An Open Letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer (because they did not acknowlege, much less print, the sent one)
With regard to the April 25th story, ‘Silent Witnesses,’ about Jehovah’s Witnesses and child sexual abuse: Some significant facts are omitted, and some background facts that are included are misrepresented, leading to condemnation of a religion that otherwise has a reputation for fine works and conduct.
“Overall, they’re nice, sincere people” says vehement critic Barbara Anderson, referring to the “rank and file.” The video of Jared Kushner, from before campaign days, speaking of the Witnesses from whom he would buy their Brooklyn buildings is almost unheard of in its praise—Witnesses are persons of “high integrity” with whom “a handshake deal means something,” he says. How can this be if the leadership is as vile as the reporter represents them? Plainly, something is missing.
No topic is more incendiary than child sexual abuse. In no other area is a person’s viewpoint so determined by experience. Few evils are more widespread. The organization InvisibleChildren.org reports that, in the United States, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old—despite years of emphasis on punishing perpetrators.
Jehovah’s Witnesses’ relationship to the pandemic can be viewed through a different lens than the Inquirer views it. The Watchtower organization was proactive at a time when few others were, investigating reports of this and other forms of wrongdoing within their ranks, and it is through this policy of vigilance that they come to be identified with this moral crime. In fact, any group professing that their beliefs contribute to better conduct should take measures to see that that is in fact the case. 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?’ Few, if any, other than Jehovah’s Witnesses followed through on this obviously necessary self-examination.
Lucy Delap, writing for History and Policy, states that “clear guidelines for best [child protective] practice were not established until the 1990s,” during or even after most of the JW abuse cases under review. Thus, the Witness organization walked in largely uncharted territory, for the purpose of identifying this most pernicious group so as to apply discipline, often expulsion, to safeguard other congregation members, and to ensure that pedophiles could not slip unnoticed from one congregation into another (as they could anywhere else). To some extent, condemnation of the Watchtower for this proactive policy is a prime example of the cynicism: “No good deed goes unpunished.”
The fourteen persons that Mr. Gambacorta interviewed appear to be from a Reddit forum “devoted exclusively to ex-Witnesses,” who “discuss the absurdity of their experiences.” I have no reason to challenge the experiences the fourteen relate, and whether their perspective on what they report is the final word, I am in no position to say. However, it is inexcusable for the Inquirer article to link to an ex-Witness forum of 20,000 members, and not also to a Watchtower downloadable child-protection policy packet plainly showing that most its insinuations are untrue:
To be fair, this latest update is released at about the same time as the article, but no mention is made of it by the reporter in subsequent material. Instead, he returns to the Reddit forum where he promises participants further incendiary reports.
I am a 45-year member of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I have authored three books about the faith, in digital format. The latest, ‘Dear Mr. Putin – Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia,’ is freely available, as it is primarily about the religious organization’s ban in Russia, which brings hardship to persons dear to me. Part 2 of the book considers the many accusations made against Witnesses, and chapter 12 of that section is entitled ‘Pedophiles.’ It is a 9,000+ word examination of that topic that includes the ARC investigation.
Case Study 54 of the ARC mentions reports of abuse from the JW community within the period extending from the ARC’s initial investigation to its final report. It is possible to work out ratios, compare them to the non-Witness community, and conclude that the Witness organization’s vigilance has paid off, perhaps by as much as a factor of six. 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. Thus, a story on this topic should never omit the overall relative success of the Witness organization in prevention of this evil.
Stories of Jehovah’s Witnesses and child sexual abuse are certainly not nothing, and it is easy to see why a journalist might go there. However, by being so selective in what he reports, the Inquirer maligns a faith whose overall record of producing fine people of integrity has already been mentioned, by a harsh critic, no less. You owe it to your readers to publish this letter, as prominently as you published the article trashing the Witnesses. I have no doubt that the reporter behind ‘Silent Witness,’ is overall a fine journalist. In this instance, however, he has proven far too biased in the anti-Witness material he relies upon and relates without any counterbalance.