Originally published on Danish Media, TV2 by Jonas HR Moestrup
Many former Jehovah’s Witnesses say they were monitored by other members.
The Religious Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses monitorsits members to determine whether they have violated the organization’s internalrules.
This is the criticism from David Maagaard, formerly a ministerial servant in Jehovah’s Witnesses, told how the congregation elders instructed such surveillance in closed meetings.
– It appeared I was part of a police force where you had towalk and patrol the members’ comings and goings, he says to TV 2.
Simon Ørregaard, the President of Eftertro, an association of people who have come out of a religious community, is also a former Jehovah’s Witness and recognizes what David Maagaard was explaining.
– You are directed to go to the elders (religious leaders in Jehovah’s Witnesses, editor), If you see anything, he says.
“Go to the elders if you discover that serious sins have been committed”
– Text from Jehovah’s Witnesses
Should watch out foranyone smoking cigarettes
In a survey conducted by TV 2 in several closed groups on the Internet for former Jehovah’s Witnesses, 64 percent of the 105 participants wrote that in their time in the organization, they had been monitored by other active ones.
One of those who had felt monitored was 25-year-old Ann Celina, who on TV 2 Sunday said she was expelled based on a private conversation that was recorded and passed on to the congregation elders.
David Maagaard is not surprised that so many former Witnesses have been monitored. He says he himself had been monitored, just as he had been asked to monitor others.
As a ministerial servant, he was an assistant to the congregation leaders, the so-called elders. At the first closed meeting with the body of elders, where the rest of the congregation was not present, he was surprised at the rhetoric because he saw that the elders were mapping out clear guidelines for the ministerial servants to keep an eye on members.
– At the regular meetings at the Kingdom Hall (Jehovah’s Witness church, editor), where the rank and file came, it was often wrapped in Bible quotes and more comprehensive descriptions. But when we came to these meetings, it was much more specific, says David Maagaard who left the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2011.
The ministerial servants, according to David Maagaard, should, among other things, monitor whether members had overnight guests of the opposite sex and whether people were smoking cigarettes.
He compares the role of ministerial servant to being part of a police force – he believed the task was to assist the congregation in religious activities.
– You were the elders’ watchdog. If we discovered something,we should set a good example to Jehovah’s Witnesses and show that we were loyal and faithful to the whole organization and structure. This was usually done by working with the elders to see what the different members of the congregation were doing, says David Maagaard.
Shepherds of God’ssheep
The president of the association Eftertro Simon Ørregaard,who is also the president of the Atheist Society, did not have experience of monitoring in the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization.
But he says that Jehovah’s Witnesses from childhood are instructed to inform on each other to the elders, if anyone does something wrong.
– It is a specific community. If you know someone has done something wrong, you confront them with it and say, “If you don’t go to the elders, I will”. You make sure they go to the elders because it is sinful to leave it, he says.
Examples of where members are encouraged to report eachother, among other things, is found in the Jehovah’s Witnesses ‘Watchtower’ magazine,says Simon Ørregaard:
“An important way we can also work together is to preserve the moral and spiritual purity of the congregation, both by our own conduct and by going to the elders, if we realize that serious sins have been committed,” states a 1992 edition.
– Jehovah’s Witnesses use the term “shepherds” for the elders and “sheep” for their members. It is thus the elders who must guard the flock, and one of their functions is to keep an eye on others. The elders come to visit people they think they need guidance, says Simon Ørregaard.
Jehovah’s Witnesses reject that they are monitoring members
Following the internal rules of Jehovah’s Witnesses, there must be at least two independent witnesses before a judicial committee of elders can decide on an offense.
For example, it means that sex before marriage must be observed by two witnesses before it can become a case. A fact that, according to David Maagaard, is central to understanding why Jehovah’s Witnesses can monitor their members.
“If there are no witnesses and they cannot get a confession from the one who made the infringement, they have no case,” he says.
The headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Denmark have declined to be interviewed by TV 2, but in an e-mail, they wrote that they “do not monitor members of the congregation”.
However, this answer does not wash with David Maagaard:
– That’s not true. You are trained to have to report on eachother.
David Maagaard says that he has never reported anyone to the elders himself. In cases where he had experienced members violating the rules,he has made personal contact with those persons directly.
– I got into it, but I didn’t like being in it. I don’t think I’m the only one who’s had this, he says.
Several types ofsanctions
The most severe sanction in Jehovah’s Witnesses is expulsion,where the church and the family are encouraged not to have contact with the outcasts.
According to a special manual for the elders, not all offenses leading to expulsion – other forms of discipline such as public reproof,private reprimand, or deprivation of duties in the congregation also occur.
If offenders can convince the elders that they are repentant and will change their lives to follow the rules, over time they will be reinstated as members.
Jehovah’s Witnesses Scandinavian branch office in Holbæk did not want to participate in this article.