This week we are treated to two videos from distinct sources that are linked by a common element: Deception. Sincere lovers of truth are bound to find what follows to be deeply disturbing, although there will be some who will justify it as what the Organization calls “theocratic warfare.”
What does that term mean?
To answer that, let’s look at the various references to it in the literature of jw.org. (Underlining added.)
No harm is practiced, however, by withholding incriminating information from one who is not entitled to know. (w54 10/1 p. 597 par. 21 Christians Live the Truth)
So in time of spiritual warfare it is proper to misdirect the enemy by hiding the truth. It is done unselfishly; it does not harm anyone; on the contrary, it does much good. (w57 5/1 p. 286 Use Theocratic War Strategy)
God’s Word commands: “Speak truth each of you with his neighbor.” (Eph. 4:25) This command, however, does not mean that we should tell everyone who asks us all he wants to know. We must tell the truth to one who is entitled to know, but if one is not so entitled we may be evasive. But we may not tell a falsehood. (w60 6/1 p. 351 Questions From Readers)
While malicious lying is definitely condemned in the Bible, this does not mean that a person is under obligation to divulge truthful information to people who are not entitled to it. (it-2 p. 245 Lie)
I would suggest that the term “malicious lying” used in the Insight quote is a tautology. Lying, by definition, is malicious. Otherwise, it would not be a sin. Nevertheless, it isn’t the fact that a statement is untrue that makes it a lie, but the motivation behind the statement. Are we seeking to do harm or to do good?
The thrust of the foregoing publication references is that “theocratic warfare” allows the Christian to 1) withhold the truth from undeserving ones as long as 2) no harm is practiced; but 3) it does not allow the Christian to tell a falsehood. While that last point gets into a grey zone, we can say for sure that telling a falsehood that does harm is, by definition, a lie; and Christians mustn’t lie. After all, the God we choose to imitate is the source of all truth, but his enemy is the liar.
The November Broadcast
With that in mind, let’s start with this month’s broadcast. David Splane spends the first quarter of the broadcast explaining how the Organization ensures the accuracy of its reference material, citations and quotations. (On a personal note, I find his manner of teaching to be condescending. He speaks as if he is instructing little children. Three or four times in this video he assures us that “this is going to be fun”.)
While the history of the Organization’s use of outside references is hardly stellar when it comes to accurately conveying the author’s thoughts, we can put that aside for now. Likewise, the Organization’s penchant for failing to disclose the source of its so-called accurate references is—while a bone of contention among serious Bible students—best left for another time and another discussion. Instead, we will merely make note that Governing Body member David Splane is extolling the virtue of the Organization’s exhaustive research effort to ensure that we, the readers, never get any information that is not thoroughly accurate. That being said, let us now move to the 53 minute 20 second mark of the broadcast video. Here, the speaker is about to defend the Organization against accusations from apostates and the world’s media that we do harm by sticking unbendingly to the “two-witness rule”.
In line with the theocratic warfare mindset, he withholds a number of truths from the audience.
He reads from Deuteronomy 19:15 to support the Organization’s position, but doesn’t go on reading the next verses that discuss how Israelites were to handle situations where there was only one witness; nor does he discuss Deuteronomy 22:25-27 which provides an exception to the two-witness rule. Instead, he cherry-picks a verse from Matthew 18:16 where Jesus speaks of two witnesses, claiming this allows a transition from the Mosaic Law into the Christian system of things. However, he withholds the truth revealed in the previous verse that shows the sin is to be dealt with even if there is only one witness to it. He also speaks of a judicial committee not being formed when there is only a single witness, but fails to explain how the entire congregation (not some made-up three-man committee) is called to judge a sin in Mt 18:17, a sin that started out known to only one witness (vs. 15).
What he is failing to reveal is that the “two-witness rule” in Deuteronomy 19:15 was provided to a nation with a complete legislative, judicial, and penal system. The Christian congregation is not a nation. It has no means of prosecuting criminal activity. That is why Paul speaks of the worldly governments as “God’s minister” for executing justice. Rather than defending the two-witness rule, he should be assuring all members that whenever a credible report of child abuse is made to the elders—even if there is only the one witness, the victim—they will report it to the authorities to allow them to use their forensic and investigative expertise to ascertain the truth.
