Questions From Readers
What is the congregation’s responsibility if a Christian driving an automobile has an accident that results in the death of others?
The possibility of bloodguilt deserves consideration because the congregation needs to avoid community responsibility for bloodguiltiness. (Deuteronomy 21:1-9; 22:8) A driver who is responsible for a fatal accident may incur bloodguilt if he was careless or deliberately violated one of Caesar’s safety or traffic laws. (Mark 12:14) But there are other factors to consider.
A manslayer who fled to one of Israel’s cities of refuge had to stand trial. If the slaying was found to be unintentional, he would be allowed to remain in the city, safe from the avenger of blood. (Numbers 35:6-25) So if a Christian is responsible for someone’s death in an accident, the elders should investigate matters to determine if there is a measure of bloodguilt. The government’s view or a court’s decision does not altogether determine what action the congregation will take.
For instance, a court may declare the person guilty of some technical violation of the law, but the investigating elders may determine that no bloodguilt exists because the driver had little or no control over the circumstances resulting in the fatality. Conversely, if the court dismisses the case, the elders may conclude that he actually is bloodguilty.
The decision of the elders investigating the case should be based on the Scriptures and the clearly established facts—an admission by the driver and/or the testimony of two or three reliable eyewitnesses. (Deuteronomy 17:6; Matthew 18:15, 16) If bloodguilt is established, a judicial committee should be formed. If the committee determines that the bloodguilty person is repentant, he will receive appropriate reproof from the Scriptures and will be restricted as regards privileges in the congregation. He would no longer serve as an elder or a ministerial servant. Other restrictions would also be imposed. And he is accountable to God for his carelessness, neglect, or lack of caution that resulted in the accident and fatality.—Galatians 6:5, 7.
To illustrate: If weather conditions were bad at the time of the accident, the driver should have exercised greater care. If he was drowsy, he should have stopped and rested until he was no longer sleepy, or he should have had someone else drive.
Suppose the driver was speeding. If any Christian exceeds the speed limit, this is a failure to render “Caesar’s things to Caesar.” It also betrays a disregard for the sacredness of life, for there is the possibility of fatal consequences. (Matthew 22:21) In this regard, consider something further. What kind of example would an elder be setting for the flock if he was careless about Caesar’s traffic regulations or deliberately failed to obey them?—1 Peter 5:3.
Christians should not require that others be at a certain place at a time that would clearly be impossible without their exceeding the speed limit. In most cases, however, it is a matter of starting early enough or of changing one’s schedule to allow for sufficient travel time. If that is done, the Christian will not be tempted to drive faster than he should, but he will be able to comply with the traffic laws of the governmental “superior authorities.” (Romans 13:1, 5) This will help the driver to guard against fatal accidents with the possibility of bloodguilt. It will also enable him to set a fitting example and maintain a good conscience.—1 Peter 3:16.