Recently Jehovah’s Witnesses conducted a special meeting of sorts that included sermons from members of their governing body, the ones in authority over the religion. One presentation was given by Anthony Morris, whom many like to tease and ridicule because of his fixation on tight pants and the “many, many homosexuals” in the fashion industry who are supposedly designing those clothes for men. While Morris certainly provides hours of rousing entertainment with his ramblings, there were other words of his that I saw as being horrifically dangerous to those within the religion.
Somewhere in his presentation, Morris started in on the women in the organization and their choice of men to marry. He related how women who marry a man who is older than 23 and not yet a ministerial servant will regret that “bad decision.” These words may seem innocent enough, but, in truth, they can really put women in outright danger; they’re also obscenely insulting and abusive to the men in the religion as well.
Understanding the Hierarchy of Jehovah’s Witnesses
To understand why these words are so dangerous, it’s good to first understand some quick basics about the hierarchy of the religion. Note that only men can have authority in the religion; elders are the ones who make decisions in each congregation, including the decision of who is disfellowshipped (excommunicated) and subsequently shunned. Elders are free to counsel individuals on virtually any and every matter, and can give that counsel publicly if they so choose.
Ministerial servants are like elders in training. They handle many of the menial tasks that are beneath the elders but inappropriate for rank-and-file men of the congregation, such as arranging car groups for those going out in their preaching work or giving certain discourses during their meetings. While ministerial servants don’t have much outright authority, they do “outrank” others in the congregation so that their decisions are usually respected when no elders are present. It’s also expected that a man would be a ministerial first before being appointed as an elder.
So what is the danger in this counsel? Simply put, it teaches women to have an unhealthy and even unsafe view of what makes a man a good husband. The qualifications for becoming a ministerial servant, as found in the handbook “Shepherd the Flock of God,” include attendance and participation in their meetings, being “zealous” for their preaching work, and being a “student of the bible.” Mention of his family life includes studying the bible with his wife and children. Things that might disqualify him include adultery in the recent past, having been disfellowshipped in the recent past, or being separated or divorced without acceptable reason.
For those who are already appointed as ministerial servants, things that might disqualify a man or cause him to be removed from his position include having members of his household that are involved in serious wrongdoing, bankruptcy, disfellowshipped family members moving into his home, or giving approval of a JW marrying a non-JW. Most of these are excused if they happened many years ago or if there is good reason for them.
Here’s the problem; while they talk about a man studying the bible with his wife and children, they say nothing about how he actually treats women, if he’s misogynistic, if he acts like the adult and the wife is the child, or if he’s even outright abusive to women and then potentially his own wife. Unfortunately, many men I knew in the organization who were elders and ministerial servants were all of these things. However, according to Anthony Morris, set all that aside and just look at whether or not he’s a ministerial servant. That somehow gives him the qualifications needed to be a good husband and somehow makes him a better husband than rank-and-file men.
Lest you think this is an exaggeration of how it might influence women in a negative way, I remember a woman I knew when I was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and who started dating a man who was a ministerial servant, and she told me that she always admired his “spiritual qualifications.” Well, that was interesting to me because he was known as the most arrogant, demanding, condescending, woman-hating person in our congregation.
To give you an example of his behavior, I was out in the preaching work one Saturday morning with another woman, just the two of us, and we stopped for a quick break at a local fast food place where many of the JWs were known to visit. There was a line for the ladies’ room, so the woman and I sat down with our coffees to wait; hardly a minute went by, I mean I had literally not even put the cream in my coffee, when this man started walking around from table to table, telling everyone it was time to leave. I said very casually that we just weren’t ready to leave yet, and suddenly this man went off on a yelling tirade, right there in the restaurant. “I hope one day you learn to be submissive when you’re told what to do!”
Well. Isn’t that special. Screaming at a grownup adult woman who simply wanted to wait another minute to be able to use the bathroom. Note, I wasn’t even in the same car as this man, but had driven myself and another woman, so I certainly wasn’t holding him up. The preaching work is voluntary and no one gets paid for it, so it’s not like money was coming out of his pocket for me to sit there. I wasn’t goofing off, driving around mooning other people in the parking lot, etc., but simply needed to use the restroom.
Despite this misogynistic tantrum, which wasn’t unusual for him, this woman who was dating him still admired his “spiritual qualifications” and assumed he had the potential to be a good husband based on those “qualifications.”
Insulting to Men
As dangerous as this may be for women, this advice and comment is obscenely insulting to men. Being a ministerial servant doesn’t automatically mean you’re a better man or better marriage material anymore than not being a ministerial servant means that you’re somehow a failure.
Let me give you another real life case in point. My sister-in-law used to be married to a man who was a ministerial servant, and who cheated on her like crazy and spent all their money on his girlfriends and booze. This was all hidden from her and the congregation for many years.
Once discovered and the two divorced, she met my brother. Don’t get me wrong; if my brother was an ass, I’d say he’s an ass. However, he’s actually a nice guy who doesn’t give her a minute of trouble. Because my brother isn’t very “ambitious” toward the religion, he’s never been a ministerial servant. He doesn’t exhaust himself going out in the preaching work every spare minute and doesn’t kiss up to elders, looking for their approval. Yet, according to Anthony Morris, and despite their many years of happiness together, my sister-in-law should be regretting this “bad decision” of marrying him.
Consider how obscenely insulting this is to my brother. He goes to work every day, doesn’t even flirt with other women, never gets drunk much less does he blow his entire paycheck on booze at local strip clubs, treats my sister-in-law with a lot of respect and regard and makes sure her family is taken care of as well. Even his in-laws have said that he’s the best thing to happen to their daughter and they’re thrilled that they met and that he’s part of the family.
Despite all this, Anthony Morris decided that their marriage was a “bad decision” and openly encouraged other women to avoid doing the same thing my sister-in-law did when she married a good, decent, hard-working, respectful man who loves her. Instead, according to Morris, you should look for a suck-up that knows how to hide his affairs and alcoholism, as long as he’s a ministerial servant. That’s somehow a better choice.
The idea of women being told that a position of authority is a qualification for marriage, much less that a ministerial servant is better than other rank-and-file members, is outright dangerous to those who may wind up in abusive situations simply because they look at a man’s time in the preaching work and ability to give a public discourse. It’s also insulting to the men who are doing their best in the religion but who haven’t been privileged with this fancy position of ministerial servant. Men may also now be thinking that they should be killing themselves to take on responsibilities for which they’re not qualified just so they can get married and not be insulted publicly by Anthony Morris.
Notably, this thought teaches others in the congregation to look down on those men who aren’t in positions of authority. “Oh, you’re not a ministerial servant? Kindly get away from my daughter and my whole family.” His words may have seemed easy to dismiss, but when you consider how Jehovah’s Witnesses hang on to everything the governing body says, I see nothing but more victimization of everyone in the religion, and there’s really nothing funny or amusing about that.
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