“Shepherd the Flock of God” (2019) Confidential Handbook of Jehovah’s Witness Elders

In January of 2019, elders in the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses were issued a new version of their confidential handbook, “Shepherd the Flock of God.” Below are some excerpts of this updated version with my commentary.

Not Consulting the Bible

From the Introduction:

Jehovah's Witness elders not consulting the bible

The book mentions consulting other publications but says nothing about consulting the bible. Yes, other publications and letters will have random quotes taken from the scriptures, but shouldn’t the bible be listed as their ultimate authority and not other literature they themselves have written?

The Book is “Confidential”

From the Introduction:

confidential handbook jehovah's witnesses

The book is noted as being confidential, yet the June 1, 1997, Watchtower, page 6, states, “[Jehovah’s Witnesses’] bible-based beliefs are fully explained in publications that are available to anyone. … True religion in no way practices secretiveness.”

By saying that this book is confidential, the opposite of “available to anyone,” either Jehovah’s Witnesses lied in that Watchtower above, or they are admitting that they are not the true religion.

See also: Watch Tower Subpoenas Prove, By Their Words, That Jehovah’s Witnesses Are Not the “True Religion”

“Direction” From the Governing Body

From chapter 1, “How Elders Work Together As a Body”:

governing body jehovah's witnesses

The term “faithful and discreet slave,” is a reference to an illustration Jesus used:

“Who really is the faithful and discreet slave whom his master appointed over his domestics, to give them their food at the proper time? Happy is that slave if his master on coming finds him doing so! Truly I say to you, he will appoint him over all his belongings.” (Matt. 24:45-47)

The governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses have claimed that they are this “slave,” and use this illustration to supposedly prove that you need to follow their words and do what they say in order to be approved by god:

“But we are acting against Jehovah’s purpose if we do not obey the faithful and discreet slave or if we choose to obey only what we think is important. And if we act against Jehovah’s purpose, we cannot be his friends.” (July 15, 2011, Watchtower simplified edition)

However, this illustration itself is open to interpretation; it could very well apply to the first century apostles, the ones instrumental in writing the bible which is said to be all that a “man of god” needs to be “fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17) For the governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses to assume that their words and literature are needed above and beyond the scriptures is extremely presumptuous, and obviously not supported in scripture.

That illustration in Matthew also talks about this slave giving domestics their “food.” It says nothing about direction from this slave. The bible even says that Jesus is the “head” of the congregation (Eph. 5:23) so that he would be the one to give direction. The governing body going beyond this illustration to support their leadership position is also obscenely presumptuous and highly suspect.

definition of blasphemy

While the paragraph in chapter 1 cites scriptures that say to “be obedient to those taking the lead,” that scripture was also written to a first-century congregation and, at that time, was no doubt talking about the apostles and others in those congregations. There is very little to support the idea that the scripture would also be talking about the governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses today, and those whom they have approved as overseers.

Holy Spirit is Restricted

From chapter 1, “How Elders Work Together As a Body”:

jehovah's witnesses secret handbook

Also, from chapter 12, “Determining Whether a Judicial Committee Should Be Formed”:

jehovah's witnesses secret handbook

  • The book offers no scripture to back up their claim that the flow of Jehovah’s holy spirit would be restricted if the elders don’t get along or don’t handle certain matters promptly.
  • This claim makes no sense to me; why would a supposedly loving god restrict his holy spirt and punish a congregation of innocents because the elder body is imperfect?
  • If the elder body is not getting along, wouldn’t it be logical for god to send even more holy spirit, not less, so that they could work out their differences and shepherd his sheep? Shouldn’t god send more holy spirit to impel the elders to handle serious matters promptly, rather than restricting holy spirit and allowing a serious matter to continue in his congregation?
  • The elders are known to pray for god’s holy spirit for guidance and direction; are their prayers falling on deaf ears, or do they need to be perfect for that holy spirit to reach them?

Restrictions Against Preaching

The book makes many statements about whether or not someone is “qualified” to preach in general or in certain settings, and should even be restricted from preaching outright. For example, from chapter 12, “Determining Whether a Judicial Committee Should Be Formed”:

jehovah's witness elders handbook

This is completely contrary to the bible’s command to preach; I can’t see a verse in the bible saying that someone needs to “qualify” to do this work or that they should stop preaching for a certain amount of time. (Matt. 28:19-20; Romans 10:10) For the governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses to decide if someone “qualifies” to fulfill a command, or to outright tell someone to not do what the scriptures tell them, is questionable at best.

