Ambiguities surrounding the enforcement of Watchtower rules

by drew sagan 18 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • drew sagan
    drew sagan

    I could write a good bit on this topic, but thought I would simply open this up for discussion. Here are a few things to think about:

    - The Watchtower has no fundamental writing that it turns to as its foundational text. Instead, teachings and rules are shaped by a "living document" via a collection of "current publications". Because of this, some rules and regulations contained in older publications may or may not apply.

    - Given the flexible nature of these rules, enforcers (Elders, DO, CO, etc) have some discretion in how the rules are applied. Some rules may be applied in a rather uniform way across most congregations, others may not.

    - The time difference between the creation of a WT rule and its appearance in "current publications" may affect the degree to which it is enforced. The YMCA rule comes to mind.

    So what are some rules that you think result in mixed outcomes? Are there certain conditions that encourage or discourage enforcement? Do you think this ambiguity effects the kind of sanctions Elders bring down on those who break the rules?

    I have some opinions on this but will refrain until others have commented.

  • nicolaou

    I'd say that outside of the "living document" - of "current publications" there are a few definitive texts or rulebooks. The infamous 'Pay Attention to Yourselves and to All the Flock' does contain definite rules as well as so called guidelines. Other books like 'Organized to Accomplish Our Ministry' and the 'Branch Procedures Manual' also contain definite codes of conduct and procedural rules.

  • VoidEater

    ^ I wonder, though, if these qualify as "rulebooks" since they are not intended for general distribution to r/f - aren't they more along the lines of "secret codes", more like advanced degrees of masonry?

    And, aren't even these applied in varying ways across congregations?

    It seems to me there are "conservative" and "liberal" congregations. And, politics plays a great deal into who gets sanctioned and who does not.

  • hamilcarr
    It seems to me there are ... "liberal" congregations.

    I wish there were.

  • JWoods

    I have posted before that I knew of a case in the 1960s where an elderly (probably inactive) witness was spared from being DFd over smoking a pipe because he had a note from his doctor saying that the shock of suddenly quitting might cause him to have a heart attack.

    I knew another case where a whole family was DFd for "demonism" because they went to a Native American healer guru for herbal tea and such.

    It all depends on how well the committee likes you, and also by how outspoken you are in making a defense.

    Note that in these early pre-elder days, the Circuit Servant usually had very little to say on a disciplinary committee matter, in my experience.

  • drew sagan
    drew sagan

    I'd say that outside of the "living document" - of "current publications" there are a few definitive texts or rulebooks. The infamous 'Pay Attention to Yourselves and to All the Flock' does contain definite rules as well as so called guidelines. Other books like 'Organized to Accomplish Our Ministry' and the 'Branch Procedures Manual' also contain definite codes of conduct and procedural rules.

    Good point. Most of what is considered in those books is procedural in nature, thus having a direct impact on rule enforcement.

    Of the three you mentioned, only the 'Organized' book is available to all members. From what I recall, the content was very procedural in nature (hence the title!) but it also did contain rules.

    One thing that always interested me was the way the Elders (i.e. enforcers) went about their tasks. In many ways it appeared to me that the idealism some Elders have will actually get in the way of stricter enforcement. In this case, the Elder wouldn't be bothered by being more strict, but his idealism has led him away from a place where he can make that decision. For example, in my own experience (and from others have written on this board) Elders can sometimes be naive when investigating a case. Thinking that a "long time brother" has gone apostate isn't necessarily the first thing that comes to their mind (although so many hoping to fade seem to worry about this more than is necessary).

  • drew sagan
    drew sagan

    Another interesting point. Because many rules and procedures are contained in the "living document", members and enforcers have the option to choose from rules that contradict each other.

    For example, depending upon which Watchtower magazine you read, contact with DF'd people should either be very strict or less than strict (I believe there was an article in the 70's that loosened the rules).

    In this case people can pick and choose the rules they want. As long as their choices to not bother the enforcers, or go unnoticed by them, they can continue in their practice.

  • SirNose586
    I wish there were.

    I sometimes call a congregation "liberal" if they don't hound as much as the others. In the early 90's, a nearby hall was pretty lax about enforcing rules. You pretty much had to commit a crime right in front of them before they'd take action against you.

  • blondie

    I have been told that in some matters, local elder bodies can call the shots. That's why I have been in areas where some congregations allow mustaches and others don't, where sisters can have 2 ear piercings in each ear and in others only one in each ear.

  • Olin Moyles Ghost
    Olin Moyles Ghost

    Drew, your last point about inconsistent (or even contradictory) rules in WT literature is well-taken. Some JWs have a talent for finding WT articles that justify whatever they want to do. For example, in the past I knew some fun-loving JWs who were constantly being accused of "stumbling" other JWs. These fun-loving Witnesses found some statements in WT literature that a strong Christian can't (or shouldn't) be stumbled--in other words, if you got stumbled it was your own fault.

    Situations like that are what lead to "liberal" or "conservative" congregations, circuits, etc. The WTS writes its literature in such wishy-washy fashion, trying to create the illusion that we're all mature Christians and they aren't making rules. Most JWs see right through it and realize that when the WTS says things like "most mature Christians would not do XYZ" and understand that the WTS is saying not to do XYZ. But others (like myself in a previous life) would see this as a loophole and say "well, maybe most wouldn't do it...but they're not saying I can't." That's where elders come into play.

    If a body of elders interprets WTS directives in a strict way, that body can impose its interpretation on the congregation. This has its most immediate impact on servants/elders/pioneers because the body gets to decide whether they are "exemplary." And this "exemplary-ness" is based on the opinion of the body of elders. Period. But this can also have an impact on the rank & file.

    For example, the WTS has had general directions regarding parties and weddings for years. The WTS has often cautioned against having large parties. Some bodies of elders understand this to be a rule that JW parties must be small (no more than X number of attendees). If a body decides this, then if someone wants to throw a big party, the elders and their families would discourage it--and at the very least refuse to attend. This would have a chilling effect on the congregation. Most good JWs wouldn't want to attend a party that is disapproved by the elders, and most JWs wouldn't want to throw a party that's disapproved by the elders. Thus, the result of these elders' interpretation of WTS rules would be no more parties larger than a certain size.

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