On JW.org, one can find the official position of Jehovah’s Witnesses regarding the protection of children.  (This does not rise to the level of a policy paper, something which the leadership of JW.org seems reluctant to write.)  You can click on the title, Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Scripturally Based Position on Child Protection, to view the PDF file for yourself.

The title gives the reader the reassurance that this position is based on Scripture.  That turns out to be true only in part.  The second numbered paragraph in the document assures the reader that this has been a “long-standing and widely published Scripturally based position of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”  This is also only true in part.  Brother Gerrit Losch has defined half-truths as lies, which we believe aptly qualifies the two points we’ve just mentioned.  We will demonstrate why we believe that to be so.

One must bear in mind that like the Pharisees and other religious leaders of Jesus’ day, Witnesses have two laws: the written law found in the publications; and the oral law, communicated via Governing Body representatives such as the circuit overseers and the Service Desk and Legal Desk at the branch offices.  Like the Pharisees of old, the oral law always takes precedence.

We should also bear in mind that this document is not a policy document, but an official position. One of the recommendations that came out of the Australia Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was for the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses to have an organization-wide written policy for dealing with child sexual abuse, something which the Governing Body has made only half-baked attempts at implementing to the present day.

With all the above in mind, let us begin our critical review of this “official position document”.

  1. Children are a sacred trust, “an inheritance from Jehovah.”—Psalm 127:3

No argument here.  As to whether this is a public relations ploy or a sincere statement of the feeling that the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses have toward children can only be evaluated by looking at their deeds.  As the saying goes: “Actions speak louder than words”; or as Jesus put it, “By their fruits you will recognize those men.” (Mt 7:20)

  1. The protection of children is of utmost concern and importance to all Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is in harmony with the long-standing and widely published Scripturally based position of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as reflected in the references at the end of this document, which are all published on jw.org

This paragraph point fairly shouts: “Look how open and honest we are about all this!”  This is likely a counterpoint to the constant and well-founded accusations of child sexual abuse victims and their advocates that the organization’s policies and procedures are shrouded in secrecy.

Please note that none of the references published at the end of this document constitutes an official policy.  Missing are references to Letters to the Bodies of Elders or references to material such as the elders’ manual, Shepherd the Flock of God.  These do constitute something of an adhoc written policy, but the position of the Governing Body is that such communications must be kept secret.  Imagine if the laws of your country were kept secret from the citizenry!  Imagine if the human resource policies of the company that employed you were kept secret from the very employees affected by those policies!

In an organization claiming to follow and emulate the Christ, we must ask, “Why all the secrecy?”

  1. Jehovah’s Witnesses abhor child abuse and view it as a crime. (Romans 12:9) We recognize that the authorities are responsible for addressing such crimes. (Romans 13:1-4) The elders do not shield any perpetrator of child abuse from the authorities.

This third paragraph point cites Romans 12:9 where Paul evokes some truly beautiful imagery.

“Let your love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is wicked; cling to what is good.” (Romans 12:9)

We have all seen two people deeply in love clinging to another, or a terrified child clinging desperately to its parent.  That is the imagery we should have in mind when we find something that is good. A good thought, a good principle, a good habit, a good emotion—we want to cling to such things.

On the other hand, abhorrence goes beyond hatred and way beyond dislike. The face of a person viewing something they abhor tells you all you need to know about how they truly feel.  No additional words are required. When we watch videos in which Organization representatives are being interviewed or cross-examined, when we read or watch real-life experiences revealed in the news media, when we read a position paper like this one, do we feel the abhorrence that the Organization claims to have?  Do we likewise feel their clinging love for what is good?  How do your local elders fare in this regard?

That the Governing Body knows its responsibility before God is evident in the Position Paper’s reference made to Romans 13:1-4. Unfortunately, verse 5, which bears on this, was excluded.  Here is the full quote from the New World translation.

“Let every person be in subjection to the superior authorities, for there is no authority except by God; the existing authorities stand placed in their relative positions by God. Therefore, whoever opposes the authority has taken a stand against the arrangement of God; those who have taken a stand against it will bring judgment against themselves. For those rulers are an object of fear, not to the good deed, but to the bad. Do you want to be free of fear of the authority? Keep doing good, and you will have praise from it; for it is God’s minister to you for your good. But if you are doing what is bad, be in fear, for it is not without purpose that it bears the sword. It is God’s minister, an avenger to express wrath against the one practicing what is bad. There is therefore compelling reason for you to be in subjection, not only on account of that wrath but also on account of your conscience.” (Romans 13:1-5)

