In the minds of Jehovah’s Witnesses all over the world, there are fewer more potent symbols of Christ’s authority as expressed through God’s earthly organization than the seven-member Governing Body, which is based in New York, USA.
For decades these men and their forebears have taken the lead in making crucial decisions that have shaped doctrine and influenced the lives of millions of adherents around the globe.
Witnesses and non-Witnesses alike are naturally curious to know more about the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses and how it operates. For this reason, I have prepared this article in a question-and-answer format so that you can learn more about this group of men in a simple and straightforward manner. For all answers I will endeavor to be honest and thorough, and quote from Society publications wherever possible.
Who are the members of the Governing Body?
As of 2014, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses is composed of the following seven members:
Samuel Herd is the only black member of the Governing Body, and entered full-time service as a pioneer for Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1958. He served as a traveling overseer from 1965 to 1997 when he and his wife, Gloria, were invited to join the United States Bethel family. Samuel worked in the Service Department and also served for a time as a “helper” to the Service Committee before receiving his invitation to join the Governing Body in 1999. (see w00 1/1 p.29) Samuel is said to have been born in 1935, making him one of the more senior members of the body.
Below you can view a YouTube playlist of clips from some of Samuel Herd’s talks…
Geoffrey Jackson began pioneer service in Tasmania, Australia in February 1971. He married Jeanette (Jenny) in June 1974. Soon after their marriage, the couple received an appointment to serve as special pioneers. From 1979 to 2003, Geoffrey and Jenny worked as missionaries in the South Pacific islands of Tuvalu, Samoa, and Fiji. They also worked as translators for Watchtower publications during this period. Geoffrey worked on the Branch Committee of Samoa from 1992 to 1996, and on the Branch Committee of Fiji from 1996 to 2003.
In April 2003, Geoffrey and Jenny were asked to join the United States Bethel family where they began work in the Translation Services Department. Not long after, Geoffrey was invited to be a “helper” to the Teaching Committee of the Governing Body, which he finally joined as a member in 2005. (see w06 3/15 p.26) Tragically, Geoffrey’s wife Jenny lost her battle with cancer and died on December 22nd, 2009 – aged 54. Geoffrey has since re-married. He is one of the youngest Governing Body members, having been born in 1955.
Stephen Lett began full-time service as a pioneer in December 1966. Stephen later served at the United States Bethel from 1967 to 1971. He married his wife, Susan, in October 1971, and together they were appointed as special pioneers. Stephen served as a circuit overseer from 1979 to 1998. In April 1998, Stephen and Susan joined the United States Bethel family where Stephen made rapid advancement within the organization. After a relatively brief period working in the Service Department and as a “helper” to the Teaching Committee, Stephen was asked to join the Governing Body in 1999. (see w00 1/1 p.29) He is said to have been born in 1949.
Stephen is known for his colorful and expressive style on the platform, which includes a booming voice and dramatic facial expressions. Below you can view a YouTube playlist of clips from some of Stephen Lett’s talks…
Gerrit Lösch is the currently the longest-serving member on the Governing Body, having joined on July 1st, 1994. Aside from speaking English, Gerrit has knowledge of the German, Romanian and Italian languages. Gerrit first entered full-time service on November 1st, 1961, and is a graduate of the 41st class of the Gilead training school. Gerrit was a traveling overseer in Austria from 1963 to 1976. During this period, Gerrit married his wife, Merete, in 1967. The couple later served as members of the Austria Bethel family in Vienna for 14 years.
In 1990, Gerrit and Merete were asked to serve at the Society’s Brooklyn headquarters, where Gerrit began work in the Executive Offices and as a “helper” to the Service Committee for four years before finally receiving his invitation to serve on the Governing Body. (see w94 11/1 p.29) Gerrit is said to have been born in 1941.
Below you can see some videos that I have uploaded to YouTube featuring selected clips from a talk that Gerrit delivered as part of a Zone Visit in Sydney, Australia, in 2008 (warning, you may find some of his views shocking!):
Anthony Morris III entered the pioneer service in 1971. In December of the same year, he married his wife Susan, and the couple continued pioneering for nearly four years until the birth of their first son, Jesse. Susan later gave birth to another son, Paul. In 1979, Anthony reentered the full-time service as a regular pioneer. Once their two sons had entered school, Susan later joined him in the pioneer work. The family served in Rhode Island and North Carolina where they determined that there was a need for assistance in the preaching work. Anthony served as a substitute circuit overseer in North Carolina, and it was here that his sons began regular pioneer service.
