Recognized by Our Conduct
WE LIVE in an era in which moral standards that were long respected have been discarded by large segments of mankind. Most religions of Christendom have followed suit, either in the name of tolerance or with the argument that times are different and the taboos of earlier generations no longer apply. As to the result, Samuel Miller, a dean of Harvard Divinity School, said: “The church simply does not have a cutting edge. It has taken the culture of our time and absorbed it.” The effect on the lives of those who looked to such churches for guidance has been devastating.
In contrast, when discussing Jehovah’s Witnesses, L’Eglise de Montréal, the weekly bulletin of the Catholic archdiocese of Montreal, Canada, said: “They have remarkable moral values.” Large numbers of schoolteachers, employers, and government officials agree with that. What accounts for this reputation?
Being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses involves much more than holding to a certain framework of doctrinal beliefs and witnessing to others about these beliefs. Early Christianity was known as “The Way,” and Jehovah’s Witnesses realize that true religion today must be a way of life. (Acts 9:2) As was true in other things, however, the modern-day Witnesses did not immediately achieve a balanced appreciation of what this involves.
“Character or Covenant—Which?”
Although they started with sound Scriptural counsel about the need to be Christlike, the emphasis that some of the early Bible Students gave to “character development,” as they called it, tended to minimize certain aspects of real Christianity. Some of them seemed to be of the opinion that being genteel—always appearing to be kind and good, speaking softly, avoiding any display of anger, reading the Scriptures daily—would guarantee their entrance into heaven. But these lost sight of the fact that Christ had given his followers a work to do.
This problem was firmly addressed in the article “Character or Covenant—Which?” in the May 1, 1926, issue of The Watch Tower.a It showed that efforts to develop a “perfect character” while in the flesh caused some to give up in discouragement, but at the same time, it produced a “more holy than thou” attitude in others and tended to cause them to lose sight of the merit of Christ’s sacrifice. After emphasizing faith in the shed blood of Christ, the article highlighted the importance of ‘doing things’ in the active service of God to give evidence that one was pursuing a course pleasing to God. (2 Pet. 1:5-10) At that time, when much of Christendom still made a pretense of holding to Biblical moral standards, this emphasis on activity strengthened the contrast between Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christendom. The contrast became even more evident as moral issues that were becoming common had to be dealt with by all who professed to be Christians.
“Abstain From Fornication”
The Christian standard regarding sexual morality was set out long ago in plain language in the Bible. “This is what God wills, the sanctifying of you, that you abstain from fornication . . . For God called us, not with allowance for uncleanness, but in connection with sanctification. So, then, the man that shows disregard is disregarding, not man, but God.” (1 Thess. 4:3-8) “Let marriage be honorable among all, and the marriage bed be without defilement, for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.” (Heb. 13:4) “Do you not know that unrighteous persons will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be misled. Neither fornicators, . . . nor adulterers, nor men kept for unnatural purposes, nor men who lie with men . . . will inherit God’s kingdom.”—1 Cor. 6:9, 10.
In the Watch Tower, attention was drawn to this standard for true Christians as early as November of 1879. But it was not discussed repeatedly or at length as if this were a major problem among the early Bible Students. However, as the attitude of the world became more permissive, increased attention was directed to this requirement, especially in the years surrounding World War II. This was needed because some among Jehovah’s Witnesses were adopting the view that as long as they were busy witnessing, a little laxness in sexual morality was just a personal matter. It is true that The Watchtower of March 1, 1935, had clearly stated that participation in the field ministry gave no license for immoral conduct. But not everyone took it to heart. So, in its issue of May 15, 1941, The Watchtower again discussed the matter, and at considerable length, in an article entitled “Noah’s Day.” It pointed out that the sexual debauchery in Noah’s day was one reason why God destroyed the world of that time, and it showed that what God did then set a pattern for what he would do in our day. In plain language it warned that an integrity-keeping servant of God could not devote part of his day to doing the Lord’s will and then, after hours, indulge in “the works of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:17-21) This was followed up, in The Watchtower of July 1, 1942, with another article that condemned conduct that was out of line with the Bible’s moral standards for single and for married persons. No one was to conclude that sharing in public preaching of the Kingdom message as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses gave license for loose living. (1 Cor. 9:27) In time, even firmer measures would be taken to safeguard the moral cleanness of the organization.
Some who were then expressing a desire to be Jehovah’s Witnesses had grown up in areas where trial marriage was accepted, where sex relations between engaged persons were tolerated, or where consensual relationships between persons not legally married were viewed as normal. A few married couples were endeavoring to practice celibacy. Other individuals, though not divorced, were unwisely separated from their mates. To provide needed direction, The Watchtower, during the 1950’s, considered all these situations, discussed marital responsibilities, emphasized the Bible’s prohibition of fornication, and explained what fornication is, so there would be no misunderstanding.b—Acts 15:19, 20; 1 Cor. 6:18.
