Last year that alternative newspaper City! published a cute article (they thought) poking fun at Jehovah’s Witnesses. We weren’t mentioned by name, but the description fit us exactly. Within hours, Tom Wheatandweeds zinged back a knee-jerk response. But it wasn’t enough! He pondered the matter for a day or so and responded again, this time on a more fundamental level. City! did not publish his first letter. They did his second. They’re not bad folks over there, but they get some goofy ideas about God.
Normally City! displays journalistic inquisitiveness, a penchant for accuracy, and a sensitivity toward minorities. When it comes to Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, you blithely repeat every slur and derogatory stereotype you hear. To ridicule a subject you understand is one thing. To ridicule one you don’t is beneath City! With respect, the article makes clear that your reporter doesn’t have a clue as to what we’re about. And yet, there is much about Jehovah’s Witnesses that he (she?) would admire, were he aware.
Rights of free speech and assembly that benefit groups of all stripes, including many admired by City! have been largely influenced by Jehovah’s Witnesses. To that end, 46 Supreme Court appearances over the years have resulted in 37 Constitutional precedents clarifying these rights. No other group has appeared more often before the Court. Now that we are in the Patriot Act era, City and others are nervous that basic civil rights are being redefined. In this charged environment, Watchtower Bible v Stratton, a 2002 victory, continues a tradition of upholding our fundamental right of free speech. One would expect a journalist to celebrate, not ridicule, a group to whom he owes such a debt.
It is not difficult for bland people to get along, but such is not the case for those with strong views. Alas, the all-to-frequent pattern today is for religions to, at best, manipulate governments in an effort to impose their morality on others, and, at worst, engage in terrorist acts. Jehovah’s Witnesses do neither, and are thus an example in peaceful co-existence, even while standing for values many do not embrace. We declare, to the best of our ability, a message we believe to be true. Some people find it so attractive that they join us and adopt our style of living. But we have no desire to force others to live according to our ways. Our arena is that of ideas. We fancy ourselves neither judges nor enforcers. God can sort it all out. We don’t feel the need to.
Normally, a group representing non-violence would enjoy City!’s profoundest respect. Why is this not the case with Jehovah’s Witnesses? The premiere example of our peaceful stand under trial remains Germany during the Hitler years, during which thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses were among the very first concentration camp prisoners, preceding the far-more-numerous Jews, and other groups. They are the only inmates who can properly be termed martyrs (as opposed to victims) in that they had power to secure their own release by signing a document renouncing their faith and pledging cooperation with the Nazi regime. Only a handful took advantage of the opportunity. To this day, many of our people are imprisoned for the same neutral stand towards government saber-rattling. How many groups do you cover who would go so far so as not to violate conscience?
Please take these facts into account the next time your articles touch on us. We are not deserving of the ill-treatment you have dished out.