At the age of 19, his two sons were invited to the Society’s United States branch. At around the same time, Anthony began work as a Circuit Overseer. However, soon he and Susan were also invited to start an assignment at Bethel on August 1st, 2002. Prior to his appointment to the Governing Body in 2005, Anthony worked in the Service Department at Patterson and later as a “helper” to the Service Committee. (see w06 3/15 p.26)
Anthony is known for his occasionally forthright and eyebrow-raising comments during assembly talks, in which he has expressed his opinions on the media and politics. His illustrations can also sometimes be confusing. Born in 1950, Anthony is also a veteran of the Vietnam War, having apparently served during the conflict in a medical capacity. Anthony has regaled assembly audiences with stories of how he refused to go down to the bomb shelter with his fellow soldiers, which once almost resulted in his death when his barracks were hit by enemy fire.
Some have raised questions as to why Anthony insists on having a “monarchical ordinal” (or roman numeral) after his name in the style of a ruling monarch, arguing that this hardly befits a man professing Christian humility. (Matthew 19:30) Recently, Anthony made some introductory remarks on behalf of the Governing Body as a feature of the controversial Become Jehovah’s Friend DVD, which was released at the 2012 Safeguard Your Heart District Convention.
Here follows a series of YouTube videos that I have produced in order to explore Anthony’s thoughts and opinions on various subjects (from a mostly humorous angle):
David Splane began full-time service as a pioneer in September 1963, and he is also a graduate of the 42nd class of Gilead. Following his graduation, David served as a missionary in Senegal before spending 19 years as a circuit overseer in Canada. In 1990, he and his wife, Linda, were asked to join the United States Bethel family. David spent time working in the Service and Writing departments, and served as a “helper” to the Writing Committee for about a year prior to his appointment to the Governing Body in 1999. (see w00 1/1 p.29) It is said that David was born in 1944.
A video featuring David Splane speaking at the 2012 Annual Meeting is viewable here…
Mark Sanderson is the latest addition to the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. His appointment became effective on September 1st 2012, and was announced during morning worship at World Headquarters on September 5th. Official confirmation was only received by way of a passing mention in a JW.org informational video over two months later (for more information, click here). Finally, Sanderson’s appointment was confirmed in print in the notorious July 15 2013 “new light” Watchtower, which was released online on Wednesday April 9th 2013 – more than 7 months after his appointment.
Sanderson is only in his late forties, having been born on February 4th, 1965 – making him by far the youngest member of the current Governing Body. He was raised in San Diego, California, and was baptized age 10 on February 9th, 1975. On September 1st 1983, 18-year-old Sanderson began pioneering in Saskatchewan, Canada – and later graduated from the 7th Class of the Ministerial Training School (now the Bible School for Single Brothers) in December 1990.
In the first year after graduating, Sanderson was appointed to serve as a Special Pioneer on Newfoundland, Canada. He later served as a substitute Circuit Overseer before joining the Canada Bethel family in February 1997, age 32.
By November 2000, Sanderson had been transferred to the Hospital Information Services department at the United States branch. During his time in this position, Sanderson is said to have responded to a question about the number of fatalities among Witnesses who have refused blood transfusions by saying that it was difficult to estimate such a figure. However, an extrapolation of hospital figures related to Witness mortality from New Zealand indicates that Witness deaths from the blood doctrine could be as high as 50,000.
Sanderson later moved on to the Service Desk before attending the School for Branch Committee Members in September 2008, whereupon he was appointed as a member of the Philippines Branch Committee. Finally, in September 2010, Sanderson was asked to return to the United States branch where he served as a helper to the Service Committee of the Governing Body for two years prior to his appointment to the Governing Body.
In the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines in November 2013 claiming the lives of 33 Witnesses, Sanderson returned to the country to assist in filming a promotional video.
Deceased members of the Governing Body include Guy H. Pierce (2014), John E. Barr (2010), Theodore Jaracz (2010), Carey Barber (2007), Daniel Sydlik (2006), Albert Schroeder (2006), Milton Henschel (2003), Lyman Swingle (2001), Karl Klein (2001), Lloyd Barry (1999), John Booth (1996), George Gangas (1994), Fred Franz (1992), Martin Pöetzinger (1988), Grant Suiter (1984), William Jackson (1981), John Groh (1975), Charles Fekel (1977), Nathan Knorr (1977) and Thomas Sullivan (1974).
For those who are interested, I have prepared a downloadable PDF “Governing Body Timeline” in both A4 and Letter format (up-to-date as of 2011). The timeline shows when the membership of all Governing Body members began and ended, allowing you (at a glance) to see which individuals served together, and when.
Please note, the timeline does not yet include the latest addition to the Governing Body, Mark Sanderson – or the death of Guy Pierce. Also, when reading the timeline, please keep in mind that there was no official “Governing Body” until 1971 as explained later on in this article.
Has anyone ever left the Governing Body?
The most well-documented resignation in the Governing Body’s history was that of Raymond Franz (pictured), the nephew of Fred Franz, who was disfellowshipped shortly after resigning in 1980.
