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. This is the final part of the series.
“We should love, not in word or with the tongue but in deed and truth.” 1 John 3:18
1 Sadly, we live in a world where words are cheap. Politicians regularly make empty promises in order to win votes with no real intention of turning their words into deeds. As true Christians we must be different from the world. (Read 1 John 3:16-18) When a Christian professes love for the worldwide brotherhood with his tongue and fails to back that up with action, it is a form of hypocrisy; he is pretending to be something he is not. The consequences are serious, as John pointed out in chapter 4 and verse 20 of the same letter: “For the one who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.”
2 Being true or genuine in our words and demonstrating that by our deeds is all the more important when our words constitute an apology. It is not uncommon for worldly leaders to offer an apology, especially when they are caught out in some act that is damaging to their reputation. In reality, their apology often amounts to little more than empty words. In effect they are saying, “Yes, I was caught out, but I’m sorry so can we move on.” For a Christian to demonstrate that he is genuinely repentant, his deeds must match his words.
1 - 2. In what important way must Christians be different from the world?
WORKS THAT BEFIT REPENTANCE
3 During the time that John the Baptist preached to the nation of Israel, he warned them that they could not rely on their ancestry to maintain a good standing with Jehovah. Being ‘sons of Abraham’ was not enough. (Read Luke 3:8). John said they would need to “produce fruit that befits repentance”. The apostle Paul preached a very similar message. (Read Acts 26:20) It would be wrong of Christians today to assume that they can rely on their spiritual ancestry to maintain a good relationship with God, as though the zeal for the ministry displayed by Christians of the last century can somehow offset serious errors now. What else can we learn from the message preached by John and Paul?
3. What message was preached by John the Baptist and the apostle Paul, with what lesson for us?
4 The nation of Israel, to whom John the Baptist preached, was in a covenant relationship with Jehovah. As a nation, they had failed to keep their part of the covenant and that is why they needed to repent. Repentance for them required more than a feeling of remorse. John urged them to make a public confession by being baptized for forgiveness of their sins and then to act on their feeling. The word “fruits”, as used by John, and the word “works”, as used by Paul both indicate something visible or tangible. They needed to say sorry and to show they were sorry. In a similar way, anointed Christians today have recognized their failings in living up to their covenant relationship with Jehovah. They have made public confession of this in a written statement (see the box – “A MESSAGE FROM THE GOVERNING BODY” in the previous article) but more is required.
4. Why did first century Jews need to repent and how has the congregation today found itself in a similar situation?
5 When a Christian errs he can call on the benefits of the ransom sacrifice for forgiveness of his sins. (Hebrews 10:19-22) Forgiveness is not automatic, however; it depends on genuine repentance. Genuine repentance, in turn, must produce works that befit repentance. This is well highlighted in Paul’s words to the Corinthians. (Read 2 Cor 7:9-11) Notice the contrast Paul makes between “sadness of the world” and “sadness in a godly way”. Worldly sadness is the type that sometimes moves people in high positions to make an apology. They are sad to have been caught. They are sad that, as a consequence, they might suffer financially or have their reputation damaged; but their sadness spares no thought for others who have been hurt by their actions. Godly sadness produced a desire in the Corinthians to clear themselves, to be pure, not by hiding their wrongdoing but by ensuring that they took steps not to repeat it. Likewise today, the Governing Body has put in place measures designed to ensure that it never again allows children to become easy prey for those who would do them harm. But genuine repentance requires more.
5. What fruits befitting repentance have already been produced by God’s organization today?
ZEAL FOR RIGHTING THE WRONG
6 Paul’s words indicate that a genuinely repentant person will be eager to right the wrong. Unlike worldly sadness, which is self-centered, godly sadness motivates a concern for others who have been harmed by the wrongdoing. The focus is not on damage limitation for self but on repairing the damage done to others. Let us examine some scriptural examples that help us to understand.
6. What is an important work associated with godly sadness?
7 As part of his perfect Law to Israel, Jehovah gave instructions in some detail regarding compensation. (Read Exodus 22:1-4). This aspect of the Law recognizes that when goods are stolen there is also what could be described as collateral damage. The owner has suffered the loss of the goods but also suffers the loss of a feeling of security; now that someone has stolen from him, he will never enjoy the same feeling of security that he had before the theft. The thing stolen may have had sentimental value in the eyes of the owner or his family such that it can never be replaced. In recognition of this the Law prescribed that if the stolen item was found and returned then double compensation was to be paid to the victim. If a stolen animal had been slaughtered or sold on then the compensation would be greater, up to five times the value of what was stolen. The amount of compensation was commensurate with the severity of the crime and the harm suffered by the victim.
