The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse is not only revealing the mishandling of allegations of child sexual abuse in religious and secular institutions. It is also pulling back the curtains and revealing that religious organizations are not divine institutions, but merely creations of flawed, imperfect and fallible men, no matter how well intentioned. What Jesus said continues to be true: “My kingdom is no part of this world.” (John 18:36) There is no religious organization on this planet that represents God’s sovereignty or Jesus’ kingdom, including the Watchtower organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
For this reason, among many others, it is imperative that each individual world citizen exercise discretion and develop the skill of self governance of their own faith and relationship with God. Religious organizations will falter; they will make ignorant and even willful mistakes; and they will cause harm and suffering to many of its adherents. It is inevitable whenever men assume a controlling position over other men:
“All of this I have seen, and I applied my heart to every work that has been done under the sun, during the time that man has dominated man to his harm.”
– Ecclesiastes 8:9
As a consequence of being subject to a harmful dominating rule, many formerly devout religious people have, and will continue to, lose faith in life and in God completely. It is just as Jesus said about the Pharisees of his day:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you travel over sea and dry land to make one proselyte, and when he becomes one, you make him a subject for Gehenna twice as much so as yourselves.”
– Matthew 23:15
Recognizing the many problems that can arise under such circumstances, governmental entities, such as the Australian Royal Commission, may attempt to provide some protections against religious oppression and abuse. But the relief they are able to provide is minimal at best and does not fully protect the individual. Nevertheless, their efforts are appreciated.
The Attempts by the Royal Commission
We deeply appreciate the efforts by the Royal Commission to provide some protections for children who are subject to child sexual abuse in religious institutions. In particular, we appreciate the open forum that exposed the harmful policies and practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses. We appreciate the highly skilled solicitor, Mr. Angus Stewart, who demonstrated extraordinary knowledge of the Watchtower organization and a clear compassion for those who have been harmed by its policies. And we appreciate Judge McClellan’s fair and direct oversight in probing beyond the sophistry of men who were only ‘wise in their own eyes.’ (Isaiah 5:21) And it has not been lost on us that Mr. Stewart attempted to expose other harmful practices among Jehovah’s Witnesses such as the ban on blood transfusions and their unloving practice of shunning even close family members.
Nevertheless, it was also apparent that the authority of the Royal Commission is limited. They cannot impose or mandate changes in doctrines or beliefs. The Royal Commission does not really want to mandate new procedures. Instead, it seems they want to reason with those in charge to help them fashion better and more effective procedures. However, since Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that their most harmful policies are mandated by Bible teachings, i.e., the two-witness rule, the exclusion of women in decision making roles, and their refusal to voluntarily report child sexual abuse, reasoning with the Watchtower leadership is futile.
For example, on one occasion, Mr. Stewart showed Mr. Geoffrey Jackson, a member of the Governing Body, that his interpretation of certain scriptures was not consistent with the context of the scripture. Mr. Jackson replied, in effect, ‘that is the problem when secular authorities try to interpret the Bible.’ And Mr. Jackson is correct. Secular authorities rely on logic and reason. They take into account the communal impact and the wealth of social knowledge that has been accumulated. Whereas most religions do not rely on reason or logic or accumulated wisdom. Many dogmatically rely on ancient and, in most instances, antiquated views and solutions to modern problems, no matter how out of step, unreasonable, unfair, or harmful. In Bible speak, “they hide their talents in the ground.” (Matthew 25:14-30) And there is no accountability or standard of care for religious doctrines, beliefs or interpretations. A religion can steadfastly promote the doctrine that declares the sky is yellow, and no secular authority can mandate a change in that doctrine, no matter the evidence!
And although a secular authority can mandate different procedures, those mandates might not bring about the changes sought. For example, in the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses, their problems are not really procedural. They are cultural. Jehovah’s Witnesses’ primary concern is to not bring ‘reproach on Jehovah’s name’ (which actually means ‘reproach on the name and reputation of the Watchtower organization’), and they are all indoctrinated with the belief that secular authorities are ‘a part of Satan’s system.’ As a result, they will continue to minimize and hide, if possible, incidents of child sexual abuse committed by Jehovah’s Witnesses for fear that outsiders who become aware of these crimes will form a negative opinion of Jehovah’s Witnesses; and they will continue to resist fully cooperating with authorities for fear that they will be somehow aiding Satan.