Franz was officially disfellowshipped simply for eating a meal with a disassociated person (who was also his employer), although it is considered by many that, in reality, he was hounded out of the organization for disagreeing with the way the Society operated.
For more information on the life of Raymond Franz, please read his book Crisis of Conscience, which is freely available in PDF format on Scribd.com. This book provides a fascinating insight into the inner workings of the Governing Body from a firsthand perspective. Although written from the viewpoint of a former member of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the book is not bitter or confrontational against the religion.
Two other notable resignations include those of Ewart C. Chitty in 1979 and Leo K. Greenlees in 1984. No official information concerning the resignations of these individuals can be found in any of the Society’s publications, so any available information on the circumstances surrounding their dismissal is pure conjecture. However, the internet is rife with rumors that Chitty was dismissed for his homosexual tendencies, whereas Greenlees was dismissed for molesting a young boy.
Both men have since died, and neither were disfellowshipped following their resignations. I cannot stress enough that the rumors surrounding both of these men cannot be substantiated, however you may find this link interesting if you desire further information on these unverified reports. Even though there is a vacuum of hard documented evidence, it is noteworthy that the following statement was published in a 1986 Watchtower article, not long after these men were dismissed from the Governing Body:
“Shocking as it is, even some who have been prominent in Jehovah’s organization have succumbed to immoral practices, including homosexuality, wife swapping, and child molesting.” (w86 1/1 p.13)
How does the Governing Body operate?
The Governing Body holds weekly meetings every Wednesday at the World Headquarters in Brooklyn, although occasionally they will meet at other facilities (such as Patterson) as the need arises. During these meetings, reports are heard from around the world, and decisions are made regarding the organization of the worldwide preaching and teaching work. Doctrinal matters are also discussed at such meetings.
There are six committees over which the Governing Body has oversight. Each is assigned to direct various aspects of the worldwide work. At least one Governing Body member is typically assigned to each of these committees. Non-Governing Body members of these committees are described as “helpers”. The following quote from page 110 of the 2009 book Bearing Thorough Witness details the names and respective roles of these committees:
“The Coordinators’ Committee consists of the coordinators of each of the other committees and a secretary who is also a member of the Governing Body. It helps all the committees to operate smoothly and efficiently. This committee oversees legal matters and the use of the media when necessary to convey an accurate picture of our beliefs. It also responds to disasters, outbreaks of persecution, and other emergencies affecting Jehovah’s Witnesses anywhere in the world.
The Personnel Committee oversees arrangements for the spiritual and personal welfare of the volunteers who serve in the branch offices of Jehovah’s Witnesses earth wide. In addition, this committee supervises the inviting of additional volunteers to serve at branch offices.
The Publishing Committee supervises the printing, publishing, and shipping of Bible literature. It oversees the printeries and properties owned and operated by the corporations used by Jehovah’s Witnesses and the construction of branch facilities, as well as Kingdom Halls and Assembly Halls in lands with limited resources. This committee also supervises the use of donated funds.
The Service Committee oversees the preaching work along with matters affecting congregation elders, traveling overseers, and full-time evangelizers. It supervises the preparation of Our Kingdom Ministry. This committee also invites and assigns students of Gilead School, for the training of missionaries, and students of the Ministerial Training School, designed for the instruction of unmarried congregation elders and ministerial servants.
The Teaching Committee oversees the instruction provided at assemblies, conventions, and congregation meetings, as well as the development of audio and video programs. It prepares curriculums for Gilead School, the Pioneer Service School, and other schools and arranges spiritual programs for branch office volunteers.
The Writing Committee supervises the production of spiritual food in written form for the congregations and for the general public. It also answers Bible questions, oversees translation work worldwide, and approves such material as drama scripts and talk outlines.”
The existence and operation of the above six committees dates back to a Governing Body decision adopted on December 4th, 1975. At this time, a major shake-up of the organization resulted in the duties of the President of the Watch Tower Society being dispersed and delegated to the various committees who were (and still are) directly answerable to the Governing Body. From this point onwards (1975), the office of the President of the Watch Tower Society held no real power or significance in comparison with the days of Russell, Rutherford and the early presidency of Knorr.
Are Governing Body members the leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses?
This is a difficult question to answer, because Watchtower publications give conflicting impressions. For example, in the book Bearing Thorough Witness (also quoted from above) the following assertion is made on page 110:
“The Governing Body relies on God’s holy spirit for direction. Its members do not regard themselves as the leaders of Jehovah’s people.”
This was reiterated on page 23 of a recently released 2012 brochure entitled Who Are Doing Jehovah’s Will Today? where it says:
“The Governing Body looks to the Universal Sovereign, Jehovah, and to the Head of the congregation, Jesus, for guidance. (1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:23) Its members do not regard themselves as the leaders of God’s people. They, along with all anointed Christians, ‘keep following the Lamb [Jesus] no matter where he goes.’”
