On the eighth and final day of the Royal Commission inquiry, something very rare and significant took place.
Watchtower Governing Body member Geoffrey Jackson took the stand to publicly answer questions about some of the most secretive and carefully-guarded aspects of Watchtower policy: the way in which Jehovah’s Witnesses deal with internal accusations of child abuse.
It wasn’t easy to get him there.
Jackson’s comments on the day that he was “happy to testify” seem rather incongruous with the titanic struggle of previous Watchtower officials to keep him off the stand, to the point of even seemingly attempting outright deceit as to Jackson’s role in the organization.
Nonetheless, on Day 8 Geoffrey Jackson took the stand via video link to explain and defend the policies he and his fellow six Governing Body members enforce upon Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide.
In some respects, Jackson put on a better show than many of the elders. He didn’t disintegrate into a shamefaced mess, for example, or give an account of an investigation that was subsequently contradicted by his own notes taken at the time.
Yet his testimony was still disastrous for Watchtower, as the newly-released Submission of the Senior Counsel Assisting demonstrates.
One of the infuriating things about Jackson’s testimony was how often he simply ducked the questions put to him. The more incisive the question, and the more potentially damning the answer, the harder the swerve he employed.
Some observers expressed disappointment at the time, feeling that Jackson had successfully used this tactic to pull the wool over the Commissions’ eyes.
If this was your fear, I have some good news for you.
The report explicitly calls him out on this tactic, documenting every moment that he used it. Here is just one example, taken from the hearing’s discussion of the two-witness rule.
332 Mr Jackson was asked to what extent the Jehovah’s Witness organisation was bound by the Scriptures to maintain and apply the two‐witness rule. He did not respond to the question, instead telling the Royal Commission that he ‘thought that that had already been established in the hearings, but, if not, certainly that is something that we need to follow up.”
Indeed, it became clear as the hearings went on that Jackson, having spent his life around people who are forbidden to question him on pain of shunning, was ill-equipped to face down a room of skilled legal professionals over whom he had no leverage.
Even in the matter of scriptural debate, an area in which you would assume Jackson would be able to hold his own, the Commission found him dreadfully wanting.
For example, Jackson stated emphatically that women could never be elders or take a role in the judgment seat of Watchtower’s judicial process. He justified this statement by stating that women had never had the role of judges in the bible. He was asked a number of times about this, and confirmed it again and again. The bible, he assured the ARC, mentions no female judges.
It would appear that the Royal Commission know their bible better than a member of the Governing Body
342 It should be noted by the Royal Commission that, in his statement, Mr Jackson referred only to those books of the Old Testament in which men are described as judges, and did not refer to Judges 4:4‐5 which tells of the female judge, Deborah. Specifically, the verses report that Deborah, ‘a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time’ and that the ‘Israelites would go up to her for judgment’. Since a woman judge was apparently accepted in the Old Testament, it is not apparent why women should not be judges of ‘Christian’ guilt or innocence in the Jehovah’s Witness organisation.
For another example of Jackson’s apparent ignorance of the scriptures, take the two witness rule discussion. The cornerstone scriptures used by Watchtower to justify this rule are Deuteronomy 19:15, where the mosaic law states that two witnesses are required to establish guilt, and Matthew 18:16 where Jesus appears to re-affirm this rule.
However, it quickly became apparent that the Watchtower appears to have taken these scriptures out of context. It was put to Jackson that Deuteronomy 22:23‐27 appears to specifically indicate a situation where a woman is sexually assaulted in a field (with her being the only witness) and the attacker is nonetheless found guilty on the basis of her testimony alone. Thus, it was presented to Jackson that the two witness rule as stated in Deuteronomy and referred to in the New Testament specifically allowed exceptions in the case of offenses such as sexual assault.
As recorded in the Submission:
328…It was put to Mr Jackson, and he accepted, that that Scripture contemplates a case where there are no witnesses to the rape other than the woman herself. It was also put to Mr Jackson, and he agreed, that only one witness was sufficient, in those circumstances, for the man to be put to death.
It might have appeared as though Jackson, caught out by this unexpected scriptural proficiency from the ARC, may have been contemplating a change in the rule. However, after the hearings, Jackson submitted a bizarre backtrack via written submission, where he stated that this scripture was not discussing finding the man guilty, but deciding if the woman was guilty or not of complicity in her own rape.
On this point, Senior Counsel’s report is extremely telling.
