The Old Testament tells some very strange tales and one of them is told at 2 Samuel. David, the Israelite king, pressured facing an armed insurrection led by his own son, enters a town where loyalty is not assured. As it turns out, 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)
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 kick in his head?”
This obscure passage was included twice in recent meeting programming, though it was the focus of neither. I think that the Governing Body inserts it and applies it to itself. Do not think that they throw Bible verses at everyone else while they crest above it all themselves. No. They themselves are chastened by it. Even as the Witness who first dreamed up keeping track of pedophiles, whoever he may be, is probably on potato-peeling duty in the Bethel kitchen and will be till the day he dies—do not think that they are not reflecting upon how they got into this situation so easily spun negatively, even as David must have reflected upon how he got into the mess he was into, with stones bouncing off his helmet.
There is a verse in Ecclesiastes about being “righteous overmuch:” “Do not become righteous overmuch, nor show yourself excessively wise. Why should you cause desolation to yourself?” How might either course cause “desolation to yourself?” Might it not be that both courses are guaranteed to trigger backlash? “Wise” is okay, even good, for who wants to suffer stupid people? But if one shows oneself “excessively wise,” it too readily slides into becoming “full of oneself.” “Righteous is okay, even good, for who wants to associate with lowlifes? But “righteous overmuch” also too readily slides into becoming “full of oneself.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses did not consciously cover up child sexual abuse. They handle it internally with punishments as severe as excommunication—you can’t execute them, after all—and it has always been written policy—from the moment it occurred to anyone to write about it—that any member is free to report to outside authorities any abuse of which he or she becomes aware. But could it be argued that they inadvertently covered up child sexual abuse? Here one must pause and consider.
Almost any setting in which human beings interact is being revealed these days as steeped in child sexual abuse. It is endemic to human society. If Jehovah’s Witnesses had said: “Oh, man, we’re having a struggle with this bunch, too!” all would have been well. Not with their most virulent detractors, of course, who principally zero in child sexual abuse within the ranks of their former faith. But everyone else would have understood. Most would even have given Witnesses high marks for attempting to do something about the problem, creating an internal sex offender registry long before anyone else thought to do it. They would have understood that the program is not to protect child molesters but to mete out strong discipline and protect congregation members from them.
Unfortunately, those of the “righteous overmuch” mindset were loath to communicate the notion that child sexual abuse could ever occur among those guided by Bible standards. To that end, a culture emerged in which ones suffering it were loath to communicate it outside so as not to “sully God’s name.” It is hardly just Jehovah’s Witnesses. The very reason that there is an expression “skeletons in the closet” is that people once succeeded in keeping them there. No organization has proved eager to reveal whatever child sexual abuse has been found in its midst. That is usually because whatever organization it is believes that overall it is doing much good and does not want to tarnish its image and thereby cripple itself. Yes, “they are commendably proactive over there,” they know will be the reaction of some, but they fear “they are all a bunch of perverts over there!” will be the reaction of most.
This understandable, if not laudable, misgiving is common to all. With Jehovah’s Witnesses there is an added factor. They have attempted to do something about child sexual abuse within their midst, and thereby they become linked with it in the popular mind. Others have circled the wagons when it comes to child sexual abuse among their leaders, but the prospect of being shamed by having it uncovered among their membership does not worry them—there is no mechanism to uncover it; when a pedophile abuser is nabbed by the police, the church minister is as surprised as anyone.
Jehovah’s Witnesses thereby have greater ‘exposurability’ than most; hence the temptation not to advertise it will also be greater than most. The ones “righteous overmuch” have caused tremendous trouble in this regard, it seems to this writer, in creating a culture in which persons will be reluctant to go to outside authorities even though they know they have every right to do it. Reputation of their faith becomes the overriding concern for them. It does not affect all Witnesses, of course, but it does affect a high proportion.
The underlying attitude is not easy to root out, for several reasons. First, it is a common circumstance with anyone having a goal to “do what is right,” and certainly the doing of what is right is not to be discouraged. Secondly, it is not as though there are two factions among Jehovah’s Witnesses, as though rivaling street gangs. Rather, as with people anywhere, there is a spectrum. Separating the wheat from the chaff is not so easy, for there is a mixture of both in everyone—which leads to the third consideration: an actual application of scripture by a group of persons will almost inevitably lead to the present situation, because Christians who are Bible-based are by definition “no part of the world” (John 17:14, for example: “I [Jesus in prayer to his Father] have given your word to them, but the world has hated them, because they are no part of the world.”) The “insularity” that critics of Jehovah’s Witnesses complain of is virtually mandated by the Bible they try to follow. That’s what insulation is—a device to keep something away from what is harmful. The house insulation keeps the harmful cold out. The wire insulation keeps the harmful electricity in. In many cases, good things will not work if they cannot be insulated, and it is the same with Christianity true to the Book.
