.:HOW CAN I FORGIVE MY JEHOVAH’S WITNESS FATHER WHO ABUSED ME AND THE ELDERS WHO DID NOTHING ABOUT IT?
“I am emailing you because I have been very angry at the elders from the Jehovah’s Witness congregation I attended when I was growing up. My father was mentally sick, and beat and molested us. The elders in the Kingdom Hall did nothing. At fourteen years old, I confronted one of the leading elders and asked him why he didn’t do anything about my dad’s abusive behavior. He said: ‘What should I have done about it?’ It’s the same old thing: ‘Let Jehovah take care of it’ which basically means to ignore his behavior and pretend like it didn’t happen. I am now thirty-two years old, and have a hard time not emotionally exploding when the Jehovah’s Witnesses come to my door. I tell them what happened in my family to let them know that something was horrible in their congregation and justice wasn’t served. I know that I need to ‘forgive’ as I am now a born-again believer in Jesus Christ, but I can’t help but become angry that they call me an ‘apostate.’ I have even had to threaten to call the police to get one elder to leave my doorstep after I told him my past and why I left. I am angry at the whole organization. They are sick! Anyway, that is what I am dealing with now.”
I can hear the pain and anger in your voice. We certainly can identify with these feelings. You have every right to be upset because of the lack of justice that was shown to you and your siblings. We’ve seen stories like yours play out where the elders covered up the abuse with this same excuse that, “Jehovah will take care of it someday.” What they don’t realize is that Scripture teaches that the elders themselves are the means that Jehovah uses to protect His sheep on earth.
“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” (Acts 20:28 1.)
These elders wronged you and your siblings because they failed to stand up to the abuse by informing the proper governing authorities, removing your father from his privileges in the congregation and threatening him with disfellowshipping if he would not voluntarily enroll in a professional treatment program for anger management and his abusive behaviors. These elders will be required to give an account to Jehovah for their lack of protection of those under their care. Their claim that “Jehovah will take care of it” is true, but Jehovah will indeed “take care of it” by JUDGING THEM along with your father!
PEDOPHILIA, SEX ABUSE, AND WATCHTOWER POLICY
At Matthew 18:15-17, Scripture provides clear guidance on how justice should be handled within the Christian congregation.
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
Here is where the issue of sex abuse in the Jehovah’s Witness organization gets difficult. If there is only one victim who reports the abuse, all the Jehovah’s Witness pedophile or sex offender has to do to get out of judicial action being taken against him by the elders is to deny the allocations of abuse. Because Watchtower policy dictates that one must have at least two “witnesses” who observed the offense or were victimized by the offender before the elders are required to take action against the offender, pedophiles and sex offenders can easily prey on victims from one congregation to another. Since no pedophile would do his acts in public where there is bound to be more than one witness, if he is careful to convince his victims that nothing would be done because they are the only one who would testify to the abuse, you can see how the Watchtower policy of requiring two or more witnesses to any offense could contribute to what some have called a “Pedophile’s Paradise.”
Rather than requiring two or more observers to the offense, in context, the Scriptural principle at Matthew 18 is communicating the importance of having two or more witnesses who observed the offender’s refusal to repent of his wrong actions when confronted. 2. It is only when you have had two or more witnesses accompany you when you confronted the offender (in this case, your father), that the elders would have been justified in removing him from his privileges or disfellowshipping him if he continued the abuse and refused to get professional help for his problems.
The Watchtower organization has consistently chosen to maintain the façade of its public image by covering up serious abuse cases like yours with statements like, “Let Jehovah handle it,” or “We don’t have enough witnesses so we can’t do anything.” Silent Lambs ministry reported in 2002 that they had been contacted by three different inside sources within the Watchtower Headquarters that confirmed that the Society has maintained confidential records on 23,720 child molesters 3. within its organization. While it is true that in cases where child abuse has been confirmed and recorded in this database, Watchtower Lawyers investigated and reported the abuse to the local governments when such reports were required by law, SilentLambs.org reported that in 36 states of the United States, such reporting has not been a requirement. Thus, one can only imagine that with 23,720 confirmed child molesters within the organization, there must be many more unconfirmed molesters who have been left to continue their Jehovah’s Witness activities while their victims were held captive to suffer in silence.
WHAT FORGIVENESS IS AND WHAT IT IS NOT
It is certainly understandable why you are having difficulty “forgiving” these elders. Indeed, this organization is not only spiritually “sick,” but physically “sick” as well. We must have compassion for them because their sin is disgusting to Jehovah God and He will judge them if they do not repent and turn to the true Jesus of the Bible for healing.
