Is It Time for Jehovah's Witnesses to Apologize? Part 4

See this series' beginning here.

The Old Testament tells some very strange tales and one of them is told at 2 Samuel. David, the Israelite king, on the ropes because he is facing an armed insurrection from his own son, enters a town where loyalty is not assured. He and his men are received hospitably, but there is one man decidedly not hospitable. The account reads:

“...a man…came out shouting curses as he approached. He was throwing stones at David and at all the servants of King David, as well as at all the people and the mighty men on his right and on his left. Shimei said as he cursed: “Get out, get out, you bloodguilty man! You worthless man!”

“…Then Abishai the son of Zeruiahm said to the king: “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over, please, and take off his head.” But the king said: “…Let him curse me, for Jehovah has said to him, ‘Curse David!’ …Here my own son, who came from my own body, is seeking my life… Leave him alone so that he may curse me, for Jehovah told him to! …With that David and his men kept going down the road while Shimei was walking alongside the mountain abreast of him, shouting curses and throwing stones and a lot of dust.”  (16:5-19)

Imagine! David is not too hung up on himself, is he? The fellow curses him, throws stones at him, shouting he is bloodguilty and worthless. And David as much as says: ‘Well, maybe he has a point. I mean, if God is letting it happen, who am I to smash in his head?’

The passage is included in the midweek meeting study material for October 15, 2018. That program also incorporated a passage at Matthew chapter 11, in which Jesus said of his detractors that they criticize you no matter what you do, so the best recourse is to go full speed ahead and let 'wisdom be proved righteous by its works.’ Meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses are essentially Bible studies that one can prepare for, organized around themes suggested by current needs and the pre-determined schedule of Bible reading that members have observed for 100 years—work your way through Revelation, and start in again at Genesis.

Nothing gets in the program without the okay, if not the direct insertion, of Witness governing members, who serve on various supervisory committees. The Matthew verse demonstrates how they respond to public criticism. They like Psalm 38:13 as well, another verse of David, about how he determined to muzzle his mouth as his adversaries kept “muttering all day long” about him. Luke 9:62 is also a favorite. That one records Jesus saying: “No man that has put his hand to a plow and looks at the things behind is well fitted for the Kingdom of God.” They press ever forward. They content themselves with a Newsroom tab on their public website that does not get into specific complaints, much as one would not expect to find a citing from the building inspector on the restaurant menu.

It is a program that October week on how Jesus set the pattern for those who would follow him, not specifically concerned with how to answer criticism, but also not avoiding the topic, particularly in the final half-hour segment. And Shimei’s tirade is right in there, with David conscious of the abuse he is receiving, and acquiescing to receiving it, as though it were discipline of sorts, as though he says “Well, maybe I had it coming,” even as he expresses hope that perhaps “Jehovah will see…and will actually restore me to goodness instead of his malediction this day.” (vs 12)

Do not think that the Witness Governing Body, as they are teaching others by means of the scriptures, do not also teach themselves. ‘If David was subjected to it, I guess we will be too,’ they seem to say. One should not think that they will not reflect on just how they got into this predicament in the first place, as David surely must have, with stones bouncing off his helmet. They will remedy it to the extent they can, but it will not be at the expense of betraying their prime directive of leading through Bible principles, and they have been loath to pull rank on family heads, reporting abuse which is sometimes entirely within a family, usually a step-family as was the case in Montana, and assume their responsibility or prerogative.

Likely they will say of these courtroom battles as they did of Russia banning the entire organization within its borders, that it is an area of “concern,” but not “worry.” They don’t get overly attached to things, even things of their own devising. They put it all on the line routinely as they do their best to advance kingdom interests, not cowering before their enemies. They plow where they plow as they apply their view of the Bible, unconcerned, sometimes unaware of the quicksand that may get them into, confident that, should that happen, God will somehow get them out of it. They do not deliberately court opposition, but they do expect it. The king makes a law and Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den. Another king makes another law and his friends are thrown into the furnace. Still another king makes another law and the entire nation of Jews faces extermination until Esther the queen opens his eyes to the sinister scheme he has been maneuvered into. It happens to their spiritual descendants to this day and the Witness organization expects no less. They are ‘insular,’ separate from the world, and the latter finds no end of reasons to oppose them for it.

They have really stepped in it this time, or at least it has been made to appear that way. It is not like last year, when Russia banned them, declared the Bible they favor illegal, and confiscated their property, doing so for completely separate reasons that never even mentioned child sexual abuse. It is not like Jehovah’s Witnesses of decades past, trying issue before first amendment issue before the U.S. Supreme Court, nobody engaging more frequently other than the government itself, so that Justice Harlan Fiske Stone wrote: “The Jehovah’s Witnesses ought to have an endowment in view of the aid which they give in solving the legal problems of civil liberties.” No. This time it is the unsavory subject of child sexual abuse, and the question that cannot be answered: If they did not go ‘beyond the law,’ why didn’t they?

Is it to be included as among the “wicked things that they will lyingly say against you?” that Jesus speaks of? (Matthew 5:11) Nobody can ever say that the charge is not wicked, on the same level as first-century charges that Christians were cannibals who burned down Rome. Just possibly it takes their breath away, as it is a legitimate bad that they never saw coming. With Shimei’s stones knocking on their helmet, just possibly the drop to their knees like Hezekiah besieged by an enraged enemy. Just possibly they look to outsiders like deer caught in the headlights while they are doing so. Just possibly they are like Adrian Monk, a good and upright man who nonetheless finds himself both outside of his normal element and in a pickle because he cannot choose which chair in which to sit until Natalie gently pushes him down on whatever one he hovers over at the moment.

