In January of 2019, Jehovah’s Witness elders were issued a new instructional handbook, “Shepherd the Flock of God.” One aspect of this book that I find very disturbing is how elders are outright instructed to ask intrusive questions regarding the sexual behavior of congregants.
Confession of Adultery
From chapter 12, “Determining Whether a Judicial Committee Should Be Formed”:
For those unfamiliar, Jehovah’s Witnesses allow couples to divorce without sanction under certain circumstances, but they are not free to remarry unless adultery has taken place. If one spouse has committed adultery, the other is then “Scripturally free” to remarry.
That term, “Scripturally free,” is used often among Jehovah’s Witnesses and every congregant knows its meaning. If someone says that one of Jehovah’s Witnesses is divorced but not “Scripturally free,” it’s understood that the person’s spouse didn’t commit adultery.
By the same token, if one of Jehovah’s Witnesses says his or her spouse is “Scripturally free,” there is no ambiguity as to their meaning; they are saying that they’ve committed adultery. Period. This phrase does not mean that the unfaithful spouse doesn’t want their ex back, that they’re in a new relationship but haven’t yet been sexually intimate, etc.
Individual Jehovah’s Witnesses also know that they can’t simply decide that their ex-wife or ex-husband can get remarried; even someone who has left their spouse or the religion does not have the authority to say, “You’re free to do what you want.” Being “Scripturally free” does not refer to their own feelings or opinions; there is nothing other than adultery that would make a former spouse “Scripturally free.”
With all that in mind, I can think of no legitimate reason to view this statement as anything but a clear confession of adultery. The book offers no insights as to why this statement “would not by itself be viewed as a clear confession of adultery,” and says nothing about what other information is needed specifically to absolutely determine that adultery has taken place.
Intruding Into the Business of Third Parties
It’s also worth noting that elders asking for details beyond the statement that a spouse is “Scripturally free” would be intruding into the private business of an outside third party.
To illustrate, suppose congregation member John Smith has an affair with his coworker, Susan. John says that his Jehovah’s Witness wife is “Scripturally free,” but elders in his congregation decide to press him for added details.
However, anything John shares about his affair reveals details abut Susan’s sex life, not just his! If an elder tries to “clarify” John’s statement in any way, he’s asking about what Susan did sexually and that’s certainly not his business. It’s not even John’s right or privilege to reveal those details to anyone, much less an elder in his congregation.
Questioning an Engaged Couple
From chapter 27, “Weddings”:
I find this directive disturbing because it does not say to simply ask the couple if they have avoided misconduct or if there is anything “in general” that they want to discuss before their wedding. It also does not say to make inquiries if there is some legitimate reason to believe the couple is guilty of misconduct.
Instead, it proactively instructs elders to make “straightforward inquiries,” meaning to ask detailed and direct questions about sexual matters, without any reason other than the fact that the couple have been dating. There are also no guidelines set out as to the nature of these questions; elders have full freedom to demand the couple explain or talk about anything and everything, in as much graphic detail as the elder insists.
Let’s Go Fishing
The accusatory nature of this directive is also confounding; elders don’t necessarily “police” other matters to this extent. For example, if elders hear you say that you had a “great night on the town,” they won’t necessarily sit you down and ask how much you had to drink, what you drank, did you do drugs, did you dance provocatively, and so on. Unless someone reports to the elders that you acted inappropriately, you aren’t likely to face “straightforward inquiries” or a fishing expedition about your conduct.
I can’t help but to note that many Jehovah’s Witnesses get married quite young, no doubt because of the religion’s prohibitions against sex before marriage, masturbation, etc. An elder might then be asking someone just seventeen, eighteen, or nineteen years old these pointed, direct, and even obscene and perverse questions. These teenagers would have no parents or anyone else there to protect them from this intrusive, disgusting line of questioning.
Are Jehovah’s Witnesses a Cult?
I’m no cult expert but I have always considered intruding into sexual matters like this a sure sign of a cult. Anyone in a sequestered group who misuses their authority to intrude into sexual matters without any legitimate reason is just like a cult leader, insisting that the organization and its adherents satisfy their perverse need for power or sexual gratification without any respect or consideration for them as individuals and adults.
Whether or not this type of directive is a sign of a cult, it’s definitely inappropriate, intrusive, and an obvious violation of privacy. It’s also not supported by any scripture I can find! Nowhere in the bible does it say to “go fishing” for potential misconduct between an engaged couple or to press for details about adultery. Remember that the next time Jehovah’s Witnesses tell you that they follow the bible more closely than any other religion, and when an elder wants to meet with your engaged son or daughter.
Please share via social media below.