That said, looking at the overall situation of child sexual abuse, one would easily surmise that something must have gone wrong. Jesus’ words to his followers may be true that they will “lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against you,” (Mathew 5:11) but in this case some will not be so sure about the “lyingly.” Even if it is misrepresented, there must be something to it at root—and in this case it involves hurt children.
Legal accountability is argued over in court each day, and this writer does not comment on individual court cases. He did not comment on OJ or Michael Jackson or Paul Manifort or any of them. They involve persons that one doesn’t know and 99% percent testimony that one doesn’t hear. Cancel trials altogether and determine outcomes based upon Facebook likes if we are expected to all weigh in on with such minimal input.
Everyone sues everybody these days over everything. Lawyers have assumed the place as premiere sponsors of television news. Only vaccine makers operate liability free. Legal chips will fall where they will—everyone understands that. But it is the “righteous overmuch” ones who somehow missed the fact that those outside of the congregation also cared about children. They were so insulated that they barely knew another world existed, and that is what most rankles. That is the soul-searching that must remain as a lesson. That is what David will most likely take away from the stones pounding his helmet. They look like deer caught in the headlights sometimes—aghast and dumbfounded at how what started with such good intentions some now portray as so deliberately evil.
The Witness website contains not a mention of the child sexual abuse court litigation, though there is abundant material on Russian persecution. Perhaps it is simply due to the same reason that one does not expect to find a citation from the Building Department on the restaurant menu. At any rate, it certainly is the case that once one starts addressing the critics one never stops, so the Witness Governing Body overall heeds the recommendation of Jesus expressed at Mathew 11 to not go there—they criticize you no matter what you do, so it is best to ignore it all, press on ahead, and maybe someone else will come to your defense as you trust that “wisdom [will be] proved righteous by its works.”
In the final analysis, anyone visiting jw.org and perusing the abundant material geared to help children, teens, and family must work very hard to leave with the impression that here is an organization that abuses children. It is not that it cannot be done, but only if one has that notion locked-in previously, as (an old friend used to say, about Witness beliefs in general, and not this specifically) one who has a mind of concrete: “all mixed up and firmly set.” The experience is not all that different from Russia declaring Jehovah’s Witnesses extremists. Curiosity piqued, some visit the website to investigate, where they very quickly discover that they are not.
As the divide between what is Bible-based living widens from that of general society, the temptation to allow harmful aftereffects from “insulation” must be resisted, even as the insulation itself must continue. The inevitable divide of lifestyle itself is easily seen in scripture. “In my letter I wrote you to keep mixing in company with fornicators,” the apostle writes at 1 Corinthians 5:9, “not meaning entirely with the fornicators of this world or the greedy persons and extortioners and idolaters. Otherwise, you would actually have to get out of the world. But now I am writing you to quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator that is a fornicator or a greedy person or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man.”
Okay? The direction to separate and stay separate is very strong. It also flies in the face of current philosophy that we are to “come together” and overlook such differences. Differences that are not ones of conduct Jehovah’s Witnesses from their beginning came together on—those of race and nationality and social class—but differences in conduct the Word says is to be put into another category.
1 Peter 4:3 tells of the rising tensions that are inevitable with regard to two different ways of life: “For the time that has passed by is sufficient for you to have worked out the will of the nations when you proceeded in deeds of loose conduct, lusts, excesses with wine, revelries, drinking matches, and illegal idolatries,” says the writer, but not all will agree. Not everyone would consider what he has listed as so terrible, and many would think a little of all of them is a good thing that adds spice to life. Peter goes on to say: “Because you do not continue running with them in this course to the same low sink of debauchery, they are puzzled and go on speaking abusively of you.” Okay? They are puzzled about it at first but soon enough figure out what to do about it. “Water’s fine in the low sink!” they cry. “Who are you to judge?”
Separation of Christians from the overall world is scripturally mandated. Any attempt to chastise the Witness organization for being that way is actually an attempt to chastise Christianity itself and the Book that it stems from. Still, one must take care not to inadvertently aggravate this situation by being “righteous overmuch.”
