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First Petition

Dear Brothers,

We are approaching you, members of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as a “hiding place from the wind and a place of concealment from the rainstorm, like streams of water in a waterless country, like the shadow of a heavy crag in an exhausted land.” We know, from past experience, that you do justice and are of assistance to those in need, and we have confidence that Jehovah’s spirit will work through you, as it has so many times in the past. We are writing in reference to a long-held policy regarding those who are disfellowshipped from the organization on the charge of apostasy, particularly those who want to stay with the organization but who harbor opinions that are not in keeping with the established teachings of "the faithful and discreet slave."

Please correct us if we are mistaken, but it seems clear that those who disagree in matters of scriptural interpretation cannot come back into the organization unless they change their beliefs and bring them into full harmony with the teachings of the organization. But we worry that this is not possible, not because these ones are simply too stubborn or proud, but because their minds aren’t convinced about certain things they’ve learned. They have been cut off from association, not on a moral matter, but on an intellectual one, with little or no hope of coming back unless they accept in their minds that certain explanations of Scripture were right after all. The chances seem slim to us. These ones may be in full agreement with most of what our organization teaches, and if they were allowed to stay in the organization, they would promote it wholeheartedly. But they can’t do that, because they hold some differences of opinion with the Governing Body in Scriptural interpretation.        

One of the wonderful things about this organization is its recognition of the relative freedom that we humans enjoy while serving Jehovah. We are a united body, yet we are made up of individuals with varying personalities and other differences. We really appreciated the recent Watchtower article, “Glorifying God With One Mouth” (9/1/04), where it is emphasized that, “although our views on matters where Scriptural principles are not involved may vary somewhat, in matters of worship, we act in complete unison.” And that is what many who have been disfellowshipped on these grounds want to do with this organization. Can they not worship in unison with their brothers, while recognizing that “different choices need not be a threat to unity, as long as no clear violation of Christian principles is involved”? We like how the Awake magazine once put it:

*** g98 2/8 p. 14-15 Does Christian Unity Allow for Variety? ***

God’s people do not drown in a sea of complete uniformity and absolute conformity to the preferences of those in authority. Rather, they enjoy a wide variety of personalities and have different abilities, habits, and opinions. The individuality of each one is not viewed as a bother or a nuisance. It is part of God’s original design. Hence, in the new world promised in the Bible for the righteous, perfection among humans will allow for great diversity. (2 Peter 3:13) Under the heading “Perfection,” the Bible encyclopedia Insight on the Scriptures appropriately makes the following comments: “Perfection does not mean an end to variety, however, as persons often assume. The animal kingdom, which is the product of Jehovah’s ‘perfect activity’ (Ge[nesis] 1:20-24; De[uteronomy] 32:4), contains enormous variety.”… One of the most refreshing aspects of true Christianity is its respect for individual freedoms and preferences within the bounds of Bible guidelines. It teaches that God made us to be distinct and unique. At 1 Corinthians 2:11, we read: “Who among men knows the things of a man except the spirit of man that is in him?” We try to understand others as much as possible. But this verse implies that we each have a uniqueness understood only by ourself and our Creator. We have a “secret person of the heart” that we reveal as we choose.—1 Peter 3:4.

We have always appreciated this position. It is truly a reflection of Jehovah’s own personality. There are certain acts, of course, that are clearly forbidden in the Bible, and from these we all must turn away. But then there are matters of conscience, and this is where true Christian freedom comes in. What is confusing is that these principles seem to apply only to situations involving behavior and morals, but not to matters of biblical interpretation, even when it comes to passages in the Bible that are admittedly obscure. This seems inconsistent. Why do we have relative freedom in the area of conduct and not in our understanding of the Bible? Is there a biblical basis for this position? Certainly, there are Bible teachings and understandings of Scripture that we all must accept, and these would parallel the mandatory laws and principles of morality found in the Bible. But should there not also be certain interpretations that can be left open to personal viewpoint, just as there are matters of conduct left open to personal viewpoint? The Bible never teaches us there is absolutely no room for individuality in the interpretation of God’s Word, does it? So why do we make this rule? Should not relative Christian freedom apply across the board?

We fully realize that the Bible encourages us to be united “in the same line of thought.” But, as numerous articles have expressed, unity does not mean uniformity. When Paul wrote this letter, surely he meant unity of thought both in matters of doctrine and in matters of conduct. So wouldn’t the same principle that applies in the one area apply also in the other. Why, then, is complete uniformity of doctrine required among Jehovah’s Witnesses, while uniformity of conduct is not? 

*** g98 2/8 p. 15 Does Christian Unity Allow for Variety? ***

Worshipers of God have always been allowed to express their faith in harmony with their unique personality…. Clearly, Christian unity allows for variety. Of course, diversity of backgrounds and opinions can lead to disunity when spiritual qualities are lacking. (Romans 16:17, 18) But when we ‘clothe ourselves with love, the perfect bond of union,’ we learn to accept and enjoy the unique personalities of others.—Colossians 3:14

Cannot love, the perfect bond of union, keep us together, even when we have a certain amount of variety among us as to how we might interpret biblical passages (as long as they do not dishonor Jehovah or contradict obvious truth)? The following quotation from the Watchtower was written with respect to morality and conduct, but, just as an exercise, read it with the issue of biblical interpretation in mind:

*** w95 6/15 pp. 21-22 “Sacred Service With Your Power of Reason” ***

Elders have to allow those under their care to use their power of reason. The members of the congregation are not slaves of men. “If I were yet pleasing men,” wrote Paul, “I would not be Christ’s slave.” (Galatians 1:10; Colossians 3:23, 24) In contrast, the Pharisees wanted people to believe that it was more important to gain the approval of men than that of God. (Matthew 23:2-7; John 12:42, 43) The Pharisees took it upon themselves to become moral dictators who formed their own rules and then judged others by how well they measured up. Those who followed the Pharisees were weakened in the use of their Bible-trained conscience, in effect becoming slaves of men…. Indeed, if members of the flock were to be slaves of men, obeying simply because of being monitored, what would they do when those men were not around?… In matters of conscience, therefore, elders do not make decisions for those under their care. They explain the Bible principles involved in a matter and then allow the individuals involved to use their own powers of reason to make a decision. This is a serious responsibility, yet it is one that the individual himself must bear.

