Love and justice? A review of study article 19 in the May 2019 Watchtower

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The study article Love and justice in ancient Israel in the Watchtower of February 2019 (study edition) indicated that this was the first article in a series of four that "discuss why we can be sure that Jehovah cares about us." (footnote to "Preview"). The other three articles would appear in the May issue of The Watchtower and two of them would be related to sexual abuse. Obviously we were very curious.

The first two articles in the series, (the first one was in the Februari issue), areseem mainly intended to make it clear that the laws and rules in the Bible arises from love and justice. Jehovah's Witnesses have based their policies on how they read the Bible. With these two articles it appears as if they have laid a foundation for the third article, in which they like to suggest to the reader that their way in dealing with sexual abuse is based on love and justice.

Part 3: love and justice versus badness (Watchtower May 2019)

The first three paragraphs - the introduction - are intended to make clear that child sexual abuse is an 'an especially repugnant wicked deed'. The article calls sexual child abuse 'a worldwide plague', which also affects Christians. That would be because there are a lot of bad people, some of whom are trying to enter the Christian congregation. There are also people who claim to be part of the community but give in to perverse fleshly desires. In this way, evil is once again made into something of the outside world, something that from the outside penetrates or is practiced by someone who just claims to be a Christian. The world is presented as very bad, its own religion as pure and clean.

A Grave Sin

The Bible does not mention sexual abuse as a (separate) sin. In ancient Israel, a man could give his daughter of XNUMX or XNUMX year to a man as a wife or concubine an sex with even younger children was probably not spoken of. It can be explained that there is therefore nothing in the Bible about sexual child abuse. When elders are faced with a situation of sexual abuse, they usually subscribe to it as sexual immorality , but we will not deal with this in this article.

In paragraphs four through eight it is said that child sexual abuse is a grace sin. Not only to the victim, but also to the congregation, the authorities and above all to God.

In the case of sin against the congregation, the point is that the perpetrator has brought a blemish on the congregation. The sin against the authorities is explained by the perpetrator having committed an offense against the law of the country. It seems as if the writers want to underline the seriousness of sin by showing to whom it is a sin. But what good is it if you have to hear as a victim that your pain, all the misery you have experienced, is explained as a sin against the authorities?

This is an ethical principle: it is morally objectionable to abuse a child sexually . There is no artificial explanation necessary for why it would be a sin. It speaks for itself.

For the Watchtower leaders, however, it is necessary to impress upon the reader that this is a sin. This forms the basis for the policy in their internal legal procedures. Sin is connected with repentance and forgiveness. Elders will try to bring a sinner to repentance. In this way their relationship with God can be restored in their vision.

Instructions and review

In paragraph 9 is said:

Elders have received detailed Scriptural training on how to handle the sin of child abuse. The organization continues to review the way congregations handle the sin of child abuse

It is worth comparing these two sentences with some other translations.

Ouderlingen krijgen uitvoerige Bijbelse instructies en opleiding voor de aanpak van gevallen van kindermisbruik. De organisatie blijft kijken naar de manier waarop gemeenten met de zonde van kindermisbruik omgaan. (Dutch)

Les anciens ont reçu une formation basée sur la Bible leisurely the savoir comment traiter le péché qu'est l'abus sexuel sur enfant. Et notre organization with constamment à jour les instrucions qu'elle fournit dans ce domaine. (French)

A los ancianos también se les han dado instrucciones bíblicas detalladas sobre qué hacer cuando alguien comete este pecado. La organización revisa periódicamente los procedimientos que deben sequir los ancianos cuando se presentan estos casos. (Spanish)

Quite literally, the French text says: "Elders received Bible training to learn how to deal with the sin of sexual abuse of children. And our organization is constantly updating the instructions in this area. ' (GoogleTranslate)

The Spanish version literally says: "The elders have also received detailed biblical instructions about what to do when someone commits this sin. The organization periodically assesses the procedures that elders must follow when these cases occur. ' (Google Translate)

What does the organization assess? English apparently offers room for multiple interpretations. In Spanish, it concerns the procedures that elders have to follow in situations involving sexual abuse. In French, these procedures are constantly updated. The Dutch translation can be read as if the organization is monitoring how congregations are dealing with sexual abuse, instead of reconsidering her own instructions to the elders.

The article gives the reason that the organization continues to look at its policy on sexual abuse: 'To make sure that our way of handling the matter is in harmony with the law of the Christ.' Perhaps they do better to bring it into harmony with contemporary insights and norms in society.

Handling Instances of Serious Wrongdoing

In the case of sexual abuse, the care of the elders is initially based on maintaining the sanctity of God's name. In addition, their concern goes out to the 'spiritual wellfare' of the members in the congregation. If a perpetrator of child sexual abuse forms part of the congregation, the elders are directed to restore him. In the article someone who has committed a serious sin is represented as 'mentally ill' and the elders as phycicians who have to make him better. Again, the comparison seems to suggest more than there is. A phycician usually has a thorough education so that people can trust that he knows what he is doing.

In order to show the great responsibility that elders havecarry and what is involved in cases of child sexual abuse, the article deals with three questions. These questions seem to be primarily a reaction to what is currently being brought against Jehovah's Witnesses in terms of their policies.

