Fædrelandsvennen – 8th June 2018
- Medlemmers grove lovbrudd og sexliv håndteres i egne domsutvalg – please note that the original is behind a paywall
Stavanger Aftenblad – 8th June 2018
- Medlemmers grove lovbrudd og sexliv håndteres i egne domsutvalg – please note that the orginal is behind a paywall.
Members’ gross offences and sex lives are handled in their own judicial committee
After the Faedrelandsvennen in April wrote the story of a 87-year-old Jehovah’s Witness Elder who was imprisoned for sexual assault against a four-year-old, there have been a number of tips and leaks of internal documents that show how Jehovah’s Witnesses are governed.
The most important leak was the book “Shepherd the Flock of God”, the so-called “Elder’s Book”. This book gives a detailed description of how Jehovah’s Witnesses work with ‘judicial committees’ in Norway.
The main rule is that brothers and sisters in the religious community should not use the police and the Norwegian judicial system against each other.
Faedrelandsvennen knows people who have had to explain themselves to the judiciary in Sørlandet about a number of things.
A woman was interrogated by the men on a Judicial Committee about losing her sexual virginity. Another woman feared expulsion and isolation after having a abortion.
One woman was saved in hospital. With violent blood loss during birth causing the doctors to intervene and transfuse blood while the woman was unable to explain to objection. Afterwards, she had to respond to a ‘Judicial Committee’ if she had done enough to oppose the blood transfusion.
The activities of the ‘Judicial Committees’ of Jehovah’s Witnesses have a wide remit.
All aspects of life can be effected by these ‘Judicial Committees’, since the prohibition on using the “worldly system” also applies to companies owned by other Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Judicial Committees do not punish with fines or imprisonment, but they can give public reproof or make a decision on exclusion if they find that something is seriously in breach of Jehovah’s will or that the person does not show sufficient remorse. For those who are excluded, the consequences are serious.
“Loyal Christians should avoid unnecessary contact with such a relative and even keep business relationships to an absolute minimum.” The book states how to deal with those who are excluded.
Four women. Four Accounts. This is how the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ ‘Judicial Committees’ handles serious matters themselves, without using the Norwegian judicial system.
Account 1: Family violence
Stavanger District Court 2017. A member of Jehovah’s Witnesses is found guilty of having exposed wife and child for gross violence and abuse through 13 years.
Faedrelandsvennen has read the sentence and contacted the man’s former wife, one of the victims of the case. She is restrained, but still chooses to talk to us. Despite a crushing verdict in Norwegian justice, she believes the matter wa irresponsibly handled by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Both by there Judicial Committee and the Scandinavian regional office in Holbaek, Denmark.
“Violence really started right away, before we got married in 1999,” says the woman who wants to be anonymous for the sake of others active in the congregation.
She had been married once before and had four children from earlier marriages. After a few years they got a son together. The abuse continued and, like so many violent women, she felt guilty. That there was something she herself did that triggered the man’s mind.
“We went on the toe rake right from the start. But I had been divorced once before, so I thought I just had to try to stay out.”
The three oldest children had left the home, but she and the two youngest lived in constant fear. For both mental and physical abuse.
The verdict of the district court describes it as follows:
“It is the mental violence that has been dominant, but behind this the possibility of physical violence has always been. On the basis of the evidence that has been taken, the court must undoubtedly assume that the offender’s criminal activity forms a pattern which results in the victim being subjected to a regime characterized by continuous insecurity and fear of violence”
“I was so often afraid I thought I should die,” said the woman.
“It was like living with a time bomb. I had to sit in bed and sleep. And sometimes I had to sleep on the floor, then he’d happily stayed all night.”
Seeking help from the elders
On several occasions, the sons went hard. According to the verdict, the man should have pushed her while holding the baby, roaring to the next youngest, shaking him and throwing him in bed.
In 2010, before the man becomes an elder in the congregation, the abuse escalates. The second youngest boy who has become 15 does not manage anymore.
