Fædrelandsvennen – Follow up article – 14th April 2018
Filip Ring Thenderup grew up in Jehovah’s Witnesses – now he helps religious outbreaks
ABUSE IN THE JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES
Help from the outside
Fædrelandsvennen (Norway), Saturday, April 14, 2018
Those who leave the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other isolated religions experience social isolation.
Several of them are found in the Hjelpekilden (Help Source).
“When we get together in conversation groups, you realize that this is a big problem. It can help to discover that you are not just on your own,” says Filip Ring Andersen Thenderup, who grew up in the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
He himself grew up in a Jehovah’s Witnesses church. Two years ago he started conversation groups in Agder under the direction of the Hjelpekilden.
It is a voluntary organization that provides help and support for people in problematic religious violations.
What kind of people come together here?
“They have a big age span. Most are from the great independents, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Smith’s friends. Here locally we have had visits from people with a background from the community.”
Thenderup tells about the social isolation. Several churches that socially isolate themselves from the outside world have active and close ties internally. Breaking the faith, the social relationships are also cut.
“I experienced it very strongly, and it does many others as well.”
In Jehovah’s Witnesses, the guidelines indicate that you should not talk to those who have broken out. Not even if they are one’s own close family members.
How strictly is this practiced?
“Officially very strictly. And for some that is the way it is. That’s how it was for me. But I know about others who have unofficial contact. Then you can be reached at home where no-one else sees parents and children talking while you have to treat each other as if invisible when you pass on the street. Then it becomes a question of maintaining a kind of facade.
The talks take place between people who share the belief that they have broken out of religious environments.
“It is important to understand that we are not therapists. Some tell of physical violence, mental violence or sexual abuse they have been exposed to. Then we must try to refer to the help of other professionals.”
Thenderup himself knows more such wounded stories.
“It’s a problem that there has been no culture to report to the police. When it comes to sexual assaults, it has been a good many years before the victims talk if they were children when it happened.”
Without going into detail, he tells about some of the things he knows about where the children were between five and ten years old.
PASTING OVER BOOK PAGES
Physical violence is also part of the luggage of some of those who seek the help source.
“It was only when the child delegate took the matter that Jehovah’s Witnesses stopped writing in his books that they could beat the children as part of the upbringing. I remember we had a book called Making Your Family Life Happy. I and some others were set to paste new sheets and paste over some pages after the change was made”, says Thenderup.
Know the problem
One of the sites that Helpkilden refers to is the Support Center for Sexual Assault in Kristiansand. It is a free offer to people over the age of 16 who have been subjected to sexual assaults, violations or rape.
“We have confidentiality and can not comment on whether we have received inquiries from Jehovah’s Witnesses. But on a general basis, we can say that we recognize the problem,” says general manager at SMSO-Agder, says general manager at SMSO-Agder, Margareth Bjørtvedt.
“People from closed societies or churches may feel excluded if they tell about abuse, and that what they say does not have consequences for the perpetrator.”
To many, it is perceived as an additional burden not to be believed, or that they have told elders councils or other key people in the congregation, are trivialized or explained.
“If someone has told of abuse and has not been heard, it may feel like a double betrayal,” says Hilde Hauge, supervisor.
“There are different practices around different churches, we see. Some have clear guidelines, but not all. It’s a matter of talking a little about it, but we often see that roadbreaking hits. Then, the perpetrators may go free.”
The fear of being excluded means for some more than just losing fellowship and belonging in a congregation.
“It’s about losing faith,” Hauge said.
“Many people struggle with that bit and wonder if they make a mistake by seeking help at our center.”
SMSO does not want to hang out special congregations or beliefs. For some assailants, it may have major consequences if it becomes known that they have sought help outside of their own congregation.
“It should be safe to come here, we would like to be a neutral instance,” says coach and team leader Karin Haukalid.
“We do not want it to be perceived as threatening to different churches that some of their members seek help from us. It can make people afraid to seek out and lead to an extra high door threshold. We shall be a low-threshold offer for people exposed to sexual offenses and abuse.”
Trond-Viggo questioned the discipline
Child Ombudsman Trond-Viggo Torgersen directed a search for official publications from the Watchtower that had called for ‘slapping’, ‘hitting’, ‘spanking’ and ‘corporal punishment’ in violation of the Children’s Act.
This was the process that Filip Ring Thenderup in Kristiansand did, pasting over book pages in 1990. Jehovah’s Witnesses changed their literature on punishment and discipline after the books had been printed.
“I remember this very well today,” says Trond-Viggo Torgersen when Fædrelandsvennen asks about the process 29 years ago.
Torgersen says that the crucial meeting was firmly in his consciousness, so he can recall both time and place and what was said.
“A Danish leader of the Jehovah’s Witnesses came up to us at the Oslo Children’s Ombudsman. I explained to him that it is not allowed to beat children in Norway nor allowed to distribute books that encourage them”.
How did the Danish leader respond?
“He gave some oral opposition. And then he said that they do not hit or beat, they just slap or smack [tukt] the kids. But then I asked him to [tukt] slap/smack me right there and then, so that we could get it demonstrated what we where really talking about here! Afterwards, we could therefore confirm with certainty that what Jehovah’s Witnesses promoted, was actually forbidden.”
The elders from the Scandinavian headquarters in Denmark understood that the practise had to be adjusted.
“He acknowledged that this was outdated thinking and went home to think about it,” says Torgersen.
A few years later, the “Family Book” came in a revised edition, without calls for the physical chastisement of children.
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