A Moral Obligation – Is it Enough?

Ronald Mowbray (82) had been a devout Jehovah’s Witness for decades. He lived with his wife, Ann (80), in Studley, Warwickshire in the West Midlands region of England. She too was a devout Jehovah’s Witness for most of her life. She was also considered vulnerable due to having physical disabilities. They had at least one son. In his later life, Ronald suffered from dementia and became frail.

On Monday morning, 17th February 2020, Ann was found dead with 49 stab wounds. Ronald had murdered her. He was remanded in custody and was set to appear at a plea and trial preparation hearing at Warwick Crown Court on March 20th 2020. He was not fit to attend. He died in hospital on Wednesday, April 1st 2020. His death was brought about by lack of nourishment, congestive heart failure and an irregular heartbeat.

Coroner’s Investigation and Inquest

Ann Mowbray was a vulnerable adult murdered by her husband who suffered from dementia. Both were devout Jehovah’s Witnesses.

On February 27th 2020, the Coroner of Warwickshire opened an investigation into the death of Ann Mowbray. The investigation was concluded on April 28th 2021. It was found that Mrs Mowbray was unlawfully killed by her husband. She was stabbed 49 times as she was sleeping in her own home. She was 80 years of age and vulnerable by means of physical disabilities.

She was a devout Jehovah’s Witness, as was her killer.

It was discovered that Ronald had made at least one comment to an elder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses indicating that he proposed to kill Ann by stabbing her.

During the course of the inquest, the evidence revealed matters giving rise to concern for the coroner. In his opinion, he believed that that future deaths will occur unless action is taken. He believed that the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (CCJW) have the power to take action.

CCJW do not have any policy regarding safeguarding of vulnerable adults who are members of the congregation. The issue of such a policy was raised by the author of the Domestic Homicide Review into Mrs Mowbray’s death with the CCJW in October. CCJW’s response did not make it clear whether or not they proposed to adopt such a policy.

He gave CCJW 56 days to respond to the Coroner’s report and he directed that their response must contain details of action taken or proposed to be taken, setting out the timetable for action. Or they must explain why they were not proposing to take action.

A Moral Obligation

On June 17th 2021, the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Britain responded to the Coroner’s report. They said they have “a long-standing religious practice, set out in their religious publications, with respect to vulnerable adults”.

One of the quoted publications says, “Adult children have the important responsibility of making sure that their elderly parents are cared for.” It goes on to admit, “The Bible does not contain specific instructions on caring for aging parents.” Nowhere in that article do Jehovah’s Witnesses address how to care for elderly members who have no children, or elderly parents whose children are disfellowshipped and shunned, and have no access to their elderly parents. And it says nothing about elder parents who are shunned by their children? Who cares for them? Jehovah’s Witnesses may believe they have a moral obligation to care for their elderly and vulnerable members, but they clearly don’t feel they have any moral obligation to care for those who have left their group.

Similarly, in a response letter to the Coroner of Warwickshire, dated 17th June, 2021, they make no mention of adult children shunned by their elderly parents: “where an elderly person has no children, or where responsible adult children need and are happy to receive help in caring for their parents, individuals (note how they do not call them ‘members’) within congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses are moved by love of neighbour to offer necessary support and assistance.”

Noteworthy too, is the title in The Watchtower Study Edition March 15, 2014 which defines where their moral obligation starts and ends in respect to their elderly. It is entitled, “Honor the Aged Among You”. It’s not entitled, “Honor the Aged”. Again, the main responsibility falls on adult children but at the same time they suggest that full-time servants shouldn’t hastily cease their service to the Watch Tower corporation, when considering the care of their elderly parents. Instead they ask if some in the parents’ congregation would be happy to help.

The article provides an anonymous example of where elders “were determined to do all they could to help them care for their parents” so they could “continue in their assignment” to the Watch Tower corporation. Were those adult children in the anonymous example informed that that if their parents were harmed under the care of the elders that the Jehovah’s Witnesses would not be legally liable? What if Mr. and Mrs. Mowbray were the parents of those adult children? How would they feel after their father murdered their mother under the care of the elders?

