The Two Witness Rule – an open letter

The Two Witness Rule - an open letter

The ‘Two Witness Rule’ used by Jehovah’s Witnesses’ elders in their judicial committees with regard to accusations of child sexual abuse must be abandoned and disavowed. It has allowed sexual predators to escape justice. Some have attacked multiple victims. No matter how credible the accusation, within the Jehovah’s Witnesses there has to be either a confession or a second witness to the crime before any action regarding that accusation is taken. Two scriptures are used to justify this. The first is in Deuteronomy 19:15, which states in part:

No single witness should rise up against any man respecting any error or any sin

Deuteronomy 19:15

One cannot justify applying this scripture, as written, to a child’s allegation of sexual abuse. In a subsequent chapter of Deuteronomy, two witnesses were not required in sentencing to death a rape victim and her rapist:

“If a virgin is engaged to a man, and another man happens to meet her in the city and lies down with her, you should bring them both out to the gate of that city and stone them to death, the girl because she did not scream in the city and the man because he humiliated the wife of his fellow man. So you must remove what is evil from your midst.

Deuteronomy 22:23, 24

Why would two witnesses be needed for an accusation of child sex abuse but not for the rape of a woman?

Another scripture used to support the ‘Two Witness Rule’ is a statement by Jesus where he quotes the verse in Deuteronomy 19:15:

Moreover, if your brother commits a sin, go and reveal his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take along with you one or two more, so that on the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. If he does not listen to them, speak to the congregation. If he does not listen even to the congregation, let him be to you just as a man of the nations and as a tax collector.

Matthew 18:15 – 17

Clearly, Jesus use of “brother” means he is referring to a dispute involving an adult, not a child. Therefore, if any elder is approached with an allegation of child abuse, he should report it. He should report it to the relevant secular authorities, whether or not it is a legal requirement. Reporting an allegation of abuse does not necessarily mean that he believes that a crime has been committed. Nor does it mean that he is claiming or accusing anyone of a crime. Rather, he is ensuring the safety of a child. He is also ensuring allegations of abuse can be properly investigated. The secular authorities have personnel who are adequately trained and resourced to deal with such criminal activities.

The two witness rule is made irrelevant by this one point. There may be no scriptural basis to take action but reporting abuse is outside the realm of scriptural action.

In the 21st Century we must take reports of child sex abuse very seriously. Accusations of abuse must be investigated comprehensively by the appropriate authorities. Victims must be supported by trained professionals. Although elders are well meaning, they are wholly untrained and often ignorant of effective child protection procedures.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses describe their religion as being a clean organization. Shouldn’t such an organization be leading the way in protecting children and their most vulnerable. The Bible describes clean worship this way:

The form of worship that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself without spot from the world.

James 1:27

Yet the secular authorities have higher standards for child protection than ‘God’s Clean Organization’.

If you are under increased scrutiny, it is not because of persecution. It is because your leaders’ policies continue to place children in harm’s way.

The Reclaimed Voices campaign in Holland has resulted in an official inquiry into Jehovah’s Witnesses’ policies and internal judicial system. An ongoing criminal case in that country led to a police raid on their headquarters in Emmen. A number of kingdom halls were also raided.

Two Witness Rule making headlines

There has been a string of shocking stories published in Norway (The Blue Envelopes, The Elder & A Parallel Court System: Jehovah’s Witnesses Judicial Committees). More were reported in Finland, Portugal, Spain, and Ireland (Meet the Jehovah’s Witnesses, A Failure to Bear Witness & Concerns Grow Over Jehovah’s Witnesses Irish Child Sex Abuse Files). More are being published in South America.

In Britain, The Guardian paper is investigating the ‘Two Witness Rule’ with cross-party support from Members of Parliament (MPs). In America there have been settlements and multi million dollar losses in court over child sex abuse charges. Notably, in Montana, there was an award of $35m to a single abuse victim in September 2018. In Canada a huge class action lawsuit totaling $66m is pending. In Australia, a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse uncovered evidence that Jehovah’s Witnesses covered up abuse. They had not reported a single case of abuse to police despite the fact that some 1500 allegations were made against more than 1000 members.

-Jules Petyt
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