An elder stands up against criticism of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Originally published on Danish Media, TV2 by Jonas HR Moestrup
His own daughter is expelled from Jehovah’s Witnesses. He believes that God is above everything else.
For Tom Pedersen from Ulstrup, God is above everything else.
– Some people find it hard to understand. That one can put something over their own life, he says.
Tom Pedersen is a so-called elder – a religious leader in Jehovah’s Witnesses.
But Tom Pedersen would like to try to explain how he experiences life as a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
He believes that the rules of the religious organization are based on their own interpretation of the Bible, with critics being portrayed as shackles – but other people can actually learn from the way Jehovah’s Witnesses live, he says.
– People who might not live by these standards, rules and principles often have a worse life. I feel that I have a really good life by following the standards and principles.
“We do not threaten anyone. We do not commit violence against anyone who does not want to be a Jehovah’s Witness. It is their own free will.”
– Tom Pedersen, elder
– One must remember who made the decision
Tom Pedersen was not born into the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but chose to join the organization in 1989. For him, the ‘truth’, as he calls it, became the road to a better life.
He feels that Jehovah’s Witnesses have been a guide to a better and more structured life and he illustrates this with an instruction book for a coffee maker.
– He who has designed the coffee machine knows best how to maintain and care for it to function for as long as possible. This is also how I regard the Bible. It is the way God describes to me how to live my life in order to have a good life, says Tom Pedersen.
One of the key criticisms from former of Jehovah’s Witnesses with whom TV 2 has spoken is the organization’s practice of disfellowshipping. One of the former members is 25-year-old Ann Celina, who was expelled because she had a boyfriend outside of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. She does not see her family today.
“When God says one thing – and there are some feelings within us that want something else – we prefer what God says”
– Tom Pedersen, elder
Tom Pedersen believes that it is the member’s own choice – there is no coercion, and disfellowshipping must not be a threat, he says.
– We do not threaten anyone. We do not commit violence against anyone who does not want to be a Jehovah’s Witness. It is their own free will.
In a way, can’t disfellowshipping be a threat?
– We don’t threaten anyone with anything. We do not consider disfellowshipping as a threat.
But he agrees that disfellowshipping can have major consequences.
– Not having any contact with your family is a serious consequence. One must remember who made the decision. After all, they are the ones who left (got disfellowshipped). The consequence, after all, affects me when they have chosen not to be part of Jehovah’s Witnesses any longer, he says.
Keeping the congregation clean
Tom Pedersen himself has had to deal with disfellowshipping in his own life. He no longer sees his daughter because, as he says, she has ‘chosen another life’.
He loves his daughter, but he puts God’s law before her despite the fact that he and his wife were saddened that she left the congregation.
– When God says one thing – and there are some feelings within us that want something else – we prefer what God says.
It’s about ‘keeping the congregation clean’, says Tom Pedersen:
One trusts that when God says that you should avoid associating with those who are disfellowshipped, it is because he knows what is best. It is to keep the congregation clean so that nothing can create discord and disharmony within the congregation.
“I never feel I’m under surveillance”
– Tom Pedersen, elder
– We are ordinary family men
It is not only in relation to his own family that Tom Pedersen puts God’s law first. He also applies it to Danish Law.
– In general, Jehovah’s Witnesses are considered law-abiding people who pay their taxes and abide by the laws in place. However, if the laws conflicts with what God says, then we do what God says because it’s more important, he says.
Another criticism from several former members of Jehovah’s Witnesses is about surveillance – that Jehovah’s Witnesses monitor members suspected of violating their internal rules. Tom Pedersen, however, does not accept that.
– I never feel I’m under surveillance. Obviously, if I do something wrong, it may well be that I have a feeling that someone is saw it. But we don’t go around … we are ordinary family men who have work, he says.
“If anyone comes and says they are being sexually abused, we must go to the authorities”
– Tom Pedersen, elder
Criminal cases must be dealt with by the authorities.
TV 2 revealed on Tuesday (February 12, 2018) that an elder in 2014 failed to go to the authorities, although he was reminded of a suspected sexual assault on a child.
Internationally, similar cases have also created headlines, and an expert in religion believes that the cases can be attributed to the internal rules of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which are described, among other things, in a special manual for elders.
Tom Pedersen will not deal with specific cases, but says that all criminal cases must be left to the authorities.
– If anyone comes and says they are being sexually abused, we must go to the authorities.
So how come we have these examples?
– I do not know. We are all imperfect.
Tom Pedersen emphasizes that he expresses himself as an individual.
Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Scandinavian branch office in Holbæk did not want to participate in an interview with TV 2.
Jehovah’s Witnesses apologize
However, Jehovah’s Witnesses branch office in Holbæk writes in an e-mail that the organization “does not monitor members of the congregation“.
On the issue of failing to notify the secular authorities of suspected child sexual assault, the office writes in another email that since 2003, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Denmark have consistently “advised the elders that all child abuse charges should be reported to the authorities”.
If any former members of Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that abuses have not been reported to the authorities, the organization apologizes:
– If so, we apologize. However, we will mention that the victims can still report this to the authorities. If the authorities then conclude that we have acted incorrectly, we will naturally take care of it.