What People Are Asking About Jehovah’s Witnesses
By “Awake!” correspondent in Nigeria
WHAT do you know about Jehovah’s Witnesses? Principally, many know them as the people who call from door to door with the Bible. Also, they, are commonly known for their large conventions. But the first response of many persons is: “Aren’t those the people who don’t take blood transfusions and don’t salute the flag?”
Refusing to take blood transfusions, or to pledge allegiance to the flag, has, in many places, caused Jehovah’s Witnesses to be surrounded by controversy. ‘Why do they take such a position?’ many wonder. ‘Is it just to be contrary, to draw attention to themselves? Are they against governments?’
That is what some have been led to believe. Nigeria’s Sunday Punch of July 17, 1977, presented the views of persons of different walks of life. Said a student: “Jehovah’s Witnesses are fanatics, Nigeria should beware of them.” An accountant asserted: “It is very wrong for any section of the population to refuse to recite the National Pledge. Jehovah[’s] Witnesses should be forced to recite the pledge.” A secretary agreed: “It is not right for any set of people under whatever guise to disregard the national pledge. It is a contempt of national security.”
Religious leaders often are responsible for molding such public opinion regarding the Witnesses. The same issue of the Sunday Punch observed: “In an attack on the sect, the Anglican Bishop of Ibadan, Rt. Rev. Timothy Olufosoye said ‘their books and papers are full of hate . . . and denials of the plain teaching and the love of God.’” Another religious leader was quoted as saying: “Their refusal to recite the national pledge is a sin on their part because it is a disregard for worldly norms.”
What about such charges? Just why do Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to salute the flag or take blood transfusions? Do they really ‘deny the plain teaching of God’?
The Sunday Punch had its reporter, Dupe Olugunna, call at the branch office of the Witnesses here in Lagos, Nigeria. She left a number of handwritten questions with Albert N. Olih, a member of the branch staff. He answered these, and in the July 17, 1977, Sunday Punch, the questions and answers appeared, in part, along with the views of others about Jehovah’s Witnesses. Since the controversy surrounding Jehovah’s Witnesses is world wide, and not simply confined to Nigeria, a consideration of this interview will be enlightening to people everywhere.
You will find the questions of the Punch reporter and Albert Olih’s answers below.
PUNCH: Why are you so persecution-complexed?
MR. OLIH: If by this you want to know if Jehovah’s Witnesses like to be persecuted, I want to assure you that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not like to be persecuted. However, if some people want to persecute us because we hold a different view on some Scriptural matters, we cannot stop them from doing so. We just have to bear the persecution and endure. We try to see that what we do is in accord with the Bible because our organization is a Bible-based one, and then if people want to persecute us because of our living up to what we understand to be Bible principles, then we just have to leave the matter in the hands of Jehovah God.—Ps. 83:18
The Bible says: “Hold a good conscience, so that in the particular in which you are spoken against they may get ashamed who are speaking slightingly of your good conduct in connection with Christ. For it is better to suffer because you are doing good, if the will of God wishes it, than because you are doing evil.” (1 Pet. 3:16, 17) And also: “Bear in mind the word I said to you, A slave is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”—John 15:20.
PUNCH: Why is it that you resent authority so much? At least Jesus told us that we should ‘give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.’
MR. OLIH: The truth is that as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses I do not resent the authority of the government, and I can say this for all of Jehovah’s Witnesses. We act in harmony with what is stated at Titus 3:1: “Be obedient to governments and authorities as rulers.” It is true that some, before they became Jehovah’s Witnesses, might have engaged in lawless conduct. They may have stolen what belonged to others. Perhaps they viewed obedience to certain laws as important only when the police were in sight. However, the Bible made clear to them that, if they were going to take up true worship of Jehovah, they would need a very different outlook on life.
The attitude Christians should have toward the “Caesar” government is stated at Romans 13:1: “Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities, for there is no authority except by God.” This does not mean that God established these governments or that he approves of their course. Some of them plainly say that they are atheistic. Nonetheless, God permits them to exist. They would not be able to exercise authority at all if God did not allow it. “Jesus answered [Pontius Pilate]: ‘You would have no authority at all against me unless it had been granted to you from above. This is why the man that handed me over to you has greater sin.’” (John 19:11) So we follow the doctrine that says: Pay back, therefore, Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.” Matt. 22:21.
PUNCH: In the case of the schoolboys who refused to say the “national pledge,” aren’t you taunting the state authority too hard? Why don’t you follow the doctrine, ‘to give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s’?
