John Brown Interview -- Transcript
B. Did I have to clear anything for you?
L. Yes if you would please, I reviewed my notes and I wanted to ask a couple of other defining questions.
B. Okay, if you can do that rather quickly because I'm leaving for another engagement but go ahead anyway.
L. I'll go as quickly as possible. In what capacity was Cano sent overseas? There's been reports in the media that he was sent to work at other various headquarters branches.
B. No, he went temporarily down to DR, Dominican Republic, and he helped them for about a year with their vehicles and came back. He was just kind of on loan which we do with those that have particular skills. So he was not overseas in the way we traditionally use it; it was down to the Dominican Republic.
L. Understood, okay, and then his current position was in the organization, he has been removed from the family that you referred to?
L. But has there been any move to excommunicate or will there be a --
B. Yes, I can update you now, and I'm glad that you called back because I was just given the information that he is no longer one of Jehovah's Witnesses.
L. So does that mean that he has been forcibly excommunicated?
B. Disfellowshipped, yes he has been.
L. He has been disfellowshipped, okay.
B. Now we don't, we never give any reason, that's confidential, you know that but --
L. Understood, understood. Would that mean then that, uh, with the rapidity that this case has broken open, was there any involvement with a two-member [committee] -- if I'm not mistaken, on your website you refer to some initiatives that were made in the past making sure parents are educated making sure the organization has an aggressive policy against perpetrators of this type of crime?
B. Uh-huh, okay, and so your question there is -- ?
L. Was there a formal process involved or was he specifically just removed or --
B. No, we have to follow a formal process. So in other words, just describing in general what it is, he would have three elders aside and they would go meet with the person face to face, they would present the charges, he could make whatever statements he cared to make, generally they would search out with questions whatever pertinent information if any was needed, and then they are able to act on that. If he has witnesses, or if we have witnesses, they could be allowed to speak or be interviewed by the same committee. Then they put all the facts that they have gathered together, they render a decision, and then an announcement is made in the congregation where the accused (now guilty one) attends, and if its a member of this Bethel family, then an announcement is made to the entire family.
L. To the entire cong[regation], we mentioned yesterday that that was in Newburg, New York.
B. That's in Newburg, New York, although I think I did explain to you that while [we are in] three complexes we view ourselves as just the one family, and we are tied in every morning by television as the text and announcements are considered, and so at the breakfast period, anything that's pertinent for all the complexes is taken up there. And that program is on for about 15 to 20 minutes.
L. So then I guess you just answered my next question related to Cano, which is if there is any legal support they've given to Cano on behalf of the Jehovah's Witness organization, if he's excommunicated.
B. In other words, when he is put out we wouldn't feel that obligation because really, I think I explained yesterday we fully support the laws as they are based for the most part on scripture, and we are as much against this type of thing as anyone. So there's no effort here to shield someone who is guilty of crimes ... no we don't support that in any way.
L. And just refresh my memory, is there any belief or has the doctrine of the organization changed, such that at one time they were spirit-inspired but are no longer? In other words, what I'm trying to get at, is this something that you will expect to see a repeat or a pattern of?
L. Based on the fact that these are just human beings serving in a voluntary capacity?
B. This is exactly how we feel. In other words, there is no Jeremiah, Isaiah, or prophet among us today. No one is inspired. They're diligent students of the Bible, of the Scriptures, they look to God to provide the guidance as they read and explain the Scriptures.
L. So neither the volunteer workers nor the leadership itself of the Jehovah's Witness church professes to be spirit-inspired or directed or what not?
B. No, no, we don't have anybody that expects that.
L. It seems like that's a shift in theology. At one time in the late '70s and '80s there was a move to set the church aside as being the one single organization of God here on earth, but what I'm hearing now is perhaps the organization is a little more mainstream, which would be more of a positive thing?
B. I don't know if you would call us mainstream, that would be for others to decide, but we have in no way made the claim that here we are above others in any way, or that we have some special pipeline to God or special information. Obivously we feel we have the truth, or we would proclaim something else. So those matters were somewhat mixed up in the past, but we've made an effort to clarify them. What we feel we have as the truth, we proclaim that to others. That's the reason we have the work (house to house, street work, or however) to speak our message which we feel is based on the Bible and truth. But it's based on the Bible, we didn't invent it or originate it, it's already there.
