Jehovah's Witnesses is a religious organization headquartered in the United States. The organization uses a number of legal corporations worldwide, publishing literature and performing other operational and administrative functions that represent the interests of the religious organization. "The Society" has been used as a collective term for these corporations. The literature of Jehovah's Witnesses has also referred to the religion generally as the "Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses". The oldest and most prominent of their corporation is the 'Watch Tower Society'.
Jehovah's Witnesses have maintained a distinction between their corporations and their religious organizations including, but not limited to:
- Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania
- Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
- Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses
- Religious Order of Jehovah's Witnesses, New York
- Kingdom Support Services, Inc., New York
- International Bible Students Association
- Testigos de Jehová de Venezuela, La Victoria, Venezuela
- Wachtturm-Gesellschaft, Selters/Taunus, Germany
- Watchtower Bible & Tract Society Of Australia, Inc., Australia
- Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Canada
- Congregación Cristiana de los Testigos de Jehová
Headquartered in Brooklyn, New York, the Religion has over 13,000 Kingdom Halls (Houses of Worship and Study) in the U.S. with 1,145,723 million members (As of 2011). Outside the U.S. membership is over 7.2 million in 96,094 local Kingdom Halls. All baptized members are ordained ministers and share in the preaching and teaching work; there are no paid clergy.
The Jehovah's Witnesses was founded in the United States in the 1870s by Charles Taze Russell of Pittsburgh. A small group of non-conformist Christian Adventists who professed loyalty only to Jehovah, they refused to swear allegiance to any government or to serve in the army of any nation. They believed that after the battle of Armageddon they would be the elect in a thousand-year period of heavenly peace. They were disliked for their opposition to the First World War, their door-to-door proselytizing, their disdain toward government, their early support of the return of the Jews to the Holy Land, and their loud criticism of other Religions hypocrisy. Some of these criticisms had to do with mainstream Christendoms involvement in politics and their support of war efforts across the globe making them blood-guilty. They put forth the Bible's teaching that true Christians would not kill their own (Spiritual) brothers, (Such as Christians, of any Denomination killing Christians, of the same or other Denominations) and that such actions showed an absence of true brotherhood on the part of these Religions (Loyalty to nation rather than God).
- They primarily use the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, their Modern translation of the Bible. It was produced because in their words: "No translation of the Bible can ever be considered final. Translations must keep pace with the growth in biblical scholarship and the changes in language." They do not accept any other translation but the one produced by their organization, The Watchtower.
- Jehovah's Witnesses believe their faith is 'The' restoration of the early 'Way', or Christian Congregation. This belief is based on their attempts to align their organizational structure and scriptural interpretation as closely as possible to that of the Christian congregation of the first century. There is no clergy-laity distinction as all, male and female members, are considered to be ordained ministers at the time of baptism (note that Witnesses do not practice infant baptism).
- Jehovah's Witnesses believe that there is only one God, Jehovah, and that Jesus Christ is God's Son rather than God himself. They do not believe that God is three gods in One, but rather One God that created all things, and thus reject the trinity. They support such teachings using scriptures such as (Matthew 4:10), (Deuteronomy 6:4), and (Psalms 83:18) in their Bible translation where God is spoken of as the One God Alone.
- Witnesses Reject teaching of the immortal soul, citing such scriptures as (Ezekiel 18:4) and (John 11:11) as proof that the soul can die, and that death can be likened to sleep, where no activity exists. As such, Witnesses believe that a place, like the modern concept of Hell, cannot exist, citing scriptures such as (Matthew 10:28) which also speak of the soul being Destroyed rather than tortured forever. For the same reasons, they also do not believe in a place called "Heaven" either.
- Witnesses do not celebrate secular holidays such as Christmas, Easter, or Birthdays pointing out that no such celebrations were held by God's people in the Bible. They also believe that since these celebrations have their origins in Pagan festivities that dealt with the worship of False gods, that True Christians should have no part in them.
- Because Witnesses do not believe in the existence of a place called Heaven, witnesses also deny the bodily resurrection of Christ. Witnesses interpret the Bible as saying that Christ's soul was separated from his body, and that Jehovah gave Christ a new body, rather than his old one being resurrected on the Third Day. Most Christians call this a damnable heresy.
- Witnesses do not believe that Jesus died on a traditional cross, but rather that Jesus died on a stick or tree limb with both of his hands above his head. This belief is rejected by most Christians.
- They do observe an annual observance of the Last Supper, or Lord's Evening Meal (1 Corinthians 11:20 NWT). This event, which they refer to as the Memorial of Christ's Death, falls on the night of Nisan 14 which corresponds with the ancient Passover celebration observed by Jews.
Their views of morality reflect conservative Christian values. All sexual relations outside of marriage are grounds for expulsion if the individual is not deemed repentant; homosexuality is considered a serious sin likened to bestiality or pedophilia, and that same-sex marriages are forbidden. Abortion is considered murder. Modesty in dress and grooming is frequently emphasized. Gambling, drunkenness, illegal drugs, and tobacco use are forbidden. Drinking of alcoholic beverages is permitted in moderation.