MR. OLIH: It is good to remember that the command says ‘to give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to give to God the things that are God’s.’ It is necessary to determine the things that are God’s so that a person may not be giving to Caesar the things that are God’s.
It is good to remember, too, that Jesus was answering questions about the payment of taxes. We are glad that the “Caesar” government under which we live provides roads for travel, schools for education, fire protection, food inspection and many other things, including courts of law and protection against crime. How do we pay back these things provided by Caesar?
It is by paying taxes. The Bible says: “There is therefore compelling reason for you people to be in subjection, not only on account of that wrath [in punishment of laws violated] but also on account of your conscience. For that is why you are also paying taxes; for they are God’s public servants constantly serving this very purpose. Render to all their dues, to him who calls for the tax, the tax; to him who calls for the tribute, the tribute.” (Rom. 13:5-7) Jehovah’s Witnesses pay their taxes.
But, on the other hand, Jesus says to give unto God the things that are God’s. What are the things that belong to God? The Bible at Psalm 36:9 says: “For with you is the source of life; by light from you we can see light.” In another place we read: “The God that made the world and all the things in it . . . gives to all persons life.”—Acts 17:24, 25.
So we owe our life to Jehovah God and he alone has the right to determine how we use our lives. We owe him our worship, and this means we need to regard his laws as supreme. So if “Caesar” asks that we disobey the laws of God, then a Christian must follow the example set by the apostle Peter and his fellow apostles when they said: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 5:29.
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not “taunt” the state authority. They imitate Jesus Christ and the apostles by showing respect to those in authority, while at the same time using their lives to do the things that are in harmony with the will of God. So doing, we truly pay back to God what belongs to God and to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar.—1 Cor. 7:23.
Now about the reciting of the pledge: As you will have observed from the many newspaper reports of recent incidents involving children of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the boys concerned did not say that someone had told them that they should not repeat the words of the pledge. In each instance they maintained that their Bible-trained conscience would not allow them to repeat the words of the pledge.
These children must have read about the three young Hebrews, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and how they refused to participate in the ceremony ordered by the king. Why did they refuse? Because it involved worship, and their worship belonged to Jehovah God. God approved of what they did. But how did the king of Babylon react? At first he was violently angry. Yet, in time, he saw the hand of Jehovah God in the matter. Realizing that they were no danger to the state, he issued a decree protecting their freedom. (Dan. 3:1-30) Do you not admire their loyalty to God? Do you not want to be just as firm as they were in giving worship exclusively to God?
These children must also have read the account at Mark 12:29-31: “‘Jehovah our God is one Jehovah, and you must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind and with your whole strength.’ The second is this, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Certainly, if children are brought up to love Jehovah God with their whole heart, whole soul, whole mind and whole strength, and to love their neighbor as they love themselves, they would not constitute any danger to the nation. They would not steal, defraud, join in any plans to overthrow the government, fail to give equal work for equal pay or do anything that would bring a bad name to their country and its government. Would anyone say that persons who are willing to obey God’s law and abide by it constitute a danger to the public?
If this refusal to salute was something only in Nigeria, then one would begin to reason that these children are slighting the government of the country. But this is a stand that has been taken by children of Jehovah’s Witnesses whenever they are confronted with similar issues.
PUNCH: Would you say that the ritual-like expression of pledge is a crucial index for measuring the depth of commitment and loyalty to the state?
MR. OLIH: It appears that this is a matter for those who are in authority to consider. However, there is an illustration in the Bible that may assist a person to give an answer to this question. It is found at Matthew 21:28, 29: “‘What do you think? A man had two children. Going up to the first, he said, “Child, go work today in the vineyard.” In answer this one said, “I will, sir,” but did not go out. Approaching the second, he said the same. In reply this one said, “I will not.” Afterwards he felt regret and went out. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said: ‘The latter.’ Jesus said to them: ‘Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and the harlots are going ahead of you into the kingdom of God.’”
So what do the people want? Do they want the doers or the talkers? Which would you prefer? The one that by his actions shows loyalty to the nation by obeying the laws of the nation, such as not stealing, not committing murder or in any way planning the overthrow of the government or engaging in smuggling or hoarding and other things that could bring difficulty and unnecessary danger to the people, or the one that engages in these things but very eloquently proclaims that he is very loyal to the nation?
PUNCH: Don’t you think that as citizens of Nigeria members of your sect owe a set of general civic obligations to the country?
