Bob Dylan took his tour to Beijing, but the authorities wanted to look over his play list first. Maybe there would be some songs they didn't like. So Bob figured he could live with that. He submitted his songs, and the authorities crossed out a few. He couldn't sing Desolation Row, for instance. But so what?.....Dylan's written hundreds of songs, and he mixes them up with each new concert. So he played his show with about 30 songs, like he always does, and the government was happy, he was happy, his musicians were happy, and the attendees were happy, just like my son and I were happy when we went to his Rochester concert at the Gordon Field House.
But columnist Maureen Dowd, from the New York Times, was not happy. “Bob Dylan may have done the impossible: broken creative new ground in selling out,” she fumed. Lately China has taken to jailing outspoken dissidents, she pointed out. They've not been nice to people too assertive in demanding change. But if Bob Dylan had stuck it to them, Maureen thinks, singing famous ballads like “The Times They Are a-Changing”..... well, doubtless 1960's flower-power would engulf the country, a new age of Aquarius would descend, and all would be peace and love in China, just like it is in...um...the United....uh...States, the land from which Dowd writes.
Now, Dowd picked the wrong ox to gore, as far as I'm concerned. Isn't Bob Dylan my favorite musical entertainer? But Dowd is a journalist and, yes...I admit it, I have mixed feelings about those folk. Aren't they direct descendents of that kid from school who was always going "to tell"? None of us could stand that kid. This was true even when there were things going down that deserved telling. That kid just had a strange personality, a little too given to sucking up and holding center stage.
Plus, journalists are too often subject to an unreasonable faith that humans, and especially human governments, have the answers to world problems. And that if you just shine the light of journalism upon this or that unsavory circumstance, those circumstances improve. Filling the public's “right to know”.....that's all that is lacking for peace and happiness to prevail! Thus, even good ol Joel Engardio, who's made the most honest documentary examination of Jehovah's Witnesses I've ever seen, left his JW upbringing as a teen, and pursued journalism, because he didn't want to wait for an improved world. He wanted to make it happen now, through journalism. Look, it's true that when you shine a bright light, the cockroaches vanish. But they don't cease to be cockroaches. They just go somewhere else. Put them out of commission, and it's like the Bullet used to say about swatting flies: kill one fly and fifty come to the funeral.
Lee Chugg used to reflect on how Awake's reporting, written by peers, could capture the actual views of whatever peoples it covered. Newsweek would send its own wildly over-educated correspondents into the barrios of this or that country, and the locals would tell them anything they wanted to hear. No one wants to be thought ignorant, and if reporters framed everything in terms of human solutions, political solutions, residents played right along. Probing a certain fellow, (I saw this recently on a BBC item) the man answered that he had faith in God. “Yes, yes, you have faith in God,” acknowledged the reporter, eager to get this useless bit of trivia behind him, but what about politicians? Do you have faith in politicians?” “Some politicians, but not all politicians,” was the reply. Ahh....now we're talking! Human efforts! And the interview proceeded from there, the BBC reporter having established the groundrules. Awake would have pursued his initial answer, taking for granted the general uselessness of politicians.
Common people today tend to liken governments to the unchangeable heavens, just as they did in ancient times. Regularly, that metaphor appears in the Bible. It fit perfectly then. It fits almost as well today. From the heavens back then would descend any sort of weather, blessing you one moment, cursing you the next, and you couldn't do anything about it. It's little different today in most parts of the world. Even in more democratic countries, it is mostly illusion that "the heavens" can be significantly changed, but people buy into that illusion to an astounding degree. I don't think Bob Dylan does. And I don't. And Jehovah's Witnesses don't.
But Maureen Dowd does, I think. Now, isn't Dowd one of those aging flower children from the 60's, you know, the decade of love, who remember fondly those days of war protest, getting stoned, love the one you're with, and bringing down Nixon (whom the Chinese like)? Ahhh...those glorious days when policemen were called “pigs.”* Those reveling youth of the '60's idolized Dylan, and Dowd does not take his betrayal lightly. “The idea that the raspy troubadour of '60s freedom anthems would go to a dictatorship and not sing those anthems is a whole new kind of sellout,” she mutters.
*a taunt that lasted until policemen themselves defused it, turning it into a badge of honor: PIGS = P(ride) I(ntegrity) G(uts) S(ervice)
But in all her Dylan-worshipping fervor, did she never notice that Dylan denied being a god? He never embraced the “spirit of the '60s,” much less try to lead it. Rather, he wrote the songs he did because people ate them up. “I latched on,” he said, “when I got to New York City, because I saw (what) a huge audience there was. I knew I wasn't going to stay there. I knew it wasn't my thing. ... I became interested in folk music because I had to make it somehow." I almost (but not quite) think he regrets doing it, because he was so successful that the beatniks and sycophants back then seized him and tried to make him king. Now, they tried to do the same with Jesus, and Jesus escaped....
Hence when the men saw the signs he performed, they began to say: “This is for a certainty the prophet that was to come into the world.” Therefore Jesus, knowing they were about to come and seize him to make him king, withdrew again into the mountain all alone. John 6:14-15
.....but Dylan wasn't so adept. He actually got stuck being king for a few decades, the leader of a movement he never liked! "I had very little in common with and knew even less about a generation that I was supposed to be the voice of," he writes in his autobiography. "Whatever the counterculture was, I'd seen enough of it," He grumbles on about being "anointed as the Big Bubba of Rebellion, High Priest of Protest, the Czar of Dissent." Instead, he writes that he wanted “to have a house with a white picket fence and pink roses in back, live in East Hampton with his wife and pack of kids, eat Cheerios and go to the Rainbow Room and see Frank Sinatra Jr. perform!”
Alright, alright. So he did walk off the Ed Sullivan show when Ed wouldn't let him sing the John Birch Talkin Blues (sending Maureen Dowd into an ecstatic swoon, no doubt). He was 22. In a huff over artistic integrity, most likely, and intrigued that his lyrics could so rile a guy three times his age. But in 1974 he said "It's never been my duty to remake the world at large, nor is it my intention to sound the battle charge."
Gasp!......is this to say that Bob Dylan doesn't care about injustice? My guess is that he does, but he also has the presence of mind to know it has little to do with human governments. Is there injustice in China? I don't doubt it for a second. It's the notion that there's not injustice elsewhere that's the rub. Different people suffer different forms of injustice, that's all. Human government doesn't stamp out injustice. Instead, it removes the hat of injustice from this head and puts it on that one. If there are things disagreeable about the Chinese system, there are also things agreeable, so that on balance, it's just another form of human government, with both strengths and weaknesses. Is it gauling to have one's freedom restricted by “guy's at the top?” Doubtless, it is. But the other side of the coin is that expressed by H. L. Mencken: "Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance." Overall, human rulership is a mess. “Man ruling man” is the problem, rather than the specific form such ruling takes.
