The refusal of blood transfusions.
The deliberate refusal to report child abuse to the authorities.
These are probably the three most harmful practices that the Watchtower organisation is guilty of. The Unholy Trinity, if you will.
Granted, there are many more problems in Watchtower, but few are of quite the same magnitude. Telling people they can’t wear tight pants? Stupid but not something that warrants an FBI investigation. Not turning a known child abuser over to law enforcement as a matter of policy, however? That’s something the FBI should be very interested in.
These three things: shunning, blood, and child abuse, are the ones that most activists feel warrant a Governmental response due to the massive level of emotional and physical harm they can inflict, up to and including the loss of life.
I completely agree with them.
But should that legal response be a ban on the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses? Some would say so, and on the surface this might seem sensible. After all, things that are very harmful should automatically be illegal, right?
Well not always.
History has many examples of things that are harmful becoming even more so when placed under ban; take a look at Prohibition America. Or take another example: cheating on a spouse is clearly harmful, and unethical, but most people would not want the Government to imprison you for it, and would be terrified of a Government that wanted the power do so.
The most obvious answers to problems are not always the right ones, and the recent actions by the Russian Government, which looks set to ban the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses, are sadly just going to make a bad situation worse.
Why do I say this? As someone who is very aware of the awful damage Watchtower’s teachings can inflict, and who agrees that something urgent needs to be done at the Governmental and legal level, why on earth would I oppose a ban?
For two reasons.
Firstly such a ban is deeply unethical, for reasons well articulated by JW Survey founder Lloyd Evans here,
Secondly it won’t work. In fact, it will actively make worse the very issues that cause most people to want the religion banned.
I recognise that some who read this article will not agree with me on this, and so I am going to present a detailed argument to showcase why I have arrived at this conclusion. It’s my hope that by the end I will have convinced you, or at the very least you will better understand my position and that this will enable discussion going forward.
Banning belief does not stop belief.
Lets begin with the obvious. If Jehovah’s Witnesses are banned, they don’t suddenly stop being Jehovah’s Witnesses. This might seem like an obvious point to make but it rests at the very core of understanding why a ban will fail in the real world:
Just because people are no longer allowed to believe a thing does not mean that they will stop believing that thing.
History teaches us this time and time again. Indeed, one can look at the Witnesses themselves for proof. This group has been repeatedly subject to bans in the past, and continues to be banned in a number of countries today. Has this ban resulted in the cessation of Witness activity in these places?
Of course not.
Rather, we see that Witnesses still believe what they believe. Historically they have even chosen to undergo horrific abuse and persecution, up to and including torture and execution, rather than renounce their faith after a ban. And eventually, when the ban is lifted, the JW’s are still there and are often some of the most energised and faithful JW’s on the planet.
Thus all one has to show for the weeping mountain of human torment and blood soaked misery caused by a ban is the same JW organisation, right back where it was, often stronger and more faithful than before.
So that’s the first thing to understand. Enacting a ban is not a magic “make-cult-go-away” wand. Now that we’ve established this key point, lets move on the “Unholy Trinity” and I will lay out my case for why the ban won’t stop these things but will make them even worse.
Shunning: Why a ban will make it worse.
As we have discussed, banning a belief does not stop people believing it. Thus, Witnesses who believed in shunning before the ban will also believe in shunning after the ban. In fact, it will get worse.
Because now, for a JW, cutting off and avoiding those who leave the faith isn’t just a matter of their spiritual life and death. It’s a matter of their physical life and death as well, and the life and death of the fellow Witnesses around them.
Imagine that you are a JW, part of this forbidden group. Your congregation has gone to ground, your worship, your study, your preaching work is done in secret. If the details or even the existence of any of this got out, you risk arrest and imprisonment. Now, ask yourself:
If you were a JW, are you more likely or less likely to associate with those you consider hostile to your faith in this situation?
If you think your JW family is shunning you now, just wait until a ban hits and they vanish off the face of the Earth. Additionally, for the many faded ones who’ve struck a certain equilibrium with their JW family and still have a measure of contact, such a ban could result in even that limited contact being frozen and cut off as Witnesses begin to fear for their freedom and their lives, and become even more insular to protect their group.
Also: If you think a ban gives you some leverage to force your family to associate with you, you might want to think again. I mean, how exactly is this supposed to play out? You demand that your mother associate with you again, as her religion and its shunning policy are now illegal. She refuses as she still believes the shunning teaching, as history proves that she will.
So you call the police…and send her to prison? Or maybe get the police to force your mother at gunpoint to sit at a table with you and have a meal? I bet that’ll be a fun time.
See the problem here?
Lloyd Evans made this very point in his recent BBC interview: imprisonment is not a proportionate response to shunning.
Refusal of Blood Transfusions: Why a ban will make it worse.
Let’s be direct here: The blood teaching has cost lives across the decades and will continue to cost them for as long as non-blood alternatives remain second best in certain medical scenarios, or until Watchtower abandons its discredited blood policy, which ever comes first.
And a ban is just going to make that situation even worse.
Well, as we have said, people do not stop believing a thing just because it is banned. After a ban, Witness will still believe that it is far better to die than get a blood transfusion. After all, if you die you get resurrected in the blink of an eye to a wonderful paradise Earth full of your loved ones. If you take blood, no paradise for you (and possibly no friends or family in this old world either as the shunning takes affect.)
