When Barbara Anderson of Normandy walked into the Kingdom Hall of the Manchester Jehovah's Witnesses Friday afternoon, there was more than a religious affiliation at stake.
Her family, the children of the congregation, the children of Coffee County, and common sense and decency were her main concerns.
She has been a member of the religious group for decades, even working for The Watchtower at the Brooklyn homebase for more than 11 years.
But because of the denomination's policies toward pedophiles, she has not attended since 1997. Because of the church's attitude toward whistleblowers, she is afraid she will never be able to attend again.
"They've ordered me to a judicial (within the church) hearing," said Mrs. Anderson. "They say I'm being divisive in the congregation."
Jehovah's Witnesses, more than 100 years old and tallying more than 1 million members in the United States alone, has several sanctions to apply to members who act outside of the bounds of established church policy. The most drastic is "disfellowship", or excommunication. Members are disfellowshipped, or DF'd in their own terminology, are shunned by other members of the congregation. Even those who live with the DF'd member are forbidden to speak with her on spiritual matters.
Prior to the meeting with the church elders. Barbara was uncertain of the specific charges brought before her on which the proposed disfellowship would be based, but she feels she knows the true reason. It all deals with pedophiles, JW policy, NBC's Dateline television news magazine, and the actions she and others have taken against both.
While charges of child molestation rock the Catholic foundations, priests around the world are condemning the acts and condemning the church for protecting the perpetrators. According to Barbara, and Jehovah's Witness Bill Bowen of Kentucky, the Jehovah's Witnesses are doing something much worse.
According to Bowen, Barbara, and the Silent Lambs organization that Bowen established for abused Jehovah's Witness children, the denomination has protected confessed child abusers, even sending them back out into the field, going door-to-door to profess their faith.
At least two cases have been reported in which it was the victims who were disfellowshipped.
In one case, Erica Rodriguez approached the elders to tell them of another elder (the governing members of the church, always male) had been molesting her. She was told that if she notified the police, she would be the one disfellowshipped. She was shunned. Her abuser was convicted, disfellowshipped by the congregation, and was eventually reinstated.
In another case, the Pandelo family faces being excommunicated and has already been shunned for reporting their daughters' abuser - her own grandfather.
The Jehovah's Witness policy is such that members are encouraged to solve their problems within the church, according to Barbara.
"They say going to the police is a personal decision of the elders, if they know of a pedophile. Not everywhere. In some states, in Tennessee, they are required to report the abuse," she said.
JW policy also states that two witnesses or a confession are needed to prove the abuse occurred, but Anderson siad that even confession didn't protect the victims and futere victims of abuse.
"I know of two in this area - confessed molesters," she said.
Although the policy does indicate that those known molesters should only go door-to-door in the company of another Witness, Barbara stated that this was not always the case.
"The worst part is, I can't tell anyone. I can be disfelloshipped for slander, when he has confessed to being a molester and is not disfellowhipped," she said.
Barbara was not the only one to see the problem. Bowen, who also faces disfellowshipping this week, was outraged and established Silent Lambs. The organization not only serves as a support group for victims and their families, but as an advocate for change within the church.
It is that advocacy that now threatens Barbara's standing in the church. She, Bowen and the Pandelos were all interviewed for a Dateline segment about the issue, tentatively scheduled to air later this month. She, Bowen and the Pandelos all faced charges of "divisiveness" and other spiritual crimes in the same week.
In an interview with the New York Post, JH spokesperson J.R. Brown stated that the threatened exco0mmunications had nothing to do with the Dateline interview and that "church headquarters had no idea that these people would be on the show."
Yet research displayed more than six internet announcements on the program, updates and names, all linked to the Silent Lambs and the Watchtower sites.
Brown also said that local congregation decided to charge the members with various spiritual violations.
"That is not true," said Barbara, who considers the elders of the Manchester Kingdom Hall to be good friends. "That is a lie. They didn't know what it was about. Those orders came down from Brooklyn."
After the meeting , Barbara stated that the specific charges against her dealt with an article she had supposedly written for an apostate publication - apostate meaning one whose teachings were against the faith. Members can be disfelloshipped for visiting an apostate website, much less for writing for one. The article had been cobbled together from private emails she had sent to a friend, one who has since had a nervous breakdown. As for the charges of her being divisive within the Congregation, Barbara shook her head.
"They (the local elders) didn't even know about the pedophile cover-up," she said. "How can I be divisive if they didn't even know the work was doing on that?'
Apparently her leaders agreed, and told her they were sending a letter to the headquarters saying there was no proof of the charges levied against her. In bizarre Catch-22, she was asked if she could write to the apostate publication and request they explain the source of the article and remove it - and act that could get her disfellowshipped.
The real reason behind the charges she believes, is the Dateline program. If all the members scheduled to appear on the show are excommunicated before it airs, no practicing Jehovah's Witness will watch the program, shunning it - and the information it might supply.
Her status within the church is still in question. According to Barbara, she still faces the threat of excommunication, a result that would be devastating.
"This is my life," she said. Her husband of almost 45 years, Joe, is an elder, and her son, daughter-in-law and grandson are all members. If she is DF'd, her husband faces his own sanctions, and her son and his family would have to shun her. It is not a future Barbara wants at all, but it is a result she can live with if she must. The final result she said, must be a change in the church policy that protects pedophiles, so that it protects the victims instead.
"I'll lose my son to help Jehovah's Witness children," she said. "I'll lose my own grandson to help Jehovah's Witness children."