The family structure is patriarchal. The husband is considered the final authority on family decisions, but is encouraged to solicit his wife's thoughts and feelings, as well as those of his children. Marriages are required to be monogamous. Divorce is discouraged, and remarriage is forbidden unless a divorce is obtained on the grounds of adultery, termed "a scriptural divorce". If a divorce is obtained for any other reason, remarriage is considered adultery while the prior spouse is still alive and has not begun another marriage. Extreme physical abuse, willful non-support of one's family, and what the religion terms "absolute endangerment of spirituality" are considered grounds for legal separation.
The group originated in the 1870s with a movement called the Bible Students, founded by Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916). As a young man, Russell was critical of some Christian doctrines, and was attracted to the teachings of William Miller and other Adventists who speculated upon the return of the Savior. During the repeated crises of the Adventists, when all dates calculated for the second coming proved erroneous, Russel started his own movement in the 1870s. Predictions concerning the second coming of a spiritual Lord and intensive distribution of tract literature and of 'Watchtower' materials characterize the organization of his group. Russell organized a Bible class to study the scriptures from the ground up. The study process involved raising a question, discussing the topic and reviewing all known related scriptures that the participants could find on the point. The results were recorded whether or not they matched long-standing theological viewpoints. His group was known first as Russellites and then as the "International Bible Students." Russell founded Zion's Watch Tower, (now The Watchtower), in 1879, and Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society in 1884 (later renamed Watchtower Bible and Tract Society) "Judge" Joseph F. Rutherford (1869-1942), a prolific writer, served as the second president, 1916–42, and renamed the movement "Jehovah's Witnesses" in 1931. By 1938 there were 115,000 members, and local churches were becoming more directly organized by the Society's headquarters in Brooklyn.
Witnesses are well known worldwide for their door-to-door preaching which features use of the Bible and distribution of The Watchtower and Awake! magazine. They do not celebrate holidays that are not discussed in the Bible or that they feel serve to exalt individuals, human organizations or national groups, believing them to be an affront to God. In the 1920s and 1930s Witnesses would enter communities in large numbers, play loud phonograph records, and go door-to-door in search of potential converts, and denouncing organized religion as evil. Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose mother was a leader of the Witnesses in Kansas, came under attack for his connection; he defended the group but never affiliated with it.[Citation Needed]
Pledge of Allegiance
Their view of idolatry led to their refusal to pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America (or other governments) and participation in military service. Jehovah's Witnesses base this belief on their understanding of Romans 13:1,5-7; Mark 12:17; and Acts 5:28, 29.
In 1935, two young Witnesses Lillian Gobitas and her younger brother William refused to salute the American flag in school in Minersville, Pennsylvania; both were expelled from public school. Their father found relief in the 3d Circuit Court of Appeals, but the children were still not accepted back in school. The case went to the Supreme Court, where the court held for the school board in an opinion written by Justice Felix Frankfurter. The Supreme Court ruled that the flag salute could be made mandatory despite religious convictions. The ruling led to assaults on Jehovah's Witnesses, Three years later the court reversed its ruling against the Witnesses in 'West Virginia State Board of Education' v. 'Barnette' (1943). The Witnesses' trials support the position that American liberty does not emanate so much from localities and states taking their stand against a potentially tyrannical federal government as from an elite legal culture that places the Constitution and individual rights above the passions of communities and crowds.
The many legal battles waged by the Jehovah's Witnesses in the Supreme Court during the 1930s-40's were not accidental but rather a result of a strategy employed by leaders of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society to secure the right to proselytization through winning key 1st Amendment cases in the high courts. Judge Joseph Franklin Rutherford envisioned using the law to empower and protect Jehovah's Witnesses against canvassing prohibitions and mob violence, but it was Hayden Covington of the group's legal department who actively steered Witnesses into legal confrontations nationwide. Covington deliberately sent Witnesses into areas where their activity was either prohibited or unpopular.[Citation Needed] Witnesses were aptly prepared for arrest and were given legal guidance about how to get their cases appealed to higher courts. The end result of this strategy was that 19 cases regarding Jehovah's Witnesses reached the Supreme Court during 1939-50.
The Canadian government treated Jehovah's Witnesses harshly during World War II, outlawing their organization from 1940 to 1943. Some Witnesses were denied the opportunity to do alternative service, were drafted into the army, and then imprisoned for pacifism. The Jehovah's Witnesses antagonized the Canadian government and other Christian faiths by claiming that all governments were controlled by Satan, by dismissing any distinctions between clergy and laity, and by refusing to admit that they belonged to a religious group.
Germany and Japan
Witnesses were victims of the Holocaust under Nazi Germany. Of the approximately 20,000 Witnesses in Germany in 1933, about 6,000 were arrested. Hundreds died of mistreatment in prisons and camps; some were executed.
In Japan, all members of the Jehovah's Witnesses were arrested and imprisoned in 1939. The destruction of records by the Japanese at the end of the war make it impossible to determine how many survived. Extant accounts of torture and brutality relate mostly to Japanese converts who refused to serve in the Japanese military because of their religious convictions.
