Pacifism and Conscientious Objection—Is There a Difference?
1. How do we show courage of conscience? Why do we, and like whom?
HAVING a good conscience toward God does not make a person a weakling or a coward. Jehovah’s witnesses show courage to follow their conscience in these martial times. It is only due to conscience that they have personally and legally objected before draft boards to participating in the armed conflicts and defense programs of worldly nations. In this course their consciences are not warped, but are instructed in what is right, for they are instructed in the Scriptures, God’s Word. With the apostle Paul they say: “I am exercising myself continually to have a consciousness of committing no offense against God and men.” (Acts 24:16, NW) So their consciences are clear, no matter how the militaristic minds of this world may criticize them.
2. In what sermon do officials claim to believe? What does it contain?
2 Well, then, if not pacifists, what Scriptural reasons have they given for refusing all part in international war? Repeatedly President Truman of the United States has said he believes in the “sermon on the mount” and that he wants the world to know that Americans believe in the sermon on the mount. Jehovah’s witnesses trust that the American president and his colleagues mean the entire sermon. Why? Because it includes not only the so-called “Golden Rule” but also Jesus’ words: “You heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.’ However, I say to you: Do not resist him that is wicked; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other also to him. And if a person wants to go to court with you and get possession of your undergarment, let your outer garment also go to him; and if someone under authority impresses you into service for a mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one asking you, and do not turn away from one that wants to borrow from you without interest. You heard that it was said: ‘You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ However, I say to you: Continue to love your enemies and to pray for those persecuting you; that you may prove yourselves sons of your Father who is in the heavens, since he makes his sun rise upon wicked people and good and makes it rain upon righteous people and unrighteous.”—Matt. 5:1, 2, 38-45, NW.
3. Was Jesus there teaching pacifism? How was the Law of Retaliation which he mentioned to be executed?
3 Was Jesus there teaching pacifism? No; but thus he disclosed that his followers must not be disposed to injure anyone else, even under provocation, where merely personal matters are concerned. They should not resort to the Law of Talion or Retaliation, handed down by Moses, at Exodus 21:23-25 and Leviticus 24:19, 20. But even where eye was to go for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life, this like for like was not to be exacted personally by the one hurt. The balancing of accounts was to be laid before the legal authorities, rather than for the injured one to take the law into his own hands. That was the law given through Moses. But Jesus Christ is the Prophet whom Jehovah promised to raise up greater than Moses, and so Jesus’ law is superior and supersedes the Mosaic law. (Deut. 18:15-19; Acts 3:20-23) Hence we must heed what he says in the sermon on the mount if we are faithful as his followers.
4. How did Jesus in court not resist the wicked? How did Paul not?
4 A real keeper of the sermon on the mount will not resist a wicked person, taking advantage of the law of retaliation to give like for like, injury for injury, where it is purely a personal affair and where fulfillment of his commission to serve God is not directly involved. The Lord Jesus was struck on the cheek in the Jewish Supreme Court, but did not turn the other cheek, except in a figurative way. He merely said to the officer that slapped his face: “If I spoke wrongly, bear witness concerning the wrong; but if rightly, why do you hit me?” (John 18:19-23, NW) Later in the same court Paul was struck in the mouth for saying: “I have behaved before God with a perfectly clear conscience down to this day.” For this legal outrage Paul said to the high priest presiding: “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall. Do you at one and the same time sit to judge me in accord with the Law and, transgressing the Law, command me to be struck?” By skillful argument Paul divided the court against itself, so that he was not affected by their judgment but was taken before a Roman court.—Acts 23:1-11, NW.
5. How, then, do we carry out what was quoted from Jesus’ sermon?
5 So Christians must not take the law into their own hands, to return an injury to others. Rather ignore the personal wrong and show the mental attitude of Christ and go on with his service. Let the wicked abuser remember your self-restraint rather than any hurt he might have gotten from you in return, which hurt would prove you are as violent as he is. If the final judgment of a court of last instance goes unfairly against you and it awards more than the personal effects that the person who has taken you to law wanted, let him have, as it were, your upper garment as well as undergarment. It is a personal case, not forcing you to go contrary to God’s law. And so you can show you do not set your affections on perishable material things but have the strength to take personal injuries just as your Leader Jesus did. If some peaceful officer of the government in the discharge of his duties comes upon you and calls on you to render an aid that any other citizen could be called on to render, such as accompanying him as guide for a mile, then be generous. Go with him two miles if it will be to the public’s good through his government service. As you accompany him, show him what a witness of Jehovah is in word and practice. Show proper respect for orderly government, even if it is human. Uphold the legal processes of the land and the laws that are not against righteousness and God’s law. By loving acts and by prayer show yourself willing to help even your enemies and persecutors to find the way to salvation. Do not let their unjust acts provoke hatred that seeks only for hurt and destruction to befall your personal enemies.
