at the KH that I was no longer a JW!!?? Who decided THAT for me? I ask you. The head headhunter was a power drunk control freak who was tripping over his own self righteousness and used to bully everyone he could in the congregation. He’d come over and question everything, like how much money do you make an hour, etc. He was a sneaky, sly con man. He and his wife would rarely bring any contribution to gatherings, or a cheap tray of cheese and crackers but yet he’d be the first in line to fill his face with the real food everyone else brought. He built his castle out of materials begged borrowed or stolen from any one he could con. He was always begging for electronics and sneaking around the friend’s homes to tap into their wifi for free. He always wanted your wifi security code for his electronics. He and his wife never invited me and my late husband over for a meal but they loved to eat at our house. I was in the ‘truth’ for 40 years, 20 of those years as a sister with an unbelieving mate. I regular and aux pioneered and was on the platform a lot. His partner in the crime of my no judicial committee disfellowshipping was also a head hunter for me. I wont get into those reasons but he had been shamed by his daughter cheating on my son less than 2 years after they were married. His wife never accepted the fact that a 1988? WT article had stated that the groom was the head of the ‘new’ family being formed by the marriage. She took over everything. She and her daughter ran the show. Her daughter was very abusive of my son the entire time they were married. I ask myself why, if there is supposed to be love in the congregation,was my family shown so much hatred and abuse. I was abused verbally by a pioneer sister on the day of my husband’s memorial service after he passed away. That happened right at the kingdom hall. This same sister would often visit the friends in their homes and leave them in tears with her accusations, lies and taunts. Yet she was allowed to continue with that behavior. My ‘sin’ was to remarry a man who was not a witness. Guess my happiness was and is not important. Jehovah wont be happy with me because I had a mind of my own. The witnesses want you to have an open mind as long as they are trying to prosletyze you. You mind has to snap shut like a steel trap once they have you in their indoctrination clutches. No more thinkng for yourself. Do as they say, not as they do. Hypocites!

  3. Yes Spiker, you are right. It is amazing that such a rejected form of ‘judicial’ (even the use of this word suggest justice) system. There are no grounds, no precedent in the Bible for the tribunal. No mention is made that 1st century Christians practiced such a thing. This is likely because there was no organisation as such. The threat to this corporation’s welfare is palpable and is expressed in their insecurity by the free service of a police force (elders claim they are not, though their actions show they are). They investigate and prosecute without any unbiased persons to defend.

    I myself have painstakingly transcribed a full 5 hour judicial case, and found at least 21 ethical violations and human rights violations. You were well to get out of this conscience-destroying kangaroo system, Spiker.

  4. The decisions made by these committees after praying on a matter for guidance to arrive at a correct decision then turn around arriving at the wrong conclusion convinced me that these men were just a bunch of GB puppets. They have no direct contact with Jehovah, he does not direct their hands in these matters. You could be innocent of the charges brought against you once they have determined sufficient guilt you are toast. It is their decision and has nothing to do with God’s designs. Nothing!

      • Maybe they are guided by another spirit. One with malevolent intentions. Nothing evil and malicious comes from Jehovah so I hope that anyone who has been wrongfully removed from that organization, thank Jehovah for this blessing in disguise. I disassociated myself before they could get to me. After I lost all respect for them, I couldn’t give them the satisfaction or the acknowledgement they think they deserve. I just had enough and walked away with my dignity intact. I’ve seen my mother on her knees begging these Elders to believe her and I knew she was telling the truth. Yet they prayed and concluded that in all her tears that she was sinful and unrepentant. Her reinstatement was the fastest our zone ever witnessed because the branch committee found out that an elder on the judicial committee had a grudge against her for reporting the immoral acts of his own family, the presiding overseer in my former congregation. He made sure of it that my mother was removed and called it Jehovah’s will. The Branch official dispatched to handle the matter reinstated her with his apologies. That meant the world to her but it signaled the end for me. Jehovah does not communicate, listen or have anything to do with that organization. Period!!

  5. I am so happy I didn’t stick around long enough to have to go through being summoned to a judicial committee meeting. Looking back on it I wonder if that’s why the elder was rude to me on several occasions. Maybe he wanted me to reply back to him rudely so he could discipline me. I remember the last time I met at the KH before going out on service. This elder was taking us out and I just sat there with tears forming in my eyes. Finally, I ran out of there saying I didn’t feel well. The 2 sisters who taught me came to the house and said I could tell them anything and it would go no further. What a joke that is! Then when I asked them why certain things were known by others, they said they didn’t tell anyone. I said, I didn’t tell anyone else. So right there I caught them in a lie. And one of the sisters’ husband was an elder. Boy, did I ever feel stupid.

  6. This certain explains the other side of my experience when I was summoned to a judicial committee meetings after my, ummm, shall we say, “partner in sin” ‘fessed up. I forced to sit in front of a group of most definitely unwise men wearing bad suits who asked me personal questions of an intimate nature that have never been asked me before or since. That meeting actually opened a door for me: I walked through that door and left the religion! While I lost all JW family and friends (yes, a joke for them to claim they don’t shun ex-members!), over 40 years later I know leaving saved my life.


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