Do elders comply with secular laws about reporting an allegation of child abuse to the secular authorities? Yes. In places where such laws exist, elders endeavor to comply with secular laws about reporting allegations of abuse. (Rom. 13:1) Such laws do not conflict with God’s law. (Acts 5:28, 29) So when they learn of an allegation, elders immediately seek direction on how they can comply with laws about reporting it.

What is here is (largely) true, but it deserves a good explanation. If there is mandatory reporting law, but there is an exception that a clergyman can invoke for not reporting, then Jehovah's Witnesses do not report. The organization of Jehovah's Witnesses interprets this clergy privilege in a way they think they can make use of this. They do not see themselves as mandatory reporters if there are exceptions in the law. In this way they can maintain that if it is legally required in a country, they will comply with it. From letters exchanged between World Head Quarters and branches, it can even be concluded that an active search is being made for such exceptions.

Elders who hear an accusation of sexual abuse must, according to their policy instructions (Letter to Body of Elders, XNUMX September XNUMX), immediately Call the Legal Department of their branch office. The Legal Department knows what the national law is and whether there is a possibilityNOTto report. The paragraph therefore gives a more positive image than there actually is.

Incidentally, according to the investigation by the Royal Commission in Australia, none of the perpetrators of sexual abuse within Jehovah's Witnesses had been reported to the authorities by elders or representatives of the organization. While in some states the laws were such that there were no exceptions.

One may wonder why elders should only report when there is a legal obligation to do so. Would it not be their moral responsibility that they do this in any case?

According to paragraph 14, elders tell victims, their parents and others who are aware of the abuse they have the right to report. If 'others' also have this right, why can (or may) elders not do this?

The second question is:In the congregation, before the elders take judicial action, why are at least two witnesses required? By pointing to the 'Bible’s high standard of justice' of which this rule forms part, it seems to be suggested that it has a higher standard than secular law. According to their own internal policies, only a judicial committee can be formed if there are two witnesses or a confession of the offender. Nevertheless, in the congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses, people are sometimes expelled on the basis of indirect evidence. Especially in situations involving sexual abuse, where there is usually no second witness, they stubbornly stick to the two-witness rule.

Of the three biblical texts that say something about 'two witnesses' it is a mystery why they want to read those from 1.Timothy 5: 19. It says: 'Do not accept an accusation against an older man except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.' It sounds as if an accusation against an elder will be believed or accepted less quickly than against an ordinary member of the congregation.

The paragraph says that no two witnesses are required to report to the authorities. But we already know that elders will not make a declaration (or report) themselves if the law does not specifically require them to do so.

Paragraph 16 more or less describes the course of the procedure in the case of an allegation of sexual abuse. What they do not say is that they first have to call the Legal Department of their branch office. She tells them whether they have a duty to report according to (their interpretation of) the law or not. Then the elders are connected to the Service Department who gives further instructions. Why is the article not just fair about this? Could it be that the organization would rather not have congregation members (and the outside world) know to what extent a branch is involved in the handling of sexual abuse? The article suggests that the elders bear a great responsibility, while in reality they only follow instructions from above.

A footnote to paragraph 16 states that a child is never required to confront an alleged abuser This used to be the case, as appears from various stories. It is also not mentioned whether a now grown-up victim is safe from this.

The third question: What is the role of the judicial committee? (par. 17, 18) In paragraph 17 the writers try to disprove that the internal legal procedures would replace the judiciary by the secular authorities. Elders who sit on a judicial committee have a spiritual and religious function, in which they judge whether a violator is (sufficiently) repentant. If not, then that person is expelled from the municipality. For this reason it was first made clear which sin is sexual child abuse. Elders are only about the judgment of a sin, not about a crime. A sinner who is (sufficiently) repentant according to the elders may stay in the congregation. We know that the church will not be informed. The article says that elders can personally warn parents of minors in the congregation, suggesting that they do everything to ensure the safety of children. In reality, this warning only happens if the branch department of the branch gives instructions and then in a cumbersome manner.

Protect your children

According to the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses, it is the parents who are responsible for the protection of their children. Parents receive three tips to better protect their children: (1) Inform yourself about abuse, (2) Maintenance good communication with your children, (3) Give your children information. In itself nothing wrong with it, were it not that the organization refers the parents to material that they have published themselves and where it can be mentioned.

Paragraph 20 rightly points out that 'in most cases the perpetrator is someone who already knows and trusts the child'. Anyone who thinks about this sentence concludes that for a Jeugdagetuigind the people he knows and trusts are Jehovah's Witnesses. While the organization wants to give the impression that who is Jehovah's Witness, does not do such a thing.

Conclusion

There is more to say about this article. A careful consideration seems to have been made about what and how something is said. The organization does not inform its members about the actual policy. The content has a lot in common with the document Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Scripturally Based Position on Child Protection (XNUMX) and tells nothing new as such. Because this topic appears in the form of a study article, it seems to convince its own members that the organization's policy is correct, in accordance with the Bible and "God's will", based on love and justice. At the same timethe organization seems to want to meet a demand from outside to share their policy with their own members.

The ordinary Jehovah's Witnesses do not know better than what has been discussed in this article is the policy of their organization. They now think they are aware and will respond according to this information if they are confronted with questions.

Unfortunately, there is still no love and justice in the entire policy towards victims of sexual abuse. It raises questions: For whom is there love and justice in this policy? To what extent does this policy promote justice? To what extent does the policy as formulated in this article really contribute to the protection of children?

- February 2019, Board Reclaimed Voices.

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