From the above two quotes (both from fairly recent publications) it would be relatively straightforward to conclude that Governing Body members are not to be considered as the leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, things become confusing when we read the many quotes similar to those below where the Governing Body is said to “take the lead” in the organization.
“The faithful and discreet slave today is represented by the Governing Body, who take the lead and coordinate the Kingdom-preaching work throughout the earth.” (w09 2/15 p.28 par.17)
“The Head, Jesus Christ, supplies the body members with what is needed for good cooperation, coordination, and spiritual nourishment. (Eph. 4:15, 16; Col. 2:19) In such respects, the Governing Body is organized to take the lead as Jehovah directs them by holy spirit.” (w08 5/15 p.29)
“Today, we can observe those making up the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, other anointed overseers, and men of the “great crowd” who take the lead among us.” (w89 9/15 p.21)
“Local elders and members of the Governing Body take the lead among us; hence, we should respect them and pray that God grant them the wisdom needed to govern the congregation.” (w89 12/15 p.21 par.5)
“So we can observe the faithful men today who take the lead among us, particularly those of the governing body of the ‘faithful and discreet slave’.” (w69 6/15 p.367 par.3)
There is also the following quote where Jehovah’s Witnesses are admonished using the bible to show obedience to the Governing Body:
“Though members of the Governing Body are slaves of Jehovah and of Christ, as are their fellow Christians, the Bible instructs us: ‘Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you and be submissive, for they are keeping watch over your souls as those who will render an account; that they may do this with joy and not with sighing, for this would be damaging to you.’—Hebrews 13:17.” (w98 3/15 p21)
It is difficult to imagine how a group of men who “take the lead” among and “govern” God’s organization, AND who should be obeyed by Jehovah’s Witnesses, should not therefore be considered as their “leaders”. However, this is precisely how the Governing Body wishes us to think of them. On the one hand, it appears they seek to be viewed as humble fellow worshippers – but on the other hand they ask Jehovah’s Witnesses to view them as “those who are taking the lead”, and obey their direction accordingly.
Furthermore, if one were to openly disagree with the instructions or teachings of the Governing Body as expressed in Watchtower publications, one would be expelled from the organization as an “apostate” – regardless of whether one expressed loyalty to Jehovah, Jesus, and the words of the bible. This alone seems to indicate that the Governing Body members are, for all intents and purposes, the leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses – irrespective of the confusing statements they have recently made to the contrary. However, it is perhaps best to leave the matter for each and every person to decide.
Where does the term “Governing Body” come from?
You may be surprised to learn that the term “governing body” cannot be found anywhere in the bible, nor is it a strictly religious designation. Rather, “governing body” is actually a secular term that has long been used to describe the leadership of various human organizations. Note the following definition from the MacMillan Dictionary:
Governing body (noun) – “an official organization that is responsible for making the rules for an organization such as a school, university, or sport, and for making sure that people follow the rules”
In 1944, two years after the death of Joseph Rutherford, the term “governing body” came to be used informally to describe the Board of Directors of the Watch Tower Society. After reviewing the dictionary definition above, it is not hard to see why this term was deemed fitting for a legal corporation. However, these Directors held nowhere near the same level of prominence as current Governing Body members enjoy today.
Up to the time of Nathan Knorr, the Watch Tower Society’s President wielded unquestioned power when it came to directing the organization. One Society-made film released in 1954 (and re-released in 1995) gave viewers a tour of the bethel facilities. Despite touching on the work of Nathan Knorr and the Society directors during the narration, not once in the 1 hour 12 minute film is the term “governing body” used. The film is available to watch on YouTube…
As can be plainly seen from the above film, there was no “Governing Body” (as we know it today) in Knorr’s early presidency that would make collective decisions on behalf of the organization. There was merely the Board of Directors of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, of whom Knorr as President had the final word on matters.
Then, in 1971, there was a major change when it was decided that the individual members of the so-called “governing body” of Jehovah’s Witnesses should differ from the Board of Directors of the Watch Tower Society. The reason for this decision was that, according to Pennsylvania law, Society Directors needed to be “voted in” by the Society’s members every three years.
It was decided that the positions of those deciding on scriptural matters should not be dependent on votes from ordinary members of the Society, the majority of whom were not of the anointed. It was therefore decided that a distinction should be made between the legal corporation and the religious leadership, which meant that the Society’s religious leaders could choose their members for themselves, and not be dependent on Society members in order to get voted into office.
At this time, parallels began to be drawn between Christ’s apostles of the First Century and the so-called “governing body” (or Board of Directors) of the Twentieth Century. It was decided that the “governing body” needed to be distinguished as separate and superior to the Society’s Board of Directors.
