This past Sunday, May 5, 2019, Truth & Transparency published hundreds of letters written in Portuguese by the highest leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The vast majority of the letters, dating back to the 1970s, are addressed and intended only for the eyes of those possessing the title of Elder.
Each congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses is lead by a body of elders, typically comprised of six to eight men. They are the spiritual leaders for the few hundred people attending services at a specific Kingdom Hall location.
It is a regular occurrence that Watch Tower, the governing organization of the religious institution, sends letters to every body of elders in order to dictate, reiterate, or clarify policy. Occasionally, the letters direct the leaders on sensitive topics that could have a negative effect on their religious constituents.
Perhaps the most controversial of such direction came on August 1, 2016, in a letter titled “Protecting Minors From Abuse.” In this letter, elders were instructed to call Watch Tower’s legal department immediately after becoming aware of child sex abuse allegations, rather than law enforcement.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses have a history of not reporting child abuse and neglect. In January 2018, Truth & Transparency released a series of 33 letters between a body of elders in Massachusetts and Watch Tower discussing the sexual abuse of three young girls at the hands of another member of the congregation. The elders never reported the instances to law enforcement.
In other religions, the knowledge of otherwise concealed policies has often empowered its membership to act. In November 2015, the New York Times reported that thousands of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints resigned their membership upon learning that children of LGBTQ parents could not be baptized into the faith. The church has since rescinded the policy.
Many of these same letters were quickly made available in English days after they were given to elders. This is the first time they are widely available to Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brazil and Portugal in their native tongue. Also published is the “Elders Manual” in Portuguese, the English version of which was published by Truth & Transparency in February 2019.
Also recently published are talks given by the leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses in portuguese that were originally on AvoidJW.org.