Or is it that the freedom human governments are able to grant is such a tiny subset of overall freedom that it hardly seems worth getting obsessed about? After all, a relationship with God points one toward freedom from death, and sin. I'll take those freedoms any day to the lesser freedoms humans (unreliably) promise. Oh, I suppose, like Dowd, I should rail about the Chinese authorities, because they are communist, and communists tend to ban Jehovah's Witnesses a lot, and that's who I am. It makes no sense at all for them to do this, but it happens nonetheless. If you want people guaranteed not to rebel or protest, fill your country with JWs. If you want your taxes paid, if you want your laws obeyed, if you want your people to be honest, to work and to mind their own business, fill up with JWs. Let them meet and speak about their faith, and they're happy. All other matters they keep in perspective.
The 1990 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses tells of a Canadian Witness child who was tested with regard to flag decorum. JWs don't salute the flag – an item that riles many a nation. She and another child were summoned separately to the principal’s office, where they found a Canadian flag draped across his desk. The non-Witness child was told to spit on the flag, and she did so, notwithstanding that she saluted it every day. Spitting must be okay….her teacher had told her to do it. The Witness child was brought in and told to do the same. She would not do it. They tried to coax her. Since she didn’t salute, there’s no reason not to spit, they suggested. She held her ground. No, spitting would be desecrating the national symbol, she explained. Jehovah’s Witnesses respect the flag, though they do not worship it. Results were announced in class. Apparently, it was part of some civics lesson.
Now, the Western media – let us choose Dowd as it's representative – is obsessed with freedom from authority. If the U.S. establishment went down 50 years ago, maybe now is the time for China! Does Dowd swoon over memories of the '60s? Are Woodstock posters hanging in her home somewhere? Look, I lived through the '60s, just as she did. I always thought they were phony, and this is long before I became a Witness. Perhaps they weren't phony everywhere, but where I was, on the campus I traipsed, it all seemed just a big reason to party, to riot, to escape the “tyranny” of anyone who would tell us what to do. I followed fellow students, as did everyone, when they trekked into “downtown” Potsdam NY to vent their outrage over the war and stuff in general. I caught a whiff of pepper gas – man, you don't want to get remotely near that stuff! – when the police turned up. It was a wild party gone bad. Maybe there were sincere, mature protesters somewhere. I assume that there were. But I didn't see them.
Many a young person must have cursed their parents for bringing in the “spirit of the '60s.” For the '60s meant an explosion in STDs. Why is herpes widepsread today? Blame the spirit of the '60s. Look, people have always slept around – don't kid yourself – but it was not till the '60s that the changing world embraced sleeping around as a positive, a value to be passed on to the next generation. The '60s brought in a massive refocus on our “rights.” Not bad in itself, one might argue, but it was accompanied by a corresponding loss of interest on responsibilities. I can well understand how the Chinese government might want to safeguard citizens from that. It's not just old guys who want to secure their place at top of the heap, which is the only explanation Western media can imagine. “Generally the Chinese people are happy,” says one fellow who lives in Beijing, who I found somewhere on the internet, and, for the life of me, cannot find again, though I've tried. “Generally they are proud of China; and generally they think more change and freedom are needed. It will come because most of them want it, but they also want stability. It has been rough here the last 100 years or so, and people value the positive things while seeing the need for more.”
You know, I can't quite picture those government authorities sifting Dylan songs, trying to ….um....separate the sheep from the goats. All Dylan lyrics mean something, I suppose, but judging just what they mean is no piece of cake. Seldom are they political. But if you're a critic who can see things only that way, they can usually be teased for some political meaning. “That which is crooked cannot be made straight,” is the Bible statement regarding human governmental systems which might most readily represent his views. His lyrics are “hard on bosses, courts, pols and anyone corrupted by money and power.” They're “infused with subversion against all kinds of authority, except God.”
God comes out in the clear. Good. Bob's not starry eyed over human government. He knows injustice goes far beyond political systems. I like all this. Bob Dylan's not like Randy Newman. He's more like.....um....well.....me.
Read ‘Tom Irregardless and Me.’ 30% free preview
Starting with Prince, a fierce and frolicking defense of Jehovah’s Witnesses. A riotous romp through their way of life. “We have become a theatrical spectacle in the world, and to angels and to men,” the Bible verse says. That being the case, let’s give them some theater! Let’s skewer the liars who slander the Christ! Let’s pull down the house on the axis lords! Let the seed-pickers unite!
During the Vietnam war, America's younger generation broke from the older, and broke decisively. Student protesters besieged the White House, chanting "Hey Hey LBJ, How many kids did you kill today?" President Johnson's successor, Richard Nixon, fared no better, since his name suggested the clever, if obscene, "Dick Nixon before he dicks you." Mohammed Ali was drafted into the military and refused to go, famously declaring "no VietCong ever called me nigger." Exactly. What quarrel did he have with people halfway around the globe? Bigger concerns back home. If the 'kings' couldn't get along, how did that become his problem?
Back then, you heard a lot about the military-industrial complex, that cozy relationship between big business, the armed forces, and government, each feeding the other, thus facilitating perpetual war. Young people signaled they resented the manipulation, and would no longer stand for it. But where did that expression come from - military-industrial complex? Probably some long-haired, over-educated peacenik?
In fact, for those who believe in stereotypes, it came from the most unlikely of persons: Dwight D Eisenhower, nicknamed Ike, who served as Supreme Commander of Allied Troops during World War II. Afterwards, a grateful United States elected him President in 1952 and again in 1956. In his 1961 farewell address to the nation, he cautioned of a growing military-industrial complex.
Now....this is not the type of warning you'd normally expect from a general or President. Patton wouldn't have said it. Nor would George Bush, who landed on that aircraft carrier crowing "Mission Accomplished!" Ike's children said Eisenhower originally intended to warn of a military-industrial-congressional complex, but he dropped the last term, for fear of annoying Congress.
But maybe that warning from the President is not so strange, considering Ike's background. Cruise the internet and you will find sites that describe him as the nation's only Jehovah's Witness President. Here, for example. I mean, it's right there on the internet, so it must be so, but could it really be? Jehovah's Witnesses don't usually join the military, let alone become Supreme Commander of Allied Troops. Nor do they enter politics, let alone become President.
