So now that the entire Midwestern region seems to know about this "confidential" judicial committee, I suppose it was time to get started with it. We arranged to have both accusers come at specific times. James would already be in the Kindgom Hall, and we'd have a brother go out to get Chad first--then after he'd leave, Jared would come in.
I wanted to do it this way because James had been trying to suggest there may have been a sharing of information. The truth is, both of these young men had been part of our congregation at different times. They had never met and never spoken--and we wanted to keep it that way. No parking lot conversations.
When Chad faced James, he was cool as a cucumber and prepared. This was a very bright, thoughtful kid. His testimony had been that while he was sleeping on a couch in James' den, James approached him, reached under his body and started to fondle his genitals. James' explanation? It was all a big misunderstanding. All he was trying to do, it seems, is find his keys. So he was fishing for his keys in the cushions of the couch while Chad was on it. Any genital manipulation was purely unintentional.
Chad wasted no time with anger or argument. He simply stated that James had, in fact, acted intentionally.
JAMES: "Chad, why are you trying to hurt me with this?"
CHAD: "I'm not trying to hurt you, James. Think about it. In case you brothers don't already know about this, my mother is now inactive, no longer attends meetings, and is now pretty much an apostate--all because of this experience. If I had been lying about this, don't you think I would have taken it back to try and get her to come back to meetings?"
JAMES: "So maybe that's what this is. Maybe you're trying to see me get disfellowshipped so that your mom will feel better and start coming back to meetings..."
CHAD: "James, at this point, it's way too late for my mom. It's been five years. She's long gone. Nothing that happens here is likely to have any effect on her."
JAMES: "So why are you doing this then, Chad??"
Chad immediately produced his Bible and asked us to turn to James 5:14 & 15. He read it aloud. He then stated that he did not hate James, but that he thought he had a sickness and wanted him to confess it and be made well. He admitted that James had many fine qualities and that he himself was a "better man" in many ways because of his association with him. But he knew that it was wrong for a person unrepentantly guilty of such a thing to remain a servant in the congregation, and was firm in stating that he'd definitely been molested by James.
Jared was a bit more shaken during the hearing, but also a sharp, young man. (I recall thinking later that James probably never bargained for these two victims growing up to be such intelligent, articulate witnesses.) Jared made his statements just as he'd done to us in our investigation. James' position was that Jared was apparently confused about certain "repressed memories" he'd had in his childhood.
JAMES: "Why are you saying these things, Jared?"
JARED: "I'm saying these things because they happened, James. And if you really don't remember them, you need help!"
I wondered if James had planned to present any sort of evidence to disprove these accusations. But basically his defense involved stating over and over, "These things are not true." "I have never molested anybody!" "I have never fondled anybody!" "I am telling you before Jehovah: it never happened!"
I'd like to interrupt the story to make clear my personal feelings about James. At the time, he was my closest friend. He was well known as a kind, caring, thoughtful brother. The sort that the friends felt comfortable approaching. He liked to talk, and so did I. We enjoyed many great conversations about music (his great love,) movies, why people behave the way they do--all sorts of things.
During this time, my marriage was a shambles. At the age of 20, prior to "getting my act together" in the organization, I'd become involved with a worldly woman (12 years older than I.) She became pregnant, so I married her. We had a beautiful girl--who is my pride and joy. (She's 18, and she and I are presently living and fading together.) But my wife was a very troubled person. An alcoholic with wild mood swings. That's right; look out! The frequent maniacal episodes, the drunken rages, the smashing things did not happen every day, but just when I thought things might be improving...well, they didn't. All this while I'm serving as an elder, trying to be a "good example" to the congregation. She'd been baptized a couple of years after we were married, but, in her best year, her meeting attendance was only about 50%.
So whom did I have to talk to about this? Only one person: James. He was the one I confided in. He was the one with whom I'd share details of the really bad episodes. Within a couple of months of opening up to him about this, BLAMMO... The whole pedophile accusation strikes. And I'm the chairman of his judicial committee, as a new elder at 31 years of age. I knew what I had to do. I had to put aside our personal friendship in weighing the information we had before us. But it was not without feeling a very profound loss.
So, after considering all of the information, praying, and going over all the relevant Watchtower publications, we rendered a decision. There was only one choice we could make. Our decision to disfellowship was unanimous. When James came in and I told him what our decision was, he rose up like a madman and began shouting...
"This is worse than a southern lynching!!!"
James was a black man, and I took this to mean he might have thought our decision to DF might have been owing to racism. Our five man committee was made up of three whites, one black and one Hispanic. Later he explained that he didn't really mean it that way. Just that he was innocent and being convicted on false charges.
There was an appeal. Three heavy hitting brothers, with lots of experience were called upon to serve on the appeal committee. Two of them were black, perhaps to make sure there were no later cries of racism. They did a great job of getting all the facts, cutting through the baloney, and in the end upheld the decision.
That Thursday night I was to read the DF note. The brother giving the announcements just before the Service Meeting called me up. The whole experience was surreal.
