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What Any Story About Jehovah's Witnesses and Child Sexual Abuse Should Always Include

Stories about child sexual abuse are not nothing, and it is easy to see why a journalist would go there. Chapter 12 of 'Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia' serves to supply background information, the absence of which leads to a seriously distorted picture.

The real story should never be ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses investigated child sexual abuse in their ranks but did some aspects of it wrong.’ The real story should be: ‘Few others, if anyone at all, even attempted the job.’ All Christian groups should have. In fact, any group professing that their beliefs contribute to better conduct should take measures to see that that is in fact so. The Book of Romans says “You, the one preaching, “Do not steal,” do you steal? You, the one saying, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery?’ The Witness organization was proactive at a time that no one else was to combat a great moral ill. They were not proactive enough, however, to realize that their vigilance made them de facto enforcers for the greater authorities.

Data found in Case Study 54 of the Australian Royal Commission suggests that a child is up to six times safer in the JW community than in the overall Australian world. Thus, the Witnesses vigilance along with their teachings have paid off. It is fine to handle a case of child sexual abuse properly. But it is far finer if the abuse does not happen in the first place. It is similar to calling in the grief counselors in the wake of a school shooting. Of course, it is a good thing to call them in, but how much better to not need them at all. A case of child sexual abuse ‘properly handled’ does not mean that it did not occur, and the child is only somewhat less damaged than if the case was properly handled.

In 2005, evangelical leader Ronald J. Sider wrote a book called ‘The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience,’ in which he observed that ‘church discipline’ was once an accepted aspect of many denominations, but in “in the second half of the twentieth century, it has largely disappeared.” Due to this, he laments, the conduct of the evangelical church member today is indistinguishable from that of the overall world, whereas the entire draw of the Christian religion is that it is to be an oasis from illicit conduct having free rein outside.

Important as it is to handle abuse cases properly, it is not so important as preventing them. JW’s vigilance and relative success in this should always be a part of any story about them. Otherwise, a reporter does his readers a disservice, painting one of the ‘cleanest’ organizations around as one of the foulest.

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