In the Truth, you’re trained to have a defensive, us-verse-them attitude toward the rest of the world. I was taught to not trust anybody except that appointed group of old white men who gave me rules on how short my skirts could be, how dyed my hair could be, what level of education I could pursue, to what extent I could be competitive in sports, and so on. In those men, I was to trust implicitly and with no question. They received the holy spirit of God, which directed their actions. When my mom told me this as a child, I imagined the Elders sitting in that mysterious back room of the Hall, eyes closed, a glowing, fuzzy spirit light funneling out of the air and into the top of their head.
I didn’t really believe it, but I didn’t NOT believe it. It just was. That’s what I was told, so that’s what existed, like everything else in the realm of Jehovah’s Witnesses and their Truth. It’s what existed for me, until I discovered the sneaky, dirty evil that enveloped this Truth.
For me, this evil was first manifest in a man, a Ministerial Servant (one step down from an Elder). He wasn’t much older than my friends and me at the time, maybe 22 years old to our 16, an older brother of one of the girls. A younger girl in the neighboring town’s Kingdom Hall accused him of molesting her at the local swimming pool, multiple times. She was about 12 years old and obnoxious, and nobody believed her. Not until my best friend called me and asked me if I could come and help her. She was going to sit down with the Elders and tell them about the times it had happened to her.
She told me in as few words as possible, and very quietly. He pinned his arm across her chest in the dark movie theater and put his other hand in her pants. She couldn’t move, and she was too afraid and embarrassed to scream. I tried to be solid and stoic for her while she cried her story out. With the Elders, her eyes stayed on the ground, and every detail they extracted was produced with pain and humiliation. Their questions came across callous and flat, and it was clear they were not choosing her side. What exactly did he do? For how long? Did she try to stop it? Who else was there? Did anyone witness it? They finished with some scriptures out of the bible. I don’t remember any of them except Deuteronomy 19:15, “No single witness may convict another for any error or any sin that he may commit. On the testimony of two witnesses or on the testimony of three witnesses the matter should be established.” The Two Witness Rule.
They instructed her and I not to say anything about what happened while they investigated. They told her parents not to go to the police. It needed to be dealt with using God’s direction, and only they were privy to that. The whole family agreed to keep quiet. Meanwhile, we had to attend church with this monster sitting up there in the second row, week after week. We had to sing songs with him, pray with him. I let the fury build in me – maybe I absorbed my friend’s fury. She wouldn’t talk about it, she was pushing it all down as far as she could. And when another girl spoke up, and another, I took in as much of the anger as I could for them, and it changed me. The Truth stopped existing the way it had before. The honest, fair, just Truth that was force fed to me for so long had turned rotten, toxic and dangerous, and I was done with it.
The elders updated her a few weeks later: because of the Two Witness Rule, it was her word against his – all of the girls’ words against his – and his word carried more weight. He was a Ministerial Servant, chosen by the Elders, appointed with God’s holy spirit. How could God have chosen someone who would commit such an act? It wasn’t possible, they insisted.
I let loose with my anger, but slowly. It was very intentional and calculated for a 16-year-old girl. I specifically told those in the church that I knew would gossip to others, until the story had permeated through the entire congregation. It drew a line down the middle of the Hall. Those who didn’t believe the accusations would glare at my friend, before and after church. They would distance themselves physically, moving to the other side of the room. They proclaimed they were siding with God’s holy spirit, and we who sided with the victims were questioning the Elders, thereby speaking out against the Truth. Even my mom defended the attacker, saying there would never be any way of knowing if he really did it. What if I had been the one it happened to? She wouldn’t have believed me. God over family. Religion over family. Obedience over family. Every time.
My plan sort of worked. Because of all the talk, he was disfellowshipped about three months after the initial report. It was too divisive to keep him there. One of the victims’ families went to the police, but the other families refused to cooperate, so the police tossed the accusations aside. At least he was gone.
I was kicked out later for other unrelated reasons – caught breaking the rules. When I was questioned, though, the Elders wouldn’t accept my apologies, my repentance. I think they could see the change in me. They could see that they no longer existed for me. They could feel my quiet dissent. The part that always stood out to me was that it took them 30 minutes to decide to exile me: a 17-year-old apologetic girl who got caught having consensual sex with her boyfriend. It took them three months to kick him out: a monster, a child molester.
The coverup of child sexual abuse in the Jehovah’s Witness religion is prevalent and has recently been brought into the media spotlight. You can research the issue yourself, but here are some links to recent news articles:
- Jehovah’s Witnesses ‘fostered distrust’ of secular authority – royal commission counsel
- Jehovah’s Witnesses face child sexual-abuse investigation in Australia
- Former Jehovah’s Witness says church’s policies don’t help abuse victims
- Jehovah’s Witnesses destroyed notes about child sex abuse, inquiry told
- Jehovah’s Witnesses cover up child sex abuse and oust a victim