As is often true about things pertaining to us on the internet, it's not true, but there's a grain of truth to it. Ike was raised in a Witness home, or at least, his mom was very active in the faith, though apparently not his dad. When Ike was a boy, his home was used for meetings. Ike and his brother left the Witnesses, but his mother remained active until her death. In the mid-seventies, Modern Maturity magazine ran this quote from Melvin Eisenhower, Ike's brother:
Mother and Father knew the Bible from one end to the other. In fact, Mother was her own concordance: Without using one, she could turn to the particular scriptural passage she wanted. . . . We had an ideal home for I never heard an unkind word between Father and Mother. They lived by the cardinal concepts of the Judaic-Christian religion. (as quoted in Awake magazine, 4/22/75)
Yeah, that pretty well fits the profile of an active Witness. They usually know that Bible inside out.
During the Presidential election campaigns, Ike wanted to win. So did his handlers. Therefore, he played down his Witness connection, which would surely have sunk his campaign. (See Melvin's quote above, where the faith is cryptically referred to as "the cardinal concepts of the Judaic-Christian religion." Don't you think he'd just say "Presyterian, if that's what it was? Doesn't it look as though he's trying to avoid mentioning something?) Ike let on he was raised 'Protestant' - a good catch-all term at the time for anything not Catholic or Jewish. I can't fault him for this. I mean, I can just see those political cartoonists skewering a Witness background....frankly, even I would have enjoyed a crack at it. There would be Ike and his wife standing in front of the White House, holding up the Watchtower. The emblazoned cover would cry: Can Presidents Bring Peace? Oh, yeah, they'd have had a field day with it!
Come to think of it, doesn't military-industrial-congressional complex sound a lot like the big business, big government, big military triumvirate that Jehovah's Witnesses used to carry on about? Or was it that big government and big military were combined as one, with the third slot going to big religion? I forget. That terminology (but not the thinking behind it) was dropped decades ago; old-timers still use it, but their numbers are dwindling fast. Ah, well, no matter. Close enough. I'll grant JWs credit for the phrase. As already stated, you'd normally expect a general and President to be cozy with any military-industrial-congressional complex. You wouldn't expect them to warn against it, as if like a prophet.
So maybe that JW background left its mark, after all.
Somehow, this all reminds me of Joel Engardio, another fellow who was raised a Witness, but who left because he wanted to make the world a better place now, rather than want to wait for some intangible God's Kingdom to come around and do it. Mr. Engardio is today a well-respected NPR journalist; a few years ago, he produced a documentary film about us called Knocking, one of the few fair shakes we've ever had from the media. I wrote about it here. (Another, more modest 'shake', is here.)
Did Eisenhower, too, leave the Witnesses because he wanted to make the world a better place now, and not later? After all, it seemed to most of the free world that civilization was at stake during the 2nd World War. World War I was billed as the war to end all wars. Alright, it hadn't turned out that way, but maybe one more try would do it. Besides, what choice was there? One had to respond to aggressors. Such was popular sentiment.
If so, Ike must, at least sometimes, have had second thoughts about the pathway to a better world. In the wake of the battle of Normandy, wasn't it he who wrote, 'one could walk hundreds of yards and step upon nothing but rotting human flesh'? And from his farewell 'military-industrial complex' address to the nation:
Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war -- as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years -- I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.
Yeah, don't we all. Does anyone think, though, that through human efforts, it's any closer in 2009 than it was in 1961?
The Oct 15, 1980 Watchtower tells of a WWII soldier who became one of Jehovah's Witnesses while enlisted. Efforts to speak with his superiors about his new-found neutrality went nowhere. So this fellow wrote Eisenhower's mom! Sometimes you have to do that.
One especially testy exchange turned around quickly:
As I entered the headquarters tent, where all the “top brass” had gathered, I didn’t salute.
One of the officers said: “Don’t you salute your superiors?”
Respectfully, I gave my reasons, based on my understanding of the Bible. At that the officer said: “General Eisenhower ought to line you Jehovah’s Witnesses up and shoot you all!”
“Do you think he would shoot his own mother, Sir?” I asked.
“What do you mean by that?” he shot back.
Reaching in my pocket and taking out Sister Eisenhower’s letter, I handed it to him. “I just received this letter from the General’s mother while waiting for you to call me.”
As he read the letter, which you see reproduced on the opposite page, the other officers also gathered around to look at it. Thoughtfully, and with a greatly changed attitude, he handed it back to me. “Get back to ranks,” he said, “I don’t want to get mixed up with the General’s mother.”
Mr. Richard Boeckel.
A friend returning from the United Announcers Convention of Jehovah’s witnesses, informs me of meeting you there. I rejoice with you in your privilege of attending such convention.
It has been my good fortune many times in the years gone by to attend these meetings of those faithfully proclaiming the name of Jehovah and his glorious Kingdom which shortly now will pour out its rich blessings over all the earth.
My friend informs me of your desire to have a word from General Eisenhower’s mother whom you have been told is one of the witnesses of Jehovah. I am indeed such and what a glorious privilege it has been in association with those of the present time and with those on back through the annals of Biblical history even to Abel.
Generally I have refused such requests because of my desire to avoid all publicity. However, because you are a person of good will towards Jehovah God and his glorious Theocracy I am very happy to write you.
I have been blessed with seven sons of which five are living, all being very good to their mother and I am constrained to believe are very fine in the eyes of those who have learned to know them.
It was always my desire and my effort to raise my boys in the knowledge of and to reverence their Creator. My prayer is that they all may anchor their hope in the New World, the central feature of which is the Kingdom for which all good people have been praying the past two thousand years.
I feel that Dwight my third son will always strive to do his duty with integrity as he sees such duty. I mention him in particular because of your expressed interest in him.
And so as the mother of General Eisenhower and as a witness of and for the Great Jehovah of Hosts (I have been such the past 49 years) I am pleased to write you and to urge you to faithfulness as a companion of and servant with those who “keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus”.
There can be no doubt that what is now called the post-war period is the “one hour” mentioned at Revelation chapters 17 and 18. Ten here being a symbol not of just ten nations but rather of the whole number or all of the nations, then if we have a real League of Nations acting efficiently as a super guide to the nations of earth at the close of this war that should be ample proof.
Surely this portends that very soon the glorious Theocracy, the long promised Kingdom of Jehovah the Great God and of his Son the everlasting King will rule the entire earth and pour out manifold blessings upon all peoples who are of good will towards Him. All others will be removed.
Again may I urge your ever faithfulness to these the “Higher Powers” and to the New World now so very near.
Respectfully your in hope of and as a fighter for the New World,
Ida E. Eisenhower
After the first World War, weary nations hoped world war would never ever happen again, though it did 20 years later. They proposed a League of Nations - an international forum - that would hash out problems before they reached the boilover point. They even included Germany. Alas, the same Treaty of Versailles that proposed the League also decreed that Germany pay the full cost of the war just ended. Of course, Germany couldn't, and the resulting economic strain created chaos (compounded by the Great Depression) from which Hitler emerged, appealing to national pride and a sense of victimization. World War II started, and the League of Nations collapsed.
