Questions From Readers
● Is it all right for sisters to ask questions in congregational meetings in view of statements in Qualified to Be Ministers, on page 253, paragraph 5?—A. M., United States.
This paragraph is based on 1 Timothy 2:11, 12 and; 1 Corinthians 14:33-35. The first text says that in the congregation a woman should “learn in silence with full submissiveness” and not teach nor exercise authority over a man. The latter says: “Let the women keep silent in the congregations, for it is not permitted for them to speak, but let them be in subjection, even as the Law says. If, then, they want to learn something, let them question their husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in a congregation.”
In comment the textbook paragraph says: “Sisters should not try to give counsel to the dedicated brothers. On this matter they are ‘to be in silence.’ They must not argue with or contradict the brothers in the congregation, or try to correct them or give instructions. If they want to learn something, they may ask their husbands at home, or, if unmarried, ask a mature brother. They should not be asking merely to bring out a point of correction, or to get their husbands or other brothers to correct the servants. No. Paul says they may ask if they themselves want to learn something.”
So the textbook was in harmony with the advice of Paul in the above-mentioned scriptures. As in the scriptures, so in the textbook, it was “on this matter” of giving counsel to dedicated brothers that women were advised to “be in silence.” It was “in the congregation” that sisters were to avoid arguing with, correcting, or instructing brothers. As the book “This Means Everlasting Life” says on page 159: “Woman was to learn in silence in the sense of not debating there [in the congregation] with the men, challenging them and getting into a dispute and causing wrangling to break out, belittling man’s appointed position.”
In Paul’s day none of his counsel enjoined absolute silence upon women in the congregation and at its meetings, however. Women could and did pray and prophesy with heads properly covered as a sign of subjection to their head, the man. Likewise today, sisters may even be used for parts in the meetings of Jehovah’s congregated people and, in a congregation where no men are present to handle meetings, sisters may handle these with their heads properly covered as a sign of subjection to the man whose place they are taking in the meeting. When sisters make comments from the audience at Watchtower and other study meetings, they are not taking the place of a man and so they may express themselves without needing to have their heads covered. Paul’s admonition on being “silent” in a congregation does not forbid this, for that has specific reference to their “silence” with regard to instructing and counseling the men, disputing or wrangling with them.
Just as this does not forbid a woman to speak at all in the congregation, so the related advice about asking questions of husbands at home does not mean that a sister may never ask a question in a congregational meeting. Again the thing that is ruled out is the asking of questions in an argumentative, challenging, debating way, questions designed to counsel and instruct the men in the congregation. However, as “This Means Everlasting Life” says again on page 159, this does not mean women cannot join in the singing of songs or asking or answering questions on which their faith and understanding are to be expressed. They may share their faith orally with others and actively participate in the congregation discussion with a desire to learn therefrom.
We may add, too, that these instructions with regard to a woman’s place in the congregation do not mean that if a brother called upon gives a wrong comment, a sister called upon thereafter has to remain silent if she knows the right thought on the matter, nor that she has to pattern her answer after the wrong comment. If she is called upon to comment she may express what she understands to be the correct answer, not, of course, in an argumentative way, but merely in a matter-of-fact way. The purpose and effect of Paul’s counsel and of counsel given in the Society’s publications is not to stifle free expression of one’s faith on the part of any individual in the congregation. It is rather to preserve proper theocratic order of instruction and direction under the system of headship taught by the Bible and to preserve the unity and harmony of Jehovah’s assembled people.