“He witnesses several episodes where I am terrified and the youngest boy hangs around his foot so far as to be kicked off the wall.”
In the judgment it is stated, among other things:
“The boy has explained that he was incredibly scared of his mother’s health and life.”
In the judgment it appears that he sees a mother lying on his knee in front of the officer and tries to ask him for mercy.
The 15-year-old tries to break in between, stop the violence, but nothing matters. In pure despair he goes with his great brother to the elders in the congregation. They tell what is happening in the home.
“Now I can not see how my mom and my brothers have it, that’s what he said to the elders. But nothing happened”, says the woman.
The elders in the congregation do not want to comment on the matter due to confidentiality.
“Then it ends with an episode where he becomes so violent that the youngest flees, runs and locks into the bathroom. My husband is running after me, pushing me so that I fall and my head hits a handrail hard.
To this day, she does not know how the police were called, she does not remember calling them. But the police had taken up the emergency call.
“The police had heard that we were terrified. When they came the police officer said, “So to save you and your son, no one should be on their own. Can we drive you to someone?”
They are driven to the nearest emergency center. The police find her husband and he is charged with family violence. It’s the child welfare service who reports him.
Not enough for exclusion
It takes almost two years before an action is taken. In court the children answer questions about what they where exposed to and what they have witnessed.
Parallel with the police investigation, Jehovah’s Witnesses send their own man from the Scandinavian headquarters in Denmark. He will investigate whether there is grounds for excluding the man from the congregation.
“I felt he believed in us. He was able to see all the case papers, interrogate, interrogation of the children, everything. The same did legal department in Denmark. Yet, they believed they did not have enough to do something, which meant it was not enough in relation to the two-witness rule.”
“Even though you and your children told you? You were witnesses, is not their testimony worth anything?”
“I do not understand why they could not do anything about it.”
“So he was not excluded?”
“No, he was not. So before the criminal case it became impossible for us to be in the environment. In the congregation we received very little support. I feel they did not believe us and he has been allowed to speak freely. All the time we have heard: “If it’s true, then this will come for a day. You just have to stay out. God will never let it pass.””
The Jehovah’s Witnesses regional headquarters at Holbaek in Denmark will not comment directly on the matter.
“We respect the right of individuals to tell their perception of a situation and do not want to comment on it,” writes press spokesman Dag-Erik Kristoffersen to Faedrelandsvennen.
PICTURE: The woman and her children were exposed to serious violence for 13 years. The perpetrator was the father, husband and a Jehovah’s Witness.
Even after the blame for the man in late 2015, it is she and the children who have to change congregation. The man is still there in the old congregation. In a court hearing, the youngest son explains that he is afraid of his father, and the child welfare service asks her to change the responsibility of parents so that she is solely responsible.
They said, “You must never send him to live with the father.” If I did, then they would ask for care from me too.
Made to move
In spring 2016, both child welfare and police are responsible for moving the family to another city.
Both family and good friends support her after the break with her husband. They contribute towards a house, furniture and other help after they are forced to move from Western Norway.
It will be autumn the same year before the case finally comes to court. Here he denies all wrongdoing and culpability, saying that she made things up.
In court, he claims, among other things, that she was diagnosed with dissociative personality disorder, something the court rejects:
“For the sake of sake, the court will mention that no such diagnosis is documented.”
Notes from the GP/doctor and the emergency room attendance are also submitted to court:
“Was beaten, did not want to tell us so much about this. Swollen on the face and some small red marks on the cheek. Headache and vomiting.”
“Turned and kicked. Afraid of damage to the fetus. By examination there is swelling on the left side of the face, after a punch on the throat.”
In an excerpt from the judgment it is stated:
“The court sees no evidence that these stories are made up. Therefore in this case the court, on the basis of the overall evidence, view that the accused has little or no credibility.”