Drive this sucker to the Supreme Court, if need be. If they decide to hear it, it will be case number 50-something that Witnesses have tried before that body, more than any other group besides the government itself. Let it be resolved once and for all when the time is right. Many person are being sued over child sexual abuse these days, and it is generally the same scenario. Though groups as the Boy Scouts manifestly benefit children in ways not readily duplicated, their deep pockets permit a pummeling such as cannot be visited on unorganized society, though it be every bit as accommodating to child sexual abuse, only minus the benefits. It will be so with groups that instill religious values into youth, as well.

Don’t be put off by the sordid backdrop. The world wallows in sordidness these days and is accustomed to everyone being accused of everything. The Week Magazine reports (09/03/2018) that referrals of child abuse online images have increased seven-fold over five years. On average, one child in every primary school classroom has received nude or semi-nude pictures from an adult. They respond not always well: “A girl from my primary [was] sending half-naked pictures because it’s what everyone does,” said one. Don’t let this be painted as a Witness pandemic or even a pandemic of any religion. What! It is only where there are deep pockets that child sexual abuse occurs? It is only taxpayer-funded schools, scouting organizations, or faith groups that suffer child sexual abuse? The origins don’t line up. Christianity, where it remains true to its roots, is an offshoot of Judaism, where pedophilia was exceedingly uncommon in Bible times A verse from the Sibylline oracles, a collection of oracular utterances written in Greek hexameters ascribed to the [prophetesses] Sibyls, claims that only the Jews were free from this impurity. They were “mindful of holy wedlock, and they do not engage in impious intercourse with male children, as do Phoenicians, Egyptians and Romans, spacious Greece and many nations of other, Persians and Galatians and all Asia, transgressing the holy law of immortal God, which they transgressed.” 

And where does the mainstream educated world find its underpinnings? Is it not the world of ancient Greece, the cradle of democracy? It is also the cradle of pedophilia, a societally accepted practice no where condemned. The only condemnation to be found is from Christians who withdrew and became insular as regards that world, and it is found in 1 Corinthians 6:9: “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor sodomites nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (NABRE) A footnote to the New American Bible – Revised Edition on ‘boy prostitutes’ and ‘sodomites’ reads: “The Greek word translated as boy prostitutes may refer to catamites, i.e., boys or young men who were kept for purposes of prostitution, a practice not uncommon in the Greco-Roman world. In Greek mythology this was the function of Ganymede, the “cupbearer of the gods,” whose Latin name was Catamitus. The term translated sodomites refers to adult males who indulged in homosexual practices with such boys.” They even had a god for it! 

Montana law being what it appears to be, it is hard to imagine this could not be appealed successfully. The Montana court’s greatest mistake may have been the excessive punitive damages, clearing indicating they felt the Witness organization was trying to violate law. If it can be shown that they made every conscientious effort to follow law, everything might reverse. Whether they are insular or not should not factor in. Separateness from the overall world is not yet a crime. It may factor into public opinion, but not yet that of law.

What would be the repercussions in the event of a higher court reversal? Not necessarily positive for Jehovah’s Witnesses, who always sought, perhaps to a fault, not to ‘sully God’s name.’ It’s a little late to worry about that now. Or maybe it is not. A higher court reversal of the Montana verdict may cause the average person who learns of it to say: “It’s unbelievable! The Court says it’s okay for Jehovah’s Witnesses to abuse children!” But if there was a sincere expression of regret in the interim, for children truly have been harmed, they might say, “Oh. I understand. They did bollox things but now I see how it happened.”

People, by and large, are fair, even when they don’t especially care for Witnesses. They don’t buy for a minute that Jehovah’s Witnesses, Latter Day Saints, Boy Scouts, and taxpayer-backed institutions are the only settings in which child sexual abuse occurs. They understand that these parties have deep pockets, and there is no sense in going after anyone who does not. Yes. A higher court victory giving opportunity to ‘come clean’ as to how the whole mess began may well clean up that Name Witnesses are so concerned about.

Let it be framed as it is. An attack on separate religion, in which child abuse matters are employed as a righteous smokescreen. It is not merely Jehovah’s Witnesses under the gun. It is religion in general and the more determined it is to resist mainstream thinking the more of a target it becomes. Prejudice against the Jehovah’s Witness faith runs deeper than most, and it is a very real child abuse tragedy that enables it to be disguised as justifiable outrage. But the attack on religious freedom ought be the subject of focus.


Is It Time for Jehovah's Witnesses to Apologize? Part 3

(To work one's way through the entire thread, start here.)

A former elder quits his faith and posts his reason here. It is the JW child abuse policy. Yes, he shines as a pillar of conscience. Point taken. Got it.