When it comes to the subject of forgiveness, if you do not properly understand what true forgiveness is and what it is not, you might get the mistaken impression that to forgive, you are required to pardon the offender and treat him as if he did nothing wrong to break his relationship with you, regardless of whether or not he has repented of his actions toward you. You may feel that forgiveness is condoning the evil that was done to you. This is not true biblical forgiveness!
Does God the Father automatically “forgive” sinners by pardoning them even when they refuse to repent of their sins? What about the classic story of a father’s forgiveness of his prodigal son at Luke 15? Would he have pardoned his son if his son never repented of his actions and sought reconciliation? I’m sure you would agree that the answer to both of these questions is “no.”
Before complete forgiveness (one that includes a pardoning of the wrongs committed and a restoration of the relationship) is able to take place, the wrongdoer must repent and seek reconciliation from the person he offended. If he doesn’t, you are under no obligation to pardon him or condone his behavior by letting him continue to abuse you. But even though you are not required to pardon an unrepentant offender, this does NOT mean that you do not have to forgive. There is a difference between forgiving someone and pardoning his offenses.
Forgiveness has to do with your inner heart’s response toward the offender. When you forgive in the Biblical way, you release the offender into the hands of God and free yourself from the control that bitterness, anger and hatred has over your life. If the wrongdoer refuses to repent, forgiveness can also mean that you erect necessary boundaries to prevent yourself from being abused again. In serious abuse cases like yours, this is often vital. As long as you, the offended one, have done all you can to confront the ones involved (i.e., your father and mother and the elders in your congregation) in accordance with Matthew 18:15-17, and they refuse to change their ways, you may need to erect proper boundaries and self-protective plans in order to avoid further abuse as part of your process of healing and forgiveness.
HOW TO FORGIVE WHEN THERE IS NO REPENTANCE
From what you are telling us, it appears that neither your father nor these Jehovah’s Witness elders recognize their failures. They do not feel remorse about the way they mistreated you and your sibling. The very fact that you had to threaten to call the police on the elder who showed up at your door the other day only serves to confirm that they are anything but repentant and remorseful for their actions. So, how does one forgive when the offending partner is not repentant? Jesus was the perfect example of this when He cried out in the midst of His pain:
“But Jesus was saying, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.” (Luke 23:34)
Was Jesus asking the Father to pardon them despite the fact that the angry Jews and Roman soldiers were anything but sorrowful for their actions? No. It is in this example of Christ that we learn the true meaning of forgiveness. Forgiveness is relinquishing the control that the offense has on our actions. It is releasing our rights to take revenge out on the wrongdoers in our lives.
Forgiveness has more to do with the offended person’s inner heart’s response toward the offense than it does his or her outward actions. For example, one can say, “I forgive you” and pretend outwardly that everything is fine, but inwardly retain a grudge. Even though outwardly this person might appear that he has forgiven the offender, inwardly, forgiveness is far from his heart.
True forgiveness is the conscious choice you make to relinquish the power and control that the offense has on your thoughts, words, actions and emotions. When you forgive, the offense loses its power and you disarm it from determining how you will respond to the other person.
“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)
In essence, forgiveness is freedom! While the relationship cannot be restored until the offender has repented of his wrongs, you can disarm its effects on your own life by forgiving in this way. Forgiveness is moving out of the way and turning the offender over to God so that His justice and conviction can take place.
“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,’ says the Lord. ‘BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21)
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8)
When we move our flesh out of the way, God is free to do His work in the offender’s life. By forgiving the wrongdoer, we also free ourselves to experience the forgiveness of God and others in our own lives:
“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
Forgiveness gives us the power to free ourselves from the destructive control of bitterness, anger and rage:
“BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. … Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:26-27, 31-32)
The following steps below will empower you to experience the joy, love, peace, and compassion that the fruits of forgiveness will yield in your life.
7 STEPS TO FORGIVNESS
1. PICTURE THE OFFENDER FROM GOD’S POINT OF VIEW.
Every time you think of your father and the Jehovah’s Witness elders, pray for them (daily if needed). Ask God to help you see them from His perspective — to see them spiritually lost and deceived, bound to the lusts of the sin in their hearts. It may help to realize that in the case of your father, chances are good that he too was abused as a child and because he never received healing, he acted out his anger and rage upon his family in both physical and sexual ways. Although this does not excuse his actions, it may help you develop empathy for him. Ask God to take away the anger and bitterness you hold toward your father and the elders and to replace it with His compassion and love. As you consistently pray for them, you will be amazed at how God will respond by filling your heart with His love and forgiveness.
