Note this information from the 1985 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, regarding the need for “cleansing” their congregations in Zimbabwe during the 1950s:
Glossing Over Zimbabwe’s Colonization
One immediate problem in this information is the whitewashing (no pun intended) of how that government came into power, with Europeans colonizing Zimbabwe. Note this information from Wikipedia:
In the 1880s, European colonists arrived with Cecil Rhodes’s British South Africa Company (BSAC). In 1888, Rhodes obtained a concession for mining rights from King Lobengula …
Rhodes used this document in 1890 to justify sending the Pioneer Column, a group of Europeans protected by well-armed British South Africa Police (BSAP) through Matabeleland and into Shona territory to establish Fort Salisbury (now Harare), and thereby establish company rule over the area. In 1893 and 1894, with the help of their new Maxim guns, the BSAP would go on to defeat the Ndebele in the First Matabele War. …
Mass settlement was encouraged, with the British maintaining control over labour as well as precious metals and other mineral resources. …
Following … failed insurrections [in the late 1800s], the Ndebele and Shona groups were finally subdued by the Rhodes administration, which organised the land with a disproportionate bias favouring Europeans, thus displacing many indigenous peoples.
The white man did not just arrive in Zimbabwe and quietly set up shop; those settlers slaughtered the native populace, forced them from their lands, took their resources, and established a fascist regime over them.
Yet, the Yearbook refers to how “the white man came to this country,” as if those colonizers were dinner guests or a package arriving from Amazon.
Cultural Marriages Are a “Problem”?
Colonizers often refer to native peoples as “savage” and “barbaric,” and other such derogatory terms, to degrade their culture and justify land grabs and domination. The colonizers are “bringing civilization” to those people; the natives are somehow better off with their new rulers.
This attitude is prevalent despite the fact that such cultures are no more or less peaceful and moral than others. For example, the Yearbook mentions a marriage “go-between.” In some African cultures, marriages united entire families and not just two people; the “go-between” served as a communicator between those families, negotiating property exchanges (the “bride price”) and other details that sealed the commitment between the husband and wife. While I personally would never want my family involved in my relationships, there is certainly nothing wrong or immoral about those customs!
The Yearbook, however, refers to these native marriage traditions as a “problem.” This is a horrific insult to cultures that are simply a bit different than Anglo-Saxon, European peoples and practices.
They WERE Married
Some Jehovah’s Witnesses might argue that the bible requires a couple be legally married before living together and having a sexual relationship; otherwise, they’re committing fornication. This is true, but these African couples were married; the Yearbook says “marriages were performed,” just according to African tradition.
Those traditional marriages included all the commitments and responsibilities a Christian marriage entails. It was the “white men” who decided that native unions weren’t legitimate marriages.
This is a vital point because the bible doesn’t stipulate what specific ceremonies dictate when two people are considered “legally married.” The Watchtower organization certainly had the choice to recognize native marriages as being acceptable for members of the congregation, whether or not the white government gave those marriages legal status.
Yet, not only were those African marriages not acceptable, removing those members was a “cleansing work.” The congregation was somehow “unclean” with African people, in their ancestral homeland no less, being married according to their native laws and traditional practices. The Watchtower organization took the side of the white government in dismissing those marriages, when that government should have respected the native peoples whose land they now occupied!
The Yearbook says that Africans who didn’t follow the dictates of those white colonizers “did not want to bring their lives into harmony with Jehovah’s will.”
Demeaning, harsh laws for native peoples who had already suffered decades of brutality was Jehovah’s will?
It wasn’t Jehovah’s will that native peoples be respected in their homeland?
Note, this wasn’t a situation of people moving from one country to another and needing to comply with the laws of their new residence; that I might understand. Instead, this was a government forced upon those natives, on their homeland, through brutality and violence.
I’m guessing the real reason those people did not go through the hassle and expense of getting their marriages registered was that they saw no need to recognize an illegitimate government in the first place. If my neighbor broke into my apartment, kicked me to the floor, took everything I owned, forced me to work for him, and then demanded I buy new identification papers from him, I wouldn’t be in a big rush to comply, but not because I’m the horrible person.
To paint those native peoples as negligent, not caring about god’s will, and needing “cleansing” from the congregation is deceitful, slanderous, and downright hateful, all from a religion that claims its “love never fails.”
What Zimbabweans Really Need From a Religion
Research the current culture in Zimbabwe and you’ll see that gender inequality, domestic violence, and the lack of women’s rights are significant problems. One source I found said that women are expected to always give sex to their husbands on demand, even if they know he is HIV positive due to infidelity or promiscuity before marriage.
If Jehovah’s Witnesses cared so much about ensuring their Zimbabwean congregations were clean, you’d think they would be doing more to address domestic abuse in that country, including its root cause:
In discussing why abusers abuse , it’s clear that a lot of the causal factors behind these behaviors are learned attitudes and feelings of entitlement and privilege — which can be extremely difficult to truly change. Because of this, there’s a very low percentage of abusers who truly do change their ways.
Yet, male entitlement and privileges are common with Jehovah’s Witnesses; the religion repeatedly emphasizes that women need to be submissive to men and that women should consider staying in abusive homes, even if a life is at risk, in the hopes of converting men; see the Women section for more information.
While Jehovah’s Witnesses might say that violence is unacceptable, if that were true, violent men would be handled as decisively and firmly as those who didn’t “legalize” their marriages with an illegitimate government!
The Watchtower organization will “cleanse” congregations of members who don’t follow arbitrary laws from an illegitimate government, something that hurts no one. However, they are far less concerned about abusive men in their religion and make leeway for their horrific nature all too often.
The blatant racism in the Yearbook is bad enough, but the hypocrisy of what Jehovah’s Witnesses feel makes their congregations “unclean” doesn’t help. Perhaps the next “cleansing” of their congregations will include those responsible for vilifying native peoples and the violent, abusive men who truly do pose a danger to others in their religion.