He chose to leave and there were “many reasons for his decision,” which he does not go into. Abuse policy is not his only reason, though at first glance it might appear that way. He could have reported any abuse allegations to police as he became aware of them. True, he would 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 encourage it. Seemingly he would hold them accountable even if they did encourage it, which they do at present with regard to authorities, and the parents/victims yet declined. They did not encourage it 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. Privately, some Witnesses grumble about how difficult it is to find people home today, at least at the most customary times to call. 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 that he became aware of. 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 counterproductive. The question reverts right back to that of 1919, when the 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 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 the authorities were called the instant any congregation member so much as hiccupped. The very reason there is an expression ‘skeletons in the closet’ is the universal instinct to keep them there, and that universal tendency is exacerbated in direct proportion to consciousness of reputation. Few are more conscious of reputation than the Witness organization, even as though drawing support from a 1 Corinthians 6:7 mission statement.

It is not hard to understand how this can happen, yielding to the instinct to not air dirty laundry. 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 road to traverse.

Everyone except those in Bethel watches the television show Bull today, and there they learn 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 a more contemporary argument 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, fair enough but it plays a little tone deaf, as though suggesting boasting as a motive, that abuse victims might exaggerate 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 pain of those who have suffered abuse. 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. 

He commits these lapses, if lapses they be, 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 seems to show stress cracks.

The ones who appear to be mainly 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 to keep the spotlight focused on 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 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, and even the New York Times swoons over a child model in an 11/22/2017 article. “His eye makeup is better than yours,” it says, and gushes that he has 330,000 Instagram followers. How many of them are pedophiles? Why, the Times does not think of going there. And what of this story, showing that there are clear limits in fighting child sexual abuse. It is not so bad if it is customary where you come from, a Finnish court finds.

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 prevents it as compared to the overall world—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 much less than in the greater world. But that reluctance serves nobody well in this instance.

Are Jehovah’s Witnesses insular? Try these words of Jesus on for insularity: “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 there it tries to extend a helping hand to individuals therein. To the extent contemporary variations of it are not insular, it is due to compromise over time so as to conform to whatever might be disapproved by overall society, something Jehovah’s Witnesses do not do. 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 the Watchtower lawyer could cite his Bible and the judge would follow along, nodding thoughtfully. Even Hayden Covington, a Witness attorney of the 1940’s, renowned for his ability to sass Supreme Court Justices and get away with it, would be hard pressed today.

The Australian government has just issued an apology in the wake of a Royal Commission looking into child sexual abuse, an investigation that 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 take you out of your normal routines 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 answered 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.’

End of Part 3. Part 4 to begin here.

 


Is it Time for Jehovah's Witnesses to Apologize? Part 2

 

First, it may be well to catch up with Part 1.

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. Arguably, then, they failed because they were insular, as she says, 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 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 back then 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 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 beat the rap. 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 look 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 again to declare the statement 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, the source they signed on for, 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 a 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, since almost all cases tried are from 20-30 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 screw 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, careful cultivators of child sexual abusers. 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 nothing.

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 battles, they can quickly assemble whatever they deem 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 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, arguably the most 'true' model. Snuffing out this model in favor of societally evolved ones would be a very fine outcome in the eyes of today’s ‘anti-cultists,’ who will allow that religion can have a place only so long as it is clearly subservient to contemporary life and leaders. Anything not meeting this description they are inclined to label a ‘cult’ that ‘brainwashes’ people through ‘mind-control.’ Those of that spirit of Western anti-cultists 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. Of a prominent Russian anti-cultist, Alexander Dvorkin, who shares Western connections via an French NGO, a human-rights expert has said: he “enjoys disseminating inflammatory narratives and hate speech.” It is no less with anti-cultists here, who further their goals through whatever avenues present themselves.

It may 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, so as to move on with the overall program.

End of Part 2. See Part 3.

 

 


Is it Time for Jehovah's Witnesses to Apologize? Part 1

Elizabeth Chuck wrote an article about Jehovah’s Witnesses and I would have preferred she write one instead about the PTA meeting in her town. It is a normal reaction, for it was news of a huge-dollar verdict against a religious organization I hold dear. Of course I hate to see it; that’s only natural. When you find yourself on the gallows you do not angle for a selfie with the hangman.

Still, if you must hear bad news, hear it from Ms. Chuck, for her news in this case is straight reporting, not one of the hatchet jobs we often get. The topic is the most white-hot topic of all, child sexual abuse, and temptations to whip it into fever pitch are not resisted by all. She does resist it. That’s not to say I might not write it up differently. With every story, it is a matter of which facts you put where. But she doesn’t make any up or deliberately misrepresent them. Having said that, it is not to suggest that even those who do misrepresent do so on purpose. Well…I guess it is to suggest that, but only to suggest. It is not proof positive. When your own people merely say that they ‘abhor child abuse and strive to protect children’, but otherwise do not comment, what’s a reporter to do?

Here’s what I like about the Elizabeth Chuck story:

First of all, it is not like the Matt Volz AP article, picked up by many sources, that expressed seeming bewilderment that “the Jehovah’s Witness cases haven’t received the same national attention” [as the Roman Catholic Church]. Is not the reason a big ‘Duh’? The Montana case abuse under trial was all within a family and church leaders were accused of botching the handling of it, though blameless themselves. It’s a little different than church leaders actually committing the abuse, something which is very rare with Witnesses.

Ms. Chuck correctly (and atypically) makes clear that a “two-witness rule” used by Witnesses “is only for internal modes of discipline and does not prevent a victim from going to the police.” She correctly points out that “there are very strict internal modes of discipline within Jehovah's Witnesses.” Yes. It is not an anything-goes religion. She correctly observes that being disfellowshipped is often a painful experience and serves as a negative incentive to do what might trigger it. So far so good. It might not be as I would phrase it, but it is certainly acceptable reporting.

