One of our commenters put forward a defense for the position of Jehovah’s Witnesses regarding the mandatory reporting of child abuse cases. Coincidently, a good friend of mine gave me the identical defense. I believe it reflects the standard belief among Jehovah’s Witnesses, and therefore I felt it required more than a reply at the comment level.

Here is the argument for the defense:

The royal commission showed that the WT has been producing material for a long time to educate people on the dangers of child abuse. The JW policy is to do things according to what the Bible says. For them the Bible is above the laws of the land, but they comply where the laws do not contradict or go against Biblical directives.
The two-witness rule is only for taking congregational action, not for taking legal action. It has been up to parents or guardians to take legal action. It seems many parents have not wanted to report such matters to authorities, as they did not want to the hassle. One of the things that the Royal Commission has commented on is that Australia does not have uniform laws about reporting such matters. The JWs in states where it is mandatory would report it even if parents did not want to do it.
It has not been the big problem the papers made it out to be.

I do not wish to single out the commentor, but only his argument.

The Organization has been hiding behind the fact that where there is mandatory reporting, they do comply. This is a red herring. The implication is that if the government doesn’t feel that reporting all cases of child abuse is important enough to make mandatory, it is unfair to come down on us for failing to report. What came out at the Australian Royal Commission hearing was that some states had mandatory reporting and repealed it. The reason was that by making it mandatory, people reported everything for fear of being penalized. The authorities were then swamped with a lot of trivial complaints and spent so much time following them all up that they feared legitimate cases would slip through the cracks.  They hoped that by repealing the mandatory reporting law, people would do the right thing and report legitimate cases.  Witnesses would likely not expect “worldly” people to do the right thing, but why wouldn’t we do what the authorities expect, given that we hold ourselves to a higher standard?

There are 2 things that we are overlooking in our facile defense of this serious situation. The first is that even if there is a mandatory reporting law, it only applies to allegations of child abuse. That’s allegations not crimes.  Mr. Stewart, the lawyer for the commission, made it clear that reporting crime is mandatory.  Where there is clear evidence of child abuse – when it has been possible to implement the 2-witness rule – we have a crime and all crimes are to be reported. Yet, even in cases where crime has clearly been committed, we have still failed to report it. We failed to report over 1000 cases! What possible defense could there be for that?

The 2nd point is that a government should not have to make reporting an allegation of such a serious crime mandatory. The conscience of any law-abiding citizen should motivate him to report to the superior authorities any serious crime, especially one that constitutes a clear and present danger to the populace.  If the Organization is truly willing to stand by the claim that we do things according to what the Bible says, then why are we disobeying the Bible in regard to showing submission to the superior authorities by trying to handle criminal cases all by ourselves? (Romans 13:1-7)

Why do we deal with this crime differently than we would any other? Why do we say it is only the responsibility of the family?

Let us say that a sister came forward and reported to the elders that she saw an elder leaving a barn with blood on his clothes. She then entered the barn and found the body of a murdered woman. Would the elders first go to the brother, or would they go directly to the police? Based on how we handle child abuse cases, they would go to the brother. Let us say the brother denies even being there. The elders are now dealing with a single witness. Based on how we deal with child abuse cases, the brother would continue to serve as an elder and we would inform the sister that she has the right to go to the police.  If she doesn’t, then no one will know unless someone stumbles upon the corpse.  Of course, by this time, the brother will have hidden the corpse and cleaned up the crime scene.

If you replace “murdered woman” with “sexually abused child”, you have an accurate scenario of what we have done not only in Australia but around the world, thousands of times.

Now what if the murderer we’ve just excused turns out to be a serial killer and kills again? Who bears the bloodguilt for all the murders he commits from that point forward? Ezekiel was told by God that if he didn’t warn the wicked, the wicked would still die, but Jehovah would hold Ezekiel accountable for their spilled blood. In other words, for failing to report he would bear bloodguilt. (Ezekiel 3:17-21) Would this principle not apply in the case of failing to report a serial killer? Of course! Would the principle not also apply in the case of failing to report a child abuser? Serial killers and child abusers are similar in that they both are compulsive repeat offenders. However, serial killers are quite rare while child abusers, tragically, are common.

We try to absolve ourselves of responsibility by claiming that we are following the Bible. What Bible Scripture is it that tells us we have no obligation to protect those in the congregation and those in the community against a very serious threat to their health and well-being? Is this not one of the reasons we claim authority to knock on people’s doors repeatedly? We do it out of love so as to warn them of something that is very dangerous should they ignore it.  That is our claim!  By doing this, we believe we are absolving ourselves of bloodguilt, following the model set by Ezekiel. Yet, when the threat is even more imminent, we claim we do not have to report it unless ordered to do so. The fact is, we have been ordered to do so by the highest authority in the universe. The entire law of Moses rested on 2 principles: to love God above all other things, and to love your neighbour as yourself. If you have children, would you not want to know about a potential threat to their well-being? Would you consider that a neighbour who knew of such a threat and failed to warn you was showing you love?  If your children were subsequently raped and you learned your neighbor knew of the threat and failed to warn you, would you not hold him accountable?

In our example of a single witness to a murder, there was forensic evidence that the police could have used to potentially establish the guilt or innocence of the brother that was witnessed leaving the scene of the crime. We would surely call in the police in such a case, knowing that they have the means we lack to establish the facts. The same is true in cases of child abuse. That we fail to make use of this tool shows that we are not really interested in others, nor are we interested in the sanctification of God’s name.  We cannot sanctify God’s name by disobeying him.  We are only interested in protecting the reputation of the Organization.

By failing to put God’s law first, we have brought reproach on ourselves, and because we presume to represent him and bear his name, we bring reproach on him.  There will be serious consequences.