L. Understood. So that there's no currently any understanding that says that only Jehovah's Witnesses are, in other words, chosen or the only ones who would survive an apocalyptic doomsday scenario?
B. We feel that's entirely up to God. But we do know that if a person isn't in line with God's way of living and thinking, then he runs a serious risk there. Even as the people in the time of Noah did, those who finally didn't line up with what God's prophet was stating then, and that was Noah, they didn't survive. They were lost in the Flood. So likewise in our day and time; we feel that people who are not living according to what is stated there. And everybody can read God's Word, the Bible. And it's up to them whether they choose to apply it or not. But they will be judged not by us but by God. We can point out his standard, we can read it and show it to them. He's the Judge, we can't read hearts.
L. Okay, so then a final comment on this matter.
L. The type of scenario, the same scenario that has happened here with Cano is no different from the scenario that has happened in any other religion, and as a matter of fact, Jehovah's Witnesses are not proclaiming that they are the only true religion.
B. That's not really the answer ... that last part, to be absolutely correct, I would say no, we don't go out and say, "We're the only true religion." Now if you said to me, "Do you believe you have the truth from the Bible?" My answer is, as I mentioned a moment ago, "Yes." If I didn't, I would go and join or be a part of whatever I thought it was.
L. Another church?
B. But I think everybody would say that almost that was sincere in their belief.
L. I would agree with that. But does the actual circumstances of Cano being, if you will, a higher up or very close to the organizational headquarters -- in other words, this isn't any different than what's happening in other religions so there's not a type of special protection around Jehovah's Witnesses as a religion, would that be accurate?
B. We feel that there is. Not special, in other words, if mischief should befall me or something bad [happens], we are not living in a time when God is providing physical protection. He provides now spiritual protection, in other words, if I keep my faith strong, I will not fall by the byside or get deceived into some wrong way. But I could go out, a car could hit me, or I could get a dreadful disease that's terminal, like anybody else. So we don't feel that because we are proclaiming God's message that we have physical protection now, that's in the future, now we have a spiritual protection and that is to keep our faith intact as long as we're following what the Scripture says. Some people or not. You just gave the example, some people follow it and then they have a dark side to them and it comes out and you know it brings great reproach on the organization.
L. I would agree with that and as a matter of fact I'm sure no doubt you're familiar with the many circumstances with Roman Catholic priests and what not, who've been indicated and even prosecuted for similar crimes against children. At the time it seems that there was also a doctrinal shift in that organization, that they had to remove themselves from saying that we have God's special protection too, no we're just anyone else, no our religion is not better than anyone else's.
B. What happened there was truly a shame and I think what became embarassing was trying to hide it. That's why I explained to you earlier, we're very transparent on this matter, because if we have someone in here who is doing wrong and living wrong, then we want him out. So really in fact, law enforcement did a great favor for us, even as the Bible said, "he can be your minister for good," referring to the government --
L. Referring to secular governments.
B. Right, so they did their job. They fight crime, they have ways to do it that we only have heard about. And so the fact that they had the means to ferret out a wrongdoer and to have a sting operation that was effective and then they came to us [saying], "Here's what we found." Okay. We're shocked and surprised but we're glad to get someone like that out of the organization because they represent contamination.
L. So then would you say that God is aware of everything that is happening within the organization or that he allows it to happen or is it predestination? What is the official position on whether or not God --
B. He's aware of it
L. That God is aware of it and will allow it to take place?
B. That in his time he will expose what is wrong. And while this took a long time, at this time it was exposed, it came to light, it came to our attention, and we feel there was a test for us. Now what are you going to do about it? Well, we're not going to try to hide it, we're not going to shield him from punishment that's due as a result of the crime because we feel that it is deserved because a violation of God's law and man's law took place. So we don't have anything against the government doing their job in a case like this.
