Why class distinction among Jehovah’s Witnesses is alive and flourishing
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Are elders' children given a longer leash in Jehovah's impartial organization?

Are elders’ children given a longer leash in Jehovah’s impartial organization?

Jehovah’s Witnesses pride themselves on having overcome all social barriers. But there is more to this claim than meets the eye. This is the story of how I discovered the subtle and little-known class distinctions among Jehovah’s Witnesses.

I was born into the so-called “Truth.” My parents were old-school missionaries in South America and Northern Africa who graduated from Gilead School in the early seventies; my father served as Presiding Overseer of our congregation for over a decade and was one of the guys calling the shots at district conventions and circuit assemblies.

My aunt and uncle have been working at the European headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany for nearly half a century; they were sent around the world by the Society to assemble printing presses. So, in a way, my family is Jehovah’s Witness royalty.

I hated it growing up. Ours was a small congregation, there weren’t that many kids, so all eyes were on my brother and I. In short, everybody expected us to do big things. What with the parents I had, the sky was literally the limit (I was quite sure from the start that I wasn’t anointed, the no-sex aspect of heaven was a deal breaker for me!).

At every convention, my brother and I were told what great parents we had and how much our spiritual brothers and sisters were looking forward to see what we would accomplish in the organization.

My brother, who is four years younger than me, never really spoke about spiritual goals. But as for me, I soon decided I wanted to go to Bethel. You see, I had virtually grown up with Bethel.

The Watchtower branch office located at Selters, Germany

The Watchtower branch office located at Selters, Germany

Semi-yearly visits to Selters in Hesse where Germany’s branch office is located were quite the highlight for young boys like us. We got to tour the Bethel facilities privately with my uncle who had access to all areas. I loved the printery. I have fond memories of getting a first-hand look at the production of Jehovah’s Witness literature.

For those not familiar with Germany’s branch office, it is quite a large campus facility. Different from Brooklyn Bethel and similar to Google and Apple headquarters, the German facility is located on a hill above a small town in a rural area, about 40 miles from Frankfurt, Germany’s financial capital.

It is a gated community, sealed off from the environment and practically self-sustaining (I remember my uncle explaining that the branch office could survive doomsday-like conditions for a few months). Pretty much what Warwick is supposed to be. It was a very exciting place to be as a youngster.

I am not exactly sure why I wanted to join Bethel. I have given it a lot of thought and it boils down to these reasons:

•    It was a very exciting place to be as a youngster
•    I knew it would please my parents if I went to Bethel
•    The older I got, the more the feeling grew that I would be safer spiritually in the confines of Bethel rather than among the “temptations of the world”

But first and foremost, I believed it was expected of me. I was quite vocal about disliking the preaching work, so a pioneer assignment was out of the question, which just left me with the Bethel option. My career path was laid out pretty clear: Baptism, Ministerial Servant, Elder, and then either Bethelite for life or Circuit Overseer. That was my future. I hated it.

You see, I knew all along that I wasn’t the best Jehovah’s Witness. I believed it to be the Truth, of course, and I was pretty sure it was the best way to choose. But I was scared stiff that I wouldn’t be able to live up to the expectations, that I would fail, that I would disappoint everyone who knew me. I felt like the member of some royal family that would rather be an insignificant civilian than the valiant hero. I felt really sorry for myself.

A while back, a former Jehovah’s Witness and I talked about our youth in the organization. When I finished telling the above story, she just smiled, shook her head and said: “You know nothing, Jon Snow,” or words to that effect. And then she told me her side of the story.

She grew up the daughter of parents who were run-of-the-mill Witnesses. Her father and her mother were both members of the congregation but lived in separation and were considered “weak,” or not very strong spiritually. She, despite her best efforts, was considered bad association on account of her parents. And when she reported to the elders that she and here mother had been beaten by her father, the elders didn’t believe her. And why would they? Her family wasn’t very prominent and she was the child of “weak” Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“In contrast,” she said, turning to me, “you and your friends, all kids of elders, basically had a fool’s license. You could do whatever you wanted. If you desired a privilege in the congregation, you got one and didn’t have to prove yourself first. I was a girl so that was out of the question anyway, but my brother wasn’t even allowed to handle the roving mics when he was in his mid-twenties!”

“When I did something wrong, I got a shepherding call. When you guys got into trouble your fathers spoke to you in private or just straight out turned a blind eye. Screw the expectations you were suffering from. Being an elder’s kid is the equivalent of a diplomatic passport!”

