A Review of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Public Claims Concerning Child Protection
Editor’s Note: After reviewing this article, you may use the following links to jump directly to the discussion of specific paragraphs.
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“Jehovah God hates all forms of wickedness,” says the opening line of the May 2019 study article of the Watchtower. It bears the title “Love and Justice in the Face of Wickedness.”
This opening sentence reveals the difficulty in examining religious beliefs and practices, and the language used to support such beliefs. Often, it is subjective. What is wickedness? Who is responsible for its definition?
For the vast majority of humanity, wickedness might be identified with genocide, murder, prejudice, homophobia, or even killing animals. Yet for fundamentalist religions, these societal ills somehow become “God’s will” when defined by the men who lead such religions.
This column reviews the carefully scripted language of the Watchtower article discussed in Jehovah’s Witness congregations worldwide on Sunday, July 14, 2019.
The world has changed rapidly in the past 20 years. Social media, technology, and investigative journalism have merged into a powerful and undeniable force for exposing child abuse and the massive global cover-up by religious and other institutions.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are currently under investigation in multiple countries and jurisdictions for their role in harboring documents which reveal that their elders and senior officials have failed to report child abuse since the inception of their religion.
As expected, Watchtower uses its stock child abuse policy claim in the opening paragraph: “Jehovah’s Witnesses abhor child abuse.” Largely, aside from the abusers themselves, this statement is true. But it is immediately followed with “[they] do not tolerate it in the Christian Congregation.”
This is where they mislead the public and their own members.
The very nature of the religion’s infamous “Two-Witness” edict mandates that no congregation action be taken against an accused offender unless there are two corroborating witnesses to the abuse. Any individual of modest intelligence would agree that there are almost never witnesses to child abuse.
By declining to take congregational action against an offender, Witness elders “tolerate” child abuse.
“Child abuse is a selfish, unjust act that makes a child feel unsafe and unloved”
This statement might appear correct at first glance, but for those who study the psychology of child abuse, it is a dangerous oversimplification of a complex problem, and it is the reason so many victims of abuse take years or even decades to come forward.
Watchtower’s writers have no training or expertise in this area. They are anonymous men, and the criteria for becoming a Watchtower writer does not include education.
An abused child does not always feel “unsafe and unloved.” In many cases, just the opposite. Abusers create a “special” relationship with their victims where they feel exceptional, loved, and worthy of attention from a respected adult. This is confusing for a young mind, but the clever child molester knows just how to make a child feel that their relationship is somehow normal.
A predator knows that a child may have little knowledge of their sexual organs, but he seeks to find a way to elicit the sensation of pleasure in his victims, creating a very dangerous connection between abuser and victim.
Survivors of abuse are often tormented with guilt for having experienced some measure of pleasure at the hands of an adult abuser. They are not equipped to process the complexity of these interactions. Due to the extreme insularity of Jehovah’s Witnesses, coming forward to a school counselor or other non-Witness authority figure is almost always out of the question.
Similar insularity and complexities are associated with the claims made against deceased pop-star Michael Jackson, whose victims have often been maligned for failing to come forward at the time of the abuse.
As reported in the Guardian in 2005,
“At no stage did any witness or victim report Jackson to the police. Or try to stop the alleged abuse. They went to lawyers, tabloid editors and television reporters, but never to social services.”
Jackson’s victims were much like Witness children- they were insulated, showered with love and attention by their abuser, and reminded by the Jackson organization that confidentiality was not to be broken.
“Sadly, child sexual abuse is a worldwide plague, and true Christians have been affected by this plague.”
It is noteworthy that after stating the obvious- that abuse is a global plague, the Watchtower makes an odd confession:
“some professing to be a part of the congregation have succumbed to perverted fleshly desires and have sexually abused children.”
The language used implies that the Jehovah’s Witness (JW) congregation is somehow pure, and only those “professing” to be part of the congregation would fall into the practice of abusing children.
The clever use of “professing” implies that the sexual predators who have abused Jehovah’s Witness children over the decades were somehow never part of the religion- that they only professed to be so.
This language is deceptive and disguises the fact that a great number of JW abusers were quite well-respected, dedicated Witnesses of Jehovah, and were given positions of authority which extended over years, even decades- all while they sexually molested Witness children.
