“After this July 8, 1992 Awake! “Women—Deserving of Respect” was published, many letters of appreciation from women were received. Most disconcerting to us was the fact that 75% of the letters were not signed because the women said they were afraid of retaliation at home and in the congregation if the Watchtower sent their letter to the body of elders in their hometown for follow-up.” —Barbara Anderson
In the summer of 1991, while Joe and I were living at Bethel, we attended a district convention of JWs in South Bend, Indiana. Our son, who was also at Bethel, was engaged to marry a JW from the area and we stayed at her parent’s home during the convention.
One day, Sherry, the mother of our soon-to-be daughter-in-law told Joe and me about a tragic series of events that had recently taken place in the life of Susan, a young woman she was conducting a Bible study with. Susan had been baptized years before but needed assistance to help her make spiritual progress so congregational elders asked Sherry to take Susan under her wing. Soon, the young woman was attending all congregation meetings and actively engaged in the preaching work. For employment, she cleaned houses.
Life for Susan took an unexpected turn when she sought out medical attention due to illness and learned she was pregnant. The problem was she wasn’t married. Not only that, but she adamantly denied involvement with any man. To say she was distraught, was an understatement. Sherry went on to tell us while Susan was cleaning the home of one of the Witnesses, something in the residence triggered Susan’s memory causing her to remember what she apparently blocked out of her conscious mind – the homeowner, a JW brother, came home early from work and raped her.
To make a long story short, the whole sordid affair was put into the hands of the elders. No one thought to go to the police. Soon, the man involved admitted to having sex with Susan, but said it was consensual. He expressed his sorrow to the elders and appeared to be very repentant over his behavior even going so far as to say he wanted to marry her.
However, Susan denied she had consensual sex. And she kept denying it. Consequently, she was disfellowshipped for fornication and lying.
The brother was publicly reproved, not disfellowshipped because unlike Susan, he was honest and told the truth.
Sherry and many other JW women were horrified and indignant over the outcome, especially because they knew this young woman was extremely moral and exceedingly shy. Certainly, it was in Susan’s best interests to admit to consensual sex and to tell the elders that she was sorry and repentant, but, no, she adamantly stuck to her story that he raped her.
When I returned to Bethel, I told the Awake! Editor, Harry Peloyan, and also one of the senior writers, Eric Beveridge, about this experience when the three of us were together in Harry’s office.
What I didn’t know was this awful experience committed by a JW male, was one of too many of such incidents happening to Witness women.
After I finished telling the story, Harry assigned Eric to write an article for the Awake! about the lack of respect, as he called it, by JWs men toward women in Jehovah’s organization.
I was to be Eric’s research assistant. Eric then asked that I write my thoughts about the subject of lack of “respect” for women in the Witness organization in a letter only for his eyes.
Here’s what I, a submissive, brainwashed JW woman, wrote:
I have put together some thoughts for you concerning what we were discussing last week in Harry’s office. I appreciate that you, as a mature, happily married man will understand many of the things that I am writing about, but I feel it’s important to review them anyway. If you believe that I have an incorrect scriptural view of any of the following points, please be so kind as to discuss this with me.
The following quotes from The New Bible Dictionary, (Topic – Women) p. 1336, are interesting and that is why they are included.
“Woman is introduced into the Old Testament narrative as a ‘help meet’ for man, as his partner. (Gn. 2:20) As time went on there was a tendency, under rabbinical teaching, to make the man more prominent, and to move away from the idea of Gn. 2:20.
“Jesus included them (women) in His teaching illustrations, making it clear that His message involved them. By thus honoring them He put women on an equality with men, demanding the same standard from both the sexes and offering the same way of salvation.”
“Paul dealt with the local situation in the churches by requiring that the conventions of the time be observed. Meanwhile, he laid down the principle that ‘God is no respecter of persons and that Christians ‘are all one in Christ Jesus.’ (Gal. 3:28)”
As per your request, the following are my thoughts on a number of subjects having to do with the subject of women. First of all, I want to discuss:
HEADSHIP: Only a husband has headship over his wife and according to the “Reasoning” book this is ‘relative headship.’ In the congregation, a Christian woman shows respect to those who have oversight, the same as men should. And it would seem that single women are not in subjection to anyone other than Jesus and Jehovah, but should show due respect to men in oversight. Although men have been placed in a position of overseer in the congregation, however, this would not obligate a woman to be in subjection to him, yet many elders and ministerial servants believe they have headship overall women in the congregation.
