Dr. Rolf Furuli is a celebrity in parts of the Jehovah’s Witness world.
The religious group has abysmal rates of formally educated members — 63% of JW adults have “no more than a high school diploma” — and that’s partly because the organization says higher education is spiritually dangerous. But Furuli, who lives in Norway, has long been the guy they point to as a scholar who shares their beliefs. He’s a professor! He publishes papers and books!
Witnesses trot out his name like Creationist Ken Ham lauds Ph.D.s on his staff. It lends the group a sort of credibility they wouldn’t otherwise deserve.
Furuli isn’t just a casual JW believer, either. He defends the weird stuff. He supports the ban on blood transfusions. He believes Jerusalem was destroyed in 607 BCE, rather than the historically accepted date of 587 BCE, which is a huge deal for JW believers. He even served as a “circuit overseer” and “district overseer” in the 1960s and 1970s, meaning he was a local leader of the faith.
He’s the real deal. He’s never left the religion. While he opposes their rejection of higher education, that’s not a matter of salvation, per se, so that has never really diminished his credibility.
That’s why it’s a big deal that he’s about to release a book titled My Beloved Religion — And The Governing Body (which isn’t available online but can be purchased by sending an email to email@example.com) in which he both defends the religion… and takes a lot of huge swipes at the leadership of the organization.
Pointing out the problems with JW leadership is like a Republican senator up for election in 2020 calling out Donald Trump — it’s practically an unforgivable sin. As one YouTuber put it, the one thing you cannot do as a Jehovah’s Witness is criticize its leadership. That YouTuber also asked Furuli if he was worried he would be disfellowshipped for what he wrote — meaning he could be ejected from the faith and cut off from any loved ones who still believe. He responded, “I know I will be disfellowshipped.”
Today, the eight men of the Governing Body functions as a government for JW with unlimited power. They have the power over the doctrines, the assets, and the money, and their words and decisions cannot be questioned. This is a situation that violates a number of Bible principles.
For example, the Witnesses have a long list of ways someone could be disfellowshipped, like committing adultery or child abuse. No controversy there. But then there’s this sin:
Causing divisions and promoting sects: This would be deliberate action disrupting the unity of the congregation or undermining the confidence of the brothers in Jehovah’s arrangement…
So if you’re undermining the religion, that could be grounds for getting kicked out. But Furuli says “Jehovah’s arrangement” is effectively determined by the Governing Body. So they and they alone get to decide if you’re a problem who needs to be eradicated. Instead of pointing to an objective violation of JW rules, the Governing Body can just say you’re sowing discord and that’s that. (Which is certainly a problem when you’re publishing criticism of the Governing Body!)
He writes in the book:
… The problem, however, is that the definitions of apostasy are selfserving because it is the GB [Governing Body] who defines what “Jehovah’s arrangement” is. And the definition is that the GB serves as a government for JW with unlimited power. Thus, any opposition to the GB is per definition apostasy because it “is undermining the confidence of the brothers in Jehovah’s arrangement.”
Furuli also says that, because there was no Governing Body in the first century, “the present governing Body has no biblical legacy and should be dissolved.” (No wonder this book is already the source of lots of gleeful discussions on ex-JW forums.)
(UPDATE: I had posted a passage here that I believed was from the book. It was not. I have deleted it.)
I asked Dr. Furuli last night what he hoped for as a result of his book. Besides his own fate, did he think the Governing Body was capable of changing itself? He told me he was not optimistic:
It is difficult for me to answer your questions because I do not know how the Governing Body will react and I cannot guess. According to the Bible, there are only two forms of apostasy, 1) denying that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (2 John 7-10), and 2) having a corrupted faith and making a sect or a splinter group. (Titus 3:10, 11). I am not guilty of this, but I believe in all the doctrines taught by JW and defend these. To point out errors that have been done by the leaders is not apostasy, according to the Bible. So, if the Governing Body says that I am an apostate, they are making a human commandment that is not based on the Bible.
That doesn’t mean the book serves no purpose, though. If he can get people to question aspects of the faith, or even plant seeds that might eventually get them to leave for good, that would be remarkable.