JW Survey reported on a recent case brought to light with the arrest of former elder and Service Overseer Roderick Watkins. Watkins was arrested in 2018 following at least four different police reports filed in Heber Springs Arkansas- not by congregation elders – but by the families of the victims.
Upon further investigation, it was discovered that Watkins was a longtime, prominent elder who served at Brooklyn headquarters during the 1980s, and was subsequently sent to serve as Elder-Pioneer in multiple congregations throughout Missouri, Indiana, and Arkansas. Following our Survey article from May 31, 2019, additional victims have come forward from Indiana, with estimates of sexual abuse ranging from dozens of children, up to one hundred. Only time will tell the full extent of damage caused by this elder.
Given the extensive and lengthy history of Watkins inside the Witness organization, it’s clear he was more than just a “professed” Christian.
The identification of child abuse as a “grave sin” might be the understatement of the year. While is seems wholly unnecessary to mention this, it is part of Watchtower’s policy and strategy to convince members that elders have little or no obligation to pursue criminal reporting when allegations of abuse are made.
Paragraph 5 – “A sin against the victim”
“Children must be protected from such a wicked deed…”
Such a true statement should be followed up with recommendations for engagement with law enforcement, professional therapists, and other trained and educated individuals who specialize in the investigation and treatment for victims of abuse, but these recommendations are absent.
Does Watchtower Believe the Victims are Innocent?
Among the most disturbing revelations about Jehovah’s Witness mishandling of child abuse reports are the treatment of young, minor children as willing participants in sexual acts with adults.
Police reports, court documents, and civil cases have unmasked the sinister policy whereby young, minor victims of sexual abuse have been harshly disfellowshipped from the Jehovah’s Witness religion following sexual contact with adults 3 or 4 times the victim’s age.
In 2017, NBC Philadelphia reported on the case of Katheryn L. Carmean-White, a Jehovah’s Witness woman who sexually abused a 14-year-old Jehovah’s Witness boy in a Delaware congregation. White was sentenced to 6 years incarceration, while she and her victim were both disfellowshipped from Jehovah’s Witnesses.
JW Survey reported on the outcome of this case in 2018, unveiling the settlement agreement signed between the State of Delaware and the Laurel Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Witness elders Joel Mulchansingh and William Perkins were among the Judicial Committee elders which disfellowshipped the victim of this crime, ostracizing him from the congregation and treating him as a consensual sexual partner of his convicted predator, Ms. White.
“When someone who is a part of the congregation becomes guilty of child abuse, he brings reproach on the congregation.”
The word “reproach” has been part of the Jehovah’s Witness lexicon for decades. It is used to inhibit conduct or stigmatize certain behaviors. It reveals the true nature of Watchtower’s reluctance to discuss their epidemic of child abuse: Negative publicity.
It has always been the contention of Jehovah’s Witnesses that “reproach” upon the organization drives interested persons away, and those responsible for such reproach become “bloodguilty” – causing their death at Armageddon. Somehow, God has exited the picture with no control or influence over the lives of “interested” persons.
“A sin against the secular authorities.”
Here is where we get to the core of the sexual abuse scandal within the Jehovah’s Witness Church. The Organization’s position is:
‘We know it’s a crime, and we normally obey the law- but in this case, we will collect the data regarding these crimes and use it for our internal parallel judicial courts, and we have no duty to report to the police.’
Or, as this Watchtower subtly states:
“While the elders are not authorized to enforce the law of the land, they do not shield any perpetrator of child abuse from the legal consequences of his sin.” [bold, italics ours]
This is a deceptive and blatant deception, for which the average Witness- even the average elder- has no understanding.
The reality is that the elders are authorized to enforce the law of the land. As members of the clergy in the United States, they are obligated to obey all mandatory child abuse reporting laws in each state where such laws apply.
So Why Don’t They Report?
Witnesses who study this article will walk away believing that elders do comply with civil authorities, but the shocking reality is that they don’t, and here’s how they get away with it:
In the United States, while nearly every state requires members of clergy, teachers and medical professionals to report all allegations of abuse, there is a very clever technique used by Witnesses to avoid contacting authorities. It’s called the clergy-penitent exemption.