If employed by a man in a secular job, a woman respects and defers to his authority as manager, and would do the same if the employer was a woman. Yet, at times, here in Bethel, men in oversight believe that sisters have to be in subjection to them because they are overseers. This is sometimes seen in the congregation, too. And because of this viewpoint, many Witness men overstep the limited authority they have been given.
Recently, while eating breakfast, I asked the nine other fellow Bethelites who were assigned to sit at the same table in the dining room Joe and I were in, the following question, “Are Christian women in subjection, in the Biblical sense, to all Christian men who serve as foremen, as in the case at work in Bethel, or as elders or overseers within the congregation? Does the ‘headship principle’ apply to these men?”
The answers were very revealing. One brother, an elder, had the correct answer. Another elder wasn’t quite sure. And an Asian brother said his viewpoint, after hearing what others said, was incorrect.
One sister, a resident of Bethel for over 20 years, leaned toward the idea that all elders were her head until the more she expressed herself and listened to the others talking about it, began to realize she didn’t fully understand the scope of the question in light of what the Bible says. Then she began to see that in a congregational setting, women should look at elders with respect because they have control over the congregational arrangement, and this same thing applies to Christian foremen at Bethel, but they are not the head over a woman in the Bible sense, like husbands are over their wives. As one elder said, “An elder does not have jurisdiction over any women other than his wife.” I think it would be very helpful if clarification of this could be made in our literature.
The next subject I will address is INTELLIGENCE: Outside our organization women are generally regarded as being equally as intelligent as men. However, many sisters believe that brothers think they are ‘dumb.’ Some sisters said that although they are intelligent enough to learn Bible truths and teach others, yet some brothers made them feel as if they are not very intelligent.
Number three is the subject of COUNSEL: When it comes to counsel, most Christian women resent being treated like children. If there is a problem, women appreciate being talked to directly. A woman usually does not mind if her husband is present, but to go to her husband without the wife being there was very demeaning. Legally and scripturally, a woman is responsible for her own actions and can speak for herself to a brother or brothers about a pressing issue as long as it is done in the proper setting.
HEALTH: Our brother, Dr. Jack Carleton, at Watchtower Farms, made these observations regarding the physical makeup of women: He said that during all of the seconds, minutes, and days of a women’s reproductive life, her body is geared towards only one thing—getting prepared each month for ovulation and procreation. He said a woman’s body is a study in complexity. Not so for the male anatomy. And because of that complexity, much more can go wrong with a women’s body. He also stated that pollution is taking a great toll on a woman’s delicate mechanism. He pointed out that when DDT was used to kill insects, the pesticide began to affect the reproduction of the birds first, which is their most sensitive area. It is now accepted that due to environmental factors, more women than ever before are having health problems. There should be shown to them balanced, dignified compassion, not a put-down if they are not feeling well. Just because some women have physical problems, it does not make them lesser people.
RESPECT: I find that the title under consideration for the Awake! article we are working on is, “How Can Women Earn Respect?” is problematic. Why should women earn respect? The Bible says we are due respect. 1 Peter 3:7 states that wives (women) should be assigned honor, as to a weaker vessel, etc. Another word for honor is respect. (Webster’s)
It is true that our comportment helps in this matter of respect, but throughout history, women have been victims of oppressive men, so why should they try to earn the respect of men? It would appear, with the track record of men, they should try to earn respect from women. Scripturally, are not men (husbands) supposed to love us and we are supposed to have deep respect for them?
The honor (respect) shown to a weaker vessel should be an automatic one. A weaker vessel, such as a fine crystal pitcher (vessel) in comparison to a metal pitcher, is handled with care because it’s fragile. In fact, it is usually more valuable than the metal one. Both vessels do the same thing, contain a liquid, but the household knows how to treat the crystal vessel—with greater care.
