Moral Values That Merit Respect
Throughout history, brave men and women have taken a stand contrary to the popular thinking of their times. They have endured political, religious, and racial tyranny, often giving their lives for their cause.
THE EARLY Christians were particularly courageous. During the severe persecutions of the first three centuries, many of them were put to death by the pagan Romans for refusing to worship the emperor. Sometimes, an altar was set up in an arena. To gain their freedom, the Christians would merely have had to burn a pinch of incense in recognition of the divine nature of the emperor. Few, however, compromised. The majority preferred to die rather than renounce their faith.
In modern times, Christian Witnesses of Jehovah take a similar position in regard to political neutrality. For example, their firm stand in the face of Nazism is a matter of historical record. Before and during the second world war, approximately a quarter of the German Witnesses lost their lives, mainly in concentration camps, because they remained neutral and refused to say “Heil Hitler.” Young children were forcibly separated from their Witness parents. In spite of the pressure, young ones remained firm and refused to be contaminated by the unscriptural teachings that others tried to force upon them.
The Flag Salute
Jehovah’s Witnesses are not generally the target of such bitter persecution today. Nevertheless, misunderstandings sometimes arise as a result of young Witnesses’ conscientious decision not to share in patriotic ceremonies, such as the flag salute.
Children of Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught not to discourage others from saluting the flag; that is for each individual to decide. The position of the Witnesses themselves, however, is firm: They do not salute the flag of any nation. This is certainly not intended to indicate disrespect. They do respect the flag of whatever country they live in, and they show this respect by obedience to the country’s laws. They never engage in antigovernment activity of any kind. In fact, Witnesses believe that present human governments constitute an “arrangement of God” that he has permitted to exist. So they consider themselves to be under divine command to pay taxes and to respect such “superior authorities.” (Romans 13:1-7) This is in line with Christ’s famous statement: “Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar—and to God what belongs to God.”—Matthew 22:21, Catholic Jerusalem Bible.
‘But why, then,’ some may ask, ‘do Jehovah’s Witnesses not honor the flag by saluting it?’ It is because they view the flag salute as an act of worship, and worship belongs to God; they cannot conscientiously give worship to anyone or anything except God. (Matthew 4:10; Acts 5:29) Therefore, they appreciate it when educators respect this conviction and allow Witness children to abide by their beliefs.
Not surprisingly, Jehovah’s Witnesses are not alone in believing that the flag salute is related to worship, as the following comments show:
“Early flags were almost purely of a religious character. . . . The aid of religion seems ever to have been sought to give sanctity to national flags.” (Italics ours.)—Encyclopædia Britannica.
“The flag, like the cross, is sacred. . . . The rules and regulations relative to human attitude toward national standards use strong, expressive words, as, ‘Service to the Flag,’ . . . ‘Reverence for the Flag,’ ‘Devotion to the Flag.’” (Italics ours.)—The Encyclopedia Americana.
“Christians refused to . . . sacrifice to the [Roman] emperor’s genius—roughly equivalent today to refusing to salute the flag or repeat the oath of allegiance.”—Those About to Die (1958), by Daniel P. Mannix, page 135.
Again, Jehovah’s Witnesses intend no disrespect for any government or its rulers by a refusal to salute the flag. It is just that they will not, in an act of worship, bow down to or salute an image representing the State. They view it as similar to the stand taken in Bible times by three young Hebrew men who refused to bow down before the statue raised up on the plain of Dura by Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. (Daniel, chapter 3) So then, while others salute and pledge allegiance, children of Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught to follow their Bible-trained consciences. Thus, they silently and respectfully refrain from participating. For similar reasons, Witness children choose not to participate when national anthems are sung or played.
The Parents’ Right
Nowadays, most countries respect the parents’ right to give their children religious instruction in harmony with their convictions. All religions support this right, as illustrated by the canon law still in force in the Catholic Church: “Having given life to their children, parents are under the very strict obligation to educate them, and have the right to do so; that is why it behooves parents primarily to provide their children with a Christian education according to Church doctrine.”—Canon 226.
