If you notice, the Facepalm moment regarding the Australian Royal Commission’s investigation into the inhumane way the Jehovah’s Witnesses handle sex abuse cases has been split up into two sections. The first section contained 4 video bits with commentary on the meaning of each one. Yet this final section contains just one video. Why? Because of the gravity behind the truths spoken by the prosecutor. In my opinion, this topic deserved a separate blog.
The prosecutor puts a hypothetical situation (that isn’t really hypothetical at all) to the JW elder on the stand. Not only is he an elder…….he is a high ranking official at the Australian branch headquarters. His name is Terrence Obrien. The “hypothetical” situation is that of an abused young woman in the JW faith. She is a survivor of abuse that happened in her childhood at the hands of another JW. She was baptized into the faith at a young age and by virtue of that……is tied to the religion forever. Only……she is old enough and wise enough to know now that the JWs are NOT God’s one and only true religion….but rather…..a damaging cult that enables pedophiles. And she wants out. She wants nothing to do with these belief systems anymore. When that happens……she has an impossible choice to make. She either stays in the organization, or she disassociates herself…….and risks losing her family and the only social network she has ever known.
When a person disassociates him/herself, it is the same as being disfellowshipped. You are to be shunned for the rest of your life…..even by your closest family and friends. When this situation is displayed to the high ranking JW official on the stand, he balks at it. And why? Because there is a technicality that can be employed instead. He argues that this young woman doesn’t HAVE to disassociate herself from the organization. She can…..as he puts it…..just “cease her activity in the congregation instead”. But the prosecutor doesn’t go for that. He sticks to his argument. And he forces the JW official to understand the woman’s plight. She was sexually abused by a man who took advantage of the rules and regulations put in place by JW leadership that ALLOWED him to abuse her repeatedly over time because there was never a “2nd witness” to the crime. The elders did nothing for her. They took no congregational action. In fact, since there wasn’t a second witness, SHE would be at risk of “slandering” the man that abused her should she discuss it with anyone else. And finally, because reporting of sex abuse was not mandatory……the elders did not alert the police either. She was effectively silenced. Imagine the trauma such a scenario can cause. Imagine the hurt and anger you would feel, later down the line when you finally worked up the courage to come forward, consequences be damned. Would simply “ceasing your activity” suffice, or would you feel the need to make a stand and formally cut ties with that organization? If she wants to formally cut ties with the organization via disassociating herself, she would have to pay the price…….losing any and all association with her family and friends. THAT is what the JW official is forced to realize. At that point he admits, “she would have to appreciate the implications of that.”
There is SO MUCH that is utterly WRONG with such a scenario, it is hard to pick even where to start. First and foremost, it shows that Jehovah’s Witnesses serve a God of technicalities. Per the testimony of the JW official, if this young woman had just ceased being an active JW instead of formally disassociating herself, THEN her friends and family wouldn’t HAVE to shun her. That’s what matters to their God? Not what’s in her heart or how she truly feels inside about the organization……but rather…..whether or not she has gone through the formality of the disassociation process? That’s the difference between treating someone like they are dead vs treating them decently? That alone smacks of unnecessary control procedures that are most certainly NOT based on love. To make matters worse, consider now, the emotional trauma that the woman will continue to go through. She has determined in her heart that she can no longer support the organization whose policies and procedures led to her being abused when she was younger. She is not at fault for what happened to her or for why she now needs to distance herself from the organization. Yet she will be treated by those friends and family that are still inside the organization as though it IS her fault. By shunning her, they are effectively choosing an organization over their flesh and blood, while simultaneously blaming the victim! Do they shun the organization? No. Do they shun the perpetrator that caused the harm? No. He is still in good standing in the congregation. Do they shun the JW leaders that invented the policies and procedures that lead to all of this? No. They only shun the victim. Imagine how that feels.
