Jehovah´s Witnesses came into the limelight of Danish media when the organisation’s secret registration of the sins of the followers was revealed by an ordinary burglary
On the night between the 23rd and the 24th of July 1991 a burglary was committed against the Danish branch office of Jehovah´s Witnesses in Holbæk. The police were told that a considerable amount of money, together with “some documents”, had been stolen. Holbæk Amts Venstreblad, the local newspaper, published an extensive story about the burglary. Just an ordinary crime, or so it seemed.
But on Sunday the 17th of May 1992 the Copenhagen daily Politiken informed the public that a confidential file containing deeply personal information about expelled members of the Jehovah´s Witnesses had been stolen. The existence and the scale of this file came as a big surprise to most people, including expelled Witnesses who never knew they had been registered.
On the basis of the information produced by the press, the Registertilsyn (the Danish government´s “Inspection of Registers”) went into the case around the 20th of May. The Registertilsyn declared (in a statement of the 14th of September) that the register in question was unlawful. Jehovah´s Witnesses received an order to destroy all the personal information referring to disciplinary cases and their treatment by November 1992. A short time before this deadline the Jehovah´s Witnesses stated that they had carried out the order of the Registertilsyn.
This “file case” is interesting because it exposes the workings of an organization like the one behind the Jehovah´s Witnesses, and it tells us something about the followers´ view of the society which they have turned away from.
Many have indeed asked: “Why does the Jehovah´s Witnesses need a file like that? And will the organisation really follow the order of the Registertilsyn to destroy it and comply with the order in the future?”
The disfellowshiping policy of the Jehovah´s Witnesses is an inseparable part of the teaching of the sect. The “demand of purity” is at the basis of the policy of disfellowshiping, which is the cornerstone of large parts of the organized religious life within the sect – e.g. in connection with responsible tasks. And this “demand of purity” is in its turn inseparably linked with the belief of the Jehovah´s Witnesses.
Witnesses live according to the principle that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump”. When it comes to disciplinary cases this principle is enforced in a very consistent manner, and it is absolute.
To Jehovah´s Witnesses, obedience to God comes before obedience to the laws of the country if they think that a law prevents them from complying with a Biblical commandment admitting (in their opinion) no delay, as does in this case the demand for ”purity in the congregation”.
To the Jehovah´s Witnesses this means that whatever the authorities may decide in this matter, they will only comply with an order inasmuch as it does not prevent the sect from keeping the information needed for the control of a sinner in order that he constitute no threat to ”the demand for purity” at some later time.
Therefore it is doubtful whether they will comply with the demand of the Registertilsyn. Given their organizational policy they will not be able to accept the banning of registration of persons against whom disciplinary cases have been conducted. Typically the argument would be that the leaders need to know what the case was about, the person´s attitude to and behaviour in the case, and the need to “protect” the congregation against a potentially harmful influence from the person concerned.
To throw some light upon the willingness of Jehovah´s Witnesses to follow the order of the Registertilsyn in this case, I shall present a number of quotations from their Watchtower literature. The citations are not only illustrative – they are part of the “law” that the Jehovah´s Witnesses want to follow in a case like this.
The context of the quotations presented is the Jehovah´s Witness’s claim to stand on Biblical ground when saying that there are situations where it is justifiable to lie, speak “half truths” or conceal facts, if the “loyalty” to God and his interests on earth demands so.
The Watchtower of February 1, 1956 printed an article that told the readers how the Jehovah´s Witnesses must act and react towards those who resist them or persecute them:
“Remember that there was a war then. The enemies did not deserve to learn the truth to the hurt or endangerment Jehovah´s servants. In wartime it is proper to misdirect the wolfish enemy.” (Page 80)
In wartime it is proper to misdirect ... Please remember that Jehovah´s Witnesses feel they are in a state of spiritual warfare with society outside their own organization. This world is under Satan´s power. Consequently the manoeuvres that Witnesses might consider appropriate for covering up their acts will always be justified.
“Since the unchristian wolves declare war upon the sheep and choose to make themselves “fighters actually against God,” it is proper for the inoffensive “sheep” to use war strategy toward the wolves in the interests of God´s work. No one against whom this strategy is used is unrighteously hurt because of it, whereas the “sheep”, or those interests that deserve to be protected are safeguarded. God does not oblige us to show the stupidity of sheep and play into the hands of our fighting enemy ...
It is proper to cover over our arrangements for the work that God commands us to do. If the wolfish foes draw wrong conclusions from our manoeuvres to outwit them, no harm has been done to them by the harmless sheep, innocent in their motives as doves ...