The term then began to be capitalized (i.e. “Governing Body”), and greater emphasis was placed on the role and authority of this newly established leadership. If you would like to read the account of how and when this happened, you can do no worse than read the article “A Governing Body As Different From A Legal Corporation” in the December 15th 1971 issue of the Watchtower, pages 755 to 762. Here is a quote from this very same article, in which the writer attempts to link the governing body (note the lower case) with Christ’s apostles.
“According to the apostolic example of the first century C.E., these dedicated, baptized Christians known today as Jehovah’s witnesses have a governing body, as specifically noted from the year 1944 onward. This governing body has through the years been associated with the publishers of the Watch Tower magazine and the Board of Directors of the legal religious corporation now known as Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania.” (w71 12/15 pp. 755-762)
So the term “governing body” does not come from the scriptures at all. Rather it is a secular term that was first employed casually in 1944 to describe the Board of Directors of the Watch Tower Society. However, from 1971 onwards, the term was capitalized, and the new “Governing Body” came to take on a powerful new role as the religious leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Who appointed the Governing Body?
In the 1971 Watchtower article referred to above, the astonishing claim is made that Jesus Christ personally appoints the members of the Governing Body, in the same way as he appointed his apostles.
“the governing body of the ‘slave’ class is not appointed by any man. It is appointed by the same one who appointed the twelve apostles in the first century C.E., namely, Jesus Christ the Head of the true Christian congregation and the Lord and Master of the ‘faithful and discreet slave’ class.—John 15:16, 19.” (w71 12/15 pp. 755-762)
To my knowledge, this extraordinary claim has never been retracted or expanded on in any subsequent Watchtower publication, so it must represent the current understanding as to how individual members of the Governing Body are appointed.
Obviously, we are not given specific information as to how Jesus communicates with the Governing Body to let them know which members should be added or removed, or how he ostensibly chose the original Governing Body in 1971. These important details are left to our imagination.
Has there always been a Governing Body?
The simple answer is: “no!” As has already been discussed, the Governing Body arrangement dates back to as recently as 1971. Prior to 1971 (and only from 1944 onwards) the term “governing body” (in lower case) came to be used casually to refer to the Board of Directors of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. However, under this former arrangement, the Society’s president normally had the final say in all doctrinal and administrative matters.
It certainly cannot be said that the Society’s early presidents such as Charles Taze Russell and Joseph F. Rutherford sat on any “governing body” as we know it today. Rutherford in particular spent the winter months 2,800 miles away from the other Society directors at his San Diego home, known as Beth Sarim. He was therefore in no position to meet regularly with the Brooklyn-based directors – nor was he required to. Rather, both Rutherford and Russell served as Presidents and had complete control over the workings of the organization. Consider the following quote from the book Jehovah’s Witnesses – Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, page 234.
“In the early 1970’s, careful thought was given to further reorganization of the Governing Body. Ever since the incorporation of the Watch Tower Society in 1884, publishing of literature, supervision of the global evangelizing work, and arrangements for schools and conventions had been cared for under the direction of the office of the president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. But after careful analysis and discussion of details over a period of many months, a new arrangement was unanimously adopted on December 4, 1975. Six committees of the Governing Body were formed.”
Despite this inconvenient truth (that the history of the Governing Body as a group of men sharing oversight extends only as far back as the seventies), the Watch Tower Society would still argue that the Governing Body arrangement dates as far back as the First Century, or bible times.
Interestingly, Watchtower publications shy away from openly admitting that the term “governing body” is not to be found anywhere in the bible, seemingly because the Society wishes to give the impression that this arrangement is scriptural.
Even so, you might expect the Society to feel some degree of hesitancy about insisting that a “governing body” existed even during bible times, given that this term is absent from the bible. However, this is precisely what they repeatedly do in the publications. As an example, please note the following quote from a recent Watchtower:
“First-century Christians enjoyed unity because they all received encouragement from the same source. They recognized that Jesus was teaching and directing the congregation through a governing body, composed of the apostles and older men in Jerusalem.” (w10 9/15 p.13)
A similar quote appears in a 1999 Watchtower article:
“Jesus had prepared 12 apostles to become an initial governing body, training them as well as others for the ministry. (Luke 8:1; 9:1, 2; 10:1, 2) At Pentecost 33 C.E., the Christian congregation was established, and in due course its governing body was expanded to include “the apostles and older men in Jerusalem.” (w99 2/1 pp. 15-16)
Notice how, in both of the above quotes, the term “governing body” (in lower case) is effectively super-imposed over the scriptures, and the “apostles and older men” are said to be members under this fictitious arrangement, which is even said to have been constituted by Christ! However, the bible is perfectly capable of speaking for itself.
