A person doesn’t need to look far to see the double standard that Jehovah’s Witnesses adhere to when it comes to men and women. Browse the Women or Domestic Violence category of this site and you’ll see how women are dominated and abused, are not told of their husband’s infidelity, are blamed for raising rapists and may even face shunning when raped themselves.
The double standard that is prevalent with Jehovah’s Witnesses doesn’t include just a men-versus-women mentality, but is also applies to men who are appointed as elders in the congregation. These ones can hide their sins if they are already serving as elders, if the sin happened more than “a few years” ago, and if other elders believe that this sinful elder has “evidence of god’s blessing.”
Directions to Elders
Note what is said in the book, “Shepherd the Flock of God.” This is a top-secret handbook given to elders that is for their eyes alone, and that outlines their procedures for handling congregation arrangements, including the appointment and deletion of other elders. From page 38 (bold added for emphasis):
If it comes to light or an appointed brother confesses that he has committed a disfellowshipping offense years in the past: The body of elders may determine he can continue to serve if the following is true: The immorality or other serious wrongdoing occurred more than a few years ago, and he is genuinely repentant, recognizing that he should have come forward immediately when he sinned. (Perhaps he has even confessed to his sin, seeking help with his guilty conscience.) He has been serving faithfully for many years, has evidence of God’s blessing, and has the respect of the congregation.
The first thing to consider is that this is talking about “disfellowshipping offenses.” These are serious sins; disfellowshipping means excommunication and shunning from the congregation. Not only would an elder not face this punishment, but this information states that he can even continue to be an elder despite those sins.
Defining These Terms
What is meant by “a few years ago”? This is not expressly stated, but in correspondence to elders talking about other situations, it was defined as more than three or four years. So, if a man who is an elder committed a serious sin just five years ago, this wouldn’t necessarily qualify him for removal.
What is meant by “evidence of god’s blessing”? How is this measured or determined? When a person is financially successful? The scriptures often caution against money and materialism, and Jesus wasn’t rich. Is it when he has many bible students? In my 35 years of being a Witness, I only remember two elders who studied the bible with someone to the point of them becoming Jehovah’s Witnesses, and in one case, it was a teenage boy who was simply interested in the elder’s daughter.
Some might say that “god’s blessing” means a man who handles his assignments, who gives effective public discourses, who is always at their services and is regular in their preaching work. If this is a sign of “god’s blessing” then it’s obvious that god was blessing all the men who committed and endorsed domestic violence when I was growing up, as they were all “strong” elders who fit this description.
If god was blessing these men after beating up on their wives or telling abused wives that they were “obviously not submissive enough” and that they needed to go home and apologize to their husbands for having provoked them, then this seriously calls into question god’s view on domestic violence. You can’t have it both ways; if being an active, effective elder means you have god’s blessing, then god blesses men who beat their wives and who endorse those beatings, and if god blesses domestic violence, he’s not a god to be worshiped.
Of Course He Has Respect
One of the most confounding statements is that it should be considered if this elder in question “has the respect of the congregation.” If the congregation doesn’t know of this serious sin, of course he will have their respect, not because he deserves it, but simply because they’re ignorant of his actions!
If the congregation knew that this elder had committed a very serious sin, is it likely they would respect him? Perhaps they should announce the sin and all its gory details and then see if this elder has the respect of the congregation, if they’re going to use this as a determining factor for whether or not he remains an elder.
For Elders Only
The book continues:
If the sin occurred before he was appointed as an elder… the elders will need to take into consideration the fact that he should have mentioned this possible impediment to his being qualified when elders interviewed him just prior to announcing his appointment.
Men who are considered for appointment are asked if there is anything in their past that would keep them from being an elder; it is noteworthy that they differentiate between sin committed before becoming elder but not confessed at the time of questioning, and sins committed after being appointed as an elder, even if these sins are also not confessed (“If it comes to light… that he has committed a disfellowshipping offense…”) Somehow the first choice is more serious.
Personally, I would think wrongdoing committed after becoming an elder would be more serious, as elders are supposed to be mature, spiritually strong, and leaders who set the example in the congregation. A person who isn’t an elder hasn’t yet accepted the responsibilities that go along with this appointment.
Yes, he should have owned up to that sin when asked, but if he committed a sin after becoming an elder, shouldn’t he have owned up to it at that time as well? Either way, he didn’t confess, and yet for some reason not confessing the sin before being made an elder is more serious than committing the sin after becoming an elder.
Elders and Their Authority
Don’t get me wrong when it comes to the point of this post; I don’t think every single sin, especially those that are years old, should involve the judgment of elders. However, the material specifically mentions disfellowshipping offenses, not just slip-ups, and this is talking about elders, not rank-and-file members of the congregation. An elder may be guilty of committing very serious sins, but as long as that sin happened “a few years ago,” and as long as he at least appears to have “god’s blessing,” he can continue to be an elder, and in turn, have authority over others!
That same elder will sit in on judicial committee meetings where he may determine that another person, who may have committed the same sin or even something lesser, should be disfellowshipped and shunned. On the other hand, a person may commit a serious sin and should be disfellowshipped, but because an elder on his judicial committee committed this same sin, he may be far too lenient with this person!
This elder also stands up on the platform inside their Kingdom Halls and gives counsel to others about immorality, spiritual weakness, and so forth. Meanwhile, the congregation sits and listens carefully and shows him respect and admiration, assuming this man in front of them is a paragon of virtue when in reality he may have committed a ghastly, serious sin worthy of excommunication just a “few years” ago.
The hypocrisy of this double standard is appalling. Men who have committed a serious sin but who kept it quiet for several years should not have authority over others or sit in on committees that determine if other members of the congregation may deserve disfellowshipping and shunning. They also should not be standing up in front of the congregation, giving them counsel and direction on how to live their lives and conduct themselves, since they themselves obviously cannot live by that same counsel!
However, the real issue here is trust. Trusting the elders has become a difficult issue in recent years, as it has been revealed that even child molesters could become elders (see this post). Knowing that an elder could commit any type of very serious sin and still remain an elder, as long as it was a “few years ago” and there is some vague proof of “god’s blessing,” diminishes their positions of authority as a whole, in my eyes. For all I know, an elder sitting across from me, trying to “readjust” me or counsel me could have cheated on his wife, committed fornication, or gotten into a fight just a few years back, and yet never faced any type of counsel or “readjustment” himself, even if these actions came to light to other elders.
I have always questioned the qualifications of men who beat up on their wives and endorsed domestic violence, who seemed to care so little for how domestic violence and abuse affected children, and who practiced all forms of child abuse themselves. Trusting elders under those circumstances is bad enough, but now being asked to trust elders who are officially allowed to cover up their own gross, serious sins is beyond my comprehension. How can I trust those men, and how can I trust the religion who allows this type of practice to go on?
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