6, 7. For what argument has Exodus 22:2, 3 been quoted? How does it apply?
6 Exodus 22:2, 3 has been referred to to show that there may be cases where Jehovah’s witnesses may show they are not pacifists by killing. According to the American Standard Version these verses read: “If the thief be found breaking in, and be smitten so that he dieth, there shall be no bloodguiltiness for him. If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be bloodguiltiness for him.” But Moffatt’s translation (with which An American Translation agrees) reads even more clearly: “If a thief is caught breaking into a house and struck so that he dies, the householder is not guilty; but if it was after dawn, the householder is guilty.”
7 In the darkness of night the burglar could not be identified if he escaped, and so he might be struck to halt him. If the blow was fatal and the breaker-in died, then the person protecting his property was guiltless. But if he broke in during daylight and was struck a fatal blow, then the striker was guilty of killing the thief. It was daylight and he could identify the thief and report him to the Law and have the Law apprehend him and compel him to make restitution and suffer a fine too. But in killing the thief the protector of property was going too far. Certainly all the property that a daylight thief could break in and steal is not equal to the value of his life. In having reparation made for what he stole the Law could not require the thief’s life. “What will a man give in exchange for his soul [or, life]?” (Matt. 16:26, NW, margin) If the daylight thief got away, or if the invading aggressors got away, and the Law never was able or failed to bring them to justice, then though we have suffered the loss of material goods we have not brought bloodguiltiness upon ourselves. So respect for the Law is good.
8. However, how about their protecting and defending the various Kingdom interests?
8 What is said above in reference to turning the other cheek and submitting to public officials in private or personal matters does not mean that Jehovah’s witnesses do not defend the Kingdom interests, their preaching, their meetings, their persons, their brothers and sisters and their property against attack. They defend those when they are attacked and are forced to protect such interests, and Scripturally so. They do not arm themselves or carry carnal weapons in anticipation of or in preparation for trouble or to meet threats. They try to ward off blows and attacks in defense only. They do not strike in retaliation. They do not strike in offense, but strike only in defense. They do not use weapons of warfare in defense of themselves or the Kingdom interests. (2 Cor. 10:4) While they do not retreat when attacked in their homes or at their meeting places, they will retreat on public or other property and ‘shake the dust off their feet’, so ‘not giving what is holy to dogs’ and ‘not throwing their pearls before swine’. (Matt. 10:14; 7:6) So they retreat when they can do so and avoid a fight or trouble. They have a right to appeal and do appeal to officers of the law to come to their help in defense against attack or mob violence.
HOW THOSE UNDER VOWS PAY BACK WHAT IS DUE
9. What legal provisions for deferment do witnesses in America avail themselves of rightly?
9 Boards, agencies and officials of the government are told that obedience to instructions in the sermon on the mount does not fit in at all with Jehovah’s witnesses’ rendering everything to Caesar, thus making such ministers of God obliged to render unquestioning obedience to commanders who do not follow the law of God. But the above instructions from the sermon are only part of the compelling reason why Jehovah’s witnesses raise conscientious objections to subjecting themselves to military service and why they take advantage of the provisions allowing exemptions. In the United States of America the Selective Service Act of 1948, which controls the decisions of draft boards and public officials, provides for the deferment of conscientious objectors and also for the exemption of those under vows to God. Section 6 (j) provides for deferment of “any person” whose “training and belief . . . in a relation to a Supreme Being involving duties superior to those arising from any human relation” prevent such person from turning aside from those SUPERIOR DUTIES which he owes to the Supreme Being.