If Jehovah wanted us to think of these two groups of men under a collective noun, then He would have been more than capable of ensuring that His inspired word was furnished with a term such as “governing body” as a means of describing those “taking the lead” on behalf of His worshippers at that time. Instead, the bible specifically distinguishes between the “apostles and older men” as separate groups of people who worked together to resolve a difficult problem (namely, the issue of circumcision).
Furthermore, the term “apostles and older men” only appears six times in the Bible, and all of these occasions are in Acts chapters 15 and 16, which deal with the handling of the issue of circumcision. To insist that this one-off arrangement was actually a permanent one, and that the apostles and older men worked together on all decisions from the circumcision issue onwards is to assert something that simply isn’t described in the Bible. However, this is precisely what the Society repeatedly does in its literature in relation to the supposed existence of a First Century equivalent to the Governing Body who directed all aspects of the preaching work.
In reality, a close inspection of the Apostle Paul’s letters reveals that, for the most part, Paul (who wasn’t one of “the twelve”) worked independently of any centralized ruling body in Jerusalem or elsewhere. Simply put, in those days Christ used individuals to minister to his congregation and perform miracles, and there was no ambiguity as to whether or not such persons enjoyed his direction. Christ’s apostles were directly and personally appointed by him. The same cannot be said of the present Governing Body arrangement.
True, the apostles would make decisions collectively, as they did when they dispatched Peter and John to Samaria. (Acts 8:4-17) However, in likening themselves to the apostles, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses are making a very bold claim indeed, and one for which they offer no tangible supporting evidence. The scriptures do not make allowance for divinely-granted power and authority to be passed from one generation to the next, i.e. for the authority of the apostles to be passed on to Rutherford and his associates, and thenceforth to the modern Governing Body members. The catholic principle of “apostolic succession” has been roundly condemned in the Society’s literature.
What is the relationship between the Governing Body and the Slave Class?
Until October 2012 it was taught that the “faithful and discreet slave” described by Jesus in Matthew 24:45 encompassed the 12,000-or-more spirit-anointed Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world who hold a heavenly hope, and who make this known by partaking of the emblems at the annual memorial celebration of Christ’s death. Watchtower publications repeatedly asserted that the Governing Body were “representatives” of this “slave class,” as shown in the following examples:
“In this time of the end, Christ has committed ‘all his belongings’—all the earthly interests of the Kingdom—to his ‘faithful and discreet slave’ and its representative Governing Body, a group of anointed Christian men.” (w10 9/15 p.23)
“The faithful and discreet slave today is represented by the Governing Body, who take the lead and coordinate the Kingdom-preaching work throughout the earth.” (w09 2/15 p.28)
“As part of the King’s belongings, they are happy to cooperate fully with the arrangements made by the Governing Body, which represents ‘the faithful and discreet slave.’” (w09 6/15 p.24)
“One way to find our place in the congregation and give evidence that we treasure it is to cooperate fully with ‘the faithful and discreet slave’ and its representative Governing Body.” (w09 11/15 p.14)
“Our Christian brotherhood is another valuable resource in seeking Jehovah’s guidance. Central to that brotherhood is ‘the faithful and discreet slave’ with its representative Governing Body, which issues a constant supply of spiritual food in the form of printed material and programs for meetings and assemblies.” (w08 4/15 p.11)
“Today, Jesus directs us by means of ‘the faithful and discreet slave,’ represented by its Governing Body and the appointed elders.” (w07 4/1 p.28)
“The Governing Body—the small group of anointed elders who represent the slave class—authorizes its representatives to train and appoint servants and elders in the tens of thousands of congregations worldwide.” (w06 5/1 p.26)
The ‘faithful slave’ is represented by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a small group of spirit-anointed men serving at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York. (w06 7/15 p.20)
Despite their repeated assertions to serving as “representatives” of anointed ones, in reality the Governing Body had little or no communication with any such individuals beyond the confines of the New York Bethel facilities. A Questions From Readers article made it abundantly clear that the Governing Body saw no need to communicate with their fellow members of the anointed around the world.
“We thus have no way of knowing the exact number of anointed ones on earth; nor do we need to know. The Governing Body does not keep a list of all partakers, for it does not maintain a global network of anointed ones.” (w11 8/15 p. 22)
The same Questions From Readers article went so far as to suggest that anointed memorial partakers who are not members of the Governing Body might be mentally unstable.
“Memorial partakers. This is the number of baptized individuals who partake of the emblems at the Memorial worldwide. Does this total represent the number of anointed ones on earth? Not necessarily. A number of factors—including past religious beliefs or even mental or emotional imbalance—might cause some to assume mistakenly that they have the heavenly calling.” (w11 8/15 p.22)
Then, at the Annual Meeting of the Society on October 5th, 2012, a new understanding of the “faithful and discreet slave” was announced. In a series of talks, members of the Governing Body told some 15,000 in attendance that they now consider themselves to be sole members of the composite “slave class.” This “new light” finally stripped spirit-anointed Christians of any symbolic role in the spiritual feeding of God’s organization, and consolidated the Governing Body’s supreme authority over Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide.