330…Mr Jackson did not seek to explain the reason for the difference between his oral and written evidence as to context of Deuteronomy 22:23‐ 27.
331 It is submitted that there is little utility in attempting to resolve the conflict between Mr Jackson’s oral and his subsequent written evidence on the subject of the relevance of Deuteronomy 22:23‐27 to the flexibility of the two‐witness rule. However, it is open to the Royal Commission to note the difficulty experienced by even a member of the Governing Body in arriving at an interpretation of Deuteronomy 22:23‐27 which renders it irrelevant to the application of the two‐witness rule.
As far as I can see, that’s lawyer speak for: “There is just no reasoning with this man.”
Summing up Jackson’s testimony on this subject, Senior Counsel states: (bold is mine)
336 It is submitted that Mr Jackson was evasive and unhelpful in assisting the Royal Commission to understand whether there is scope for interpretation of the two‐witness rule such that would allow for action to be taken in circumstances where there is only one direct witness to an incident of child sexual abuse.
More pressure was piled upon Jackson when he was asked if he was familiar with the testimony of the abuse survivors, whose firsthand accounts of terrible experiences at the hands of Watchtower seemingly flew in the face of many of his statements about how effective and caring the Organization’s polices were.
Jackson responded that he had been busy caring for his dying father (a tactic he shamelessly used on multiple occasions to try and kill off questions he didn’t like) and so no, he had not had time to read or listen to those testimonies. Yet he assured the commission he cared deeply for these survivors and had great empathy for them. He agreed that their perspectives on Watchtower policy would be invaluable.
However, as the hearings progressed, it became clear through Jackson’s own words that he had listened to every piece of testimony from the elders who had appeared. It seems rather convenient that Jackson had all the time in the world to keep track of what the elders had said, but not enough time to take in what the victims had reported.
This did not go unnoticed by Senior Council either.
450…Mr Jackson accordingly failed to live by the principle that he said he regarded as important, namely that he should have a good understanding of the perspective of a survivor of abuse, and his stated empathy with BCG was hollow.
F65 Mr Jackon’s failure to have read or be familiar with the testimony of the survivor witnesses yet to have read or otherwise familiarised himself with the testimony of Jehovah’s Witness witnesses belies his stated empathy for the survivors and his stated recognition of the importance of their perspectives.
So to summarise Senior Counsel finds that:
- Geoffrey Jackson was “evasive and unhelpful” in addressing key areas of concern around his organization’s handling of child abuse.
- That his claims of empathy and concern for victims of child abuse in the JW organization are directly contradicted by his actions.
- That the scriptural arguments he made in favor of Watchtower’s version of the two-witness rule, and of male-only elders, relied upon taking some scriptures out of context and utterly ignoring others. (The question as to whether or not this was a result of Jackson being deceitful or simply being a poor scholar is not addressed in the report.)
The report actually goes into a lot more detail as to Jackson’s failings, especially in the discussion of shunning, but we don’t have space to cover them here.
However, I would ask any Jehovah’s Witness who is visiting this page, either because you are having doubts, or because you are seeking the truth about the rumors you’ve heard about how Watchtower treats child abuse, to review the videos of Jackson’s testimony on YouTube and the transcripts on the Royal Commission Website.
Then ask yourself…
- Did Jackson’s answers on the questions of shunning, on the role of the Governing Body being the only approved channel of God, and many other aspects of doctrine match what you hear from Watchtower publications and talks?
- Did Jackson’s protestations that the areas being discussed “were not his field,” and that he would have no knowledge of those subjects, match what you understand to be the role of the Governing Body?
- Did this strike you as the testimony of a humble, kind and knowledgeable man to whom a loving God would entrust the safety of his little ones and who was seeking their welfare as a top priority? Or rather, did you see a man who appeared to have other priorities when giving his testimony?
- Royal Commission findings: Watchtower policies place JW children “at significant risk of sexual abuse”
- Reveal article: Jehovah’s Witnesses shield child sex abusers from police, report says
- 12 things we learned from Geoffrey Jackson’s testimony at the Royal Commission
- Royal Commission’s Angus Stewart accuses Watchtower representative of deliberate deception
- Elders shamed under questioning by the Royal Commission
- Australian Royal Commission hears that 1,006 alleged child sex abusers were covered up by Watchtower
- Stephen Lett slams “apostate-driven lies and dishonesties” concerning child abuse record
- JWsurvey articles on child abuse