In places where people beginning to associate with Jehovah’s organization were not taking seriously the Bible’s moral standards, this was given special attention. Thus, in 1945, when N. H. Knorr, the third president of the Watch Tower Society, was in Costa Rica, he gave a discourse on Christian morality in which he said: “All of you here tonight who are living with a woman but haven’t got your marriage legally arranged, I’m giving you some advice. Go to the Catholic Church and put your name down as a member, because there you can practice these things. But this is God’s organization, and you can’t practice these things here.”
Beginning with the 1960’s, when homosexuals became more open about their practices, many churches debated the matter, then accepted them as members. Some churches now even ordain homosexuals as clergymen. In order to help sincere persons who had questions on these matters, the publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses also discussed these issues. But among the Witnesses, there was never any question as to how homosexuality would be viewed. Why not? Because they do not treat the Bible’s requirements as if these were merely the opinions of men of another era. (1 Thess. 2:13) They gladly conduct Bible studies with homosexuals so these can learn Jehovah’s requirements, and such persons may attend meetings of the Witnesses to listen, but no one who continues to practice homosexuality can be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.—1 Cor. 6:9-11; Jude 7.
In recent years sexual indulgence by unmarried youths became commonplace in the world. Youths in the families of Jehovah’s Witnesses felt the pressure, and some began to adopt the ways of the world around them. How did the organization deal with this situation? Articles designed to help parents and youths to view things Scripturally were published in The Watchtower and Awake! Real-life dramas were presented at conventions to help everyone to be aware of the fruitage of rejecting the Bible’s moral standards and of the benefits of obeying God’s commands. One of the first of these, staged in 1969, was entitled “Thorns and Traps Are in the Way of the Independent One.” Special books were prepared to help young folks appreciate the wisdom of Bible counsel. These included Your Youth—Getting the Best Out Of It (published in 1976) and Questions Young People Ask—Answers That Work (published in 1989). Local elders gave personal spiritual help to individuals and to families. The congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses were also safeguarded by expulsion of unrepentant wrongdoers.
The world’s breakdown in morals has not led to a more permissive viewpoint among Jehovah’s Witnesses. On the contrary, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses has placed increased emphasis on the necessity to avoid not only illicit sexual acts but also influences and situations that erode moral values. During the past three decades, it has provided instruction to fortify individuals against such “secret sins” as masturbation and to alert them to the danger of pornography, soap operas, and music that has a debasing effect. Thus, while the world’s moral trend has been downward, that of Jehovah’s Witnesses has been upward.
Family Life Governed by Godly Standards
Holding firmly to the Bible’s standard of sexual morality has greatly benefited the family life of Jehovah’s Witnesses. But being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses is no guarantee that a person will not have domestic problems. Nevertheless, the Witnesses are convinced that God’s Word gives the very best counsel on how to cope with such problems. They have available many provisions made by the organization to help them apply that counsel; and when they follow through on it, the results are, indeed, beneficial.
As early as 1904, the sixth volume of Studies in the Scriptures provided an extensive discussion of marital responsibilities and parental obligations. Since that time, hundreds of articles have been published and numerous discourses have been delivered in every congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses to help each family member to appreciate his God-given role. This education in wholesome family life is not merely for newlyweds but is an ongoing program that involves the entire congregation.—Eph. 5:22–6:4; Col. 3:18-21.
Would Polygamy Be Accepted?
Even though customs affecting marriage and family life differ from one land to another, Jehovah’s Witnesses recognize that the standards set out in the Bible apply everywhere. As their work got under way in Africa in this 20th century, the Witnesses taught there, as they do everywhere, that Christian marriage allows for just one marriage mate. (Matt. 19:4, 5; 1 Cor. 7:2; 1 Tim. 3:2) Yet, there were hundreds who accepted the Bible’s exposure of idolatry and gladly embraced what Jehovah’s Witnesses taught concerning the Kingdom of God but who got baptized without abandoning polygamy. To correct this situation, The Watchtower of January 15, 1947, emphasized that Christianity makes no allowance for polygamy, regardless of local custom. A letter sent to the congregations notified any who professed to be Jehovah’s Witnesses but who were polygamists that six months was being allowed for them to bring their marital affairs into harmony with the Bible standard. This was reinforced by a discourse given by Brother Knorr during a visit to Africa that same year.