Jesus said, “Always treat others as you would like them to treat you.” (New Eng. Bible) If Christian men thought more about this, there would not be so many complaints from the sisters.
The next subject is GOSSIPING: 1 Tim. 5:13 is a scripture that has been used in very subtle ways to undermine respect for women insinuating that they are gossipers. It is interesting to look carefully at the scripture to see why younger widows were said to be gossiping. It states that they were ‘unoccupied.’ Back in Bible times, there were few reputable choices for a young widow to occupy herself but to remarry. No such thing as a career. Perhaps out of boredom unoccupied young widows meddled into other people’s affairs. Maybe that’s the situation with many wives of elders when their children are grown and out of the house. Bored men can engage in foolishness too. In the Christian organization, the constant reference to the female gender in this matter should be de-emphasized.
There are a few other points I want to make, these regarding actual inappropriate and disheartening statements made by men in weighty positions here at Bethel.
For example, during a Monday evening Bethel Watchtower study the conductor pointed out a picture in the magazine. He said that apparently, the husbands pictured did not properly exercise control of their wives in the matter of over-drinking. However, it is unreasonable to believe a husband can control his wife’s dependency on alcohol. It’s definitely a complicated issue not easily solved, but as Christians, we know that love for God’s requirements can be of assistance to help us control damaging inclinations as well as applying other constructive approaches.
Another unconstructive statement made was during a text discussion one morning when one member of the Governing Body made some remarks about hard-working elders. He said that most elders give credit to their wives for making it possible for them to spend so much time working in behalf of spiritual matters. He added his appreciation for elder’s wives, but added, “Of course, wives are appreciated when they stay in their places!” What a disturbing thing for him to say. Is this not similar to what slave-holders in this country said about their African American slaves?
I’d like to add a comment taken from Eph. 5:21 where it states “Be in subjection to one another in fear of Christ.” Why can’t we hear more about this aspect of subjection? Probably because we have emphasized wifely subjection more than “Be in subjection to one another.” And let me add, this attitude has hurt many women who are in our organization. Further Eph. 5:27 states, “…that he might present the congregation to himself in its splendor not having a spot or a wrinkle or any such things, but that it should be holy and without blemish.” If we have a spot or a wrinkle in our organization that needs to be washed or ironed out, it is hoped that the input made by the sisters who you interviewed here at Bethel for the article, and what is written in this letter will contribute in some way to doing this.
In conclusion, please be aware that my reflections above are based on years of discussion and trying to help women with problems. As I told you, I have had a few problems too here in Bethel, but I am older and can cope better with disagreeable situations than younger ones, although it would be nice to see some things change. We all know that it will take the New World to come and erase all the injustices, so we wait with patience. But, at the same time, I will continue to be concerned about my sisters’ welfare. I am grateful to Jehovah that I have a very loving, mature partner in marriage. He is also a protection to me. This certainly lessens anxiety in my life. Would this be the way for most of our women! Since we know that life in this unbalanced world is very hard on the flock, men or women, I feel that any little thing we can do to help with their struggles and anxieties gives us reason to rejoice.
The cover-series article, “Women Deserving of Respect”* was published in the July 8, 1992, Awake!. It was the result of my talking to those two Bethel elders and Writing Dept. senior writers and my research, which resulted in the “Women Deserving of Respect” article.
Importantly, the following information found on page 14, par. 2 of that Awake! article was a great help to Bethel women who were treated by some men in Bethel as if all JW women were to be submissive to all JW men. The article stated:
Christian men who serve as foremen or overseers especially need to respect the dignity of their female fellow workers and recall that a married woman has only one man as her “head” in the Biblical sense, her husband. Others may be in positions of oversight and are respected for that; but again in the strict Biblical sense, no man except her husband is that woman’s “head.” – Ephesians 5:22-24
* “Women Deserving of Respect” After this Awake! was published, many letters of appreciation from women were received. Most disconcerting to us was the fact that 75% of the letters were not signed because the women said they were afraid of retaliation at home and in the congregation if the Watchtower sent their letter to the body of elders in their hometown for follow-up.