She stumbles briefly, though not seriously, when she says: “Jehovah's Witnesses are a misunderstood and very self-enclosed group, despite counting some celebrities among its ranks — including Venus and Serena Williams.” She is right that they are misunderstood. The only footnote I would add is about her seeming acquiescence to the common wisdom that groups are validated by having celebrities in their camp, some of whom are the most silly people on earth, living radically different lives than anyone else. However, the miscue is minor, and, after all, I make use of poor Serena Williams, too.

Ms. Chuck does her homework. She consults experts on religion, such as “Mark Silk, a professor and the director of the Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn [who says of Witnesses]: ‘They don't vote. They don't celebrate birthdays and holidays. They don't say the pledge [of allegiance]. They are not just another Christian denomination.’” It is not her fault if she does not know that the guy (likely) has it in for Jehovah's Witnesses, spinning his facts negatively, and the reason is revealed in his very job title: he is a professor at Trinity College. If you do not accept the Trinity teaching, you are toast in the eyes of many of these people. Nonetheless, what the professor says about voting and not pledging allegiance is true enough. He does not mention that if nobody pledged allegiance to human institutions maybe the national king could not pit people so easily against each other in times of war, but that is beyond the scope of his information request. At least he doesn’t inaccurately charge that Jehovah’s Witnesses are disrespectful to country, for there are few people as scrupulous about ‘rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s (taxes) than they. Reporter Chuck relates the words of another expert: “Whatever belief they have or mode of internal discipline they have, they have a biblical justification for it.” I’ll take it. It’s true. We don’t apologize for it. I prefer it infinitely over church reporters saying we are not Christian because we do not accept the Trinity. The reason we not accept it is that its scriptural support is based almost entirely upon taking literally certain passages which, if they were read in any other context, would be instantly dismissed as figure of speech.

She relates dutifully the sparse words of the Watchtower organization that they “abhor child abuse and strive to protect children from such acts,” attributing the sparseness to “a penchant for privacy.” She takes it at face value. She does not imply that they are lying through their teeth, like Mr. Gambacorta did in the Philadelphia Inquirer, dismissing the words as ‘boiler plate,’ and even ending his article with an anecdote of spying artwork at the JW headquarters captioned ‘Jehovah loves children,’ and using it as a pretext to wink at his readers as though to say: ‘Yes, I guess we know just how they love them,’ before returning to his Witness-hating base on a Reddit thread, where he is hailed as a hero. He made me so mad that I responded by letter, and when it was ignored I put it online (and I wish it got more play than it actually does, for it is good, not the whole picture perhaps, but then, what is?  It represents facts not exactly shouted from the rooftops. It offers perspectives not heard anywhere else.)

However, eclipsing her skill at side-stepping all these potential landmines is that she puts her finger on the real problem in the very first paragraph of her article: Jehovah’s Witnesses are ‘insular.’ She doesn’t even try to spin that into a crime, as do some. Most Witnesses would not agree to the label ‘insular’, but that is primarily because they are unfamiliar with it and unsure just what attachments might come with it. They will instantly, even proudly, acknowledge two closely related phrases: they are ‘separate from the world’ and ‘no part of’ it.' It is a scriptural imperative, they will say, because if you want to lend a helping hand, you must be in a place of safety yourself. Not all will agree that life today is constantly-improving. Some will say the overall picture more closely resembles the Titanic floundering. Did I not just read that generalized anxiety has replaced depression as the number one mental health malady? Can that be because there is nothing to worry about in life today? I think not. It is the ramifications of these two views, society is ever-improving vs floundering, that causes most of the ‘misunderstanding’ that opponents of Witnesses speak of.

Witnesses are ‘insular,’ biblically mandated, but here is an instance where that insularity has contributed to a significant tragedy. Witness leaders find themselves in a situation parallel to certain vehicles being exempt from normal traffic laws—say, police and fire emergency vehicles. Yet, in making use of that exemption, a terrible accident results and the public outcry is so great that they are convicted even though following the law. Or, to apply it more accurately, public anger is so great that the law is reinterpreted so that it can be established that they did break it.

I am not a lawyer. I can quickly step out of my depth. Yet most persons reading this section of the Montana child abuse reporting laws would, I suspect, agree that the Witness organization followed the letter of them. They make every effort to do that. The prompt appeal of any Witness judicial committee to their Branch organization is not to see how they can evade child abuse laws, as their opponents often spin it, but how they can be sure their actions are in harmony with them.

On the very bottom of the document ‘Montana Mandatory Reporting Requirements Regarding Children’ is a section labeled ‘Members of the clergy or priests are not required to report when the following condition is met.... if the communication is required to be confidential by cannon law, church doctrine, or established church practice.”

Even “established church practice?” It seems extraordinarily loose, and yet there it is. It is a part of a doctrine called ‘ecclesiastical privilege.’ It has long been encapsulated into law, as has the privileged nature of the doctor-patient relationship and the attorney-client relationship, on the recognition that these relationships cannot function without the expectation of confidentiality.

If such is the law, why is the Witness organization found culpable despite stringent efforts to follow it? Because the war today is against child sexual abuse, deemed the most critical crusade of our time, and they were expected to ‘go beyond the law’ so as to facilitate that end. Thus, the law was reinterpreted so as to allow that they did violate it.