The “new understanding” was later confirmed in writing in the July 15th 2013 Watchtower, which was leaked weeks ahead of its planned release. For my review of this material, please click here.
How do they reach their decisions?
Once information and reports have been deliberated over, whoever is serving as the Chairman of the Governing Body will normally call for a show of hands. In his book Crisis of Conscience (mentioned above), Raymond Franz revealed that Governing Body decisions are reached on a “two-thirds majority” basis. This is indicated in the extract from his book below:
“A major factor in Governing Body decisions was the two-thirds majority rule. This produced some strange effects at times. The rule was that a two-thirds majority (of the total active membership) was needed to carry a motion. I personally appreciated the opportunity this allowed for a member to vote differently from the majority or simply to abstain without feeling that he was, in effect, exercising ‘veto power.’ On minor matters, even when not in complete agreement, I generally voted with the majority.” – Crisis of Conscience by Raymond Franz, page 115.
From the writings of Raymond Franz, it seems that the “two-thirds majority” rule for Governing Body meetings was brought into effect some time in 1975. Obviously, Franz left the Governing Body in 1980, so there is no reliable way of knowing whether the rule (which was first suggested by Nathan Knorr) is still in use today, or if/when it came to be phased out.
During a talk at the 2012 Annual Meeting, Governing Body member Geoffrey Jackson indicated that ALL decisions are made on an absolute majority basis, and any decisions that do not receive total agreement from all members are left as “pending.” It was suggested that some decisions have been thus put on hold for years.
It is unfortunate that there is a lack of total transparency when it comes to Governing Body decision-making, since the discussion of the “apostles and older men” related to the matter of circumcision was freely publicized for all brothers back then to read about. (See Acts 15)
We might well ask: if the apostles saw fit to write about their deliberations over an issue involving doctrinal disagreements over circumcision, then why aren’t Governing Body meetings about far lesser issues recorded in similar detail in our publications? It is regrettable that much of what is known about the inner workings and decision-making of the Governing Body has needed to be gleaned from word-of-mouth, or the writings of a former member.
What happens if Jehovah’s direction is unclear?
It would be nice to think that if Jehovah’s direction on any given matter is unclear, the Governing Body would put an issue “on hold” and patiently wait on Jehovah until the correct decision becomes more apparent. However, as recently revealed in a talk by the late Guy Pierce, this is not always the case. Consider this quote from a recent Watchtower, which related what happened at the 127th annual meeting of the Watch Tower Society, held on October 1st, 2011:
“Guy Pierce of the Governing Body spoke next and acknowledged that all present were curious about our construction projects in New York State. He introduced a video showing developments at Wallkill, Patterson, and recently acquired sites in Warwick and Tuxedo, New York. At Wallkill, a new residence due to be completed in 2014 will provide over 300 additional rooms.”
“There are plans to develop a 248-acre (100 ha) property at Warwick. ‘Although we are not yet certain of Jehovah’s will regarding Warwick,’ said Brother Pierce, ‘we are proceeding to develop the site with the intention of relocating the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses there.’ Plans are also being made to use a 50-acre (20 ha) parcel of land situated six miles (10 km) north of Warwick to facilitate the staging of machinery and building material. ‘Once construction is permitted, we hope to complete the entire project within four years,’ said Brother Pierce. ‘Then our property in Brooklyn can be sold.’”
“‘Has the Governing Body changed its mind about the closeness of the great tribulation?’ asked Brother Pierce. ‘Not at all,’ he answered. ‘If the great tribulation interrupts our plans, that will be wonderful, absolutely wonderful!’” (w12 8/15 p. 17)
Those final comments by Guy Pierce, in which he said that if the building plans were interrupted it would be “wonderful, absolutely wonderful”, do little to disguise the fact that the Governing Body is shamelessly pressing ahead with a multi-million dollar construction project, inevitably consuming vast resources in both donated money and volunteer manpower, without being “certain of Jehovah’s will” in that regard.
Many will doubtless wonder why such a costly project is being pursued with such apparent recklessness, especially given the supposed urgency of these “last days”, even though a perfectly functional and adequate World Headquarters already exists in Brooklyn. Surely Jehovah’s will must be clear before such ambitious and time-consuming projects can be given the green light? Otherwise, how can these plans enjoy God’s backing?
This strange development, and the surprisingly frank admission on the part of Guy Pierce, gives added poignancy to the following words, found in a recent Watchtower article:
“The faithful slave is also discreet in that it neither acts immodestly, running ahead of Jehovah, nor lags behind when God’s direction on a matter is clear.” (w09 2/15 p. 27)
How can I contact a member of the Governing Body?