By stating that “The elders do not shield any perpetrator of child abuse from the authorities”, the Governing Body has put its position in the active tense.  Certainly, we do not envision elders standing guard at the doors of the kingdom Hall, giving sanctuary to a child abuser hidden within, while the police seek entry. But what about the passive way in which a child abuser might be shielded from the authorities? The Bible says:

“. . .Therefore, if someone knows how to do what is right and yet does not do it, it is a sin for him.” (James 4:17)

If you were to hear the screams of a woman being raped, or the cries of a man being murdered, and you did nothing, would you consider yourself to be truly innocent of any complicity in the crime? Qui Tacet Consentire Videtur, Silence Grants Consent.  By doing nothing to bring criminals within their purview to justice, the Organization has repeatedly granted tacit consent to their crimes.  They have shielded these criminals from the consequences of their actions.  If these elders and Organization leaders were themselves the victims of such criminal acts, would they remain silent? (Mt 7:12)

Do we really need something printed in the law books of the land, or even in the publications of the organization, to tell us what to do in such instances? Do we need to wait for the Service or Legal Desk to dictate how our conscience should act?

This is why Paul referenced our conscience in verse 5 when speaking about subjection to the governmental authorities.  The word “conscience” literally means “with knowledge”. It is the first law given to men. It is the law which Jehovah implanted into our mind. We are all created, in some miraculous way, “with knowledge”—that is, with the basic knowledge of what is right and what is wrong. One of the first phrases a child learns to utter, often with great indignation, is, “That’s not fair!”

In 1006 cases over a span of 60 years the elders in Australia, informed by the Legal and/or Service Desk as is the custom, failed to report a single case of child sexual abuse to the superior authorities. Even in cases where they had two witnesses or a confession and were thus dealing with a known pedophile, they failed to inform the authorities. According to Romans 13:5, the “compelling reason” to inform the authorities is not fear of punishment (“the wrath”), but rather on account of one’s conscience—the knowledge given to us by God of what is right and wrong, wicked and just. Why did not a single elder follow his conscience in Australia?

The Governing Body states on behalf of Jehovah’s Witnesses everywhere that ‘they abhor child abuse’, and ‘they know the authorities are responsible for dealing with criminals’, and that ‘child sexual abuse is a crime’, and that ‘they do not shield criminals’. However, by their actions, they have practiced the very opposite belief in country after country as demonstrated by the numerous court cases being fought and lost—or more so now, settled—in developed countries, and by the negative news articles and expository documentaries that have been published and broadcast in recent months.

  1. In all cases, victims and their parents have the right to report an accusation of child abuse to the authorities. Therefore, victims, their parents, or anyone else who reports such an accusation to the elders are clearly informed by the elders that they have the right to report the matter to the authorities. Elders do not criticize anyone who chooses to make such a report.—Galatians 6:5.

Again, the written law says one thing, but the oral law has proven to reveal another. Perhaps this will now change, but the intent of this document is to indicate that this is the way things have always been. As stated in point 2, this is “the long-standing and widely published Scripturally based position of Jehovah’s Witnesses”.

Not so!

Victims and their parents or guardians have often been discouraged from reporting by using the reasoning that doing so would bring reproach on Jehovah’s name.  In quoting Galatians 6:5, the Organization appears to be putting “the load” or responsibility for reporting on the parents and/or victim.  But the self-assumed load of the elders is to protect the congregation, and particularly the little ones.  Have they been carrying that load?  We are all to be judged on how well we carry our own load.

The Uzzah Presumption

The reasoning that has been used for decades to dissuade victims and their guardians from reporting the crime of child sexual abuse to the authorities has been that doing so “might bring reproach on Jehovah’s name.”  This sounds like a valid argument at first blush, but the fact that the organization is now paying out millions of dollars in settlements, and even more so, the fact that the name which they carry so proudly is being tarnished in countless news articles, Internet groups, and video broadcasts, indicates that this is flawed reasoning. Perhaps a Bible account will help us understand exactly how presumptuous this line of reasoning is.

There was a time in King David’s day that the Philistines had stolen the ark of the covenant, but because of a miraculous plague they were forced to hand it back. In transporting it back to the tent of the covenant, the priests failed to follow the law which required it to be carried by the priests using long poles which were passed through rings on the side of the ark. Instead, it was placed on an oxcart. At some point, the cart was nearly upset and the ark was in danger of falling to the ground. An Israelite named Uzzah “thrust his hand out to the Ark of the True God and grabbed hold of it” to steady it. (2 Samuel 6:6) However, no ordinary Israelite was allowed to touch it.  Uzzah was instantly struck dead for his irreverent and presumptuous act. The fact is, Jehovah was perfectly capable of protecting the ark. He didn’t need anyone else to help him do it. Assuming the responsibility for protecting the ark was an act of supreme presumptuousness, and it got Uzzah killed.