Jehovah’s Witnesses ask nothing more. As caring parents, they try to instill true Christian values in their children and inculcate in them love for neighbor and respect for other people’s property. They desire to follow the counsel the apostle Paul gave to the Christians in Ephesus: “Parents, do not treat your children in such a way as to make them angry. Instead, raise them with Christian discipline and instruction.”—Ephesians 6:4, Today’s English Version.
Religiously Divided Households
In some families, only one parent is a Witness of Jehovah. In such a situation, the Witness parent is encouraged to recognize the right of the non-Witness parent also to instruct the children according to his or her religious convictions. Children exposed to different religious views experience few, if any, ill effects.* In practice, all children have to decide what religion they will follow. Naturally, not all youths choose to follow the religious principles of their parents, whether Jehovah’s Witnesses or not.
Children’s Right to Freedom of Conscience
You should also know that Jehovah’s Witnesses attach much importance to the individual Christian conscience. (Romans, chapter 14) The Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1989, recognized a child’s right to “freedom of thought, conscience and religion” and the right “to express his or her opinion freely and to have that opinion taken into account in any matter or procedure affecting the child.”
No two children are exactly alike. Therefore, you may reasonably expect some variations in the decisions that young Witnesses or other students make when it comes to certain activities and assignments at school. We trust that you also subscribe to the principle of freedom of conscience.
Regarding children of interfaith marriages, Steven Carr Reuben, Ph.D., in his book Raising Jewish Children in a Contemporary World, observes: “Children are confused when parents live lives of denial, confusion, secrecy, and avoidance of religious issues. When parents are open, honest, clear about their own beliefs, values, and patterns of celebration, children grow up with the kind of security and sense of self-worth in the religious realm that is so crucial to the development of their overall self-esteem and knowledge of their place in the world.”
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Respect, but Not Worship
One morning in a school in Canada, an 11-year-old Witness girl named Terra noticed that the teacher took a fellow student out of the classroom for a few moments. Shortly thereafter, the teacher quietly asked Terra to accompany him to the principal’s office.
As she entered the office, Terra immediately saw that the Canadian flag was draped across the principal’s desk. The teacher then instructed Terra to spit on the flag. He suggested that since Terra did not sing the national anthem or salute the flag, there was no reason why she should not spit on the flag when ordered to do so. Terra refused, explaining that although Jehovah’s Witnesses do not worship the flag, they do respect it.
Back in the classroom, the teacher announced that he had just tested two students, instructing them to spit on the flag. Although the first student did participate in patriotic ceremonies, she nevertheless spit on the flag when ordered to do so. However, even though Terra did not sing the anthem or salute the flag, she refused to dishonor it in this way. The teacher pointed out that of the two, Terra was the one who showed proper respect.
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Some Moral Principles That Jehovah’s Witnesses Follow
With regard to moral values, Jehovah’s Witnesses teach their children to keep separate from conduct, practices, or even attitudes that, although common in the world today, can bring harm to themselves or to others. (James 1:27) So they inform their children about the dangers of drugs and other practices, such as smoking and the abuse of alcohol. (Proverbs 20:1; 2 Corinthians 7:1) They believe in the importance of honesty and industriousness. (Ephesians 4:28) They teach their children to avoid foul language. (Ephesians 5:3, 4) They also teach them to live by the Bible principles on sexual morality and to have respect for authority and for the person and property of others. (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; Titus 3:1, 2; Hebrews 13:4) They sincerely believe that living by those principles is in the best interests of their children.
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Jehovah’s Witnesses try to instill true Christian values in their children
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“Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar—and to God what belongs to God”—Matthew 22:21, Jerusalem Bible
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Three young Hebrew men refused to bow down before a statue raised up by Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar
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Children are encouraged to take an interest in others