Jehovah’s Witnesses did fail in this regard. Let us admit it. They failed to “go beyond the law.” The stakes are so high that law is thereafter reinterpreted to mean that they did violate it. Why did they fail? Ms. Chuck accurately states that any Witness victim or family of victim was always free to report child sexual abuse and that congregation justice did not preclude outside secular justice. They failed then, she implies, because they were insular, and she may not realize just how firmly she has put her finger on the reason. They were not inclined to air their dirty laundry before the public.
It is not so hard to understand. In some cultures, the concept of “saving face” is so firmly entrenched that your efforts to communicate are doomed to failure if you ignore it. The very reason there is an expression ‘skeletons in the closet’ is the universal human instinct to keep them there. It is even found in the scriptures that Ms. Chuck acknowledges underlie everything Witnesses do. Decrying the spectacle of early Christians taking one another into court over personal disputes, the apostle Paul writes: “I am speaking to move you to shame. Is there not one wise man among you who is able to judge between his brothers? Instead, brother goes to court against brother, and before unbelievers at that!” If Jehovah’s Witnesses today are “insular,” it is because Christians at that time were “insular.”
In this case, however, insularity, and the failure to “go beyond the law” has resulted in child abusers who did not take their turn in the police lineup, as well as victims thereby deprived of that justice. Whether they would have received justice otherwise is arguable, for no end of persons manage to evade the wrath of the law. But that is not the point. They should have been turned over to police, the argument goes, for the latter to either nail them to the wall or let them slip through their fingers. The victims want justice. Like victims anywhere, they don’t always get it. But don’t get in the way of their quest for it. Since the Witness organization is perceived to have gotten in the way, with law being reinterpreted so as to more damningly point to that conclusion, should they apologize to victims or issue a public statement of regret? You could certainly build a case for it.
When the cop speeds in hot pursuit and a horrific accident results, pointing out that he had permission to speed only goes so far. There are times when only a sincere expression of regret stems the tide of outrage, for who is going to dismiss a run-over pedestrian as ‘just one of those things?’ At such times legal matters become technicalities and you appear tone-deaf if you harp on them. Best to say that, in pursuing one’s mission, even within existing rules, a terrible tragedy has resulted for which there is sincere regret.
Were the Witness organization to ever do that, it would cut them no slack with the Reddit group. They would merely drop down a notch on their list to highlight the next reason they hate their former religion before surfacing briefly to declare the statement of regret insincere. Were the entire Governing Body membership to resign, or even hang themselves, it would not make them happy. They know that their successors would be cut from the same cloth.
No, there will be no placating these folks. But it might very well clear the air for all other persons, who know very well, simply through personal experience, that Jehovah’s Witnesses are very fine people. Even arch-enemy Barbara Anderson concedes this, as she somehow manages to insinuate that this is despite their evil Governing Body, rather than the much more reasonable ‘because of it.’ Not because of it solely, of course, for Witnesses’ decency stems from the God they worship. But in the sense that the Witnesses’ Governing Body keeps them clearly focused on the Bible, their chosen source of instruction, they surely deserve credit, not condemnation. Almost all other faiths have swayed with the changing winds of contemporary culture. Witnesses have not. They merely update now and then, as they have with their procedures of child sexual abuse investigations. Is it intimidating for a victim of child sexual abuse to appear before the three men of an investigatory committee? Well, they never thought of that. Maybe they should have. So now it is that a child’s recorded testimony can serve itself as the witness and he or she does not have to appear personally. If he or she does, it can be with any congregation member of choice, whether male or female. The religion’s fiercest critics say they will never stop opposing until Witnesses fix their child abuse policies. Arguably, they already have been fixed, since the vast majority of cases tried are from many years ago.
Not everyone likes Jehovah’s Witnesses. Probably more do not than do. But people are mostly fair. A statement of regret would go a long way for them to say: “Oh, I see. They did botch it up, but now I can see why. They really do abhor child sexual abuse over there.” Otherwise, their enemies find it a cakewalk to portray those in leadership positions among Jehovah’s Witnesses as “arrogant,” and in some cases, as willful nurturers those who would commit child abuse. Everyone these days calls those of the other side “arrogant” upon proving unable to sway them, but in this instance, the accusation more readily sticks. They are probably the least arrogant people on earth, but that does not mean they cannot be painted that way.
They do Bible education work. They do it extensively and effectively. In the developing world, a person is stuck with some 200-year old turkey of a Bible translation that he can neither afford nor understand because nobody other than Jehovah’s Witnesses thinks it is inappropriate for Big Business to handle distribution of the Word of God. The Witness Governing Body does think it is inappropriate and they have invented an entirely new production and distribution channel so that the person can obtain a modern Bible at minimal cost, or even free. That accomplishment is not insignificant.
They do not do all of this personally, of course. Detractors routinely spin it that Witnesses are “controlled” by “eight men in New York.” It makes no sense. They are modest persons. Many of them cut their teeth performing their trademark door-to-door ministry in the developing world, carrying out a work more lowly than that of the ones they would ultimately lead. They have a certain knack at administration, as with any effective organization, but other than that, they have little expertise in anything. But they know where to find it when they need it. From a field of eight million members, where there are neither paywalls nor turf wars, they can quickly assemble whatever is deemed necessary.
Their latest offering in the field of Bible education consists of an online, self-guided, and anonymous course of Bible study offered on the front page of their website, JW.org. The Bible offers convincing answers to important questions of life, Jehovah’s Witnesses feel, questions not readily answered anywhere else. Of course, it is free and presented without any mention of money. After each lesson there is the option to 1) go deeper, for the presentation is necessarily simple, 2) attend a group study at the Witnesses’ Kingdom Hall, 3) request a personal instructor, or 4) say ‘none of the above’ and proceed to the next lesson. It is a relatively new feature. I don’t know how it will be incorporated. But with only some exaggeration, I am looking forward to saying: “I don’t want to study the Bible with you. Do it yourself. If you have any questions or want to go a level more, I’ll be around.” With only slightly more exaggeration, the new feature illustrates that, if need be, the main Bible teaching component of the Witnesses’ work could be run out of a server in someone’s dorm room.
They always will be “insular,” or to put it in their terminology, “no part of the world.” Surely, they must be permitted to be, for the alternative is to snuff out the type of Christianity that existed in the first century, the model most true. Snuffing out this model in favor of societally evolved ones might be a very fine outcome in the eyes of today’s anti-cultists. But it will be a defeat for worship of God per the standards of his written word. They must not allow that religion can have a place only so long as it is clearly subservient to contemporary life and leaders, labeling anything not meeting this subservience a “cult” that “brainwashes” people through “mind-control.” Those of that same Western anti-cultist spirit have used exactly that reasoning to fuel the furor that has banned Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and confiscated all of their property, with many other faiths shaking in their boots that they will be next. It is a result of hate speech—not the investigation of grievances, but the hurling about of the C-word.
Be that as it may, it might well be time to acknowledge that this avenue, this one involving child sexual abuse reporting, is one that became riddled with axle-bending potholes, express sincere remorse, help out to whatever extent is necessary to fill them in, and then get back on track with the overall program.
See Part 3
From the book TrueTom vs the Apostates!