It is also a false hope that Jehovah’s Witness women will somehow be independent of the Watchtower culture and will stand as advocates for their children. There truly are women among them who would be strong advocates, but they will not be the women chosen for the new role. The women who would be appointed to these decision making positions will be women who hold the party line and bow down to the Governing Body. They will likely be elder’s wives who ‘obey’ their husbands and adopt their husband’s opinions. Independent thinking is strictly forbidden among Jehovah’s Witnesses, especially among women who know they will be labeled as ‘Jezebels’ if they do. Therefore, the results obtained by using Jehovah’s Witness women as a part of the decision making process will likely be the same as the results currently obtained with only men.
Effective Secular Solutions
Religious freedom is a double edged sword. On the one hand, it protects freedom of thought and freedom of speech. But on the other hand, in prevents governmental authorities from fully protecting its citizens from oppressive and abusive religions. The solution to this conundrum is religious self governance by the individual world citizen, which we will discuss below. While we wait for such developments, there are a few things secular authorities can do.
It is our understanding that the Royal Commission will make recommendations for procedural changes and then follow up with the Watchtower organization in about two years or more. If so, for the reasons set forth above, the Royal Commission will have wasted precious time and allowed more children to suffer. The only solution that will protect children both inside and outside of the Watchtower organization is to mandate reporting of all allegations of child sexual abuse to secular authorities within a short time of learning of the allegations, and with strict penalties for failure to report. There is no need to fiddle around with elusive and ever changing religious beliefs and policies. No amount of reason will change entrenched ideologies that form the foundation for the religion’s power structure and its very existence.
The Inquiry itself is another effective solution to religious abuse and oppression, including, but not limited to, child sexual abuse. Inquiries such as the ones instituted by the Australian Royal Commission can call upon religious institutions to publicly state their beliefs, policies and practices in areas that affect secular interests, such as crimes and the protection of children. That will do much to pull back the curtains of oppressive religious organizations and allow individuals to make educated decisions on whether to join or leave those religions. This is already happening. Many Jehovah’s Witnesses are waking up to the fallacies, errors and dishonesty of their organization due to the efforts of the Royal Commission and educational ministries such as ours, and many other ex-JW websites and ministries. Such non-governmental persons and entities are better suited to protect victims of religious abuse from problematic beliefs and doctrines.
The Spiritual Problem
The basic problem with the Watchtower organization is that they proclaim themselves to be a ‘theocracy,’ which they define as ‘God-rule’ or being ruled by God. But this is a misnomer. The actual definition of ‘theocracy’ is quite different. It is properly defined as: (1) “a form of government in which God or a deity is recognized as the supreme civil ruler, the God's or deity's laws being interpreted by the ecclesiastical authorities;” or (2) “a system of government by priests claiming a divine commission;” or (3) “a form of government in which a country is ruled by religious leaders;” or (4) “a government of a state by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided.” In reality, a theocracy is nothing more than ‘priest rule.’ This aptly describes the religious system of Jehovah’s Witnesses with the Governing Body as their ruling elite. Their determination to be a theocracy is the very reason why the Australian Royal Commission will have limited effect in causing real change in the Watchtower organization.
In forming their theocracy, Jehovah’s Witnesses have chosen to imitate a failed and obsolete religious system – the ancient Jewish religious system under the “Law of Moses” – that had a legislative, judicial and executive branch. The ancient Jewish religious system initially existed in its own land and had the authority to handle civil as well as criminal offenses, and even carried out its judicial sentences independent of any other authority. But in short order, the system became corrupt and justice was perverted. Eventually, they became subject to foreign authorities which significantly limited the power of their theocracy. In the 1st century, they rebelled against the Roman authority claiming that God was on their side and that God would vindicate them and destroy their opponents. Unfortunately, the Jewish religious system was the authority that was annihilated due to their arrogance, their misguided self-importance, and their refusal to accept their relative position. Jehovah’s Witnesses are on path to repeat the error and outcome of 1st century Judaism.
