After a five year inquiry, lots of hard work and brave victim testimony, positive results of Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse have emerged. One of the most important is the National Redress Scheme devised for, as their website (www.nationalredress.gov.au) puts it, “people who have experienced institutional child sexual abuse.”
The public hearings for Case Study 29: Jehovah’s Witnesses, were held in Sydney from July 27th through August 14th, 2015. By October 2016, the Commission had issued a report. The findings noted systemic issues with how Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia, responds to allegations of child sexual abuse. Later, in their Final Report, the Commission listed recommendations for the Jehovah’s Witness organization which include that it:
• “…abandon its application of the two-witness rule in cases involving complaints of child sexual abuse.”
• “…revise its policies so that women are involved in processes related to investigating and determining allegations of child sexual abuse.”
• “…no longer require its members to shun those who disassociate from the organization in cases where the reason for disassociation is related to a person being a victim of child sexual abuse.”
That same Final Report makes recommendations for a redress scheme to be “regarded by survivors as being capable of delivering justice.” Some of these recommendations are:
• “an apology from the institution.”
• “the opportunity to meet with a senior institutional representative and receive an acknowledgment of the abuse and its impact on them.”
• “an assurance or undertaking from the institution that it has taken, or will take, steps to protect against further abuse of children in that institution.”
This brings us to October 21st, 2018. As reported by Reuters, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morris offered a rare national apology to victims of institutional child sexual abuse and their families. While such an apology can never remove the pain survivors of abuse live with due to their trauma, such gestures symbolize goodwill and can be a vital step in the healing process. It may demonstrate to those victimized that despite the institution’s failures, a victim’s best interests are a priority going forward.
For the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia, it could have been an opportunity to show that their institution made concerted efforts to prevent future abuses, protect its members and make amends for past negligence. We say it “could have been,” because Watchtower’s absence in Australia’s national apology couldn’t have been more notable.
The National Redress Scheme website has a search feature where you can find the names of all the institutions that have agreed to provide redress for victims and have completed the application process. A simple keyword search on the site for “Jehovah” or “Watchtower” will get you a “No results found” message. To be thorough, leaving the keyword search field blank will give you 1119 results. We’ve combed through all of them and could not find anything that would indicate that Jehovah’s Witness or any of their entities are participants in the redress scheme.
To be fair, the website does mention that “there may be a delay between the time that an institution announces it will join the Scheme, and the time that applications relating to those institutions can be processed.” To date, Watchtower has made no such announcement. Also, institutions have until June 30, 2020 to join the redress scheme. It’s possible that Watchtower’s application has not yet been processed or that they may choose to join the scheme later. Unfortunately, their track record on offering public apologies is virtually non-existent.
Sorry… Not Sorry
It’s clear that Jehovah’s Witnesses understand the importance of an apology. In their November 1st, 2002 Watchtower Magazine article: Apologizing – A Key to Making Peace, they proudly write:
“The Bible confirms that a sincere apology is often an effective way to repair a damaged relationship. For example, in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, when the son returned home and offered a heartfelt apology, the father was more than ready to receive him back into the household. (Luke 15:17-24) Yes, a person should never be too proud to swallow his pride, apologize, and seek forgiveness. Of course, for sincerely humble individuals, apologies are not so difficult to make.”
The article even makes a case for the value of apologizing when one has done nothing wrong.
“Peace among fellow believers is more important than proving who is right and who is wrong. Keeping this principle in mind makes it easier to apologize for a wrong that someone thinks we have committed against him or her.”
Editors at Watchtower deemed Michael Jackson’s Thriller video disclaimer message and his remorseful apology in the May 22nd, 1984 Awake! magazine worthy of printing.
“Evidently not wanting viewers to conclude that it promoted spiritism, the film begins with the disclaimer: ‘Due to my strong personal convictions, I wish to stress that this film in no way endorses a belief in the occult’.—Michael Jackson.”