The Witness organization finds itself in a situation similar to that of Joe Paterno, the Penn State coach who was universally praised throughout his life as an excellent role model but then was excoriated beyond redemption when he merely obeyed the law regarding an unspecific allegation he heard of child sexual abuse but did not 'go beyond it.'  He followed it. He reported the allegation to his superiors. But he did not ‘go beyond the law,’ reporting it directly to police. When the allegation turned out to be true, his career was over, and even his life, for he died two years later.

If it is so crucial to ‘go beyond the law,’ then make that the law. This is exactly what Geoffrey Jackson of the Witnesses’ Governing Body pleaded for three times before an Australian Royal Commission. Isn’t that the purpose of law – to codify what is right? Make the law clear, unambiguous, and allow for no exceptions. Jehovah’s Witnesses are universally recognized for meticulously following secular law even as they are primarily guided by biblical law. Make universal mandating the law, with no exceptions. Requiring parties to ‘go beyond the law’ only enables Monday-morning quarterbacking to assign motives, invariably bad ones, to unpopular parties that have failed in this regard.

An article in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle dated November 20th, 2011, observed that “it's a mistake to think that the failure…to report the abuse is a rarity....Studies over the past two decades nationally have consistently shown that nearly two-thirds of professionals who are required to report all cases of suspected abuse fail to do so....."I think that we fail miserably in mandated reporting," said Monroe County Assistant District Attorney Kristina Karle...” Is it not absurdly chaotic to excoriate those who did their best to follow the law when two thirds of all professionals, for a variety of reasons, do not? Does anyone charge that two thirds of all professionals do not give a hoot about children? Plainly there are other factors at work. Yet when the crusade against child sexual abuse reaches fever pitch only one factor is deemed to have any significance.

(The Democrat and Chronicle article is behind a paywall. Snippets of the above quote exist here and there, but to my knowledge, the only complete excerpt is found in a JoePa follow-up article I wrote at the time. All is not lost. Your employer will pay to get you behind that wall, and probably already has an account. Alas, my employer is me, and he likes to cut costs, seeing no need to return there, as he already has what he needs.)

End of Part 1. Part 2 to follow soon.


The Serena Williams Child Doesn't Do Birthdays. Parts 2.5 and 3

Normally the progression is from Part 2 directly into Part 3. It should be here as well, except that Serena Williams reached a landmine of her career in the interim and it cannot be passed over. At the U.S Open she made headlines for converting a physical loss into a moral win. But it depends on who you talk to. If you didn’t like her before, you will dislike her more. If you liked her before you will like her more. I’ll take the latter.

Part 2.5:

The U.S. Open ref with the poofy hair penalized her three times, only the second of which was a slam-dunk for real. When you’re hot, you’re hot, and she blew up at him. Not at first when she said: “We don’t have any code and I know you don’t know that and I understand why you may have thought that was coaching but I’m telling you it’s not. I don’t cheat to win, I’d rather lose. I’m just letting you know.” (The coach said later that he was coaching, but that it happens all the time, and he does it less than most, a point on which sportswriters agreed.)

But she sure did blast him after missing a shot and mashing her racket (which also is common): “You owe me an apology,” she shouted. “I have never cheated in my life, I have a daughter and I stand what’s right for her.” See what motivates her these days? See what she had been stewing about? Her daughter and the example set for her. The same daughter that does not do birthdays.

She called the ref a ‘thief’ for taking away the point that presaged her meltdown and that also counted against her. Men say “F**k you!” to the umpire all the time without consequence, so most agreed that she did catch it on account of being a woman, as she heatedly charged.

Her opponent Osaka won the match, but everyone booed. As soon as Serena noticed her upset and tears, she ran and embraced her and told the crowd not to boo, even through her own tears: “I don’t want to be rude. I don't want to interrupt and I don't want to do questions. I just want to tell you guys she played well and this is her first grand slam,” at which point everyone cheered.

It is so like the Bible admonition to “keep an eye, not on your own interests, but on those of the other person’s” that one wonders if she did not absorb it from her Witness upbringing. Or maybe it is just her and has nothing to do with the Bible. Either way, it means she will make a fine Jehovah’s Witness should she get everything together. She has high reputation. “…people who hate on Serena Williams' "character" obviously don't follower her off the court. She's a competitor between the lines, but a role model off the court as a person and a celebrity,” tweeted sports commentator Jeff Eisenband.

One can even picture Serena retiring at this point. Not that I would will it, necessarily, but it could happen. She is now a mom with suddenly another life to care for, a common turning point in a woman’s life. There are things about Jehovah’s Witnesses and pro sports that are not entirely compatible, such as providing opportunities to blow one’s top. The two courses are not absolutely incompatible, but they pose a challenge.

Part 3:

Part 2 ended with the suggestion that Serena might succeed in showing up the anti-JW Reddit group for what they are. It is a chicken’s way out—say something like that and then close the post, thank you very much, take your beefs to the curb. It is better to take a square look at just what they are. ‘What are they,’ anyway, that Reddit group? They are a motley assortment of people of varying talents, with the common denominator of distaste for discipline and a determination to kick over the traces. It’s regarding the Witness organization here, but the trend is seen everywhere. Despite abundant evidence that unbridled self-determination does not work out particularly well for people, they nonetheless want to go that route. It is the order of the day. People do not want to be ‘told what to do’ by anyone and they are very touchy on what constitutes being ‘told what to do.’ Thwart their definition and you are toast.