The same article claims that “some Christians [Jehovah’s Witnesses] … make it a point to show extra interest in older members of the congregation.” How can the anonymous writers make this claim? Is it truthful to make it? Then what happened in the case of Mr. and Mrs. Mowbray? Or is just a suggestive claim in an attempt to incite a moral obligation in members to care for the elderly?

The question then must be asked, what makes the Jehovah’s Witnesses better than other religion if they only suggest congregations care for their elderly and vulnerable adults if they have no meaningful policy in place? And this question is of greater significance when you consider that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not suggest, but direct, that all – including the elderly and vulnerable adults – must shun those who have leave the religious group.

While Jehovah’s Witnesses may make the claim that shunning protects the congregation, it does not necessarily protect the elderly and vulnerable. In this context, the moral obligation bestowed upon Jehovah’s Witnesses isn’t enough. Maybe it should be a legal obligation.

A Moral Obligation to Expel

Jehovah’s Witnesses often claim in court and in the media that it’s their religious right to protect their congregations from moral decay by disfellowshipping members that they believe are not meeting the Bible’s moral standards as they interpret them. They fail to expound on what they consider “immoral”. And is it any wonder, when they have an embarrassingly long list of reasons to expel.

The list of offenses for expulsion is not explicitly found in any of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ publicly available publications.

The list is only found in the publication that is for their elders’ eyes only. This is in itself means that the ordinary member is at an immediate disadvantage. Unless they are an elder who is called before their internal judicial system for committing an offense, the victim is not privileged with due process. The penitent is at the mercy of the elders and their interpretation of a list of wrongs that the victim has no access to.

The list of offenses for which a Jehovah’s Witness can be expelled are, according to “Shepherd the Flock of God” (April 2021 Edition):

  1. Sexual Immorality (Porneia): 3 pages are used to define porneia.
  2. Adulterous Marriage: 0.75 pages are used to define adultery.
  3. Child Abuse: A paragraph plus a full chapter are used to define and child abuse and handle cases internally. No direction is provided on how to report to secular authorities.
  4. Gross Uncleanness, Uncleanness With Greediness: 2.33 pages are used to define this offense and the following is described as “not an exhaustive list” (all of which are defined):
    • Momentary Touching of Intimate Body Parts or Caressing of Breasts
    • Immoral Conversations Over the Telephone or the Internet
    • Viewing Abhorrent Forms of Pornography
    • Misuse of Tobacco or Marijuana and Abuse of Medical, Illicit, or Addictive Drugs
    • Extreme Physical Uncleanness
  5. Brazen Conduct: 1.33 pages are used to define this offence again, they say the following are “not an exhaustive list” (but which are defined):
    • Unnecessary Association With Disfellowshipped or Disassociated Individuals: The information provided to elders on this offense is not available to the ordinary members; they have only the publications available to the general public to rely on. The result is that what the elders know about shunning, and what the ordinary member understands about it, do not align.
    • Dating Though Not Scripturally Free to Remarry
  6. Drunkenness
  7. Gluttony
  8. Stealing, Thievery
  9. Deliberate, Malicious Lying; Bearing False Witness
  10. Fraud, Slander: A page is devoted to this offense.
  11. Reviling
  12. Obscene Speech
  13. Greed, Gambling, Extortion: These offenses include, believe it or not, extorting a high bride-price.
  14. Refusal to Provide for Family
  15. Fits of Anger, Violence, Domestic Violence
  16. Manslaughter
  17. Apostasy: Apostasy isn’t necessarily committing an immoral act. Instead, it can involve activities some would even consider Christian, or wholesome. The list of what is considered apostasy is unknown to the ordinary member but includes the following (it’s not clear if this list is exhaustive or not):
    1. Celebrating False Religious Holidays
    2. Participation in Interfaith Activities
    3. Deliberately Spreading Teachings Contrary to Bible Truth as taught by Jehovah’s Witnesses
    4. Causing Division, Promoting Sects: This includes questioning those in authority within the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
    5. Employment Promoting False Religion
    6. Spiritism
    7. Idolatry

