[All unattributed references in this document is following the format (P. n par. n.n) refer to the WT Submissions document under discussion.]

The Senior Counsel Assisting the Australia Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recently released its findings to the court.  (Click here for Findings document.) In short order, the Counsel for the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia & Others issued its responses to those findings.  (Click here for WT Submissions document.) The WT has disagreed in whole or in part with the majority of the findings of Senior Counsel Assisting.
There is so much testimony and evidence to wade through that the task may seem too daunting. Each side is righteous in its own eyes and the arguments made may appear to be valid when viewed on their own. Trying to determine where the truth lies can seem overwhelming.
Most of us, myself included, have been so caught up with the stunning revelations that have resulted from the Commission’s investigation that we’ve fallen prey to the old adage of not seeing the forest for the trees. As fascinating and revealing as it might be, the issue shouldn’t be how well or poorly the WT Society is defending itself. The real question should be: What are they defending?

What rights are they fighting for? And why are they fighting for them?

A Look at the Forest

Regarding legal disputes, our Lord Jesus gave us this advice:

“Why do YOU not judge also for yourselves what is righteous? 58 For example, when you are going with your adversary at law to a ruler, get to work, while on the way, to rid yourself of the dispute with him, that he may never hale you before the judge, and the judge deliver you to the court officer, and the court officer throw you into prison. 59 I tell you, You will certainly not get out from there until you pay over the last small coin of very little value.”” (Lu 12:57-59)

His point is that true Christians do not need a secular judge tell them what is righteous. God’s word and the holy spirit are all we need to know right from wrong. In this instance, our “adversary at law” is the Royal Commission. How can we apply Jesus’ counsel in this case?
Another principle that comes into play is that given by Peter when facing the highest court in his land, the Jewish Sanhedrin. He said, “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)
So suing for peace is conditional on not transgressing the law of God. Our obedience to God is the only absolute obedience. All others are relative. Nevertheless, we obey the governments, the superior authorities, because Jehovah tells us to.

“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. 2 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. 3 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; 4 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. 5 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.” (Ro 13:1-5)

Let’s recap:

  • Our Bible-trained sense of righteousness should make it unnecessary for us to use Caesar’s courts to settle disputes.
  • We must obey the laws of the land in which we live unless they conflict with God’s laws.
  • Opposing the secular authorities when they do not conflict with God’s laws amounts to taking a stand against Jehovah.
  • God has appointed them to minister to (serve) us for our good.
  • Our subjection to them is due to a well-trained conscience that recognizes right from wrong.

What is clear from a reading of Romans 13:1-5 together with the reasoning of Jesus found at Luke 12:57-59 is that our cooperation with the superior authorities is proactive. We do what is right because our conscience tells us what is right. We comply with laws willingly not begrudgingly. We do not obey because we are obliged to obey. We obey because we want to obey and the reason we want to obey is because we are righteous. That same righteousness is the reason that we do not obey when a law of the land conflicts with a law of God. Only then, do we disobey because only then is it righteous to disobey.
Given this, we must again ask: Why does the Watchtower work so hard to counter all the pivotal findings of the Court? If the only basis for disobeying Caesar is a conflict with one of Jehovah’s laws, then what law of God is the Commission asking us to break?

How would complying with the court’s findings amount to disobedience to God?

What the Court Is Asking

To answer that question, we need to distill down from all the testimony and evidence, the key elements defining the direction of the Commission. What the commission appears to be asking is that we:

  1. Report all known crimes of child sexual abuse within our membership.
  2. Report all credible allegations of child sexual abuse.
  3. Report promptly so as not to compromise the gathering of evidence.
  4. Do not add to the abuse which victims suffer by shunning those who choose to no longer associate with us.
  5. Facilitate reporting and the determination of guilt by utilizing qualified sisters in the investigation process and possibly the judgment process.
  6. Revisit the two-witness rule based on the application of Deut. 22:23-27.

What Is the Watchtower Society Defending?