In Nigeria, there were not a few people of the world who predicted that efforts to abolish polygamy from the ranks of Jehovah’s Witnesses would mean abolishing the ranks. And it is true that not all practicers of polygamy who had earlier been baptized as Witnesses made the required changes even in 1947. For example, Asuquo Akpabio, a traveling overseer, relates that a Witness with whom he was staying at Ifiayong woke him at midnight and demanded that he change what had been announced regarding the requirement of monogamy. Because he refused to do so, his host threw him out into the pouring rain that night.
But love for Jehovah has given others the strength needed to obey his commandments. Here are just a few of them. In Zaire a man who had been both a Catholic and a polygamist dismissed two of his wives in order to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, even though sending away the most-loved one because she was not the ‘wife of his youth’ was a severe test of his faith. (Prov. 5:18) In Dahomey (now Benin) a former Methodist who still had five wives overcame very difficult legal obstacles in order to obtain needed divorces so that he could qualify for baptism. Nevertheless, he continued to provide for his former wives and their children, as did others who dismissed secondary wives. Warigbani Whittington, a Nigerian, was the second of her husband’s two wives. When she decided that pleasing Jehovah, the true God, was the most important thing to her, she faced the wrath of her husband and then of her own family. Her husband let her go, along with her two children, but with no financial help—not even for transportation. Yet, she said: ‘None of the material benefits that I left behind can be compared to pleasing Jehovah.’
What About Divorce?
In Western lands polygamy is not widely practiced, but other attitudes that conflict with the Scriptures are in vogue. One of these is the idea that it is better to get a divorce than to have an unhappy marriage. In recent years some of Jehovah’s Witnesses began to imitate this spirit, suing for divorce on such grounds as “incompatibility.” How have the Witnesses dealt with this? A vigorous campaign of education as to Jehovah’s view of divorce is regularly conducted by the organization to benefit longtime Witnesses as well as the hundreds of thousands who are being added to their ranks each year.
To what Bible guidelines has The Watchtower directed attention? The following, among others: In the Bible record of the first human marriage, the oneness of husband and wife is emphasized; it says: ‘A man must stick to his wife, and they must become one flesh.’ (Gen. 2:24) Later, in Israel, the Law prohibited adultery and prescribed death for any who engaged in it. (Deut. 22:22-24) Divorce on grounds other than adultery was allowed, but only ‘because of their hardheartedness,’ as Jesus explained. (Matt. 19:7, 8) How did Jehovah view the practice of discarding one’s marriage mate in order to marry another? Malachi 2:16 states: “He has hated a divorcing.” Yet, he allowed those who got a divorce to remain in the congregation of Israel. There, if they accepted Jehovah’s disciplining of his people, their heart of stone might in time be replaced with a softer heart, one that could express genuine love for his ways.—Compare Ezekiel 11:19, 20.
The Watchtower has frequently stated that when Jesus was discussing divorce as it was practiced in ancient Israel, he showed that a higher standard was to be instituted among his followers. He said that if anyone divorced his wife except on the ground of fornication (por·neiʹa, “unlawful intercourse”) and married another, he would be committing adultery; and even if he did not remarry, he would be making his wife a subject for adultery. (Matt. 5:32; 19:9) Thus, The Watchtower has pointed out that for Christians any divorce is a far more serious matter than it was in Israel. While the Scriptures do not direct that everyone obtaining a divorce be expelled from the congregation, those who also commit adultery and are unrepentant are disfellowshipped by the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses.—1 Cor. 6:9, 10.
Revolutionary changes have taken place in recent years in the world’s attitudes regarding marriage and family life. Despite this, Jehovah’s Witnesses have continued to adhere to the standards provided by God, the Originator of marriage, as set out in the Bible. Using those guidelines, they have endeavored to help honesthearted persons to cope with the difficult circumstances in which so many find themselves.
As a result, dramatic changes have been made in the lives of many who have accepted Bible instruction from Jehovah’s Witnesses. Men who were formerly wife beaters, men who did not shoulder their responsibilities, men who provided materially but not emotionally and spiritually—many thousands of such have become loving husbands and fathers who care well for their households. Women who were fiercely independent, women who neglected their children and did not take care of themselves or their home—many of these have become wives who respect headship and pursue a course that causes them to be dearly loved by their husbands and children. Youths who were brazenly disobedient to their parents and rebels against society in general, youths who were ruining their own lives by the things they were doing and thus bringing heartbreak to their parents—not a few of these have come to have a godly purpose in life, and this has helped to transform their personality.
Of course, an important factor in success within the family is honesty with one another. Honesty is also vital in other relationships.
How Far Does the Requirement of Honesty Reach?
