A former elder quits his faith and posts his reason online: it is the Watchtower’s child abuse policy. He presents himself as a pillar of conscience. He chose to leave and there were “many reasons for his decision,” which he does not go into. Child sexual abuse policy is not his only reason, though at first glance it might appear that way. He could have reported any hint of an abuse allegation the instant he became aware of it—forget the phone call to legal HQ. True, he might have to step down as an elder, because one holding office in anything must carry out the policies of those making them. But it is all volunteer service anyway. He could have taken his place as a regular congregation member and not thrown everything away with regard to his belief system.
Instead, it appears that he did throw it all away in order to become a warrior for a cause. He has thrown in his lot with the ones crusading against this one grievous wrong, who appear, for the moment, to be enjoying greater success in the war. Or are they? They are undeniably good at outing and punishing perpetrators of child sexual abuse, but are they proving any good at stemming the evil itself? Thirty-plus years of all-out war has produced little result; you can still throw a stone in any direction and hit five molesters. In contrast, there is good reason to believe that the Witness organization overall has significant success in prevention.
What of the reasons that he became a Witness in the first place—the clear answer as to why God allows suffering, the knowledge of what happens to people when they die, and even the reason that they die? He has forgotten all about it. What of the Bible principles that have succeeded in producing one group, and practically only one group, that has not been molded by changing tides of morality, sexual and otherwise? Not worth the bother, his course suggests. What of the effort to educate ones the world over in knowledge of God’s purposes and the one true hope that conditions will not always be as they are now? It no longer interests him. What of the work to make known God’s name known and defend it against those who would malign it? None of it seems to be a concern any longer. If he remembers God at all, he will address him as ‘The LORD,’ since the rule elsewhere is to bury God’s name.
He throws it all away to become a foot soldier in a cause. The cause is certainly not nothing, but neither is it everything. Every notion he once had about God taking a separate people for his name appears to have vanished. Christianity should not be separate from the world, in his apparent revised eyes. It should jump in and help fix it, even if most of the tools it offers will be scorned. If the world scorns them perhaps it has a point, he seems to suggest. His new course says it loud and clear: elders should put aside concerns of safeguarding the congregation and should become agents of the state so as to do their part in safeguarding the whole world.
He has bought completely into his new role. It is not enough for him that elders, at present, leave it to parents and victims as a personal matter whether they will seek help from outside counselors. He is upset that they do not order them to. Seemingly he would hold them accountable even if they did order them and the parents or victims yet declined. They did not order them enough, he would maintain. Too, he is concerned that an offender might go door to door as a Witness in search of new victims. Well, nothing is impossible, but it seems an extraordinarily difficult way to go about it. The house to house ministry is a challenge even when done for the right reasons. Witnesses will often fret about how difficult it is to find people home today, at least at the most customary times of calling. How many of them are going to be unsupervised children? How many of those children are going to be trusting of strangers? It’s ridiculous, but the former elder has swallowed it all. Why not simply hang out where children are? Volunteer at a children’s camp. Coach youth sports. Drive a school bus.
He could have just relinquished his office and reported whatever allegations of sexual abuse of which he became aware. Instead, he has flushed everything away to focus on the popular crusade. If he remains religious, he will probably lean right. If he has gone atheist, he will probably lean left. They mostly do. Nor should it be a surprise. If you go atheist, you put your full trust in human self-rule. Obviously, nations have to band together for this to be successful, so any populist movement is viewed as counterproductive. The question reverts right back to that of 1919, when Jehovah’s Witnesses, then known as Bible Students, chose God’s kingdom as the true hope for all mankind, and their opponents, throwing in their lot with human efforts, chose the then-new League of Nations.
All of this said, the former elder prefaces his diatribe by his having seen “the extent that the organization would go to in order to defend their position.” It is a point that merits addressing.
Those brothers most eager to not air dirty laundry in an attempt not to sully God’s name appear to have succeeded in sullying it, albeit unintentionally, more than if outside authorities were called the instant any congregation member so much as hiccupped. In their zeal to present the image that child sexual abuse could never have happened among true followers of Christ, they succeeded in planting the notion with their enemies that their group is the worst of the lot. It is hardly just them. Most organizations have proven equally conscious of reputation, be they schools, Scouts, business, alumni, institutions of any sort, even the U.S. Olympic team. Jehovah’s Witnesses, who preach what they regard as a life enhancing message, have also proven conscious of reputation. They are composed of regular people, and at least they have the atypical quality of their leaders seldom being abusers themselves.
It is not hard to understand how this can happen, yielding to the instinct to not air unflattering news. But it is not useful here, and any hint that one is concerned with reputation as more than an insignificant footnote will incur the wrath of those focused on one and one thing only. They will say: “If you really do abhor child sexual abuse why do you even think for a moment about reputation?” It is a very difficult row to hoe. Anyone who watches popular television today knows that playing to the jury on the jury’s own terms is critical. Does the Watchtower attorney in Montana do that? Or does he give evidence of being “insular,” quoting Bible verse a couple of times when it is not necessary to do so, when omitting them might have better resounded? He is a fine brother, I am sure, with a monumental job, but I suspect the verses hurt more than help with a jury composed of persons who simply do not hold scripture in the same esteem as was once the case. They might even reckon it an attempt to schmaltz them and pull the wool over their eyes. Might his explanation fall flat that the “regular Montana folk” who are Witnesses call “because they love you,” and since “many of you are Bible readers,” they will recognize that Jesus followed just that course? How many people are regular Bible readers these days? He misses completely the political nuances of the expression “fake news” that few of them will miss, and he spins a folksy story of the caught fish that gets bigger with each telling to suggest that abuse victims might unconsciously embellish with the passage of time. He covers all the right points but with a backdrop that will suggest to some that he just doesn’t “get it” as regards the trauma of ones who have suffered abuse. Can child sexual abuse in any way be likened to a fisherman’s tale? Courthouse proceedings are not therapy sessions and one can only be so therapeutic with plaintiffs seeking millions—thereby clearly indicating their chosen means of comfort. But more putting oneself into their shoes can hardly be a bad thing and it is something Witnesses typically try to do in their ministry.