Most Jehovah’s Witnesses have never seen the full list of offenses that can result in being disfellowshipped. Yet, there are still other acts, though not termed as offenses, result in a member being expelled. These include:

  1. Making Known a Firm Decision to Be Known No Longer as One of Jehovah’s Witnesses
  2. Joining Another Religious Organization and Making Known His Intention to Remain With It
  3. Willingly and Unrepentantly Accepting Blood: Even if rejecting a transfusion would result in death.
  4. Taking a Course that Violates Christian Neutrality: Examples including joining the military or voting in political elections.

The claim is made that these actions are “taken by the publisher rather than the [judicial] committee”. However, it’s the judicial committee that expels one in all cases. Whether a publisher is disfellowshipped or disassociated, the judicial committee complete the same S-77 Notification of Disfellowshipping or Disassociation form.

It’s pure semantics.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses only separate the latter four offenses from the preceding 17 offenses because they do not want to admit and take responsibility for the fact that they expel those who exercise the human right to life when it’s a matter of accepting blood, exercise their democratic right to vote, exercise their human right to change their beliefs, or exercise their human right to cease believing.

Evidently, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that they have no moral obligation to provide their members with this concise list of offenses. It’s logical to conclude that Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that they have no moral obligation to inform members that they will be expelled if they exercise certain human rights and democratic rights.

The Interests of Others

The Jehovah’s Witnesses claim in their response to the Coroner that “The Bible exhorts Christians to ‘look out for the interests of others,’ especially those who are weak, vulnerable or disadvantaged. (Philippians 2:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:14). The scriptures quoted in Philippians and Thessalonians are not in respect to the elderly only. In context, they are directions as to how elders are to treat congregation members generally.

If Jehovah’s Witnesses practice what they preach, then why keep the list of offenses above, and how they are interpreted, secret? Those who genuinely look out for the interests of others would make this information to all. The question then is, how can we believe that the Jehovah’s Witnesses look out for the interests of vulnerable adults, when they clearly are not looking out for the interests of their members generally?

The Jehovah’s Witnesses provided the coroner with a number of articles in their magazines and online at jw.org that discuss caring for the elderly. But what does it matter writing a fluff piece on a website or in a magazine about how you tell readers how to care for elderly if you take no responsibility for what you write?

In their letter to the coroner, they said, “Jehovah’s Witnesses do not carry out any activities that formally bring vulnerable adults into their care. […] Therefore, it is our understanding that congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses do not fall within the scope of legislation and regulatory guidance concerning those who work with or provide care to vulnerable adults, thus obviating the need for a formal policy.”

This wording is very similar to other communications they have issued on the subject of child abuse. In those they absolve themselves of responsibility for acts of child abuse committed by those in authority within the religious group. While the Jehovah’s Witnesses may say to the coroner that they “feel a deep sense of moral obligation to observe Jesus’ command to ‘love their neighbour as themselves’, they have made it quite evident that they have no real moral obligation of care for those who are in a vulnerable position.

Is a Moral Obligation Enough?

Ann Mowbray was a vulnerable Jehovah’s Witness with physical disabilities who was murdered by her Jehovah’s Witness husband in bed. While Jehovah’s Witnesses may claim they have a moral obligation towards observing words of a biblical character some 2000 years ago, it does nothing to address the concerns of the coroner.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses were told by the murderer that he was going to kill his wife at least on one occasion. What did they do? Nothing of substance. What did they tell the coroner in their response if another member claims to do something similar? They didn’t say. They have nothing in their literature that directs elders to call the police in matters relating to pastoral support.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have a stringent system for policing offenses committed within their congregations, all of which are listed in this article. They even claim that those they expel from the congregation is done “in perfect justice”. If they have a moral obligation to keep their congregation’s clean and do so with “perfect justice”, surely they can implement a simple policy that works to care for the most vulnerable in their congregations and stand by it!

