Does the Watchtower Society Harbor Fugitive Criminals?
"We received your letter of December 17 in which you inquire about handling a situation involving a brother who has been guilty of serious violations of the law in the past. You explained that you have received information indicating that this brother "committed several murders and crimes before his baptism." You ask if " Florida law obligates some action on our part. Florida law enforcement authorities have no knowledge of this matter." As elders, you have no obligation to reveal information of this type to the authorities. Any information that you have obtained while fulfilling your duties as elders is strictly confidential. What he does about paying his debt to Society is largely up to him and his conscience. Since he is apparently a fugitive from the law, he obviously would not qualify for any extra privileges or service in the congregation. ... As we believe you understand, it is imperative that the elders maintain strict confidentiality about his past. If the elders inadvertently reveal his past wrongdoing, undoubtedly it will result in major repercussions to him and his wife. So, handling this case calls for good judgment and discernment. We trust you brothers can handle things appropriately. Write to us again if you need further direction." (Quotes from an Official Watchtower Bible and Tract Society Letter sent to Elders on December 24, 1992)
"...God did not require congregation elders to enforce Caesar's laws and codes. Hence, Paul did not feel compelled to turn over to Roman authorities Onesimus, who was a fugitive under Roman law. (Philemon 10, 15) Of course, if someone flagrantly violates secular law, gaining the reputation of being a lawbreaker, he would not be a good example and might even be disfellowshipped. (1 Timothy 3:2, 7, 10) If lawbreaking was involved in causing another's death, bloodguilt requiring congregation investigation might result." (Quote from The Watchtower, October 1st 1986 Issue, Page 31)
"God's Word does not charge the Christian congregation, through its overseers, with the obligation to become acquainted with all the details of civil and criminal law so as to enforce these. We can see this in how Paul handled the case of Onesimus. ... In Rome as a runaway slave (Latin, fugitivus) Onesimus came in contact with Paul, became a Christian and ministered to Paul. ... Take note that while Onesimus was in Rome the apostle Paul did not hand him over to the Roman authorities for punishment as a fugitive slave and possibly a thief. We know from his writings that Paul believed that a Christian should obey the law of the land, but plainly he did not consider it the congregation's duty to serve as an arm of the government in policing individuals' lives. Also, we can observe that Onesimus' situation was not treated as a barrier to his getting baptized. ... The Christian congregation today follows a course harmonious with this Biblical pattern. ... each individual, Christian or not, is personally responsible as to whether he complies with civil laws." (Quotes from The Watchtower, March 15th 1977 Issue, Pages 191-192)
"...the Christian Greek Scriptures do not indicate that God requires a person to undo all his past sins or crimes before he can be baptized. This is illustrated in the case of Onesimus, mentioned in the Bible book of Philemon. He had been a slave in Colossae , but he fled. That was a criminal offense, making him a runaway slave (Latin, fugitivus). Also, some feel that Onesimus may have robbed his master so as to be able to flee to distant Italy . In Rome he came into association with the apostle Paul and became a baptized Christian. Paul did not demand that before Onesimus could get baptized he had to turn himself over to the authorities for criminal punishment ... Similarly, a person who accepts the Bible's message today may have formerly committed some crime, even being wanted for it, being a fugitive. The Bible shows that he must 'repent and turn around so as to get his sins blotted out.' (Acts 3:19 ) That obviously means that he must absolutely abandon his former sinful, criminal course. ... the crime may be something that he has no way of reversing. He might have caused someone's death. Conscience-stricken though he be, he cannot bring that life back-only Jehovah can. (John 5:28, 29) But even though he cannot reverse the past, he should throw himself on God's mercy and seek forgiveness based on Jesus' sacrifice. ... Any fair, thoughtful person can see the high moral standards of those in the Christian congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses." (Quotes from The Watchtower, September 15th 1978 Issue, Pages 30-31)