If for conscientous reasons he (i.e. a faithful witness) refuses to tell everything he will be willing to suffer the consequences if he be judged deserving a penalty. He refuses to tell everything, not to escape punishment, but facing punishment for conscientious reasons.” (Page 86 and 89)
He refuses to tell everything for conscientious reasons. To a Jehovah´s Witness “conscientious reasons” means keeping a clean conscience before God and the supreme leadership of the Watchtower organization, the Governing Council.
The Branch Office Procedure contains instructions to the leadership of national offices concerning treatment of “unfortunate” information. In chapter 24:11 it is said, among other things:
“Also, have in mind the possible effect of the article on the people living in your territory. Sometimes it is best not to say certain things, even though they are true. Be careful not to submit material for publication that might cause difficulty for our brothers, or for the work in your country.” (The emphasis is in the original text.)
As far as the present case is concerned, everything was not admitted in the beginning, and facts were only admitted gradually as they could no longer be concealed.
Reasons of conscience can also be the need for protecting “the interests of the Kingdom”, convincing yourself that those who demand answers to specific questions are Satan´s servants and consequently have no right to know it all – that cunning is permissible in times of war.
The Watchtower of the 1st of September, 1960 dealt with the question of whether one must always speak the truth. On page 351 it said:
“God’s Word commands: “Speak truth each of you with his neighbor.” (Eph. 4:25) This command, however, does not mean that we should tell everyone who asks us all he wants to know. We must tell the truth to one who is entitled to know, but if one is not so entitled we may be evasive. But we may not tell a falsehood ...
There is one exception, however, that the Christian must ever bear in mind. As a soldier of Christ he is in theocratic warfare and he must exercise added caution when dealing with God’s foes. Thus the Scriptures show that for the purpose of protecting the interests of God’s cause, it is proper to hide the truth for God’s enemies ...
This would come under the term “war strategy”, as explained in The Watchtower, February 1, 1956, and is in keeping with Jesus’ counsel that when among wolves we must be as “cautious as sheep.” Should circumstances require a Christian to take the witness stand and swear to tell the truth, then, if he speaks at all, he must utter the truth. When faced with the alternative of speaking and betraying his brothers or not speaking and being held in contempt of court, the mature Christian will put the welfare of his brothers ahead of his own, remembering Jesus’ words: “No one has greater love than this, that someone should surrender his [life] in behalf of his friends.”
By the expression “God’s foes” is meant all who are not Jehovah´s Witnesses, especially those who speak negatively of Jehovah´s Witnesses or work against them. The expression “the interests of God´s cause” comprises among other things that you endeavour to maintain the “demand of purity”.
The fact that the Jehovah´s Witnesses tell lies if necessary – also in order to cover up things that are embarrassing to them – has been shown by this “file case” several times. At times the organisation denied the existence of such files when the newspapers reported it stolen. Jørgen Larsen and Erik Jørgensen (both from the Jehovah´s Witnesses´ branch office in Holbæk) have spoken lies several times in newspapers and on the newsprogramme of Denmark’s Channel 2. They denied several facts that later became public knowledge.
The verdict of the Registertilsyn itself even contains examples that the information given by the Jehovah´s Witnesses is not correct. According to page 3 and 4 in the verdict the Jehovah´s Witnesses have claimed:
a) That a registration is only kept for 5 years after a readmittance.
b) That the number of cases in each local file is limited to somewhere between zero and “maybe” 7 or 10, and the organisation conveys to us the impression that it is a matter of about 2300 cases alltogether.
Concerning point a) the Copenhagen daily Politiken was able to disprove this claim, e.g. by means of a facsimile showing that several of the registered cases were more than 40 years old and were stamped “Must not be destroyed”, and also in cases where the expelled Witness had been readmitted.
As far as the extent of the registration is concerned (point b), the Jehovah´s Witnesses have today about 225 congregations in Denmark, which gives a statistical average of 10 files for each congregation. If there are congregations without any registered cases, it can only be a matter of recently formed congregations. By means of simple calculation, however, the figure starts to look different. After 40 years with 100 to 150 cases a year (according to Politiken of the 21st of May 1992, based on figures from the Jehovah´s Witnesses) the real number becomes 4000 to 6000 cases.
One thing we must not overlook is the fact that the files also comprise disciplinary cases which have not led to disfellowshiping. Any disciplinary case leading to a “reprimand”, whether it be “public” (before the congregation) or “private” (only in the presence of the accused), is registered and reported to the branch office in Holbæk (in accordance with the “demand of purity”). Politiken of Sunday 24th of May 1992 brought the example of a disciplinary case against a Witness who had partaken in the Regatta ´Round Seeland, which was not considered proper.
“The file case” has in many ways contributed to shedding some light upon the organization of Jehovah´s Witnesses, which keeps a tight rein on its members.
(Translation from Danish by Frans Mikkelsen).