After the second World War, the League was resurrected in principle, and rechristened the United Nations. Jehovah's Witnesses have pointed to it as the beast of Rev 17:8 -
The wild beast that you saw was, but is not, and yet is about to ascend out of the abyss, and it is to go off into destruction.
It "was," prior to World War II. It "is not," during that war, and it "ascends out of the abyss" (as the U.N.) after that war. It is also described as (Revelation 13:14-15) the "image of the beast," since it reflects the qualities of its component nations. Since the most prominent of these component creates it, they are said to have "breathed life" into it. Beasts are frequently used in the Bible as symbols of human governments, likely for the way they rip and tear and devour each other, and even their own peoples.
Detailed explanations of these verses, and indeed of all of Revelation, are found in the book Revelation - It's Grand Climax at Hand, available from Jehovah's Witnesses. I've previously referred to it here and probably some other places as well.
Now, offhand, a League of Nations - an international forum for peace and security - seems like a good idea. Let nations talk it out, not fight it out, and so forth. And no one has any gripe at all with the humanitarian good such agency has accomplished. The organization is, however, the exact opposite of what the Bible proposes. For the Bible advocates world government by God - God's Kingdom - which is to replace human rulership. It is described here, as God's answer after a long torrent of failed human efforts:
And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be brought to ruin. And the kingdom itself will not be passed on to any other people. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it itself will stand to times indefinite. Dan 2:44
This is the same government of the "Lord's prayer," named here in Matt 6: 9-10 (NIV):
Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
People repeat this prayer, usually by rote, and it becomes like the Pledge of Allegiance. They have no idea what it means.
The League of Nations, noble though the idea sounds, advocates world government by man, and this puts it at odds with the Bible. President Woodrow Wilson lead in birthing the new organization. Ironically, he couldn't talk the U. S. Congress into joining. Europe was a long ways away. The oceans had always afforded good isolation, and hopefully, with WWI in the past, they would continue to do so. Let Europe attend to their own squabbling.
The churches, whom you might think would side with world government by God, fell all over themselves to embrace world government by man. The National Council of the Churches of Christ in America lost no time declaring "such a League is not a mere political expedient; it is rather the political expression of the Kingdom of God on earth...." If Congress didn't want to sign up, it wasn't for the churches' lack of effort; 14,450 leading clergymen signed a petition urging the Senate to get onboard with the rest of the League supporters. The Pope, too, pleaded for the League’s adoption. All this in 1919.
Seemingly, the only ones not buying into the hoopla were Jehovah’s Witnesses, then known as the International Bible Students. That same year - 1919 - addressing a convention in Cedar Point, Ohio, J. F. Rutherford, Watch Tower Society president asserted that "the Lord’s displeasure is certain to be visited upon the League . . . because the clergy—Catholic and Protestant—claiming to be God’s representatives, have abandoned his plan and endorsed the League of Nations, hailing it as a political expression of Christ’s kingdom on earth.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses would not abandon “his plan,” even if all the rest of Christendom did. Three years later, discerning that the actual Christ’s kingdom had been established in heaven in 1914, (written about here and here) Rutherford urged conventioneers (it’s an oft-reported speech that all Jehovah’s Witnesses have heard about) to “advertise, advertise, advertise the king and his kingdom” - which is what Witnesses have done ever since.
Thus, establishment of the League of Nations represents a fork in the road. The churches, almost without exception, publicly embraced world government by man. At the same time, Jehovah’s organization publicly took the opposite path, advocating world government by God, in acknowledgement that God’s Kingdom does not come through any consensus of manmade governments. This explains Jehovah's Witnesses' neutrality toward this world’s governments. The churches, meanwhile, are ever convinced that God uses whatever national government they live under, to accomplish his aims. They are forever meddling in political affairs, trying to sway governments to write their own views into law. The actual Kingdom of God means little to them. Their goal is to put a smiley face on existing human governments.
Recommending world government by man or world government by God - this was among the chief differences between the churches and Jehovah's Witnesses back then. It is also so today.
Jehovah’s Witnesses’ determination not to make war was never so severely tested as during World War II, when the whole world came down with war fever.
Their determination, of course, stems from the Bible's directive to learn war no more. These words adorn the U.N. building in New York:
And they will have to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war anymore. Isa 2:4
For the U.N. it makes a catchy and inspirational slogan. For Jehovah’s Witnesses it makes a way of life. If you’re not going to apply those words in time of war, just when do you apply them?
Yet, the course is much easier said than done. In nations under Nazi rule, following the course landed you in concentration camps. Jehovah’s Witnesses were among the first inmates there, preceding the far-more-numerous Jews. They were the only group who could “write their ticket” out by renouncing their faith and pledging Nazi support. Only a handful took advantage of the offer.
In the United States, Jehovah’s Witnesses took the same stand amidst much opposition. Where applicable…that is, where persons had ministerial duties in the congregation or occupied themselves full time in outside ministry…. some would request the 4D “ministerial” exemption their local draft board. “Church” ministers never had the slightest difficulty obtaining such exemptions. For Jehovah’s Witnesses, they were invariably denied. Draft boards recognized not the scriptural or even legal definition of “minister,“ they only knew the popular definition of a minister: one who “had a church“ and “got paid.”
Paul the apostle would not have fared well under this definition. He was not paid for his ministry. He worked to support himself. He ministered mostly to those on the outside, not inside a "church." (the word rendered "church" in the NT always refers to a group of people, never a building. Accordingly, the New World Translation renders the word "congregation.") For example:
….on account of being of the same trade he [Paul] stayed at their home, and they worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. However, he would give a talk in the synagogue every Sabbath and would persuade Jews and Greeks. Acts 18:3,4
Certainly you bear in mind, brothers, our labor and toil. It was with working night and day, so as not to put an expensive burden upon any one of you, that we preached the good news of God to you. 1 Cor 2:9
For that matter, Jesus wouldn’t have fared well. Everyone knows he worked as a carpenter. And sending his followers out to preach, he told them “you received free, give free.” Matt 10:8
Both Paul and Jesus would have been denied 4D ministerial exemption. Would they have gone to war?
Neither did Jehovah’s Witnesses fare well. Though their ministry might plainly be the most important thing in their lives, and the time spent thereof exceed time spent in any secular work, draft boards would generally only recognize the “mercenary ministers,“ those who did it for pay.
Occasionally a judge or two would rule our way. Attorney Victor Blackwell tells of a young Witness he represented who, per the Biblical and legal definition, plainly was a minister. Before he could complete his argument, the District Court judge took up his case, saying:
"If I remember my Bible, our Lord was a carpenter, Peter and John were fishermen, and Paul a tent-maker. They were ministers. Young man, I commend you for working at an honest occupation to support yourself and your ministry. I wish my preacher would go to work."