Successful missionary work has created a presence in many countries, with controversy quick to follow. Opposition to the Witnesses has been manifested in recent years in such diverse countries as South Korea, Greece, Spain, Chile, and various republics of the former Soviet Union including Russia, Georgia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. There has been persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Quebec, Canada due to their refusal to hold loyalty to a government during wartime.
Jehovah's Witnesses and Holidays
Jehovah's Witnesses base their refraining from celebrating many popular religious holidays on II Corinthians 6:14, 17 which states: "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers, for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? ... Therefore, 'Come out from among them, and be ye separate,' saith the Lord. 'And touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you.'" (King James Version) 
Although Jehovah's Witnesses, then known as International Bible Students, celebrated Christmas during the early 1900s, this practice stopped in 1926. Since that time they have published information regarding the allegedly "pagan" origins of other holidays such as Easter, New Year's, Halloween and others. Their sources have been varied, drawing upon The Encyclopædia Britannica, The Catholic Encyclopedia, The World Book Encyclopedia, The Encyclopedia Americana, and similar publicly available resources.
Regarding their position on secular holidays, Jehovah's Witnesses reference Christ's words at John 17:16, that his followers would be no part of the world. They also refrain from most celebrations that focus on individuals, such as birthdays, referencing scriptures such as Acts 10:25, 26; 12:21-23; Revelation 19:10.
- See also: Jehovah's Witnesses Beliefs
Since 1945 the Jehovah's Witnesses' governing body has stipulated that accepting whole blood or whole blood cell transfusions is in violation of the Bible's commandments. All adult Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse whole blood, packed red blood cells, white cells, platelets, and plasma. There has been ongoing controversy, especially when they prohibit children from receiving life-saving transfusions, which has led many states and countries to override parents' authority in medical matters. The legal procedure is to obtain a court order allowing doctors to transfuse children over their parents’ objections if withholding blood is likely to lead to death or disability.
- Bergman, Gerald. "The Influence of Religion on President Eisenhower's Upbringing," Journal of American & Comparative Cultures 2000 23(4): 89-107, in EBSCO
- Eddy, G. Norman. " The Jehovah's Witnesses: An Interpretation," Journal of Bible and Religion, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Apr., 1958), pp. 115–121 in JSTOR
- Harrison, Barbara Grizzuti. Visions of Glory: A History and a Memory of Jehovah's Witnesses (1978), popular history
- Horowitz, David. Pastor Charles Taze Russell: An Early American Christian Zionist (1986). 159 pp.
- Newton, Merlin Owen. Armed with the Constitution: Jehovah's Witnesses in Alabama and the U.S. Supreme Court, 1939-1946 (1995). 221 pp.
- Penton, M. James. Jehovah's Witnesses and the Third Reich: Sectarian Politics under Persecution (2004), 412 pp.,
- Penton, M. James. Jehovah's Witnesses in Canada: Champions of Freedom of Speech and Worship (1976). 388 pp.
- Peters, Shawn Francis. Judging Jehovah's Witnesses: religious persecution and the dawn of the rights revolution (2000)
- Poewe, Karla O. "Religion, Matriliny, and Change: Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists in Luapula, Zambia," American Ethnologist, Vol. 5, No. 2 (May, 1978), pp. 303–321 in JSTOR
- Wah, Carolyn R. "An Introduction to Research and Analysis of Jehovah's Witnesses: A View from the Watchtower," Review of Religious Research, Vol. 43, No. 2 (Dec., 2001), pp. 161–174 in JSTOR
Jehovah's Witnesses operate three official websites:
- Watchtower Official Website of Jehovah's Witnesses
- Worldwide Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses
- Office of Public Information of Jehovah's Witnesses
- Faith on the March (by A.H. Macmillan, published by Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1957)
- Ex-Jehovah's Witness Forum and Recovery Site. A resource providing information on opposing views with regards the Jehovah's Witness Organization. Discussion and Recovery site for former Jehovah's Witnesses; those considering leaving; or simply interested individuals.
- The Watchtower October 15, 1999 p.28
- Rutherford: “God, Jehovah, is the only source of life. No one else can give life. The State of Pennsylvania cannot give life. The American Government cannot. God made this law [forbidding the worship of images], as Paul puts it, to safeguard His people from idolatry. That is a small thing, you say. So was the act of Adam in eating of the forbidden fruit. It was not the apple that Adam ate, but it was his act of disobeying God. The question is whether man will obey God or obey some human institution. . . - Jehovah's Witnesses Proclaimers of God's Kingdom p.684
- See Francis (2000)
- Jennifer Jacobs Henderson, "Witnesses and their Plan to Expand First Amendment Freedoms," Journal of Church & State 2004 46(4): 811-832, in EBSCO
- Penton (1976)
- See Penton (2004)
- Carolyn R. Wah, "Jehovah's Witnesses and the Empire of the Sun: a Clash of Faith and Religion During World War II," Journal of Church & State 2002 44(1): 45-72, full text in EBSCO
- The Watchtower, December 15, 1974 (p. 740).
- Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers of God's Kingdom(p. 198)
- Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life (p. 214)
- Susan E. Lederer, Flesh and Blood: Organ Transplantation and Blood Transfusion in Twentieth-Century America (2008), ch 7.