The two-witness rule (see De 17:6; 19:15; Mt 18:16; 1 Tim 5:19) was intended to protect the Israelites from being convicted based on false accusations. It was never intended to shield a criminal rapist from justice. Under the law of Moses, there were provisions to ensure an evildoer didn’t escape punishment by taking advantage of legal loopholes. Under the Christian arrangement, the two-witness rule does not apply to criminal activity. Those accused of crimes are to be handed off to the governmental authorities. Caesar has been appointed by God to ferret out the truth in such cases. Whether or not the congregation chooses to deal with those who rape children becomes secondary, because all such crimes should be reported to the authorities in line with what the Bible says. In this way, no one can accuse us of shielding criminals.
“For the Lord’s sake subject yourselves to every human creation, whether to a king as being superior 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish wrongdoers but to praise those who do good. 15 For it is the will of God that by doing good you may silence the ignorant talk of unreasonable men. 16 Be as free people, using your freedom, not as a cover for doing wrong, but as slaves of God. 17 Honor men of all sorts, have love for the whole association of brothers, be in fear of God, honor the king.” (1Pe 2:13-17)
Sadly, the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses chooses to apply the two-witness rule rigidly and often uses it to excuse itself from the Bible mandate ‘to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s’—a principle which goes beyond the mere paying of taxes. Using flawed reasoning and Straw Man arguments, they dismiss sincere efforts to help them to see reason, claiming these are attacks by opposers and apostates. (See this video where they have reaffirmed their position and refuse to change.[i]) The Organization views its stand on this as an example of loyalty to Jehovah. They will not abandon a rule they view as one that ensures fairness and justice. In this, they come across to the rank and file as ministers of righteousness. But is this genuine righteousness, or just a façade? (2 Cor. 11:15)
Wisdom is proved righteous by its works. (Mt 11:19) If their reasoning for sticking to the two-witness rule is to ensure fairness—if fairness and justice is their motivation—then they would never abuse the two-witness rule or take advantage of it for an unscrupulous purpose. On that, surely, we can all agree!
Since the two-witness rule comes into play within the Organization when dealing with judicial matters, we will examine the policy and procedures governing that process to see if it is truly equitable and in keeping with the high standard of fairness that the Organization claims to uphold.
In the not-too-distant past, the Governing Body instituted the appeal process. This allowed someone who had been judged as unrepentant of a disfellowshipping offense to appeal the judicial committee’s decision to disfellowship. The appeal had to be filed within seven days of the original decision.
According to the Shepherd the Flock of God elder’s manual, this arrangement “is a kindness to the wrongdoer to assure him of a complete and fair hearing. (ks par. 4, p. 105)
Is that a true and accurate assessment? Is this appeal process both kind and fair? How is the two-witness rule implemented? We shall see.
A Brief Aside
It should be noted that the entire judicial process practiced by Jehovah’s Witnesses is unscriptural. The appeal process was an attempt to bandage up some flaws in the system, but it amounts to sewing new patches on old cloth. (Mt 9:16) There is no basis in the Bible for three-man committees, meeting in secret, excluding observers, and prescribing punishments which the congregation must mete out without even knowing the facts of the case.
The process that is scriptural is outlined in Matthew 18:15-17. Paul gave us the basis for “reinstatement” at 2 Corinthians 2:6-11. For a more complete treatise on the subject, see Be Modest in Walking with God.
Is the Process Truly Equitable?
Once an appeal is made, the Circuit Overseer is contacted by the chairman of the judicial committee. The C.O. will then follow this direction:
To the extent possible, he will select brothers from a different congregation who are impartial and have no ties or relationship to the accused, the accuser, or the judicial committee. (Shepherd the Flock of God (ks) par. 1 p. 104)
So far, so good. The idea conveyed is that the appeal committee is to be totally impartial. However, how can they maintain impartiality when they are subsequently fed the following instruction:
The elders chosen for the appeal committee should approach the case with modesty and avoid giving the impression that they are judging the judicial committee rather than the accused. (ks par. 4, p. 104 – boldface in original)
Just to make sure that the members of the appeal committee get the message, the ks manual has boldfaced the words that direct them to view the original committee in a favorable light. The appellant’s whole reason for the appeal is that he (or she) feels that the original committee erred in their judgment of the case. In fairness, he expects the appeal committee to judge the original committee’s decision in the light of the evidence. How can they do this if they are directed, in boldface writing no less, not to even give the impression that they are there to judge the original committee?
While the appeal committee should be thorough, they must remember that the appeal process does not indicate a lack of confidence in the judicial committee. Rather, it is a kindness to the wrongdoer to assure him of a complete and fair hearing. (ks par. 4, p. 105 – boldface added)
The elders of the appeal committee should keep in mind that likely the judicial committee has more insight and experience than they do regarding the accused. (ks par. 4, p. 105 – boldface added)
The appeal committee is told to be modest, not give the impression they are judging the original committee and bear in mind that this process does not indicate a lack of confidence in the judicial committee. They are told that their judgment is likely to be inferior to that of the original committee. Why all this direction to pussy-foot around the feelings of the original committee? Why this need to give them special honor? If you were facing the prospect of being totally cut off from your family and friends, would you be comforted to learn about this direction? Would it make you feel that you are really going to get a fair and impartial hearing?
