Another unnecessary death has been documented due to Jehovah’s Witnesses harsh pronouncements prohibiting blood transfusions.

A 24-year-old mother died in Britain shortly after giving birth to her second child delivered by Caesarian section, reports Local London.

The coroner stated the cause of death was “post-operative complications for which she refused medical intervention, namely, a blood transfusion.”

How many more Witnesses will suffer and die before the organization’s leaders finally change this medically unsound and outdated policy?

It seems that Jehovah’s Witnesses have achieved a status within the pages of the New York Times, previously denied them.

In a New York Times Obituary regarding the death of a prominent Witness leader and corporate president, the newspaper described the organization as “a Christian denomination founded in the late 19th century.”

Well, at least they got the time of their origin right.

However, historically no Christian denomination has ever officially recognized Jehovah’s Witnesses as a “Christian denomination.”

Instead Witnesses have a long history of controversy and basic doctrinal differences with Christians.

Some Christians even consider the organization a “cult.”

The Witnesses reject Christian observances such as Christmas and Easter, as “pagan” holidays.

They have consistently remained outside of established Christianity and instead have chosen their own unique blend of religious beliefs.

Never mind.

The NY Times seems to think they are a “Christian denomination” without qualification, so it seems at least through the so-called “paper of record,” they have achieved a new status.

Note: A Newsday Obituary made the same mistake, reporting that the Witnesses are simply a “Christian group,” without making any further distinctions.

Doesn’t anyone at these papers proof or fact check the obituary section?

Apparently “cult apologists” are concerned about the Elizabeth Smart case. They seem to feel a need to dismiss any claims that the kidnap victim was “brainwashed.”

Veteran cult defenders James Richardson, H. Newton Malony and Nancy Ammerman, have all been quoted concerning the case.

Dick Anthony, another “cult apologist,” more recently weighed in.

The mainstream media apparently overlooked Anthony, who describes himself as a “forensic psychologist,” so he found another outlet for his opinions.

His commentary about Elizabeth Smart is now posted on the website CESNUR (“Center for Studies on New Religons”), run by Massimo Introvigne.

Introvigne is an interesting character and reportedly connected to a group that has been called a “cult.” The organization is named “Tradition, Family and Property” (TFP). Not surprisingly, Introvigne seems to be personally offended by the “C” word (“cult”) and the “B” word (“brainwashing”).

Within his treatise Anthony laments how the “proponents of brainwashing theory” are misleading the public by “asserting that Elizabeth Smart was brainwashed.”

According to Anthony that “theory” was “formulated by the American CIA as a propaganda device.”

Hmmm, was Elizabeth then somehow the most recent victim of a CIA conspiracy?


Anthony speculates that due to Elizabeth’s “strict Mormon upbringing…[she] may actually have been predisposed to accepting the stern religious authority of the self-appointed prophet Brian David Mitchell.”

Does this mean the Mormon Church and/or her family not only somehow predisposed Elizabeth to embrace the bizarre beliefs of others without question, but also to not seek help or identify herself to authorities when kidnapped?

Anthony seems to think so.

He says, “Such offbeat theological worldviews allegedly primarily attract conversions from rebellious young persons from Mormon backgrounds.”

Despite his self-proclaimed title of “forensic psychologist,” Anthony doesn’t offer any factual “forensic” evidence. And he doesn’t really explain Elizabeth’s strange behavior. Instead, everything is attributed to her “totalistic personality,” which was apparently just waiting to be Mitchell’s next “conversion.”

The good doctor is less kind to 70s cult kidnap victim Patricia Hearst.

Anthony says, “There is good reason to think that her involvement in SLA [Symbionese Liberation Army] crimes was based upon a real conversion.”

He does admit Hearst was exposed to “indoctrination.”

But just like Elizabeth, Anthony claims the then 19-year-old Patty Hearst’s capitulation to her captors, was all about “the interaction of her pre-existing totalistic personality.”

Anthony gets a bit nasty bashing Hearst as a “rebellious” teenager who “…took psychedelic drugs” and was “dualistically divided between corrupt mainstream people and good counter-culture people and down-trodden minorities.”

Uh huh.

He concludes, “Hearst fit the profile of an ‘individual totalist’ prone to seeking for a totalitarian counter-cultural worldview.”