No one, including the Governing Body, should assume the role of Protector of God’s Name. To do so is an act of presumptuousness. Having assumed this role for many decades now, they are now paying the price.

Returning to the position paper, paragraph 5 says the following:

  1. When elders learn of an accusation of child abuse, they immediately consult with the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses to ensure compliance with child abuse reporting laws. (Romans 13:1) Even if the elders have no legal duty to report an accusation to the authorities, the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses will instruct the elders to report the matter if a minor is still in danger of abuse or there is some other valid reason. Elders also ensure that the victim’s parents are informed of an accusation of child abuse. If the alleged abuser is one of the victim’s parents, the elders will inform the other parent.

We just read Romans 12:9 which opens with the words: “Let your love be without hypocrisy.”  It is hypocritical to say one thing and then do another.  Here we are told that the branch office, even in the absence of a specific law requiring reporting of allegations of child sexual abuse, “will instruct the elders to report the matter if a minor is still in danger of abuse or there is some other valid reason.”

There are two things wrong with this statement. The first and most important point is that it is presumptuous and goes against the Scriptures.  It is not for unqualified men to determine whether or not to report a crime. God has appointed a minister, the rulers of this system of things, to deal with crimes. It is up to them to determine whether a crime has been committed or not; whether it should be prosecuted or not.  That is not the role of some civilian authority like the Governing Body, nor the Service/Legal Desk at the branch office level.  There are duly appointed government agencies trained and equipped to carry out proper forensic investigations so as to determine the truth of the matter. The branch office is getting its information secondhand, often from the mouths of men whose life experience is limited to cleaning windows and vacuuming office spaces.

The second problem with this statement is that it falls into the category of a man who has been caught cheating on his wife and promises never to do it again. Here, we are assured that the branch office will direct the elders to report any matters in which a child is in danger, or if there is another valid reason for doing so.  How do we know they will do this?  Certainly not based on their pattern of behavior up to now.  If, as they claim, this is a “long-standing and widely published position”, why have they failed to live up to it for decades as demonstrated not only by the findings of the ARC, but also by facts made public in numerous court transcripts of cases in which the Organization has had to pay millions of dollars in damages for failing to properly protect its children?

  1. Parents have the primary responsibility for the protection, safety, and instruction of their children. Therefore, parents who are members of the congregation are encouraged to be vigilant in exercising their responsibility at all times and to do the following:
  • Have direct and active involvement in their children’s lives.
  • Educate themselves and their children about child abuse.
  • Encourage, promote, and maintain regular communication with their children. —Deuteronomy 6:6, 7;

Proverbs 22:3. Jehovah’s Witnesses publish an abundance of Bible-based information to assist parents to fulfill their responsibility to protect and instruct their children.—See the references at the end of this document.

All this is true, but what place does it have in a position paper? It seems like a transparent attempt to shift the responsibility and blame to the parents.

It should be understood that the organization has set itself up as a government over Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is evident by the fact that whenever there is a case of child sexual abuse, the victim and/or the victim’s parents have gone to the elders first. They are being obedient.  They have been instructed to deal with the matter internally. You will notice that no instructions are given here, even at this late date, telling parents to report these crimes to the police first, then taking them to the elders only as a secondary function. This would make sense, since the police will be able to provide evidence that the elders simply are not equipped to gather. The elders could then make a much more informed decision, while the primary goal of protecting the child immediately would be served. After all, how are elders empowered to protect the child that may still be in danger. What capability, what capacity, what authority do any of them have to actively protect not only the victim, but all other children in the congregation under their care, as well as the community at large?

  1. Congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses do not separate children from their parents for the purpose of instruction or other activities. (Ephesians 6:4) For example, our congregations do not provide or sponsor orphanages, Sunday schools, sports clubs, day-care centers, youth groups, or other activities that separate children from their parents.

While this is true, it raises the question: Why are there so many cases of child sexual abuse per capita within the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses versus churches where these practices do exist?

  1. Elders strive to treat victims of child abuse with compassion, understanding, and kindness. (Colossians 3:12) As spiritual counselors, the elders endeavor to listen carefully and empathetically to victims and to console them. (Proverbs 21:13; Isaiah 32:1, 2; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; James 1:19) Victims and their families may decide to consult a mental-health professional. This is a personal decision.