Jehovah’s Witnesses recognize that honesty is required in everything they do. As the basis for their view, they point to such scriptures as the following: Jehovah himself is “the God of truth.” (Ps. 31:5) On the other hand, as Jesus said, the Devil is “the father of the lie.” (John 8:44) Understandably, then, among the things that Jehovah hates is “a false tongue.” (Prov. 6:16, 17) His Word tells us: “Now that you have put away falsehood, speak truth.” (Eph. 4:25) And not only must Christians speak truth but, like the apostle Paul, they need to ‘conduct themselves honestly in all things.’ (Heb. 13:18) There are no areas of life where Jehovah’s Witnesses can legitimately apply some other set of values.
When Jesus visited the home of the tax collector Zacchaeus, the man acknowledged that his business practices had been improper, and he took steps to make amends for former acts of extortion. (Luke 19:8) In recent years, in order to have a clean conscience before God, some persons who began to associate with Jehovah’s Witnesses have taken similar action. For example, in Spain a confirmed thief began to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Soon his conscience began to bother him; so he returned stolen goods to his former employer and to his neighbors, then took other items to the police. He was required to pay a fine and serve a short time in jail, but now he has a clean conscience. In England, after just two months of Bible study with one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a former diamond thief turned himself over to the police, who were astonished; they had been looking for him for six months. During the two and a half years that he then spent in prison, he studied the Bible diligently and learned to share Bible truths with others. After his release he presented himself for baptism as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.—Eph. 4:28.
The reputation of Jehovah’s Witnesses for honesty is well-known. Employers have learned that not only will Witnesses not steal from them but they will not lie or falsify records at their employers’ direction—no, not even if threatened with loss of their job. To Jehovah’s Witnesses a good relationship with God is far more important than the approval of any human. And they realize that, no matter where they are or what they are doing, “all things are naked and openly exposed to the eyes of him with whom we have an accounting.”—Heb. 4:13; Prov. 15:3.
In Italy the newspaper La Stampa said regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses: “They practice what they preach . . . The moral ideals of love for neighbor, refusal of power, non-violence and personal honesty (which for most Christians are ‘Sunday rules’ only good for being preached from the pulpit) enter into their ‘daily’ way of life.” And in the United States, Louis Cassels, religion editor for United Press International, Washington, D.C., wrote: “Witnesses adhere to their beliefs with great fidelity, even when doing so is very costly.”
Why Gambling Has Not Been an Issue Among Them
In times past, honesty was generally associated with willingness to do hard work. Gambling, that is, risking a sum of money in a bet on the outcome of a game or other event, was looked down on by society in general. But as a selfish, get-rich spirit began to pervade the 20th century, gambling—legal and illegal—became widespread. It is sponsored not only by the underworld but often also by churches and secular governments in order to raise money. How have Jehovah’s Witnesses dealt with this change of attitude in society? On the basis of Bible principles.
As has been pointed out in their publications, there is no specific commandment in the Bible that says, You must not gamble. But the fruitage of gambling is consistently bad, and this rotten fruitage has been exposed by The Watchtower and Awake! for half a century. Furthermore, these magazines have shown that gambling in any form involves attitudes that the Bible warns against. For example, love of money: “The love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things.” (1 Tim. 6:10) And selfishness: “Neither must you selfishly crave . . . anything that belongs to your fellowman.” (Deut. 5:21; compare 1 Corinthians 10:24.) Also greed: “Quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is . . . a greedy person.” (1 Cor. 5:11) In addition, the Bible warns against appeals to “Good Luck” as if it were some kind of supernatural force that could bestow favors. (Isa. 65:11) Because they take these Scriptural warnings to heart, Jehovah’s Witnesses firmly shun gambling. And since 1976 they have put forth special effort to avoid having in their ranks any whose secular employment would clearly identify them as part of a gambling establishment.
Gambling has never been a real issue among Jehovah’s Witnesses. They know that instead of fostering a spirit of gain at the expense of others, the Bible encourages them to work with their hands, to be faithful in caring for what is entrusted to them, to be generous, to share with those in need. (Eph. 4:28; Luke 16:10; Rom. 12:13; 1 Tim. 6:18) Is this readily recognized by others who have dealings with them? Yes, particularly by those with whom they have business dealings. It has not been unusual for secular employers to seek out Jehovah’s Witnesses as employees because they know of their conscientiousness and dependability. They realize that it is the religion of the Witnesses that makes them the kind of people they are.
What About Tobacco and Drug Abuse?
The Bible does not mention tobacco, nor does it name the many other drugs that are abused in our day. But it does provide guidelines that have helped Jehovah’s Witnesses to determine what course of conduct would be pleasing to God. Thus, as far back as 1895, when the Watch Tower commented on use of tobacco, it directed attention to 2 Corinthians 7:1, which says: “Therefore, since we have these promises, beloved ones, let us cleanse ourselves of every defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in God’s fear.”