And she was right: Being the son of an elder was a get-out-of-jail-free card for my friends and I who were all children of elders from surrounding congregations. No matter how much we partied, cursed or got drunk, so long we did it among ourselves, Elders and other Witnesses didn’t bat an eyelid.

Nobody dared to speak out against the sons of elders. And if they did, then one of the fathers would speak to us quietly, telling us to cool it down a notch, and that was it. Even that one time I got caught on a date with a worldly girl by the family of an Elder, nothing happened. His wife(!) told me to be more careful and maybe think about the course I was on and meditate on what Jehovah would think of it. She neither told my parents, nor the elders.

Another time, my friends and I (all children of elders), went to a camp site that was notorious for parties of Jehovah’s Witness kids. All of us got drunk, and made out with young sisters. Of course, word got out, and other Jehovah’s Witnesses who were there complained to the elders of our congregations. Again, one of the fathers sat down with us. This is the conversation that ensued:

Elder: “There were some complaints following your camping trip. Anything I should be aware of?”
Us: “Well, we did have a beer too many and we were a bit loud.”
Elder: “What about girls?”
One of our friends who was a ministerial servant and just happened to be the son of the elder questioning us: “The sisters slept in separate tents in a different plot.”
Elder: “Good. Be more careful next time. I was young myself once. Just take care who you party with.”

That was an elder seriously telling us to watch our association before behaving like bad association. Brilliant.

The former Jehovah’s Witness I was talking to really had a point: While I had been all whiny about my terrible lot as an elder’s son, it had actually been my protection, my Jehovah’s Witness diplomatic immunity. That was when I realized that there was class distinction among Jehovah’s Witnesses.

My father is a humble man who never cared about the position he had. He sincerely believed that the higher you get on the Watchtower ladder, the more you have to serve. When another elder schemed against him and tried to stage a coup to take over from my father, he resigned as presiding overseer for the sake of the peace of the congregation. He would have been the first to step in if he had known that his son had leveraged his position in the organization on numerous occasions. The fathers of the other kids? Not so much.

Before Jehovah’s Witnesses now pick up their torches and pitchforks, by no means am I saying that this problem is unique to Jehovah’s Witnesses. I am actually pretty sure that it is worse in many other groups including the Catholic Church, where there is a literal hierarchy on paper.

Class distinction is only human, I guess. But Jehovah’s Witnesses like to claim that they are immune to these kinds of social problems as a group. They write: “Jehovah’s Witnesses […] recognize that social classes have no meaning in the eyes of God. Thus, they have no clergy/laity division, and they are not segregated according to skin color or wealth.” In fact, the article where those words appear is even one of the top ten search results when you google “class distinction.”

While the second part largely holds true, I have to disagree with the first proposition. In a court case, a counsel acting on behalf of the Watchtower Society and Jehovah’s Witnesses testified that they ruled from the top down, saying: “We are a hierarchical religion structured just like the Catholic Church.” (click here for more details) While there may be exceptions, my experience is living proof that there is indeed a kind of class distinction among Jehovah’s Witnesses.

 

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Read Misha’s follow-up article on Taze.co by clicking here!

Misha is the Founding Editor of Taze.co, a website about Jehovah’s Witnesses and Cult news, lifestyle and entertainment from an ‘apostate’ perspective. He was disfellowshipped in 2003, and has authored a German-language book about his experience titled “Goodbye Jehova!

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122 Responses to Why class distinction among Jehovah’s Witnesses is alive and flourishing

  1. Anonymous says:

    One of the main reasons I left. It disgusted me see how “spirtitual orphans”, or those without political connections, were treated vs. those with political connections like elder’s sons and wives of elders.

  2. Meredith J says:

    If you have come out of the world it doesn’t take long for you to realise that you are considered a second class citizen in the organisation. You are treated like an outsider with suspicion by the elders and many brought up in it. You will never be treated as an equal and that is that. Elders kids brought up in the Truth always get the best deals. Always get offered jobs by tradesmen in the congregation while your kids are left out in the cold. You can pick it all soon enough.

  3. Wanderer says:

    I know of a couple who were married for about 5 years. She was the daughter of a prominent Elder, he was the son of an ordinary R&F. He finds out she has committed adultery lots of times with 2 different men. The outcome was she didn’t get disfellowshipped and he was vigorously counselled to take her back. I wonder what would have happened if the tables were turned?

