I Do Not Answer to Watchtower

If you are an active Jehovah’s Witness, picture yourself announcing to a packed Kingdom Hall: ‘I do not answer to Watchtower’. Oh, what-oh-what would be in store for you, dear friend? Well, I tend to agree with Lloyd Evans’ observation: ‘The [infamous] back room would beckon.’ Could we have a quick word with you, my brother? And bring your bible, please.

Watchtower: ‘God’s Organisation’

When a Jehovah’s Witness thinks of God’s organisation, the name ‘Watchtower’ springs to mind. It is this same Watchtower that is said to have been chosen as an instrument of God for spreading spiritual truths.

Yes, granted, technically speaking, it was chiefly the group of men itself who are alleged to have been bestowed with the honourary title of ‘Faithful and Discreet Slave,’ that is, back in 1919 when the recently enthroned Christ Jesus reportedly visited the earth – invisibly, of course – and identified the then president of the Watchtower organisation, Joseph Rutherford, et al, as chiefly fulfilling the role of the Faithful and Discreet Slave, that is, by feeding his [Jesus’] sheep here on earth the appropriate spiritual diet. In so doing, so the story goes, Jesus in essence grafted the Watchtower corporation into ‘God’s organisation’ (thus making it God’s ‘visible’ part of the organisation) with the concomitant role of ‘sole channel of communication [of spiritual truths]’ here on earth.

That is why in the baptism peculiar to Jehovah’s Witnesses, you are said to be dedicating yourself to Jehovah (via Jesus’ ransom sacrifice) in recognition that this identifies you as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses [the religious group] in connection with God’s ‘spirit-directed organisation’ (viz, the Watchtower).

The baptismal questions were deliberately thus constructed, that is, to weave the Watchtower organisation into Jehovah’s ‘fabric’ so that the two are almost indistinguishable in the eyes of followers.

No Authority Over Me

But, now, which dedicated and baptised Witness would dare to utter such brazen words as, ‘I do not answer to Watchtower’? I mean, the audacity of those words. The chutzpah. How can one say that of ‘God’s organisation’? Surely such words cannot go with impunity. The back room would surely beckon. Woza, mfowethu!

Most Witnesses would be hard-pressed to believe that a member of the Faithful and Discreet Slave actually uttered those words. In a sworn affidavit (February 4, 2014), veteran Governing Body member, Gerrit Lösch, 74, succinctly said:

‘I do not answer to Watchtower. […] Watchtower does not have, and has never had, any authority over me.’ [Emphasis mine]

What led to this otherwise provocative (and ‘thugnificent’) statement?

Lopez Lawsuit

The story goes that Lösch was summoned to appear in court in connection with a delictual claim against the organisation that was actioned by former Witness José Lopez, who claimed to have been molested as a child, back in 1986 (when he was 7), by a certain Gonzalo Campos who served as a Ministerial Servant in one of the Spanish congregations. Lopez claimed $13.5 million[1] and was ultimately awarded that figure purely on the merits of Lösch’s refusal to appear in court, together with the Watchtower organisation’s refusal to submit relevant documents that were subpoenaed by the court, thus undermining an open investigation.

Semantics and legal obfuscation on the part of the Watchtower led to this; trying to tap-dance around the rule of law. That’s what I chalk it up to.

Apostate Driven Lies

Subsequent to this, Governing Body member, Stephen Lett, 64 – in one Morning Worship program – proposed what he called ‘Apostate driven lies’ concerning these recent accusations of child molestation that had since dogged the organisation. Hm. A one-dimensional statement that, one might say. And this was in anticipation of the upcoming Australian Royal Commission’s investigation into the religious institution of Jehovah’s Witnesses, specifically, their response mechanisms towards allegations of child sexual abuse within their ranks.

The live broadcast, which was televised beginning July 2015, enthralled many thinking people.

Angus Stewart SC

Angus Stewart SC at the Australian Royal Commission (2015).

The final submission given by our learned friend at the Royal Commission, Angus Stewart SC (published Tuesday, December 1, 2015), was that the organisation’s processes and policies fell short of best practice (Geoffrey Jackson in his testimony conceded as much), and that part of the overarching problem is that the organisation (the Governing Body, really) ‘fosters distrust’ towards secular authorities, and in so doing, undermines the general efficacy of the child protection system. Not to mention that this ‘auto-pilot’ instruction given to Elders to ‘[Immediately] call the legal department’ in cases of this nature seems, not only cowardly, but chiefly designed to undermine transparency.

Chain of Command

Perhaps it’s true what Rick Simons (Candace Conti’s lawyer) said about the Watchtower organisation in general, namely, ‘If there ever was a group that needs the sun to shine on them and their practices, it’s this one [Jehovah’s Witnesses]’. I tend to agree, and not as a mere consequence of schadenfraude; but, in my time as a Witness, I noticed a certain culture among Elders, of not being accountable to anyone – especially not anyone they deem to be beneath them in rank, least of all some ‘worldly’ person or institute. There’s this quasi-military culture, this chain-of-command thing. Elders only take instruction from Circuit Overseers, Circuit Overseers only from District Overseers,[2] District Overseers from the Branch, Branch from the world headquarters… and ultimately escalating all the way to the Governing Body who sit at the top of this ‘food-chain.’