Apparently, the SLA really didn’t need to violently abduct Hearst at gunpoint from her college campus or imprison the girl for months in a closet and brutally beat her. She was ready to accept their beliefs willingly, and all they needed to do was proselytize a bit to produce a “real conversion.”

Likewise, Elizabeth Smart’s kidnapping, months of confinement and her assault, did not contribute to her “brainwashing”—it’s that old “totalistic personality” ready for a “real conversion” once again.

In his latest foray in the realm of “forensic psychology” Anthony cites the “research” of a relatively small group of academics that share his views about “cults.”

He mentions the work of Stuart Wright, “Jim” James Richardson, Eileen Barker, H. Newton Maloney, Anson Shupe, David Bromley and Gordon Melton and of course his sponsor Massimo Introvigne.

However, all these “academics” are within the world of “cult apologists.”

In fact, Bromley, Melton, Maloney, Richardson and Wright have all been recommended as “religious resources” by the Church of Scientology.

Melton and Barker were funded by “cults” to produce books.

Anson Shupe was paid hefty fees by Scientology lawyers to become their “expert witness” about the “anti-cult movement.”

Benjamin Zablocki, Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University put it succinctly when he said, “The sociology of religion can no longer avoid the unpleasant ethical question of how to deal with the large sums of money being pumped into the field by the religious groups being studied… This is an issue that is slowly but surely building toward a public scandal. I do think there needs to be some more public accounting of where the money is coming from and what safeguards have been taken to assure that this money is not interfering with scientific objectivity.”

This brings us back to Dick Anthony.

Last year Anthony made $21,000.00 consulting on one civil case alone, without even appearing in court.

That case involved a wrongful death claim filed against Jehovah’s Witnesses and a “Bethelite” (full-time ministry worker) named Jordon Johnson in Connecticut, by John J. Coughlin, Jr., Administrator of the Estate of his mother Frances S. Coughlin .

Johnson killed Francis Coughlin in an automobile accident and was criminally convicted for manslaughter.

The Coughlin family sued both Johnson and the organization that controlled him, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, commonly called Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Dick Anthony was hired by the Watchtower Society as an “expert,” to assist them in their defense. And in the process was deposed under oath on October 11, 2002.

The man, who prides himself as a “scholar” and “academic” actually admitted that he hasn’t worked within an institution of higher learning (i.e. a university or college) for more than twenty years.

So how does Dick Anthony support himself?

He is “self-employed.” The name of his business is simply, “Dick Anthony, Ph.D.”

What does Dick Anthony Ph.D. do?

Dr. Anthony explains, “Probably two-thirds of my time to three-quarters of my time is spent writing for publication, and probably a quarter of my time to a third of my time is involved with participating in legal cases.”

Anthony’s writings are most often connected to defending “cults,” attacking the so-called “anti-cult movement” and/or the “proponents of the brainwashing theory.”

His work on “legal cases,” is as an “expert” hired by “cults,” or somehow as a “expert witness” in a related area of interest.

What this admission by Anthony means, is that he can easily be seen as a full-time professional “cult apologist,” who has no other means of meaningful income.

How much does he get paid?

Anthony stated for the record, “My fee for reviewing materials in my office is $350 an hour. And my fee for work outside my office is a flat fee of $3,500 a day plus expenses.”

Anthony admitted that he collected “$21,000” on the Coughlin/Watchtower Society case alone. And that was without even appearing in court.

For his deposition of only a few hours, he was paid “$3,500.”

Who else besides Jehovah’s Witnesses is willing to pay such substantial fees?

Anthony listed some of his clients for the record. That list included the “Unification Church, the Hare Krishna movement…The Way International [and] Church of Scientology.”

All of these groups have been called “cults.”

But Dr. Anthony doesn’t like the “C” word, he prefers “nontraditional religions.”

On his list of “nontraditional religions” are the Branch Davidians, Unification Church and he says, “In the United States, the Catholic Church, well it’s definitely the largest nontraditional religion.”

Dr. Anthony belongs to a “nontraditional religion” himself.

Explaining his own background Anthony stated, “I’m a follower of Meher Baba” and a member of the “Meher Baba Lovers of Northern California.”

According to Jeffrey Hadden, a fellow “cult apologist” who is now deceased, Meher Baba and his followers believe that he was the “God incarnate” and the Avatar of the ‘dark or iron’ age, also called the Kali Yuga.”