If they are to be called ‘apostates,’ they mirror apostates of the first century. Of them, Peter says they “revel in their deceits while carousing with you,” have “eyes full of adultery,” “are insatiable for sin.” How does that become a problem unless there is someone who would tell them they can’t? The governing arrangement back then cannot have been too different from what it is today, given that it oversaw a much smaller field. Plainly, there was discipline then, and the ‘apostasy’ came from those who didn’t like it.

The Reddit grousers carry a range of beefs against the Witness organization, many quite tiny and pumped up, but some more substantial. Of the latter, there are those aggrieved at suffering child sexual abuse, rarely from someone in authority, but occasionally so. They now want a day of reckoning if it turns out that the molester was not turned over to police, regardless of how they were handled through congregational investigation. It is not the same as the Church, where abuse appears common among clergy. With Jehovah’s Witnesses, even after adjusting for size differences, if you want a similar ‘catch,’ you must broaden your nets to include, not just ‘clergy,’ but everybody.

An aggrieved victim of child sexual abuse is proving the most powerful force in the universe these days. Who would ever have thought that the greater world would attempt to ‘out-righteous’ the Christian congregation on this one? It has happened nowhere else. Moreover, the ‘out-righteousing’ is illusory. Despite 30 years combatting pedophiles, there is precious little to show for it. We constantly hear of crimes committed by ones already tagged as abusers—why, they lived right down the street. While reporting abusers is certainly a good thing, decades of doing so has made little dent in the pandemic. Better to focus on prevention, and here there is reason to feel that the Witness regimen and teachings are effective to a greater degree than those of the overall world.

The ‘crime’ alleged of the Jehovah’s Witness organization is rarely an actual crime. It is generally ‘failing to go beyond the law’ in years past, to report abusers, unless members themselves chose to do it. They could have, but often they did not because the Witness religion is ‘insular,’ the charge goes. Being ‘insular’ is but a tiny misstep away from being ‘separate.’ The latter is a biblical requirement of those who would serve God.

You almost wish there would be a statement someday from the Witness organization:

“Look, here’s what happened. We extended 1 Corinthians 6:7 into non-financial matters. We did it because we were insular, an unintended byproduct of being separate. We believe that saying separate from the world is a biblical necessity, the only position from which to help distressed ones in it. “Really, it is already a defeat for you when you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather let yourselves be wronged? Why do you not rather let yourselves be defrauded,” is the verse we extended. We tried to root out child abuse in our midst at a time few others looked into it, and we did the best we could. Sorry.”

Yes, frame it as an apology, if need be. People love apologies and forgive much for it. Determined opposers will not, of course. They will say it is an admission of guilt and/or incompetence and proves you must be fired, but this is par for the course and happens everywhere. Might such a statement stumble some of the ‘sheep’? Possibly, particularly ones who know nothing of it. But it will be more than offset by new persons who admire the candor and can well understand that real Christianity must be separate from a decaying world. And the stumbled ones are not lost. Another mea culpa may do the trick, such as with a 1975 date that didn’t turn out as hoped:

“Um, sorry. We never outright said it, really, but we came close enough to stoke up the hopes of people who hoped to see it that way. At the drop of a pin, Jesus’ followers thought The End was tomorrow. In hindsight, maybe we should have reckoned more on how easy it is to get people going. Still, we did not want to ignore the Lord’s command to ‘keep on the watch’ and the trigger that prompted the excitement was not nothing.”

The former announcement will not make people happy on the Reddit forum; they still have 50 more beefs. But it will many others. Not all victims of injustice within the congregation go the outside legal system and sue their brothers. Most will say: ‘Congregation justice may not be perfect, but it sure is head and shoulders over the justice of the outside world.’ It is a lawyer’s playground out there, with massive transfers of funds in all directions for every conceivable wrong with the barristers netting a third Some congregation members, even wronged ones, will prefer to put their trust in 1 Timothy: “The sins of some men are publicly known, leading directly to judgment, but those of other men become evident later.” It’s not perfect. But it beats the greater world’s justice which so frequently falls down of the job.

Serean 3

 


The Serena Williams Child Does Not Do Birthdays. Part 2

No sooner did I liken Serena Williams to Queen Esther for her possible future role of exposing the evildoers, than someone said: “Um, she’s not exactly Queen Esther, you know. Didn’t she appear bare-naked, unmarried, and pregnant on that Vanity Fair cover? And you know that birth is not like the one of Mary.”

Well, I actually hadn’t thought of that, if I ever knew it in the first place. Still, it changes nothing. She openly acknowledges she likes the faith but has not practiced it. Now she means to. Is it a bad thing when she has, in the past, called herself a Jehovah’s Witness?

You know, ordinarily, yes. But in this case, not necessarily. People love celebrities and will usually concede that they live in a world of their own, facing unique pressures.

For better or for worse, nobody makes a big deal of sex before marriage anymore. I don't even think the news writer of the article that her child won’t do birthdays thought to mention it, or maybe she did and it didn’t register. That people do not make a big deal of it is 'for worse,' usually, because Word says that they should, the but in this case, it is 'for better.'

Totally without evidence, based only upon a feel for the way people are, I think her vehement critics are ones who dislike Jehovah’s Witnesses, who spot the disparity of conduct and want to slam us with it. Besides these ones are many Witnesses themselves, who also spot it. Few others care.

