What is the five year rule? Does the five year rule really exist? If it exists, how and why is it used? And are you a victim of it? This article explores the likelihood of a secret rule within the judicial system of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It will provide proof that it exists. It will show how and why it is used. The use of the five year rule will reveal the reason for the intrusive nature of questions asked by Jehovah’s Witness elders. Most importantly, this article will explain how members and former members of Jehovah’s Witnesses have become victims of the five year rule.
If you can answer yes to the following questions, the five real rule may have adversely affected you:
- Were you disfellowshipped and was subsequently reinstated?
- Have you been in a judicial committee meeting within five years of being reinstated?
- Were you disfellowshipped again despite feeling you were adequately repentant for your sin?
What is the five year rule?
The five year rule is found in the September 7th 2011 letter to all bodies of elders . The letter is identified as “Re: Correspondence from branch office and congregation file”. Its application varies depending on the sins committed. The five year rule is in one paragraph found on pages 3 and 4. It is as follows:
After a disfellowshipped or disassociated person has been reinstated a full five years, if the judicial committee feels there is no longer any need to retain the file material, it can be destroyed. (The same applies to records involving judicial reproof.) If these brothers are not available or qualified, the determination may be made by the Congregation Service Committee or qualified elders designated by them. If there is some reason why the committee feels that it would be better to retain the material longer, it can be kept as long as necessary. If a man or a woman has entered into an adulterous marriage, the file should be kept for five years after reinstatement and thereafter at least until the death or remarriage of the innocent mate. Judicial files involving child abuse should be marked “Do Not Destroy” and should be kept indefinitely. Notification of Disfellowshipping or Disassociation forms on individuals who have not been reinstated should also be kept indefinitely.
The five year rule seems simple enough: After being reinstated for five years, your judicial file can be destroyed. The exceptions to this rule are:
- those who have committed child abuse
- those who have committed adultery where the innocent mate has not remarried & is still living
- those whom the judicial committee feel it would be better to retain the material longer.
Whom are affected by the five year rule?
The five year rule affects all individuals who have been A member of Jehovah's Witnesses who has been excoummunicated from the congregation for wrong-doingdisfellowshipped or A member of Jehovah's Witnesses who no longer wants to be a member. They are treated the same as a disfellowshipped member.disassociated. This rule also affects those who have been judicially reproved and unbaptized publishers involved in wrongdoing. (See KS10, p. 79 para 62).
NOTE: The five year rule as it applies to child abusers & adulterers will not be discussed.
Why five years?
In the September 7 2011 Letter to bodies of elders, there is no scripture provided for the five year rule. That letter replaces the December 6 2010 Letter to bodies of elders. After a cursory check of the 2010 letter, the five year rule is found. It does not provide a scripture supporting the reason for five years. However, the 2010 Letter replaced 3 previous letters to bodies of elders. Those letters were dated February 15 2002, December 4 2008 and December 5 2008. Do any of these letters provide scriptural grounds for the five year rule? Only the December 5 2008 Letter refers to the five year rule. Again, it provides no scriptural basis for why five years is chosen. It does refer to another letter dated December 9 2008. This letter makes reference to the five year rule but again, no justification for the lead time is provided. The December 4 2008 letter replaced a letter dated June 4 2007 letter. Unfortunately, we do not have access to this obsolete letter to determine if the five year rule is justified in it. From the foregoing evidence, it is reasonable to conclude that there is no Letter to All bodies of elders that justifies the five year rule.
Could it be that the five year rule is justified in the elder’s textbook, Shepherd the Flock of God? This textbook mentions the five year rule just once. It is found on page 23. Again, no scriptural justification is provided for the rule. The previous elder textbook published in 1991, Pay Attention to Yourselves and to All the Flock, makes no mention of the five year rule. Nor do the textbooks published in 1981, 1979, 1977. In the 1961 textbook on page 43 there is mention of 3 to 5 years that elders are directed to allow pass before reinstating an adulterer who has remarried. But again, no scriptural basis for the length of time. Therefore, one can assert that there is no scriptural basis for the five year rule in the aforementioned textbooks .
Is there basis for the five year rule from a review of the holy bible? No. There is no scripture in the bible that supports the five year rule.
So where did the five year rule come from? It seems that the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses chose to create a rule that is very similar to how law firms are legally mandated to retain confidential files. Unlike law firms, Jehovah’s Witnesses are not legally mandated to retain this information for 5 years. They could have directed the elders to destroy the information as soon as a member was reinstated. Or they could have mandated that elders hold on to all data indefinitely.
