Angus Stewart vs. Watchtower

March 10, 2017 saw the continuation of the Australian Royal Commission’s investigation into Watchtower’s handling of child abuse allegations. ‘Case 54’ as it was known, sought to analyse if the recommendations tendered by the Royal Commission in ‘Case 29’  which took place in July 2015, were subsequently implemented by the Watchtower. The events that unfolded were telling.

Mr. Terrence O’Brien and Mr. Robin Spinks were compelled to the commission to represent the Watchtower organisation of Australia. They served as Senior Service Desk Minister and as Co-ordinator of the Branch Committee (‘Board of Directors’) respectively. The testimony of the Governing Body, this time around, could not be secured for lack of jurisdiction over the US.

Areas of Concern

In the conclusion of ‘Case 29’, the Royal Commission identified a few areas of concern specific to Jehovah’s Witnesses, namely, 1) failure to report cases of allegations to the secular authorities, 2) the practice of compelling victims to confront their abusers, 3) the ‘two-witness rule’, 4) the (lack of) female involvement in Judicial Committees, and 5) the practice of shunning victims who disassociate from the organisation.

Most of these issues have been canvassed not only by the Royal Commission itself through the excellent work of learned Counsel Assisting, Angus Stewart SC, of South Africa, but by the global community of ex-Witnesses themselves.

Such being the case, it does relieve me of the task of having to interrogate all these matters. So, for purposes of this article, I shall concern myself with the issue of shunning as it pertains to victims of sexual abuse who elect to ‘disassociate’ from the Watchtower organisation as a form of, inter alia, relief.

Shunning Abuse Victims Who Disassociate

As far as the detriment occasioned by the shunning practice, Stewart SC put it nicely:

‘The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ practice of shunning members who disassociate from the organisation potentially puts survivors in the untenable position of having to choose between constant re-traumatisation and having to share a community with their abuser, or losing their entire community.’

As a precursor to this exploration, attention should be given to the argument that Spinks and O’Brien tender – which argument I understand that Governing Body member, Geoffrey Jackson, also adopted in ‘Case 29’ – namely, that Witnesses don’t actually have to disassociate themselves from the organisation, enduring its concomitant effects, as they can simply avail themselves of the (uncodified) provision of fading away into inactivity.

As per O’Brien:

‘We don’t believe it’s an impossible choice. A person can stop associating with Jehovah’s Witnesses, have nothing to do with Jehovah’s Witnesses, without taking the step of disassociation.’


The point these ‘men of God’ were trying to make was that the social isolation which is visited upon sexual abuse victims who disassociate from the organisation can be cured by foregoing disassociation and electing, instead, to cease ‘Witness’ activity.

Well, as Stewart replies, and as I fully concur, that proposition is ‘highly contested.’

Angus Stewart SC - Royal Commission

Counsel Assisting Angus Stewart SC,
on the opening day of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse public hearing into The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia (Case Study 54) in Sydney, Friday, 10 March, 2017.
Photographer Jeremy Piper/ Supplied

Anyone who knows anything about Jehovah’s Witnesses will tell you that the moment you stop going to meetings and stop engaging in field service you will be ‘pre-shunned.’ This is a symptom of suspicion. Witnesses are moulded to view such a person as spiritually weak, with whom minimum social association should be had – save, where indoctrination is contemplated.








In any event, somewhere along the line, the organisation will seek to have you disfellowshipped anyhow. A person who ceases Witness activity, in most cases, no longer subscribes to the Witness philosophy having lost confidence in the organisation’s assertions of itself. Such being the case – and having an appreciation of human psychology – such person will have unfavourable, but valid, things to say about the organisation. And the moment such Witness becomes vocal about their grievances, they will be flagged for disfellowshipping under the vast-encompassing label of ‘apostasy.’

Now, do they really expect an aggrieved person to remain mum? This betrays a lack of understanding of human nature. What they are proposing here, really – whether they realise it or not – is an artificial kind of life. An artificial existence. You’re expected to play along or risk walking the plank. The stakes are high and the consequences are real. For many people, then, it’s just simpler to capitulate. And such capitulation, if I might add, is not necessarily the product of a weak constitution on their part; sometimes it’s just a profound appreciation of the prevailing circumstances.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating, the organisation does not provide Witnesses with a secure platform to ventilate their concerns. Articulation of dissatisfaction and negativity, notwithstanding its validity, will open one up to the risk of being labelled an apostate. And so you become a prisoner of this system… this maze… that the organisation has contrived. You are intellectually and psychologically in bondage… enslaved to this ‘plantation.’

This, dear Watchtower, is no way to live.

What this approach reveals, I put it to you, is that the organisation does not concern itself with the broad matrix of the situation. They don’t care about the causal nexus that led to your departure. No. Instead, they have a singular outlook. They analyse things in isolation. All they know is: If you disassociate from the organisation, we’re not talking to you anymore. Finish ‘n klaar!

In what way, pray tell, is this treatment loving? To insist on such treatment, despite the ‘mitigating’ factors, really demonstrates an unwarranted desire to attain some kind of moral high ground; because, to shun a victim so coldly cements the notion that the victim is wrong and that you are right.

Why, this has ‘clinical narcissism’ written all over it. That is why they frame a victim’s departure as ‘leaving Jehovah,’ you see. In that way, it not only gives them permission to treat you like shit, but it takes the sting away from their conscience. Indeed, if you want people to do the unthinkable, convince them it’s what God wants. History itself bears witness that some of the vilest, most inhumane, things have been celebrated in the name of God.