In November 2016 he is found guilty of all the 18 points of the appeal. The sentence is set at one year and eight months in prison. But he is still not excluded from Jehovah’s Witnesses. Only when the verdict becomes enforceable after the appeal has been rejected by the Supreme Court in March 2017, he will be expelled. But Jehovah’s Witnesses demand more.
“The children and I had to write a statement to the elders on the Judicial Committee, where we had to write that we stood for it to be true what we had said about each single point of accuse he was convicted of. Because we all signed the declaration and sent to the elders, it became a kind of two-witness matter because we confirmed each other’s story.
The man is expelled by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and she thinks it will go many years before he can be taken back into the Jehovah’s Witnesses again.
The elders in this congregation do not want to comment on this and refer to the press officer at the main office in Holbaek.
She thought the family would have a respite, get time to gather while the man was imprisoned.
Because, according to the elders book, one must show sincere repentance for what has been done before resuming in the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“One of the Judicial Committee elders contacted us. I asked, “As long as he denies everything, can not he be taken back? For how can he regret something he has says he has not done?”
“No, it will show what’s going to happen” they said to me then.
She is painfully aware that the man claims he is a victim of a miscarriage of justice and he appeals to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In March 2018, while still in prison, a Judicial Committee, following a clear signal from Jehovah’s Witnesses headquarters in Holbaek, chooses to reinstate him.
The verdict of the district court has been sent to Jehovah’s Witnesses in Holbaek. But that is no help.
“They agree that they are not police investigators, psychologists or judges. But when the Norwegian judiciary judges, Jehovah’s Witnesses choose to overlook it.
The elders book also mentions that there should be an admission of what has been done and apologize for it before they are reinstated. And the elders must believe that there are real remorse.
“Just two weeks before he is reinstated, he proclaims that he has been exposed to an injustice saying that I am mad and everything is my fault. What then is it when he has regretted?”
For the youngest son it is difficult to swallow that the father does not recognize what the wrongdoing he has been convicted of.
“My son says to me, ‘Do not you think Daddy was there? Do not he think I remember?'”
She thinks that if the Judicial Committee had believed in her, the children and the judgment, it would have been easier to move on in life. Or if she could get an explanation of why he was taken back in Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“I think women and children are the losing party every time. For they had taken a little account of us, so they’d let him out until we got our head over the water until we managed to breathe. This is a serious abuse, and if they had believed in us, they could stand with their back straight.”
(One of the elders in the Judicil Committee who reinstated the man back into the Jehovah’s Witnesses is the same elder who first learned about the violence when the children came and told him.
“It’s almost unimaginable,” said the woman.
“It was he we went to to get help. The last thing I heard was that he stood in front of the congregation and announced the gratifying news that the perpetrator was now reinstated.)
Wishing for a change
Even though she still wants to be a Witness, it has become more difficult to attend meetings. She has lost much confidence in the elders and the Judicial Committee who handled here case. Among other things, she believes that they could have dealt with abuse in the last couple of years if they had reported the matter to the police or child welfare.
“If they had then the last two years of violence could be avoided. When my son went to the elders for the second time in 2013, the last serious episode could be avoided. I had so much damage in my ear that I’m sitting here with hearing aids today. The children have left the Jehova’s Witnesses, they are struggling today. Much could be avoided.”
She has nothing against the community itself. But nevertheless, choose to contribute to the Faedrelandsvennen’s article. Her main motive is the desire to change the procedures, guidelines and attitudes of the management.
“The handling of our case shows that women and children obviously are not believed, we should be believed.”
Believes that he has been wrongly sentenced
The violent man has always claimed he is innocent of what he was convicted of.
“It is true that my client is aware that he is wrongly convicted,” writes the man’s lawyer, Brynjar Meling, in an email to Fædrelandsvennen.
Meling writes on:
“He argues that the appeal was not handled right, and he was refused permission to provide evidence of the circumstances that he considers to be essential for the assessment of the matter. That there are more diagnoses, which he believes may affect her perception of reality. He refused to present witnesses who could confirm this.