However, five years has been authorized. And thus this period of time affects all members, both current and former Jehovah’s Witnesses in ways that most are unaware of.
The Five Year Rule – Its Impact
To understand the impact of the five year rule, one needs to understand the procedures involved. The process is as follows (for the purpose of simplicity, we will assume that the member is to be disfellowshipped or disassociated):
- A member commits a sin or disassociates themselves.
- A number of elders form a judicial committee to establish wrong-doing.
- The member is called to attend a judicial meeting set up by the committee.
- The member is found guilty of sin by the committee.
- A member of the judicial committee completes a S-77 form.
- A detailed summary of the case is documented.
- The summary of the case and the S-77 form are placed in a sealed envelope for the congregation’s confidential file.
- After a period of time, the member gets re-instated.
- After five years, the judicial committee determine that the content’s of the sealed envelope can be destroyed.
- There no longer exists a file of the member’s former wrong-doing.
This may sound fair enough. But is it?
The Potential Legal Impact
First of all, one must understand that unless you are an elder within the Jehovah’s Witnesses church, you are not privy to this rule. Indeed, unless one is an elder, members of the church are no privy to the fact that they actually retain a confidential file about each member’s serious wrong-doing. This is a serious issue in itself. Why? Because most members have no idea that a record of their wrong-doing is held on file at all! In fact, when a member attends a judicial committee meeting and observes elders taking notes, he or she is usually informed that the notes are simply taken so that the elders can recall all that is discussed. The member is not informed that those notes will usually form the basis of the summary of the case and that they will be held on file. In other words, consent to record the meeting has not been given. Readers of this article would do well to check the legal implications of this in their own jurisdiction and take appropriate action.
The Emotional & Spiritual Impact
Secondly, the five year rule has a rather insidious effect on members who have been reinstated, yet commit a sin within 5 years that Jehovah’s Witnesses deem as being serious. The application of the five year rule may explain why some former members feel that they have been treated unfairly in their judicial committee meetings. Unknowingly, they may have become victims of the five year rule. Remember, the five year rule is not a bible-based rule. It is a rule that is likely based on one defined by a legal system.
The worst thing that can happen to a reinstated member is to find oneself in front of a judicial committee within five years. Why? Because the content within your case file is used against you. If the content didn’t exist, you would have a clean slate to work from. However, this is not so if a file of your previous wrong-doing(s) exist. As part of the judicial committee meeting, one may experience extremely invasive questions being asked by the judicial committee members. One of the reasons for the seemingly invasive questioning is that the elders are attempting to determine if you have committed the same sin as you had previously. The more an individual repeats serious sin, the more that one reasonably gives evidence of being like wicked people who are “practicers of what is hurtful.” Even though the elder’s textbook says that “there is no such thing as automatic disfellowshipping”, it does go on to say that “an individual may have gone so far into sin that he may not be able to demonstrate sufficient repentance … If so, he must be disfellowshipped.” (See ks10 p. 92 para. 9). How elders determine this is unclear. Furthermore, there is no scriptural basis for insufficient repentance. Therefore, to disfellowship someone, despite him or her being repentance, is likely to confuse and anger the victim. After all, they are never informed that no amount of repentance can save them from being disfellowshipped.
It is safe to conclude that if one was disfellowshipped previously for the same sin within a five year period, one will most likely be disfellowshipped again by default. One has an opportunity to appeal the decision within 7 days but there is no appeal committee that will over-turn the original judicial committee’s decision. After all, the elders on the original judicial committee were simply following protocol.
The five year rule’s impact can be catastrophic to a victim’s faith. If she erred more than once within a five year period, she is now cast out from the congregation. She is shunned by all those whom she considered her close friends, her loving family. She has nowhere to go for spiritual assistance. She has no one left for social interaction. She is alone. She is confused. Her God, Jehovah, who promised to always be there for her said He would never forsake her. (For he has said: I will never leave you, and I will never abandon youHeb 13:5b). But here she is: alone and forsaken. Anger sets in. The damage is done. Her faith has been taken from her. She has been made a subject of Gehenna. (Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you travel over sea and dry land to make one proselyte, and when he becomes one, you make him a subject for Gehenna twice as much so as yourselves.Matt 23:15).
Yet, she is not alone. Every year thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses are disfellowshipped. Of those disfellowshipped, it is very likely that there are hundreds who have fallen victim to the five year rule. You might be one of them.