Beating Swords Into Plowshares
November 21, 2008
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.
Tom of Sheep and Goats,
Had this post been written, when it was, or could be effective at the time, it would have been important information. In the current status of anyone who is a conscientious objector (CO) all they can do is rant and rave about how bad those folks were treated. Such treatment has not been administered for many years in the military justice system. That is not totally true; there are and there will always be individuals whose intent is to try the system. They come into the military for some reason or another and then when they find they do not like the military they scream that they are CO’s. The military asks individuals directly before they are sworn in as service members if the are CO’s, and if they answer in the negative it is assumed they are not. Circumstances change and individuals change so there will be cases that occur. There is no draft or conscription today as many refer to it, but some enter into conditions without having the knowledge of what they are doing.
In the way that CO’s are treated in other countries, we in the United States have no control of that, and it would appear from the last few lines of your post that the country is coming to grips with the present problem. And I hope that they do solve the problem.
Since the time there were only 4 people on this earth, one chose to kill the other. Was that war? People only war because they are not prohibited from doing so. It would be a very good thing if the world had no war, but we could also do without disease, mosquitoes, rats, fireants and a number of other very undesirable things which we may be able to eliminate before we could rid ourselves of war.
Posted by: Ed Hughes | November 23, 2008 at 05:56 AM
"If you’re not going to apply those words in time of war, just when do you apply them?"
Very nice column.
Posted by: John Lassiter | November 23, 2008 at 08:56 AM
I will follow up soon with a post regarding Mr. Blackwell's experiences before military courts. It will be very favorable toward the military justice system, you will see. He thought the quality of judges in the military much superior to those in secular life.
Posted by: tom sheepandgoats | November 23, 2008 at 07:48 PM
I received a comment....all in Spanish....for my "Spanish readers." Much as I appreciate the contribution, do I really have Spanish readers? If so, they're a very long-suffering bunch. I've never published a speck of Spanish here.
At any rate, I can't understand it. Perhaps the author can resubmit in English?
Posted by: tom sheepandgoats | November 23, 2008 at 08:06 PM
Thank you, John.
John occasionally sends me spelling corrections, which I very much appreciate. You no, John, I don't no what I would do without them.
:-) Thanks again.
Posted by: tom sheepandgoats | November 23, 2008 at 08:16 PM
To WMM -
I wouldn't be so quick to assume that things have changed in the US. On September 11th many people all of a sudden became "patriots" and I remember some looking at me sideways because I didn't wear an American flag pin on my clothes to work or have a little flag on my desk like everyone else. The propensity for persecuting non-patriotic people and those who refuse military service is still there. People have a tendency to become complacent when they have not seen or experienced direct persecution and they assume things have changed when they really haven't.
From reports I've read the new president elect may very well force everyone between the ages of 25 and 35 into civil service - civil service that may very well conflict with the neutral stand of JW's. I could be wrong but we will see if things have really changed if this actually happens.
Personally, I don't things have changed much at all.
Posted by: vargas | November 23, 2008 at 09:26 PM
Vargas: I hadn't heard a thing about civil service, neutral-conflicting or otherwise. Time will tell.
If it turns out that way....you said it first. Thanks for the input.
Posted by: tom sheepandgoats | November 24, 2008 at 11:00 AM
I was not quick to assume what I wrote and you are correct about things remaining unchanged in the US., you are also correct when you mention temporary “patriots” who are wrong with their attitude in general, they usually soon lose that zeal. How many of those who were willing to chastise others for not having a flag on their desk, or flying one from their car, or wearing one on their clothing, still display that same attitude today? Few if any has been my observation. I spent most of my working life in the military and the military has changed considerably since 1954 when I first raised my hand and swore to defend my country against all enemy’s both foreign and domestic. And also to obey all orders from my superiors and to abide by all the rules and regulations prescribed for me. This is not word for word what the Oath states but it encompasses the meaning of the Oath. At that time a service member was not administered the Oath if; they were a member or had been a member of the Communist Party, were a CO, were female and pregnant, were homosexual, or made false statements on their application for service. If one changed their mind they faced charges concerning the prelisted conditions, they were charged punished and then usually dishonorably discharged from the service. A pregnant female was generally just released from the service without punishment. The oath that one swore to uphold included all these various items in Military Regulations and orders.