Hopefully, somewhere along the line it will be seen that failure to report child sexual abuse is not to be equated to committing it. Court matters will resolve as they will and matters will settle. The most virulent of ex-Witness opposers were barely placated at all by the recent May 2019 study edition Watchtower that essentially solved the problem, by removing all doubt that reporting child sexual abuse to outside authorities DOES NOT bring reproach upon the congregation. They will continue to rail about the “two-witness” rule, which now becomes irrelevant. Report the slimeball to the cops and, if guilty, off to the hoosegow he goes. The “two-witness rule” is for internal procedures only. The reason they are not too quick in the Witness world to throw it out the window emerges every time a person falsely imprisoned is exonerated and released from prison over new DNA evidence, after having served years convicted over less strenuous proof.
Meanwhile in Russia, where any connection of Jehovah’s Witnesses to child sexual abuse is completely unheard of and the charge has never been made:
On March 26, 2019, in the town of Yemanzhelinsk (Chelyabinsk Region) at about 7 a.m., there was a soft knock at the door of the apartment where the couple Pavel and Elena Popov live. When they opened the door, they saw about 10 people in masks with assault weapons and a sledge hammer for breaking the door out.
The Popovs were informed that a search would be conducted in their home due to the fact that they profess the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their computer, phones, tablets, family photos, books and international passports were confiscated. After the search, the pair was taken away for questioning in another city. According to law enforcement officers, whether they will be detained, “depends on how they will cooperate.” (Law enforcers across the country threaten believers to intimidate them into incriminating themselves or others by “confessing” that they are carrying out extremist activities.)
This sort of story from Russia is becoming quite common. The game of good cop/ bad cop continues. Both cops want for the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses to stop. Both cops cloak their attacks in misrepresented threats posed by this decidedly peaceful group—among the very few peoples who swear off violence on all accounts.
Recent meeting congregation material considered Hebrews 12:3: “Indeed, consider closely the one who has endured such hostile speech from sinners against their own interests, so that you may not get tired and give up.”
Why ought one “consider closely” the fact that Jesus “endured such hostile speech” from those who opposed him? “So that one may not get tired and give up.”
Hostile speech always pastes one’s ears back, unless persons are completely insensitive. Few today ever really hear that about Jesus: that he endured “hostile speech” as a matter of course. The reason is plain. If Jesus was the subject of hostile speech—and we all know that Jesus was good—then it follows that anyone venting on him is not-so-good. Since the bulk of people today are pretty much where they were then, to highlight the hostile talk he endured amounts to little more than self-condemnation. The world has rejected Christianity. Mark Twain was not so far off when he wrote that there has only been one Christian and “they caught and crucified him—early.” It is easy to see why he puts it in such short supply. Try sincerely to follow the Christ and they come after you as well.
“Nevertheless, I have told you these things [again, these things about the hostile talk and opposition Christians would face] so that when the hour for them to happen arrives, you will remember that I told them to you,” Jesus counsels disciples at John 16:4. The hour pretty much has arrived for Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are enduring just that hostile talk, not only in Russia, but in the West. Ostensibly it is for different reasons. The most virulent hostile talk in the West has never been heard in Russia. The meeting material is increasingly geared to reinforcing ones’ faithfulness in the face of hostile talk and even action, and that is obviously the enemies’ motivation to deprive them of it.
When Jehovah’s Witnesses are declared extremists in Russia and then, being “extremists,” cannot be detained as one might arrest a speeder, but must be violently arrested with SWAT teams, then you know that the “bad cop” is alive and well. But the overall scenario—Russian and Western—is that of good cop/bad cop, for the goals of the good cop are the same as the bad cop: that Jehovah’s Witnesses cease being Jehovah’s Witnesses and that the kingdom message that they alone preach should cease. To that end differently tactics are used—in the West it is something so scurrilous as child sexual abuse—but the overall goal is the same.
A brief moment of levity was provided by Sergey Skrynnikov, who told the Russian court as part of his closing statement before sentencing: “Let us take a look into the future. If for another ten years or so the government keeps putting Jehovah’s Witnesses in prisons and correctional colonies, there will be about 200 of them in each penal facility. Imagine four congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in one prison! The prison administrators will be begging the Ministry of Justice to set Jehovah’s Witnesses free. What do you imagine the majority of Witnesses would pray for? “Lord, don’t soften the heart of the administrator; don’t let him set me free. I have so many Bible students and sincere people to talk to in here.”
He sort of has a way with words, doesn’t he? And math.
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