7. What does God’s Law to Israel teach us about compensation?
8 Notice in this regard, how one first century Jew took it upon himself to apply the principle of the Law as a result of his genuine repentance. Zacchaeus was sufficiently interested in the preaching campaign of Jesus to climb a tree in order to have a better view of him as he passed by. Jesus, knowing what was in his heart, arranged to visit him at his home. What resulted from that visit and the message that Jesus taught? (Read Luke 19:8,9) Earlier in his account Luke tells us that Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, indicating that he had many other tax collectors under his management. This had given him many opportunities for dishonesty and he had become rich as a result. (Luke 19:1,2) When he was moved to repentance did he merely acknowledge that he had been dishonest, making a token apology?
8. What important lessons can we learn from Zacchaeus?
9 Following the example of Zacchaeus, the Governing Body has determined that it will establish a redress fund to assist those who have been victims of child sexual abuse within the Christian congregation. We established in the second article of this series that the harmful effects of such abuse can be long-lasting and widespread. Should we allow a survivor of abuse to continue to suffer harm when it is within our power to help them? Really, how could we ‘shut the door of compassion’ upon them? Should we wait for a secular court of law to impose such compensation? What reproach that would bring on Jehovah’s name! Rather, like Zacchaeus, we will seek out those who have suffered as a result of our past mishandling of cases and take the initiative to right the wrong wherever possible.
9. How will the Governing Body follow the example of Zacchaeus?
10 What compensation will be made available? The compensation that Zacchaeus decided to give to those he had wronged was guided by the Law which allowed for double compensation in some cases and four-fold or five-fold compensation in others. Rather than quibble over what was due, Zacchaeus chose a voluntary rate of compensation that was close to the maximum that might be required by the Law and he made it public knowledge that he was doing so. The large crowd that had obscured Jesus from view very likely followed Zacchaeus to his home. Zacchaeus “stood up” to announce his decision before them all. Evidently, he was not seeking glory for himself in doing so but was motivated by a wish to be transparent. Following his example, the redress fund will be administered in a transparent way. In each case where compensation is sought by a survivor, the survivor or the parent(s) of the survivor will engage an independent lawyer to determine the level of compensation due. The lawyer’s fee will also be covered from the redress fund. Rather than quibble over what is due, we will voluntarily make payments that are guided by the lawyer in line with the maximum that might be awarded in a civil law suit.
10. How will levels of compensation paid by the redress scheme be decided?
11 Does it make sense to use principles from the Law regarding theft and apply them to the crime of child sexual abuse today? The Mosaic Law does not make any specific comment on the matter of child sexual abuse so we must work with principles in order to establish Jehovah’s view on the matter. Many survivors of abuse will readily attest to the feeling that they have had something stolen from them as a result. Their childhood innocence has been stolen. Their right to expect the care and protection of adults has been stolen. Their right to mature into a young adult and experience the feelings that accompany the ‘bloom of youth’ in the context of a loving relationship has been stolen. It is fitting, therefore, that in determining what compensation is due, we adopt principles that relate to theft. This does not imply that any amount of compensation will ever make up for the wrong that was suffered. Nevertheless, we will make our best efforts to alleviate the suffering by compensating with an amount that can be used to offset the cost of therapy that might be needed or the financial losses incurred as a result of mental health problems.
11. Why is it appropriate to apply principles regarding theft in the matter of child sexual abuse?
12 In another way, child sexual abuse could be likened to manslaughter. Again, many survivors will attest to the feeling that ‘part of me died’ as a result of the abuse. For the survivor, wrenched from the innocence of childhood into an adult world, it can feel as though the child in them was actually killed. With that in mind let us see what the Law can teach us.
12. In what way could child sexual abuse be compared to manslaughter?
WHO SHOULD PAY?
13 The Law to Israel was very clear about who should pay when it came to theft. The thief himself was the one who had to make compensation for his crime. If he was unable to do so immediately the Law provided for him to be sold into slavery until his debt was paid. (Exodus 22:3) Any adult member of the congregation who is proved (by a judicial committee or a secular court of law) to have sexually abused a child will be liable for at least the amount of compensation awarded from the redress fund. An abuser who is genuinely repentant of his crime will welcome the opportunity to right the wrong by paying compensation to the one wronged.
