I wanted to show you this message a user named newbraunfelstx sent to my inbox regarding a recent change to Watchtower policy following the Montana CSA case, namely; that elders are now considered part of the clergy class. This was something we were taught would never be the case since it was a Babylonish practice of Christendom, to have a clergy/laity divide. The letter hurt me to the core, since ironically I did feel this good man was really a minister, was respected as such, even by the so-called “wicked” worldly prisoners - yet treated with shabby disregard by watchtower.
It goes as follows:
father's uncle and spiritual mentor, Benjamin Ray Kent, had been a deacon (ministerial servant) in Watchtower founder C. T. Russell's home ecclesia (congregation) in Brooklyn, and also served as Russell's personal secretary at Brooklyn Bethel. After attending University my father served a 5-year prison term during World War II, supposedly for his loyalty to God. While his mother's proud and patriotic family disowned my father for his decision, it was his uncle Ray who regularly visited him in prison.
That is the culture in which I was raised, and for much of my life, I took great pride in the belief that my father was a man of integrity to God. Then, in 1995, the JW Governing Body arbitrarily decided that performing alternative service during wartime was a matter of conscience. My father had gone to prison, not because he had refused to go to war--no conscientious objector has to go to war--but because he had been convinced by Watchtower that performing alternative service during wartime was a compromise of his Christian neutrality. Thus, he and thousands of his fellow JWs around the world willingly went to prison. Now, suddenly, a small group of small men essentially said, "Never mind that you went to prison for our consciences!" (In Crisis of Conscience, Raymond Franz correctly observed that each congregation--and, indeed, the entire organization--is governed by those men having the weakest consciences!)
I asked my father how it felt to have gone to prison, not for loyalty to God, but for loyalty to an organization which plays games with people's lives. Of course, my father had invested way too much in being a JW to begin criticizing his beloved organization at that point in his life. How sad!
Because of his experiences in prison (what he often called the most meaningful experience of his life), my father carried on a 'prison ministry' at the Fort Worth county jail, and he would routinely take various ministerial servants with him as a form of training. Recognized as a minister and a regular face, my father was treated with respect and affection by jail officials.
One day, a new inmate approached my father and asked if he was a clergyman, to which my father replied yes. The ministerial servant accompanying my father that day reported that incident to the local elders who, in turn, reported it to the Branch office. My father received a written reprimand from the Service Dept. for having identified himself as a member of the clergy because that identified him as being a part of Christendom.
Imagine my disgust when, in a recent court case involving Watchtower hiding a case of child sexual abuse, when Watchtower's last legal straw was to claim clergy privilege, Watchtower officially declared that it now considers JW elders to be members of the clergy. Then to have that claim rejected by the court on the basis that there had been no confidentiality, but multiple persons throughout the organization had been made aware of the allegations against the offender.
Isn't it interesting that this bit of "new light" (regarding JW elders constituting a clergy class) was revealed, not in the Watchtower, but in a court of law!