    • Simon Kestral says:

      2 different men? Hard to excuse that as temporary weakness. Sounds more like a Jezebel.

      Too bad this topic can’t be made sticky. These stories could make a book.

      • Cognitive Loop says:

        Did Jezebel commit adultery, according to the bible?

        Reading on wikipedia shows that the account written about Jezebel was done 200 years after her death and was written by people of the southern kingdom. It’s probable that they didn’t think too highly of her. Plus, all of their accounting would be done from hearsay information, because of the timing of the writing itself.

        • Simon Kestral says:

          Translations vary. Whorings, harlotries, prostitution, fornications.

          But why ask about the Bible when you have Wikipedia.

          • Cognitive Loop says:

            Fact of the matter is this: Queen Jezebel was a foreigner and female.

            Those are two (2) strikes against her. Without a doubt, she convinced her husband to do away with the vineyard owner and his family. But that does not constitute a sexual act, either prior to marriage (fornication) or afterwards (adultery).

            That’s all according to the bible. I mentioned wikipedia in the previous reply because it is good to gather many sources and perspectives, not just parrot traditions and hearsay.

            Christians (catholics?) have taught for 100s of years that Jezebel-like women were all whores. But Jezebel herself was not.

  4. Bad Penny says:

    A sister I knew committed adultery with another sister’s husband who was not in the faith. She was disfellowshipped and after the break up of both marriages, she went to live with him. They never married and some years later she left him.
    A short return to the ‘truth’ before she met a man in the world and married him. This marriage proved unsuccessful and she repentantly ‘returned to Jehovah’. The last I heard was that she now believes she is ‘anointed’ and takes the emblems.
    Of course there is now another class distinction. She has become holier than though and knows all things! Strange old Watchtower world isn’t it. |

  5. Average Joe says:

    No pitchforks here and I thoroughly agree with you Misha, even though I’m an active JW. I like to think of myself like you dad: I’m in the organisation to serve rather to be served or dictate to others. I too have noticed class distinctions and have to constantly go up against an elder who wants his son to have more privileges when he doesn’t do diddly squat! I always speak out and am quite open minded but always use the rule: what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, so none of the elders can argue with that. If someone is trying to reach out to be an elder or servant they get examined under a microscope, whereas once appointed it seems as if they are looked at the wrong end of a telescope!
    As I’ve said before, Jehovah sees all and will repay those who misrepresent him or act badly with his supposed blessing. I’m sorry you felt the need to turn your back on him (going by the title of your book) when it’s clearly the misconduct of individuals in the WTS.

  6. Miri says:

    Average Joe…if the majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses truly BELIEVED that Jehovah “sees everything”…they would be scared shitless. I was the wife of a “prominent” elder and our social life was based around those “spiritual families”…..I was NEVER at a function where someone or everyone wasn’t drunk and bitching and complaining about everyone else. Children strived to be like the prominent elder’s kids and were devastated when they weren’t included in social functions with them. It was a social status if you were lucky (uh oh) to be included in their trips to the cottage yearly (ANOTHER HUGE DRUNK). If they spent half as much time actually practicing what they preach in their ministry, maybe just maybe, people, including myself wouldn’t see the organization as one of the most hypocritical on the earth.

  7. Bad Penny says:

    Average Joe – you seem like a nice, balanced fellow.
    As an active JW I hope you read and research the true facts about the organisation you are serving. You have been brave enough to come onto this site, how about putting Charles Taze Russell into Google and see what you come up with. Or maybe the TRUE historical date for the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE.
    It may come as a shock to you, as it has to all of us ex JWs, (who all thought we were serving the true God when we were involved with it) but when you discover TTATT you realise that in no way does it have God’s blessing. The reality is that we have all been blinded by the supposed light, when in fact we have been in darkness from actual truth from day one.
    When we leave the Watchtower organisation, it does not necessarily mean that we have turned our back on God…after all if it is not the ‘truth’ and does not have his blessing, the true God will be happy that you have left! I, for one, have found more real truth since leaving. Once the Watchtower veil is lifted, the scriptures open up and make far more sense. Of course it takes time and effort to remove strongly entrenched ideas, but the rewards are great. If you really believe the holy spirit can help you, ask for it to show you the real truth. Jesus Christ himself said ‘I am the Way and the Truth and the Life’ no-one comes to the Father except through me. We do not need the intercession of a governing body or any man. Do not put your trust in nobles, nor the son of earthling man … think about it. Happy research!

