Why No Theological Terms in Watchtower Publications?
Getting to the Point in a Crazy World

Is it Accurate to Refer to Jehovah’s Witnesses as a ‘Cult’?

Q: Is it accurate to refer to Jehovah's Witnesses as a "cult"? Do they meet the criteria of a true cult?

If it is accurate to call first century Christianity a ‘cult’ then it is also accurate to call Jehovah’s Witnesses a cult.

Take, for example, Paul’s direction that: “Now I urge you, brothers, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you should all speak in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you may be completely united in the same mind and in the same line of thought.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)

You know that would be spun as a ‘cult’ today.

The ‘cult’ label exists to punish anyone who thinks out of the mainstream. Again, the apostle Paul:

“And stop being molded by this system of things, but be transformed by making your mind over, so that you may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2)

‘You WILL be molded by it,’ says the anti-cult faction, ‘and if you refuse, we will call you a ‘cult.’

Thing is, there doubtless are some crazy ‘cults’ out there. Yet, if the mainstream managed to deliver the goods (of peace, contentment, justice, meaning in life, etc), non of these groups, Jehovah’s Witnesses included, would succeed in gaining a toehold.

Seemingly, it is new, the non-stop accusations that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a ‘cult.’ Yet, it is just the latest permutation of what has been the case since the founding of Christianity. “Happy are you when people reproach you and persecute you and lyingly say every sort of wicked thing against you for my sake,” said Jesus (Matthew 5:10)

Depend upon it. Christians would be spoken against. So it is that when Paul rolls into town (Rome), he asks the local Jewish leaders whether anyone has been talking trash about him. His answer? “We have not received letters about you from Judea, nor have any of the brothers who came from there reported or spoken anything bad about you. But we think it proper to hear from you what your thoughts are, for truly as regards this sect, we know that it is spoken against everywhere.” (Acts 28: 21-22)

Nothing has changed. It was a ‘sect’ that was ‘spoken against everywhere.’

So why is it they were nowhere in Scripture specifically called a ‘cult’? Because the definition of the word ‘cult’ has been changed to fit them. It used to be that if you fell under the spell of a charismatic leader, separated from society, and began to do weird things, you just might be a cult member. By that traditional definition, Jehovah’s Witnesses are anything but a cult. Charismatic leaders? Many of them are cultivated tastes to listen to. Separate from society? They work and school with everyone else. Practice weird things? Only if you consider speaking about the cause of their faith, as laid out in the Bible, weird.

The old definition doesn’t fit them at all. So a new definition is concocted that does. But it equally fits Christianity as outlined in the Bible. Even the modern notion that Witnesses take advantage of people, rather than benefit them, is countered in Scripture—so the charge was apparently made, even if not couched in modern ‘cult’ jargon: “We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one,” Paul says at 2 Corinthians 7:2.

As far as I’m concerned, you should turn that nonsense on its head, doing what the police did when radicals began calling them PIGS, doubling down when they saw it got under their skin. One innovative officer redefined the acronym as, ‘Pride, Integrity, Guts, Service.’ 

Same here. Call Witnesses a cult? Redefine it: ‘Courage, Unity, Love, Truth.’ In short, you can call Jehovah’s Witnesses a cult if you like—the word means different things to different people—but then you must also call first-century Christianity a cult, because Witnesses do no more than emulate them.

“No, he was talking about guys like you! Your organization perfectly fit the description of the evil slave.”

“Oh yeah? You didn’t mention destroying families, allowing children to bleed to death, allowing child abuse, failed prophecies!”

A: Forty years into all-out societal war against child abuse, you can still throw a stone in any direction and hit ten pedophiles, so how anyone can say the problem is JWs is beyond me. Nevertheless, if there ever was a problem in the JW realm, it has been settled with a study article ensuring all that there is no stigma whatsoever in reporting an abuser to authorities. Details here:

As to blood transfusions, doubtless the JW stand has aided more people that it has harmed. This is because, here and there, courageous doctors have worked to accommodate it and in so doing have made medicine much safer for all. If there was equity, the JW organization would be awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for improving treatment. Details here: 

On ‘destroying families,’ that is mostly a matter of individuals insisting upon bringing into the congregation something God forbids, for example, some matter of modern sexual morality, and being disallowed by faithful family members.

As to failed prophesies, these are mostly analogous to misreading the bus schedule and consequently showing up early. This is no more calamitous than if someone showed up early at an actual bus stop. A little embarrassing, but people adjust.


******  The bookstore

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the book ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the book, 'In the Last of the Last Days: Faith in the Age of Dysfunction'



Another excellent write up on this topic! I'm curious why you think we don't see the dreaded 'cult' label affixed nearly as often to a group like the Amish? They're certainly isolated from society, seen as 'weird' in their daily life and can be quite strict in their membership standards.

[Reply: The term that scholars use for religions of recent origin is ‘new religion’ or ‘new religious movements.’ They avoid the word ‘cult’ because of its negative connotations, even incendiary ones. Anti-cult factions keep the c-word alive in order to keep those negative and incendiary connotations alive. In short, the word ‘cult’ is used as a weapon.

I think people like the Amish, by and large, and so have no special urge to use weapons against them. It might be different if the Amish actively sought to spread their faith to others.]

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