This ‘privilege’ was intended to give penitent (guilty) individuals the privacy to confess sins to their priest without fear that his disclosure would be shared with anyone.
What Jehovah’s Witnesses have done is take the clergy privilege exception and applied it not just to the penitent (the abuser) – but to all individuals associated with reports of child abuse within the congregation.
This includes the abused victim, the victim’s family members, and all of the elders who become aware of the reported abuse. The claim is made that every one of these individuals is covered by privilege, and because of this, elders have neither the duty nor the right to report child abuse.
“Above all, a sin against God”
It is reasonable to conclude that those who revere Scripture might agree with this statement. The article continues:
“The Law said that a man who robbed or defrauded his neighbor was behaving “unfaithfully toward Jehovah.” (Lev. 6:2-4)”
Evidently, there is no objection from Jehovah’s Witness elders when it comes to reporting fraud or robbery to the authorities. Yet they take extensive measures to circumvent mandatory reporting laws, even when they have been held liable in dozens of civil lawsuits over the past 25 years.
The paragraph concludes: “For that reason, abuse must be condemned for what it is—a gross sin against God.”
For Jehovah’s Witnesses, condemnation does not include calling the police.
“Elders have received detailed Scriptural training on how to handle the sin of child abuse.”
This deceptively worded paragraph suggests that Witness elders are well-equipped to handle reports of abuse. They aren’t.
Elders are instructed by fellow Witness elders in an organization comprised of self-appointed men with no secular or civil requirements. This presents a serious dilemma for ill-equipped men bestowed with criminal allegations of child abuse.
“Handling Instances of Serious Wrongdoing”
“The elders are primarily concerned with maintaining the sanctity of God’s name…They are also deeply concerned with the spiritual welfare of their brothers and sisters in the congregation.”
It cannot be overstated that Witnesses sell their procedures as insurance policies to protect God, listing this objective as the first priority. Placed second is the welfare of congregation members, including victims.
The unusual emphasis on the protection of God’s name seems to beg the question: Why does the organization feel its Creator is unable to defend his own reputation?
“In addition, if the wrongdoer is a part of the congregation, elders are concerned with trying to restore him if that is possible.”
While it might seem noble to restore troubled individuals to a congregation, the matter is much more dangerous and complex when dealing with child molesters. Elders are not equipped to counsel or “restore” an individual with a sickness which demands professional attention.
Handling such matters internally places many children at risk, particularly when a repeat offender enters a congregation.
“Their Scriptural counsel can help him to restore his relationship with God, but this is only possible if he is genuinely repentant.”
The issues at play with child abuse are extremely serious. These abusers are not persons dealing with issues such as smoking or petty theft. A child molester frequently repeats his crime, and there are no religious sanctions or counsel which can change the nature of this sickness. It must be handled professionally.
“Clearly, elders have a weighty responsibility…For that reason, they act promptly when they receive a report of serious wrongdoing, including child abuse.”
Acting “promptly” means launching an internal investigation, and does not include an immediate call to local authorities.
“Do elders comply with secular laws about reporting an allegation of child abuse to the secular authorities? Yes.”
This answer should be changed to “No.”
“In places where such laws exist, elders endeavor to comply with secular laws about reporting allegations of abuse.” [italics ours]
The sentence above clearly modifies the opening sentence, revealing that Jehovah’s Witness elders do not comply with laws in any location where there are not clergy mandated reporting laws in place.
Furthermore, in states where such laws do exist, elders still fail to report, citing the clergy-penitent loophole. As stated earlier, when a religion claims it is their accepted practice to keep allegations of child abuse private, they ignore mandatory reporting laws.
“So when they learn of an allegation, elders immediately seek direction on how they can comply with laws about reporting it.”
To be accurate, this statement should read “elders immediately seek direction on whether they can escape mandatory reporting laws and leave it to a family member or concerned citizen to report.”
“Elders assure victims and their parents and others with knowledge of the matter that they are free to report an allegation of abuse to the secular authorities.”
Being free to report a matter to the secular authorities and encouraging a person to contact the authorities are two completely different things.
