What is a Letter of Introduction? What is contained within a letter of Introduction? Why do congregation elders need Letters of Introduction? How long is a Letter of Introduction held on file?
We will provide a real example of a Letter of Introduction to help all understand how much personal information congregation elders reveal about their congregants to other elders. Should Jehovah’s Witnesses be concerned by the type of information that is shared in these letters? And most importantly, are such letters likely to contain details of child sexual abuse when an alleged abuser (established or not) moves to another congregation?
What is a Letter of Introduction?
The secret congregation elder handbook Shepherd the Flock of God explains it this way in Chapter 22, paragraph 5:
When a publisher (active or inactive) moves to another congregation, a letter of introduction and the Congregation’s Publisher Records (S-21) should promptly be sent to the new congregation. The Congregation Service Committee may take the initiative to send these items without waiting for a formal request from the new congregation. If a person who has been accused of child sexual abuse (established or not) moves to another congregation
What is contained in a Letter of Introduction?
Shepherd the Flock of God continues in Chapter 22, paragraph 6:
A letter of introduction should contain the following information:
(1) The date of the letter.
(2) The sending congregation’s full name.
(3) The sending congregation’s postal address or jw.org e-mail address.
(4) The receiving congregation’s full name.
(5) The receiving congregation’s postal address or jw.org e-mail address.
(6) The names of the three elders (usually the service committee) who approved the letter.
(7) The publisher’s full name, the names of any immediate family members, and any privileges the publisher or his family members moving with him have enjoyed (such as presenting student assignments on the midweek meeting or serving as an elder or ministerial servant, an auxiliary or regular pioneer, a local design/construction volunteer, or a remote Bethel volunteer or Bethel consultant), and whether the elders recommend that they retain such privileges.
Why do Congregation Elders need Letters of Introduction?
Shepherd the flock of God Chapter 22, paragraph 7 reveals two main reasons for the letter of introduction: (1) What would the congregation elders need to know about this person; and (2) what misdeeds has this person done:
‘What information would we want to receive if this person moved into our congregaton?’ (Matt 7:12) If a person is under judicial restrictions, the elders in the new congregation should be informed of these. If a person was reproved or reinstated in the distant past but is not presently under restrictions, there may be no need to mention past judicial action unless the offense involved entering into an adulterous marriage or some other notorious wrongdoing.
How long is a Letter of Introduction held on file?
Shepherd the Flock of God reveals in Chapter 22, para 8 that the information is held on file for no less than 5 years, longer in cases of adulterous marriages:
The publisher’s new congregation should retain the letter for no longer than five years unless there is a need to keep it longer. For example, if an individual entered into an adulterous marriage, the letter should be retained for as long as the innocent former mate is alive, is unmarried, and has not been guilty of sexual immorality (porneia).
A REAL Example of a Letter of Introduction
The following information is taken from a Letter of Introduction that was sent from one congregation to another, involving a brother and his wife who were having marital problems. The content herein may prove distressing to some readers so please proceed with caution. Names, dates and locations have been changed to protect the identity of the persons involved.
Re: Brother Adam Esse
We write to you at this time to formally introduce to the Polidoro congregation brother Adam Esse, who we understand has moved into the Polidoro area and has attended your congregation meetings.
Adam is currently married to Noelle, who has a sister, Carol, and their mother, Belle, who are both in Brumley congregation. Adam and Noelle do not have any children, but very sadly, they are currently separated, and have been so for approximately 2 years. From what we can gather through shepherding visits, the separation is not due to any of the three listed justifiable grounds for separation (w16.08 pg 16, par 13; lvs pg 150-1)
Adam moved to Moreno congregation five years ago following a short spell in Simonis congregation. He moved to Moake sometime early 2012 from the Jefferson area. Previously Adam lived in Greece, although his native country is Spain.
Although you will note from Brother Esse’s Record Cards, he was baptized in 1990, it appears he drifted away from the organization at some point before he left Spain or while he was living in Greece. It was while living in Jefferson that Adam was re-activated in May 2010. During the period that Adam was away from Jehovah’s organization, he married his first wife and between them they had two daughters. Once Adam and Noelle had requested use of the Moreno Kingdom Hall for their marriage in November 2016, the Service Committee received confirmation from Brother Esse that he was indeed scripturally free to remarry. We understand that Adam’s two young daughters currently live with his ex-wife in Taylorville. Noelle’s apartment in Oldestown became the marital home for Adam & Noelle once they were married. On a few occasions, Adam’s daughters would stay with them and they brought them to the weekend meeting.
