A former member of Jehovah’s Witnesses says she has been sexually abused. Jehovah’s Witnesses say she was guilty of gross sexual immorality. Today, the parties meet in Borgarting Court of Appeal.
Originally published in Norwegian on NRK by Inger Sunder on June 2, 2021.
In 2018, Gry Nygård was expelled from the Ski congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. For three years she has struggled to return to the religious community.
“I am ready to continue the fight, but for me this is not a fight to win. This is a battle to find a solution, says Nygård to NRK.”
Nygård’s entire social network is in Jehovah’s Witnesses. She lost contact with everyone, as well as her two grown sons.
She tells NRK that there is a lot at stake, but that she is entering this round with renewed strength.
“I hope common sense prevails and that the court reaches a solution that reflects my rights,” she says.
Events that changed her life started with a dinner with a friend from the religious community. After dinner they went to the man’s hotel room. Nygård has ME and gets tired quickly. She explained that she lay down on the bed to rest, and that when she woke up, the man had oral sex with her.
She was separated at this time.
She was summoned to a judicial committee meeting. This is Jehovah’s Witnesses’ own legal system, where three men asked detailed questions about what had happened in the hotel room. Among other things, they asked if she felt she had been raped, something Nygård at the time had denied.
The judicial committee concluded that she was guilty of sexual immorality, something that is seen as a serious sin and can lead to expulsion.
Members of Jehovah’s Witnesses are encouraged to stay away from expelled fellow believers. The following Bible verses are used as a basis:
But now I am writing you to stop keeping company with anyone called a brother who is sexually immoral or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man.1 Corinthians 5:11
She had been a member for 31 years and wanted to return to the religious community. But all attempts to return were rejected. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, she did not show genuine remorse.
In the end, Nygård took the case to the conciliatory court. She was acquitted, but Jehovah’s Witnesses chose to appeal to the district court.
In the documentary series “God’s chosen“, Brennpunkt was present during the trial in Follo District Court. For the first time, the public gained insight into Jehovah’s Witnesses’ internal case law.
Contrary to common sense
Jehovah’s Witnesses won the case in the district court. The judgment states, among other things, that “the court cannot review the decisions made by the religious community, which will require an assessment of a religious issue”.
Nygård appealed the verdict to the Court of Appeal.
Lawyer Håkon Mathias Sterling Danielsen, represents Gry Nygård. He tells NRK that they do not want the court to consider the question of trust, but look at the proceedings of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“Another question of principle in this case is whether a decision which in reality is based on a person being raped should stand. It is contrary to the general morality of our society,” says Danielsen.
Not abuse, a serious sexual sin
In a comment to NRK, Jehovah’s Witnesses write that expelled persons who show that they have a sincere desire to live by Bible standards are always welcome to become Jehovah’s Witnesses again. Beyond that, they do not think it is appropriate to comment on the trial.
In their response to the Court of Appeal, they write, among other things:
“Nygård’s expulsion is not justified on the basis of abuse, but justified on actions that are covered by the religious term “porneia” which means that Nygård, in the opinion of the judicial committee, has committed a serious sexual sin.”
Now it is up to the Court of Appeal to decide whether Nygård is allowed to return to the religious community she joined as a 16-year-old.