The Spiritual Solution
Prior to Jerusalem’s destruction in the 1st century, Jesus instituted a new type of religious order – a spiritual brotherhood. He said:
“But you, do not you be called Rabbi, for one is your Teacher, and all of you are brothers. Moreover, do not call anyone your father on earth, for one is your Father, the heavenly One. Neither be called leaders, for your Leader is one, the Christ.”
– Matthew 23:8-10
The brotherhood would be built on self governance where each individual Christian governs his own behavior.
“You were called to freedom, brothers; only do not use this freedom as an opportunity to pursue fleshly desires, but through love slave for one another. For the entire Law has been fulfilled in one commandment, namely: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.”
– Galatians 5:13-14
“Be as free people, using your freedom, not as a cover for doing wrong, but as slaves of God. Honor men of all sorts, have love for the whole association of brothers, be in fear of God, honor the king.”
– 1 Peter 2:16-17
Under this self-governing brotherhood, God’s laws would be written in our hearts, not on tablets or books. (Hebrews 8:7-13) No more would man be subject to theocracies that claim to be representative of God. Nor would God’s laws be administered by priestly successors to Christ because Jesus is the everlasting priest who needs no successor. (Hebrews 7:22-25) Jesus alone is the one mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5), the one spokesman for God (Hebrews 1:1-2), and the one head of the Christian brotherhood. (Colossians 1:17-18) Those who followed Jesus would not be a theocracy; they would be a fellowship.
Since, in a self-governing fellowship, there is no elite or clergy class to answer to or to confess to, there is no need for an ecclesiastical privilege that would serve to protect abusers within their ranks. A self-governing fellowship would have no need for a legislative, judicial and/or executive branch so there would be no case when a crime would be handled ‘in-house’ and the secular authorities would be usurped. A self-governing fellowship recognizes its principal purpose of being ambassadors to the heavenly kingdom and spreading its excellencies. Thus, a self-governing fellowship would have no opposition or resistance to any authority that is not attempting to take the place of the Universe Father.
In a self-governing fellowship, each member has equal standing before God and an equal voice, thus the balancing influence of women is always available and integral.
“You are all, in fact, sons of God through your faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor freeman, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in union with Christ Jesus.”
– Galatians 3:26-28
A self-governing fellowship is not a ‘captive group,’ but is a free association. Each one is devoted only to God, and thus they are free to choose their religious associations, and can leave or stay as they wish. Each one is free to “keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking” for greater understanding (Matthew 7:7-8), to “keep testing whether you are in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5) and to “examine the scriptures” for themselves to find out what is true. (Acts 17:11) And doing it all without any fear of reprisal.
For these reasons, a true self-governing Christ-following fellowship is the solution to religious abuse and oppression, including the sexual abuse of children. If the Watchtower organization would make the necessary change from a theocracy to a fellowship, most of their greatest problems would immediately vanish. We wrote an entire series of articles on how the Watchtower organization could make such a change in four phases, entitled A True Christian Fellowship.
To date, while the Governing Body has read the Possibilities Series, they have not taken heed. And their delay is resulting in continuing harm to Jehovah’s Witnesses, continuing deterioration of their theocracy, and likely a secular blow that will be as devastating to Jehovah’s Witnesses as was the Roman blow to the Jews in the 1st century.
Fortunately, many individuals and groups of individuals within the Jehovah’s Witnesses community are separating themselves from the oppressive Watchtower theocracy and joining together in self-governing fellowships. It is our hope that, if the Watchtower organization will not become a Christ-following fellowship, that more and more leave before greater harm comes to them. And it will be inquiries such as the Australian Royal Commission and other secular interventions that will likely bring the Watchtower organization down so that it becomes an empty house abandoned to itself. (Matthew 23:38)
The Australian Royal Commission’s Inquiry demonstrated in a real and tangible way the dangers and potential harm of relying on a theocracy. It was an object lesson in the need for religious self-governance. We look forward to the day when everyone – man, woman and child of all nations – masters self-governance in religious matters. When they do, all forms of religious oppression and abuse will cease. It is within our grasp if we will only reach out for it.