Announcements and Matters “Widely Known”

From chapter 8, “Appointment and Deletion of Elders and Ministerial Servants”:

jehovahs witnesses handbook

My question is, why is an announcement important? The extent of the person’s transgression and their repentance should be of prime concern; why is an announcement or lack thereof important in making decisions regarding their appointment? Whether or not the congregation knows this man was reproved should be immaterial; the sin itself and his actions since then are vital, or so it would seem.

In this same chapter, under the subheading, “Procedure for Reviewing an Appointed Brother’s Qualifications”:

jehovah's witnesses secret handbook

Again, what difference does it make if a matter is “widely known”? Either a man committed a sin serious enough to warrant deletion as an elder or ministerial servant, or he didn’t. Why is the number of people who know about it a determining factor in his credentials?

Determining Blame for Marital Problems

From chapter 8, “Appointment and Deletion of Elders and Ministerial Servants”:

How can the body of elders possibly determine who is to blame for a marriage dissolving? It’s easy to assume blame based on the behavior that you see, but what about actions you don’t see? How can they possibly know what happens behind closed doors?

If elders determine the answers to these questions based on the word of just one spouse, or what they’ve heard from other congregants, then they are making decisions based on rumor, hearsay, and gossip.

Signing a divorce decree also doesn’t necessarily indicate “agreement” to the divorce. A spouse might need protection from the courts for financial support, visitation rights, medical insurance, and so on. They might also feel the marriage is simply irretrievably broken and that they have no option but to get a legal divorce, even if it’s not necessarily what they want.

This entire situation is just grossly intrusive into a person’s private business; not just that of the man they’re considering for appointment or deletion, but his wife as well! A group of elders will share personal opinions, gossip, and even potential slander about two people and their marriage, without either one there to defend themselves or offer up their side of a story. Neither one will also have the opportunity to tell elders that their relationship is no one’s business but theirs!

Since elders cannot really determine “blame” for a marital breakup, this gossip-fest also cannot possibly accomplish its intended purpose.

Past Child Sexual Abuse

From chapter 8, “Appointment and Deletion of Elders and Ministerial Servants”:

Note that there are no instructions on what to do if the man says that yes, he has been involved in past child sexual abuse. There is no direction to follow up and find out if the victimized child is still in danger (as in the case of a son, daughter, or other close family member), or to notify authorities so they can investigate properly.

See also: If Child Molestation is Not a Problem With Jehovah’s Witnesses, Why Do They Need to Ask About It?

“Allows” a Wife to Attend a Wedding

From chapter 8, “Appointment and Deletion of Elders and Ministerial Servants”:

The use of the word “allows” betrays the claim of Jehovah’s Witnesses that a husband’s position of headship is simply for the “orderly arrangement of things” (July 1, 1991, Watchtower) and that the wife has a dignified position in the family. By saying that a husband can allow or forbid his wife from doing anything, she is relegated to the position of a child who needs to ask permission of the adult in the home.

This type of scenario has nothing to do with “order;” a home does not become chaotic and dysfunctional when a wife tells her husband, “I know you don’t want to go to Bob and Sue’s wedding but I do, so Saturday you’ll need to Uber Eats something for dinner. I’ll try to slide you home a piece of cake.” A woman is also given much more dignity when she’s respected as an adult and equal partner in a relationship; in my opinion, a man who respects others and especially women in this way is also more dignified than one who doesn’t.

Dismissing Disfellowshipping Offenses of Elders and Ministerial Servants

From chapter 8, “Appointment and Deletion of Elders and Ministerial Servants”:

A following paragraph does say that, if the sin occurred in the “past few years,” he would be disqualified from serving; however, it does not explain how many years is a “few.” So a man could have committed immorality less than a decade ago, hidden the sin all that time, and still be considered capable of serving as an elder?

Why is there no direction to consider judicial committees in which this elder participated while hiding his sin? Wouldn’t this call into question his judgment in such cases, either hypocritically disfellowshipping such ones or being too lenient, knowing he committed the same sin?

A man might also have the “respect of the congregation” simply because they aren’t aware of this past, hidden sin.

See also: How Can I Trust Elders Who Are Allowed to Hide Their Serious Sins?

Ensuring Congregants, Even Children, Are Ready to Die

From chapter 11, “Medical Matters”:

For those unfamiliar, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not accept whole blood transfusions, even in cases of medical emergencies. Elders are told here to ensure that new converts understand this issue and are ready to risk their lives for this doctrine.

Also:

Elders are also told to ensure that parents with minor children are ready to insist that their children be allowed to die versus take a blood transfusion. Asking a pregnant woman if she’s found a “cooperative doctor” also ensures that the woman is ready to die in childbirth if needed, leaving her child and any other children she has without a mother.