In its opening submission, the Watchtower states:

“Jehovah’s Witnesses do not condone or cover up the abhorrent sin and crime of child sexual abuse.” (p. 5 par. 1.1)

By our own admission, we show that we consider it unrighteous to condone or cover up the sin and crime of child sexual abuse. We are therefore claiming that Jesus’ words at Luke 12:57 apply to us as an organization. The Organization is able to “judge righteousness for [itself].” We know that covering up child abuse is unrighteous.
As to whether we are complying with Paul’s direction concerning the “superior authorities” at Romans 13:1-5, the WT Submissions document has this to say:

“Jehovahs’ Witnesses…are law-abiding citizens of the counties in which they live.” (p. 7 par. 3.3a)

Additionally, we state:

“…it would be wrong to conclude that the religious principles, procedures and practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses applied in dealing with matters of sin within their congregations were intended to supplant the criminal law or to provide an alternative system for dealing with criminal conduct.” (p. 7 par. 3.3b

From this we can see that we do not take a position to “oppose the authority [of the government] thus taking a stand against the arrangement of God.” (Romans 13:2)
Just as is the case for individuals, so it must be for the Organization representing those individuals. If Jesus tells us to settle matters out of a sense of righteousness before they even get to court, and if Paul tells us to be ready to obey the superior authorities because our conscience tells us to, there can be only one acceptable reason for not readily complying with Caesar: Caesar must be asking us to disobey Jehovah. Is that the case?

What Is Jehovah Telling Us to Do?

The law of Australia already requires citizens to report crimes.

Crimes Act 1900 – Section 316

316 Concealing serious indictable offence

(1) If a person has committed a serious indictable offence and another person who knows or believes that the offence has been committed and that he or she has information which might be of material assistance in securing the apprehension of the offender or the prosecution or conviction of the offender for it fails without reasonable excuse to bring that information to the attention of a member of the Police Force or other appropriate authority, that other person is liable to imprisonment for 2 years.

So what objection do we have to reporting known incidents of child sexual abuse within our ranks? What is our Scriptural basis for arguing against enforcement of this law as we do on page 25 of the Submissions document?
Of the 1006 documented cases in Australia, hundreds were judged by the elders as actual incidents (i.e., actual crimes) of child sexual abuse. The Legal Desk is informed of all such cases so Society lawyers, who are Officers of the Court, knew and yet failed to comply with this law. Why?
These men were working under the direction of the Governing Body. They are foremost, those “taking the lead” among us whose conduct we are to watch so as to imitate their faith. (He 13:7) So the example set by those taking the lead is to not report, to disobey the superior authority when there is no issue of integrity involved. Again, why?
Is it because we feel the requirement to report is unreasonable? Is it because we feel that it is better to leave it up to the discretion of the victim or his/her parents—as stated in the WT Submissions document?

“…The approach taken by Jehovah’s Witnesses is that the decision whether or not to report belongs to the victim and his/her parents, rather than the congregation.” (p. 86 par. 9.295)

Since when are we allowed to disobey a law because we think it isn’t reasonable? I may feel that a speed limit of 30 miles per hour on an isolated stretch of road is unreasonable, but will that get me out of a speeding ticket? If the government restricts public assembly after 7 PM, will not the Organization instruct us to change our meeting times to comply, or will they tell us to disobey because an earlier meeting time is inconvenient and therefore unreasonable? Does Romans 13:1-5 have an escape clause wherein we don’t have to obey the superior authorities because we think they’re being unreasonable?
Our position becomes even more untenable when we realize we are practicing the very thing we are objecting to.
In the congregation, we are taught that, should we be aware of a sin, we are to report it to the elders.
Should not the desire to keep the congregation clean move us to report any knowledge of gross immorality to Christian elders? (w04 8/1 p. 27 par. 4)
The fact that we are to report “any knowledge” indicates that we don’t have to be sure a sin has been committed, but only that we have seen what appears to be a sin. For example, being aware a brother has stayed overnight alone with a sister is cause for a report to the elders. (See w85 11/15 “Do Not Share in the Sins of Others”, p. 19 pars. 8-21)
We view this as the Bible’s standard of justice. We are taught that we are acting morally when we follow this direction.  Based on the November 15, 1985 Watchtower, if you knew of a case of child abuse, and yet failed to report it to the elders, you would be considered as having a share in the sin, and of covering it up. There would likely be disciplinary action, especially if you held a position of oversight in the congregation. If you said that you thought the requirement was unreasonable and that you felt that it should be left up to the victim to report, you’d be accused of rebelling against the direction of the Faithful and Discreet Slave.
In light of this, our position before the Royal Commission is completely indefensible. What it demonstrates is that we have one moral code for ourselves and another for infidels—literally, those outside the faith. We acknowledge the legitimacy of the Royal Commission’s argument by enforcing it within the congregation and make it part of our internal law, but when asked to apply the same standard outside the congregation, we have another law.

Applying Acts 5:29

At this point, we should pause for fear we again get lost in the trees and forget about the forest itself.
Let us assume that every finding of the Royal Commission is unreasonable. Does that give us as Christians the right to ignore them and disobey? We have already established from Romans 13:1-5 that we are to obey the governments which Jehovah has put in place as his ministers. The only basis for disobedience is the principle found at Acts 5:29. Therefore, would compliance with any of the courts findings violate that principle?