Has she lived up to the faith in the past? She says very openly that she has not. Now she reaches a point where she says she will. I think it is a very good thing. Okay, okay, so she is no Queen Esther. Call her the Samaritan woman by the well, a women who carried on more than Serena ever did off the court, yet lived to be a powerful witness for the Lord.

Do we have a woman who is a mixed bag, having done things good and bad, and who now wants to make them all good? I'll take it every time. it is in the spirit of Jesus, I think, who came to save persons ill who had become aware of their spiritual need. She will straighten out all those things before baptism, of course, should she continue on the path she now says she was to pursue more single-mindedly. Love hopes all things and believes all things. Sometimes it is even proved wrong. But it keeps hoping and believing

Moreover, to go back to the original point of my post, part one, this Reddit group has done Witnesses huge mischief. The Philly reporter used it as his source to write four incendiary anti-JW articles in a row to present a seeming scandal without the context that illuminates it.

This group is trying with all its might to equate Jehovah's Witnesses with the sins of the Catholic church. It is a stretch, because abusers in the Church are clergy. Even after making adjustments for size, if you want to get the same 'catch' among Jehovah's people, you must broaden your net to include, not just 'clergy,' but everybody. That doesn't mean that some are not diligently trying to do it, and equate some 'non-reporting to authorities' in previous years to being actual incubators of child abuse. They are up to no good, and the alleged sin in such cases is generally  'failing to go beyond the law' in reporting such cases to police. I continually make the point that if it is so crucial to 'go beyond the law' then that should become the law, the same point that Geoffrey Jackson, a member of the Witnesses’ Governing Body, made to a recent inquiry.

If Serena was to prompt her husband, the Reddit founder, to weigh in on that group in our favor and expose them for what they are (see upcoming Part 3), I believe she would be forgiven 'a multitude of sins,' even if she never did manage to get it all together in her own life, as she seems to want to do. In fact, in the event of that outcome, and to bring matters full circle, that would be an example of something else Mordecai said to his niece. If salvation does not come through spotless Esther, it will come from some other source. Either way, I’ll take it and say ‘thank you’ to the Lord and see if there is more ammunition lying around.


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Jehovah's Witnesses and Delaware Settles a Class Action Child Abuse Case

Lawsuits are common these days, and Jehovah’s Witnesses recently settled one in Delaware, and paid fines totaling $19,500 to the Delaware Department of Justice. The offense sued over was knowing of cases of child sexual abuse in previous decades and not ‘going beyond the law’ to report them to police agencies. One provision of the settlement was stated here by a lawyer involved:

“A third requirement mandated by Delaware included the signing of an affidavit stipulating that Jehovah’s Witness elders must comply with all Delaware statutes involving the reporting of child abuse.”

This is presented as though it represents a setback to the JW organization. In fact, it is just what Geoffrey Jackson pleaded for three times before the Australian Royal Commission: Make mandatory reporting laws universal, across the board, everywhere. Then it would “make our job so much easier.”

Why should he have to make that plea in 2017? Given the present crusade over child sexual abuse, by now getting quite long-in-the-tooth, seemingly no policy change should be easier. And if this is the patchwork of conflicting laws in 2017, it is not hard to envision what it was in the 80s and 90s, the time period from which almost all of these cases stem, where the prevailing ‘crime’ is not going ‘beyond the law’ with regard to reporting. If it is so crucial to go beyond the law, then surely that should become the law. Condemning ones for not going beyond the law simply allows for Monday morning quarterbacking, assigning invariably bad motives to persons or organizations who are not liked.

My take is that this Delaware stipulation will make Jehovah’s Witnesses quite happy. It alleviates a situation full of minefields for those who feel the responsibility of policing their own for all types of wrongdoing, not just this one. It also means they can pursue their ‘two-witness’ rule to their heart’s content (one witness always being the victim him/herself, another perhaps a similar report of the same individual) without thwarting the interests of the State, which proceeds with different standards of proof.

If a crime is heinous enough, you want somebody to go to jail for it. But we are routinely reading of persons exonerated and released from prison after doing decades of time, convicted over ‘proof’ less strenuous than ‘two-witness’ and finding justice only with the advent of new DNA evidence. That is why Witnesses are not in a hurry to abandon the two-witness standard, a biblical principle which, until recently, was bedrock to Western law. But again, with universal reporting law, it all becomes superfluous. Both can pursue their own missions, neither thwarting the other.

Jehovah’s Witnesses will be happy with this development, I predict. It is a win-win.

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Three Incendiary Articles from the Philadelphia Inqurer

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:


Who Really Abuses Children

The finding that should be spotlighted, though it was not because the mission was something else, is that children appear to be far safer in the Witness community than in the general Australian population. Case Study 54 is a follow-up to Study 29. It sheds light on the situation that will surprise some.52 Study 54 looked at the 17 instances of child abuse from the Witness organization that had occurred in the interim, from August 2015 to January 2017. Nine were historical cases and none involved an elder. All occurred in a familial setting. Of the seventeen, two had refused to report to secular authorities, as they were adult survivors and it was their right not to report. The number of Witnesses in all Australia at the time was 67,418.53

A revealing comparison becomes possible with a pool size large enough to be significant. Out of a total national Australian population of 23,968,973,54 the Australian Institute of Family Studies reported 355,925 notifications of child abuse stemming from 225,487 children (2015-2016). 12% of that number was determined to be child sexual abuse, and so the 225,487 becomes 27,058.55 From the Jehovah’s Witnesses figures, seventeen notifications of abuse over seventeen months is one per month. Let us therefore call it twelve, so that time periods of all figures equalize. Twelve abuse incidents were reported among the 67,418 Witnesses in Australia during the same one-year period that 27,058 child sexual abuse cases were reported among the entire Australian population of 23,968,973.

