In the May, 2016 Watchtower—Study Edition, a question from readers introduces what Witnesses like to call “new light”. Prior to this article, Witnesses were not allowed to applaud when an announcement of reinstatement was read from the platform. There were three reasons given for this position.[i]
- The public display of joy that applauding represents might offend some in the congregation who were perhaps adversely affected by the former sinner’s actions.
- It would be improper to demonstrate joy until sufficient time had passed for us to be sure that the sinner’s repentance was genuine.
- Applause might be seen as praising someone for finally repenting when such repentance should have been displayed in the initial judicial hearing, making the reinstatement unnecessary.
The question posed in the May, 2016 Watchtower under “Questions from Readers” is: “How can the congregation express its joy when an announcement is made that someone has been reinstated?”
This question was not posed in the February 2000 Kingdom Ministry since that teaching provided no means for the congregation to “express its joy”. Thus, that “Question Box” asked simply, “Is it appropriate to applaud when a reinstatement is announced?” The answer was No!
The May “Questions from Readers” uses Luke 15:1-7 and Hebrews 12:13 to show that an expression of joy is appropriate. It concludes: “Accordingly, there may well be spontaneous, dignified applause when the elders make an announcement of a reinstatement.”
How nice! We have had to wait 18 long years for men to tell us that it is now okay to obey God. But let us not put all the blame on these men. After all, they would have no power over us had we not granted it to them.
A Baby Step
The old reasoning conflicted with the teaching of Jesus regarding the proper attitude we should hold toward a repentant sinner. This is encapsulated in the Parable of the Prodigal Son found at Luke 15:11-32:
- One of two sons goes off and squanders his inheritance in sinful behavior.
- Only when he is destitute does he realize his error and return to his father.
- His father sees him a long way off and spontaneously runs to him before he hears any verbal expression of repentance.
- The father freely forgives the prodigal son, dresses him in finery, and throws a feast inviting all his neighbors. He hires musicians to play music and the sound of rejoicing carries far.
- The loyal son is offended by the attention showered on his brother. He demonstrates an unforgiving attitude.
It’s easy to see how our former position missed the significance of all of these points. That teaching was made even more bizarre because it conflicted not only with Scripture but with other teachings in our own publications. For instance, it undermined the authority of the elders making up the reinstatement committee.[ii]
The new understanding doesn’t go far enough. Compare “there may well be spontaneous, dignified applause” with Luke 11:32 which reads, “But we just had to celebrate and rejoice…”
The new understanding is a minor attitude adjustment; a baby step in the right direction.
A Bigger Issue
We could leave things here, but we’d be missing a much bigger issue. It starts by asking ourselves, why does the new understanding make no acknowledgement of the former teaching?
A Righteous Man
What does a righteous man do when he has made a mistake? What does he do when his actions have adversely affected the lives of many others?
Saul of Tarsus was such a man. He persecuted many true Christians. It took nothing less than a miraculous manifestation of our Lord Jesus to correct him. Jesus rebuked him saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? To keep kicking against the goads makes it hard for you.” (Ac 26:14)
Jesus had been goading Saul to change, but he was resisting. Saul saw his error and changed, but more than that, he repented. Later in life, he publicly acknowledged his error with such words as “…formerly I was a blasphemer and a persecutor and an insolent man…” and “…I am the least of the apostles, and I am not fit to be called an apostle….”
God’s forgiveness comes as a result of repentance, of acknowledging the wrong. We imitate God, so we are commanded to grant forgiveness, but only after we see evidence of repentance.
“Even if he sins seven times a day against you and he comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”” (Lu 17:4)
Does the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses do this? Ever??
For the past 18 years they have restrained genuine expressions of joy as inappropriate, yet now they acknowledge that such expressions are wholly scriptural. More, their past reasoning gave an endorsement to those who chose to disobey the Christ by being unforgiving, and it caused others to think it appropriate to regard the act of repentance with suspicion.
Everything about the former policy went against Scripture.
What hurt has this policy caused over the past two decades? What stumbling resulted from it? We can only guess, but had you been responsible for such a policy, would you feel it appropriate to change it without giving any acknowledgement that you were wrong in the first place? Do you think Jehovah would give you a free pass on that?
This new understanding is introduced in such a way as to not even hint at the fact that it reverses long-standing instructions from the Governing Body. It is as if those instructions never existed. They assume no culpability for the effect their instructions have had on the “little ones” of the flock.
I like to believe that Jesus has been goading our leadership, and indeed all of us, as he did Saul of Tarsus. We have been given time to repent. (2Pe 3:9) But if we continue to “kick against the goads”, what will there be for us when that time is up?
“Unrighteous in Least”
At first glance, the fact no acknowledgement is being made of past error may seem trivial. However, it is part of a decades-long pattern. Those of us who have been readers of the publications for more than half a century can recall many times when we heard or read the words “some have thought” as a preface to a changed understanding. This shifting of the blame to others was always galling because we all knew who the “some” really were. They no longer do this, but now prefer to ignore the old teaching altogether.
It is like pulling a tooth for some people to apologize, even for the most minor of offenses. Such stubborn refusal to admit to wrongdoing demonstrates a prideful attitude. Fear may also be a factor. Such ones lack the quality needed to make things right: Love!
Love is what motivates us to apologize, because we know that by doing so we put our fellow human at ease. He can be at peace because justice and balance has been restored.