  1. Report all known crimes of child sexual abuse within our membership.
  2. Report all reasonable allegations of child sexual abuse.
  3. Report promptly so as not to compromise the gathering of evidence.
  4. Do not add to the abuse which victims suffer by shunning those who disassociate.
  5. Facilitate reporting and the determination of guilt by utilizing qualified sisters in the investigation process and possibly the judgment process.
  6. Revisit the two-witness rule based on the application of Deut. 22:23-27

Point 1: In Australia, the law makes it mandatory to report the crime of child abuse, so Romans 13:1-5 requires us to obey.
Point 2: The same law requires one to report if one believes a criminal offense has been committed, so again the Bible requires us to act.
Point 3: There is no Bible law which allows us to hinder a police investigation by compromising evidence or testimony, so again, why would our sense of right and wrong not move us to cooperate?
Point 4: Love should move us to do this. Love trumps rules every time. There is no Scriptural basis for the Organization’s practice of shunning (disfellowshipping = disassociation = shunning) a person as it would an apostate for merely resigning from the Organization. A person who resigns may continue to believe in Jesus and worship Jehovah, but merely wants no official membership in the Organization, so 2 John 10, 11 simply does not apply.
Point 5: There is no Bible injunction prohibiting sisters from acting in these roles. Deborah, a woman, was a judge of all Israel. (Judges 4:4)
Point 6: Why do we apply the two-witness rule as stated in the law to Israel, but ignore the mitigating Israelite law that is found at Deut. 22:23-27? No Scriptural reasoning was presented during the hearing nor in the Submissions document. Our reasoning seems to be we do this because this is what we do.

Intentions Manifested

Christians are to be holy, set apart from the world and its practices. Duplicity is not a quality that identifies a heart filled with holy spirit.
Revisiting the Watchtower’s objection to finding F53 of Senior Counsel that “…it is the policy or practice of the Jehovah’s Witness organisation not to report allegations of child sexual abuse to the police…,” we can see how duplicity that borders on a lie is evident in the WT response which states: “…Jehovah’s Witnesses do not have such a policy or practice. The approach taken by Jehovah’s Witnesses is that the decision whether or not to report belongs to the victim and his/her parents, rather than the congregation.” (p. 86 par. 9.295)
Note that Senior Counsel is careful to specify that the policy or practice in question is not of Jehovah’s Witnesses (the members or individuals) but of the “Jehovah’s Witness organization.” Yes, Jehovah’s Witnesses are allowed to report child abuse, or any other crime for that matter, but the Organization never has reported it, not even once in 1006 incidents.
So if the Organization does not have either a policy or practice of not reporting, how can they explain a perfect record of “not reporting” for over 65 years?
Such a duplicitous statement is intended for the worldwide brotherhood more than the court which will not be fooled by it.

The Commission’s report will be read by many…around the world as it would seem to be both the largest and most thorough inquiry of its type anywhere in the world. Its views will no doubt influence future generations of Australian legislators and others.” (p. 31 par. 8.2)

The “others” are bound to include many of the eight million Jehovah’s Witnesses around the globe. Knowing this, the Organization is engaging in a process whereby they can appear to be innocent, and thereby claim persecution if and when the ruling does not go in their favor.
Most Witnesses reading the Submissions document will not notice the duplicitous or misleading nature of much of the Watchtower’s reasoning.
Take for example, the statements contradicting Senior Counsel’s finding (F70) that “The Jehovah’s Witness organization’s policy [of shunning]…is adopted and enforced in order to prevent people from leaving the organisation and thereby to maintain its membership.”
The Watchtower Submission is, in part, “it is not true as a matter of fact – Jehovah’s Witnesses are a voluntary faith-based organization that persons are free to join and leave” and “it is an unfounded, unfair and unnecessary attack upon a voluntary faith-based organization….” (p. 105 par. 9.384)
Most of the brothers will blindly buy into this falsehood. However, we know this to be untrue. Or is it that we on this site maintain our anonymity because we are suffering from delusional paranoia?
It is evident that the groundwork is being laid for the Society to claim that they are law-abiding citizens who are being punished and persecuted due to misrepresentations made by opposers.

What Are They Fighting For?

“If my kingdom were part of this world, my attendants would have fought that I should not be delivered up to the Jews. But, as it is, my kingdom is not from this source.”” (Joh 18:36)

“…and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”” (John 11:48)

If the Governing Body had directed the Australia Branch to follow Jesus’ counsel at Luke 12:57-59, could not all of this have been avoided? If the branch office had submitted to the Commission a document stating that the policy had been adjusted so that now each and every allegation of child abuse would be promptly reported to the relevant authorities in accordance with the law, think of the positive press that would have resulted. They would have taken the wind out of the Royal Commission’s sails.

