In fact, certain persons cannot go ‘beyond the law’ with impunity. A doctor in the U.S. absolutely dare not go beyond the HIPPA law ensuring confidentiality; it is a meticulously enforced law, leading some to wish that more major crimes were so quickly avenged. Three confidential relationships are bedrock to Western law: confidentiality of doctor-patient, lawyer-client and clergy-penitent,36 for none of these relationships can work without the expectation of confidentiality. If law is not written otherwise, it is illegal to go beyond the law in such cases. Without a clear legal mandate, a Witness elder cannot go ‘beyond the law’ because the default law says he cannot violate confidentiality in matters where the wronged individual would prefer it so.
Geoffrey Jackson of the Witness Governing Body three times pleaded for such a consistent mandate across all territories before the Australian Royal Commission to Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse mentioned above. When it was his turn to testify, he said:37
- Jackson: “Thank you for the opportunity to explain this. I think very clearly Mr. Toole pointed out that if the Australian Government, in all the States, was to make mandatory reporting, it would make it so much easier for us.” …
- Jackson: “The point being, here, another aspect that an elder needs to consider is he does not have the authority to lord it over or take over control of a family arrangement, where a person—let’s say it is a victim who is 24 or 25 years of age—has a right to decide whether or not they will report that incident. They also respect the family arrangement that the appointed guardian, who is not the perpetrator, has a certain right, too. So this is the spiritual dilemma that we have, because at the same time, we want to make sure that children are cared for. So if the government does happen to make mandatory reporting, that will make this dilemma so much easier for us, because we all want the same goal—that children will be cared for properly.” …
Council Assisting (Stewart): “Leaving aside the question of overriding mandatory law from the civil authorities, do you see the possibility within the scriptures as you have identified them for a change in the practice of Jehovah’s Witnesses? In other words, would it be within the scriptures for the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization to adopt a policy which says that in cases where there are others at risk, a report must be made to the authorities?”
G Jackson: “That is a possible thing for us to consider, and I think, already, the assumption is there, that if any elder was to see that there was some definite risk, that their conscience should move them to do that. But the point I was trying to make, Mr. Stewart, is there are other scriptural factors that maybe make that a little complicated, and it would certainly be a lot easier if we had mandatory laws on that.”
He is pleading for sanity to prevail. Sometimes reporting is mandated. Sometimes it is not mandated, and in such cases, Witness elders run legal, even moral, risks in doing it. Where not mandated, they are not free to override concerns of family members if they choose not to report; yet they are held to account if a victimized one, years later, regrets that decision, and blames, not the family members who made it, but the elders themselves. Sometimes, doing their best to navigate a maze, our people have likely stumbled. Other times, the maze itself has tripped them up. Jackson pleads for an across-the-board policy, with no room for misunderstanding or misapplication, so that it won’t matter if a given family wants to avoid airing its dirty laundry on the 11 PM News. Even today, families do not line up to do that, whether religious or not.
If going beyond the law is so laudable, then that should become the law. With the prioritized, near-sacred quest of protecting children, one would think nothing could be easier. Failure to go ‘beyond the law’ is an invitation to Monday morning quarterbacks assigning motives, invariably bad ones, to parties they don’t like. However, in most things legal, careers are built on complexity. They are all undermined when the course is made simple.
The reader will have noted by now, and may even have been an exasperated by, this author’s disdain of the greater world for being so disunited; it has never presented itself otherwise, he or she might note. When the agency says “United Nations” and even affixes the Isaiah quotation about nations beating swords into plowshares, it is just joking. It is not to be taken seriously. It is just dreaming of an ideal it knows full well is unattainable. This author must be forgiven because he comes from a people who have pulled it off. He comes from where they are not just joking about such things and where the dream has become reality. Unity among Jehovah’s Witnesses is a commonplace and unremarkable fact. It is not in the Witness world that one hand plants the seed which produces the plant that the other will eventually have to uproot.
So the following is admittedly sarcastic—which is risky because Thomas Carlyle said sarcasm is the language of the Devil. Forgive me. The Devil made me do it. Here is my fictionalized hearing with the commissioner, not speaking specifically of Australia, but for the overall world:
Lead Commissioner: “Mr. Jackson, I hope that you people will straighten up and fly right and cooperate more fully with what we are trying to do. I emphasize the word “trying,” Mr. Jackson, because we are terrible at it and the overall track record of the world would be laughably bad were it not so tragic. But our hearts are in the right place.
“Mr. Jackson, I am impressed by your humility, your distress at what clearly is a problem, and your overall demeanor. We have so many people strutting their stuff about here and you almost can’t stand them. We appreciate your willingness to work with us and we hope we can further work with you along this line.
“You have pleaded with us, Mr. Jackson, to make our policies the same across all territories, for that would make your job so much easier. It is a reasonable request. Unfortunately, Mr. Jackson, we cannot comply, though we would like to, because we represent squabbling and disunited governing entities that cannot collectively tie their own shoe. You would think it would be the easiest thing in the world to do what you request. Unfortunately, it is impossible.
“And this is just one area. Don’t get me going about international efforts to fight child sexual abuse. Children in many third world countries are routinely abused every day without anyone at all to stand up for them. That’s because there is no money over there, and consequently, no interest. But we do have a lot of money here.
“We have a request for you, Mr. Jackson. I know it’s a bit irregular, but can you take this off our hands for us? I have looked into your organized nature and have concluded that you could do it. Aren’t you the people who set up and take down your buildings of worship almost as easily as our people set up and take down Coleman tents? I know you do not have grandstanding politicians who will push and shove to do whatever will keep them in their jobs, and that you can focus on the real issues, undistracted by personal agendas. I know you can separate the truly worrisome pedophiles from the run-of-the-mill ones, who appear to be almost everyone. I know too, that you care about poor people just as much as you care about well-off people. Listen, we just want to save our kids here, and we think that if we funneled all reports to you, you would be able to handle keeping a centralized list and handle its distribution. I know it is not your main line, but surely you can devote a committee to it. Ten of your people are worth 10,000 of ours because your people know how to work together and our people do not. The more people we add to our efforts, the more chaotic the overall picture gets.
(in my dreams)
from the book: Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia