That might have a couple of you blinking in suprise. If you are one of Jehovah’s Witnesses reading this, you may have been told that so called “apostates” want nothing more than to destroy your organisation, and wipe your faith from the surface of the planet.
If you are an ExJW, you might think that someone who spends as much time as I do criticising Watchtower behaviour and policy must have the total destruction of the religion as an endgame.
Well, I don’t.
I believe that religious freedom is a fundamental human right, and that people should be free to believe whatever they want to believe. I disagree with virtually every doctrine held by Jehovah’s Witnesses, but I will defend utterly their right to believe them.
I draw the line, however, when religious doctrines directly call for behaviour that is actively harmful to others.
Thus we come to the point.
My goal is not to destroy the Watchtower organisation and convince every Jehovah’s Witness on the planet to leave the religion.
My goal is to force Watchtower to abandon specific practices that are causing significant harm to other human beings by bringing these practices to the attention of Governments, the media, the general public, and in some cases Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves.
What specific practices are these? I will outline them below, and state the specific conditions Watchtower must achieve in order for me to consider the matter resolved. I do not speak for JW Survey, or for my fellow activists in this matter. These are my personal opinions, and my person criteria for “Mission Accomplished” as regards my activism towards Watchtower.
Child abuse policies
I believe that no organisation can ever have a perfect record when it comes to handling child sexual abuse, and that it is absurd to pretend otherwise.
People are imperfect, systems break down, and sometimes, despite all best efforts from a religious community, a predator will enter the flock and attack a child.
But there is a big difference between a few bad apples slipping through robust safeguards despite the diligent best efforts of an organisation on the one hand, and a systemic failure from the top down to tackle an abuse problem that is a well known problem internally, but is carefully hidden from the outside world on the other.
As has been shown again and again, in open court, in government investigations, and in multiple documentaries, the policies that Jehovah’s Witnesses use to handle allegations of child sexual abuse are not only ineffectual, they are actively dangerous and harmful, both to the abuse survivor and the surrounding community.
The “two witness” rule. The policy of not reporting molesters to the police unless legally required to do so. The traumatising Judicial Committee process that sees a vulnerable victim forced to give harrowing details of their abuse to a star-chamber comprised of three untrained men.
All of these factors combine to create an environment that the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex abuse found placed the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses at “significant risk of sexual abuse,” and extends to affect the children of non-Witness parents sharing a community with an unreported abuser.
What is even worse is that most Witnesses are in the dark as to the details of these policies, and also to the scathing criticism these policies have been subjected to. They only see the casual dismissals by the Governing Body, who then warn Witnesses to flee from any news report or comment that shows the organisation in a bad light, and have no idea how prevalent child abuse actually is within their religion, or how vulnerable their children really are.
This situation cannot be allowed to stand.
- Watchtower needs to be forced (via legal and financial penalties if needs be) to bring their worldwide child protection policies into line with what legal professionals and child psychologists believe to be “Best Practice” to safeguard children and prosecute molesters.
- Watchtower needs to admit past flaws in its policies, compensate and apologise to abuse survivors, and openly do the above in full view of its membership.
I believe that an adult Jehovah’s Witness has the right to refuse a blood transfusion.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. I believe that a mature adult has the right to decide what happens to their own body. A mature adult has the right to refuse any and all medical treatment they so wish, even if this results in their death. I may consider their reasons foolish and absurd, but I respect the right of a mature adult to make this decision for themselves.
However, at present, Jehovah’s Witnesses are not making this choice of their own free will. Every Jehovah’s Witness facing this choices knows that, should they choose to accept a transfusion and live, they may face a Judicial Committee. Should they be unable to convince three Elders that they are sufficiently repentant for taking blood and staying alive, they will be disfellowshipped.
It is hard to argue, therefore, that Jehovah’s Witnesses currently refusing blood are doing so without coercion. No one should be made to choose between death on the one hand, and life without their family and friends on the other.
- Watchtower needs to make it clear that there will be no official or unofficial sanction should an adult Witness decide to accept a transfusion.
Additionally, every year, Jehovah’s Witness parents place the lives of their children at risk by refusing life saving medical treatment for their children on purely religious grounds.
This practice is actively encouraged by Watchtower, who once printed an article celebrating children who had died needlessly due their parents refusal of treatment. Additionally, any parent who disobeys Watchtower’s instructions may face discipline from the congregation, and possible shunning.
A child is not capable of giving rational, informed consent in this matter; especially not one who has been raised all their life subjected to the indoctrination of their parents, and who relies on their parents to make all other decisions in life for them.
- Watchtower needs to teach that the refusal of blood is a personal decision for a mature adult, that a child is not capable of making the choice to refuse, and that parents cannot make it on their behalf. It should be made crystal clear that children are neither expected or encouraged to refuse blood.
