The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote three incendiary articles about Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Wow! did they ever make them look bad! Probably that was the intent, though it is hard to say for sure because nobody would ever say that the subject is nothing. It is the topic of child sexual abuse, the most white-hot topic of all.
There is some reason to think that child sexual abuse is relatively uncommon within the ranks of Jehovah's Witnesses, but just try telling that to one who has suffered from it. There is no experience that determines one's viewpoint more than this one. It is exacerbated by the Witnesses being said to be an ‘insular’ organization, and this ‘crime’ of being insular is pushed pedal-to-the-medal by the Philly reporter, who returns to an anti-Witness website after articles, where he is lauded as a hero. Perhaps he has 20 more of such articles up his sleeve. But it is little wonder that he is lauded: some of these gathered at the site are ones who have been victims.
The overall stats for child sexual abuse do not speak well for humanity. One of four girls and one of six boys will be sexually abused before they are 18 (in the U. S, according to InvisibleChildren.org)—this, despite decades of battling the evil.
Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2017, at their summer conventions, which all attend, considered detailed scenarios in which child sexual abuse might occur, so that parents, the first line of defense, could be vigilant. If anyone displays unusual interest in your child, if there are sleepovers, if there are unsupervised trips to the rest room, if—there were several others, all potential hot spots, not necessarily bad, but reason to be attentive. Nobody, but nobody, gathers their entire membership for such education other than Jehovah’s Witnesses.
There is also Caleb and Sophia, cartoon characters whose family doings are utilized as a teaching tool for Witness parents. They teach short lessons on subjects quite mundane, yet crucial to smooth functioning of society, such as the desirability of honesty. The tykes delight the hearts of JW children everywhere (except in Russia, where they are behind bars as extremists). ‘Protect Your Children’ is an especially vital lesson that addresses pedophilia, in which Mommy and Daddy coax their children on how to respond if threatened. If someone “touches you where they should not” or “asks you to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable.” “Even if it is someone you know and trust,” Mommy commends a correct answer, and her husband adds, “and then tell Mommy and Daddy right away,” who, in the video, take the news most seriously.
In three articles, the Philadelphia Inquirer makes no mention of these clearly relevant factors, though whether it is through malice or incompetence is unclear. Nor do they cite the Witness organization’s easily available printed and digital child abuse policy, which gives the obvious lie to most of their insinuations. Included only is a Watchtower Society quote that the latter ‘abhor child sexual abuse,’ which the Inquirer presents in a context as though evidence that they do not.
No, Philly Inquirer, the religion you slimed is not the scourge of humanity. It comprises a group of decent, caring human beings who encountered problems in the 80s and 90s, doing what others did not even attempt: investigate reports of this abomination, along with other types of wrongdoing, so as to strive towards the biblical imperative of ‘presenting to God a clean people.’ “You, the one saying, ‘do not steal,’ do you steal? You, the one saying, ‘do not commit adultery,’ do you commit adultery?” says the apostle Paul. Any group professing that their beliefs contribute to better social conduct should take measures to see that that is in fact the case.
You cannot mishandle what you never attempted to handle in the first place. Did anyone other than Jehovah’s Witnesses take self-policing so seriously? The Philadelphia Inquirer appears to be fully siding with enemies of the religion whose stated goal is to litigate it out of existence. Were they to succeed, they would be showing themselves friends of child sexual abuse, for few others have the proactive education and prevention record of Jehovah’s Witnesses, despite some serious missteps. Data that can be gleaned from an Australian Royal Commission, coupled with the Witnesses relentless campaign to avoid pornography in any form, plus the educational factors already cited, make this conclusion nearly inescapable, though positive proof will ever be lacking because others of the time failed to address the problem and thereby produce records. In many venues, such ‘negligence’ is a punishable offense; here it is effectively rewarded. It is Sergeant Shultz crying, “I know nothiinnnggg,” a policy that ultimately got him out of many a jam on the old TV show.
The misstep that the Inquirer exclusively zeroes in on, and it is not nothing, is the inclination of many Witnesses, upon submitting a matter to congregation elders, to not also go to outside authorities, and elders to not go over their heads and do so themselves. Ones were never prevented from doing so, but the prevailing atmosphere in the 80s and 90s was such that they were less likely to do it, and stories abound of persons being pressured in that direction. An ill-conceived desire to protect reputation is hardly unique to Witnesses of that day; the very reason there is an expression “skeletons in the closet” is that families once succeeded in keeping them there. I would not argue that Jehovah’s Witnesses were slower than most to give up that mindset. These days elders positively plead with families of victims to report to outside authorities, only to find that some are still reluctant to go that route.
