In light of what was discussed in the UK’s Independent Inquiry Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), we are bringing to you a series of articles on child abuse written by Duncan Corbett, an IICSA core participant and former Jehovah’s Witness elder of 18 years, to help Jehovah’s Witnesses protect their children from the debased actions of pedophiles in their midst. Duncan is happy for The Watchtower to take these series of articles and publish them, as it may help them out of a hole that they have dug for themselves.
“Let the young children come to me, do not try to stop them” – Mark 10:14
1 When his disciples rebuked parents who were bringing their children to see Jesus, assuming that he would be irritated by the presence of young children, Jesus corrected them with the words of our theme text (Read Mark 10:13-16) Jesus had time for children. He recognized that many of the qualities they typically display are also desirable for those who would be his followers. Children are eager to please, inquisitive and eager to learn new things. “The Kingdom of God belongs to such ones,” he told his disciples.
1. How did Jesus feel towards young children?
2 It is evident that, although never a human parent himself, Jesus was comfortable around young children, even those small enough to be taken into his arms, and they were comfortable with him. There was nothing improper associated with his embrace and his laying on of hands was a common gesture denoting the bestowing of a blessing, most likely by placing a hand on top of the child’s head. Mark uses a word for “blessing” (ka·teu·lo·geʹo), that denotes intensive force. This suggests that Jesus blessed the children fervently, tenderly, and warmly. Clearly, he did not view children as a time-consuming burden.
2. Why did Jesus lay hands on young children and how did they respond to him?
3 During his brief life as a human, Jesus most likely spent time helping his parents to care for his younger siblings. And let us not forget that in his role as “a master worker” Jesus worked alongside his Father in the creation, developing a special fondness with regard to humans. (Proverbs 8:30,31) It comes as no surprise, therefore, that Jesus was readily able to adopt a fatherly role with respect to young children and that children felt safe and secure in his arms.
3. Why is it not surprising that children were at ease with Jesus?
PROTECTOR OF THE CONGREGATION
4 In describing his relationship with those who would become his followers, Jesus likened himself to a shepherd, willing to put his life on the line in order to protect the sheep from predators. (Read John 10:10-15). A man who had been hired by the owner to care for his flock was merely performing a service in return for a wage. Spotting the approach of a wolf, he would likely abandon the flock, rather than risk injury or death to protect them. Jesus was in no way like a hired man. He recognized that the flock of which he was shepherd were the property of his Father. His concern for their safety meant that he was willing to sacrifice his own life in order to protect them.
4. How does Jesus feel towards the congregation?
5 Wolves are predatory animals. They hunt by chasing and testing out their prey, searching for an easy kill. Having identified a target, they will separate the animal from its herd or flock in order to make the kill less risky for themselves. In the natural world, wolves do not use disguise as part of their hunting strategy, but figurative wolves do. Jesus warned of false prophets who would be like ravenous wolves in sheep’s covering. Paul likewise warned the elders of the congregation in Ephesus that after his going away they needed to guard against those who, like oppressive wolves, would fail to treat the flock with tenderness. (Matthew 7:15; Acts 20:29,30) While these warnings refer primarily to those who pose a spiritual danger to the congregation, in principle, they can also be applied to those who may cause physical and mental damage to the flock that has been entrusted to Jesus as Fine Shepherd.
5. What dangers face the congregation today?
6 As discussed in the May 2019 issue of this magazine, child sexual abuse is a worldwide plague that has taken a toll on the Christian congregation. Like wolves, sexual predators test out their potential victims in search of a target that poses minimum risk of being caught. It is not uncommon for such a predator to groom a child over a long period of time, testing them with what appear to be innocent acts at first and gradually progressing towards what amount to heinous crimes against the child. Parents and other significant adults in the child’s life may also be groomed; the predator building a trusted relationship with them that serves both to create opportunities for abuse and to protect the predator from suspicion.
7 Who might such wolves be? Often they will be “in sheep’s covering”. While stories of children being abducted from the park by a stranger make headline news such predatory action is very much the exception rather than the rule. In most cases a predator is someone that is already known to the child, either a part of, or certainly trusted by, the child’s family.