The prosecution goes on to grill Mr. Obrien some more. “It is an impossible choice….isnt it?…….that no one should be put to the choice of remaining in an organization in which she feels has been protective of her abuser…..and losing her family and social network?” Mr. Obrien responds by saying “I can only be guided by what the scriptures say.” The prosecution then responds with “well….do you accept that it is psychologically devastating and cruel?” And here is the kicker. Mr. Obrien replies with “the whole purpose of disfellowshipping or disassociating is to help the person see the benefits of associating….” Again the prosecution is on point with his follow up. He says “It makes the organization a captive organization, doesn’t it?…….It makes it incredibly hard for someone to leave because of the huge pain, suffering, and cruelty that she must face if she does leave.” Mr. Obrien then rigidly and stubbornly stands his ground by saying “no I don’t believe so.” The prosecution continues……”Do you appreciate that this point of shunning, as it’s called, is the one that probably makes people the most angry around the world amongst the ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses?” Mr. Obrien then doubles down on his previous argument. He says “But if it’s disassociation….again….it’s a choice they make. They don’t have to disassociate themselves to stop associating…..they don’t lose their spiritual or any other type of association by being inactive.” The prosecution then asks “Is it justified in today’s world, in today’s morality, to treat people this way?” Mr. Obrien answers by saying “Personally, what is accepted as today’s morality in many ways I wouldn’t say is acceptable to a Christian.”
Again….where do I even start? For those that aren’t blinded by faith to the JW organization, it is quite easy to see that the prosecution is right. No one should EVER have to choose between remaining in a organization that she disagrees with and whose founding principles have been the very cause of her misery……and….losing her family and social network. Consider the social decay that would ensue in society if every religion…..if every church……if every company…….if every association treated former members the same way! But Mr. Obrien’s response is exactly what is wrong with the JW religion. He says, “I can only be guided by what the scriptures say.” Only…….he…..just like all Jehovah’s Witnesses….are not allowed to think for themselves. The bible that he reads has been translated by a secretive committee of JW leaders that want it to match their already entrenched beliefs. The mandated interpretation of it is handed down to him through leadership, and he, like all individual JWs, must conform to it, or face…..yes…..disfellowshipping and shunning if they don’t fall in line. So is he really guided by what the scriptures say…..or is he guided by following the orders of the organization? To an indoctrinated JW…..they cannot tell the difference.
And then Mr. Obrien confirms what I have long argued against. He says that the purpose of shunning a former JW is to help them appreciate what they are missing. In other words…..it is blatant emotional blackmail! Withdraw your love and affection until the person is so desperate and hurt that they return to the organization to stop the pain. What’s scary is that he sees nothing wrong with it! Neither does leadership. And neither do the millions of controlled JWs out there. THAT is what blind faith does to people. In their minds, the end justifies the means. They are SO confident they are right about their beliefs, that they can justify ANYTHING. It simply must be God’s will. It’s what led to the Inquisition and the crusades. It’s what makes suicide bombers blow themselves up in supermarkets. And it’s what causes a Jehovah’s Witness to turn off natural love and affection like it’s a light switch.
Mr. Obrien doubles down on his stance more than once. He refuses to acknowledge the psychological and emotional repercussions of shunning. He doesn’t see that such a policy is not born out of love, but rather, harsh control. He views the person that is being shunned as having brought the treatment onto themselves for not remaining in the faith, or for not following his suggested protocol of quietly fading away. And he answers the last question asked of him by using a misdirection. The question asked was “is it justified in today’s world, in today’s morality, to treat people that way?” All it takes is a yes or no answer. But instead he throws out a red herring defense. He answers a question that wasn’t asked. The prosecution did not ask “are there many ways in which today’s morality would be unacceptable to a Christian?”. No. The question was plain and simple. It was, “is it justified in today’s world, to shun people.” Simply put……he knew the straight up answer to that question would be unappealing to the Royal Commission. He knew the answer to the question was “No……the harshness of shunning another human being is NOT acceptable.” But he couldn’t bring himself to say that, so instead, he answered the question he WISHED he had been asked. Sadly, this is a common policy amongst Jehovah’s Witnesses when their harsh policies are questioned. It allows them to seemingly give an appropriate answer, while in reality, not answering the question at all…….AND preventing their own minds from having to contemplate what the REAL answer to the question means for their faith. It is a thought stopper.
For the record, the Australian Royal Commission has requested that a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses governing body make an appearance to testify and answer questions. They have all refused.
I wonder why?