For many years that counsel seemed to suffice. But as tobacco companies used advertising to glamorize smoking, and then abuse of “illegal” drugs became widespread, more was needed. Other Bible principles were highlighted: respect for Jehovah, the Giver of life (Acts 17:24, 25); love for neighbor (Jas. 2:8), and the fact that a person who does not love his fellowman does not really love God (1 John 4:20); also obedience to secular rulers (Titus 3:1). It was pointed out that the Greek word phar·ma·kiʹa, which basically signifies “druggery,” was used by Bible writers to refer to “practice of spiritism” because of the use of drugs in spiritistic practices.—Gal. 5:20.
Back in 1946, Consolation magazine exposed the often fraudulent nature of paid testimonials used in cigarette ads. As scientific evidence became available, Consolation’s successor, Awake!, also publicized proof that tobacco use causes cancer, heart disease, damage to the unborn child of a pregnant woman, and injury to nonsmokers who are forced to breathe smoke-filled air, as well as evidence that nicotine is addictive. Attention has been drawn to the intoxicating effect of marijuana and to evidence that its use can result in brain damage. Likewise the grave dangers of other addictive drugs have been discussed repeatedly for the benefit of the readers of Watch Tower publications.
Long before government agencies agreed on the extent to which they should alert people to the harm from tobacco use, The Watchtower, in its issue of March 1, 1935, made it clear that no one who was a user of tobacco could be a member of the headquarters staff of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society or be one of its appointed representatives. After all servants in the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses were appointed by the Society (which arrangement began in 1938), The Watchtower of July 1, 1942, stated that the prohibition on tobacco use also applied to all these appointed servants. In some areas a number of years passed before this was fully implemented. However, the majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses responded favorably to the Scriptural counsel and the good example of those taking the lead among them.
As a further forward step in consistent application of that Bible counsel, none who were still smoking were accepted for baptism from 1973 onward. During the following months, those who were actively involved in tobacco production or in promoting the sale of tobacco were helped to realize that they could not continue to do that and be accepted as Jehovah’s Witnesses. The counsel of God’s Word must be applied consistently in every aspect of life. Such application of Bible principles to the use of tobacco, marijuana, and the so-called hard drugs has protected the Witnesses. With the use of the Scriptures, they have also been able to help many thousands of persons whose lives were being ruined by drug abuse.
Are Alcoholic Drinks Different?
Watch Tower publications have not adopted the view that use of alcoholic beverages is the same as drug abuse. Why not? They explain: The Creator knows how we are made, and his Word permits moderate use of alcoholic drinks. (Ps. 104:15; 1 Tim. 5:23) But the Bible also warns against ‘heavy drinking,’ and it strongly condemns drunkenness.—Prov. 23:20, 21, 29, 30; 1 Cor. 6:9, 10; Eph. 5:18.
Because immoderate consumption of intoxicating drinks was ruining the lives of many people, Charles Taze Russell himself favored total abstinence. Yet, he acknowledged that Jesus did use wine. During the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century, there was much public agitation for legal prohibition of liquor in the United States. The Watch Tower freely expressed sympathy with those who were trying to combat the harm from liquor, but it did not join their campaign to have prohibition laws passed. However, the magazine did point firmly to the damage resulting from overindulgence and often stated that it would be better to avoid wine and liquor altogether. Those who felt that they could use liquor moderately were encouraged to consider Romans 14:21, which says: “It is well not to eat flesh or to drink wine or do anything over which your brother stumbles.”
However, in 1930, when the superintendent of the Anti-Saloon League in the United States went so far as to claim publicly that his organization was “born of God,” J. F. Rutherford, then president of the Watch Tower Society, used the occasion to give radio discourses showing that such a claim amounted to slander against God. Why? Because God’s Word does not outlaw all use of wine; because prohibition laws were not putting an end to drunkenness, which God does condemn; and because the prohibition laws had, instead, given rise to a backlash of bootlegging and government corruption.
Use of alcoholic beverages or abstinence from them is viewed as a personal matter among Jehovah’s Witnesses. But they adhere to the Scriptural requirement that overseers must be “moderate in habits.” That expression is translated from the Greek ne·phaʹli·on, which means, literally, ‘sober, temperate; abstaining from wine, either entirely or at least from its immoderate use.’ Ministerial servants too must be men “not giving themselves to a lot of wine.” (1 Tim. 3:2, 3, 8) So, heavy drinkers do not qualify for special service privileges. The fact that those taking the lead among Jehovah’s Witnesses set a good example gives them freeness of speech in helping others who may be inclined to rely on alcoholic beverages to cope with stress or may, in fact, need to be total abstainers in order to remain sober. What are the results?