Baba died in 1969. Gordon Melton says, “By loving Baba, Baba lovers can learn to love others. In the highest, most intense, state of love, Divine Love, the distinction between the lover and the beloved ceases and one attains union with God.”

Sound like a personality-driven group that would be perceived by many as a “cult”? Anthony would of course prefer the description “nontraditional religion.”

The good doctor calls himself a “forensic psychologist,” which supposedly means the application of medical facts to legal problems.

So what facts does Dick Anthony apply to resolve the legal cases he is paid to testify and/or consult about?

When asked what specific research he relied upon regarding the Coughlin case against Jehovah’s Witnesses Anthony replied that he would largely rely upon “a range of materials provided me by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

Did Dick Anthony have any experience as a psychologist helping Witnesses, “None as far as I know,” he said.

Anthony also openly admitted he had done no formal research or published any paper about Jehovah’s Witnesses.

So what facts or direct working experience would be applied or used as the basis for rendering his expert opinion?

Anthony said he would base his opinion largely on a “general knowledge of the sociology and psychology of religion.”

When pressed repeatedly during the deposition for something more specific and scientific Anthony cited, “The research of Rodney Stark…generally considered to be probably the leading expert on sects and cults.”

Stark like Anthony has received money from “cults” and has often been called an “apologist.” He is not “generally considered” a “leading expert” on the subject cited either.

Anthony later said he would rely on an article by his old friend “James Richardson [though he couldn’t remember the title]…and…several articles by Catherine Wah [correct name actually Carolyn Wah].”

Carolyn Wah was the in-house attorney assigned to defend Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Coughlin case and a long-time “Bethelite” herself, working full-time at Watchtower headquarters.

Interestingly, it was Richardson who Anthony later admitted had referred him to the Witnesses for the job.

During his deposition Dick Anthony cited other legal cases he was working on at the time.

He claimed to be “a witness for the prosecution” in the criminal case against Winnfred Wright. Anthony said some of Wright’s followers were “claiming that they are innocent because they were brainwashed.”

This criminal case involved the starvation death of a 19-month-old boy.

Described as a “cult” by Associated Press, Anthony called the criminally destructive group a “little family.”

Apparently the judge didn’t agree with Anthony’s expert opinion. He ordered one of Wright’s followers released for “cult deprogramming” so she could “enter a treatment clinic for former cult members,” reported the Marin News.

Wright received the maximum sentence allowed.

Anthony also said he was advising “the Church of Scientology in Ireland…in Dublin.”

This is clearly a reference to a lawsuit filed against Scientology by Mary Johnson, a former Irish member who alleged “psychological and psychiatric injuries.” Anthony said, “I’ve had a number of conversations with [Scientology] about that.”

But despite those “conversations” Scientology decided pay off Johnson. And costs alone ran them more than a million.

And what about the Coughlin case?

After paying Anthony $21,000 in fees and on the first day of trial, the Jehovah’s Witnesses opted to settle too. They cut a check to the plaintiff for more than $1.5 million dollars. This was historically the largest settlement ever paid by the organization, which has been around for more than a century.

It seems Dr. Anthony doesn’t have a very good track record in the recent legal cases he has consulted on.

Perhaps Anthony himself explained this best during his deposition when he said, “It is the nature of pseudo-science…to pretend to certainty in interpreting situations where such certainty cannot possibly be based upon scientific knowledge. Such false claims of certain knowledge in the absence of a clear factual foundation for that knowledge are more characteristic of totalistic ideology than of genuine science.”

Indeed. So who really has a “totalistic personality” after all?

Dick Anthony seems not only a “pretend[er],” but as can be seen through the Coughlin case, he actually offers no directly applicable “scientific knowledge” or “clear factual foundation” to form his opinions.

Instead of applying medical facts and/or “genuine science” to resolve legal problems, this “forensic psychologist” seems to offer only “pseudo-science,” in an effort to please the “nontraditional religions,” who are paying clients and represent his predominant source of income.

Despite Anthony’s repeated failures he is still being paid $3,500 per day, which is not bad, or is it?

Note: Copies of the Dick Anthony deposition are available for an $18.00 tax-deductible donation to The Ross Institute

It seems the Watchtower Bible and Track Society, also known as “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” is becoming increasingly concerned about potential lawsuits and its public image.

So much so that it now sounds like leaders are equivocating regarding long-standing organizational rules about blood transfusions.