Does Jehovah favor the judges over the little one? Is He overly concerned about their feelings? Does He bend over backwards not to offend their delicate sensibilities? Or does he weigh them with a heavier load?
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive heavier judgment.” (Jas 3:1)
“He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.” (Isa 40:23 NASB)
How is the appeal committee directed to view the accused? Up to this point in the ks manual, he or she has been referred to as “the accused”. This is fair. Since this is an appeal, it is only right that they view him as potentially innocent. Thus, we can’t help but wonder if a little bit of unwitting bias has slipped by the editor. While trying to reassure all that the appeal process is “a kindness”, the manual refers to the accused as “the wrongdoer”. Surely such a judgmental term has no place in an appeal hearing, since it will likely prejudice the minds of the appeal committee members.
In a similar way, their viewpoint is bound to be affected when they learn they are to view the accused as a wrongdoer, an unrepentant sinner, even before the meeting gets underway.
Since the judicial committee has already judged him unrepentant, the appeal committee will not pray in his presence but will pray before inviting him into the room. (ks par. 6, p. 105 – italics in original)
The appellant either believes he is innocent, or he acknowledges his sin, but believes he is repentant, and that God has forgiven him. That is why he is making the appeal. So why treat him as an unrepentant sinner in a process which is supposed to be “a kindness to ensure him of a complete and fair hearing”?
The Basis for the Appeal
The appeal committee looks to answer two questions as stated in the Shepherd the Flock of God elders manual, page 106 (Boldface in original):
- Was it established that the accused committed a disfellowshipping offense?
- Did the accused demonstrate repentance commensurate with the gravity of his wrongdoing at the time of the hearing with the judicial committee?
In my forty years as an elder, I have known of only two judicial cases that were overturned on appeal. One, because the original committee disfellowshipped when there was no Bible, nor organizational, basis to do so. They clearly acted improperly. This can happen and so in such cases the appeal process can serve as a check mechanism. In the other case, the elders felt that the accused was truly repentant and that the original committee had acted in bad faith. They were raked over the coals by the Circuit Overseer for overturning the original committee’s decision.
There are times when good men will do the right thing and “damn the consequences”, but they are exceedingly rare in my experience and besides, we are not here to discuss anecdotes. Rather we want to examine whether the policies of the Organization are set up to ensure a truly fair and just process for appeals.
We’ve seen how leaders of the Organization adhere to the two-witness rule. We know that the Bible says that no accusation against an older man should be entertained except at the mouth of two or three witnesses. (1 Tim 5:19) Fair enough. The two-witness rule applies. (Remember, we’re distinguishing sin from crimes.)
So let’s look at the scenario where the accused admits he sinned. He admits he is a wrongdoer, but he contests the decision that he is unrepentant. He believes he is truly repentant.
I have firsthand knowledge of one such case that we can use to illustrate a major hole in the judicial policies of the Organization. Unfortunately, this case is typical.
Four youths from different congregations got together on several occasions to smoke marijuana. Then they all realized what they had done and stopped. Three months went by, but their consciences bothered them. Since JWs are taught to confess all sins, they felt that Jehovah could not truly forgive them unless they repented before men. So each went to his respective body of elders and confessed. Of the four, three were judged repentant and given private reproof; the fourth was judged unrepentant and disfellowshipped. The disfellowshipped youth was the son of the congregation coordinator who, out of fairness, had excluded himself from all the proceedings.
The disfellowshipped one appealed. Remember, he had stopped smoking marijuana on his own three months before and had come to the elders voluntarily to confess.
The appeal committee believed the youth was repentant, but they were not allowed to judge the repentance they witnessed. According to the rule, they had to judge whether he was repentant at the time of the original hearing. Since they were not there, they had to rely on witnesses. The only witnesses were the three elders of the original committee and the young man himself.
Now let’s apply the two-witness rule. For the appeal committee to accept the young man’s word they would have to judge that the older men of the original committee had acted improperly. They would have to accept an accusation against, not one, but three older men on the basis of the testimony of one witness. Even if they believed the youth—which it was later revealed that they did—they could not act. They would actually be acting against clear Bible direction.
Years went by and subsequent events revealed that the chairman of the judicial committee had a long-standing grudge against the coordinator and sought to get at him through his son. This is not said to reflect badly on all Witness elders, but just to provide some context. These things can and do happen in any organization, and that is why policies are in place—to safeguard against abuses. However, the policy in place for judicial and appeal hearings actually helps to ensure that when such abuses occur, they will go unchecked.
We can say this because the process is set up to ensure that the accused will never have the needed witnesses to prove his case:
The witnesses should not hear details and testimony of other witnesses. Observers should not be present for moral support. Recording devices should not be allowed. (ks par. 3, p. 90 – boldface in original)
“Observers should not be present” will ensure no human witnesses to what transpires. Banning recording devices eliminates any other evidence the accused might lay claim to in order to make his case. In short, the appellant has no basis and therefore no hope of winning his appeal.
The policies of the Organization ensure that there will never be two or three witnesses to contradict the testimony of the judicial committee.
Given this policy, writing that “the appeal process…is a kindness to the wrongdoer to assure him of a complete and fair hearing”, is a lie. (ks par. 4, p. 105 – boldface added)