Shortly after Brother & Sister Esse’s marriage, each confessed to wrongdoing that had occurred during their engagement, such that a Judicial Hearing was required (‘Shepherd‘ book 12:14, 15.1) Since repentance was evident from both parties, private reproof was the action taken, as the wrongdoing is not widely known. (‘Shepherd‘ book 16:18-25) Restrictions were fully lifted by November 2015. We bring this to your attention in case Brother Esse is ever considered for recommendation as an appointed man (‘Shepherd’ book 8:7)
Throughout their three-and-a-half-year marriage, several different elders have been to visit Adam and Noelle to offer them guidance and spiritual help/counsel when necessary. However, at times it has been difficult to motivate them to apply this information successfully. Since the separation in July 2018, there have been two meetings with Adam & Noelle as a couple (as at July of this year), and numerous meetings with them both separately. In harmony with the ‘Shepherd‘ book (chapter 25 paragraphs 10 & 11) we have tried to avoid taking sides or telling them what they should or shouldn’t do; instead trying to focus on what each can do to try to resolve the situation. We have spoken to them about the sanctity of marriage and the effect this situation could have on themselves, the congregation and their relationship with Jehovah. We have encouraged both to make this a matter of prayer. In view of the current situation, as a body we have also informed Brother & Sister Esse that presently they do not qualify for special privileges of service (such as auxiliary pioneering, special metropolitan witnessing, etc) because they are not exemplary. (‘Shepherd‘ book 2:4)
We understand the property that Brother Esse is renting in Polidoro allows him to accommodate his two daughters when he has them. However, for the foreseeable future, Sister Esse has informed us that she has no intention of moving to Polidoro.
We have found Adam a very likable brother who has been friendly with all in the congregation. He has generally been regular at all the meetings and does still comment. He has also continued to maintain regularity for the ministry.
We hope this introductory letter regarding Brother Esse is of some help to you brothers as you “Shepherd the flock of God” under your care. (1 Peter 5:2, 3) There may well be further communication between our two bodies of elders, especially if both Brother & Sister Esse do decide to reconcile their differences. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact the Service Committee here if we can assist in any further way.
May we take this opportunity to send you our warm Christian Love and greetings.
Moreno Service Committee
Noel Ife (Coordinator), Pat Ondebeck (Secretary), Con Ertiste (Service Overseer)
Along with this Letter of Introduction, the elders in the sending congregation forwarded the Congregation’s Publisher Record (S-21) which included Adam’s full name, date of birth, date immersed, that he is male, and of the ‘Other sheep’. It also includes two years of his preaching activity revealing placements, video showings, preaching hours, return visits and bible studies.
Also sent was the Notice and Consent for Use of Personal Data (S-290) where Adam printed his name, and signed and dated the form. Would Adam have signed this form if he knew that personal details about his love life were being shared between men without his knowledge?
A scanned copy of Adam’s Advance Decision to Refuse Specified Medical Treatment – No Blood card was sent to the receiving congregation too. It included his name, date of birth, his end-of-life choice, his preferred health treatments, his signed consent to share these details with members of the Hospital Liaison Committee for Jehovah’s Witnesses, signatures and addresses of two witnesses (both elders), his estranged wife as his emergency contact, and the address of his GP.
Also included in the package sent to the receiving congregation was two applications that Adam had completed. The first was an Application for Special Metropolitan Public Witnessing (S-73) and the other was a Local Design/Construction Volunteer Application (DC-50). Together, these forms contained personal information including his name, address, telephone number, e-mail address, date of birth, marital status, spouses name, physical health, and other details.
A Matter of Concern?
Would you be concerned if this was your personal details being shared with others? Would you like it if people were sharing details about your marriage with others without your knowledge or consent? Would you like them to keep those details on file for no less than five years? What if your spouse committed adultery, would you like if they kept this information longer than five years? The irony here is that the Shepherd the Flock of God quotes Matt 7:12 in Chapter 22, paragraph 7. If you mouse over the verse here (or touch it on a mobile device) you can read what it says but essentially, it is the golden rule: do unto others as you would like them to do unto you.