Why fight so doggedly for the right to not report a crime?

It makes no sense if we think that is what they are fighting for. Apparently, something more fundamental is at work here. It would appear there are two intertwined factors at play: They are fighting for their own self-preservation and the right for self-determination.
Our Governing Body rules over a vast nation.

“Jehovah’s Witnesses have increased in number to the point that they outnumber the population of scores of individual nations.” (jv chap. 17 p. 278 Conventions Proof of Our Brotherhood)

Our nation numbers 8 million. Now another nation of 23 million is seeking to impose its laws on us. It has even had the effrontery to use our own law book to try to change our laws. To this we strongly object.

“To the extent that there was debate about whether Jehovah’s Witnesses views or interpretation of Scripture was wrong, such debate went beyond what was necessary, and will, in our view, not ultimately prove to be helpful to the commission.” (P. 12 par. 3.22)

“… In the absence of evidence one way or the other, the choice of the gender of the persons involved in the decision-making process is an aspect of the free exercise of religion, which means that a person is entitled to believe and act in accordance with their beliefs, even if those beliefs mean the congregation elders (men) determine the sinner’s guilt.” (P. 12 par. 3.23)

“Jehovah’s Witnesses consider that the requirement for two witnesses is not a matter for debate as it is based on scriptural requirements found in the Mosaic Law and reiterated by Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul.” (P. 21 par. 5.18)

“The outcome of an investigation into the causes of child sexual abuse and into institutional responses to the same need not, nor should it, depend upon whether a person’s interpretation of a particular passage in Scripture is correct or not. The interpretation, right or wrong, is what it is. The correctness of scriptural interpretation is not within the terms of reference of this commission.” (P. 13 par. 3.24)

All this reasoning is valid only—ONLY—if it is based on Scripture; that is, if the authority truly comes from Jehovah God. The average Jehovah’s Witness believes that the dictates coming from the Governing Body are truly from Jehovah. I have actually heard of Jehovah’s Witnesses supporting the claim that we should only use the new grey Bible – the silver sword as it is called – because it is the only translation that is “from Jehovah”.
What then would happen if the Governing Body were to accept, without a fight, the reasoning of the Royal Commission? Might it undercut the faith of 8 million Jehovah’s Witnesses to know that the Governing Body willingly allowed itself to be corrected by a secular court? Suddenly brother Geoffrey Jackson’s words make sense when he said that the court would be ‘doing them a favor’ by making it mandatory to report all allegations of child sexual abuse.  In such a case, the Governing Body could still claim they were right all along.  They would be merely complying because they are obeying God’s command to submit to the superior authorities.  That is a scenario that they can sell to the rank and file. But acknowledging that they were wrong, acknowledging that the position on shunning, or the two-witness rule, or the role of women in these proceedings should change, as the Royal Commission requests, is tantamount to admitting that the Governing Body does not have divine direction.
That would simply never do.
Evidently, the Governing Body views this as a challenge to its authority to govern its own mighty nation.  This is very much an issue of sovereignty; but it is not the sovereignty of God, it is the sovereignty of men. If the Governing Body does not fight tooth and nail on every point, they could be seen as admitting that the Royal commission has a valid case. Further, should the Governing Body concede to any of the Commission’s recommendations, they would be admitting that a secular authority knew better than they who speak for Jehovah himself. Can you imagine the backlash?
Their best course of action, they apparently feel, is to stand fast, stubbornly contesting every point, even to the point of antagonizing the court. Indeed, should they anger the court sufficiently that it act harshly toward them, it will only strengthen their position  with the rank and file of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Setting the Stage for Persecution

It would appear the Governing Body through its counsel has already started to lay the foundation to turn an adverse judgment to their favor.

“The High Court of Australia has often emphasized the need to protect minorities from the misuse of power. Unpopular views do not necessarily equate to unlawful or illegal conduct.” (P.9 par. 3.10)

Given the kindly, even imploring, manner that his Honor has used in addressing the various representatives of the Watchtower Society, the mere suggestion of a misuse of power seems out of place and unnecessarily provocative.  Nevertheless, that is likely to be the way an unfavorable verdict from the Royal Commission will be presented to the faithful.  It will be painted as an encroachment on religious freedom and just further evidence that we are Jehovah’s chosen people because we are once again enduring persecution from the world.
It shall be interesting to stand on the sidelines and watch how this all plays out.

Meleti Vivlon

Articles by Meleti Vivlon.
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