An Open Letter to the Body of Elders,
Sudbury (Suffolk [UK])
Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses
On Wednesday, April 4, 2012, the decision will be carried out to announce to the congregation that, “Rory Sullivan is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”1
Men, I urge you not to make this announcement.
This action serves to highlight a crucial problem with the elder arrangement among Jehovah’s Witnesses: You are called upon to bear the burdensome contradiction of having both too much power, and yet having no power at all.
In dealing with the matter of the accusation referred to as “apostasy”, you have too much power. You have the full backing of the Governing Body to come down hard on any congregation member who has misgivings about the religious views of the organisation, and chooses to question those views publicly, or publish their own spiritual observations.
The authority vested in congregation elders gives you the power to radically alter a person’s life. According to the rule, adhered to by Jehovah’s Witnesses, by deciding to expel someone from the congregation you are telling members of the congregation to have nothing more to do with that person. You bar that person from any social contact with friends and acquaintances. The person’s employment is often affected. It deeply upsets family members, and, in extreme cases, jeopardises marital harmony. Furthermore, it can have a knock-on effect on anyone inhabiting the outer reaches of the congregation who may choose to associate with the expelled individual. In my own case, 27 years of family, friends, and acquaintances, will be snuffed out.
And yet, despite having the authority to seriously affect a person’s life, there is nothing you can do about the scriptural interpretation upon which this decision is based. You are entirely at the mercy of the whims and arbitrary decisions of those who occupy the seat of power. Faced with the question as to why the Governing Body should choose to interpret scripture in the way it does, you are rendered impotent. You have no power at all.
Why should it be that the phrase translated, “Stop associating with”, found at 2 Thessalonians 3:14 is treated so differently from, “Quit mixing in company with”, found at 1 Corinthians 5:9, when it is the same Greek phrase?
Why do the Governing Body go to such lengths to distinguish between two types of “greeting” in discussing 2 John 9, when Luke 1:28, 29 demonstrates that they can be used interchangeably?
Why would the first century Christian congregation implement a policy that their Lord warned them against? At John 16:2, Jesus said, “Men will expel you from the synagogue. In fact, the hour is coming when everyone that kills you will imagine he has rendered a sacred service to God.” What does it mean that Jehovah’s Witnesses are one of the only religions that carries out this extreme punishment? Jesus words were supposed to indicate what his listeners would have done to them, not what they would do to others.
There is no adequate explanation when faced with inconsistencies in scriptural interpretation. The position is all too often adopted that ones who were expelled from the congregation brought it upon themselves. They were not willing to patiently “wait on the Lord”; they displayed a lack of loyalty; they were presumptuous; they “went running ahead”. Never is this a judgement the Governing Body turns on itself. To take just one example, when the Watch-Tower Society “went running ahead” and published dates for the end of the world to come in 1914, 1925, and 1975, the subsequent exodus from the organisation was put down to a lack of loyalty on the part of those who left, rather than something the Society had brought upon itself.
Why are those accused of apostasy expelled? I believe the Society has unwittingly given its reason: In the 2010 DVD, “Jehovah’s Witnesses – Faith In Action, Part 1: Out of Darkness,” Governing Body member, Geoffrey Jackson2 comments on the clergy’s fury over the preaching work done by Jehovah’s Witnesses: “Now this affected the money that was coming into many churches, because once people saw the truth, and they saw that they had been taught falsehood, it was only logical that they would withdraw and would not give their support to religious institutions that were teaching falsehood.” There is no reference to the clergy possibly caring about the spiritual health of their flock. It was all about the money. Jesus said, “Stop judging, that you may not be judged; for with what judgement you are judging, you will be judged.” Therefore, it stands to reason that the Governing Body cares less about the spiritual welfare of their flock than they fear exposure of the organisation and the subsequent withdrawal of financial support.
Again, I urge you not to make this announcement. It is not loving, merciful, reasonable, or scriptural. On the contrary, it is heartless, harsh, unyielding, and baseless, and I urge you – each, individually – to refuse to have any part in it.
In the end, if you choose to go through with it, consider that this announcement to expel me from the congregation will be made in the middle of Memorial Week, the day before you celebrate the Lord’s Evening Meal. Perhaps I can leave the significance of this coincidental irony with you as a final thought. Jesus, too, was killed for apostasy.
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1. The Sudbury elders made the announcement on April 4, 2012 that “Rory Sullivan was no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
2. Mr. Jackson’s given name corrected from “George” to “Geoffrey.”