It looks like Jehovah’s Witnesses will now be able to use some blood byproducts in life threatening circumstances, reports the San Bernardino Sun.

The blood byproduct PolyHeme, which helps to replace lost hemoglobin, was recently used by a Witness in a California hospital, reports the San Bernardino Sun.

A Witness official said, “When blood is fractionated beyond those primary components and other blood derivatives, we feel that it is an individual decision. If an individual’s conscience will allow him to accept the product, then that would be up to that individual. That is between himself and his God.”

However, the same spokesperson stated, “We feel that the Bible clearly indicates that blood is sacred and it is not to be used for human consumption.”

Historically many Witnesses have died rather than use blood products.

Previously Witnesses were not allowed to accept organ transplants and this also led to many deaths. But that policy was eventually abandoned through a supposed new revelation.

Obviously, there is some blood residue within a transplanted organ, just as there certainly is within blood that has been fractionated to create a byproduct like PolyHeme.

Never mind.

Scientific details regarding such matters don’t seem to concern Witnesses. The real issue is, does the hierarchy of the organization say it’s OK?

Witnesses essentially do whatever their leaders tell them. And apparently they don’t concern themselves with the inherent contradictions posed by a sudden shift in policy.

It is sad though; that so many Witnesses have died due to previous policies now rescinded and/or revised.

However, if this recent shift regarding the use of blood products represents a gradual move towards a more medically sound and safer situation for millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses, it certainly is a healthy development.

The largest settlement ever paid in the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses occurred this past October, but no news outlet has yet reported it.

The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, which is the umbrella organization over 6 million Witnesses worldwide, paid the estate of Frances Coughlin $1.55 million dollars rather than let a jury decide the wrongful death lawsuit.

Frances Coughlin’s surviving family sued Jehovah’s Witnesses, also known as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, in State of Connecticut Superior Court at Milford (CV-00-0072183 S).

The principle defendant was a “Bethelite,” or full-time ministry worker, who drove recklessly in bad weather and killed Ms. Coughlin, a mother and grandmother, on October 8, 1998.

That Bethelite Jordon Johnson was traveling between “Bethel,” which has housing for its full-time workers in Patison, New Jersey and Brooklyn, New York, to a Witness Kingdom Hall he was assigned to in Derby, Connecticut.

Johnson was found guilty of vehicular manslaughter, but only served 30 days in jail and was sentenced to two years probation. Subsequently, he and Jehovah’s Witnesses faced a civil suit filed by Ms. Coughlin’s surviving family for damages.

Why was the Witness organization willing to pay more than $1.5 million dollars?

Apparently because a much larger issue of “agency” was at stake.

Agency is the word used to express a relationship between a principal party and its agent, through which the principal party projects its power and/or advances some purpose. And a principal party may be held liable for the actions of its agent.

Jehovah’s Witnesses contended that Jordan Johnson acted on his own and was not their agent at the time he caused the fatal car wreck.

But plaintiff’s counsel, Joel Faxon of Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, claimed on his client’s behalf that Jordan Johnson was serving as a Bethelite and agent of the organization at the time and advancing their purpose, therefore Jehovah’s Witnesses was responsible for his actions.

Internal documents were obtained through the discovery process and testimony was given through depositions, which clarified and substantiated Faxon’s view.

I was retained as an expert witness and consultant for this case by the plaintiff’s counsel.

My role was to assist in the discovery process, provide research and generally help to form a basis for an understanding of how Jehovah’s Witnesses employ, use and control Bethelites and others within their organization. Ultimately, I would have also testified as an expert in court.

That testimony would have included explaining how the organizational dynamics, indoctrination and objectives of Jehovah’s Witnesses impact individual members and more specifically full-time workers such as Bethelite Jordan Johnson.

But on the first day of trial Jehovah’s Witnesses decided they didn’t want a jury to decide this case and instead $1.55 million was paid to the plaintiff.

The organization that claims it is waiting for the ever-eminent “end of the world” decided to settle in a pragmatic move to protect its long-term interests and more than $1 billion dollars of accumulated assets.

Again, why would the Witnesses do this if they actually believed they had no meaningful liability?

Certainly the cost to complete the case in court would be far less than $1.55 million dollars. Why not let the jury decide?

But the seemingly shrewd Witnesses realized that there was just too much at stake and didn’t want to risk a “guilty” verdict.

Currently the organization known as Jehovah’s Witnesses faces a growing number of lawsuits filed by former members who feel the organization has hurt them.