In this context, some victims of child sexual abuse come to feel and deeply regret that they went unheard. Some of these later become bitter towards religion in general, and Jehovah's Witnesses in particular. It cannot be argued that circumstances did not give them a strong nudge in that direction, can it? Today, in a climate of litigation, many of these ones seek their due.
The notion that persons should be monetarily compensated for real or perceived wrongs has long been accepted by society. Lawsuits for all manner of offenses are unremarkable routine and enormous monitary awards are common. It amounts to a massive society-wide transfer of wealth, with lawyers charging a third. It is the reason insurance skyrockets at a time that inflation is quite low. It is a reason prices of goods escalate, as ‘punished’ corporations simply pass along their costs to the consumer. Few would assert that compensation is wrong, but few would deny its overall effects, either.
Witness policy has evolved to the extent they feel is possible, given their Bible outlook, but they plead for a circumstance in law that is unlikely ever to be realized. Here law mandates that allegations be reported to police, there it does not mandate it, and the default law kicks into place that it is likely forbidden, as it can constitute a violation of ‘clergy-penitent confidentiality,’ an idea as much enshrined into law as doctor-patient confidentiality and attorney-client confidentiality. The Witness attorney pleaded for understanding before the ARC (and got none) that Witnesses were having a hard time navigating this patchwork of laws, as they sought to fulfill a biblically-mandated duty that others do not take seriously. Three times before the Australian Royal Commission, a member of the Witnesses’ Governing Body pleaded for universal mandatory reporting laws, across all territories, with no exceptions. Then it wouldn’t matter if a given congregation member, for whatever reason, declined to go to the police. Elders would do it regardless. Most of the cases reported today are from 20 or more years previous, and the 'crime' alleged is failing 'to go beyond the law' with regard to reporting. Nothing is more telling of society's overall desperation at losing the war against child sexual abuse than the moral imperative to 'go beyond the law.' If it is so imperative to go 'beyond the law' then surely that should become the law. Otherwise, that lapse becomes merely a means for Monday-mornng quarterbacking to target unpopular groups.
Such universal change in law would make possible both the aims of the congregation and those of outside authorities. Roundly condemned is Jehovah’s Witnesses insistence on a “two-witness rule” in connection with their religious investigations. The Philadelphia Inquirer misrepresents this rule as though Jehovah’s Witnesses demand two spectators for every abuse incident, and let perpetrators off with a wink and a nod in their absence. They ignore that one witness is the victim his or herself, and a similar report from another party also constitutes a ‘witness.’ It is still far from watertight, but hardly the pedophile green light that they represent. Circumstantial evidence will also result in less serious censure.
The reason one ought not be too quick to give up a “two-witness rule” emerges every time someone is exonerated by DNA evidence, the latest advance of criminal science, after serving decades in prison, having been convicted with less strenuous proof. Outside authorities have their own standards for proof, and with universal mandatory reporting laws, both agencies can fulfill their duties adequately. Why was this not done long ago—passing universal mandatory reporting laws? Given the crusade to punish child sexual abuse, one would think that no task would have been easier.
Since the present legal climate makes the Witnesses' duty in policing its own, according to biblical standards, almost impossible, the situation could be framed as a contest between church and state. ‘Preach to them on Sunday, and be done with it,’ is the only liability-free policy. ‘It’s none of your business whether they apply it or not.’’ And yet, to those determined to live by Bible prinicples as best they can, it clearly is their 'business'. Is it possible that the Witnesses' underlying ‘crime’ is the resolve to stay ‘separate’ from the overall world, today portrayed as being ‘insular?’ The Jews’ determination to stay separate, moderated only in recent years, has contributed towards many a pogrom over past centuries.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are overall pretty good at allowing the repercussions of life to serve as discipline, even if they are not intended that way. “It is for discipline that you are enduring,” says Paul, adding, “no discipline seems for the present to be joyous, but it is painful; yet afterwards it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Witness leaders are without doubt humbled and chastened by events. They may not state it to those they perceive as their enemies, because the goals of the latter go well beyond humbling, but it is undoubtedly so.
Meanwhile, when sued, they must defend themselves in court where determining what is right is complex and impartiality cannot be assumed. The reason there is an uproar with every new Supreme Court justice nominee is the universal understanding that even judges are not impartial; they interpret the law in the light of overriding philosophy and pre-existing bias; it is not enough simply to find one who knows how to swing a gavel. And no topic can trigger overriding philosophy and pre-existing bias more than child sexual abuse.
Reply to incendiary article one here:
Reply to incendiary article two here:
Replay to incendiary article three here:
Commentary on later developments here: