Originally published on Danish Media, TV2 by Jonas HR Moestrup
Many former Jehovah’s Witnesses say they were monitored byother 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 aministerial servant in Jehovah’s Witnesses, told how the congregation elders instructedsuch 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 associationof people who have come out of a religious community, is also a formerJehovah’s Witness and recognizes what David Maagaard was explaining.
– You are directed to go to the elders (religious leaders inJehovah’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 onthe Internet for former Jehovah’s Witnesses, 64 percent of the 105 participantswrote that in their time in the organization, they had been monitored by otheractive ones.
One of those who had felt monitored ws 25-year-old AnnCelina, who on TV 2 Sunday said she was expelled based on a privateconversation that was recorded and passed on to the congregation elders.
David Maagaard is not surprised that so many formerWitnesses have been monitored. He says he himself had been monitored, just ashe had been asked to monitor others.
As a ministerial servant, he was an assistant to the congregationleaders, the so-called elders. At the first closed meeting with the body ofelders, where the rest of the congregation was not present, he was surprised atthe rhetoric because he saw that the elders were mapping out clear guidelinesfor the ministerial servants to keep an eye on members.
– At the regular meetings at the Kingdom Hall (Jehovah’sWitness church, editor), where the rank and file came, it was often wrapped inBible quotes and more comprehensive descriptions. But when we came to thesemeetings, it was much more specific, says David Maagaard who left the Jehovah’sWitnesses in 2011.
The ministerial servants, according to David Maagaard,should, among other things, monitor whether members had overnight guests of theopposite sex and whether people were smoking cigarettes.
He compares the role of ministerial servant to being part ofa police force – he believed the task was to assist the congregation inreligious 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 loyaland faithful to the whole organization and structure. This was usually done byworking with the elders to see what the different members of the congregationwere 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 ofmonitoring in the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization.
But he says that Jehovah’s Witnesses from childhood are instructedto inform on each other to the elders, if anyone does something wrong.
– It is a specific community. If you know someone has donesomething wrong, you confront them with it and say, “If you don’t go tothe elders, I will”. You make sure they go to the elders because it issinful 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 topreserve the moral and spiritual purity of the congregation, both by our ownconduct and by going to the elders, if we realize that serious sins have beencommitted,” states a 1992 edition.
– Jehovah’s Witnesses use the term “shepherds” forthe elders and “sheep” for their members. It is thus the elders who mustguard the flock, and one of their functions is to keep an eye on others. Theelders come to visit people they think they need guidance, says SimonØrregaard.
Jehovah’s Witnessesreject that they are monitoring members
Following the internal rules of Jehovah’s Witnesses, theremust be at least two independent witnesses before a judicial committee ofelders 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 DavidMaagaard, is central to understanding why Jehovah’s Witnesses can monitor theirmembers.
“If there are no witnesses and they cannot get a confessionfrom the one who made the infringement, they have no case,” he says.
The headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Denmark havedeclined to be interviewed by TV 2, but in an e-mail, they wrote that they “do not monitormembers 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 theelders 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’tthink 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 alloffenses 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 repentantand will change their lives to follow the rules, over time they will bereinstated as members.
Jehovah’s Witnesses Scandinavian branch office in Holbæk didnot want to participate in this article.