Sep 012009

Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Have Clergy?

As we examine what the Jehovah’s Witness’ leadership have to say about the clergy of the Christian churches, we need to look at whether or not they have their own clergy.

Part of their criticism of the clergy is that they constitute a class that is exalted above the laity. Watchtower publications will tell you that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a classless society and that all Jehovah’s Witnesses are ordained ministers, becoming such at their baptism as Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Although all baptized Jehovah’s  Witnesses are ordained ministers, their leadership is very hierarchical. The Jehovah’s Witness organization is organized geographically into zones, branches, districts, circuits and congregations with zones covering the largest area and congregations the smallest. In each division there are those who hold positions of oversight. The governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses oversees the whole organization.

Having served as a congregation elder for 10 years and now having been involved in other churches, it seems to me that the congregation elders, circuit overseers, district overseers, branch overseers and the governing body constitute a clergy class. While congregation elders are unpaid, all the others are compensated monetarily and with other benefits such as health insurance, leased cars and living expenses.

Overseers other than congregation elders are also members of the Order of Special Full-Time Servants and as members of this religious order have taken a Simple Vow of Poverty which allows them to receive their compensation and other contributions from congregations and their members tax-free.

While congregation elders are not paid, I would say that they are, in effect, clergy. They are said to be appointed by holy spirit, they hold ecclesiastical tribunals to decide judicial matters, the rest of the congregation are bound to support the decisions of these tribunals while not being privy to the evidence, and they are provided material by headquarters  that is not provided to the rest of the congregation.

Jehovah’s Witnesses and Clergy Privilege

Despite their proclaiming that they have no clergy class, congregation elders have on several occasions invoked clergy privilege when called upon to testify against child molesters in their midst.  Such was the case near me in New Hampshire when congregation elders refused to testify in the cases of  Gregory Blackstock and Paul Berry.

So, they try to have it both ways. On the one hand they want to allow some of their leaders to enjoy the privileges that accrue to the clergy of other religious organizations, such as tax advantages and clergy privilege, while on they other hand they try to characterize their leaders as not being “clergy” in order to differentiate themselves from the churches of Christendom. As with so many other areas with Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is a distiction without a difference.

  3 Responses to “Jehovah’s Witnesses & Clergy – Part 2”

  1. Excellent points! I would add that although all Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to be “ministers,” the women don’t have *any* of the benefits – including being able to teach or give pastoral counsel. In many ways, the policies about women are more restrictive than those of either the first century christians or the ancient tribes.

  2. Also an excellent point. Thank you for making it.

  3. For 39 long years, I kept hearing about the “inverted pyramid” idea. That the elders were at the top of the pyramid, but it was an up-side down pyramid, with the sheep actually on the top…………yeah, right. The elders, circuit overseers, presiding overseers, even the ministerial servants…all of them from my many long years, were serving only their own desires and needs to let their “progress” be observed by men, to become “something” in the “organization”. I have witnessed so many class distinctions, and the outright “lording over” of sheeplike Christians over the years, it is sickening. All of this points to a solid Clergy class in Jehovah’s Witnesses. Even the wives and children of these man-appointed under-priests are designated as “higher” personages in the social-structure if the congregation. The Clergy-Class is visable, and very present.