Why are Jehovah’s Witnesses’ leaders reluctant to report child sexual abuse when there are no mandatory reporting laws? This is a question that has confounded judges, lawyers, police, journalists and even members of the religion around the world.
In the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Governing Body member Geoffrey Jackson, stated in his testimony:
“… if the Australian Government, in all the States, was to make mandatory reporting, it would make it so much easier for us.”Geoffrey Jackson, Transcript (Day 155): 14 August 2015 (PDF), p. 37 of 72, lines 16-19.
Why would Geoffrey Jackson say this? Why is it a problem for Jehovah’s Witnesses to report child sexual abuse to secular authorities in countries and states where there are no mandatory reporting laws?
The answer to almost every question relating to Jehovah’s Witnesses is found in the Bible.
When questioned by the Montana Supreme Court Justices why the Jehovah’s Witnesses do not report child sexual abuse allegations to the authorities, Joel Taylor said this:
“… at Romans chapter thirteen and verse 1, it instructs Christians to be in subjection to the superior authorities. In Proverbs chapter 29 and verse 5* it also instructs Christians that they ought to be or maintain confidentiality. And so, those two principles operate in a balance. When the Law requires a report, elders report; when the Law does not require a report, elders endeavor to maintain confidentiality.”Joel Taylor, Montana Supreme Court, 13 September 2019
*The scripture Mr. Taylor meant to quote was Proverbs 25:9, not Proverbs 29:5.
Proverbs 25:9 is cross referenced with Matthew 18:15 in the New World Translation. But neither the verses in Proverbs, Matthew or Romans explain why Jehovah’s Witnesses do not willingly report child sexual abuse to secular authorities.
Before answering the question why, we must first understand the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ view of the Bible. They believe there are no contradictions in it. They believe it is harmonious. To ensure there are no contraindications, they consider the context, the writer’s viewpoint, historical facts, figurative versus literal interpretation, recognition of actions, their own bible’s renderings of verses, and avoid interpretation using other religions’ dogma.
With the above in mind, let’s consider the writer of the verse Joel Taylor quoted in Romans 13:1. According to Taylor, the verse can be taken literally because “it instructs Christians to be in subjection to the superior authorities”. Noteworthy is the fact that the letter to the Romans was written in 56 CE by the Apostle Paul. Paul also wrote the First Letter to the Corinthians about a year before his letter to the Romans. In 1 Corinthians chapter 6, Paul wrote:
1 Does any one of you who has a dispute with another dare to go to court before unrighteous men, and not before the holy ones? 2 Or do you not know that the holy ones will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you not competent to try very trivial matters? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? Then why not matters of this life? 4 If, then, you do have matters of this life to be tried, is it the men looked down on in the congregation whom you assign as judges? 5 I am speaking to move you to shame. Is there not one wise man among you who is able to judge between his brothers? 6 Instead, brother goes to court against brother, and before unbelievers at that!Better to be defrauded than to take a fellow Christian to court before unbelievers (1 Corinthians 6:1-8)
7 Really, it is already a defeat for you when you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather let yourselves be wronged? Why do you not rather let yourselves be defrauded? 8 Instead, you wrong and defraud, and your brothers at that!
In the footnote to verse 1, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, also has this to say:
go to court before unrighteous men: Secular judges were not governed by God’s law, and their consciences were not trained through a study of God’s Word. Paul called them “unrighteous men,” perhaps because many judges at that time were corrupt. Christians who took a brother before such judges would, in effect, be saying that the elders in the congregation did not have the wisdom to judge “matters of this life.” (1Co 6:3-5) However, spirit-anointed Christians as heavenly associate rulers of the Lord Jesus Christ would be judging not only humans but also angels. (See study note on 1Co 6:3.) Paul states that it would be far better for individual Christians to let themselves “be wronged,” or to accept some personal loss, rather than to divide the congregation and bring disputes to public notice.—1Co 6:7, 8.New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Study Edition)
Considering the historical fact that Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was written before his letter to the Romans, Jehovah’s Witnesses would give priority to the earlier letter. Therefore, for Jehovah’s Witnesses Paul’s direction is clear:
You must not involve the secular courts in matters that involve Jehovah’s Witnesses unless the secular authorities mandate you to do so.
Understanding Jehovah’s Witnesses’ interpretation of scripture explains why Geoffrey Jackson said it would be much easier for them if they were mandated to report child sexual abuse. It also explains why Joel Taylor focused on “confidentiality” when asked why they do not report child sexual abuse when not mandated to do so.
Neither man quoted 1 Corinthians 6 to explain why elders cannot report child sexual abuse. To do so would only reveal their extreme view of secular authorities.