Mr. Blackwell represented hundreds of our people during the hot years of WWII and immediately afterwards. He recorded his experiences in his 1976 book Oer the Ramparts They Watched. (Carlton Press, NY)
Far more typical was another experience he relates:** After giving light sentences, each one suspended in favor of probation, to a dozen or so who had confessed to various crimes against society, some quite serious, the judge turned his attention to our brother:
“Your whole life record is spotless. You were a model young man in high school, no smoking, no drinking, no fighting, no running around. One of the finest pre-sentence reports I have ever read.
Do you have any words to say before I sentence you?”
The youth replied he did not.
“Do you, Mr. Blackwell, wish to say anything in behalf of your client?”
“Considering that fine report Your Honor has just read, and the leniency shown toward the others who just appeared before you, it would be unthinkable that you would send this youth to prison.”
The sentence: “I cannot tolerate that someone like this will defy the law. I sentence you to serve two years in some institution to be designated by the Attorney General.”
Often our youths were sentenced with considerable emotion, which runs high in wartime. Like this one:
“I sentence you to five years in a federal prison to be approved by the Attorney General. My only regret, you yellow coward, is that I cannot give you twenty five years.”
Better than a German concentration camp, to be sure. Nonetheless, there was price to pay for all who would actually apply the words of Isaiah 2:4 and refuse to “learn war.”
It was only after the war, after hundreds of youths had been sent off to prison, that some judicial high courts began to see matters differently. From the opinion of Wiggins v U.S. for instance:
….Ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses are not paid a salary, furnished a parsonage, or even given funds for necessary expenses to carry on their ministerial work. As pointed out, they have no choice except to engage in secular pursuits in order to obtain funds to make the ministry their vocation. The Act (Selective Training and Service Act, 1940) does not define a minister in terms of one who is paid for ministerial work, has a diploma or license, preached and teaches primarily in a church. The test under the Act is not whether a minister is paid for his ministry but whether, as a vocation, regularly, not occasionally, he teaches and preaches the principles of his religion.
This favorable [to us] decision was of the Fifth Federal Circuit Court and thus was not binding everywhere, but nonetheless stood as a template. When the government appealed the case to the Supreme Court, that Court declined to review it, letting the case stand.
** Unlike the preceding and succeeding cases, this youth was a “rank and file” Witness and thus made no claim for ministerial exemption. He was assigned 1-O status (conscientious objector) status and assigned to “civilian work of national importance.” Finding this work squarely in support of the war effort, his conscience would not permit him to comply, and for this he was prosecuted.
Nearly two centuries prior to this, General George Washington had written descendents of William Penn [Quakers]:
Government being, among other purposes, instituted to protect the person and consciences of men from oppression it certainly is the duty of rulers, not only to abstain from it themselves, but according to their station to prevent it in others.
I assure you explicitly, that in my opinion the conscientious scruples of all men should be treated with great delicacy and tenderness; and it is my wish and desire that laws may always be as extensively accommodated to them, as a due regard to the protection and essential interests of the nation many justify and permit.
But in wartime, emotions run very hot.
The foregoing all happened in the United States. Each nation has its own story, and some continue right up to the present. The country most behind the curve today appears to be South Korea. Awake! Magazine (December 2008) interviews Chong-Il Park, who was the first of a long line of Korean Witnesses to be sent to prison for refusing military service.
“Coward! You are afraid of dying at the front lines. You are trying to evade military service of the pretence of your religious conscience.” With those words, he was beaten and subsequently sentenced to three years imprisonment. That was in 1953, when there were less than 100 JWs in the entire country and their beliefs, let alone those of neutrality, were little understood.
Today there are 94,000 Witnesses in South Korea. “Many who were imprisoned as conscientious objectors when they were young men have seen their sons, and even their grandsons, go to prisons for the same reason,” relates Mr. Park. Specifically, the numbers are 13,000 over the years, and 600 at present. Park expresses hope the situation may change. “One lawyer who had prosecuted a Witness conscientious objector even wrote an open letter of apology for what he had done, and it was published in a well-known magazine,” says he.
Another exchange from Mr. Blackwell’s book:
Judge: "This whole matter troubles me. What, with Jehovah’s Witnesses increasing and spreading out all over the earth, if everybody got to be Jehovah’s Witnesses, where would we be…."
Blackwell: "Your honor, if everybody on earth became Jehovah’s Witnesses, there would be no war, and no need for armed forces of any kind, in any nation. Would the Court object to that state of affairs?"
Proceed with the case, the judge said.
It is a strange quirk of contemporary life that the two dominant players in woman’s tennis today are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Moreover, they are sisters. Imagine, year after year ….seven of the last nine, the Wimbleton crown boils down to a family affair, one sibling or another, sometimes a deciding duel between them. That’s how it was this year, with Venus finally besting her sister Serena to capture the crown.
It’s a strange quirk because, for one, there’s not that many of Jehovah’s Witnesses to start with, and for another, they generally keep out of the limelight. Indeed, they are encouraged to do so. Watchtower literature is replete with accounts of persons who gave up potential or even actual stardom in this or that field so as to “have a greater share in the ministry.” Fame and spirituality abound with conflicts. You can get yourself in odd situations, as Prince did. How many superstars manage not to get a big head? How many have marriages that last more than ten minutes? Some do both, of course, but with lesser mortals idolizing their every move, and photographers hounding them everywhere, it is a significant challenge.
But the counsel to go low-key is just that: counsel. It’s not law. It serves to sway the majority of Jehovah‘s Witnesses, being from a respected source and all. Still, individuals embrace it only to the extent they are inclined or feel able, for any number of reasons. As for the Williams sisters…..well, they just like to play tennis, I guess.
Because they’re celebrities, everyone wants to know their opinion on everything, and because they are black…..what about the first black Presidential candidate? Are they excited about Obama? Venus declined the question. But Serena effused she was "excited to see Obama out there doing his thing.''...."I'm a Jehovah's Witness, so I don't get involved in politics. We stay neutral. We don't vote,'' she said. "So I'm not going to necessarily go out and vote for him. I would if it wasn't for my religion.''
Now, for the most part, no one cares. She’s not voting? Ah, well, just one more odd factoid about a quirky religion. But here and there were some critics with very pronounced opinions.
For example, the “friendly atheist” passed this very unfriendly judgment: "Because we all know God hates people who have a sense of civic duty." And a race-oriented blog whose URL I have misplaced fretted that Serena was letting down the entire black race! What if all blacks were Jehovah’s Witnesses and didn‘t vote? the blog host opined. Why, then Obama wouldn’t have a chance. What about that, Serena?
