Recently I got my hands on a book called “Shepherd the Flock of God.” This is a top-secret manual for Jehovah’s Witness elders, not to be shared with anyone else even in the congregation.
Whatever their reasoning for keeping this book a secret, there are some bothersome instructions on how to handle counseling a married person who may have committed adultery. These instructions yet again show the misogynistic attitude of Jehovah’s Witnesses, putting wives in the position of children being raised and trained by their husbands, and husbands in the positions of adults who deserve respect. They even go so far so as to instruct elders to keep the secrets of cheating men.
Consider the following, from pages 84-85, about how to arrange for meetings with elders in these cases:
Women Are Children, Being Raised by Their Husbands
If the accused is a married sister, it is best to have her believing husband present for the hearing. He is her head, and his efforts to restore her and direct her can be very helpful. (1 Cor. 11:3) If unusual circumstances are involved or the elders feel it would be best not to invite the husband because of their concerns for the safety of the wife, the elders should call the branch office.
The scripture they cite at 1 Corinthians 11:3 says, “But I want you to know that the head of every man is the Christ; in turn, the head of a woman is the man; in turn, the head of the Christ is God.”
So they feel it’s best to have her husband present when she is talking to the elders because he is her head. Even when she needs to talk to her “spiritual shepherds,” her husband is still in the direct line of command, so to speak. She cannot approach those shepherds on her own and cannot get private counsel and help, even if the counsel she needs relates to her husband and marriage.
The reasoning that he might work to “restore her and direct her” is very shortsighted, when you’re talking about adultery. Do they really think a man who learns his wife has cheated on him will immediately be thinking of “restoring” her spiritually, instead of being very angry, hurt, and upset? I’m not blaming him for these emotions, but the point is, they seem to think a man will walk into one of these meetings, learn his wife has slept with someone else, and take the calm, mature approach of, “Well we obviously need to study the bible more since you’re relationship with god is hurting. Let’s go home and see what we need to do to restore your spirituality.”
I would think that in all but the rarest of cases, having her husband present during these conversations with elders could actually impede her spiritual progress. The husband’s hurt feelings may overshadow any counsel they might give about her spirituality and her relationship with Jehovah, and this may be very distracting to her.
Husbands Are Allowed Confidentiality Without the Wife
If the accused is a married brother, his wife would normally not attend the hearing. However, if the husband wants his wife to be present, she may attend a portion of the hearing. The judicial committee should maintain confidentiality.
So here we see the double standard; the wife is not allowed to attend any meetings the husband has with the elders unless he says so, and even then she may attend only a “portion”. The elders are told to maintain his confidentiality but are never told to maintain hers.
What is also obscene about this double-standard is that many women have been Jehovah’s Witnesses longer than their husbands. Because Witnesses preach at people’s homes during the day, they often find women at home rather than men, and start bible studies with women more often. This scenario has evened out just a bit in the last few years as more women are working outside the home, but in the many congregations I attended as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I knew of only a few couples who became Witnesses together, and many whose wives became Witnesses first.
Even in homes where both husband and wife were raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses, they give no thought to how the wife can assist her husband the way they assume he can assist her, when it comes to spirituality. If the man is allowed to sit in on his wife’s meeting because he might “restore her and direct her,” wouldn’t the same be true for her? Why can’t she help to restore and direct him, if his spirituality is in jeopardy and he’s committed a gross sin?
Again we see that the wife is a child, being raised and trained by her husband, whereas the husband is an adult, given the respect of confidentiality and privacy between him and the elders. As an adult, the husband can offer help, but the wife is not an adult who can do the same.
This arrangement once again betrays the fact that women are not thought of as equals in the congregation, no matter what Jehovah’s Witnesses say otherwise. The husband is qualified to help the wife restore her spirituality, but the wife is not qualified to help him. She is also not privileged to hear his conversations with the elders even in matters of infidelity, while the husband has the right to hear her conversations.
Keeping the Secrets of Cheating Husbands
If the husband committed adultery, he has an obligation to inform his wife of the facts. The judicial committee should promptly inquire of the Christian wife as to what her husband has told her. If he refuses to inform her of his adultery, the elders should inform her that because of her husband’s conduct, it is up to her to decide whether to pursue a Scriptural divorce or not. Furthermore, they should inform the innocent mate that her resuming sexual relations with the guilty mate would negate any claim to Scriptural freedom. But they should not give her further details. On the other hand, the elders may find that while the husband did confess adultery to his wife, he did not tell her the full extent of his wrong conduct and left out important information that the wife should know. The elders should not provide this confidential information to the wife, but they can suggest that she speak with her husband again. Even if he does not tell her anything more, this will alert her to the fact that he is withholding information from her, and this may help her to determine whether to forgive or not.
So here it’s really driven home how misogynistic the double standards are for men and women in the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion. The wife doesn’t even have the right to know all the information about her husband’s unfaithfulness.
Jehovah’s Witnesses will say that this arrangement is in place to keep the confidence of those who need spiritual guidance, but notice how they don’t keep the woman’s confidence! Whatever scriptures they’re applying about maintaining confidentiality seem to only apply to half the people in their congregations.
They will also say that the husband is the wife’s head so she is not allowed to give him direction about his conduct or behavior; this too shows the misogyny of this arrangement overall. Even if he’s been unfaithful, he gets to play that headship “card” and keep secrets from her, and the elders do the same. Being the head means, not caring for the family and providing for it as Jehovah’s Witnesses will tell outsiders, but having special privileges, and even if you’ve cheated on your wife.
Note, too, that this information is given when it comes to marital infidelity, which is the business of both husband and wife. After all, aren’t the husband and wife referred to as “one flesh” in the bible? (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5) If a husband has been unfaithful, the wife has the absolute right to know everything about this, not just the few bits and pieces the husband decides he’s going to share. We’re not talking about the husband’s sins that don’t necessarily affect the wife, such as stealing or getting drunk. Even in those cases I would think the spouse should know what’s going on, but even more so when it comes to infidelity, and especially if you apply this information to one spouse and not the other.
The obscenity of this gross double standard is appalling, and obviously not taken from scripture. Jesus said no one comes to the father except through him, but this information seems to imply that a woman cannot have a relationship with Jehovah without her husband, whereas the man’s spirituality and even his marital fidelity is not his wife’s business. The bible says they are one flesh, but Jehovah’s Witnesses say that men are adults to be respected separate from a wife, and his “one flesh” is not entitled to know things that directly affect her marriage bond with him.
Is this what the headship arrangement means, that men get special privileges and treatment even if they’ve been unfaithful? If so, why should I think this arrangement is beneficial for women? If it gives so much preferential treatment to men, why should I as a woman worship the god who originated this arrangement?
Please share with others so that people can fully understand the sexist and misogynistic views of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so that perhaps more women who are Jehovah’s Witnesses can understand the secrets being withheld from them in their own marriages.