"The Rosemont-East Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses must inform you that James Johnson has been disfellowshipped... And now Brother Alvin has the next part on our Service Meeting, entitled, "Being Fishers of Men." Brother Alvin."
My eyes followed Brother Alvin all the way from the back of the Hall. Never before or since has walking forty feet taken one person so long. Forever, man. It took forever. There were beads of sweat on my forehead. It seemed 3 minutes had elapsed, but still no frigging Brother Alvin. "Would you get up here already!!??" I wanted to scream! "Just sprint, boy, sprint!" Finally he was there and I stepped down from the stage.
This whole process had taken four months. Four long, grueling months. My life had been completely consumed by it. I'd lost my friend, my marriage was a joke, and I was trying somehow to give my ten-year-old daughter the attention she needed. I was toast.
James' sister and mother, both Regular Pioneers who lived with him, were treating me like I was the one who'd been disfellowshipped. I know it had to be tough on them. The accusers and some of their family members actually phoned me to thank me for making sure James got what he deserved. I suggested they call the other brothers on the committee who gave countless hours of their time to the matter as well.
And this is the part where I'll ask for your advice. You see, at the end of this judicial committee process, I felt I was done. I felt the brothers and I had done our jobs and helped, in some small way, to cleanse the congregation. The young men felt good for having done the right thing and felt vindicated--especially Chad, who'd been waiting for this for five years.
I didn't have a clue that, over the years, so very many young people had been sexually abused--in ways often much more graphic and terrifying than the case I knew about. I had no inkling that the policies set by the WTS were helping to keep pedophiles from being found out. There was no thought in my mind of reporting this matter to the police. As infuriating as this may be to some reading my words, I just didn't think that was the place of the congregation. When going over all the letters in our file from the Society on the subject of pedophilia, we found their direction on what to do in the event the accusers or their families ask about going to the authorities. It was simple and clear: 'You are neither to en-courage, nor dis-courage their reporting this matter to the secular authorities. The decision is entirely the family's.'
My decision to print the details of this case came when, in another thread, a few people became very upset about my not realizing I should have reported this matter to the police. In the interest of full disclosure--and in the spirit of honesty that inspired this series, I'm going to be extremely forthright about this. I'm guessing it was shortly after the Dateline episode about Jehovah's Witnesses and pedophilia that I became aware that people were angry at congregations for not going to the police themselves. I gave this a good deal of thought. This story will illustrate my thinking at the time...
Let's say I come home from work, and find a neighbor man in my home, molesting my 10 year old daughter. He escapes from me, running out the door. Later I tell you about the whole experience. Let's say no one goes to the police. Does it make sense for everyone to get mad at you? Or me?
Now I know we're discussing the sick abuse of children here, and the bottom line is that someone has to report the matter. But I submit that it is the parent of the victim who has the ultimate responsibility in this regard. So, in the above illustration, if people are going to get mad at anyone, it should primarily be at me--the parent. Ah, but there are extenuating circumstances within the Watchtower Society, aren't there? And that's what I understand now--that I didn't then.
Since "waking up" on September 15th, 2004, I now see how the WTS held so many of us in mental captivity. In years past they definitely DIScouraged abuse victims from going to the police. And even though, during my committee, we did no discouraging, the fact is the default WTS policy is never to do anything that will bring reproach on Jehovah. (Which of course means "on the Watchtower Society.") I now know that lots of Jehovah's Witnesses who reported pedophilia to the police were disfellowshipped, many victims being denied this basic right, having to remain in a congregation where their abusers (sometimes their own family members) continued freely as publishers, pioneers, ministerial servants and even elders.
And so some will be sympathetic to those parents for not having reported the pedophilia. They were themselves under the threat of disfellowshipping and shunning if they acted out of harmony with the WTS. They didn't know what else to do.
And here is something else I want you to understand: as an elder, I didn't know what else to do either. Perhaps like you, I was born into this bizarre circus. But I didn't know it was a circus. I thought it was "Jehovah's Organization." I trusted my parents when they taught me that doing things Jehovah's way meant doing things the Society's way.
I suppose this--along with the fact that I did not know about the horrible crimes being committed in the organization and that I was utterly unprepared and untrained to deal with such a sensitive matter as pedophilia--is why the thought never occurred to me that I should pick up the phone and call the police. I wonder now why none of those family members decided to report either. None of them had been JWs for years; it certainly didn't have anything to do with organizational pressure.
And so, here I am with that knowledge now. What do I do? I'd like your advice. This judicial committee was held eight and one half years ago, in the Summer of 1997. From my notes, it appears that the events of pedophilia occurred around 1983 and 1992. I am no longer an elder and am fading as one of Jehovah's Witnesses.
Has a statute of limitations run out? If not, would you recommend I call the victims and move them to report James? Am I in any position to report him? If I report him, will I not have to provide the names of the victims?
I ask, please, for your level-headed, thoughtful advice.