My experience has always been hierarchical. If elders run into trouble, they always back up on the "Branch" this or that. Whether it be true or not.
Hierarchical or Congregational?
It originally was congregational under Russell. Rutherford fought against the elective elders at the local level, eventually denying their existence in the congregation. In 1938, church organization officially became hierarchical. Rutherford even had a name for his hierarchy -- it was the Theocracy. That's the hierarchy of God's Organization. Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic "Hierarchy" was the Devil's imitation of it within Satan's Organization.
I don't even know who holds title to KH land. If the local KH holds title, how are disputes handled when a congregation splinters from the Society? How does The Society certify or whatever the appropriate word is that a local congregation is a Jehovah's Witness congregation.
The legal issues have presented themselves in the American Episcopal Church. The main body support ordination of gays and even appt of gay bishops. A few conservative parishes have broke away. Normally, the main group can claim ownership to the land. The same situation happened when women were first ordained.
It is striking how few Witnesses seem to know the legal and organizational structure of the Society. Somehow I can't imagine if I telephoned Bethel tomorrow, I would receive ready answers. Maybe I am wrong. Does anyone know if a cohesive legal strategy was outlined or did things just evolve? I'm curious as to what kind of practice Rutherford had. Their Biblical interpretation strikes me as legallistic with all the very detailed statements.
I'm also curious about the financing of literature and assembly/convention costs. Can a local congregation ask for an audit? When I would read the Witness statements concerning their legal status, it always struck me that the structure was more on paper to get tax exemptions than in reality. I simply don't know. Yes, I could check archives but I'm suffering a bout of laziness.
Band on the Run I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on this. The public face of the JW is congregational. When I was absorbed at age 23 I thought I was studying with a collection of like minded individuals. The larger organization didn't show its face until I was too sucked in to see what was going on.
They seem intent on presenting this facade as a legal framework as well, and for obvious reasons.
However, as a church (as opposed to a legal entity) they are hierarchical. Try standing up in a Kingdom Hall and say something at odds with what is taught by the GB. In a truely congregational church you have a lot more leeway as to personal conscience. I think that the Watchtower is in the position of one of those underhanded corporations that shifts assets and liabilities between various shell corporations and partnerships. I think some day some sharp lawyer may be able to puncture that balloon at trial and the legal problems will float all the way to the top.
As far as I understand it, Kingdom Halls in the U.K belong to a trust that is run by the WT of GB (forget the exact title) I would imagine ownership of assembly halls and Bethel, factory, houses etc. are within the same trust, this ring-fences the property assets from any liability the WT in Britain incurs if someone sues.
At least that is the only reason I can think of for the trust to exist, needlesss to say, any profits the "Charitable" trust makes are tax exempt.
So basically the religion here is a tax avoidence scheme, the whole thing being run from top down in a Hierarchical system, but one pretty much immune from legal redress.
If the local KH holds title, how are disputes handled when a congregation splinters from the Society? How does The Society certify or whatever the appropriate word is that a local congregation is a Jehovah's Witness congregation.
I'd really like to know that too. As you know, property disputes are resolved differently depending upon the denomination's legal structure. In a congregational church, the name on the deed is very important. The 1986 case Marvin mentioned in Bonham, TX is the only such dispute I'm even aware of.
One thing I've noticed that might have a bearing on the question is that letters sent by attorneys for the JW parent organization to those contemplating legal action regarding disfellowshipping always make a point of citing a 1983 Ohio case where the court held, "...that church discipline is an ecclesiastical matter in a congregational church, just as it is in a hierarchical church." (First Baptist Church of Glen Este v. State)
If they were a hierarchical church, citing this case would be superflous because there would be no question that the protection from judicial inquiry into matters of internal church discipline recognized in Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese v. Milivojevich would apply to them
It is exciting for me to converse with someone who has researched the legal issues and case law. Despite my keen interest, I've found by hard practice that I must walk away from JW stuff. It agitates me no end. If I can't be functional in my life, it is better to let matters drop. I haven't read the case law, nor have I seen deeds. My interest soars but my anxiety follows suit. Being a Witness was like being one of the characters in Sartre's No Exit.
The English charitable trust concept is interesting. I was only a tween when I left when my father died. The brothers were always coming to my father for loans for the KH. I don't believe they were ever repaid. We were the only property owners in the congregation. I just about starved. We also supported teenagers on welfare who had a wardrobe out of Seventeen mag while I was in rags. Without reading the cases and documents, it strikes me that their lawyers are not thick. It is congregational when it suits them and hierarchical when it suits them. It is telling that no one has asserted it has a congregational feeling. Another factor that confuses me when comparing to other churches' structures is that my local KH was populated by a housing project crowd. The Witnesses seemed to endorse welfare as a way of life. I am disabled currently (I was and now I am trying to get back on my feet in tis economy). They always discussed the joys of being disabled for the opportunities for field service. These were not people with any substantial financial or business acumen. As people go, they were a mixture of commendable and hypocritical.
I'm waiting for a payment to start my Lexis account again. Search terms would be helpful for me. It truly is a coup for me to read this thread. I look forward to skimming the cases. I'm wondering if someone would care enough to write a legal memo concerning this and post it. The law review articles that could be published about this are exciting. A good opportunity to publish more.