So how will this play out under ban? Well, JW’s now know that if they go to hospital and refuse blood, they have instantly identified themselves as part of a banned religion. Remember, membership of a banned religion is illegal. So what will happen is firstly that they will be probably be given blood against their will (governments that don’t respect freedom of religion usually also fail to respect a person’s rights to decide their own medical treatment) and then they risk being handed over to the police for interrogation and possibly prison.
If you are a JW who belives that death is the doorway to paradise, are you more or less likely to seek out medical help in this situation?
After all, if you die, you get resurrected in the blink of an eye to a wonderful paradise Earth full of all your loved ones, free from this nightmare world that wants to imprison you alongside rapists and killers. Sadly, one can even imagine that ones might be pressured into this by the JW community, who fear that a hospitalised and interrogated JW might give up others in the congregation.
A ban isn’t going to save lives. It’s going to cost them. That’s before we even touch on the issue of JW’s who might die in police custody, or be beaten or stabbed to death in prison.
Not reporting Child Abuse: Why a ban will make it worse.
The findings of The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse make for gruesome reading. The Commission found that since the 1950’s Watchtower, as a matter of explicit policy, has not reported over 1006 child abusers in its congregations to the police.
Full details can be reviewed here but essentially the ARC found that Watchtower would take no internal action over an accusation of child abuse unless there were two witnesses to the abuse, and even if internal disciplinary action over the abuse did take place, the Watchtower organisation would not report the abuser to the police unless legally required to do so by law.
Sounds like a quick ban on the religion will sort this one out right?
It will make it worse.
Firstly, as any former Jehovah’s Witness knows, and as was confirmed during the ARC hearings, Watchtower fosters in the Witness community a distrust of secular authorities. In fact, this was cited as one of the reasons as to why the Witnesses (in some cases even the victims themselves) seemed reluctant to involve law enforcement in the instances of child sex abuse. Keep in mind that the JW culture studied at the ARC existed in a liberal democracy where the police existed to protect and serve the public, and by extension the Witnesses.
Imagine what will happen when the police no longer protect and serve, but hunt and arrest JW’s as a matter of policy.
For Witnesses under a ban, the police and state become the enemy. They no longer protect and serve, they are no longer a safe haven. They arrest and imprison. Witnesses who are already wary of approaching the police will be even less inclined to do so. An abuse victim now knows that his or her going to the police might expose many Witnesses that they still love who were not part of the abuse. The victim themselves might still believe the religion is true, and not want to harm it by contacting authorities who are directly opposed.
How much better to not seek one’s own advantage but the advantage of others.
And how much better to wait on Jehovah and let him resolve matters.
Additionally consider the leverage that this gives a molester. The elders now know that if they take any action against him, his response could be to go right to the police, tell them that he has escaped the banned religious cult known as Jehovah’s Witnesses, but can give them the names and locations of many active members.
Do you think elders are more or less likely to take effective action against abusers in this situation, especially in situations where they have only one witnesses and an element of doubt in their mind? And are the elders more or less likely in this situation to apply pressure to the survivor to let them handle things in-house, and not bring in the jackbooted police-thugs of Satan’s world?
Support solutions that work.
At the end of the day, the simple fact is that if you are concerned about the worst abusive practices of Watchtower, you will want solutions that effectively tackle them, not solutions that will make them worse.
Bans make these abuses worse.
There are solutions that can tackle these abuses effectively. Take for example the issue of Watchtower failing to report child abuse. Governments should introduce mandatory abuse reporting laws, and then criminally prosecute any elders who ignore those laws and those in the Watchtower hierarchy who instructed them to do so. This would either force Watchtower to report each accusation to the police, or if they refused would decimate Watchtower’s power structure and hold the Governing Body directly to account. It would also directly target those involved in covering up the abuse without needing to destroy the lives of the 90% of Witnesses who don’t even know the child abuse issue exists, let alone the details of the two witness rule.
Or take for example, the policy of shunning. We’ve discussed how one cannot “ban” shunning in any real sense, unless you want your relatives to eat with you at gunpoint, but Watchtower can certainly be stripped of any charitable status and tax breaks unless it agrees to renounce the policy. The resulting financial blow would be crippling to the organisation, pressuring them to either relax the shunning policy or to vastly hasten their own financial meltdown if they refuse.
Targeted solutions can make a genuine difference. Bans will just create even more misery.
I’ve not even touched here on the issue of how Watchtower membership numbers rot away in the free world but tend to hold steady under ban.
I’ve not even touched here on how bans make it far harder for JW’s to wake up and leave, or how they effectively trap the young born-in’s within the mental walls of a cult under siege, whilst doing very little to stop the organisation preying on the weak and vulnerable with covert informal witnessing.
And I’ve not even touched on how Governments that ban JW’s tend also to be the Governments that rack up human rights abuses on the rest of the population as well. The price of removing the human rights from one group is often watching those same rights get ripped away from everyone else.
In fact, I’d like to end on that point, with a poem written by German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller. It was written to reflect events that took place in Germany’s Third Reich, and highlights the dangers of passively accepting (or even welcoming) the persecution and abuse of groups other than your own by the Government.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
This poem is inscribed on the United States Holocaust Memorial in Washington.
I urge you to learn from history.
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