He commits these perceived lapses because he comes from a faith described as insular. Insularity is not a crime (yet) but it does here present obstacles to heart-to-heart communication. His talk would play well indeed to persons on the same page as he, such as he might find in a Kingdom Hall, but to a public conditioned by events to be skeptical as to whether Jehovah’s Witnesses truly do “abhor child abuse,” as they say they do, it shows stress cracks.
The ones overly interested in reputation have been caught in their own righteous trap and it is being played out in plain sight before all the world. The only thing that takes away from their detractors’ efforts to make maximum hay out of this debacle is that there are so many atrocities to compete for attention today, many of which are far worse, that it is a challenge for them to keep the spotlight focused where they want it.
Rather than try to maintain the illusion that ungodly deeds could never have occurred among true Christians, these Witnesses might have let the chips fall wherever they might and trust that a relative scarcity of abuse will be enough in a world where one out of every five children suffers molestation before age 18. Instead, their insularity made them miss the determination and progress of outside authorities to stamp out child sexual abuse, slow to acknowledge the cause when they did come to hear of it, and thus they are readily framed by their detractors to make it seem that they oppose it.
It could have been me. I am not better than these ones. I, too, might have become distressed when the media did not seem to notice the elephant in the room. Will the greater world enjoy success when it embraces every permutation of sexual interaction as fine and good, except for one that will not be tolerated? The world today nurtures the pedophilia with one hand that it seeks to eliminate with the other. Even the New York Times swoons over a child model in a November 22, 2007 article. “His eye makeup is better than yours,” it writes, as it gushes over a ten-year-old boy who has 330,000 Instagram followers. How many of them are pedophiles? Why, the Times does not think to go there.
Meanwhile, the organization that teaches family values from the Bible, that specifically warns about child sexual abuse, that doesn’t settle for merely punishing the wrong, but significantly exerts itself to prevent it—what of that organization? That is the organization on the hot seat, tried by those dubious of it and a few that outright despise it. However ill it plays today, one can understand a reluctance to broadcast shortfalls believed to be comparatively scarce—a lot of them, to be sure, but proportionately less than in the greater world. But that reluctance serves nobody well in this instance.
Are Jehovah’s Witnesses insular? To the extent that they are familiar with this excerpt from Jesus, how could they not be? “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before it has hated you. If you were part of the world, the world would be fond of what is its own. Now because you are no part of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, on this account the world hates you.” (John 15: 18-19) Christianity as defined in the Bible is insular. It is not part of the world. It is separate from the world and from that position of safety it attempts to extend a helping hand to individuals therein. If contemporary variations of Christianity are not insular, it is due to having compromised long ago to neutralize that which the overall world finds objectionable—a course that Jehovah’s Witnesses have sought to avoid. One will have to ban the Bible itself to forestall insularity, and there are plenty in an irreligious age who would like to do just that. No longer is it the legal climate of decades ago, when a Watchtower lawyer could cite his Bible and the judge would follow along, nodding thoughtfully. Even Hayden Covington, the Witness attorney of the 1940s known for his ability to sass Supreme Court Justices and get away with it, would be hard pressed today.
In October of 2018, the Australian government issued an apology in the wake of a Royal Commission looking into child sexual abuse, an investigation that had spanned several years. That apology is lauded as the example for everyone to follow, but it is worth noting that the victims did not accept it. Prior to that, victims of child sexual abuse from the Boy Scouts did not accept an apology from that organization. Now, the Boy Scouts take you camping and teach you how to tie knots. Jehovah’s Witnesses show up at your door in suits and wake you when you are sleeping in late. Will they be forgiven when the Australian government and the Boy Scouts were not?
Many of victims of child sexual abuse will never accept any apology. What they will only accept is for their abuse never to have happened—something that surely speaks well as regards prevention being the prime focus.
Detractors are chagrined that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not specifically mentioned in the apology, but it may be because for most institutions investigated, the leaders were the perpetrators. With Jehovah’s Witnesses that was rarely the case. Their ‘wrong’ was to investigate first, and in so doing, fail to coordinate with outside authorities. Seeming frustrated, one Witness opponent tweets: “So sick of Watchtower apologists trying to say that it’s OK to protect pedophiles & for child sexual abuse to go unchecked & unpunished. I wonder if now they will use the same defenses to support the Catholic Church & its mishandling of child sexual abuse?”
I responded to that one: “They have made their own bed & must lie in it. Unlike JWs, where leaders were seldom the perpetrators, theirs exclusively were. Heaven help us if the members are ever looked at, as with JWs. Still, to the extent faith in God is destroyed, it is a tragedy even greater than that which triggers it.”
(See Part 4)
From the book TrueTom vs the Apostates!