On questions from Fædrelandsvennen, Meling answers the following:
“Are there any of the things he actually condemned for today he acknowledges to have done? If so, which?”
“My client has maintained his story as he testified in court.”
*”Has he acknowledged any of his actions to the Jehovah’s Witnesses Judicial Committee which he has not recognized in court?
“No, but they have a different focus on some things,” Meling writes.
Account 2: Abortion
She, a woman belonging to a congregation in southern Norway, and the man had three children from before. It was only nine months between the last two and she had a heavy birth depression.
“Then we got it back, I got pregnant. And the youngest child was just a baby.”
It came as a shock on both. The man was seriously concerned about her condition and how she could manage to take care of the three children they already had.
“I almost do not remember anything. Because of the birth depression, everything was black. But we came to the hospital the same day.”
She got a pill, left home and aborted her. She remembers that she lay in bed for several days.
“It was black, very black. It’s hard for us to look back on, but we had no choice.”
Abortion is wrong in most Christian communities, including in Jehovah’s Witnesses. Her conscience was pricked, and in the end, the man told what they had done to one of the elders in the congregation.
Thus, a judicial committee was set up, the case was to be discussed by three appointed men.
“The point of a judging committee is that they should judge if you regret it. And we did not really.”
It was her husband who spoke at the judicial committee. He told them that they had taken the choice because of the children. They had to chose between getting her out of the depression, or a new child.
She even remembers a little of the meeting, but her husband later told her that he quickly realized that they did not “regret enough”.
“My husband finally realized that he had to ‘chase with’ them and say what they wanted to hear. If not, we had to be been excluded.
“By showing “remorse”, speaking to them, could you avoid expulsion?”
“Yes, you will avoid it. If you know what to say.”
If you are excluded, all contact with family and friends who are still in the community should be broken immediately.
“Exhausted with the consequences it brings is more than one can cope with, one can become totally desperate. Therefore, it ends with just saying something that the judicial committee wants to hear, to avoid being excluded.”
The judiciary ruled that they showed enough remorse to avoid being excluded from the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“The elders are sitting with all that power, it’s not good to have all that power.”
Both her and her husband are still members, although it has become difficult to distinguish beliefs from the congregation.
“I wish I could keep my faith without feeling it’s worth anything if I’m not in the congregation. Without the congregation, my faith does not mean any thing.”
Fædrelandsvennen has repeatedly tried to contact the elders in the congregation, who also sat on the judicial committee to get a comment. After several days of attempting on the phone and by text messaging, we did not succeed.
Account 3: Sex outside of marriage
“I really had ‘saved myself’. But on a trip with other Jehovah’s Witnesses, it nevertheless happened”, says an adult woman in a congregation in southern Norway.
She had sex outside of marriage, which is considered a great sin in Jehovah’s Witnesses. All sexual intercourse between man and woman shall be within marriage. If it goes outside, it is called “porneia” and there is a great danger of being excluded.
“I was desperate, knew that what I had done was wrong. And then I was so stupid that I trusted myself speak about it to another woman in the congregation.”
This woman’s conscience did not allow her to keep the secret. She asks the “sinner” herself to tell the elders what she has done. If not, she says that she must tell them.
“So I was pushed to go and talk to them about it. And it is one of the principles of Jehovah’s Witnesses that if you get to know such things, you must either tell them to the elders, or you tell them yourself if they don’t.”
In the judicial committee there are three elders. All good grown men.
“And when you sit in such a judicial committee, they ask where I’ve had sex, how many times and what kind of sex. They have nothing to do.”
The “sinner” may meet in court without a lawyer or defender.
“You feel so rotten and small. Alone against three men and then talk about something like that. Not only do you admit to adultery, but then they will dig in the details. It’s very disgusting.”
The judicial committee concludes that she regrets enough as it is the first time. She avoids being excluded. But at a congregation meeting at the Kingdom Hall, they read her name and say she has been given a public rebuke. Just not why.
