Draffenville, Ky. -- As a panel of three elders discussed his future within the Jehovah's Witnesses on Wednesday night, Bill Bowen sat in his pickup truck across the street from the Kingdom Hall. Bowen, of Draffenville, faced disfellowship, or expulsion, from the church for publicly criticizing its handling of sexual abuse allegations. He had asked church officials to reschedule the hearing for a time that would be convenient for his witnesses. Bowen said he did not receive a response, and although he sat across the street from the church during the 30-minute hearing, he still refused to attend.
"I saw three elders walk in, but there were no witnesses," Bowen said. "For any allegation of wrongdoing to be established within the church, there have to be at least two witnesses. Who serves as their witnesses, the three judges? I am not going in there when they have no witnesses and my witnesses are not here. There is no justification. This is not fair, it's not impartial, it's just a kangaroo court."
Bowen has complained that child-sex allegations are generally not reported to secular authorities by the Jehovah's Witnesses because of the church's closed nature and insistence on handling problems internally. He resigned as a church elder in December 2000.
Church leaders have denied wrongdoing.
The hearing began at 7:30, and Bowen, still in his pickup truck, said he saw the elders leave the church around 8, but they did not speak to him.
Before the hearing, George Bandarra, an elder in the Murray congregation and one of the elders reviewing Bowen's case, said elders would not comment on the proceeding because it was a private church matter. He added that the elders would not make their verdict public but would telephone Bowen Wednesday night with the result. Bowen said the elders did not call.
A church hearing had been scheduled in May but did not take place, because the elders scheduled to hear the case did not show up. When the hearing was rescheduled for Wednesday, Bowen requested a postponement in writing because of short notice and said he had witnesses coming from California, Michigan, Tennessee, Florida and Louisiana.
"Who schedules a meeting on a Wednesday night? I asked for a weekend meeting to give my witnesses time to come here. It's my right, according to church protocol, to be able to produce witnesses to speak on my behalf. (The elders) have not shown up twice, and when I have legitimate reasons for a postponement, they will not give me a reason.
"I received no response from my letter. I received a letter from their attorney stating (the church) received my letter."
Bandarra did say the elders were picked from outside the Marshall County congregation to ensure an impartial verdict. He said after the elders review the case, they would pray and vote until a unanimous decision was reached. The other elders were Jeff Steen, also of Murray, and Ron Carey of Central City. Carey is an assembly overseer, who is in charge of the church's circuit assembly, Bowen said.
Both Bandarra and Steen seemed concerned over the recent publicity that Bowen's case has attracted, and again stated the case is a private matter. However, Steen mentioned that there are about 6 million Jehovah's Witnesses worldwide, and about 40,000 are disfellowshipped annually for various reasons.
Members of the church, even family members, are required to shun those who are disfellowshipped.