Baptism of Children: The Issue of Consent

The issue of whether a person has consented to a particular action is a core part of our social relationships whether they are personal or group interactions. To participate in any social relationship a person must on some level consent to that participation. For consent to occur a person must know what it is they are consenting to and must have true freedom to say yes or no. Unless both of these criteria are present and valid true consent cannot occur.

For example, for a person to “consent” to joining a group they must be fully aware of the rules of the group. Non-disclosure of the rules before the consent is given would be fraudulent on the part of the group and would therefore make any implied “consent” invalid. This is true in all legal contracts whether written or verbal. Both parties must clearly have stated what they are consenting to before the contract is valid. Withholding information vital to the contract invalidates it. However, if all the articles of the contract are clearly spelled out and one party refuses to read the articles, often referred to as “the fine print,” then that refusal is taken that full acceptance of the contract is valid.

A point can be made about children and the issue of consent. In some cases, children can and do ‘consent” to certain relationships. A boy may get a job as a paperboy. He is instructed on the rules of the job and the compensation for his work. Many children fulfill this type of contract responsibly.

But in our society legal experts agree that children do not have a legal right to make certain contracts. Due to the lack of maturity and knowledge inherent in being a child, giving “consent” would not fulfill the two criteria required for that consent to be valid.

In regards to a child giving consent to joining a religion such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs), as a full member, this issue becomes very important. Can children fulfill the conditions of full membership in the JWs?

Even if full disclosure was given to the adults who join the JWs (which they are not given), it is clear that children cannot. Children lack the information necessary to make an “informed” decision about the matter. They are ignorant about how adult contracts are made and enforced. More important, they are generally unaware of the social meanings of religious commitment. For example, they are unlikely to be aware of the rules and regulations surrounding religious expectations – what they are supposed to signify. They are uniformed and inexperienced about what criteria to use in judging the acceptability of any religion except the JWs. Children most often agree to certain behaviors out of fear or loyalty or a desire to please the adults in their lives or just to be one of the crowd. This would preclude the issue of freedom and therefore invalidate the contract. And finally, children have little way of knowing how other people will react to the experience they are about to undertake – what likely consequences it will have for them in the future.

In discussing the issue of consent, social psychologist David Finkelhor states, “For another thing, a child does not have the freedom to say yes or no. This is true in a legal sense and also in a psychological sense. In a legal sense, a child is under the authority of an adult and has no free will. In a more important psychological sense, children have a hard time saying “no” to adults, who control all kinds of resources that are essential to them. Food, money, freedom all lie in adult hands. In this sense, the child is like a prisoner who volunteers to be a research subject. The child has no freedom in which to consider the choice.” In a desire to please the adults around him or her, the child makes a decision based on wrong motives and inaccurate knowledge.

The basic proposition here is that child baptism is wrong because the fundamental conditions of consent cannot prevail in the relationship between a religion and a child. “It adds a moral dimension to the empirical one” (Finkelhor). Even if it could be shown that in many cases children were helped by religion affiliation, one could still argue that the baptism was wrong because children could not consent. The wrongness is not contingent upon the evidence of a positive or negative outcome.

Due in part to the emotions that religious affiliations create, we know that these relationships often come into conflict with other kinds of roles and social responsibilities. This conflict becomes apparent, for example, when Witnesses forbid certain social or scholastic activities with their peers.

Growing up in a Witness family brings a certain social stigma to a child. People in our society react with both alarm and prejudice toward a child who has been involved with the Witnesses even after the child grows up. This stigma may be unfair, but it does exist, and it is unfair of adults who wish it didn’t, to inflict such stigma on children, who cannot be fully cognizant of its existence. Finkelhor states, “To rear a child in a stigmatized status cannot be considered a crime in and of itself, or else we would have to support laws to make it a crime to bring up a child to believe in communism.” It is however, morally harmful to the child.

The reality is that few adults are fully informed of the rules and regulations until after they have been baptized. There is a clear set of rules for those who are not baptized and a much stricter set of rules for those who have been baptized. To allow a child to submit to this double-standard without a clear explanation of what that standard is would be fraudulent.

Children also would not be fully able to consent to such an issue because their minds are still developing. What a child wants at 10 or 11 is very different from what they want at 15 or 18. For a child to give consent at a younger age when his or her brain is not even developed enough to understand certain concepts, which can only occur at a later developmental stage, is absurd. To hold this child to his or her “consent” would be immoral.

Coping & Learning to Thrive after Being Shunned

What do you do when close family members and friends shun you, because you no longer believe as they do? It is particularly challenging, when the shunning has been mandated by a predatory pseudo-religious group, like Watchtower. And especially onerous if you were born into the high-control group.

Unfortunately, mandated shunning is being experienced by thousands of former Jehovah’s Witnesses today.

That is why I am so excited about shouting out praises for Bonnie Zieman’s new, ground-breaking book, SHUNNED: A Survival Guide, which is exclusively devoted to educating the reader on how to cope and learn to thrive after being shunned:

If you are currently being shunned, are contemplating being ostracized in the near future, know someone who is being abused with this inhumane practice, or just curious about this nasty form of emotional blackmail, Bonnie’s book is a must-read.

Three highlights of the book, at least for me, are:

What not to do when being shunned
How to deal with people who shun you
How to manage the worst effects of shunning

 

The Pivot of Control

The PIVOT of CONTROL is when it happens: When you go from an interested observer of a group with a so-called “no agenda” to being unduly influenced and manipulated. It only takes watching the first 5-minutes of this video to help you understand the concept.