MR. OLIH: Certainly Jehovah’s Witnesses who are citizens of Nigeria know their civic obligation to obey the laws of this country. As already stated, they pay ‘Caesar’s things to Caesar and God’s things to God.’ (Matt. 22:21 In our conversation you mentioned the matter of voting. An editorial in the “New Nigerian” of October 18, 1976, made some pertinent comments on this when discussing local government elections. It noted that a society’s degree of democracy is often measured by the extent to which the right to vote is guaranteed. But what if “citizens are coerced into exercising this right”?
Says the “New Nigerian”: “[That] society’s claim to democracy is laid bare. This is why all the hairsplitting in some quarters about the refusal of members of the Jehovah[’s] Witness[es] to vote . . . seems uncalled for.” The editorial continues: “We believe that the Jehovah[’s] Witnesses have not committed any crime. So long as an individual or a group of individuals . . . pay their taxes, do not engage in any unlawful activity and do not disturb peace and order, democracy demands that they are left in peace and given state protection—even if such an individual or group chooses not to vote.”
PUNCH: What about the pregnant woman in Emekuku who died with her unborn child because she refused blood transfusion on the grounds of “disbelief in natural medicine”? Where in the Bible does it say that we should refuse blood transfusion?
MR. OLIH: It is difficult to believe that this woman did not believe in natural medicine. Otherwise why did she go to the hospital? Did she expect to be given a bottle of beer or some whiskey and brandy? Certainly she went to the hospital in order to receive medical attention. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not disbelieve in natural medicine.
Now as to the direct question you have asked as to why Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse blood transfusion. God’s law forbids a person to steal, to murder, to commit adultery, to worship idols; so Jehovah’s Witnesses do not do these things. God’s law also forbids the eating of blood. At Genesis 9:3, 4 Jehovah commanded Noah: “Every moving animal that is alive may serve as food for you. As in the case of green vegetation, I do give it all to you. Only flesh with its soul—its blood—you must not eat.” Further, Jehovah said to his people, the Israelites: “‘No soul of you must eat blood and no alien resident who is residing as an alien in your midst should eat blood.’ . . . Consequently I said to the sons of Israel: ‘You must not eat the blood of any sort of flesh, because the soul of every sort of flesh is its blood. Anyone eating it will be cut off.’” (Lev. 17:12-14) So, according to these scriptures, God does not permit man to eat blood.
After the death of Jesus Christ, the apostles were faced with this issue of blood when non-Jews began to accept Christianity. The matter was referred to the governing body of the Christian congregation in Jerusalem and they reached a decision based on God’s Word and with the help of the holy spirit. What was their decision?
At Acts 15:28, 29 the account reads: “For the holy spirit and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to you, except these necessary things, to keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication. If you carefully keep yourselves from these things, you will prosper. Good health to you!”
So in obedience to God’s command, Jehovah’s Witnesses abstain from taking blood. In emergencies they will use plasma volume expanders such as saline solution, dextran, and so forth, which are much safer than transfusions of blood. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not condemn medical practices; there are many physicians and dentists among them. If you check in the hospitals here in Lagos and in other parts of the country, you will find that there are Jehovah’s Witnesses who are working as nurses and chemists, and there are some of them who own shops where they sell patent medicines. But they will not violate the law of God simply to go along with the popular practice of giving blood transfusions.
Being frank, what person in the medical field can honestly say that blood transfusions themselves have no risks? In mentioning this, I do not mean to say that Jehovah’s Witnesses object to transfusions primarily for medical reasons. No, let no one ever get that impression. The fundamental reason why we cannot, yes, will not, accept blood transfusions is that God’s Word forbids it. Ours is basically a religious objection. Nevertheless, the fact that there are so many risks in taking blood underscores the reasonableness, even from a medical standpoint, of our position.
It is fine when an opportunity is afforded, as it was by the Sunday Punch, here in Nigeria, to explain the position of Jehovah’s Witnesses. As you can see, theirs is not a fanatical, unreasonable position, but, rather, it is one based squarely on the teachings of God’s Word the Bible.
Due to the misrepresentation spread by religious leaders, it would be a mistake to expect to obtain an accurate picture of what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe, and why they believe as they do, merely from hearsay. We would not expect to obtain from the scribes and Pharisees a correct picture of what Jesus believed, would we?
So if you have any questions about Jehovah’s Witnesses and what they believe, why not ask them personally? They will be happy to answer any questions that you may have.
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How do Jehovah’s Witnesses view obedience to governments? Do they oppose medical treatment?
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