My fellow JWsurvey team members have written extensively on the Australian Royal Commission and Geoffrey Jackson’s testimony in particular. But I hope you will indulge me in revisiting what transpired, especially in light of Watchtower’s defence against Angus Stewart’s findings.
Jackson’s testimony gave the Commission, along with the entire internet, a glimpse into the inner mind of a multi-billion dollar high control group. His presence was unprecedented, especially when you consider that one of his colleagues was recently found evading a subpoena in America.
Early into his testimony, the Commission made sure Jackson understood that its purpose is benevolent, and not to be construed as an attack. He wholeheartedly agreed to this premise, and told the Commission that he was happy to testify.
The hard truth
Once the testimonies were complete, the Senior Council, Angus Stewart, released a report on his findings. On going through them it’s easy to see why they first stressed their good intentions. Quite simply, what they found was a slough of cruel and inhumane practices that put children, and the public at large, under threat.
Organized shunning was something they took a close look at. Among a list of grievances on the practice, they had this to say on its ultimate purpose:
“[The practice of shunning] is adopted and enforced in order to prevent people from leaving the organisation and thereby to maintain its membership”
If you’re going to submit a report about an organization that claims they employ emotional blackmail to maintain membership, it could very well be misinterpreted as an attack. And that’s exactly how Jackson and his Governing Body reacted. Their response, in the form of a submission of their own, was predictable (emphasis added):
“This suggested finding ought not be made because:
(a) there was no evidence given to the Commission upon which it could be based – no documents were or are referred to by Counsel Assisting and no oral testimony is referred to containing any admission which could support such a finding;
(b) it is not true as a matter of fact – Jehovah’s Witnesses are a voluntary faith-based organisation that persons are free to join and to leave;
(c) Jehovah’s Witnesses were not asked to address the Commission on such a question. Had it been raised beforehand, it could have and would have been addressed directly by testimony from persons inside and outside of the faith;
(d) it is not at all relevant to the Commission’s Terms of Reference;
(e) it is an unfounded, unfair and unnecessary attack upon a voluntary faith-based organisation that is law-abiding and does much to promote lawful conduct within Australia and around the world through its exertions; and
(f) if the finding could not be made in a Court of law, it ought not be made by the Commission.”
Simply put, the leaders of the Watchtower Society cannot handle the truth about their own practices. Historically, when anyone points out the cruel and unethical nature of their policies they can only cry persecution. Many times in the past they’ve been confronted with these issues, and they’ve reacted in the same way: by claiming they’re the victims of an “unfounded, unfair and unnecessary attack.”
It’s a standard religious cult defensive tactic. They deny and dismiss any and all criticisms while claiming their religious freedom is under siege. This can have the effect of garnering support from inside and out of the organization.
In psychology there is something called “playing the victim,” which can help explain the reasons behind the Watchtower’s behaviour when criticised. Sometimes, an abuser will try to persuade others that they are the one being victimised. When they do this, it can serve as not only a distraction, but a justification to themselves as a way of resolving their own cognitive dissonance that rises due to their behaviour. It also can serve as a justification to others, because it helps them escape the harsh judgement they may fear others will direct towards them.
On the last day of 2014 I posted an article that delved into Section 4 of the Watchtower’s new highly sanitised history book. The article was, in part, meant to bring to the forefront the Watchtower’s absurd view of themselves in the courtroom. They want people to see them as victims who rose to the challenge and fought off their oppressors with the helping hand of God.
No doubt they now see the Australian Royal Commission as merely another minion from the devil sent to destroy their reputation and attack their faith. Their submission is a prime example of why the Commission found their teachings to foster a distrust of secular authorities. How can any Jehovah’s Witness trust the Commission, or anyone who supports them, when the Watchtower has claimed to have been attacked by them?
It’s the same tired narrative that was played all throughout the 20th century by not just the Watchtower, but all religious cults. The 21st century, on the other hand, finally has a chance to close the book, because now the internet exists and is in full swing.
The real victims
The Senior Council rightly assessed the practice of shunning to be detrimental both to the shunned and the shunners. So sinister is the policy that it creates a “shun or be shunned” environment. It is well within Watchtower’s power to lift this burden from its members, but they flatly refuse.
I cannot help but be reminded of a story in the book of Exodus. Moses had been commissioned by God to go and deliver a message to the Pharaoh of Egypt. The king was to immediately free all the Israelite slaves, but Pharaoh refused to give in even under threat. Plague by plague passed by, and still the Pharaoh would not budge.
The woes that befell Egypt in the story serve as a sound metaphor for the psychological torture that mandated shunning causes in the minds of Jehovah’s Witnesses. How many more tragedies will it take before Watchtower understands that it is unethical, and lets people go from the scourge of this cruel and inhumane practice?
It isn’t the Watchtower and their deity who are the victims here, it’s the millions of people who constantly live under the threat of losing access to the ones they hold dear. It’s the people who cannot be with their loved ones simply because they no longer lead a lifestyle that the Governing Body endorses.
It’s high time for those people to be set free.
The bottom line
The fact is, Jehovah’s Witnesses have an enormous material value to the organization. Together, the membership spends upwards of 2 billion hours preaching in the field and making new converts each year.
They donate their time, their resources and their hard-earned money to what is referred to as “kingdom interests.” They also have children, and subject these to indoctrination, which increases the chances they will become life-long contributors.
Mandated shunning effectively protects the investment Watchtower makes in human beings. It protects their bottom line which, as with a business, is really the top priority. If people could just walk away without any serious repercussions, then they would – and they’d take their time and money with them.
Imagine if shunning was truly a personal decision for each individual member. Suppose it were not a mandated religious edict? Just imagine how much easier it would be for the Jehovah’s Witness faith to grow and prosper if it did not have such a toxic reputation as a “captive organization” weighing it down!
Sure, many would seize their chance and exit if shunning were abolished, but those who remained would be sincere followers, and would have a much easier time selling their beliefs to an increasingly skeptical internet-savvy world.
Despite what people like Geoffrey Jackson would have their members believe, shunning is ultimately detrimental to EVERYONE – the shunned, the shunners, and those who mandate the shunning. It’s an archaic practice better left in antiquity where it belongs. I wholeheartedly believe it has no place in our future, and I hope one day the leaders of Watchtower can see this too.