September 25, 2002
By BOBBY ROSS JR.
Associated Press Writer
TULLAHOMA (AP) -- Their friends won't talk to them. Their son says they won't ever see him — or their 3-year-old grandson — again.
For more than 40 years, Joe and Barbara Anderson were devoted members of the Jehovah's Witnesses. They preached that God's kingdom was near — that those who refused to repent would die at Armageddon.
But now the Andersons find themselves labeled as outcasts by the organization they served for so long.
Their crime: Speaking out against the church's handling of allegations of child molestation.
"Our son and daughter-in-law think what we've done is so horrible," said Barbara Anderson, 62, who co-founded "Silentlambs," a support group for church victims.
"They were told by the headquarters that we were responsible for so many thousands and thousands of Jehovah's Witnesses leaving the organization now and that these people are going to die at Armageddon."
Undeterred, the Andersons plan a rally Friday at the New York City headquarters of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. She expects up to 500 people to join the march over the church's treatment of child sex abuse. Some plan to carry stuffed lambs to symbolize the children who have been hurt.
Watchtower spokesman J.R. Brown said the church respects the group's right of free expression.
"We live by that every day," Brown said. "We go door to door and we speak our message."
But Brown defended Jehovah's Witnesses' policies.
"We have never stated our policy is perfect or our elders ... are perfect," he said. "Clearly, with us having 95,000 congregations around the world and three to five to six elders in each, mistakes may have been made.
"But that does not mean that we don't have a strong and aggressive policy that shows we abhor child molestation."
However, Silentlambs, headed by former Kentucky church elder Bill Bowen, claims the denomination keeps molestation incidents secret, won't let victims warn other members about abusers, and cuts off and shuns those who speak out.
The church puts its membership at 6 million worldwide, including 1 million U.S. residents. Silentlambs has received calls and e-mails from 5,000 members reporting mishandled molestation cases, Bowen said.
Brown acknowledged that a child molester excommunicated then reinstated could go door to door if accompanied by an adult minister but said it "very rarely" happens.
Four Witnesses, including Bowen and Barbara Anderson, were excommunicated after NBC's "Dateline" aired their concerns in May. Also "disfellowshipped,"' as the church calls it, were Carl and Barbara Pandelo of Belmar, N.J., whose daughter was molested.
Anderson worked as a researcher at Watchtower headquarters in the early 1990s and a church official asked her to look into the handling of sexual abuse cases. She said she found hundreds of allegations on record, but kept secret, in church files.
"They basically use a scripture in 1 Timothy 5:19 that states you're not to make an accusation against an older man unless there are two or three witnesses," she said on "Dateline." "No molester is going to have any witnesses, that's for sure."
Joe Anderson, 67, was disfellowshipped in July over a letter to Watchtower headquarters questioning his wife's treatment.
Jehovah's Witnesses shun the outside world in many respects, refusing to bear arms, salute the flag or participate in secular government. They also don't accept blood transfusions or celebrate holidays such as Christmas.
In the closed society, anyone who is a Witness must cut off contact with disfellowshipped members, even relatives.
"They will not speak to you," Joe Anderson said. "I mean, if you are lying on the road, they will drive right past you."
Their son, Lance Anderson, 41, a Mishawaka, Ind., church elder, said the intention isn't to punish his parents but to lead them to repentance.
"I have never seen a situation come up in which we have not handled it legally and biblically the best way possible," he said.
The son called pedophilia a global problem but said only God — not man or government — can stop it.
"I love my parents dearly, but the message they have chosen to accomplish this is harming good people."
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)