A number read into Serena’s remarks that she, and by extension all of Jehovah’s Witnesses, would love to vote for the next Pres, but the over-controlling, mean JW organization won’t allow it. Vic Vomidog, author of Forty Years Down the Toilet….My Wasted Life with Jehovah’s Witnesses, was of that opinion. Even the Associated Press bought into that view, writing that the Williams sisters "say they're not allowed to vote because of their religion."
Jehovah’s Witnesses take any number of positions that go against the grain of contemporary thinking today. It’s well, when called upon to explain why we do this or don’t do that, that we give a reason. For example, you don’t say we don’t accept blood transfusions because we’re Jehovah’s Witnesses. You say we don’t accept blood transfusions because the Bible speaks against it. That's not a detailed answer, of course, but it points in the right direction.
You don’t say we don’t celebrate Christmas because we’re Jehovah’s Witnesses. You say we don’t celebrate Christmas because the day is not Christ’s birthday, because he never said anything about celebrating his birth anyway, and because most Christmas customs come from non-Christian sources.
Sometimes it’s just as well to deflect the question. Not that you’re ashamed of your position. It’s just that you want to be known primarily as one who trusts in God’s Kingdom, or who makes known God’s name and purposes. You don’t especially want to be known primarily as one who doesn’t take blood and doesn’t celebrate Christmas. As a corollary to your main position, okay, but not as a main position in itself. So, for example:
Q: “So how was your Christmas?”
Now, what do you say about not voting? Look, the Williams sisters are athletes, not JW spokespersons. They can hardly be expected to give long-winded statements on religious convictions. Few want to hear it anyway. Easier to say “we can’t do it.” Serena’s answer’s not bad, really. She said we are neutral. We are. Frankly, I don’t know any quick sound bytes to give reporters when asked about voting. Oh, I suppose you can say “our vote is for the Kingdom” or some such pious remark, but it leaves an odd taste, doesn’t it? and raises as many questions as answers.
The Bible uses the word “ambassadors” illustrating for us the politically neutral role Christians are to play:
“We are therefore ambassadors substituting for Christ, as though God were making entreaty through us. As substitutes for Christ we beg: ’Become reconciled to God.’” 2 Cor 5:20
If you were an ambassador from a foreign country stationed here in the U.S. (where I am), you would adapt to all laws and customs locally. You’d likely come to love the land in which you live, and its people. But when it came to the politics of your host country, you wouldn’t take a position…nor would anyone expect you to. It is not your business…your business is to represent wherever you are ambassador from. Even if heavy issues develop and positions evolve for which, since you live here, you may have some feelings, still, it is not your job to take sides. Your lack of involvement would not be because of callousness, or apathy, or lack of interest in fellowman…but it is simply not your place, representing another government, to take sides in the disputes of your host country.
Now, God’s Kingdom is a government very real to Jehovah‘s Witnesses. It is the government with which God will bring an end to human rule, unite all peoples, restore earth to it’s original paradise state, and extend everlasting life to all those under it’s rule. We view it as the only hope for mankind. No amount of tweaking of human governments will ever approach what God brings through his own rule. We believe that it rules from heaven now, and will shortly extend its rule earth wide. Those who believe in it are charged to represent it, to announce it….in effect, to act as ambassadors of that government. And an ambassador does not vote in the country in which he is stationed.
There. That's an explanation. But it runs substantially longer than a sound byte, doesn't it?
I only came across one other place on the web that gave a reasonably accurate reason for our non-voting. Here.It seems worthy of mention, if only because it stands alone.
They buried a WWI soldier back in March. There’s not many of them left. This one, Lazare Ponticelli, was 110 years of age. Yet some things he had never figured out. Like why he had been fighting in the first place. Or why they had, for that matter, his enemy. Of course he must have known the reasons supplied by national leaders, but how did it ever get so human….worldwide slaughter that took the lives of 14 million. “One of the paradoxes of 1914 is that in every country huge numbers of people, of all parties, creeds and blood, seem, surprisingly, to have gone willingly and happily to war,” states British historian John Roberts.
“More than anything, [Ponticelli] was appalled that he had been made to fire on people he didn’t know and to whom he, too, was a stranger. They were fathers of children. He had no quarrel with them” (The Economist, 3/22/08, italics mine)
Hermann Goering, the German Air Force leader from the next World War understood these things quite well:
"Why of course the people don't want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don't want war neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country." (italics mine again)
Don’t think it’s easy to resist the "leaders of the country who determine the policy." It is these who form the backdrop of popular thinking, the unconscious elements that everyone draws from. That’s why today’s new age “follow your inner voice” philosophy is such nonsense. It works great when times are easy and fails utterly when they are hard. Nationalism has proven more than equal to the task of molding one’s “inner voice.”
In God’s new system of things on earth, when war is no more, I would worry about anyone who has shown in this system that he will blow my head off if some “leader” tells him to. Surely that was among the factors that attracted me to Jehovah’s Witnesses: their track record showed that they could not be pushed around by leaders.
In Nazi Germany their refusal to support Hitler’s totalitarian efforts led to incarceration for all that the tyrant could lay hands on. It’s well known that Jehovah’s Witnesses were among the first consigned to concentration camps, preceding the far more numerous Jews. It’s also well known that once in the camps, they were the only inmates with opportunity to get themselves out; Nazi policy was that if they renounced their faith and pledged allegiance to the regime they could go free. Only a handful took advantage of the offer.
Pressure to resist war fever was also no cakewalk in America either, especially so since perception was, and still is, that this was a necessary war, a righteous war even, and……well, what was wrong with anyone who would not rise to the occasion? But Jehovah’s Witnesses think of themselves as almost a nation unto themselves, and their first loyalty is to God, Jehovah. If German JWs had not contributed to the bloodbath, why should American JWs do so? In contrast, an American Lutheran, say, might feel obliged to go to war, since German Lutherans readily put nation before God.
The overwhelming majority of all Germans in that era were of two Christian faiths: Lutheran and Catholic. If even one of those faiths had stood up to Hitler as did Jehovah’s Witnesses, might WWII have been averted, with its 60 million or so casualties? (And critics rail against us for our blood transfusion stand, which at most has contributed toward a few hundred deaths) Is this what Revelation 18:24 means when it blames Babylon the Great, that conglomeration of unfaithful religion, for not only the blood of the prophets and the “holy ones,” but for "all those who have been slaughtered on the earth?" The slain "prophets" and "holy ones" are acts of commission, but the far more numerous third group represent a staggering act of omission…..the failure to train members in ways of peace. Jehovah’s Witnesses proved it could be done back then. They prove it yet today
Yes, in her was found the blood of prophets and of holy ones and of all those who have been slaughtered on the earth. Rev 18:24
More on Neutrality here
As a teenager, Joel Engardio broke his mother's heart. He declined to pursue the Witness faith in which he was raised, diving into journalism, which he imagined could change the world now, not later.