As an example, a news report from south-central Africa states: “From all accounts, those areas in which Jehovah’s Witnesses are strongest among Africans are now areas more trouble-free than the average. Certainly they have been active against agitators, witchcraft, drunkenness and violence of any kind.”—The Northern News (Zambia).
Another important way in which the conduct of Jehovah’s Witnesses differs from that of the world is with regard to—
Respect for Life
Such respect is rooted in recognition of the fact that life is a gift from God. (Ps. 36:9; Acts 17:24, 25) It includes a realization that even the life of the unborn is precious in the eyes of God. (Ex. 21:22-25; Ps. 139:1, 16) It takes into account that “each of us will render an account for himself to God.”—Rom. 14:12.
In line with these Bible principles, Jehovah’s Witnesses have consistently shunned the practice of abortion. To provide sound direction to its readers, Awake! magazine has helped them to appreciate that chastity is a divine requirement; it has discussed at length the marvels of the procreative process as well as the psychological and physiological factors involved in childbirth. In the post-World War II era, as abortions became more commonplace, The Watchtower showed clearly that this practice is contrary to the Word of God. Mincing no words, the issue of December 15, 1969, said: “Abortion simply to get rid of an unwanted child is the same as willfully taking a human life.”
Why Blood Transfusions Are Refused
The respect for life shown by Jehovah’s Witnesses has also affected their attitude toward blood transfusions. When transfusions of blood became an issue confronting them, The Watchtower of July 1, 1945, explained at length the Christian view regarding the sanctity of blood.c It showed that both animal blood and that of humans were included in the divine prohibition that was made binding on Noah and all his descendants. (Gen. 9:3-6) It pointed out that this requirement was emphasized again in the first century in the command that Christians ‘abstain from blood.’ (Acts 15:28, 29) That same article made it clear from the Scriptures that only sacrificial use of blood has ever been approved by God, and that since the animal sacrifices offered under the Mosaic Law foreshadowed the sacrifice of Christ, disregard for the requirement that Christians ‘abstain from blood’ would be an evidence of gross disrespect for the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ. (Lev. 17:11, 12; Heb. 9:11-14, 22) Consistent with that understanding of matters, beginning in 1961 any who ignored the divine requirement, accepted blood transfusions, and manifested an unrepentant attitude were disfellowshipped from the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
At first, physical side effects of blood transfusions were not discussed in the Watch Tower publications. Later, when such information became available, it too was published—not as the reason why Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse blood transfusions but in order to strengthen their appreciation for the prohibition that God himself had put on the use of blood. (Isa. 48:17) To that end, in 1961 the carefully documented booklet Blood, Medicine and the Law of God was published. In 1977 another booklet was printed. This one, entitled Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Question of Blood, again emphasized the fact that the position taken by Jehovah’s Witnesses is a religious one, based on what the Bible says, and does not depend on medical risk factors. A further updating of the subject was presented in 1990 in the brochure How Can Blood Save Your Life? Using these publications, Jehovah’s Witnesses have put forth much effort to win the cooperation of doctors and to help them to understand the Witnesses’ position. However, for many years use of blood transfusions has been held in high esteem by the medical profession.
Even though Jehovah’s Witnesses told doctors that they had no religious objection to alternative treatment, rejecting blood transfusions was not easy. Often, great pressure was brought to bear on the Witnesses and their families to submit to what was then customary medical practice. In Puerto Rico, in November of 1976, 45-year-old Ana Paz de Rosario agreed to surgery and needed medication but requested that because of her religious beliefs, no blood be used. Nevertheless, armed with a court order, five policemen and three nurses went to her hospital room after midnight, strapped her to the bed, and forced a blood transfusion on her, contrary to her wishes and those of her husband and children. She went into shock and died. This was by no means an isolated case, and it was not only in Puerto Rico that such outrages occurred.
In Denmark, Witness parents were pursued by the police in 1975 because they refused to allow a blood transfusion to be forced on their young son but, instead, sought alternative treatment. In Italy, in 1982, a couple who had lovingly sought medical help in four countries for their incurably ill daughter were sentenced to 14 years in prison on the charge of murder after the girl died while being given a court-ordered transfusion.
Frequently, in connection with attempts to force transfusions on the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses, great public hostility has been whipped up by the press. In some instances, even without a legal hearing at which the parents could speak, judges have ordered that their children be transfused. In more than 40 cases in Canada, however, the transfused children were returned dead to their parents.