I am sure that if Adam were to find out that his personal life was being shared with other elders in this manner, he would not be too pleased. I’m sure his estranged wife would not be pleased either. This is clearly an abuse of a person’s personal data. The Jehovah’s Witnesses consent form Notice and Consent for Use of Personal Data (S-290) gives no indication that a member’s personal data is being used in this way.
There are both scriptural and legal issues that are of concern. The scriptural issue is that sharing personal data in this manner shows a complete disregard for Matthew 7:12. It is inconceivable to think that any of the elders that sent or received this Letter of Introduction would be happy to have their personal data shared in this way. It is an abuse of power. Legally, a person who signs a Notice of Consent to have their personal data shared in this way must be fully informed of how their data is being used. There is nothing in the Consent form that informs persons that their personal data is being used in this way. This is clearly a breach of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Article 4(11) defines consent in this way:
‘consent’ of the data subject means any freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous indication of the data subject’s wishes by which he or she, by a statement or by a clear affirmative action, signifies agreement to the processing of personal data relating to him or her;Article 4(11) of GDPR (bold ours)
Recital 43 of GDPR explains freely given consent as follows:
In order to ensure that consent is freely given, consent should not provide a valid legal ground for the processing of personal data in a specific case where there is a clear imbalance between the data subject and the controller, in particular where the controller is a public authority and it is therefore unlikely that consent was freely given in all the circumstances of that specific situation. Consent is presumed not to be freely given if it does not allow separate consent to be given to different personal data processing operations despite it being appropriate in the individual case, or if the performance of a contract, including the provision of a service, is dependent on the consent despite such consent not being necessary for such performance.Recital 43 of GDPR (bold ours)
The Jehovah’s Witnesses have had all members in the EU, and in all countries that invoke GDPR regulation, sign a consent form. However, they have not differentiated between that which requires consent and that which is does not. Is this surprising in an organization that uses secretive processes to deal with congregation members? What is clear is that Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world are having their personal data abused by the hierarchy and most are completely oblivious.
What is contained in a Letter of Introduction involving an alleged child abuser?
It is important to consider what is contained within a Letter of Introduction when an alleged child sexual abuser moves congregation. This is important whether the allegations have been established or not. If detailed information is shared about a person’s marital problems, then surely congregation elders share as much details about child abusers. What does Shepherd the Flock of God have to say on the matter? In chapter 14, paragraph 26 it says this:
When an individual who has been accused of child sexual abuse (established or not) moves to another congregation, two elders from the congregation the individual moves from should immediately call the Legal Department. The elders should be prepared to provide the name of the new congregation, if known. This should be done even if the individual is disfellowshipped or is in prison and is transferred to another facility or is released. The Congregation Service Committee should not send any information to the new congregation until after receiving legal advice from the Legal Department and direction from the Service Department.
Conveniently, the Shepherd book provides no information in writing of what to place in a Letter of Introduction that involves a child abuser. The elders are to contact the Legal Department in their country and are directed not to send any information to the new congregation until after receiving legal advice. After all, any details about child abuse in a Letter of Introduction may be considered criminal evidence. And if such a letter is held on file for no less than five years, there is evidence there that could be of help to the secular authorities investigating a case of child abuse.
Do we have any evidence of how such discussions would play out between a congregation and the legal department or branch office? In highly confidential files obtained by AvoidJW.org, we do. Below are screenshots of a letter involving a congregation answering questions for the Branch in Patterson, NY. At the end of the letter it asks a very important question.
WARNING: The letter below involves child sexual abuse and therefore the content of the letter may be very distressing for some readers. Proceed with extreme caution.
It would be reasonable to conclude that a Letter of Introduction contains very sensitive personal data about individuals, including their marital status and how they are viewed by various elder bodies. But what is most concerning about a Letter of Introduction is its potential to contain very sensitive information about people, and of crimes such as child sexual abuse.
Why is there a need for congregation elders to be involved in every aspect of their members’ lives? They have, either intentionally or not, become a parallel justice system keeping a record of people’s crimes and wrongdoings. When members and former members travel from one congregation to another, or move to another congregation’s territory, they immediately share this information with other elder bodies, without thinking about the impact this has on the lives of the person’s involved, if they were to ever to find out what was documented about their personal life. (Matt 7:12)
Be concerned. Be very concerned.