The rule—based on the Organization’s own publications, remember—is that we can only withhold truth from 1) those who do not deserve it, and even then, only 2) if we do no harm.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are the ones this GB-sanctioned broadcast is addressing, and they deserve to know the truth about the Organization’s judicial practices. It is now a part of public record in numerous court documents from different countries that the rigid application of the two-witness rule has caused great harm to countless “little ones”, our most vulnerable, our children.
Do not lie and do no harm. Apparently, not happening.
In good conscience, we must cry foul at this transparent attempt to protect the interests of the Organization over the welfare of the flock.
Before the Supreme Court of Canada
A brother in Alberta, Canada was disfellowshipped for drunkenness and spousal abuse. As a result, he lost sales in his real estate firm as Witnesses boycotted his business. He sued, and apparently won. The Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of Canada appealed the case, claiming that the Government had no right to intrude on church matters. Apparently, other churches agreed and ten groups applied as amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) to support the Watchtower’s appeal. These included a Muslim and Sikh group, the Seventh Day Adventist Church, an Evangelical association, and the Mormon Church. (Strange bedfellows from a Witness point of view.) It seems none of them want the government meddling in their internal affairs. Be that as it may, at the 1:14 minute mark of the video, David Gnam, a witness lawyer serving at the Canada branch, defines disfellowshipping for the Supreme Court Justices this way:
“That word [disfellowship] is used by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t use the word “shun” or “shunning”. They refer to it as “disfellowship”, “disfellowshipping”, “disfellowshipped”, because that really gives the sense of what’s taking place within this particular religious community. “Disfellowship” literally means no further spiritual fellowship with the individual, and as I point out in paragraph 22 of my factum, the nature of the relationship then of a disfellowshipped person is not completely shunned. The disfellowshipped person is able to come into the congregation, the congregation meetings…they’re able to attend in the Kingdom hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, they’re able to sit wherever they like; they’re able to sing the spiritual songs with the congregation. As far as their family members are concerned, normal family relations continue, with the exception of spiritual fellowship.”
“Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t use the word ‘shun'”?! As you can see from the printed program from last year’s regional convention, this statement of David’s is untrue. That is putting it kindly.
What Brother Gnam has described is a fairly accurate account of how the congregation should treat a disfellowshipped individual in line with Jesus’ words at Matthew 18:17 and Paul’s words to the Thessalonians at 2 Thessalonians 3:13-15. However, it is not an accurate description of how the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses treats disfellowshipped ones. We must bear in mind that David Gnam is speaking on behalf of the Organization and so has the full endorsement of the Governing Body. What he says is what they want conveyed to the nine Justices presiding over the highest court of the land. Has he spoken the truth?
Not even close!
He claims that a disfellowshipped person is not completely shunned, but that he is only denied spiritual fellowship. However, any Witness knows that we are not to say even so much as a “Hello” to a disfellowshipped person. We are to speak to him not at all. Yes, he can come into the Kingdom hall, but he will be told to wait for the song to start and then come in, and to leave immediately after the final prayer. This enforced humiliation is part of the “disciplinary process”. He will be “encouraged” to sit at the back. No one wants to sit near a disfellowshipped person. It would just make them uncomfortable. I know of a young sister whose reinstatement was delayed for over a year because she insisted on sitting with her non-disfellowshipped sister in the middle of the auditorium instead of alone at the back.
How can David Gnam say, with a straight face, that “the disfellowshipped person is not completely shunned”?
He then brazenly misleads the court by claiming that “normal family relations continue” and that only spiritual fellowship is denied the individual. We all saw the video at the 2016 Regional Convention where the disfellowshipped daughter was calling her family, but her mother upon recognizing the caller ID refuses to take the call. The daughter could have been phoning because she lay bleeding in a ditch after a car accident, or to tell her family that she was pregnant, or just to have the non-spiritual fellowship which David Gnam claims is allowed. Since only spiritual fellowship is denied the individual, and since “normal family relations continue”, why would the girl’s mother not be shown taking the call? What is the Organization teaching its followers with this convention video?
For this not to constitute a lie, David Gnam and the Organization supporting him would have to believe that 1) the Chief Justices do not deserve to know the truth, and 2) that in misleading them, no harm will be done. Why would the Supreme Court of Canada not deserve to know the truth about Witness judicial procedures? Are they a violation of natural justice? Are they a violation of Bible law?
Whatever the case, a real problem might develop were the court to see that the Watchtower lawyer was intentionally misleading the nine Justices. That is precisely what happened less than 30 minutes after David Gnam made his statement, when Chief Justice Moldaver asked for a clarification. (See the video excerpt.)