6 & 7. Who today are like wolves that threaten the congregation and why?
8 As members of a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses we enjoy close bonds with fellow members; we refer to them as brother and sister and our children will often be heard speaking with affection about their “uncle” or “aunt”. It is fitting that as an organisation governed by love, we develop such close bonds; we view our congregation as an extended family and, in many cases, they become closer to us than members of our fleshly family who do not share our faith. This does, however, give rise to the potential for harm to children. There have been cases where children have been abused by (i) a family member who is also part of the congregation, (ii) a member of the congregation who was trusted by their family, (iii) a man with a position of responsibility in the congregation who abused the trust that was placed in him as an elder or ministerial servant.
9 Balance is required, of course. We are not suggesting that we should suddenly begin to view every member of the congregation, including appointed men, with suspicion. By far the majority of our brothers and sisters have the same caring attitude towards our children as Jesus himself did. What sensible precautions can we take to ensure the safety of our children in the context of the congregation?
8 & 9. (a) What usually beneficial aspects of the congregation can also be a source of danger for children? (b) What balanced view is required?
10 Notice that, in the context of our theme scripture, Jesus took the children in his arms in the presence of their parents who had brought the children to see him. On another occasion, Jesus used a young child as an object lesson in humility, “putting his arms around him” as he did so. Note that on this occasion there were many other adults present and Jesus stood, along with the child, “in their midst”. Jesus did not attempt to remove the child to some place where he could not be observed by others. Although he treated the child with affection, there was no way that anyone could question the propriety of the relationship.
11 Similarly today, all in the congregation, and especially appointed men should wisely avoid being isolated from the view of others while with a child other than their own. If another member of the congregation were to point out the danger of them being in such a position they would not take offence, as though an accusation were being made. Rather, they would accept the suggestion as an expression of concern, not only for the child but also for the adult. How much better it would be for all concerned if adults took care to avoid being in any situation that could give rise to an opportunity for an accusation of impropriety.
10 & 11. How did Jesus set the perfect example in his dealings with children and what wise measures can we take to follow his example closely?
HANDLING THE CRIME
12 What if an adult in the congregation were to ignore this wise counsel and repeatedly engineer circumstances that lead to them being alone with children other than their own, either in the context of theocratic activities or in the context of social gatherings. Any adult member of the congregation who has reasonable grounds to suspect that a child is being sexually abused should report their concerns immediately to the appropriate secular authority. A minor in the congregation who reports any such suspicion to an adult must be taken seriously and the adult has a responsibility to report the matter to secular authorities. Why have we made this important change to our previous policy?
12. What new procedure are we implementing in order to keep our children safe?
13 The secular authorities stand in their relative position by divine permission. (Read Romans 13:1-4) There was a time when Jehovah worked through the nation of Israel and, in those days, there was no distinction between religious law and secular law, crime and sin were synonymous and the judges who sat in the gate of the city would pass judgement on cases of murder or manslaughter, which are still classed as crimes today, as well as sins such as adultery which, in many nations of the world is no longer seen as a crime. Note from Paul’s letter to the Romans, however, that in the Christian era, God has appointed the secular authorities as his minister to dispense justice when a crime is committed. Because of that, Paul explains, that anyone who opposes or resists the secular authority, in effect, opposes or resists God.
14 True worshippers today are not gathered into a single nation with a single set of laws and this gives rise to the potential for confusion when there is a crossover between something that is a crime (against the laws of the land) and something that is a sin (against the laws of God). For example, misuse of tobacco is a sin but in most countries of the world is not a crime. Preaching from door to door is a crime in some countries but is certainly not a sin. Sexual abuse of a child falls into both categories; it is both a sin against God and also a crime against the laws of the land. In this instance then a Christian must allow the secular authorities to exercise their God-given authority to investigate the alleged crime before the congregation undertakes any investigation of the alleged sin. Why do we say that?