This may be the case some of the time, but published evidence has shown that it is often not so.  The ARC encouraged the Organization to include qualified sisters in the process, but this recommendation was rejected.

  1. Elders never require victims of child abuse to present their accusation in the presence of the alleged abuser. However, victims who are now adults may do so, if they wish. In addition, victims can be accompanied by a confidant of either gender for moral support when presenting their accusation to the elders. If a victim prefers, the accusation can be submitted in the form of a written statement.

The first statement is a lie.  The evidence is public that elders have often required a victim to face her accuser.  Remember, this position paper is being put forward as a “long standing and well published” position.  Point 9 amounts to a new policy position, but it is too little too late to save the Organization from the PR nightmare that is currently plaguing Jehovah’s Witnesses in North America, Europe, and Asia.

  1. Child abuse is a serious sin. If an alleged abuser is a member of the congregation, the elders conduct a Scriptural investigation. This is a purely religious proceeding handled by elders according to Scriptural instructions and is limited to the issue of membership as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. A member of the congregation who is an unrepentant child abuser is expelled from the congregation and is no longer considered one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. (1 Corinthians 5:13) The elders’ handling of an accusation of child abuse is not a replacement for the authorities’ handling of the matter.—Romans 13:1-4.

This is correct, but we should be concerned by what is not said.  First, it states that the “Scriptural investigation…is purely a religious proceeding…[that is]…limited to the issue of membership”.  So if a man rapes a child and then repents, and is thus allowed to continue to remain a member, albeit with some limitations restricting his future privileges…that’s it?  That’s what the judicial case is all about?  Even that would be acceptable if what followed was a directive from the Governing Body in print to the effect that the matter should then be reported to the superior authorities in compliance with Romans 13:1-5.  Remember, we are told that this is a Scripturally based position!

Stating that “The elders’ handling of an accusation of child abuse is not a replacement for the authorities’ handling of the matter”, is merely a statement of fact. What an excellent opportunity has been missed for instructing the elders categorically that Romans 13:1-4 (cited in the paragraph) requires them to report the matter.

  1. If it is determined that one guilty of child sexual abuse is repentant and will remain in the congregation, restrictions are imposed on the individual’s congregation activities. The individual will be specifically admonished by the elders not to be alone in the company of children, not to cultivate friendships with children, or display any affection for children. In addition, elders will inform parents of minors within the congregation of the need to monitor their children’s interaction with the individual.

This paragraph contains another lie. I do not know if it is now the policy—perhaps revealed in some recent letter to the bodies of elders—that “elders will inform parents of minors within the congregation of the need to monitor their children’s interaction with” a known pedophile, but I can state that this was not the policy as recently as 2011. Recall that this document is being put forward as a long-standing position. I remember the five-day elders’ school in that year in which the issue of child sexual abuse was considered at length. We were directed to monitor a known pedophile who moved into the congregation, but especially told not to inform parents. I raised my hand to ask for clarification on that point, asking if we should inform all the parents with small children at least. I was told by the organization’s representatives that we do not warn people, but simply monitor the pedophile ourselves. The idea seemed ridiculous to me at the time, since the elders are busy and have their own lives to lead and thus have no time nor capability to properly monitor anyone. Hearing this, I determined that were a pedophile to move into my congregation, I would take it upon myself to warn all the parents of the potential danger, and damn the consequences.

As I said before, this may now be a new policy. If someone is aware of a recent letter to the bodies of elders in which this is stated, please share the information with us in the comments section below. Nevertheless, it certainly has not been a long-standing position. Again, we must be mindful of the fact that the oral law always overrides the written one.

The assurance that the situation has being dealt with by the elders through some admonishments and counsel given to the pedophile is laughable.  Pedophilia is more than a misstep.  It is a pychological condition, a perversion of the psyche. God has given such ones over to a “disapproved mental state.” (Romans 1:28) On occasion, true repentance is possible, sure, but it cannot be dealt with by a simple slap-on-the-hand admonishment from the elders.  Aesop’s Fable of The Farmer and the Viper, as well as the more recent fable of The Scorpion and the Frog show us the danger that is inherent in trusting someone whose nature has turned to this type of evil.

In Summary

In the absence of an all-encompassing policy paper detailing precisely what elders should do to protect children in the congregation and properly deal with known and alleged child sexual abusers, we must consider this “position paper” to be little more than a public relations attempt at spin in an effort to deal with an ever increasing scandal in the media.

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For an alternative treatment of this Position Paper, see this post.

Meleti Vivlon