The personal injuries were allegedly caused by elders and others acting in accordance with the organization’s policies and doctrines, which include such matters as blood transfusions and sexual abuse.

Seemingly to protect its assets the Watchtower Society of Jehovah’s Witnesses and its many Kingdom Hall congregations have in recent years created a myriad of corporate entities to apparently contain liability.

That is, each corporation is seemingly only responsible for its own specific actions and not the action of others. Again, this appears to be a rather pragmatic legal approach to protect the assets amassed by Jehovah’s Witnesses over more than a century.

But what if Jehovah’s Witnesses are nevertheless responsible or liable for the actions of its agents, which would include elders and others throughout its vast network of districts and Kingdom Halls?

Well, now you can see why the check was likely cut for $1.55 million in the Coughlin case.

Jehovah’s Witnesses were apparently concerned about what legal precedent a jury might set that could ultimately affect other claims pending or potentially possible in the future against the organization.

Many people seem to think that Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society is focused on the end of the world and a coming kingdom. At least that’s the impression many have when its members come knocking at the door.

But through the Coughlin case a different view of the organization emerges, which looks more like a business protecting its worldly assets and focused on the bottom line.

40,000 to 50,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses are “disfellowshipped” annually, but half that number “repent” each year and return to the organization, reports Oregon’s Register-Guard.

The national spokesman for the Watchtower Society, the umbrella organization that dictates Witness policies, describes the purpose of the practice as “a discipline…to correct what is wrong…All spiritual relations and all social relationships are severed, and, by extension, business relationships.”

That is, an effective end of any meaningful communication and relations between practicing Witnesses and someone so disfellowshipped.

This can be a deeply painful experience for the person disfellowshipped, which can easily lead to isolation, estrangement from family members and depression.

It appears that this Witness practice may be cited in part as a defense, to explain why one man murdered his family in Oregon. It appears to have driven others to suicide.

A longtime apologist for cults and controversial religious groups Rodney Stark said, “It seems far more likely that, rather than disfellowshipping being a cause, it was just one more symptom of someone with serious problems.”

That may be so, but despite that apology disfellowshipping is also often a way Witnesses silence critics and suppress dissent, within the tightly controlled organization.

The discipline of disfellowshipping seems to be a tool employed by the Witness hierarchy to excise its troublesome members who raise critical questions about its doctrines and practices.

Witnesses have been disfellowshipped for questioning and/or somehow opposing the organization’s admonishment not to accept blood transfusions. And recently it appears to have been used to silence questions about the handling of sexual abuse complaints within congregations.

Obviously by cutting off and isolating critical members, the leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t have to deal with dissent and don’t need to worry about the subsequent effect it may have regarding other members.

This makes damage control within the organization comparatively easy.

Disfellowshipping essentially often replaces the need for leaders to have any meaningful dialog with members that don’t agree with them.

The Worldwide Church of God was built upon the exclusive claims made by its founder Herbert W. Armstrong.

Armstrong concocted a religion, which some called a “cult,” that was apparently an amalgam of several sects. Like Jehovah’s Witnesses he denied the Christian belief in trinity and insisted upon observing his version of the feast days and festivals of Judaismt. Armstrong also incorporated a belief about British-Israelism, which holds one day Jesus will rule from the throne of Great Britain.

This unique blend of theology and practice eventually netted Armstrong more than 160,000 followers, which he ruled over like a dictator for decades. It also afforded him a lavish lifestyle that included mansions, costly furnishings and a personal jet.

However, when Armstrong died in 1986 his religious empire went through a kind of evolution or what some might call a “revolution.”

His successors made an effort to effectively mainstream their isolated group into Protestantism. But after accepting the doctrines and moderate beliefs of their Christian brethren, Worldwide membership dropped drastically.

It seems without its peculiar dogma that the religion lost its attraction. And many Worldwiders felt there was no longer much reason to belong and tithe to the church. Schisms and splintering have subsequently reduced Worldwide to about 60,000 adherents, though its annual revenue is still about $25 million dollars.

The modernization of Worldwide doesn’t seem to have included democratization and/or opened up the issue of meaningful financial accountability to the membership. A power elite still appears to run the organization without referendum and they recently decided to hold an auction.

In what can be seen as a symbolic liquidation they sold off some of the opulent residue that still remained from Armstrong’s glory days, reports The Pasadena Star News.