“There was a gasp through the hall, everyone looked at me and wondered what I had done.”
Not regret enough
A few years later she “sins” again. Repeatedly. Now she speaks herself to the elders in the congregation.
“I got a bad conscience because I lived what they call a double life. I was a girlfriend with one who was not Jehovah’s Witness, and then I knew it was not according to their norms. Because we had intimate contact.”
She does not want to meet the judicial committee to describe her love life in detail. In addition, she is tired and burned out, she can not go to meetings, or be “active” to Jehovah in other ways.
“They knew how hard it was for me, yet they started chasing me. I did not answer them on the phone, and suddenly one of the elders came to my door.”
He wants a meeting with her.
“I was given an anxiety attack because they were hunting for me. It felt very uncomfortable.”
In the end, she can bear it no more, even asking for a judicial committee so she could be excluded.
“I told them they could as well exclude me because I failed to live according to the principles, or do the things a Jehovah’s Witness should, as things were there and then. I was completely on the edge.
Even though she contacted them, had a bad conscience and regrets what she had done, she is not believed. The judicial committee believes she does not regret enough and concludes that she should be excluded.
“The only reason why the verdict can exclude is if you do not regret it. Then they used that word, regret.”
“Feels like a death sentence”
It took a whole month before the verdict was concluded and the decision was made public.
“It was hard to go and wait. So I even told my friends about the matter. It feels like a death sentence.”
She uses strong words, but she believes that in reality it is true when one is no longer a Jehovah’s Witness.
“When you’re outcast, you have no hope. Jehovah is not there and I do not get the blessings. And what happens to me when Armageddon comes? That’s what they think in the Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
Fædrelandsvennen has not succeeded in getting a comment from the elders who where on the judicial committee despite repeated attempts.
Although her entire family lives in the same city, she does not have normal contact with them. She has not seen her aunt’s baby that was born a year ago. For two years she has lived as an outcast. She believes the judicial committees are too strict.
“What I’ve done, biblically speaking, is to hurt myself. It does not matter that I do not believe or do not love Jehovah, but they think I have broken a Bible principle, and then I have not appreciated Jehovah properly.”
And it is the judicial committee that decide.
“It makes me very bitter, because I’ll be put on par with someone who has murdered someone. That is quite strict.”
Account: 4: Assault allegations
One woman who told her story to Fædrelandsvennen was active in a number of Jehovah’s Witness congregations in West Agder.
She contacted the elders in the congregation and announced verbally and in writing that her husband had committed an assault against her.
The man was also reported to the police. The case was finally relied on in the statement of evidence.
Fædrelandsvennen has been in contact with the now divorced man. He does not want to comment on the matter.
Inside the congregation, the woman was asked by the elders to forgive. When she wanted to divorce her husband, the elders made it clear that she was not free from him, to Jehovah. She was therefore not free to establish any new relationship.
A while later, the woman found a new man and married outside the congregation. Then the congregation established a judicial committee and excluded the woman. “[NN] (the name of the woman) is no longer a member of the Christian congregation” was announced by the speaker in the Kingdom Hall.
The result of the message is total isolation. Not even the woman’s own children will be in touch with her after such a message is given.
Following this, the woman was treated at Sørlandet Hospital for anxiety and depression for severe strain.
Insulation from friends and family is hard to bear.
Her new husband explains that she does not want to interviewed, as it will make a difficult situation even more difficult.
He grew up in the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but was never baptized. When you are not baptized in the congregation, you can not be excluded and isolated, like ‘full members’ can be by the elders.
“Parallel legal system”
“The worst thing was the feeling of not being believed or taken seriously. My wife has been held hostage to theological deceptions”, says the new husband.
“Can you elaborate on it?”
“It is simply to do with a parallel legal system. In this system, only men are judges and they do not have the qualifications to do such a job. In addition, women’s voice have less weight than men.”
“How has the relationship been with Jehovah’s Witnesses in recent years?”