So no, friend, there is absolutely nothing loving about this.

Those Who Disassociate Shun the Congregation?

Regarding members who disassociate, Spinks echoes O’Brien’s earlier sentiment to the effect that to ‘disfellowship’ is when the congregation shuns a person, but that to ‘disassociate’ is when a Witness (effectively) shuns the congregation.


I’ve been a Witness for a long time and… I consider myself intelligent, but I’ve never heard it put like that before.

The adoption of such a view is nothing short of psychological manipulation. If the disassociated person meets an active Witness on the street and says ‘Hello’, will the active Witness respond? Will the Witness even make eye contact? Not likely, papi! Why? Because Witnesses are schooled against communicating with former members; they adopt what I’ve recently termed as the ‘Batman posture.’ So really, then, when we look at the substance rather than the form, who’s shunning who here?

Witnesses who ‘disassociate’ don’t disassociate from the people, they disassociate from the organisation. They no longer view the organisation as being the true religion, and so, as a matter of principle, no longer want to be associated with it – it is, in fact, an ethical position to take under the circumstances. These ones are able to distinguish the organisation from the actual individual members of that organisation. To a clear-minded person, these two entities are distinct – a fact which the organisation apparently refuses to accept.

Respectfully, therefore, I find Mr. Spinks’ borrowed outlook to be a strained one at best. It is a specious argument that amounts to a bastardisation of logic… of epic proportion at that. It’s no wonder, then, that the respectable Commission held Spinks and O’Brien in derision. These men demonstrate not only a flawed outlook, but an inflexible stubbornness to see reason. Why, they evade logic as though dodging bullets from a lethal firearm.








Well, I suppose, the ‘bullets’ that Mr. Stewart is firing are in fact lethal to their logical fallacies. Their outlook is manifestly a perversion of logic, but they hold to that view because it suits their agenda. Why, subsequent to my disassociation, I’ve spoken to active Witnesses, people who know that I’m no longer a Witness. I’ve accommodated them, had meals with them. These intrepid few approached me because they couldn’t reconcile why a Witness of my caliber would just resign. They needed answers, and I dignified them with an explanation. In what way, then, did I shun the members of the ‘congregation’? Again, one has to look at the substance, rather than the form.

Nevertheless, O’Brien submits:

‘But, again… here we’re talking about somebody who is of an age where they have qualified for baptism; so, [they are] somebody who’s either approaching adulthood, or an adult, making that decision and understanding the implications of choosing either to disassociate themselves – knowing the consequences will be shunning – or simply ceasing activity with the congregation, but not taking the stand of disassociation. So it’s a choice on the part of the person.’

And with that statement, O’Brien parks the blame on the victim’s side. See what I mean about looking at things in isolation? In any event, that statement he makes about ‘somebody who is of an age where they have qualified for baptism’ – which statement he makes so casually, so matter-of-factly – could open up a Pandora’s Box that could prove to be his nightmare. But… for the purpose of this article, we shan’t go into that rabbit hole.

Reasons Why I Disassociated

I disassociated myself from the organisation… not the people, or, for that matter, Jehovah. I felt it imperative because I had exhausted my patience. There were things that needed to be interrogated, but I could not interrogate them without exposing myself to reprisal. The consequent cognitive dissonance was undermining my sanity.

Disassociating myself (from the organisation) not only provided me with relief, but it afforded me the opportunity to live an authentic life sans the undue influence exerted by the organisation’s machinery. Of course, I understood the organisational consequences of disassociation, but it doesn’t mean that I liked it or agreed with it – I expressed as much in my letter of disassociation. However, despite the contrived consequences, disassociation remained the better option in my case, because, in a very real way, I could have been dead by now.

I thank the ‘Lord’ that my family were not Witnesses, for in the absence of that, it would have compounded my anguish.

Lessons from the Commission

The Australian Royal Commission has done an excellent job of documenting the hidden realities of the organisation. It has also demonstrated the fallibility of men who are otherwise thought to be the epitome of spirituality. The organisation of Jehovah’s Witnesses is riddled with secrecy achieved through the exercise of compartmentalisation. I find that most elders sound intelligent at a congregation level simply because they follow an outline and seldom allow themselves to be interrogated. They walk around with big titles that carry such promise and, yet, very often their ‘qualifications’ are purely cosmetic. Despite this, however, in their role as arbiters in the congregation, elders have the circumstantial power to change the very landscape of people’s lives.

While elders, especially in Judicial Committees, expect common Witnesses to be transparent, they (the elders) are generally very opaque in their methods. They rely on this heavy blanket of secrecy to keep themselves relevant and to escape accountability. However, if most of what takes place behind closed doors were to take place in broad daylight, I suspect it would promote a measure of humility.

What the Royal Commission has done in this case is compel the otherwise structurally insulated organisation out into the open and demand answers to very simple and yet pertinent questions. To be sure, the process itself has been revealing, notwithstanding the fact that the Governing Body tends to be hermetically sealed in the province of accountability. In their capacity as the Faithful and Discreet Slave, they engineer catastrophes and walk away unscathed. Positive change will not be forthcoming until the individual members of the Governing Body are made to feel the consequences personally. For that to happen, all the buffers (‘the human shields’) need to step aside and let these ‘aristocrats’ do their own bidding.

In any event, for those who espouse themselves as thinking Witnesses, the Royal Commission should provide plenty of food for thought…