L. So -- but you don't also believe that God in any way gave a message to protect the Bethel family that God used law enforcement or that --
B. No, no. Law enforcement is mentioned. Romans chapter 13 in the Bible calls the law enforcement which is part of the government, it calls them "superior authorities" or "higher powers". In other words, while we are here in the earthly setting they are the ones who keep the law in order. What would we do without them? And it says also that they punish those who are wicked and who violate God's law. And by that I mean those who are thrown in jail or whatever their punishment is. So we in no way oppose what Jesus referred to as "Caesar". He just called government in general Caesar, and so he said Christians following him should be obedient to Caesar as long as Caesar doesn't conflict with God's law we feel that you obey what the government says because most of their laws, at least in this part of the world, are based on what was Christian law or Mosaic Law, Jewish law, before that.
L. Okay so, then, with it being that the actual perpetrator of the crime was a member of the Watchtower family for some 15 years, it is possible in theory of there [being] other perpetrators within the organization since then in a situation found with the assistance of law enforcement? Is that possible for there to be other perpetrators?
B. It's always possible. As long as you have imperfect men, you're going to have sin. And sin in time will be revealed. You can only be a hypocrite for so long and pretend to be something that you're not, and obviously that's what took place here. So no, we can't rule it out, but we can say this: If we find out it's there, you're going to be punished in the ecclesiastical sense (meaning according to our regulations as an organization based on the Bible) and then Caesar or the government will give whatever punishments are prescribed by law and we back them up whatever their decision is on that.
L. Well everything seems to make sense except that I'm still not sure that I'm comfortable understanding whether or not the organization as a whole has got blessing or is in many ways --
B. We have blessing. See because we changed terminology. Do we feel that we have God's blessing? Yes. That means we have his favor and guidance. If you say, "Are we inspired," then we think of someone like Moses, like Isaiah, like Jeremiah, they wrote, they were inspired. They said that they were "borne along by Spirit". They were allowed by God as a human writer, used their words or their methods of putting the message down, but the authorship of that message in the Bible, both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, we feel is from God.
L. Does God speak through other religions? Does God call other people to him using other religions or is it only through the Jehovah's Witness organization?
B. No, no. It's not true of us today. Because none of us today are inspired. We don't feel that there's anyone in our organization that is inspired, or anybody else's. We feel what's inspired is already written down. That's why we read and study that. So while we feel that our careful study of the Scriptures has enabled us to arrive at many truths and we progressively clear up things, we're not getting perfect every time, but we feel that anything that deviates from that is not the truth and would not have God's backing, and our message will point that out to others. So that's where maybe you are looking for what we understand to be a distinction because we base clearly what we say, what we preach, on the Bible literally or however they want to say it.
L. So would you consider other fundamentalist religions to do the same. In other words, are there other religions that are blessed by God, or is it just the one?
B. We feel that the truth is only one thing. Now here's how we would arrive at our conclusion. We look at what they say, what do they do, do their actions show they are living up to this? We use the same example that Jesus uses in Scripture. He says, "Each tree is known by its fruit. If it's producing rotten fruit, then the tree is obviously no good -- it's rotten."
L. The reason why that comparison would be difficult for an outsider to understand is because in this particular instance the fruit that the tree produced was a pedophile who went undiscovered for 16 years. So I guess what I'm trying to get at is, there's no special protection around the Jehovah's Witness organization any longer, that seems to be a major shift in theology.
B. No I don't think it is clearly, because we're only humans and we can't read the hearts. If we could then we would expose anybody doing wrong, whether it's adultery or fornication or drunkenness or alcoholic beverages abused in some way. We just can't tell that. But we are confident that in time someone who is wicked, and on a path of wrongdoing that does not repent and change and straighten out these matters with God will be exposed. We just do not feel that you can keep on doing the things that you're doing and the way that you're doing and bringing dishonor to God's name. So in the case at hand that you're speaking of, we just had no knowledge --
L. That fruit came from the tree that you spoke of, the Jehovah's Witness organization, that's where that particular fruit came from. So I guess by extrapolation that would make the parent organization not a organization approved by God and that doesn't seem to make a lot of sense --
B. No, no, that's really dis -- 'cause otherwise you'd have to say that Jesus' followers were wrong because Judas betrayed him and was a greedy thief. And that's not the case. You have some individuals who go bad in spite of the good efforts of an organization. So we have here someone who at one time we would assume was practicing these things but then went astray from them and so in time, just like in the case of Judas Iscariot there, a follower of Jesus, Jesus picked him as one of the disciples but he proved to be unfaithful because he let the bad that started rolling in his heart take over, and so he became a thief and then a traitor. So likewise today you have individuals who can step up and be bad, you can have good fruit on the tree and it can go rotten at times, but that doesn't mean the whole tree has to go rotten, you can prune or take off what is bad, and then the tree can continue to be helped to grow.