“When they wanted to exclude her, it was a terrible time. They needed to talk to her and she would break with me while she was ill and being treated. Messages from health personnel were ignored,” tells the new husband.
For the sake of the woman’s situation, neither is he named in this article.
Fædrelandsvennen has been in contact with the elders in the judicial committee who excluded the woman we write about here. The members of the judicial committee would not be allowed to interview, but instead sent a text message saying:
“Hi! We have no comment on the case you wish to address. You can even look at jw.org how we treat such things. By the way, you can contact our branch office in Holbæk.”
Guidance to the elders of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the book “Shepherd the Flock of God” is clear. Under the heading “Litigation against Brothers”, reference is made to the Corinthian letter to establish that, as a rule, the “worldly” courts – the public justice system should not be used.
The ban extends far and into the business community.
“In 1 Corinthians 6: 1-8, the apostle Paul gives clear guidance that Christians should not institute proceedings against other Christians for worldly courts in order to make certain personal discrepancies that could have been resolved with the help of the elders in the congregation.”
It is clearly warned, “If a person ignores the Word of God, say about this, it may affect his privileges in the church.”
Sources that Fædrelandsvennen has talked to, are afraid of being outcast, thus losing contact with friends and family.
“There is no difference between suing a single brother or sister and suing a company where all the owners are Jehovah’s Witnesses,” it is mentioned in the elders book.
“Do not want to spend time on an interview”
The Fædrelandsvennen has for a long time attempted to get the Jehovah’s Witnesses regional office to be interviewed about judicial committees, and how they work.
The regional office in Holbæk on Zealand is the link between the World Headquarters in Warvick, New York, and all the congregations in Scandinavia.
Norwegian spokesperson Dag-Erik Kristoffersen has refused to give any interview. He has been presented with details of the specific cases we write about, where the office in Holbæk was involved, and what Fædrelandsvennen has written about the elders book “Shepherd the Flock of God”.
Kristoffersen answers in writing and in general:
“We do not want to spend time in an interview because your questions are about something very basic. It is clearly explained in our internal manual as you refer to, and in articles in our magazine The Watchtower. There is no secret, something new or unknown.
“Jehovah’s Witnesses are a Christian community and we have some clear Bible guidelines for how to behave in order to enjoy the community of the congregation. If anyone sins grossly against biblical morality, a judicial committee will decide if he or she can continue to be a member of the congregation. The book that you have explains how a judicial committee works and what biblical principles they should follow.
“If there are personal conflicts, such as in business, elders in the congregation will try to help the parties to agree on a settlement. If it appears that theft or fraud has been committed, a judicial committee will be appointed and, if necessary, exclude them from the congregation.
“Decisions made by a judicial committee may be appealed and will then be dealt with by another committee.
“It’s so simple and we have no more to say about it.”
Judicial Committees in Jehovah’s Witnesses (box)
As a rule, brothers and sisters in Jehovah’s Witnesses should not go to justice with each other in the “worldly legal system.”
When deemed necessary, the elders in a congregation create internal judgments. The members of the committee are men, chosen among the elders.
They determine a wide range of things from money to sexuality, and also consider issues that affect violence.
The ban on using the courts is not absolutely absolute. Jehovah’s Witnesses open up for the police in cases of sexual abuse against children.
Members may also use the courts to obtain divorce, to be granted parental responsibility, to claim insurance payments or to settle among creditors in bankruptcy cases. There is also no prohibition of opposition if another brother or sister has first brought an action against you.
Jehovah’s Witnesses Committee of Judges has established its own appeal opportunity. One case can be dealt with by a new judicial committee.
Pursuant to Section 139 of the Criminal Code (box)
Criminal Code Section 139 implies that it is punishable to refrain from waiving or reporting to the police a number of specified crimes, including violence in close relationships, incest and negligent intercourse with minors. Where abuse and abuse happens repeatedly, one can also expect abuse in the future. Knowledge of such ongoing circumstances may therefore be included in this notice.