I believe that Watchtower has the right to disfellowship and to disassociate people.
Yes, I will say that again.
I believe that Watchtower has the right to disfellowship and to disassociate people. Any private group or organisation has the right to decide who does and does not hold membership of their group. Sports clubs. Charities. Financial companies. Religions. Such groups have the right to remove membership from a member who is no longer considered to meet the requirements for membership.
What Watchtower does not have the right to do, however, is demand that those who have left their organisation be shunned by family and friends.
Of all the harmful practices currently employed by Watchtower, the practice of shunning is by far the most widespread.
Simply put, any who officially leave the religion, either involuntarily (by disfellowshipping) or voluntarily (disassociation) must expect to undergo the harrowing and cruel ordeal of shunning. Any family and friends who remain as Jehovah’s Witnesses are required to treat the leaver as if they were dead, to not even say a greeting to them.
Whilst there is an unofficial third option known as “fading” (to simply cease all Watchtower related activities and no longer attend religious meetings) this option is far from reliable, as Watchtower still considers such a person to be subject to their rules and regulations. Many examples exist of Witnesses who have “faded” for many years nonetheless being tracked down and disfellowshipped once they move in with an unmarried partner, criticise the religion, or celebrate Christmas. The testimony of Geoffrey Jackson during the Australian Royal Commission confirmed that this was possible.
Additionally, many faders find themselves effectively shunned regardless, with friends and family ceasing contact and treating them as dangerous association. This means that children who are baptised and then grow up to no longer believe the faith must choose between their beliefs and their friends and family. It means adults who wish to excersise their right to change their religion (or choose no religion at all) must make the same harrowing choice.
Shunning is essentially a particularly vile form of blackmail. “Believe what we tell you to believe, and do what we tell you to do, or you will never see your loved ones again.”
- Watchtower must repeal the sanction of shunning as part of Disfellowshipping or Disassociation, and must take active steps to alter Witness culture so that Witnesses do not expect to shun or be shunned when a person leaves the religion of their own accord or is removed from it against their will.
There are many other aspects of Watchtower doctrine that I dislike or consider harmful; Watchtowers teachings on divorce laws, sexual morality, evolution and so forth. But if the sanction of shunning were removed, these doctrines cease to be harmful to others.
If a beaten wife were free to divorce her abusive husband and remarry without being shunned…
If a gay Jehovah’s Witness were free to leave the religion and live according to their true self without being shunned…
If a Jehovah’s Witness was free to state that he felt the creation account of Genesis to be pure metaphor for the evolutionary process God set in motion without being shunned…
See? Without the threat of shunning, Jehovah’s Witnesses are free to genuinely make their own choices and live the lives they honestly think to be correct, instead of towing the line and flinching every time an Elder looks their way and flexes the “Shunning Stick.” Even if their choice means that the religion no longer considers them to be a member, that choice no longer costs them their family and friends.
Granted, relationships might alter if the family and friends are not broad minded enough to accept the change, but these relationships are not arbitrarily severed. And once shunning becomes a thing of the past, one can quite see Witnesses culture evolving with it, becoming more accepting of association with past members. Indeed, it would probably be instrumental in starting to erode the poisonous “us and them” mentality that Watchtower currently enforces upon its flock. The “information control” that Watchtower enforces upon its congregations would likewise erode once those who left were free to discuss their reasons for doing so with those who remain in.
In the 21st century, religiously enforced shunning is inexcusable. It must go.
I would still consider their religion to be full of doctrines and beliefs that I consider to be utterly without merit, but they would no longer be a harmful cult; they would simply be another religion whose doctrines a person was free to research, accept, or discard of their own free will.
Granted, it may well be hard to envisage a situation where such reforms took place within the Organisation. It may will be that such harmful doctrines continue to feature front and centre of Watchtower policy until the Organisation crumbles under the weight of legal and financial sanctions, public notoriety and a burnt out membership. Scientology is already going this way; Watchtower should take note.
Nonetheless, this is not my goal.
Whether this ignominious ending comes to pass is entirely down to Watchtower. I remain hopeful that legal, financial, and public pressure can in time make the Organisation cede some of the required ground in order to survive. Recent events have shown that the current leadership’s taste for public humiliation and hardship is significantly decreased. Russell and Rutherford used to face their opposers in public debates and in the courts. Today’s Governing Body flee in panic from both, and when forced to appear in public court they put in a performance that bespeaks a distinct lack of capability and vigour for the fight. Their PR attempts are weak willed and desperate for public adoration, and when placed under pressure their representatives react in a fearful, confused way.
Watchtower is on the wrong side of history in this battle, and lacks the stomach and the tools required to fight it. One way or another, it will lose.
Until then, whilst these damaging practices remain in place, my fellow activists and I are not going anywhere.
We have work to do.