L. Okay so bottom line, are members of other faiths accepted by God? Or do they need to be a member of the Jehovah's Witness church in order to have God's blessing?
B. Okay, we keep going round and round and coming back to the same thing.
L. I think I'm using a little bit of different terminology than you are. And I guess the question is, This individual who perpetrated these crimes does not implicate the organization as being responsible of these crimes, which I would agree with --
B. Yeah, if we knew of it and did nothing about it, but tried to hide him or transfer him say down to Puerto Rico, or something like that, then we would be guilty as an organization because the Bible is clear that you should remove what is bad from your midst.
L. I absolutely agree with that portion of that synopsis. What I'm not understanding is for a situation like this to go on at the highest levels of a religious headquarters would indicate that that religion in fact isn't any different from any other religion professing to be God's true followers.
B. If you're talking about imperfection, we're all the same, we're all imperfect. You're going to find bad in any organization. In ours, we disfellowship -- and that is the sort of ecclesiastical term we describe someone who is put out. In a year's time there are probably 50 to 60,000 around the world who are disfellowshipped. Now [at] last figure, about half or more of them repent and change and come back. But when we go house to house we will study and teach whoever is interested, and if they want to make the changes and start coming to meetings, they can be baptized. But everyone does not lives up to their calling. We're not saying that --
L. Okay, we're kind of just getting a little bit away from the question being such that is -- is the fact that something like this could happen at the highest levels of a religious order's headquarters, is that proof that the religion per se is no different from any other religion? Would you say yes or no?
B. No, no. Because we did something. We did not do what some other organizations you know of had done, and simply transferred them or slapped on the back of the hand, or [say], "Don't do it again." You called and talked and you have been able to monitor this right along, and we are removing from ourselves [as] 1 Corinthians 5:6 says, "to remove the wicked man from among yourselves". And we did that. He's out now. He is no longer contamination for us.
L. For the organization itself.
B. No, he's not. He won't be. Because an announcement will be made and his status is the same in any congregation anywhere in the world of Jehovah's Witnesses, and any of them, a number of them will speak Spanish as he did, but he can't go to any of them because he would be viewed as contamination.
L. He would have like a file that would follow him?
B. Yeah. Here's what you do. If you're one of Jehovah's Witnesses and I show up at another city, maybe out in Fresno, the first thing they ask is what congregation did you last associate with, then they write a letter to that congregation and say "So-and-so has arrived here. Could you send the information on him?" And they send your information out there. And that was done just to keep perpetrators and others who would like to move around and continue carrying on mischief to keep them from going in again as someone new or different with no record, and carry on the same wicked behavior.
L. That seems to be a good first step towards stopping that type of behavior from moving from area to area. But in reality there is probably nothing saved, I would have to be truthful about what congregation I came from, especially if --
B. Whichever one you said, we write them. We write the letter. You know the body of elders that I explained to you about? They write the letter to that congregation. We just ask you which one did you come from?
L. And if I say none -- I came from none -- I heard about you and I wanted to become a part of you. So how do I sign up?
B. Well, you need a Bible study if you don't know anything about that, you start with that. And I will guarantee you in a few months we will catch up with you because remember, our congregations are deliberately small so we know where everybody is in our family. You won't have more than 100 or 150 there, so you don't have people there you don't know. Almost anyone in the congregation can get up and name everyone that's there. So we operate more like a family, that's not by accident that's by design, so that we can keep up with everybody and give them the shepherding, that's the pastoral help, that they might need to grow spiritually. Now all of this is not saying that we do it perfectly, but we're trying to do just what was done here, what's bad is there, we want to purge ourselves of the bad. Why? Because if we don't do it, God is going to hold us responsible. A little bit of leaven or yeast can ferment a whole lump, and if you allow bad to deliberately stay there, then it's going to ferment and it's going to spread and others are going to be contaminated by it.