Under no circumstances are elders advised to contact law enforcement, nor do they advise families to report. They are told to take a passive stance in this regard. Reporting has never been encouraged.
Paragraph 15 – The Two Witness Rule
“In the congregation, before the elders take judicial action, why are at least two witnesses required?”
After describing the parallel system of justice practiced within the Witness organization, Watchtower asks:
This is where reality takes a hard-right turn from the publicly stated policy of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The mere suggestion that elders can theoretically contact law enforcement even when there are not two or more witnesses to child abuse is just that: theoretical.
“Does this mean that before an allegation of abuse can be reported to the authorities, two witnesses are required? No.”
Elders are never permitted to contact law enforcement following allegations of child abuse. Their instructions are very specific: They must call Watchtower’s legal department first.
The legal department of Watchtower then advises elders of two things:
- Whether they are in a mandatory reporting state or country
- Whether there is a clergy-penitent loophole
In every single case, even when there is a mandatory reporting law, elders are not permitted to contact local authorities when they are told they can use clergy privilege as a way to avoid reporting.
In countries such as the United Kingdom, where clergy mandated reporting laws do not yet exist, reports are never made.
Paragraph 16 – Elders “Endeavor” to Comply
“When they learn that someone in the congregation is accused of child abuse, elders endeavor to comply with any secular laws about reporting the matter….” [bold, italics ours]
The use of the word “endeavor” in this Watchtower article has great significance. The anonymous Watchtower writers are driven, not by the desire for accuracy, but by the necessity for obfuscation.
In other words, Watchtower knows it can’t say “Elders always comply with any secular laws about reporting child abuse.” Instead, they must insert the word “endeavor” to avoid the obvious repercussions from lying to the public. By using this word, they can claim that when they fail to report, at least they “endeavored” to do so.
“In addition, the elders remain alert regarding the alleged abuser to protect the congregation from potential danger.”
Jehovah’s Witness elders are in no position to protect even their own congregation from the crimes committed by a pedophile. These men are ill-equipped and untrained to deal with these crimes.
It is doubtful that any elder would attempt to assume the highly technical role of murder investigator- yet when it comes to the crime of child abuse, Witness elders immediately launch their own isolated investigation, which includes delving into the sexual and intimate details surrounding the abuse of a minor child- matters which should be left to the police.
If a man commits murder, the elders will disfellowship such a man on the basis of his conviction by secular authorities, whom they trust have done a thorough investigation of the murder, arriving at a guilty conviction. This raises the question, if Jehovah’s Witnesses accept the civil authorities’ conviction on a murder charge, why would Witnesses need to launch their own private investigation of child sexual abuse?
Shouldn’t they accept the decision of the civil authorities, who have spent most of their lives studying and executing investigations into child abuse?
The answer to this question should leave the public stunned and shocked:
Jehovah’s Witnesses investigate child abuse allegations to determine whether the child was a willing participant in the sexual acts.
As disturbing as this sounds, it is a solid reality which reveals that Witnesses consider both baptized and unbaptized minors as fully capable of having consensual sexual affairs with grown adults, and they hold these children accountable for their “sins.”
My first experience with disfellowshipping came in the 1980s, when a teenage girl in my congregation was disfellowshipped for having sex with the husband of a local Witness woman. She was treated harshly, as a willing participant in the act of coercing and seducing a minor child, and paid dearly as a victim of this pedophile. She was branded a fornicator, with no consideration for the manner in which she was seduced and abused.
The man was sentenced to a heavy prison term, but only after the victim’s family notified the authorities. The elders had no intention of involving the police, as is their policy to this day.
“What is the role of the judicial committee?”
“The elders do not interfere with law enforcement; they leave criminal matters to the secular authorities.”
Jehovah’s Witness elders have been judged guilty of interfering with law enforcement for decades. As recently as 2018, the Attorney General for Delaware imposed a fine of $10,000 per elder for failure to report the abuse of a 14-year-old baptized Witness boy who attended the Laurel Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Watchtower’s legal team attempted to save their reputation by signing an out-of-court settlement agreement with Delaware, hoping that the public would not discover their concession, which took place immediately before the scheduled trial.
JW Survey obtained the settlement agreement with the cooperation of State Government officials.
