Australian Royal Commission 2015

Jehovah’s Witnesses Governing Body Member Shows Up for Russian Ban Hearing, But Not Australian Royal Commission Inquiry Followup on Child Sexual Abuse

Over the past few months, Russian courts have been weighing the option of outright banning the literature and proselytizing of Jehovah’s Witnesses in that entire country; to date,the religion has been banned in a few provinces because of what the government feels is “extremism.”

When the Russian high court convened to consider this ban, in the audience was JW governing body member Mark Sanderson (seated).

Sanderson was so concerned with the outcome of this ban that he flew all the way from the religion’s headquarters in New York, USA, to sit and listen. This is hugely distressing, as it reveals quite a bit about the priorities of the religion. How so?

Less than one month ago, the Australian Royal Commission (ARC) held a follow-up meeting with Jehovah’s Witnesses; as you may already know, the ARC was put in place to investigate how child sexual abuse allegations are handled in various institutions and, during the first part of this Inquiry, the Witnesses were found to be quite deficient to say the least. (See this post regarding the initial 2015 Inquiry and this post regarding the 2017 followup.)

Barrister Stewart of the ARC noted, at the outset of the 2017 followup, that the ARC had requested a member of the governing body attend to discuss matters related to their child sex abuse policy, and this request was denied:

Keep in mind, the ARC was not a criminal trial; there was no risk of someone going to jail at the end of it and no fines or other such punishments to be levied, so there was no reason for the governing body to avoid it. The purpose of the ARC is to note how institutions can and should improve their policies and practices for protecting children, period.

During the first part of the ARC Inquiry, in August of 2015, governing body member Geoffrey Jackson gave lip service to their desire to make such improvements:

Keep in mind, Jackson was there because he had been subpoenaed to appear; he is an Australian citizen and had coincidentally been in Australia at the time, caring for his elderly father. He didn’t voluntarily show up or offer to appear, despite his supposed concern to find solutions to child sexual abuse, and despite his statement that he was “happy” to testify.

If Jackson was so “happy” to testify at the first Inquiry, why not testify for the followup, as was requested? This followup was to note how Jehovah’s Witnesses had implemented recommended changes when it comes to handling accusations of child sexual molestation. Why wasn’t anyone on the governing body “happy to testify” at that followup, ready to tell the ARC, and the world, of the improvements made and solutions found for this problem in their organization?

Is the Governing Body Concerned for Anyone?

I openly admit that I have no insight as to why fellow governing body member Sanderson was at the court hearing for the potential Russian ban; if someone wants to make the argument that he was there to encourage the religion’s members to stay strong or to give moral support to anyone called on to testify, I’ll allow it. If a person wants to assert that the governing body is concerned with the welfare of the individual Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, I’ll allow that as well.

However, that doesn’t answer the question of why the governing body seems so unconcerned with the welfare of child sexual abuse victims in Australia. The governing body can show up for a potential ban in Russia because it might cause suffering and distress to Jehovah’s Witnesses, but can’t show up for a simple Inquiry that is trying to alleviate the suffering and distress of children in their religion worldwide?

At one point during his testimony at the first part of the ARC Inquiry, Jackson said the following to an attorney representing one of the abuse victims who had come forward:

The governing body had a chance to personally express their “love and concern” for the victims of child sex abuse within the religion during the ARC followup, but failed. They didn’t send a statement to be read, didn’t make a video statement about it, nothing.

They have yet to acknowledge the problem within the religion on their online TV channel, in their literature, in public discourses, or elsewhere. They couldn’t even be bothered to answer questions in person about improvements to their procedures. When it was time to show up and offer that concern for victims in person, the governing body showed their true colors and where those concerns truly lie.

This negates, in my mind, any argument that the presence of Sanderson was to comfort and encourage the individual members of the religion who might suffer under this proposed ban. I’m inclined to think his concern, and the concern of the governing body, is with their money, power, and growth. If not, why show up for one hearing and to comfort and support one group of members, and not the other?

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