13. Who primarily should bear the financial burden for compensation?
14 Does such an arrangement impose a heavy burden on the guilty party? To be blunt, what if it does? Having inflicted so much harm on their victim and others, the abuser is simply reaping what he has sown. (Galatians 6:7) If he is unable to make compensation immediately then he will be bound by an agreement to pay in installments in much the same way as an Israelite sold into slavery. In cases where the abuser is wealthy, elders will have the discretion to impose an additional amount of compensation such that the abuser will have his finances severely impacted. It would be entirely inappropriate for an abuser to be enjoying business class travel, expensive jewelry and luxury food or drink while a victim struggles to make ends meet.
15 What if the offender refuses to be party to such an agreement? This would be a clear indication that his alleged repentance is sadness of the worldly kind, motivated only by concern for self. In order to demonstrate repentance in a tangible way he must show an earnest desire to right the wrong. (2 Corinthians 7:11) How could an abuser claim to have such a desire while refusing an opportunity to make recompense? Refusal to do so would result in his being disfellowshipped.
14-15. Is it harsh to expect an abuser to pay compensation and what consequences would follow if he refused?
16 What about the case where it is not possible to establish the guilt of an abuser beyond doubt or where the abuser refuses to take part in the redress scheme? Access to compensation from the redress fund will not be contingent on being able to assign blame to a specific individual. A victim of abuse that happened while they were a minor member of the congregation and their abuser was an adult member of the congregation, will be able to claim compensation from the redress scheme whether or not it has been proven that a specific individual was guilty. Again, we can draw from the principles of the Law.
17 (Read Deuteronomy 21:1-4, 6-7) Under the Law there was no such thing as a ‘no blame’ manslaughter. Whenever there was a death caused by other than natural causes there was blood-guilt, whether or not an individual culprit could be found. Just as the elders in Israel would determine the nearest city to a dead body found “in a field”, so today, the Branch Office in whose territory the abuse occurred will accept responsibility for the consequences.
16-17 What procedure will be followed if an abuser does not pay compensation and why is this appropriate?
18 Elders of the congregation where the abuse occurred will follow the example of elders in an Israelite city. Those elders would make a public statement that they had no knowledge that could help bring the perpetrator of the crime to justice. Likewise, in line with the mandatory reporting procedure discussed in the first article in this series, the elders in the congregation where the abuse happened will be required to sign a legal declaration that they have done all within their power to report the crime and cooperate with a criminal investigation. Any elder found to have hidden evidence or colluded in any way to help an abuser escape justice will be removed from his position with immediate effect as a sharer in the sin. (Leviticus 5:1)
18. What procedure will be required of elders before handing over responsibility to the Branch Office?
19 There have been a number of quite radical changes introduced over this series of study articles but we are sure that you will recognize Jehovah’s guiding hand in matters as we (a) make our congregations a safe place for children and a dangerous place for any who might wish them harm (b) accept responsibility and offer a sincere apology for the mistakes of the past and (c) make strenuous efforts to right the wrongs while being determined that they are not repeated. We are sure that Jehovah will richly bless your enthusiastic cooperation as you endeavor to keep pace with Jehovah’s spirit-directed chariot. (Ezekiel 1:19-21)
19. How do you feel about the new direction received over the last three weeks?
Each Branch Office of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide will establish and manage a redress fund with finances that are ring-fenced for use in compensating victims of child sexual abuse.
Redress will be available to anyone who suffered such abuse as a child where both the perpetrator and the child were associated with the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The amount of compensation awarded will be determined by an independent lawyer appointed to represent the survivor and will be guided by the maximum amount payable in a civil case.
Known abusers will be required to pay into the redress fund, the amount to be at the discretion of local elders but at least equivalent to the compensation paid. Refusal of an abuser to comply with this requirement will be deemed clear evidence of a lack of repentance.
In the case where no individual can be held liable, the Branch will pay into the fund to cover the cost. Local elders will make a written statement that they have done all in their power to report to authorities and cooperate with a secular investigation.
Any elder found to have made a false statement in this regard will be deleted immediately and, depending on the law of the land, may be subject to fine or imprisonment for failure to report.
HOW WOULD YOU ANSWER
- What more is needed to demonstrate that an apology is genuine?
- What new arrangement will benefit survivors of child sexual abuse? (see box)
- How do you personally feel about this new provision?