Jehovah’s Witnesses adhere to what is called a “two witness” rule when it comes to handling allegations of child sex abuse in their religion. This rule demands that there be a second witness to this abuse, if the accused person does not confess, in order for elders to remove the abuser from the congregation. No other evidence is enough to disfellowship (excommunicate) this person; not the overall credibility of the child’s statement, not the attitude of the accused, not if the accused has child porn on his computer, etc. The only exception is another accusation by a second victim.
Jehovah’s Witnesses base this policy on Matthew 18:16, where Jesus did say that two witnesses were needed to establish matters. The religion emphasized their adherence to this policy in a recent video that was released on their broadcasting channel, and you can watch the 9-minute snippet here:
Jesus, Some Grain, and a Withered Hand
Being an atheist, I don’t adhere to the bible as an authority, but since Jehovah’s Witnesses do, I’d like to show them, from the bible itself, that they are not following the commands or example of Jesus in this matter:
“1 Now on a sabbath he was passing through grainﬁelds, and his disciples were plucking and eating the heads of grain, rubbing them with their hands. 2 At this some of the Pharisees said: “Why are you doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 3 But in reply Jesus said to them: “Have you never read what David did when he and the men with him were hungry? 4 How he entered into the house of God and received the loaves of presentation and ate and gave some to the men with him, which it is not lawful for anyone to eat but for the priests only?” 5 Then he said to them: “The Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath.” 6 On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and began teaching. And a man was there whose right hand was withered. 7 The scribes and the Pharisees were now watching Jesus closely to see whether he would cure on the Sabbath, in order to ﬁnd some way to accuse him. 8 He, however, knew their reasoning, so he said to the man with the withered hand: “Get up and stand in the center.” And he rose and stood there. 9 Then Jesus said to them: “I ask you men, Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save a life or to destroy it?” 10 After looking around at them all, he said to the man: “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was restored. 11 But they ﬂew into a senseless rage, and they began to talk over with one another what they might do to Jesus.” (Luke 6:1-11)
For those unfamiliar with the bible, Jesus was obligated to follow the law of the Jews at the time, including observing the Sabbath, which didn’t allow any work on that day. These pharisees were religious leaders, dictating this law.
According to this law, rubbing grain between the hands was considered threshing, or work, forbidden on the Sabbath. Performing any medical treatment that wasn’t necessary to save a life, such as healing a withered hand, was considered unnecessary work, so this also would have been forbidden on the Sabbath.
Here’s an important point to note, however; Jesus did not argue with the pharisees that rubbing grain between the hands or healing a man was not actually working, or violating the law. In fact, Jesus brought up the example of David and his men eating bread in the temple that was reserved for the priests; in other words, David and his men did break the law, as did Jesus.
Jesus justified setting aside the letter of the law when it was necessary to feed a hungry belly, and when it was a question of doing something good and helpful to someone. According to Jesus’ own words and actions, strict adherence to the letter of the law was to be set aside when there was a conflict between obeying the law and providing for someone’s welfare.
Point of the Law
This is only logical, as this law given by Moses was supposed to, among other things, ensure justice against crimes. If one purpose of the law was to protect people and ensure they would get justice, why would you adhere to the letter of the law if doing so meant failing to protect people, or worse yet, actually doing harm to them?
Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves have criticized those who miss this very point; the book, “Come Be My Follower,” page 105, paragraph 12 says:
“Jesus often defended the Holy Scriptures against misuse, misinterpretation, and misrepresentation. The religious teachers of his day represented God’s Word in an unbalanced way. They put a lot of emphasis on observing the smallest particulars of the Mosaic Law but very little on applying the principles on which the laws were based. They thus encouraged a superficial form of worship, one concerned with outward appearances rather than with weightier matters—such as justice, mercy, and faithfulness.”
Yet, despite criticizing religious teachers who observed “the smallest particulars” of the law while ignoring justice, Jehovah’s Witnesses do exactly the same thing. Yes, the letter of the law says that there should be two witnesses to establish a matter, but this is obviously impossible in cases of child molestation. Demanding the observance of this “particular” of the law denies a child justice and protection from further abuses.
In doing this, elders are ignoring Jesus’ example in setting aside the law when necessary to protect someone, and ignoring his overt instructions to overrule the letter of the law if someone’s health, safety, and welfare were at stake. He outright said that a person should “do good” and “save a life,” even if it meant not obeying the strict letter of the law, but this is not what Jehovah’s Witnesses do in these cases.
The Power of Reason
In that video above, Jehovah’s Witnesses lecture their viewers to use their “power of reason” about the need for this two-witness rule. Well, a person’s “power of reason” should first ask, why were these stories of Jesus’ actions and his confrontation with the pharisees included in the bible? Everything in the bible is there for a reason, so people will learn something, so what is the lesson being taught in these stories?
Using the power of reason, a person should be able to see that Jesus was purposely teaching his followers that the letter of the law doesn’t overrule a person’s welfare. In fact, Jesus chastised and rebuked those who demanded that the letter of the law be adhered to, if it was done at the expense of the persons living under that law:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you give the tenth of the mint and the dill and the cumin, but you have disregarded the weightier matters of the Law, namely, justice and mercy and faithfulness. These things it was necessary to do, yet not to disregard the other things. Blind guides, who strain out the gnat but gulp down the camel!” (Matthew 23:23-24)
That video above refers to critics of this two-witness rule as “apostates,” and the implication is that these apostates are ignorant of the correct application of scriptures. Ironically, the pharisees did this same thing, claiming that their critics did not know the law and were “accursed.” (John 7:49)
“Apostates” are actually following the instructions and example of Jesus more so than the governing body, and any elders in the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, when they criticize this misplaced endorsement of the two-witness rule. Like Jesus fiercely and boldly criticizing the pharisees, these “apostates” criticize self-righteous, snarling tyrants who put a strict, nonsensical, authoritarian application of the law above the welfare and safety of those who are supposed to be protected by that same law.
On the other hand, the governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and elders in the congregations, are modern-day pharisees, outright ignoring the example and clear instructions from Jesus himself. They’re doing exactly what Jesus rebuked the pharisees for doing, and, most importantly, they do this at the expense of children who are being raped and molested in their congregations. As Jesus said in that scripture above, these ones have a choice, but rather than save a life, they choose instead to destroy, literally, tens of thousands of them, by ignoring the need for justice for their most helpless victims.
¹Editor’s note: An original post of this blog referred to Luke 11:1-11, but the verses are actually found at Luke 6:1-11.
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