Many of those things have changed over the years and I will not go into the politics or ramifications of those changes.
Since you mentioned the President Elect and his program of civil service I find that it might well end up being called “Universal Military Training” and if it even comes close to that it will certainly conflict with the JW’s. The change that was advertised appears to be in staffing his Cabinet with a number of Clinton retreads. Some of the other programs that he wants are taken right from the FDR playbook, the NRA to hold all businesses by a leash (we the taxpayers will own or partially own and control the major businesses and lending institutions in the US). CCC camps fall into fall into the first part of this paragraph, the WPA will be building and renovating roads and bridges, welfare and subsidies will probably overwhelm the system.
The President Elect has never served in the Armed Forces and I do not expect him to be very knowledgeable of the Military, but he will be the Commander in Chief of all the Armed Forces members. He will be our ultimate leader, and I do not know what he will choose to do in the future, but one of the jobs of leaders is to display leadership to his subordinates. He has made it known that he does not respect the National Anthem, and the Flag Raising Ceremony. And just in case you did not realize it the military mans/womans creed is to honor “God , Flag and Country”.
Posted by: Ed Hughes | November 25, 2008 at 03:55 AM
I would like to add that after 9/11 I remember flags being passed around at work. And when it came to my desk I calmly asked the manager to refrain from putting one on it. He did anyway. I took it and tried to inconspicously throw it away, but someone saw me doing it and started making jabs at me for it. A day later I was in the manager's office explaining why I wasn't a good "patriot," although he had known for a long time I was a Jehovah's Witness, and my stance on political issues. A few weeks passed and my supervisor started giving me a lot of trouble over my neutral stance and told me she was going to get me fired. Then a few months afer daily harrasment and bullying, I was invited into the office where my sup and manager had gotten together some flimsy charges to fire me.
Good article tom, really enjoyed it. Wish I could borrow it to show a couple of "friends" if you don't mind.
Posted by: Victrix | November 25, 2008 at 03:04 PM
BTW I have a talk by Blackwell Victor in MP3 format entitled:
Testifying to Kings and Governors.
I didn't know he had a book out, thanks for the reference.
Posted by: Victrix | November 25, 2008 at 03:11 PM
Sorry to hear of your experience. Sometimes you can defuse a tense situation with tact and respectful reasoning, but other times the deck is just too much stacked against you.
I heard Blackwell speak once in Niagara Falls in the late 1970's, back in the days when most any circuit could invite any Bethelite or theocratic speaker to speak about most anything. They haven't done that for a long time now. The book itself is fascinating for it's legal discussions and it's WWII settings. I refered to it once before regarding flag salute issues:
Posted by: Tom Sheepandgoats Harley | November 25, 2008 at 08:22 PM
As Victrix has noted, laws and reality don't always mesh.
The United States Supreme Court deems patriotism to be a religion ... and, with the possible exception of ones own children, it is illegal to cram a religion down anyone's throat.
I was facing a similar situation (the issue was our stance on homosexuality and involved a lesbian supervisor ... I was willing to work in her department, but she made it plain that she was not willing to have me there) and took the matters into my own hands by quitting.
The end was the same, but I liked having some control over the timing.
Posted by: Bill in Detroit | January 04, 2009 at 07:25 AM
BTW -- You've been Stumbled. Did you ever think you'd like to be Stumbled? ;-)
Delete this / moderate it out of existence ... just a head's up in case you see a tiny traffic spike.
Posted by: Bill in Detroit | January 04, 2009 at 07:25 AM