And how does the performer, Michael Jackson, feel about it in looking back? “I would never do it again!” says Jackson. “I just intended to do a good, fun short film, not to purposely bring to the screen something to scare people or to do anything bad. I want to do what’s right. I would never do anything like that again.” Why not? “Because a lot of people were offended by it,” explains Jackson. “That makes me feel bad. I don’t want them to feel that way. I realize now that it wasn’t a good idea. I’ll never do a video like that again!”
He continues: “In fact, I have blocked further distribution of the film over which I have control, including its release in some other countries. There’s all kinds of promotional stuff being proposed on Thriller. But I tell them, ‘No, no, no. I don’t want to do anything on Thriller. No more Thriller.’”May 22, 1984 Awake! magazine
What is Watchtower’s own record for public apologies? While they have plenty to be sorry about, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything that approximates a sincere apology in the organization’s long history.
For example, the rape and death of thousands of Malawian JWs after the Governing Body decreed they were not allowed to hold a political card in a one-party state should certainly be on the apology list. We’ve already mentioned their child sexual abuse policies and resulting cover-ups. There’s also their ban on blood transfusions which has cost hundreds, potentially thousands of lives, including innocent children.
Certainly, all the times Watchtower editors have misquoted sources in their literature to mislead readers into thinking the quote supports their position when in fact, it does the opposite. Or when Rutherford’s tiger-tickling of Nazi leadership during WWII served only to exacerbate their vitriol toward German JWs who were brutalized in prison camps. Not to mention all the apologies due over their continued failed prophecies promoted with such certainty over decades of campaigns.
The only thing that could approximate an actual apology from Watchtower is what was printed in the March 15th, 1980 Watchtower article titled; “Choosing the Best Way of Life”. It pertained to the professed excitement and organizational disillusionment 5 years earlier, after 1975 came and went but nothing noteworthy had occurred. This is what that article had to say:
“In modern times such eagerness, commendable in itself, has led to attempts at setting dates for the desired liberation from the suffering and troubles that are the lot of persons throughout the earth. With the appearance of the book Life Everlasting-in Freedom of the Sons of God, and its comments as to how appropriate it would be for the millennial reign of Christ to parallel the seventh millennium of man’s existence, considerable expectation was aroused regarding the year 1975. There were statements made then, and thereafter, stressing that this was only a possibility. Unfortunately, however, along with such cautionary information, there were other statements published that implied that such realization of hopes by that year was more of a probability than a mere possibility. It is to be regretted that these latter statements apparently overshadowed the cautionary ones and contributed to a buildup of the expectation already initiated.”
For those old enough to remember living through the 1975 era, this amounts to a “sorry… not sorry.” The type of apology that must have felt empty and as unsatisfying as a single M&M for lunch. Passing the buck seems to be the name of the game and no acknowledgment is made to the fact that Watchtower’s implications and not the inferences made by the readers, are the real cause of all the disappointment.
To Say Sorry is to Be Human.
The Governing Body’s actions indicate they do not possess the humility, self-awareness, and empathy required to apologize to its own members. Yet, they not only expect members to overlook their blatant mistakes but must never be critical of their shortcomings and humbly accept whatever is offered as the revamped, “new light” doctrine.
By this I mean that Watchtower, as an entity and the Governing Body, as a collective group of individuals, seems incapable of the very human sentiments that could genuinely inspire an issued apology. The ability to genuinely apologize when actions or words hurt people is a vital trait of human relationships.
This isn’t just a blanket statement. In late June 2019; our documentary crew traveled to Sydney, Australia to conduct several interviews. We learned of how the story of Watchtower’s involvement in the ARC was spun by members of the Australian Branch to make it seem like the institution fared well in the process. There was a lot of “we were the best organization to come out of it” and a lot of “we should not have even part of the inquiry” but there was seemingly no acceptance of any deficiencies, much less any apologies.
In fact, during our trip, we were able to sit with Angus Stewart, the Senior Counsel Assisting at the time of the hearings. We asked him for his thoughts on Watchtower’s spin and his recollections of dealing with Watchtower’s representatives in comparison to other institutions that were also part of the inquiry.
