For those who have never associated with a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, all responsibilities in the congregation, from giving sermons on the platform to making “encouraging” calls on others, to handling congregation funds and overseeing judicial matters, are carried out by men. The elders shoulder much of this work; they typically give the Sunday discourse, lead their public speaking school, make those “encouraging” calls on congregation members, and decide on disciplinary measures for others. Ministerial servants are like elders in training and they may handle a few minor matters such as distributing literature or overseeing certain activities, but the bulk of this work goes to those who make it to the position of elder.
The elders of each congregation have a “Coordinator” who takes the lead somewhat in their work. He may assign certain duties to other elders, ensure the funds are audited, and so on. In all fairness to Jehovah’s Witnesses, this job is no doubt very difficult for any man and can be very taxing.
As difficult as it may be, I found it shocking when I recently read about some secret instructions given to all bodies of elders worldwide, telling them that men over the age of 80 are no longer allowed to serve as this Coordinator, regardless of their abilities and mental state. There was no instruction about asking the man if he felt he was still able to serve, or having some type of meeting where the other elders decide if he was still capable of being the Coordinator. The same letter also stated that “a coordinator of the body of elders who is not yet 80 years of age might also modestly decide that it would now be best to have another brother take on this role.”
“We Need More Elders, But…”
One odd thing about this letter is that, right before the instructions about removing men over 80 as Coordinators, it states, “As the organization continues to expand, there is a need for more brothers to reach out and a need for those who now serve as elders to take on more responsibility.”
This makes no sense. They openly admit that they need more men to serve as elders and to handle the responsibilities given to these men, but then they want to take this work away from a perfectly qualified and competent man simply because of his age? Yes, I understand that many men over 80 struggle with health and may be failing mentally in many ways, and they usually do not have the energy they once did, but again, they don’t say that any man with these concerns should consider a replacement. If the Coordinator is in good health mentally and physically, why remove him from this position and subsequently risk losing him as an elder altogether if there is such a need for men to take on these roles?
No Scriptural Precedent
What is most disturbing about this letter is that there is no scriptural precedent or principle involved in this direction. The paragraph includes a reference to Micah 6:8, which reads, “He has told you, O man, what is good. And what is Jehovah requiring of you? Only to exercise justice, to cherish loyalty, And to walk in modesty.” Okay, modesty is good and we all need to know our limitations; this includes not taking on responsibilities for which we are not equipped and knowing when to ask for help or to “beg off” from things that are beyond our capabilities.
However, let’s again emphasize that the letter says nothing about making a case-by-case decision when it comes to men who are getting older. It doesn’t say that men who are approaching 80 should meet with the other elders to decide together if he’s still capable of serving as the Coordinator, and it’s not even a “gentle reminder” that men of a particular age should consider carefully their abilities. Instead, it’s a clear-cut direction to have any man over 80 step down as Coordinator, without anything in the bible supporting this direction. “Walk[ing] in modesty” doesn’t mean having someone else simply lop you off when they’ve decided on an arbitrary requirement.
What is also interesting is that some researchers believe the apostle John may have been around 90 when he wrote the book of Revelation; according to Watchtower literature, John was born in the year 3 C.E., and the book of Revelation, which he is believed to have authored, was written about 96 C.E. (Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 2, page 798). This means that not only are they without scriptural precedent in creating an age limit for serving as a Coordinator of the body of elders, but there is also scriptural precedent for using older men for as long as they are able to serve! Yet, Jehovah’s Witnesses do just the opposite and set an arbitrary rule about age for serving in this capacity, no matter a man’s abilities.
The fact that there are no scriptural reasons to back up this direction should make it suspect enough. However, there is a reason why I find it so personally offensive and no, it’s not because I’m pushing 80 myself. It’s because of certain men I know who are over 80 or close to it. My secular job brings me into contact with a good number of retirees, and many of the men there are in their 70s and 80s and are completely sound in mind and physically capable of handling the work of a Coordinator of the elder body, and they are also some of the best men I’ve known in my life.
Let me give you an example. One man I know through my secular job has a Ph.D. and worked for many years as a counselor. He heard through office gossip that I have a severe panic and anxiety disorder, and one day pulled me aside and very sincerely said that if I ever needed to talk to him about anything, I should just let him know. “We’ll find someplace away from everyone and you can tell me anything that might be bothering you, and I’m always here to listen and help if I can.” Those were his exact words and I know that because they meant so much to me. He was very sincere in his offer and I have a hard time holding back the tears some days when I talk to him. I can only imagine how offensive it would be if his own church told him that he was no longer able to serve in some capacity simply because of his age! I would be absolutely appalled, and yet this is what Jehovah’s Witnesses are doing to their very own elders.
One might also ask if this is going to start them down a slippery slope of making up rules about other supposed limitations for men who serve as the Coordinator. What about a man in a wheelchair, or perhaps someone who is hard of hearing? Would a blind man be able to serve in this capacity? In all seriousness, are we going to see instructions in the near future about removing men with a list of physical concerns from this position, no matter their actual abilities? So much for honoring their faithfulness and hard work!
So while Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that they are a religion that follows the bible to the letter and that they are based on love for one another, this practice alone betrays those claims. They have no scriptural backing for such an insulting and humiliating rule, and it’s one that I find to be very hurtful personally. I would really love to hear a more in-depth explanation of their reason for this rule, and this time I would like them to use applicable scriptures that show Jehovah’s hand in the matter, not just their own.
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