It appears that the “cult” Herbert Armstrong built may gradually disappear without the man and idiosyncratic beliefs that made it so unique and compelling to its faithful.

The 50-acre Ambassador College campus property in Pasadena, once the crown jewel of Armstrong’s holdings, is now being developed into residential housing to provide designated pastors with pensions.

It seems the way Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) deal with dissent is to “disfellowship” anyone that speaks out and/or draws attention to serious internal problems.

This was apparently the reason for the banishment of Barbara Joanna Anderson, a Tennessee Witness who spoke out about sexual abuse within JW congregations.

Anderson has now filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit in response to her banishment, reports the Tullahoma News.

The former Witness is a founder of “Silent Lambs,” an organization formed to address the issue of sexual abuse within the ranks of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Increasingly, it appears there is a pattern of JW leaders suppressing information about sexual abuse, when it involves its members. They most often don’t report such matters promptly to the police.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have historically demonized the Roman Catholic Church in the harshest terms. Ironically though, it now appears JW leaders have followed the same pattern of behavior embraced by many Catholic bishops, when dealing with sexual predators amongst its clergy.

That is, with one notable exception. The Roman Catholic Church has not used excommunication to silence its members who have recently spoken out and/or drawn attention to this issue.

Jehovah’s Witness parents in South Africa would have allowed their baby to die if not for a doctor’s actions and the ruling of a judge, reports South Africa’s Sunday Times.

Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse blood transfusion for themselves and their children due to a policy proscribed by their Governing Body. This is based upon an idiosyncratic Witness understanding of scripture. Specifically, “Old Testament” injunctions regarding the “eating of blood” more commonly understood as dietary law.

However, increasingly the courts are interceding to save the lives of children threatened by extreme and dangerous religious beliefs. Many children have previously died due to medical neglect in such groups as Christian Science, Church of God Restoration, End Time Ministries and General Assembly Church of the First Born.

In some of these churches parents were charged criminally due to medical neglect and some were convicted and sentenced for manslaughter.

The Witness parents in Johannesburg, South Africa seemed relieved that the judge ultimately ordered the blood transfusion that saved their child’s life.

The baby’s mother hugged the treating doctor who initiated the action after the ruling. The father later said, “We thank God for placing our child in the care of such capable medical people and hope for a speedy and uncomplicated medical recovery.”

Their baby is now stable and doing well.

This is one Witness story about a near death medical emergency with a happy ending. But many others have ended in tragedy.

It is a scandal how many children needlessly die due to medical neglect as a direct result of the teachings of certain extreme religious groups.

Parents may believe whatever they wish, but a child’s right to life must supercede such freedom of religious expression.

According to evangelical Christians who monitor cults and religious abuse, there is a serious problem within some churches regarding authoritarian control and accompanying abusive behavior, reports the Toronto Sun.

The professionals interviewed essentially said this is not about the bible, it’s about behavior.

They cited specific criteria to recognize a potential for problems. This included the lack of any meaningful accountability for leaders, unconditional submission, legalism, perfectionism, elitism and a leadership that is hostile and/or punitive regarding its response to criticism and/or critical questions. These features were pointed out as behaviors frequently found within abusive religious groups.

How can someone exercise caution when choosing a church?

It seems that the more accountability is evident, through elected boards, denominational oversight and financial transparency, the safer the church or organization is likely to be.

Independent churches with pastors who have little or no meaningful accountability may be benign, but appear to represent a greater risk. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” has often proven to be a good proverb.

Many Roman Catholics today are struggling with this issue. That is, what to do when a clerical hierarchy has little real accountability and is not responsive to the concerns or questions raised by its laity.

Many denominations within North America have chosen to create a more democratic form of church government, which includes the general membership in an elective process with real power sharing.

Many congregations and denominations effectively hire or fire their pastors or rabbis. And it has become relatively common for church boards to negotiate contracts with clergy, which clearly outline parameters and spell out expectations explicitly.

However, it is interesting to note that though North America is known for its democratic ideals and the United States for the Statue of Liberty, many North Americans live largely under some form of totalitarianism in their religious life.

This is certainly a personal choice and that prerogative is somewhat ironically guaranteed by the US Constitution.

But authoritarian church government may produce sad results, as seen through the escalating controversy about sexual abuse amongst Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so clearly defined by the article recently run within the Toronto Sun.