I’ve tried correcting Elders on a few occasions, but… it just doesn’t register. The unspoken view is, if you don’t have a ‘feather’ in your hat – if you don’t out-rank me – your counsel falls squarely within the parameters of insubordination (‘showing no respect for authority’). Evidently, only Elders have the requisite ‘spiritual qualifications’ to readjust someone (Galatians 6:1). Hm. A crutch and fundamental misapplication of scripture if there ever was one.

Shepherd the Flock of God (2010)

Elder’s manual: Shepherd the Flock of God (2010).

Eventually, though, I came to be more, shall we say, sympathetic towards the Elders, because I came to realise that the problem is systemic – just read the Elder’s (‘secret’) manual, the ‘Shepherd the Flock of God’ book, and you’ll see why some of these Elders are such… bastards (Forgive me, Lord, I couldn’t find another agreeable word that captures it quite so… beautifully). The environment fosters this disposition; exacerbated by what I perceive to be ill-supervised authority on the local front.[3] And this combustible combination of bastards and power makes for a truly lamentable state of affairs.

But I suspect that I understand this situation a little better now, this disposition originates with the Governing Body; and it has metastasised onto the local Elders, essentially by official decree, where man-made policy tends to trump principle. It is also a symptom of being self-assured of one’s correctness. There exists a type of Elder who often reminds you that they are ‘spiritually appointed.’ My, oh, my. But that, together with what is often the ‘Nuremberg defense’ on the part of Elders, can only go so far.

That crutch of a defense has often riddled me with many a heavy exhalations, and my only consolation – if there ever was one – was the hand of dear old “James 3:1” tenderly patting me on my back. Now now.

Anyways… I digress. Let me hit the on-ramp and get back to the main issue.

Lessons Learnt: Judicial Submission

Geoffrey Jackson, 60, Governing Body member, subsequently earned a measure of my respect by ‘showing up’ at the Australian Royal Commission when summoned to do so (after ducking-and-diving, no less). Although, I guess he had no choice; I mean, you can’t keep forfeiting millions of [donated] funds evading the justice system, while simultaneously begging[4] your parishioners for more ‘Benjamin$$$’ – surreptitiously to ‘build more Kingdom Halls.’ It’s just not economical. And besides, doesn’t the bible say that Christians must show respect for secular authorities?[5] Does it not also say that Christians will be brought before Kings and Governors, and, that, when such happens, Christians need not fret as to what they will say for it will be given them at that particular hour, for the holy spirit will speak on their behalf?[6]

As soldiers of Christ, you’d think the Governing Body would be anxious to make an appearance in court, ready to give a soulful defence and what-not.[7] And even if they should literally die whilst engaging in the affairs of this ‘spiritual warfare,’ you’d think they’d be honoured at the prospect of going to their particular brand of ‘Valhalla’, where they can rule with Christ for a thousand years.

But no.

Well, now, at the end of the day – all things said and done – at least grandpa Lösch and I have one thing in common, neither of us answers to Watchtower.


[1] $10.5 million of which was strictly punitive damages (you gotta love America).

[2] When the District Overseer tier still existed, that is.

[3] The argument I’ve often heard from Elders is: ‘Who’s in charge of the congregation?’ The answer being Jesus, because he’s the head of the congregation (Colossians 1:18). And so the argument goes that if Jesus is indeed the head of the congregation then he’s in charge, not so? And if he’s in charge, why fret? Don’t worry about it, he’ll sort it out. In thus saying, they are essentially seeking permission to do nothing. And this often specious argument falls within the same pattern of: ‘Leave it in Jehovah’s hands.’ I try and picture an incensed Jesus folding his arms and saying: ‘Ah, bruh, just leave it in Jehovah’s hands, a’ight.’ Ha! No, he made a whip and he turned tables, y’all. You feel me? (John 2:15). Now, that’s what I’m talking about.

[4] In line with Charles Taze Russell’s statement in the second issue of Zion’s Watch Tower, namely, that: ‘Zion’s Watch Tower’ has, we believe, JEHOVAH for its backer, and while this is the case it will never beg nor petition men for support. When He who says: ‘All the gold and silver of the mountains are mine,’ fails to provide necessary funds, we will understand it to be time to suspend the publication.’ [Emphasis mine] – ‘Do You Want “Zion’s Watch Tower”?’ Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence August 1879 page 20. (PDF) The organisation insists that they are not begging, that they will never beg or solicit funds – but they do.

[5] Roman 13:1.

[6] Matthew 10:18-20.

[7] 1 Peter 3:15.