As a young man, he broke it again. He declared he was gay. That’s a problem within JW congregations. Scriptures are scriptures and we're not authorized to change them. We don't go on anti-gay rants and witch hunts, like the fundamentalist groups, but to say we "discourage" homosexual practices would be an understatement.
But as an adult, he's done his mama proud.
Mr. Engardio has written, produced and narrated Knocking, probably the best documentary ever about Jehovah's Witnesses. Others think so, too, not just me.
Best Documentary, Jury Award, 2006 USA Film Festival (Dallas)
Best Documentary, Jury Award, 2006 Trenton Film Festival (New Jersey)
Best Documentary, Audience Award, 2006 Indianapolis International Film Festival
Its website, www.Knocking.org, lists 10 other film awards.
Some aspects of Jehovah's Witnesses, Mr. Engardio relates better than the Witnesses themselves do. For example, while it's well known that the U.S. leads the world in protecting basic freedoms from government abuse - freedom of speech, of press, of assembly, of expression, of worship - the reason is less well known. It is, in large measure, Jehovah's Witnesses.
Towards the end of ensuring freedoms, Jehovah's Witnesses have tried 50 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Except for the government itself, no other group has done so more often. The victories they've wrestled trickle down to groups of all stripes, including some with principles quite opposed to those of Jehovah's Witnesses. Such groups owe a large debt to JWs, but instead they take pot shots at our beliefs! Freedoms defined in the U.S. set the standards for other nations as well, particularly emerging ones.
An example of a basic freedom defined:
We all know that there is true patriotism and there is phony patriotism. There is the flag salute that reflects true love of country and the flag salute that is just going through the motions. The symbol means nothing in itself; it’s what the symbol means to a person which is significant. We all know that terrorists, spies, scoundrels, and what-have-you feel no compunction about saluting someone's flag, if only so as to avoid drawing attention to themselves.
All the same, politicians are sometimes satisfied, not with true patriotism, but with the appearance of true patriotism. In the late 1930's, shortly before America's entrance into WWII, "patriots" [real or phony?] thought it a good idea to make all schoolchildren salute the flag. Some communities wrote it into school bylaws. It was to be obeyed upon pain of expulsion. This created a problem for the children of Jehovah's Witnesses, who do not salute any country’s flag. Their reason is religious, not political. It’s based on the Ten Commandments. (1 and 2)
You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them… Ex 20:4,5 (NIV) Saluting a flag, for them, violates this command.
Granted, not everyone interprets those verses as we do, yet it is clear that JWs’ not saluting the flag has nothing to do with love of country. It’s a religious stand, based on avoiding "idolatry."
Their motives made no difference to a certain Pennsylvania school board. With World War II threatening to draw in the United States, they wanted patriotism, or at least the appearance thereof. Further, they imagined that forcing students to salute the flag would instill the real variety. Religious conscience was of no concern to them. There was the flag - salute it! Two Witness children, William and Lillian Gobitus, would not. They were 12 and 10 years old, respectively. They stood their ground, and were expelled from public school. Through their father, they took the matter to court.
Early court decisions went in favor of the Gobitus children. Two lower courts ruled in their favor. The second wrote into its decision the words of a certain Colonel Moss, who had authored several WWI training manuals:
"Another form that false patriotism frequently takes is so-called Flag-worship - blind and excessive adulation of the Flag as an emblem or image - super-punctiliousness and meticulosity in displaying and saluting the Flag - without intelligent and sincere understanding and appreciation of the ideals and institutions it symbolizes. This of course is but a form of idolatry - a sort of "glorified idolatry," so to speak. When patriotism assumes this form it is nonsensical and makes the "patriot" ridiculous."
"The court also noted that "there are schools all over the United States in which the pupils have to go through the ceremony of pledging allegiance to the flag every school day. It would be hard to devise a means more effective for dulling patriotic sentiment than that. This routine repetition makes the flag-saluting ceremony perfunctory and so devoid of feeling; and once this feeling has been lost it is hard to recapture it for the "high moments" of life."
Nonetheless, those who wanted the appearance of patriotism appealed each victory. The case reached the United States Supreme Court, which reversed the lower court decisions by an 8:1 vote. [!] "...We live by symbols," the Supreme Court declared. "The flag is the symbol of our national unity..." The school board could indeed compel students to salute the flag. Get over it, they seemed to say to minorities. Religious (or any other) conscience, though it harmed nobody, was stomped upon so as to please the majority. Justice Harlan Fiske Stone, the only one who voted against the decision, wrote the dissenting opinion. Three years later that dissent would become the majority opinion.
The year was 1940, and war fever ran high, a mood hard to imagine today. Any action thought to be snubbing the flag brought public vengeance, and everyone knew by then that Jehovah's Witnesses would not salute it. The Court decision lit a fire of intolerance. Mobs formed, waving the flag and demanding Witnesses salute it. When they would not, they were attacked and beaten, even into unconsciousness. Their homes, automobiles and meeting places were torched or wrecked. In small towns run by the “good ‘ol boys,” some were rounded up and jailed without charge. In four years over 2500 mob-related incidents occurred.
The Solicitor General of the United States took to the NBC airwaves:
“Jehovah's Witnesses have repeatedly been set upon and beaten. They have committed no crime; but the mob adjudged that they had, and meted out punishment The Attorney General has ordered an immediate investigation of these outrages.
“The people must be alert and watchful, and above all, cool and sane. Since mob violence will make the government's task infinitely more difficult, it will not be tolerated. We shall not defeat the Nazi evil by emulating its methods.”
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt echoed the plea of the Attorney General. The ACLU also spoke out:
“It is high time we came to our senses regarding this matter of flag-saluting. Jehovah’s Witnesses are not disloyal Americans….They are not given to law-breaking in general, but lead decent, orderly lives, contributing their share to the common good.”
Was it this vigilante atmosphere that led three of the justices to declare, in another case, that they believed Gobitus had been wrongly decided? Yet another two justices retired, and they were replaced by ones thought to be more on the side of individual liberty. If compulsory flag salute was presented anew to the Supreme Court, would the decision be the same?
The children of Walter Barnette, Paul Stull and Lucy McLure, in West Virginia were expelled from school for non-salute, and their parents were threatened with prosecution for raising delinquents. In response, they filed suit, just as the Gobitus children had done three years prior. The first court to hear the case, the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia - has this ever happened before? - refused to follow the precedent of the Supreme Court decision and ruled in favor of the Witness children!