Could not these same principles be followed in matters pertaining to the interpretation of Scripture? If the elders notice someone airing his own viewpoints about what the Bible says, and it is felt that he somehow goes beyond what is acceptable, then, of course, reproof might be necessary. But if the views of the person do not directly transgress the essential commonly held beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the elders can recognize the individual’s right to make certain interpretations in line with Christian freedom. We think the problem with the current way these situations are handled is that there is no freedom at all for a Christian when it comes to biblical interpretation. Is this how Jehovah wants it? After all, those in authority in Jehovah’s organization have already admitted that they are not infallible. But if they insist that their interpretation of Scripture not be questioned, are they not, then, asking to be treated as if they were infallible?

It seems to us that a person’s advancement to spiritual maturity is hampered somewhat by the current policy.

*** w96 9/1 pp. 22-23 Living by the Law of the Christ ***

The apostle Paul said: “Solid food belongs to mature people, to those who through use have their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong.” (Hebrews 5:14) Hence, to grow to maturity, we have to use our own perceptive powers, not always relying on someone else to give us the answers. The elder, by showing his fellow Christian how to reason on the Scriptures, is in this way helping him to progress. We can have faith that Jehovah God by means of his holy spirit will influence the hearts of true worshipers. Thus, mature Christians appeal to the hearts of their brothers, entreating them, as did the apostle Paul. (2 Corinthians 8:8; 10:1; Philemon 8, 9) Paul knew that it is mainly the unrighteous, not the righteous, who need detailed laws to keep them in line. (1 Timothy 1:9) He expressed, not suspicion or distrust, but faith in his brothers. To one congregation he wrote: “We have confidence in the Lord regarding you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:4) Paul’s faith, trust, and confidence surely did much to motivate those Christians. Elders and traveling overseers today have similar aims. How refreshing these faithful men are, as they lovingly shepherd the flock of God!—Isaiah 32:1, 2; 1 Peter 5:1-3.

All we are asking is that the brothers do not regard with suspicion and distrust those who disagree. Each one is a mature Christian who needs to use his perceptive powers to distinguish between right and wrong—not only in matters of morality, but in matters of biblical interpretation as well. Were not the first-century Beroeans commended for examining the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was true (Acts 17:11)? Did not the apostle John urge us not to “believe every inspired expression, but test the inspired expressions to see whether they originate with God” (1 John 4:1)? By insisting that all teachings be accepted without so much as a word of disagreement (in order for us to be part of the organization) is to take that away from us. Don’t get us wrong—we are not asking that we should be allowed to be unduly critical of the organization. We do not delight in finding fault. Not at all. We ask only that the organization does not make certain doctrines a divisive issue when they don’t have to be. We value the Governing Body and all the spiritual food it provides. We eat it readily and appreciatively.

*** w98 3/15 pp. 21-22 Living Up to Christian Dedication in Freedom ***

The Governing Body is a loving provision and an example of faith worthy of imitation. (Philippians 3:17; Hebrews 13:7) By their adhering to and following Christ as a model, they can echo Paul’s words: “Not that we are the masters over your faith, but we are fellow workers for your joy, for it is by your faith that you are standing.” (2 Corinthians 1:24) By observing trends, the Governing Body draws attention to the benefits of heeding Bible counsel, offers suggestions about applying Bible laws and principles, warns of hidden dangers, and provides “fellow workers” needed encouragement. It thus discharges its Christian stewardship, helps them to maintain their joy, and builds them up in faith so that they can stand firm.—1 Corinthians 4:1, 2; Titus 1:7-9. If a Witness makes decisions on the basis of Bible counsel offered by the Governing Body, he does so of his own volition because his own study of the Bible has convinced him that this is the proper course. Each Witness is influenced by God’s own Word to apply sound Scriptural counsel offered by the Governing Body, in full recognition that decisions he makes will affect his personal relationship with God, to whom he is dedicated.—1 Thessalonians 2:13.

We respectfully ask that, among the decisions afforded to Christians, we also be allowed to use our own spiritual discernment to draw conclusions about what certain things in the Bible mean, as long as they do not cross the line. (And we trust that the line will be drawn in a reasonable place.) We think an inflexible position in this matter can be damaging to a person’s conscience and spiritual growth, because it does not allow a person to train his perceptive powers to distinguish between truth and falsehood. It may even be possible that some have, in the past, been unnecessarily evicted from the organization, when all they needed was a little more Christian intellectual freedom.

We apologize for quoting so much of the literature, as if you were not aware of these things. We only wish to show that we value what the magazines say and that we take seriously what comes from the Governing Body.

We do hope you will weigh these principles carefully. It is very discouraging to think that it may never be possible for these ones to come back.

With much Christian love,