L. And are other members of the Bethel Wallkill family -- apparently this would be considered something that would be fermenting to the whole lump, so I imagine that there's quite a bit of discussion going on at this time.
B. There is. And really, there's quite a bit of pain and hurt because after all, this was a person that many felt close to, they knew him, they worked with him or they shared a dining room table, but while we also love what is right, we hate what is wrong. We hate the bad. The Bible says hate what is bad. Not the individual. But the bad action that they have done, we have to take a strong stand because it affects our relationship with God.
L. All right, I believe I have a good enough understanding of the terminology --
B. (laughing) As you can try.
L. Some of the terminology is different, I say "inspired", I say "tomato," you say "tomahto". I still don't know if I have a good understanding of whether or not Jehovah's Witnesses believe that they are the only true religion, or whether other practicers of fundamental Christianity are also accepted by God.
B. So I gave that really in a modern sense, if you asked me personally, and if you said, "John Brown, do you believe you have the truth as one of Jehovah's Witnesses?", I am going to unequivocably say "Yes, I do".
L. But the organization itself doesn't take that position?
B. Well, what we have to watch is that we don't get into an area of judging people, judging their hearts, because that's what God does. Now if I see a person on this block or neighborhood that's living wrong or out of harmony with what God says in his Word, maybe I know they are a thief or an abuser of alcohol or drugs or something, that's evident, I need to try to help that person because if I don't help him, he's not going to be able to gain a relationship with God, that's kind of clear cut, but --
L. But what's not clear cut are others that are not necessarily engaging in those types of illicit behaviors. So they don't need to be saved by theology?
B. Yeah, so it gets a little more difficult, but we are still told in Scripture there, "Present to them the good news of God's kingdom," and see their reaction to it. So you have to be more than a good person, remember the man who came up to Jesus and said what do I have to do to get everlasting life, and Jesus said, "Obey the law, honor your father and mother, don't steal," and the man said, "But I'm doing all those things, I've done all those things from my youth up," and Jesus looked at him and said, "Then come be my follower", in other words, by that he meant, "Okay, you're doing good, a good man, now follow me and proclaim this message to others, be a minister, be a preacher of it, let others know about it." And it ended up very sadly because it said that the man went away grieved because he was holding many possessions, in other words, he was rich, he wanted to keep that space where he was, and Jesus said, "You know, you can get rid of that, or put it elsewhere, and you can be a follower, you can come right along with me." So we kind of feel that way too. You have to be a good person, you have to be living right. That's half of it. The other half is that you have to have righteous works, you have to do things for Christ, you have to be devoted to helping people not only with their physical, temporal needs, you have to be attuned to helping them with their spiritual needs, because he said those with spiritual needs needed to have them satisfied, and that is by drinking in the figurative waters of truth. Jesus said, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." And that's what we feel we have. And you said, do we have the truth? Yes, we'll have it perfectly, because if you look over the years we've made adjustments and changes as we found out better. And that's really in harmony with the Scriptures, "the light of truth gets brighter and brighter," more and more progressive. So we're not adverse to say, "Okay we didn't have this exactly right, we're moving on, we see now it means this," there's nothing wrong with that.
L. Understood. Well I appreciate your time, I will if you're interested fax you a copy of the article, hopefully it will run.
B. Please do so. Are you on the web?
L. Not yet, actually I'm in my car right now, I'm trying my best to pick it up by noon, but I would love to and I did spend a lot of time reviewing this jw-media.org website that was developed that did give me a good synopsis of the beliefs.
B. So that'll give you an idea, along with what we've said, and talking about it. And so now it's in your hands.
L. I -- I thank you.
B. I hope you do a good job, take care.