It was May 28th of the year 2002, and I was a young elder with a newborn baby and a devout Jehovah’s Witness wife. On top of owning and operating a business and having family responsibilities, my elder duties seemed endless. In the five years since being appointed an elder I had already seen two elders removed, which caused bitter in-fighting on the elder body because of it. Two “alpha-male” elders were constantly sparring and trying to out-quote the other using Watchtower articles during backroom elder meetings. These would sometimes last for four or five hours and were exhausting. I was serving as the Service Overseer and was a regular pioneer, although the pioneering had to give way soon as my body could not indefinitely take the pace of such a breakneck schedule.
Another young elder (we had been appointed at the same time and he was only a year older than me) had confessed that he and his wife had committed fornication prior to being married and he had covered it up for years, but the elders used a loophole in the KS91 Flock book (the name of the secret elder handbook at the time) to justify his “repentance”1 which then allows the suppression of this revelation from the rest of the congregation. He was never reproved or deleted and continued to serve as the Congregation Secretary. Not long after his confession he moved his family to a neighboring Kingdom Hall, to “get a fresh start” as he said2. Since there was now only three elders left on the body at this point I took on the secretary position as well as the Theocratic Ministry School Overseer position. Shortly thereafter my wife complained that she “felt like a single mom” since I was hardly ever at my seat during meetings to help with the baby.
It was against this hectic backdrop that a mature and well-respected Ministerial servant said there was going to be an edition of the TV news show “Dateline” coming out that all in the congregation should watch. He said it was going to be a smear of lies against the Witnesses and that we needed to watch it so as to be prepared for the fallout. I had never heard of such a high-profile television show doing a piece on Jehovah’s Witnesses and I had absolutely no idea what it was about. I watched it, and it was far worse than anything that I had imagined it might be. The title was, “Witness For The Prosecution” and it was a devastating presentation3. It outlined wide-spread child molestation among Jehovah’s Witnesses, and even had two insiders that were brave enough to come on camera and speak out against the damaging Watchtower policies that allowed these crimes to take place.
One of these insiders was Barbara Anderson, whom I immediately recognized (but did not know personally) since I had waited on her and her husband’s table while I was serving at Brooklyn Bethel as a waiter in 1990. While being interviewed for the Dateline piece she said in part:
“Hundreds of molestation cases [have been kept] on record, all kept secret in church files–secret not only from the outside world, but from the members themselves, the families, the mothers and fathers and children who trust the church is looking out for them.”
Some abuse survivors were interviewed and their stories were followed- including how one young woman was castigated and ultimately thrown out of the religion because of reporting it to authorities. But the central figure in the show was a whistle blowing elder named Bill Bowen. The story reports it this way:
“[Bowen had] uncovered evidence that there were many more victims like Erica within Witness Kingdom Halls. And now he, too, was about to break with the church and go outside into what Witnesses believe is the realm of Satan–the outside world–to expose the church’s secrets.”
Bill Bowen went on to found the non-profit organization www.SilentLambs.org and has helped literally thousands that have been hurt by the Watchtower Organization’s harmful policies that allow pedophiles to run loose in JW congregations across the globe. A transcript of the entire Dateline show can also be found there as well. A PDF version can be downloaded here.
Now as I reflect back on this pivotal moment it definitely made me pause and reflect upon my current religion. But I was asleep in the movement; a young elder filled with ideals and many ‘privileges’ in the congregation. I was well-respected and I knew that ones would be looking to me for my take on this damaging TV show. At the next meeting nearly everyone in the Hall was talking about it. The brother that had encouraged people to watch it had a VHS copy with him so that anyone that missed it could see it. We went in the back room as a body to talk about the situation, and decided it would be better if we de-emphasized the gravity of the Dateline episode, and discourage people from watching it since that woman from Bethel and that supposed elder were obviously ‘apostates’.
Of course it blew over after awhile and the friends put it out of their minds. I put it out of my own mind! I had to, since I had so much to do family-wise, work-wise, and of course I had parts to prepare on the upcoming assembly and in the Kingdom Hall. I had committee meetings that lasted till midnight with wrongdoers to counsel and help at least once or twice a month and sometimes more.
And that’s how the year 2002 passed for me. In a blur of JW-busy work. The knowledge that my religion might be mixed up in a vast cover-up of child molestation was simply too horrible to consider, so I submerged and exiled it to the deepest place in my mind. I hadn’t been worried about Y2K (remember that debacle?) and I wasn’t worried about global warming or President Clinton’s dalliances. I was a very good JW plow horse, and since the fields were “white for harvesting” I didn’t worry about much else.