On June 9, 2016, The Moscow Times reported that Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Russian city of Belgorod were to be disbanded for being “extremist,” per the local Supreme Court. According to the story, “The Belgorod branch is not the only Jehovah’s Witness group banned in Russia. A Jehovah’s Witness congregation was denounced as extremist in the town of Stary Oskol in the Belgorod region earlier this year. Another group was banned in Obninsk in 2015.”
The story said this city found JWs to be “extremist” because they “tore” families apart and “tried to entice young people into the group.” Other news stories stated that the book, “Save Yourself in God’s Love,” and similar JW writings “propagate hatred toward other religions, linguistic and religious studies experts concluded during court proceedings that lasted for over a year.”
How It’s Bad
Having to face prison for any reason cannot be pleasant, and certainly not Russian prison. I truly feel sorry for some Witnesses, in Russia and other places, who may go to prison for reasons I myself would face prison, such as for refusing to join the army or State-mandated churches. After all, JWs are not going to prison because they’ve murdered someone; many Jehovah’s Witnesses live relatively harmless, even mundane lives.
What is especially shameful is that JWs have been convinced, slowly and through very sly manipulative tactics, to equate the Watchtower Society with god himself. They think they’re facing prison because they’re being persecuted for serving god, when they’re truthfully serving nothing more than a business. Wasting your life serving a for-profit publishing company disguised as a religion is bad enough; having to go to prison for such a sham is even worse.
On The Other Hand …
Please take just three short minutes and watch this clip from the Australian Royal Commission Inquiry into Jehovah’s Witnesses, from 2015:
Barrister Stewart, the man questioning this elder, first determines that they’re discussing a situation where elders are not satisfied that a child molester will not offend again. Yes, that person might be disfellowshipped (excommunicated), but it’s determined that the elder here would only alert a “close friend” of any danger, and no one else. They do not phone authorities or take any other steps to protect children.
In short, the children of parents who are not a “close friend” of the elders, children who might come to visit that pedophile’s children, young relatives of that pedophile, and even that pedophile’s own children are not protected. Remember, this is talking about someone elders know has molested children before and in situations where they feel that such a person may actually molest again. Despite that danger, they are downright belligerent and resentful when asked about steps they would take to protect those future victims.
Please take another few short seconds and look at this video:
This situation involved a young woman who was being raped and molested by her own father, who was also raping and molesting the other three daughters in the home. The man’s wife knew of his behavior but overlooked it, and when the man was caught with another woman, the elders actually encouraged him to go back to his own home despite knowing what he was doing to his daughters. As Barrister Stewart says, that wasn’t a safe situation for the daughters at all, but this man was flippant about what was happening to her.
Consider, too, the October 1, 2012, letter to all elders worldwide from the headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses , which included the following statements:
- We are not discussing a situation wherein a minor who is a willing participant and who is approaching adulthood has sexual relations with an adult who is a few years older than the minor…
- If … the elders believe he may be a “predator,” the elders should immediately call the Service Department for assistance. A “predator” is one who clearly lacks self-control and by his actions provides reason to believe he will continue to prey on children. Not every individual who has sexually abused a child in the past is considered a “predator.” The branch office, not the local body of elders, determines whether an individual who has sexually abused children in the past will be considered a “predator.”
- What step should be taken when you learn of an adult who has been viewing child pornography? As stated in paragraph 4 of this letter, two elders should call the Legal Department.
- It cannot be said in every case that one who has sexually abused a child could never qualify for privileges of service in the congregation.
So, this letter states that Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that a minor can consent to sex with adults, that a branch office (which may not even be located in the same country as a child molester) will determine if someone is a “predator,” that men should call the JW legal department if they know of someone viewing child pornography, and that child molesters can have privileges of service (meaning authority) in the congregation.
What the letter doesn’t state is that the elders should immediately call the police in any of these situations.
Not once does it mention calling the authorities; it says that the legal department will notify them of their legal obligations, but never does it say that an elder should immediately inform the police, child protective services, or anyone who may take actual steps to remove this person from society and actually protect children. No, they should call the legal department to see if they’re legally obligated to do anything in these situations; if not, well, the children are just going to need to deal with the consequences.
Note also this post, about Jehovah’s Witnesses destroying records of child sexual abuse allegations, after ordered to preserve such records by the UK Goddard Inquiry into how these accusations are handled. Even the BBC stated that Jehovah’s Witnesses may “have some explaining to do” about this action.
There’s the Law and Then There’s the Court of Public Opinion
The website FindLaw states, “A person charged with aiding and abetting or accessory is usually not present when the crime itself is committed, but he or she has knowledge of the crime before or after the fact, and may assist in its commission through advice, actions, or financial support.” (Bold added for emphasis.)
Let me pose a question to readers; do you think men who put children in danger by putting known pedophiles in positions of authority, or by encouraging molesters to return to their own homes where they’re raping their own children, and who outright defy legal orders by destroying notes relating to such accusations, should be criminally responsible for their actions? Would you say that these men would be assisting in the commission of the crime, after the fact, by these actions?
I’m not an attorney but I’ll guess the legal answer to these questions is no; a court of law wouldn’t typically see this as aiding and abetting these criminals, but set aside the actual point of law for a moment. Do you think such actions are downright criminal?
If someone treats a child molestation victim so horrifically to actually ask her to relive her own rape by spreading her legs in front of her rapist and other adult men (see this post), if they ask someone if they “enjoyed” being raped at age 5 or 10 (see this post), do you think those people should face criminal sanctions? Is this “assisting” in the crime, after the fact, by implying that child rape didn’t actually occur, or isn’t actually a crime if the child “enjoyed” it? Do you see this as criminal behavior?
Consider another situation common with Jehovah’s Witnesses. What about those who refuse blood transfusions for their children and allow them to die, or encourage young children to make this decision themselves, even sacrificing their lives to this directive? (See this post.) Should they face some sort of manslaughter charge or some criminal liability for being responsible for the death of that child? Legalities aside, what do you think?
I realize that the ban in Russia is not for these reasons listed above; Jehovah’s Witnesses are being banned for “tearing families apart” and defaming other religions. However, the point is this; if you think that this ban is a bit extreme and JW elders don’t deserve prison for these actions, is that true for all their actions? If you disagree with a ban for shunning and defamatory literature, what about putting pedophiles in positions of authority and turning their backs on the victims, or allowing children to die by withholding simple medical treatment? Should JWs face prison terms for those actions?
No, I wouldn’t want to face prison for my own beliefs about spirituality, or for not joining the army or a State-mandated church. However, there is a big difference between Jehovah’s Witnesses and I, in that no one would ever turn their back on a child molestation victim in my house. No one would ever get flippant about a child being sent back to the home of their raping, abusing father; not in my house.
So, do Jehovah’s Witnesses deserve the Russian ban for inciting hatred against other religions and tearing apart families? Probably. Do they deserve prison for these actions, or any of their actions?
Maybe we should ask one of their victims that question, and see what he has to say.
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