  8. Before Jehovah’s Witnesses now pick up their torches and pitchforks, by no means am I saying that this problem is unique to Jehovah’s Witnesses. I am actually pretty sure that it is worse in many other groups including the Catholic Church, where there is a literal hierarchy on paper.

  9. Caleb & $ophia says:

    Class distinctions? Notice all these “categories” the JW’s have for other human beings. We’ll start from the “worst”:

    01. Apostates
    02. Disfellowshipped
    03. Inactive
    04. Irregular
    05. Bible study
    06. Return visit
    07. Magazine route
    08. Non baptized publisher
    09. Baptized publisher
    10. Auxiliary pioneer
    11. Regular pioneer
    12. Special pioneer
    13. Infirm pioneer
    14. Ministerial servant
    15. Elder
    16. Service comitte member
    17. Service overseer
    18. Secretary
    19. Coordinator
    20. Assembly overseer
    21. Convention committee member
    22. Sub CO
    23. CO
    24. Bethelite
    25. Branch committee member
    26. Branch overseer

    Of course these are not all the titles the JW’s have I skipped others like the anointed, great sheep, and many more petty titles. For an organization that claims that they have no titles and that all are BROTHERS they sure leave a lot to desire. I don’t think even the CTholica have so many different titles or categories for their members.

    • David Tongo says:

      You still need a Bible study, even Jesus had the little sheep and great crowd, remember Mariam Moses sister

  10. Caleb & $ophia says:

    I feel very foolish for teaching my Bible students that we JW’s are different from all other Christian churches because we are all BROTHERS and have no titles and are equal. I can’t believe I didn’t see through that lie.

    Just the fact that a small group of men calling themselves the Governing Body and deciding for others what they must believe or else lose your family, friends and reputation should be a huge red flag for thinking individuals. If a JW were to publicly comment at the meeting that the Governing Body does not have more authority than the Bible, and we should reject any of their teachings if it contradicts the Bible; what would happen? Loss of privileges and even disfellowshipping would be imminent.

    • David Tongo says:

      The Jehovers witnesses are just trying to follow Jesus example, on what Jesus called Apostles and desciples, even Jehovers Angeles have Ranks. so dear brother don’t let that discourages you. Remember we all are human and no one is perfect except one God.

  11. Julien says:

    I beleive that we must grow in life. Part of growing up is severing ourselves from what no longer works. I wouldnt call your actions nor mine foolish. At the time those actions to me seemed reasonable. Questioning is how we grow, how we become better human beings. I was born into it, i wasnt given a choice. I was not able to remain silent for I felt as if some very important part of me would die if I didnt. It was very difficult to breakaway. Even now my 70 year old father would rather i be dead than in the world. How do they justify such rationalization? As twisted as it sounds he sees those comments as an expression of live because if i where dead now at least he could maintain the hope of seeing me in paradise. There is an enormous psychological dysfunction in cult mentality. Never stop looking never stop searching never stop finding yourself. Best of luck to you.

  12. David Tongo says:

    Dear Misha, i am sad you felt that way, it would have been better if you can view things the other way round, I mean the way Jehover and Jesus the perfecter of our faith wanted us to view things not jurging nor condemning but leaving every thing the hands of God. I will not jurge you ether, you know why you decided to go this way, but please don’t become a stumbblock to others remember what Jesus said:in the book of mattew chapter 9:42.

  13. Daniel says:

    Jehovah witnesses are human being like other human being with their fault and limitation. Though that does not prevent them from trying their best to be good in the eyes of God. That s the organisation duty to help them achieve that goal. Of course not everything is perfect in everyday life because perfection is not yet from this world. The most important think in all this stuf is your own relationship with God. The rest will follow. God is the only one able to judge other human being. I have a question for you. You know there is a God. Which religion then is representing him in this world? The Catholics? The Orthodox? As a guy who was lucky enough to have had spiritual food for so many years you should have an idea about that. Right?

    • Winston Smith says:

      @Daniel
      Why is an organization needed at all?
      1 Timothy 2:5 “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

      So the chain of command is God-Jesus-individual humans. I don’t see any mention of an organization in there. As you said, the most important thing is your relationship with God. There is no need for a priest, minister, elder, or organization to muddy the waters and try mediate your path to the mediator.

      WS