Their lack of regard for life in this directive, and especially the lives of children and mothers, is obscene.

Intruding Into a Pregnant Woman’s Business

Note another point from the paragraph above:

The November 2009 Awake contains superficial information about staying healthy during pregnancy; that’s fine, but men checking up on a woman, and then man-splaining healthy pregnancy to her, is incredibly misogynistic and arrogant. Women are capable of getting accurate information from medical personnel on how to stay healthy during pregnancy, and it’s beyond presumptuous for men who have never been pregnant and who aren’t doctors to intrude in this matter. (Do elders also check up on men over 40 as to whether or not they’re keeping their prostates healthy?)

Doctors “Intimidating” the Elderly

From chapter 11, “Medical Matters”:

Note the loaded language used here, in trying to paint doctors as frightening and forceful when all they are doing is trying to save someone’s life and health.

Also, consider that elders are told to purposely, proactively ensure that their congregants, even elderly persons, are ready to die for this blood issue. As the point above notes, they are instructed to literally intrude into the business of pregnant women, as well as parents of young children, and ensure they know the demands of the Watchtower in this regard and are ready to comply.

In other words, the religion and its elders are doing the real intimidating, not the doctors.

Communicable Diseases

From chapter 11, “Medical Matters”:

From the website LiveStrong: “If you have AIDS or herpes, you won’t spread your condition to others merely through swimming in the same pool water, states the New York State Department of Health.”

According to WebMD, “Hepatitis A is spread by eating food or drinking beverages that have been contaminated with the feces of an infected person. You can also get infected through close contact with a person who has hepatitis — for example, by changing a diaper or through sexual contact. … Hepatitis B and C are spread mainly through infected blood, semen, or other body fluids. … Infection can be passed from mother to child during birth, between sexual partners, or through contact with open wound.”

While someone performing a baptism should be safe, the lack of medical knowledge in these directives is astounding and embarrassing. Unless the person being baptized has an open wound and the person performing the baptism comes into contact with that wound, there is little to no risk of passing HIV, hepatitis, or any such diseases between them, and especially not in a pool treated with chlorine or chemicals meant to kill harmful organisms.

That also begs the question of why this directive would recommend the person be baptized in a body of natural water or untreated bathtub water. That person would still come into physical contact with the man performing the baptism, and the lack of chlorine and other chemicals would seem to increase the risk of contamination!

Instead, why aren’t men performing baptisms told to wear medical gloves, as do people in other jobs who risk exposure to bodily fluids? Boxing referees wear gloves, police officers put them on when patting someone down, and I’ve even seen cashiers wear gloves at times. Having men performing baptisms do the same protects them properly, reduces the risk of coming into contact with any contaminant, and eliminates the need for an infected person to share private, delicate information with anyone.

“Bride Price”

From chapter 12, “Determining Whether a Judicial Committee Should Be Formed”:

jehovah's witnesses handbook

Why are Jehovah’s Witnesses even allowing the practice of buying and selling human beings?

Intruding Into Sex Lives

From chapter 12, “Determining Whether a Judicial Committee Should Be Formed”:

My question is, why isn’t a statement that an innocent mate is “Scripturally free” enough? Jehovah’s Witnesses understand that being “scripturally free” means that adultery has taken place; why must a confession be worded a particular way or include particular details for elders to decide that it’s sufficient?

Consider that someone might not want to share that personal, private information about their sexual activity, or the activity of the person with whom they’ve had sex! If John has an affair with Susan, any information John shares with elders reveals sexually intimate details about Susan’s sex life, not just his. That’s not his privilege or right to do, and not the right of elders to know those things.

On this same subject, from chapter 27, “Weddings”:

What, exactly, do those “straightforward inquiries” entail? Do elders ask whether or not the couple have masturbated each other, if he’s massaged her naked breasts, if she’s done any grinding on his lap … oh, am I making you uncomfortable?

Good.

Now imagine being a couple about to get married, maybe still in your late teens or early twenties, being asked those types of questions by a nasty old man in your church, and you get the point.

I must also ask, why do elders police this matter when they don’t necessarily police other supposed sins? If you talk about having a great night on the town last weekend, elders aren’t likely to sit you down and ask how much you had to drink, did you smoke cigarettes, did you gamble, etc. Why do they need to police a congregant’s sexual conduct if there have been no allegations of sin, no reasons to ask questions other than the fact that the couple want to get married? I personally can think of only one reason.