As is evident, the Jehovah’s Witnesses write a lot of articles, directing millions on how they should live. However, they take no responsibility for what they write. As an insular religious organization that has god-like control over their members, they use this power with impunity. They have no moral obligation to anyone. And why should they when they can abuse human rights to further their own ends?

While human rights advocates continue to turn a blind eye, or even defend the abusive practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses under the guise of freedom of religion, there will be more victims like Mrs. Mowbray. If religions like Jehovah’s Witnesses can control members – vulnerable or otherwise – with impunity, there will be more victims like Mrs. Mowbray. While Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to refuse to implement a simple policy to protect their vulnerable adults, there will be more victims like Mrs. Mowbray.

Sources:

  • Jehovah’s Witness publications:
    • Draw Close to Jehovah (jw.org)
    • Online Bible (jw.org)
    • Shepherd the Flock of God (avoidjw.org)
    • The Watchtower—Study Edition, March 15, 2014 (jw.org)
    • What Does the Bible Say About Caregiving for Elderly Parents? Help for Caregivers (jw.org)
  • News reports:
    • Ronald Mowbray stabbed wife Anne 49 times at Studley Home (bbc.com)
    • Man charged with murder after body found in Studley (bbc.com)
    • Studley pensioner accused of murdering wife dies in hospital (Redditch Advertiser)
  • Legal information:
    • Prevention of Future Deaths report: Ann Mowbray (Courts and Tribunals Judiciary)
    • The Coroners (Investigations) Regulations 2013: Regulation 28 (legislation.gov.uk)

2 Responses to “A Moral Obligation – Is it Enough?

  • Donald Brown
    11 months ago

    It’s amazing that the Jehovah’s Witness organization hides this from the rank and file. They do this because some of these offenses are committed by the elders and the organization itself such as this one, 9. Deliberate, Malicious Lying; Bearing False Witness. This particular sin is a very common one that the Jehovah’s Witness organization commits on a daily basis. Sure they will disfellowship someone who lies to them, but it is OK for them to lie to you because that’s different. After all, they’re in control, and as such, they feel justified in lying and being dishonest. However, they need to realize that God hates lying, and he doesn’t lie.

    The Shepherd The Flock Book is secret because of the mere fact that the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses know that what they’re doing is wrong so they try to hide it from everybody else. Not only that, but by hiding this book from the rank and file gives them even more control over evryone because they get to dictate what goes.

    Truly this isn’t an organization of God because God doesn’t keep secrets, nor does he do things behind people’s backs.There really isn’t any words to say that would befitting for this organization because all that we can say, is that the Watchtower organization is a diabolical, evil and careless organization that only cares about its money and itself.

    Many Jehovah’s Witnesses are going through boatloads of massive stress. So why so much stress? Well it is all put on them by the very organization that they say that they love. This very organization holds Armageddon over your head and they tell you that you aren’t doing enough and that you should do even more no matter how pressed for time you are, or how tired you are. They want your time and they want it for free. They don’t pay you for it at all. To the organization, people are disposable. They hold no value to the organization at all. A matter of fact, average Witnesses are known as good for nothing slaves, and that’s the honest to God’s truth. Their loyalty is not to God, but to the Watchtower and the governing body in New York.

    The lifestyle of an average Jehovah’s Witness is nothing but meetings, field service which is going door to door, studying for meetings and going to school or to their mediocre jobs. They are told not to attend college because that will take them away from working for the organization and the same can be said about hobbies too.

    It’s no wonder that many Jehovah’s Witnesses are depressed and going through anxiety and other issues. This cult is truly a terrible thing to be a part of.

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