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2019 “Shepherd the Flock of God”: The Problem With Public Reproofs for Child Sex Abuse

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In January of 2019, elders in the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses were issued a new version of their confidential handbook, “Shepherd the Flock of God.” This handbook covers, among other topics, when a person should be “reproved.”

For those unfamiliar with the their practices, Jehovah’s Witness elders might determine that someone guilty of a serious sin is repentant and will be “reproved” rather than disfellowshipped [excommunicated]. This reproof might be administered privately, or it might include a very brief announcement to the congregation.

Public Reproofs Are Not a Protection

The “Shepherd” book makes the claim that a public reproof serves as a “protection” to the congregation against certain dangerous behaviors, such as child sexual abuse; note this statement from chapter 14, “Child Abuse::

However, this announcement of reproof includes no information about the person’s “sinful” behavior, as instructed in chapter 16, “Procedure for Judicial Hearings”:

The “Shepherd” book even outright instructs that a person’s sinful acts should not be connected to their reproof, such as when a “warning” talk is given regarding their behavior; also from chapter 16:

This statement alone demonstrates that the entire “public reproof” arrangement protects no one from congregation members who might pose a danger to others, including children. Simply stating that someone has “been reproved” doesn’t warn a congregant of that person’s specific behavior, and especially when there is a long list of reasons why someone might be publicly reproved, including:

After hearing a rather generic announcement that someone has been “reproved,” without knowing the actual reason for that reproof, how would congregants know to keep their children away from them? Another congregant might assume that a person being reproved was caught smoking or fornicating with an adult; child sexual abuse might be the last thing they would consider when they hear of someone having been reproved!

Your Conscience Shouldn’t Be Clean

This begs the question of why Jehovah’s Witnesses think that their consciences can be clean in these cases. Elders honestly think that making an announcement of so-and-so having been “reproved” protects the congregation and so they’ve done their job of keeping people and children safe?

Nothing can be further from the truth, especially when it comes to child sexual abuse. This “public reproof” arrangement purposely conceals the action that warranted the reproof, so it warns no one about a congregant who might be a danger to their children.

This announcement does not take away from an elder’s complicity in hiding allegations of abuse. Any elder who hears of such a credible allegation and doesn’t notify authorities, cooperate with their investigations fully, and then do everything possible to keep a potentially dangerous person away from children shares guilt and blame if that person goes on to molest another child.

The bottom line is that Jehovah’s Witnesses and elders especially have no problem lying to themselves and to the general public about their supposed “protections” for congregants. They shield alleged molesters by purposely ensuring that no information about a particular act is associated with “reproved” persons, and then tell themselves that this passive-aggressive “hinting around” is going to somehow alert congregants to the need to keep their child away from him or her.

While the authors of these practices and the elders charged with enforcing them might go to bed with a clean conscience, remember it’s not them who suffer the consequences of their actions; the elders are not being raped and abused, the men who wrote this “Shepherd” book are not the ones who will be the next victims of these “reproved” persons.

Their complicity in this horrific act is bad enough, but their smug self-righteousness in thinking that they’ve somehow done enough to protect children with a generic “reproof” is just another slap across the face of those same children.

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