Elderly Ones Not Exemplary

From chapter 12, “Determining Whether a Judicial Committee Should Be Formed”, the subheading, “Permitting Individuals to Commit Sexual Immorality in the Home”:

Consider this scenario; elderly persons must allow someone (an adult son or daughter, grandchild, etc.) to live in their home for health or financial reasons, and that person insists on bringing their significant other with them or having them visit on occasion. While it’s good to respect the rules of a home you’re visiting, long-term accommodations are quite different and that caregiver needs to be respected as an adult as well.

Despite that, Jehovah’s Witnesses would not view an elderly person, already struggling with health, financial, or other such issues, as “exemplary” if they had “no recourse” but to allow their caregiver to spend intimate time with their significant other? How is this elderly person a poor example to the congregation?

See also: 2019 “Shepherd the Flock of God”: Elderly Ones No Longer “Exemplary”

Suicide Attempts Warranting Judicial Action

From chapter 12, “Determining Whether a Judicial Committee Should Be Formed”:

“Most cases” of attempted suicide would not warrant a judicial committee? What cases of attempted suicide would warrant disciplinary action from congregation elders?

This is very vital to consider; what professional credentials do elders have to discuss suicidal tendencies in the first place, and especially if they feel qualified to determine that a suicide attempt should be considered sinful somehow? Approaching a suicidal person with a judgmental, “You need to be punished” attitude could very well push them even deeper into despair!

For more information and advice from credentialed professionals on how to help someone thinking of suicide, please click this link at the National Institutes of Health and open the PDF file in your chosen language.

Double Standard Regarding Confidential Information

From chapter 16, “Procedure for Judicial Hearings”:

Why is information regarding a husband’s infidelity “confidential” from the wife in the first place? If the answer is that you shouldn’t reveal “confidential talk” (Proverbs 11:13), from chapter 15, “Preparing for Judicial Hearings”:

If confidentiality is so vital during judicial hearings that wives are purposely kept in the dark regarding what’s going on in their marital bed, why do elders reveal what’s been told to them in confidence to the branch and circuit overseer? Why are they told specifically to do so privately, without that person’s knowledge?

Public Reproof and “Warnings”

If a judicial committee of elders feel that a person is “repentant” of a particular sin, they may “reprove” that person, allowing them to remain in the congregation. A reproof is sometimes announced to the congregation; from chapter 16, “Procedure for Judicial Hearings”:

However, the section also notes how the announcement is worded:

jehovahs witnesses handbook

Instruction is also given if elders feel they should deliver a warning talk to the congregation:

jehovahs witnesses secret handbook

According to the instructions in paragraphs 21 and 23, the congregation is not warned of the actions of the reproved person. In turn, they will not know that he/she may pose a danger to children because of past child sex abuse. Congregants may very well assume the person got caught smoking, committed sexual immorality with an adult, lied about something serious, and so on.

See also: 2019 “Shepherd the Flock of God”: The Problem With Public Reproofs for Child Sex Abuse

Disassociated for Accepting Blood Transfusions

From chapter 18, “Dissociations”:

Someone who accepts a blood transfusion and is “unrepentant” is considered to have disassociated themselves; they are not proactively disfellowshipped by the congregation.

This is due to the change of policy Watch Tower was forced to make in the 1990s to keep their legal status in Bulgaria. The government there objected to the religion’s prohibitions against accepting blood transfusions; to comply with their demands, Jehovah’s Witnesses changed their policies from disfellowshipping these ones to saying that they were disassociating themselves.

This allowed Watch Tower to state to the government that congregants were free to choose their own medical procedures “without any control or sanction” from the religion. By making this minor technical change in how they decide to shun congregants for this “sinful” behavior, Watch Tower retained their legal status in Bulgaria even though they do still sanction congregants who accept blood with resultant shunning.

See also: Bulgaria, the Watchtower and Blood Transfusions

Before someone objects to this explanation, how is accepting a blood transfusion any different than “willingly” smoking a cigarette or committing adultery? In those cases, the person is disfellowshipped by a judicial committee of elders and not regarded to have disassociated themselves.

Report Vandalism Promptly, But Check If You’re Obligated to Report Child Sex Abuse

From chapter 21, “Kingdom Halls”:

jehovahs witnesses handbook

Compare this information from chapter 14, paragraph 7, under the section “Child Abuse”:

The hypocrisy of this information is astounding. The elders are told to report damage to their property to police immediately, but are instructed to call their Legal Department to find out if they are obligated to report the alleged rape of a child. Protecting their physical property is obviously more important than protecting children.

Purpose of Calling the Legal Department for Alleged Child Rape

Note another point from the directive mentioned above:

The directive does not say that elders should call their branch office to ensure they are doing everything possible to protect children. They are not given professional advice on child protection, but are given “legal advice” on how to protect themselves. Again, their priority is not the protection of children in their congregations.

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