Here’s a portion of what Angus had to say;
Few people have had a close, detailed look at Watchtower’s inner workings in recent history. I can’t recall anyone questioning a sitting Governing Body member under oath. Mr. Stewart and his incredibly astute legal team did both of those things during the inquiry.
Given Mr. Stewart’s assessment, I truly doubt that Anthony Morris III has ever reflected introspectively over his many offensive utterances and thought to himself, “hmm, maybe I shouldn’t have said that.” I’d even give him credit for being too proud or too ashamed to apologize on the off chance the scenario I’ve described were even possible. However, I propose that circumstances will likely force them to do that which they are seemingly incapable of doing so on their own… Offer a public apology.
Don’t Count on it.
As we stated before, it’s possible that Watchtower will later join Australia’s National Redress Scheme which requires a public apology. It’s “possible” but given their track record, it’s reasonable to say to ourselves, “don’t count on it”. Public pressure and opinion might spark a change in their policy which I understand reads naïve, but there is cause for optimism.
Things have changed drastically since 1975. More and more people across the globe are connected to abundant streams of data and each other thanks to the internet. Hashtag movements like #MeToo have raised the awareness of the public to issues that were rarely openly discussed. As seen recently in Montana, abuse victims who take Watchtower to court are seeing judgments in their favor, and for larger sums.
Governing Body members who, thanks to the monthly JW Broadcasts, now provide a recognizable face to blame for their organization’s wrongdoings. In other countries, momentum is building for inquiries like Australia’s Royal Commission in places like the UK, Netherlands, Canada, Spain, and the US.
Television networks like A&E and producers like Leah Remini are creating content that specifically addresses the issues with high control groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Narrative films like Daniel Kokotajlo’s “Apostasy” or “The Children Act” with Emma Thompson have made waves in the film festival circuits.
“The Truth About the Truth”, though still in production, is one of several upcoming documentary film projects to tackle the organization’s policies of shunning, mishandling of child abuse and the blood prohibition. There’s also an ever-increasing number of activists, writers and journalists who are now covering these stories in their media outlets for a growing social media community of former Jehovah’s Witnesses who do not drop the ball on sharing all this information. Can an institution that is never willing to apologize survive all this unwanted attention?
It seems things are building up to a tipping point and Watchtower will have to adjust its policies, adapt to changes or cease to exist as it does currently. Government and Religions are entities often reluctant and extremely slow to change. To Watchtower’s detriment, we now live in an era where such slowness can lead organizations to go the way of institutional Dodo birds like Blockbuster and Sears Roebuck & Company. Jehovah’s Witnesses are not immune to these realities.
What will they do if Watchtower’s tax-exempt status is challenged or if more governments act as Russia’s did and their properties are seized, or their publications are outlawed? How will they adapt to legislative changes spurred on by these inquiries? What about the civil lawsuits currently being litigated or already in the pipeline? How can Jehovah’s Witnesses publicly withstand the type of logical dissection of their policies as was demonstrated by the likes of Angus Stewart during the ARC?
It might be too soon to tell but all things considered, it certainly raises the stock value of three simple words required for an apology, doesn’t it?
Note to Readers: I had previously written guest articles for JWSurvey.org under the pseudonym “James Sequoia”. Unfortunately, there are many who must continue their work anonymously because Watchtower forces families to choose the organization over loved ones.
At the time, concealing my identity served as a protection for my still active JW family and the repercussions that inevitably come to many who speak out against Watchtower’s harmful and abusive practices.
Though it comes at great personal expense, my immediate family has managed to exit the organization while our children are still young enough to grow up unaffected by our affiliation with the religion.
Personally, this means severed relationships with my close extended family and lifelong friends. For my wife, who is not disfellowshipped, choosing to remain supportive of me and raising our girls as non-JWs means her family shuns us as well.
Despite all those negatives, I’ve come value my freedom and “James Sequoia” is now just a reminder of my imprisonment, so today I’m breaking him free. For my wife, for my lovely daughters and for the loved ones we’ve lost to Watchtower, I must right some wrongs, and speak my truth openly and honestly.
Going forward I’ll do so proudly under my given name, Javier Ortiz.