REGARDING ALTERNATIVE SERVICE
Ray Franz received letters from Branch Committee members that displayed thoughtfulness and breadth of viewpoint that were in sharp contrast to the rigidity and narrowness of several members of the Governing Body:
What was the effect of all this? Remember that any decision made would affect the life of thousands of persons. The existing policy had already resulted in imprisonments representing tens of thousands of years. Again, I believe the way the matter was handled is remarkably revealing. It illustrates the way long-standing, traditional policies can exercise overruling power on the thinking of men who have declared their determination to let God's Word be their sole and supreme authority. [ISOCF, Ray Franz, p. 266.]
The Governing Body met and discussed the issue in four separate sessions extending from September 26 to November 15, 1978. In all these four days of discussion the letters submitted received only cursory attention; none of the arguments or questions received careful analysis or point-by-point discussion, and this was equally true of the fourteen pages of Biblical and historical evidence I had personally supplied. The meetings were typical of most Governing Body sessions in that there was no particular order of discussion, no systematic consideration of one question or point of issue before moving on to consideration of another point at issue. Discussion could jump, as it typically did, from one aspect of the problem to another entirely different and relatively unrelated aspect. One member might conclude with the question, "What Scriptural basis is there then for saying that because a service is 'alternative' it therefore becomes the equivalent of what it substitutes for?" The next member recognized by the chairman might take up a totally different point, leaving the previous member's question hanging in midair. [The question of substitution equalling equivalency had been raised in the letter (from Belgium) that initiated the whole discussion. The writer, Michel Weber, was an elder who had visited Witnesses in prison in his country and realized their inability to grasp the reasoning behind the Society's policy. Among other things, he asked why, after receiving a blood transfusion, we did not consistently also refuse any SUBSTITUTE given in PLACE OF blood? Should not the reasoning apply in the same way? (emphasis: RF.)]
Those favoring retention of the existing policy referred to the Branch Committee letters primarily to discount their importance. Thus, Ted Jaracz said, "Regardless of what the brothers may say, it is the Bible that guides us." He then went on to discuss some points, not from the Bible, but from certain WATCHTOWER articles dealing with the issue.
Yet many of the Branch Committee men had brought up serious points from the Bible and these had neither been refuted nor clearly answered, at least not to the satisfaction of the majority of the Governing Body members themselves, as subsequent voting revealed. Ted Jaracz, however, urged that we should ask ourselves, "Just how much of a problem is it all over the world?" (inasmuch as the survey showed that the majority of the counries had no provision for alternative service). Acknowledging that perhaps "a hundred or so are disfellowshiped" as a result of the existing policy, he asked, "What of all the brothers in the worldwide organization who rejected alternative service and what of the suffering already undergone by those who took such a stand?" This question would seem to say that, because a past wrong view caused considerable suffering, this would somehow justify the continuance of the wrong view --- and the suffering it would produce! It exemplifies how traditional policies can, in the minds of some, override both Scripture and logic. [ibid., pp. 266, 267.]
As a further reason for maintaining the policy that led to this "suffering," he added, "If we allow the brothers this latitude we will have serious problems, similar to those where latitude is shown in matters of employment." In reality, the only "problems" that latitude in matters of employment had produced were problems for those seeking to maintain tight control over the activities of fellow Christians. Whatever risk there might be was not truly to the morality or Christian integrity of the congregation; what was at risk was the exercise of ecclesiastical authority.