The August 2009 edition of the “Awake!” magazine contains an article entitled “Should There Be a Clergy-Laity Distinction?” This article is rife with inaccuracies and generalizations. I will attempt to cover these in a series of posts.
Before considering the content of the Awake! article, it’s important to establish how Jehovah’s Witnesses view the Christian churches and their clergy. To say that the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses is critical of Christian churches and their clergy is a huge understatement. Consider this 1994 quote from a 1958 speech by the then-vice-president of the Watch Tower Society:
14 Exposure of the clergy by the Jeremiah class has been powerful. For example, at the 1958 Divine Will International Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York City, the vice president of the Watch Tower Society presented a statement that said in part: “Without any double talk or hesitation we declare this root cause of all the crime, delinquency, hatred, strife, prejudice, . . . and mad confusion to be wrong religion, false religion; behind which is man’s unseen enemy, Satan the Devil. The men most responsible for the world condition are the religious instructors and leaders; and the most reprehensible of these are the religious clergy of Christendom. . . . After all these years since World War I, Christendom stands in a relationship toward God like that of Israel in Jeremiah’s day. Yes, Christendom faces a destruction more frightful and devastating than that which Jeremiah saw happen to Jerusalem.” – The Watchtower, March 1, 1994, p 11, “Jehovah’s Judgment Against False Teachers”
The writers of the Watchtower apply the term “reprehensible” to the clergy time and again. Here are a few examples. In the first two, the Watchtower called the clergy “the most reprehensible”,
20 As the most reprehensible ones among the people of Christendom, the clergy and religious leaders will drink the potion of death: “For from the prophets of Jerusalem [prefiguring Christendom] apostasy has gone forth to all the land.”—Jer. 23:15. – The Watchtower, Sept. 1, 1979, p. 28
Today, the most reprehensible group is identified as “the man of lawlessness,” made up of the self-exalted clergy of Christendom, who have taken the lead in opposing and persecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses.—Matthew 9:36; 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4. – The Watchtower, Jan. 15, 1988 p. 12
In 1990, the February 1 issue contained two articles devoted to the subjects of “God’s Judgement Against the ‘Man of Lawlessness'” and “Exposing the ‘Man of Lawlessness'”. In these, the Watchtower says that the clergy are more reprehensible because of their claiming to be Christian.
12 Christendom’s clergy are more reprehensible in shedding blood than other religious leaders. Why? Because in addition to taking God’s name upon themselves, they have taken Christ’s too. They thereby obligated themselves to follow the teachings of Jesus. (John 15:10-14) But they have not followed those teachings, thus bringing great reproach upon both God and Christ. The responsibility for bloodshed by the clergy has been both direct, in the Crusades, other religious wars, inquisitions, and persecutions, and indirect, in condoning wars in which members of the churches killed their fellowman in other lands. – The Watchtower, Feb. 1, 1990, p. 17, “God’s Judgment Against ‘the Man of Lawlessness’”
and, the second article:
13 Jesus said that the “good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14) As part of this worldwide witness, God’s servants are under obligation to make known his judgment against false religion, especially the clergy of Christendom. These are more reprehensible in God’s sight because they claim to be Christian. They must be exposed so that those who want to serve God can be freed from their influence and can take the proper steps for survival. As Jesus said: “The truth will set you free.”—John 8:32. – The Watchtower, Feb. 1, 1990, p. 23, “Exposing ‘the Man of Lawlessness’”
So, putting this all together, the Watchtower tells us that the clergy are “self-exalted”, that they “have taken the lead in opposing and persecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses”, that they bear responsibility for bloodshed directly for the “Crusades, other religious wars, inquisitions, and persecutions”, and indirectly “in condoning wars in which members of the churches killed their fellowman in other lands.”, that they are “more reprehensible in God’s sight because they claim to be Christian.”
While some of the clergy of both the past and the present may be responsible for some of the things the Watchtower accuses them of, the Watchtower attaches blame to all of the clergy based on the principle they explain here:
38 However, it is not to be forgotten that the “man of lawlessness” is not a single individual religious leader like the pope of Rome or the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Athens, the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople (Istanbul) or other religious patriarch. The foretold “lawless” one is a composite “man,” the whole religious clergy of the professed “Christian” church. Of course, what one prominent member of this clerical “man” does attaches blame to all the other members of the clergy class for their agreeing with what is done or not protesting against it or for acquiescing in it and remaining with the clergy organization. They all share a community responsibility and culpability for what a member of the clergy class does in a representative way as when speaking or acting for the whole group. It is what the clergy class as a whole does or joins in doing through the centuries of time that fulfills the prophecy concerning the “man of lawlessness.” – God’s Kingdom of a Thousand Years Has Approached!, pp. 380-381, par. 38, “Bringing the ‘Man of Lawlessness’ to Nothing”
So, according to the Watchtower, all the clergy share the responsibility for what any of the others did. Please take note of this principle of “community responsibility” that the Watchtower invokes against the clergy. It will come up again in a future post.