13 & 14. (a) How is God’s way of working different today compared to the time of the Israelites? (b) What procedure must congregations follow with respect to criminal investigations.
15 To do otherwise would give rise to the possibility of a Christian finding himself in opposition to God. Imagine a case where such an alleged crime is reported to the authorities but by the time they begin their investigation they discover that the allegation has already been reported to elders who have begun an investigation into the sin. Perhaps this has alerted a predator, giving him time to exert pressure to silence his victim, or allowing him time to destroy or conceal evidence. By hampering a criminal investigation in such a way, the congregation could find itself opposing God, whose will it is that the authorities investigate.
16 In addition, a Christian must consider the potential harm to the reputation of the congregation that could be caused by tainting a criminal investigation in this way. How sad it would be if secular authorities came away from the exercise with an impression that Jehovah’s Witnesses are obstructive of criminal investigations against their members. We would certainly never wish to be accused of attempting to shield a perpetrator of child abuse from the punishment due for his abhorrent crime.
17 Think too of the potential consequences of a tainted criminal investigation. Suppose that a predator was able to escape justice as a result of a delay in reporting or failure to report his crime to the authorities. Now the predator is free to search for more children on whom to prey. Anyone responsible for contributing to his escape from justice must bear a share of the responsibility for his further crimes. (Leviticus 5:1)
15-17. What harmful consequences could flow from a failure to follow the outlined procedure?
18 “What about the danger of false reports?”, some might object. It is our firm belief that by insisting on a report to authorities first the likelihood of a false report is greatly reduced. In the past it may have been possible for an individual with a grudge to stir up trouble for an innocent member of the congregation by making such a false report to the elders, knowing that they could do so without consequence to themselves. By insisting on a report to authorities first the accuser is deterred from making a malicious false accusation without grounds because the authority has power to punish this action too.
18. Why do we not need to be unduly concerned about the possibility of false reports?
19 All in the congregation, including new ones who join us, must be made aware of the correct procedure. An annual part on Our Christian Life and Ministry meeting will explain in terms that children can understand what forms of behavior towards them are unacceptable and will teach them how to report such behavior to their parents or another appropriate adult. All members of the congregation will be expected to be present for this meeting as a reminder of their individual responsibility. Anyone unable to attend should inform the elders so that measures can be taken to ensure they do not miss this vital material. We are determined to leave no hiding place for abusers of children in our congregations.
19. What new arrangement will be implemented with what benefits?
20 As Christians we follow the law of the Christ, a law based on love. We do not need to wait on secular laws of the land in which we live to motivate us to do what we can see is right and beneficial. Rather, we can set standards of practice that will shine as a beacon for others to follow (Read 1 Pet 2:12-15). We have seen that Christ loved children and displayed affection for them in a safe and appropriate way. Even as a perfect man he did not give his opposers any excuse to level accusations of impropriety against him. Christ also loves the congregation to the extent that he was willing to give his life to keep the sheep safe from predators who might carry them off as prey. We rejoice to follow his direction to the worldwide congregation today. Following his example, let each of us do our part to make the congregation a safe place for our children.
20. How will following the law of the Christ benefit our congregations?
HOW WOULD YOU ANSWER
How does Jesus feel towards (a) young children and (b) the congregation
What fine example did Jesus set in his dealings with young children?
What new procedure will help to make our congregations safe for children (see box)?
THE PROCEDURE IN BRIEF
All congregations will have an annual meeting designed to
- assist children to understand what types of behaviour by adults are unacceptable and should be reported,
- signpost the ways that children can report to an appropriate adult and
- give them the confidence to do so.
All in the congregation will be expected to attend this meeting on an annual basis and elders will follow through to cover the material with anyone who is unable to attend.
Anyone in the congregation who hears a report of child sexual abuse or has good reason to suspect that such has occurred must immediately report what they know to an appropriate authority. The annual meeting will give instructions tailored for your locale.
A spiritual investigation such as may lead to a judicial committee hearing will only begin when secular authorities have confirmed that it is safe to do so without hampering the criminal investigation.