The figures to be used for comparative purposes are: Greater Australia:  27,058 / 23,968,973, which represents .1129% vs Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia:  12 / 67,418, which represents .0178% From these figures it would appear that a child in the Witness community is six times safer than a child in the greater Australian community. From them the conclusion can be drawn that if greater Australia had experienced child sexual abuse in the same proportion as that of Jehovah’s Witnesses, it would have experienced but 4,510 incidences of child sexual abuse, not the 27,058 it actually did experience. Thus, there were 22,458 annual incidences of child sexual abuse that would not have occurred had the entire country had the abuse prevention record of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The ARC focused on 1006 JW reports of abuse over a 60-year period. They could not be expected to focus on the 22,458 reports in one year. That was not their job. They focused on the 1006 reports over 60 years, which was their job. They were not able to look at any other entire denominations because none of them tracked abuse among their parishioners. They themselves tracked no record of perpetrator by religion, unless that figure was supplied by the religion itself, to be handed over upon demand. There is thus ‘negligence’ on two counts: one, of religious organizations keeping no record of abuse among their parishioners, as though none had ever occurred, and two: of Australian authorities themselves who failed to ascertain religious affiliation of perpetrators. One or the other should have happened for them to condemn the one faith proactive enough to maintain the records that show, upon number-crunching, that they were preventing child sexual abuse six times better. In many settings, negligence is a punishable offense. In this setting, negligence is rewarded and proactiveness is punished.

There is only so far you can go with the ‘six times better’ figure. It should not be relied upon as dogma. It is processed notifications into varying levels of severity on one side versus unprocessed notifications on the other. It is most likely that the 17 notifications from the Witness camp will break down similarly to stats overall, but this cannot be guaranteed. Small variations alter the results dramatically and large variations make it all but meaningless.  It is good only for a ballpark figure, the best that can be hoped for given that the ones who should have put their talents to work in ascertaining truth chose instead to bury theirs in the ground. It will have to do for now. Adjusted results from data clarification doesn’t have to work against Witnesses. It could work in their favor. If notifications in the greater Australian figures outnumbered victims, that could be true in the Witness figures as well. Maybe even all 17 reports stem from a single rotter like that fellow in San Diego. Kneecap that scoundrel and the record is perfect. We live in a world of buzzwords and catchphrases, few of which will endure rigorous shaking. It is enough to employ our ‘six times better’ figure as a starting bid and concede that further bids might alter the picture in either direction. Therefore, from henceforth, we will merely state that the Witness record of prevention is ‘significantly above’ that of the general population.

Addressing an instance of child sexual abuse ‘properly’ does not mean that it did not occur. It suggests the grief counselors dispatched to the school after a school shooting. Adults reassure themselves that they have addressed the situation properly. However, any student in the school will instantly say it would have been far superior had there been no need for grief counselors in the first place. The transcending lesson to take away from this hearing is not the 1006 abuse victims whose cases were not handled properly in the eyes of Australian authorities. It is the likely 22,458 cases of abuse nationwide (in a single year) that would not have happened were greater society able to imitate the record of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

It is so very typical of this world to relentlessly focus on post-disaster clean-up and completely ignore prevention. Is it not because prevention involves some limits placed upon free expression and some judgements made about morality? Even so, prevention is what should be given priority. ‘Handling child sexual abuse cases correctly’ essentially amounts to securing the barn door after the cows have fled. It is not unproductive to do this, but it is far better for them not to flee in the first place, and the Jehovah’s Witness record on this is significantly better than non-Witnesses. There may be more of these investigations to come. Those who despise Jehovah’s Witnesses are determined that their child sexual abuse policy will headline every one of them. The ‘star’ of Witness policy not aligning with policy of the greater world will continue to burn bright for such ones, but over time the rising star of the superior Witnesses’ overall prevention rate will burn brighter.

One can and should empathize with the two sexual abuse survivors of Witness background interviewed by the Commission. Their testimony is distressing, though no more so than the thousands of abuse cases the ARC heard in all settings. Yet somewhere along the line it ought to be acknowledged that there are far fewer abuse cases among Jehovah’s Witnesses than elsewhere due to their immersion in a culture where Bible principles were emphasized. Put simply, the Australian Royal Commission found much fault with how Witnesses handled cases of child sexual abuse. But they missed entirely the fact that there were 83% less of them to handle, per the Case 54 figures. Doubtless, the overall moral climate prevailing among Jehovah’s Witnesses accounts for the difference. Had the ARC not missed this fact, they might even have recommended that all persons in Australia become Jehovah’s Witnesses. And they might have awarded Jehovah’s Witnesses a Family Glory award, just like Putin did to the Russian Witness family.

From chapter 12 (Pedophiles) of 'Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah's Witnesses Write Russia'

 


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:

https://www.jw.org/en/news/legal/legal-resources/information/packet-jw-scripturally-based-position-child-protection/

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.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/815620

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.

Respectfully,

Tom Harley

See Part 2 and Part 3