2. DISARM THE CONTROL YOU ARE LETTING THE ABUSE HAVE OVER YOUR EMOTIONS.
Make a conscious choice to take charge of your feelings and disable the effect that these offenses and insults have over your emotions. Do not allow the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ snide remarks and hypocritical judgments dictate your emotional response to them. Remember that nobody has the power to make you angry if you decide that you are not going to get upset. So what if they call you an “apostate”?! Turn it back on them by wearing the title proudly! You could say something like this:
“I am so happy to be an APOSTATE FOR JEHOVAH! After all, Jesus’ followers were ‘apostates’ from the Jewish temple system that had become corrupt. So, I’m proud to be an APOSTATE from the Watchtower’s lies and a follower of the REAL Truth in Jesus Christ (John 8:32, 36; 14:6)!”
3. PRAISE GOD FOR HOW HE IS USING THE OFFENSE TO SHAPE YOUR LIFE.
If you had never experienced the abuse and the elders’ cover-up of it, would you have left Jehovah’s Witnesses to discover the truth in Christ? We can only speculate where our lives would have ended up if we had not experienced the events that shaped us, but if we praise God for His ability to turn what Satan intends for evil into good (Genesis 50:20), we will watch God make something beautiful of our lives (Romans 8:28).
4. DO NOT ALLOW YOUR PAST TO STEAL YOUR PRESENT.
We can become so consumed with anger and bitterness toward the past wrongs done to us that we miss out on the present life God has for us. Yes, what your father and the elders did was wrong, but you must release your resentment, bury it, and move on (Philippians 3:13-14). This is a process that rarely happens overnight, but when the memories of your past arise and feelings of bitterness surface, release them to God and claim Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Look for ways to be a blessing to those who have hurt you. This may not be possible since Jehovah’s Witnesses shun family members who leave, but you can become a blessing to many others who have been hurt in the same way that you have. So, look for ways to minister to those who have been abused and relate to them by demonstrating the love of Christ and how you learned to forgive. In so doing, you will leave the past behind and move on to the present!
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
5. INSTEAD OF ASKING “WHY ME?,” ASK “WHY NOT ME?”
When tragedy strikes or we consider the pains of an abusive childhood, we often ask, “Why me, Lord? Why did YOU let THAT … happen to me?” But instead of asking the question, “Why me?” consider asking, “Why not me?” Think of all of the children in the world who are being sold into slavery or sex trafficking because their parents can’t afford to take care of them. Or think of the many around the world who are suffering from starvation and tragic death. They didn’t choose their destiny anymore than you chose yours. So, instead of asking “Why me?” thank God for where He has you today and in gratitude ask: “Why not me? Why did you let me grow up in a better place than so many others in the world?”
6. MAINTAIN PROPER BOUNDARIES.
Until your father and the Jehovah’s Witness elders repent of their actions and seek reconciliation, maintain healthy boundaries between you and them to prevent yourself or your family from further abuse. Remember, you owe nothing to the elders, not even an explanation. You left, so they no longer have authority over you. You don’t even have to explain why you left, nor do you have to answer the door when they call at your home. Your decision is your own, and they can do nothing about that. When you feel comfortable enough to be able to stand your ground in a cool, calm and controlled spirit, the next time they visit your home, you might consider giving them a copy of what they would call “apostate” material, like the “FACTS THE WACHTOWER SOCIETY DOESN’T WANT YOU TO KNOW” article from our website. While it is unlikely that they will accept it once they see what it is, if you hand it to them, this is one way of letting them know that you are informed about the REAL Truth, and it will serve as a warning to them of the information you are prepared to share with them if they continue to visit your home. Remember you are in control, not them. So don’t let them intimidate you.
7. GET HELP WHEN YOU NEED IT.
In serious cases like yours that involve physical, sexual and emotional abuse, it may be necessary to consult a Christian counselor or trained therapist for support in helping you work through your feelings on a deeper level. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. A Christian support group through your local church or our online Internet-based Ex-Jehovah’s Witness support group may also be helpful for you in this process.
FOR MORE INFORMATION SEE:
1. All Scriptural quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible.
2.1 Timothy 5:19 is another passage that Jehovah’s Witnesses appeal to for support of their two witness rule. In context, this Scripture does support the requirement of two witnesses to an offense. However, it is important to realize that in sexual abuse allocations such as this, the offender in question should not be left off the hook if he denies the accusation. Rather, he should be warned and put under strict observation until the accusations can be confirmed or denied.
3. See the Silent Lambs website article on this subject at: http://www.silentlambs.org/answers/23720.cfm