After watching 5 minutes of the video, can you describe the moment, and dynamics, when one moves from being an observer of the Jehovah’s Witness experience to becoming a Jehovah’s Witness?

Hopelessly Stuck in the Victim Mode?

I often ask former JWs if they know what group is worse than Jehovah’s Witnesses. It generally takes two or three guesses before the person gives up. When I tell them it is: ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses, they smile and appear to get it.

Why is that?

Because many ex-JWs are hopelessly stuck in the victim mode, even many long years after they have left the black-and-white world. They spend way too much time playing the “whose fault it is” game, instead of taking responsibility. What are they going to do about the reality that they have been in a cult, yes, in a long-term abusive relationship?

It’s not always easy and many ex-JWs would benefit from time well-spent with a qualified therapist or counselor, who understands how cults unduly influence its members. A good reminder to the fact that it is our responsibility, the following short-and-sweet video by Will Smith is a classic wake-up call.

How are People Manipulated?

Skilled manipulators, be it a person or a pseudo-religious organization, know how to get people to do what they want them to do. One such manipulator made the following claim:

“Making people do what I want is the easiest thing in the world. All it takes is:
1) Make them think we have something special and everyone else is deluded; and/or
2) Make them think they are not doing enough; and/or
3) Threaten to take their family away.”

Do you know any person or group that uses any or all of these techniques to unduly influence people?

Shining a Light on Watchtower’s Lack of Child Protection in the Netherlands

By: Aswin Suierveld of Reclaimed Voices

I would like to give you an update of the current situation about child sexual abuse within the Jehovah’s Witness organization in the Netherlands and what our group, Reclaimed Voices Foundationhttps://www.facebook.com/reclaimedvoices/ – is doing about it. (https://reclaimedvoices.org/)

In December 2017 the Ministry of Justice and Security spoke with men who are responsible for JWs in the Netherlands. This conversation was in response to articles in Trouw, a Dutch newspaper, as the Dutch government was alarmed about Watchtower’s policy on reporting child sexual abuse. The Minister of Legal Protection advised JWs to read and comply with the Deetman Report, which was given to the Catholic Church in the Netherlands in 2011.

Reclaimed Voices was also invited to talk with representatives of the ministry. We decided to write a document with background information about Watchtower, their policy on reporting child molestation, our opinion of how we thought Watchtower would react to the Deetman report, a summary of the Australian Royal Commission’s report, and the goals for Reclaimed Voices. We called our report, which was almost 30 pages, “Sexual Abuse at Jehovah’s Witnesses – background and recommendations.”

On January 26, 2018, we had a meeting with staff from the Ministry of Justice and Security and we gave them our report, which was printed and bound.

On January 18, we met with a journalist from RTL Nieuws. She decided to share the problem of child molestation among JWs on a special television program. She also put pressure on the ministry through the media, hoping they would initiate an investigation, and introduced us to Nico Meijering, a well-known Dutch lawyer.

On January 26, after we had been at the ministry, we had our first meeting with Meijering. Later that evening the first major news story about Watchtowe’s child molestation problems was aired on Dutch TV.

Meijering received our report, supplementing it with Watchtower documents – letters to elders, elders book, guidelines for Branch Offices, Branch Office Child Protection Guidelines, etc.

On February 8, a second major news story was aired by RTL, where it was announced that a number of victims were planning to report their personal stories. It was also reported that JWs keep documents concerning perpetrators of sexual abuse, which are not reported to the police.

Because we were afraid that Watchtower would destroy their files, our lawyer gave a firm warning: “It is a serious crime to destroy evidence that could lead to an investigation and prosecution in order to resolve such crimes as child abuse. So don’t let it get that far and be so stupid to go and destroy evidence, because then there will be an even bigger problem.”

Later that same evening, the Reclaimed Voices chairman, Raymond Hintjes, and Nico Meijering attended ‘Late Night’, a television talk show in the Netherlands.

On February 14, after a few days of very challenging work on our part, thirteen victims of sexual abuse, through our lawyer, made a request to Watchtower-Netherlands to release the files about their abuse. This request was shared in the media.

On February 15,  the problem of child sexual abuse within the JW community was discussed by the committee of the Ministry of Justice and Security. Raymond and I were present and sat at the public stand. The majority of politicians were aware and appeared concerned about the problem. During the meeting, a 11-page letter from our lawyer was discussed, in which he lodged a request for release of the files for the thirteen abused JWs. His letter had been sent to the Public Prosecution Service.

One of the issues that both the lawyer and the ministry are concerned about is the fact that JWs have their own legal system, which they place above the law of the country and based, among other things, on Acts 5:29.

The Minister promised to respond in writing to Meijering’s letter. We have the impression that he takes this problem very seriously. We now hope that an independent investigation will be started.

I sometimes find myself in tears now that people from outside the ex-jw community finally understand what is going on, which is encouraging for victims

We’re not there yet. In the meantime, we are preparing a collective prosecution in which six or seven survivors will participate. This is in full development.

We currently know of more than 250 victims of sexual abuse by JWs in the Netherlands. Most of the victims have left the JW organization because of this. I have read and heard many stories, not only about sexual abuse, but also about physical and emotional abuse. Something is definitely wrong in the Watchtower organization in the Netherlands.

But it is encouraging to know that we are not alone. We are joined by thousands of people worldwide with the same goals as Reclaimed Voices: A safer environment for children, both in a religious setting and in society as a whole.

Best wishes to you all and kind regards,
Aswin Suierveld of Reclaimed Voices (https://reclaimedvoices.org/missie-en-vissie/)