Not all doctors and judges agree with these high-handed methods. A few began to urge a more helpful attitude. Some doctors used their skills to provide treatment without blood. In the process, they gained much experience in all types of bloodless surgery. It gradually was demonstrated that all types of surgery could be performed successfully, on both adults and infants, without blood transfusions.d
In order to prevent needless confrontations in emergency situations, early in the 1960’s Jehovah’s Witnesses began to make special visits to their doctors to discuss their position and provide them with appropriate literature. Later they requested that a written statement be placed in their individual medical files stating that no blood transfusions were to be given to them. By the 1970’s, they made it a general practice to carry on their person a card to alert medical personnel to the fact that no blood was to be administered to them under any circumstances. After consultation with doctors and lawyers, the nature of the card was adjusted in order to make it a legal document.
To support Jehovah’s Witnesses in this determination to prevent their being given blood transfusions, to clear away misunderstandings on the part of doctors and hospitals, and to establish a more cooperative spirit between medical institutions and Witness patients, Hospital Liaison Committees have been established at the direction of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. From a handful of such committees in 1979, their number has grown to more than 800 in upwards of 70 lands. Selected elders have been trained and are providing such service in North America, the Far East, major lands of the South Pacific, Europe, and Latin America. In addition to explaining the position of Jehovah’s Witnesses, these elders alert hospital staffs to the fact that there are valid alternatives to infusions of blood. In emergency situations they assist in setting up consultations between primary-care physicians and surgeons who have handled similar cases for the Witnesses without blood. Where necessary, these committees have visited not only hospital staffs but also judges who have been involved in cases where hospitals have sought court orders for transfusions.
When respect for their religious belief regarding the sanctity of blood could not be assured by other means, Jehovah’s Witnesses have, on occasion, taken doctors and hospitals to court. They have usually sought simply a restraining order or an injunction. In recent years, however, they have even filed damage suits against doctors and hospitals that have acted high-handedly. In 1990 the Ontario Court of Appeal, in Canada, upheld such a damage suit because the doctor had ignored a card in the patient’s purse that clearly stated that the Witness would not accept blood transfusions under any circumstances. In the United States, since 1985, at least ten of such damage suits have been instituted in various parts of the country, and frequently the ones being sued have decided to settle out of court for a stipulated amount instead of facing the possibility that a jury would award even more in damages. Jehovah’s Witnesses are fully determined to obey the divine prohibition on the use of blood. They would rather not take doctors to court, but they will do it when necessary to stop them from forcing on the Witnesses treatment that is morally repugnant to them.
The public is becoming more and more aware of the dangers inherent in blood transfusions. This is, in part, because of fear of AIDS. The Witnesses, however, are motivated by an earnest desire to please God. In 1987 the French medical daily Le Quotidien du Médecin stated: “Maybe Jehovah’s Witnesses are right in refusing the use of blood products, for it is true that an important number of pathogenic agents can be transmitted by transfused blood.”
The position taken by Jehovah’s Witnesses is not based on superior medical knowledge originating with them. They simply have confidence that Jehovah’s way is right and that ‘he will not hold back anything good’ from his loyal servants. (Ps. 19:7, 11; 84:11) Even if a Witness should die as a result of blood loss—and this has happened on occasion—Jehovah’s Witnesses have full confidence that God does not forget his faithful ones but will restore them to life by means of a resurrection.—Acts 24:15.
When Individuals Choose to Ignore Bible Standards
Millions of persons have studied the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses, but not all of them have become Witnesses. When some persons learn the high standards that apply, they decide that this is not the sort of life that they want. All who do get baptized are first given thorough instruction in basic Bible teachings, and thereafter (especially since 1967) elders in the congregation review such teachings with each baptismal candidate. Every effort is made to be sure that those being baptized clearly understand not only doctrine but also what Christian conduct involves. However, what if some of these later allow love of the world to entice them into serious wrongdoing?
As early as 1904, in the book The New Creation, attention was given to the need to take appropriate action so as not to allow a demoralizing of the congregation. The understanding that the Bible Students then had of the procedure for dealing with wrongdoers as outlined at Matthew 18:15-17 was discussed. In harmony with this, there were, on rare occasions, ‘church trials’ in which the evidence of wrongdoing in serious cases was presented to the entire congregation. Years later, The Watchtower, in its issue of May 15, 1944, reviewed the matter in the light of the entire Bible and showed that such matters affecting the congregation should be handled by responsible brothers charged with congregation oversight. (1 Cor. 5:1-13; compare Deuteronomy 21:18-21.) This was followed, in The Watchtower of March 1, 1952, with articles that emphasized not only proper procedure but the need to take action to keep the organization clean. Repeatedly since then, the subject has been given consideration. But the objectives have always remained the same: (1) to keep the organization clean and (2) to impress on the wrongdoer the need for sincere repentance, with a view to recovering him.