A righteous man is always motivated by love.
“The person faithful in what is least is faithful also in much, and the person unrighteous in what is least is unrighteous also in much.” (Lu 16:10)
Let us test out the validity of this principle from Jesus.
“Unrighteous in Much”
Love motivates us to do right, to be righteous. If love is lacking in seemingly minor things, it should also be missing in the big things according to the Jesus gives us at Luke 16:10. It may have been difficult for us to see the evidence of this in past decades, but now things have changed. Mark 4:22 is coming true.
One case in point is to be found by considering the testimony of Witness elders, including Governing Body member Geoffrey Jackson before the Australia Royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse. Various elders, including Jackson himself, made statements on the record testifying to how much we love our children and do all we can to protect them. However, when each elder, including Jackson, was queried as to whether he had listened to the testimony of JW child sexual abuse victims, each said that he had not. Yet, they all had obviously had the time to be prepped by counsel and Jackson in particular showed by his words that he had spent time going over the testimony given by other elders. They honored God with their lips by claiming to love the little ones, but by their actions they told another story. (Mark 7:6)
There were times when Judge McClellan addressed the elders directly and seemed to be pleading with them to see reason. It was evident that he was baffled by the intransigence of those who were purportedly men of God. Jehovah’s Witnesses have a reputation in the world of being moral people, so the judge presumably expected them to readily jump on board any initiative that would protect their children from this horrific crime. Yet at every step he witnessed stonewalling. Toward the end of Geoffrey Jackson’s testimony—after hearing from all the rest—Judge McClellan, obviously frustrated, tried unsuccessfully to get the Governing Body, through Jackson, to see reason. (View it here.)
The key issue was the organization’s resistance to inform the police when they believed, or actually knew, that the crime of child sexual abuse had occurred. In over 1,000 cases, not once did the Organization report the crime to the police.
Romans 13:1-7 as well as Titus 3:1 instruct us to be obedient to the superior authorities. The Crimes Act 1900 – Section 316 “Concealing serious indictable offense” requires citizens of Australia to report serious crimes.[iii]
Of course, we have to balance obedience to the superior authorities with obedience to God, so there may be times when we have to defy the law of the land so as to obey the law of God.
So let us ask ourselves, was the Australia branch obeying God’s law by failing, more than a thousand times, to report known and suspected child abusers to the authorities? How was the congregation protected by failing to report? How was the community at large protected? How was the sanctity of God’s name upheld by failing to report? What law of God can they point to that superseded the law of the land? Can we really claim to be obeying Romans 13:1-7 and Titus 3:1 in every one of the 1,006 cases when we, as an Organization, failed to report the serious and heinous crime of child sexual abuse?
Worse yet was that a significant number of these victims, disheartened by their treatment—feeling ignored, unprotected, and unloved—were stumbled and left the brotherhood of Jehovah’s Witnesses. As a result, their suffering was compounded by the punishment of shunning. Being cut off from their emotional support structure of family and friends, their injurious burden became even harder to bear. (Mt 23:4;18:6)
Many coming to these videos were expecting the best and have been baffled by this evident lack of love for the little one. Some even make excuses, trying to reason away the incongruity of a Christian doggedly defending the organization at the expense of its most vulnerable members.
Why the Fruit Is Missing
Yet, what cannot be reasonably denied is that evidence of the love Jesus spoke of at John 13:34-35—a love even people of the nations would readily recognize—is missing.
This love—not numerical growth or door-to-door preaching—was what Jesus said would identify his true followers. Why? Because it does not come from within, but is a product of the spirit. (Ga 5:22) Therefore, it cannot be successfully faked.
Indeed, all Christian religious organizations try to fake this love, and may even carry it off for a time. (2Co 11:13-15) However, they cannot sustain the façade, otherwise, it would not serve as a unique mark of Jesus’ true disciples.
The Organization’s historical record of failing to acknowledge wrong teachings, of failing to apologize for misleading its flock, of failing to do anything to make amends both in the “least” of things and in “much”, demonstrates a lack of love. What does this mean for us?
If you hold an apple, you know that somewhere there is a tree from which it came. It does not spring into being on its own. That is not the nature of fruit.
If there is the fruitage of love Jesus spoke of, then the holy spirit must be there to produce it. No holy spirit, no genuine love.
Given the evidence, can we honestly continue to believe that God’s spirit rests on the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses; that they are guided by and guiding us with the spirit from Jehovah? We may resist letting go of this notion, but if that’s how we feel, we need to again ask ourselves, where is the fruit? Where is the love?
[i] For the full details on our prior teaching, see the October 1, 1998 Watchtower, page 17 and Kingdom Ministry of February 2000, “Question Box” on page 7.
[ii] The Organization holds that when the elders make a decision in committee, they have Jehovah’s view on matters. (w12 11/15 p. 20 par. 16) So it is very strange to have a teaching that makes allowance for some to hold a position at odds with the decision of the committee of elders. After all, it is assumed that the elders have already fully determined that the repentance is genuine.
[iii] If a person has committed a serious indictable offence and another person who knows or believes that the offence has been committed and that he or she has information which might be of material assistance in securing the apprehension of the offender or the prosecution or conviction of the offender for it fails without reasonable excuse to bring that information to the attention of a member of the Police Force or other appropriate authority, that other person is liable to imprisonment for 2 years.