In September 2018, a Montana jury found Jehovah’s Witnesses guilty of obstructing Montana’s mandatory abuse reporting statutes and awarded the victim 35 million dollars. Four million was awarded for negligence, with the additional 31 million awarded for intentional malice in non-compliance with the law.
To claim that elders do not interfere with law enforcement is a blatant and significant lie.
“If he is repentant, he may remain in the congregation. However, the elders will inform him that he may never qualify to receive any congregation privileges or to serve in any position of responsibility in the congregation.” [bold, italics ours]
When elders take on the role of spiritual policemen of the congregation, they tread on very dangerous ground.
First, a child abuser will never be disfellowshipped from any congregation without a second witness to the crime- and there is almost never a second witness.
When accusations are made, they are effectively not taken seriously. Police are never called, and without corroborating evidence, elders tell congregation members and victims to “leave the matter in Jehovah’s hands.”
Abusers remain in the congregation, and at best, a handful of parents might be warned about an individual who was found guilty of child abuse- not by civil authorities, but by congregation elders. Hence, this situation is quite rare.
Another matter of concern is the idea that serial pedophiles can “repent” and may be given responsibility in the congregation at a future time.
The use of the term “may” indicates the reality that elders have little understanding of the psychological sickness of pedophilia, and would consider reappointing a man after their unqualified elders come to a decision that this person is no longer a danger to children.
Pedophiles will always be a danger to children.
“Who have the responsibility to protect children from harm? Parents do.”
This statement completely bypasses the issue at hand. The cornerstone issue is obedience to the law, which states that members of clergy have the obligation to report child abuse to the police.
Watchtower is effectively changing the subject, diverting attention from the obligation of elders to comply with mandatory reporting laws.
Child abuse cases are deeply complex, and in some cases involve parents or step-parents, as well as siblings of the victims.
Placing the expectation of reporting on parents completely ignores these complexities. For example, the spouse of an abuser is often frozen in their tracks- unable to report that their spouse has abused a child. Why? Because that spouse may be financially dependent on their mate- or worse, they may fear for their own safety.
This is why members of clergy are generally required to report all allegations of abuse. Their separation from the family should be unbiased, and if they respect “Caesar’s law”- they must report.
“First, educate yourself about abuse.”
This is good advice- except that the education should not come from Watchtower publications. Page 12 of this Watchtower article features all of the information deemed by Jehovah’s Witness leaders as “education.”
Sadly, none of these resources have been written by anyone with professional training. It is a hodge-podge collection of Watchtower-only material, much of which is outdated even by Witness standards.
“Maintain good communication with your children.”
This is good advice. What should be added to this is “If your child reveals that someone touched them in a sexual manner, contact the authorities immediately”- and not local elders.
“Educate your children.”
Again, this is a good suggestion. However, it is followed by:
“Use the information that God’s organization has provided on how to protect your children.”
Not once does this Watchtower article recommend that parents avail themselves of professional resources, counseling, or meeting with law enforcement officials. By placing such devoted trust in the Watchtower organization, parents are trusting an organization found guilty of covering up decades of child abuse.
The cover-up, it is said, is worse than the crime itself.
“As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we view child sexual abuse as a gross sin and a wicked deed…our congregations do not shield perpetrators of abuse from the consequences of their sins.”
The final paragraph sums up the emphasis Jehovah’s Witnesses place on sin, as opposed to crime. While we do not deny religious organizations the right to declare certain behaviors as sinful, they do not have the right to obstruct justice by advising elders not to report allegations of child abuse to the authorities.
Love and Justice in the Face of Wickedness
While sexual predation and evil exist in our world, we are a global village with a collective obligation to take action against any who would harm our children.
The complexity and nature of child abuse require that it be investigated by trained professionals – skilled women and men who care deeply for children.
If you or a family member has been abused by someone inside or out of the Jehovah’s Witness organization, please seek immediate assistance from law enforcement and professional counselors, and be sure to obtain legal representation.
While some might feel apprehensive about asking for legal advice, there is nothing to fear. Attorneys have been able to obtain settlements for survivors of abuse, and those funds help pay for the medical bills and counseling which can bring a survivor back to life.
Love requires we protect our children; justice demands it.