In the first century, there were some who abandoned the faith for loose living. Others were turned aside because of apostate doctrines. (1 John 2:19) The same thing continues to occur among Jehovah’s Witnesses in this 20th century. Sadly, in recent times it has been necessary to disfellowship tens of thousands of unrepentant wrongdoers each year. Prominent elders have been included among them. The same Scriptural requirements apply to all. (Jas. 3:17) Jehovah’s Witnesses realize that maintaining a morally clean organization is vital in order to continue to have Jehovah’s approval.
Putting On the New Personality
Jesus urged people to be clean not only on the outside but also on the inside. (Luke 11:38-41) He showed that the things that we say and do are a reflection of what is in our heart. (Matt. 15:18, 19) As the apostle Paul explained, if we are truly taught by Christ, we will ‘be made new in the force that actuates our mind’ and will ‘put on the new personality, which is created according to God’s will in true righteousness and loyalty.’ (Eph. 4:17-24) Those being taught by Christ seek to acquire “the same mental attitude that Christ Jesus had” so that they think and act as he did. (Rom. 15:5) The conduct of Jehovah’s Witnesses as individuals is a reflection of the extent to which they have actually done that.
Jehovah’s Witnesses make no claim that their conduct is flawless. But they are earnest in their endeavors to be imitators of Christ as they conform to the Bible’s high standard of conduct. They do not deny that there are other individuals who apply high moral standards in their lives. But in the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is not only as individuals but also as an international organization that they are easily recognized because of conduct that conforms to Bible standards. They are motivated by the inspired counsel recorded at 1 Peter 2:12: “Maintain your conduct fine among the nations, that . . . they may as a result of your fine works of which they are eyewitnesses glorify God.”
a In The Watchtower of October 15, 1941, the subject was discussed again, in somewhat shortened form, under the heading “Character or Integrity—Which?”
b The Watchtower of April 15, 1951, defined fornication as “willing sexual intercourse on the part of an unmarried person with a person of the opposite sex.” The issue of January 1, 1952, added that Scripturally the term could also apply to sexual immorality on the part of a married person.
c Earlier discussions of the sanctity of blood appeared in The Watch Tower of December 15, 1927, as well as The Watchtower of December 1, 1944, which specifically mentioned blood transfusions.
d Contemporary Surgery, March 1990, pp. 45-9; The American Surgeon, June 1987, pp. 350-6; Miami Medicine, January 1981, p. 25; New York State Journal of Medicine, October 15, 1972, pp. 2524-7; The Journal of the American Medical Association, November 27, 1981, pp. 2471-2; Cardiovascular News, February 1984, p. 5; Circulation, September 1984.
[Blurb on page 172]
“They have remarkable moral values”
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Was there ever a question as to how homosexuality would be viewed?
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The world’s moral breakdown has not caused the Witnesses to become more permissive
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Some tried to be Witnesses without abandoning polygamy
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A vigorous program to teach Jehovah’s view of divorce
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Dramatic changes in the lives of people
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Alcoholic drinks—moderately, if at all
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Firmly resolved not to accept blood
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Disfellowshipping—to maintain a morally clean organization
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‘Character Development’—The Fruitage Was Not Always Good
A report from Denmark: ‘Many, especially among the older friends, in their sincere efforts to put on a Christian personality, endeavored to avoid everything that had the slightest taint of worldliness and in this way make themselves more worthy of the heavenly Kingdom. Often, it was considered unsuitable to smile during meetings, and many of the older brothers wore only black suits, black shoes, black ties. They were often content to live quiet and peaceful lives in the Lord. They believed it was enough to hold meetings and let the colporteurs do the preaching.’
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What Others See in the Witnesses
◆ “Münchner Merkur,” a German newspaper, reported regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses: “They are the most honest and the most punctual taxpayers in the Federal Republic. Their obedience to the laws can be seen in the way they drive as well as in crime statistics. . . . They obey those in authority (parents, teachers, government). . . . The Bible, basis for all their actions, is their support.”
◆ The mayor in Lens, France, said to the Witnesses after they had used the local stadium for one of their conventions: “What I like is that you keep your promises and your agreements, on top of which, you are clean, disciplined, and organized. I like your society. I’m against disorder, and I don’t like people who go around dirtying and breaking things.”
◆ The book “Voices From the Holocaust” contains memoirs from a Polish survivor of the Auschwitz and the Ravensbrück concentration camps who wrote: “I saw people who became very, very good and people who became absolutely mean. The nicest group were the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I take my hat off to those people. . . . They did marvelous things for other people. They helped the sick, they shared their bread, and gave everyone near them spiritual comfort. The Germans hated them and respected them at the same time. They gave them the worst work but they took it with their heads high.”