Ordinarily we would feel constrained to follow an unreversed decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, whether we agreed with it or not.... the developments with respect to the Gobitus case, however, are such that we do not feel it is incumbent upon us to accept is as binding authority....The tyranny of majorities over the rights of individuals or helpless minorities , has always been recognized as one of the great dangers of popular government. The fathers sought to guard against this danger by writing into the Constitution a bill of rights guaranteeing to every individual certain fundamental liberties....We are clearly of opinion that the regulation of the Board requiring that school children salute the flag is void insofar as it applies to children having conscientious scruples against giving such salute...
The issue was again appealed up to the Supreme Court, and this time that body reversed itself! By at 6:3 majority, the Court ruled that compulsory flag salute was unconstitutional. Their verdict was announced on June 14, 1943 - flag day!
In writing the dissenting opinion, Justice Frankfurter grumbled: “As has been true in the past, the Court will from time to time reverse its position. But I believe that never before these Jehovah’s Witnesses cases [there were several more besides those concerning flag salute] …..has this Court overruled decisions so as to restrict the powers of democratic government.”
Yes, that’s how it is with these governments, democratic or not. They want more power. They don’t want to give it up. A certain amount is necessary, of course, so as to maintain public order and safety. We cede it to them willingly and render obedience. But when they grab for yet more - the consciences and souls of their citizens, someone has to call them on it. And that someone has often been Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Knocking concludes with the observation that Jehovah's Witnesses are, at present, litigating 400 human rights cases worldwide.
More on Knocking here
They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world. John 17:16
Jesus spoke these words with regard to his followers. What does that mean, to be “no part of the world?”
To Jehovah’s Witnesses, it means strict political neutrality, among other things.
Some look askance at that. Is that not hiding one’s head in the sand? Is it not irresponsible? We must change the world for the better: that message comes through loud and clear from most of the world‘s decent people. And how can we do that if we’re apolitical?
But here is an analogy that will perhaps help one to see the JW point of view.
You must pretend that you are an ambassador from a foreign country…..say Krukordistan. As such, you live in Washington DC or London, or Ottawa, or Paris. You learn to adapt to all laws and customs locally. You come to love the land in which you live, and its people. But...when it comes to the politics of your host country, you don't really take a position...nor does anyone expect you to. It is not your business...your business is to represent Krukordistan. Even if heavy issues develop and positions evolve for which, since you live here, you may have some feelings, still, it is not your job to take sides. Your lack of involvement is not because of callousness, or apathy, or lack of interest in fellowman...but it is simply not your place, representing Krukordistan, to take sides in the disputes of your host country.
The Bible uses that exact analogy with respect to Christians representing God’s Kingdom.
We are therefore ambassadors substituting for Christ, as though God were making entreaty through us. As substitutes for Christ we beg: “Become reconciled to God. 2 Cor 5:20
In fact, it is not unlike a verse describing Abraham:
By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed in going out into a place he was destined to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, although not knowing where he was going. By faith he resided as an alien in the land of the promise as in a foreign land, and dwelt in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the very same promise. For he was awaiting the city having real foundations, the builder and maker of which [city] is God. Heb 11:8-10
Now, God’s Kingdom is something very real to Jehovah‘s Witnesses. It is the government with which God will bring an end to human rule, unite all peoples, restore earth to it’s original paradise state, and extend everlasting life to all those under it’s rule. We view it as the only hope for mankind. No amount of tweaking of human governments will ever approach what God brings through his own rule.
We believe that it rules from heaven now, and will shortly extend its rule earth wide. Those who believe in it are charged to represent it, to announce it….in effect, to act as ambassadors of that government.
And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be brought to ruin. And the kingdom itself will not be passed on to any other people. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it itself will stand to times indefinite… Dan 2:44
It’s not that Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t care about current events. That’s not what makes them apolitical. Instead, we are convinced that we can best serve humanity by announcing this incoming government. We don’t bring about this government. God does. We only try to represent it. As you might imagine, this stance keeps us united. You might consider our faith to be of a more fundamental variety. (Not to be confused with fundamentalists. We disagree with them in almost every respect, other than the existence of God, and they with us.) Our faith is not a tool for reforming the hopelessly corrupt and selfish ruling systems of today. It is a tool for announcing a superior arrangement of God. We do not think that Adam and Eve were repentant. (the Muslim viewpoint) Rather, their rebellious spirit continues to this day, and is manifested in today’s governments.
There is something in the air today….a belligerence, an unreasonableness, a spirit of vengeance. All are in it’s grip. Do you sense it?
But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be ….blasphemers…. unthankful, disloyal….not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness….betrayers, headstrong….having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power…. 2 Tim 3:1-5
Will nations, peoples, tongues ever come together of their own accord? Is there the slightest evidence of that happening now or any reasonable expectation that it will?
Or will peace come only when God extends his Kingdom rule earth wide?
Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done
On earth, as it is in heaven. Matt 6: 10
When nations start pounding the war drums, you’d better snap to. Even when they’re not pounding, but merely tuning them up, they don’t put up with much dissent. Thus there are peaceful countries (as countries go) such as South Korea in which young people are drafted into the military. Our people don’t go. So they routinely do jail time instead, since no exemption for conscience is granted.
From the preceding, a person might conclude that Jehovah’s Witnesses are pacifists. But we’re not. We are neutral.
If you were merely a pacifist, you might just do food service. Or Hummer repair. Or patch up wounded troops. Or mend uniforms. But if you’re neutral, you don’t do any of those things.
Neutral is a tougher sell to governments. Many can deal with pacifists. But not neutrality.
For too long a time my soul has tabernacled with the haters of peace. I stand for peace, but when I speak, they are for war. Ps 120:6,7
The neutrality stems from our view of God’s Kingdom. We take it seriously. We take it literally. It is the government that will, at long last, bring peace and restore earth to God’s original purpose. We endeavor to represent that kingdom.
We are therefore ambassadors substituting for Christ, as though God were making entreaty through us....2 Cor 5:20
If you were an ambassador from, say…. Krukordistan, you would live in Washington, or Ottawa, or London, or Paris. You would adapt to all laws and customs of your host country. You’d come to love the land in which you live, and its people. But...when it comes to the host’s politics, you wouldn't really take a position...nor would anyone expect you to. It is not your business...your business is to represent Krukordistan . Even if heavy issues develop and positions evolve for which, living in the host country, you may have some sympathy, still, it is not your job to take sides. Your lack of involvement is not because of callousness, or apathy, or lack of interest in fellowman...but it is simply not your place, representing Krukordistan, to take sides in the disputes of your host country.
That is our position regarding God’s Kingdom. It’s not entirely dissimilar to Abraham’s position:
By faith Abraham, when he was called….resided as an alien in the land of the promise as in a foreign land, and dwelt in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the very same promise. For he was awaiting the city having real foundations, the builder and maker of which [city] is God. Heb 11:8-10