The Two Witness Rule – Still Used?

There seems to be some confusion regarding the “two witness rule” since the Watchtower published the document entitled Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Scripturally Based Position on Child Protection.[1]  To clarify, I thought it might be useful to lay out the pertinent points here.

What is the “two witness rule”?

“The scriptures are very clear, before a judicial committee can be convened, there has to be a confession or two witnesses.”[2]

CHILD PROTECTION BLOG
New publicly downloadable document “Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Scripturally Based Position on Child Protection”[1]
The above quote is from Governing Body Helper Gary Breaux from the November 2017 JW Broadcasting episode where he explains what the two witness rule is and why the organisation will never change its position.

Problems have arisen when a crime such as child sexual abuse has not been reported to the secular authorities because it is being treated firstly as a sin by the elders rather than as a crime.  Numerous times victims and their families were told not to report the offence and that they should leave matters in “Jehovah’s hands” because there wasn’t another witness to the events.  In addition to this, many victims and family members have been punished by the organisation by being disfellowshipped when they refused to just leave things in “Jehovah’s hands” and actually reported the crime to the proper authorities.

Does the “two witness rule” still apply?

Even though they have stated they view child sexual abuse as a crime in their new document[1], the rule is still applied – please see Gary Breaux’s discussion on JW Broadcasting Nov 2018.  After discussing what the two witness rule is, he quite categorically states:

“We will never change our scriptural position on that subject.”[3]

What does the public document say about the “two witness rule”?

gary breaux two witness
Gary Breaux – JW Broadcasting – November 2017

The latest public document is completely silent with regards to the two witness rule.  Some have taken this to mean that it is no longer in effect.  However, this would be incorrect.  As shown above, Gary Breaux clearly states that the organisation will never change its position on this matter.  The two witness rule is still firmly part of the Shepherd the Flock of God[3] elders’ manual.  From the Shepherd manual:

“There must be two or three eyewitnesses, not just people repeating hearsay; no action can be taken if there is only one witness.”[4]

Do elders now report to the authorities?

There is still no automatic reporting of child sexual abuse.  Even according to the new public document, they only report to the authorities when forced by law.  However, even then, and as shown in recent court cases such as the one in Delaware (State of Delaware versus Laurel Congregation)[5], this is not always the case.  Their current public policy states:

“When elders learn of an accusation of child abuse, they immediately consult with the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses to ensure compliance with child abuse reporting laws.”[1]

What happens if there is no mandated reporting?

shepherd
Shepherd the Flock of God – JW Elders’ Manual

If there is no legal requirement to report, the onus is put on local elders to decide if a report to the authorities should be made.  They have to make a determination as to whether or not a minor is still in danger.  How are elders supposed to do this when they have zero training in this regard?  They are not trained social workers, law enforcement officers, or child protection officials.    It should not be left to elders to make this decision – child sexual abuse should ALWAYS be reported.  Their current public policy states:

“Even if the elders have no legal duty to report an accusation to the authorities, the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses will instruct the elders to report the matter if a minor is still in danger of abuse or there is some other valid reason.”[1]

Can parents/victims report the crime to the authorities?

Parents are not told they must report to the authorities in the same way that the elders do not automatically report the crime.  However parents/victims are supposedly no longer criticised/penalised for reporting to the authorities like they used to be.  Although to this day I don’t understand why they ever thought it was appropriate to criticise and often disfellowship a parent or victim for reporting the abuse to the police.  This abused the victim further by stigmatising them as untruthful and ostracising them from a potential support network.  Their current public policy states:

“In all cases, victims and their parents have the right to report an accusation of child abuse to the authorities. Therefore, victims, their parents, or anyone else who reports such an accusation to the elders are clearly informed by the elders that they have the right to report the matter to the authorities. Elders do not criticize anyone who chooses to make such a report.”[1]

As someone who has received child safeguarding training, albeit in a limited manner as a volunteer for a charity, I find their current public policy woefully lacking in proper safeguarding policy.  However, I hope this article clarifies any confusion that there may have been in connection with the new document Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Scripturally Based Position on Child Protection and the “two witness rule”.

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[1] Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Scripturally Based Position on Child Protection – April 2018 – available for download on the official JW.org website.

[2] November 2017 – JW Broadcasting.  Gary Breaux’s section is from 46:56 to 56:09 and this quote is from 55:29.

[3] November 2017 – JW Broadcasting.  Gary Breaux’s section is from 46:56 to 56:09 and this quote is from 55:39.

[4] Shepherd the Flock of God © 2010 Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania (2012 printing) – Chapter 5 – page 71.  Please note that there have been amendments to various sections via letters to elders since 2012 but no changes to the section referring to the two witness rule.  The latest PDF version is available at FaithLeaks HERE.

[5] Jehovah’s Witness Elders Fined for Failure to Report Child Abuse: Watchtower Settles with Delaware

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