During what should be the last day of testimony during Australia’s Royal Commission Inquiry Into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, lead counsel for the Commission, Mr. Angus Stewart, did something so amazing, so enthralling, so captivating, I had a hard time breathing. At first I laughed, then I closed my eyes and thanked my ancestors for this man and everyone in that inquiry.
Let me catch you up to speed, if you have not been following this story. The Royal Commission was formed to investigate how various institutions respond to cases of reported child sex abuse. Jehovah’s Witnesses were put on that list after the Commission received numerous complaints and stories from victims. In an unbelievable turn of events, governing body member Geoffrey Jackson, an Australian citizen, was in Australia at the time in order to care for his ailing father. The Commission ordered him to appear.
If you’re not familiar with Jehovah’s Witnesses, you may not realize the magnitude and weight of this occurrence alone. The governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses are their ultimate authority, seen as having direct guidance from Jehovah himself, are responsible for all the rules and policies of Jehovah’s Witnesses along with their doctrines and teachings, and are above anyone and everyone else in the religion. They are, in the eyes of Jehovah’s Witnesses, god’s mouthpiece on earth.
“How reassuring to know that Jesus Christ provides leadership to his disciples today through the Governing Body, the holy spirit, and the angels!”
~ March 15, 2002, Watchtower
The governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses also typically feel that they are beyond questioning; Gerrit Losch, another member of the body, refused to appear when summoned for a court case in California, which then resulted in the Watchtower losing a $13.5 million summary judgment against them. You can read the press release about the case and the judgment here: Zalkin Law Firm Press Release.
Having someone like Geoffrey Jackson leave the comfortable surroundings of the headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses and all the minions therein, sit under the accusatory lights of such an inquiry, and dare to be questioned by lowly non-JW people, is of great importance to many former Witnesses. All of us have wanted to see these men be made to answer for their horrific, traumatizing policies that continuously victimize all their members, women and children especially. While many of us in the ex-JW community were hoping for the best, we also collectively held our breaths, wondering if their well-rehearsed facade, their fake smiles that continue to dupe some 8 million congregation members into thinking that they are something special, would have any effect on the members of the Commission.
That fear was set aside when just a half hour into his inquiry, Barrister Stewart did something to Mister Jackson that was so amazing, it made me realize that I could rest easily; we were in good hands.
He turned his back on him.
No, Barrister Stewart was not purposely being rude or dismissive, he was not making a gesture of contempt of any sort. Mister Jackson, who was hooked up via videoconferencing, was speaking, and Barrister Stewart went to reach for additional materials behind him. However, his manner was so nonchalant and disinterested that Mister Jackson actually stopped and asked if Barrister Stewart could hear him, probably thinking they had lost the connection. Barrister Stewart didn’t even turn around or look up as he responded very nonchalantly that yes, he could hear him and yes, Mister Jackson could “carry on.” Obviously he was less than impressed with what the man had to say.
While of course it’s anyone’s guess as to why Barrister Stewart was so unaffected in his mannerisms and response, one cannot help but to see why he wouldn’t be all that impressed with this man sitting before him. According to his CV (Angus-Stewart-CV1), Barrister Stewart has a bachelor’s degree with dual majors in both Economics and English, earned his law degree in South Africa cum laude (meaning graduating with honors) and received a class medal, and has a BCL or advanced law degree from the world-renowned Oxford University. According to the website TransLegal, “As a Master’s-level qualification, the BCL degree is one of the world’s most prestigious … Only those with first-rate grades are admitted.” He is a Rhodes Scholar, meaning he received one of the most exclusive and coveted scholarships in the world to attend Oxford; in 1992, when he would have received the scholarship, there were only 94 recipients worldwide and only 10 from his home country of South Africa. He has several professional memberships and has been recognized by his legal peers, and is licensed to practice law in both South Africa and all of Australia and its territories.
Mister Jackson? He dropped out of school at 15 to preach.
Academic achievements aside, no doubt Barrister Stewart was not impressed by the disrespect he was given by Mister Jackson. When first referencing a scripture he was going to look up and read, Mister Jackson noted the book and chapter and then said, a bit condescendingly, “Now, Mister Stewart, perhaps I could give you the page number to make it a little quicker,” to which Barrister Stewart replied, “I’m on it already, Mister Jackson.” Assuming that the person to whom you’re speaking, and especially a highly educated man who had repeatedly referenced, read from, and followed along in the bible during the course of the inquiry already, would need a child-like explanation so he doesn’t fumble along and slow down the inquiry he’s conducting, is beyond arrogant and disrespectful.
Perhaps Barrister Stewart was not impressed with the comments and answers given during the entire inquiry either. Elders were found to have laughed off stories of physical abuse, dismiss stories of sexual abuse and incest, and callously send victims home to their abusers. The lack of concern for victims shown by the elders the Commission questioned, who had made young ladies sit in front of their abusers and recount obscene details of their sexual assaults to them and to three male friends of their abusers, with no protection or support offered, is not impressive. Mister Jackson himself said that he had not read the statements of the victims before arriving, but referred on occasion the statements of the elders who had been questioned, illustrating his priorities. Many who listened to his testimony heard nothing but runaround, deflection, half-truths, and even outright lies.
Not missing anything, Barrister Stewart referred to an airing on the JW broadcast channel, asking Mister Jackson if he thought the work of the inquiry was the result of “apostate lies,” as their broadcast claimed. No doubt that statement hadn’t impressed the Commission either, any more that it impressed all of their many victims. Being laughed at, dismissed, sent home to their abusers, counseled about respecting their own violent rapists, forced to recount their horrific assaults in graphic detail, being asked if they enjoyed the experience at all, isn’t exactly impressive to a victim. Since Mister Jackson, and it would seem any and all of those in charge of setting policy, investigating abuse claims, and helping the victims, do nothing but turn their backs on them, it was very ironic and cathartic to see a man like Barrister Stewart do the same.
Mister Jackson offering to share the page number of the scripture he was referencing is around the 14:30 mark. Barrister Stewart stepping away is around the 33:25 mark.