You can’t – unless you already know a Governing Body member personally, or are prepared to show up unannounced at a location at which one is worshipping or giving a talk. I would strongly advise anyone against going to any extreme lengths to meet a Governing Body member that might constitute antisocial behavior or an invasion of privacy.
It may seem like I am exaggerating or being unfair in describing the Governing Body as being so unapproachable, but this is really how it is. I have personally met two Governing Body members in my lifetime on visits to the Worldwide Headquarters (these were Gerrit Losch and the late Carey Barber), however these fleeting encounters came merely in the form of a handshake in a Bethel corridor, or in the Bethel dining room. There was certainly no opportunity on either occasion to enter a discussion of any depth, or ask any questions.
Until recently, any who had questions or doubts could write to the Society, perhaps even addressing their letters directly to the Governing Body, in the hopes of getting some form of response over matters of personal concern. This is certainly something I have done myself on one occasion. Even though the letter that I received in response was most definitely not from a Governing Body member, I at least had some sense that the Body had appointed someone responsible to read my letter and answer just as they would. I’m sure many others who wrote similar letters would have felt the same.
However, this arrangement of writing in with biblical questions or concerns has since been abruptly halted after a 2011 Questions From Readers article dissuaded people from continuing this fairly innocent practice. This may be hard to believe, so I will reproduce the pertinent quote below, taken from an article headed “What should I do when I have a question about something I read in the Bible or when I need advice about a personal problem?”:
“Neither the branch office nor world headquarters is in a position to analyze and answer all such questions that have not been considered in our literature. We can be satisfied that the Bible provides sufficient information to guide us through life but also omits enough details so as to require us to have strong faith in its divine Author.” (w11 10/15 p. 32)
I was shocked when I first read the above quote, because it seems to constitute an admission that the Society now lacks the resources to answer all written correspondence from ordinary brothers and sisters. Surely if Jehovah was blessing the organization, he would provide abundantly in resources and manpower so that each and every letter could receive a personal and well-considered response, irrespective of whether the answers have already been provided in the publications? However, evidently Jehovah’s organization is no longer “in a position” to provide such a service.
As far as I am concerned, you are welcome to try to write to the Society regardless. After all, they are the ones “taking the lead” over us, so they should expect to receive sincere questions from brothers who have tried and failed to find satisfying answers through the publications. However, if you do choose to correspond, you should do so with the knowledge that you have been dissuaded from doing this very thing in a recent Watchtower article, which advises you instead to approach your local elders with any questions or concerns.
Shortly after the above Questions From Readers article was published, I decided to write a letter to the Governing Body in which I respectfully offered the results of the 2011 global survey of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which was the very first of its kind to be organized.
If I’m honest, I was sceptical that I would receive any reply. Even so, I felt I should still give the Governing Body the opportunity to review and comment on the results, not least because these represented the thoughts and opinions of 1,118 people who are both current and former Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Needless to say, I received absolutely nothing in response, even though I have kept the delivery receipt to prove that my letter and the results (which were sent as seven identical copies) were received at World Headquarters in Brooklyn. Although the lack of response was predictable, I still consider it to be an astonishing display of apathy (and frankly, arrogance) on behalf of the Governing Body, who clearly feel the views of 1,118 people are of little or no consequence.
When one ponders, it really is quite alarming to consider that a group of men who claim to be our brothers and fellow footstep followers of Christ have orchestrated their circumstances in such a way as to make themselves virtually impossible to reach by their fellow worshippers.
Obviously, I understand that, with nearly 8 million Witnesses dotted around the globe, it would be impossible for Governing Body members to be freely available to each and every one of Jehovah’s Witnesses at any time. However, it isn’t inconceivable that, with a bit of planning and willpower, the Governing Body could visit or contact congregations on a rotational or random basis to get a feel for how their brothers and sisters are coping, and hear any honest questions such ones may have.
The fact that no attempts are made by the Governing Body to be accessible to the brothers, together with the aforementioned Questions From Readers article, indicates to me that the Governing Body members have little (if any) interest in hearing the views of their brothers and sisters around the world. Such an aloof and pious approach stands in marked contrast to the attitude demonstrated by Christ, who made himself available even to lowly ones and children. (Matthew 11:28,29; Luke 18:16)
If, despite considering the above, you would still like to try contacting the Governing Body yourself for any reason, then I would be the last person to stand in your way! For those who are interested, the address of the Governing Body is: The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, 25 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn, New York 11201-2483.
If you’re feeling particularly brave, and have a high tolerance for rejection, then by all means telephone the World Headquarters and ask to talk to one or all of the Governing Body members. The number you will need is +1718 560 5000. However, I really wouldn’t hold your breath!
To read this article in Hungarian, please click here.
To read my article “Getting To Know Our Governing Body”, please click here.