Chief Justice Moldaver: “So there’s no sin for a member of the congregation to continue business with Mr. Wall even though he has been disfellowed…Is that what you’re saying? In other words, could someone be brought up on the carpet in the Jehovah’s Witness religion for associating with someone who had been disfellowed and continuing to provide them business?”
David Gnam: “The answer Justice Moldaver is as I gave to Justice Wilson when he asked me the same question is: It’s a personal decision. Members make their personal decision based on their religious conscience, but it is a group value. To…ah…because it’s part of the religious practice of discipline. Disfellowship is a discipline. And so if…if a member of the congregation was willfully associating with someone who was disfellowshipped, the elders would likely visit that person, talk to them and try to reason with them why, as a religious value, they should not associate with that person as long as they are disfellowshipped.”
Chief Justice Moldaver: “…members should generally do things to help that person, could be economically and, in other words, Mr. Wall is a real estate broker, if you’re going to buy a house, go to Mr. Wall.”
David Gnam: “That would not be promoted in the congregation.”
Chief Justice Moldaver: “That’s not promoted”, nodding his head.
David Gnam: “Not at all. In fact, the evidence is to the opposite. The evidence in the affidavit from Mr. Dickson is that the congregation is encouraged not to use the congregation as the basis for business relationships.”
Chief Justice Moldaver didn’t pull David Gnam up on the carpet for this, but one can safely assume that this contradiction in testimony did not go unnoticed.
Let’s analyze this together. Remember that David Gnam has already assured the Court that disfellowshipping is not shunning and that it only involves spiritual fellowship. One must therefore inquire, What spiritual fellowship does the Organization perceive takes place when one employs a real estate agent? Do the buyer, seller, and agent all hold hands and pray before finalizing the sale?
And what is this double-speak about it being a personal decision, but also a group decision? We can’t have it both ways. It’s either a personal choice or it’s not. If it’s a group choice, then it can’t be a personal one. If a member makes a “personal decision based on [his] religious conscience” to engage in a non-spiritual business association with the disfellowshipped person, why would the elders visit with the member to try to correct his thinking? If it is a conscientious decision, then the Bible tells us to respect it and not to impose our own conscience, our own values, on the person. (Romans 14:1-18)
David unwittingly exposes his deception by demonstrating that the Organization’s claim that we do not direct people to shun a disfellowshipped one is a lie. He claims that each one makes a personal, conscientious choice, but then shows that when this “personal choice” is not in line with “group think”, an “adjustment session” is called for. Pressure is brought to bear. Ultimately, the individual will be told that he may himself be disfellowshipped for “loose conduct”, a catch-all term that has been warped to include disobedience to the direction of the elders and the Organization.
The Witnesses of the congregation in question all knew what would happen if they continued to do business with Brother Wall. Calling it a personal, conscience choice plays well in the press and in the courts, but the reality is conscience has nothing to do with it. Can you name a single moral, grooming, or entertainment choice in life where Witnesses are free to exercise their conscience without the pressure of “group think”?
While there may be some justification for the term “theocratic warfare” as defined in the publications (“No one would blame you for not telling the Gestapo where the children are hiding.”) there is no justification for lying. Jesus called the Pharisees, the Devil’s children, because he was the father of the lie, and they were imitating him. (John 8:44)
How sad that we should be seen to follow in their footsteps.
Does this excerpt from a “Question from Readers” support David Gnam’s contention that disfellowshipping is only of a spiritual nature and does not constitute shunning?
*** w52 11/15 p. 703 Questions From Readers ***
Being limited by the laws of the worldly nation in which we live and also by the laws of God through Jesus Christ, we can take action against apostates only to a certain extent, that is, consistent with both sets of laws. The law of the land and God’s law through Christ forbid us to kill apostates, even though they be members of our own flesh-and-blood family relationship. However, God’s law requires us to recognize their being disfellowshiped from his congregation, and this despite the fact that the law of the land in which we live requires us under some natural obligation to live with and have dealings with such apostates under the same roof.
“Forbid us to kill apostates”? Seriously? We have to be forbidden to do this, otherwise…what? We’d be free to do so? It would be the natural inclination to do so if we were not specifically forbidden? Why even bring this up if all we’re talking about is restricting “spiritual fellowship”? Is killing someone a good way to limit spiritual fellowship?