10. How are they under a vow? So what obligations must they fulfill?
10 A person cannot become a Christian witness of Jehovah unless he takes a vow by which he fully devotes himself to God through Jesus Christ and so assumes superior duties. He acknowledges God as the Supreme Being and Fountain of life and the Provider of the way to eternal life. (Ps. 3:8; 36:9) He approaches God through Jesus Christ. He acknowledges Jesus as the Son of God who laid down his human life for him, thus providing a purchase price for him. No political state, no “Caesar” or emperor or dictator, can do these things for the dying sinner. And so he does not attribute his debt of life to any political system, but attributes his life to God and seeks to render it to him through Christ. He acknowledges that these Scriptures apply to him: “Ye are not your own. For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” “Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.” (1 Cor. 6:19, 20; 7:23) So their lives and their implicit obedience and superior duties they render to God as belonging to him; and they surrender their lives in God’s service and not in that of any men.
11. Why according to Matthew 22:21 did Jesus not join Caesar’s army? How about where what belongs to God clashes with what Caesar demands?
11 But Jesus told the Jews, who were in a covenant with God and under vow to him: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matt. 22:21) What, then, are we to render to Caesar? Certainly not our lives, for we never did owe these to Caesar and they do not belong to him. Why, what life Caesar himself possesses he owes to God, not to himself as an immortal god. For this reason authentic history shows that Christians of the first century did not expose their lives to the risks of carnal warfare by joining Caesar’s imperial armies, but took the penalty that Caesar imposed for their refusing to be inducted into his armies. In this course those early Christians had Jesus as their example, Leader and Instructor. Jesus lived within Caesar’s realm, because by military aggressions imperial Rome had conquered Palestine. After laying down the law for his followers, “Pay back . . . Caesar’s things to Caesar” (NW), Jesus himself did not enlist in Caesar’s armies. He knew that God and Caesar are not friends. That is why Caesar through his governor Pilate put the Son of God to death and thereafter violently persecuted Jesus’ followers. Jesus’ sermon on the mount says we cannot serve two masters, especially when both masters are foes to each other. Jehovah’s witnesses have “taken solemn vows to dedicate their lives to the service of God” and they are controlled by a “belief . . . in a relation to a Supreme Being involving duties superior to those arising from any human relation”, including any earthly relation to Caesar. So when there arises any conflict between God and Caesar, they yield to these superior duties, just as Peter the apostle said to the Law court: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men. . . . and we are witnesses.”—Acts 5:29-32, NW.
12. What was not there under discussion? So how does Matthew 22:21 apply?
12 Furthermore, when Jesus told his Jewish questioners, “Pay back Caesar’s things to Caesar,” the matter under discussion was not Caesar’s military draft or voluntary enlistment in his army. Hence Jesus’ answer did not apply to that. What they asked him was this, “Is it lawful to pay tribute to Caesar or not?” and that was why Jesus asked them to show him a “tribute coin” and they showed him a denarius with Caesar’s image and inscription on it. So Jesus declared it was lawful according to God’s law through Moses to pay tax to Caesar even though Caesar had extended his empire by force of carnal weapons and had taken away the independence and liberty of Jehovah’s chosen people. Even a man who conscientiously objected to serving in Caesar’s armies of aggression and of subjugation should pay him taxes as a conqueror. Even if Caesar applied a large part of it to his military program, yet what he did with the money he collected by tax was not the responsibility of the conscientious objector. By Caesar’s taking over the control of the country and the running of the government all the subjugated people were receiving some material benefits, and for this they were to pay back to Caesar the tax as due him. Consequently the conscientious objector who is in a covenant with God to be His witness, as the Jews were, is not authorized to engage in any subversiveness or to promote a pacifism that would lead to civil disobedience à la Mahatma Gandhi.
13, 14. For what big reason besides Jesus’ sermon do they not meddle in the world’s controversies? How do they keep their worship clean?
13 Because they are wholly dedicated to God by their vows to him through Christ, Jehovah’s witnesses are according to God’s Word no part of this world which is governed by the political systems. For this important Bible reason they tell officials of the government that they conscientiously object to serving in any military establishment or any civilian arrangement that substitutes for military service. Jesus told Caesar’s representative Pilate: “My kingdom is no part of this world. If my kingdom were part of this world, my attendants would have fought that I should not be delivered up to the Jews. But, as it is, my kingdom is not from this source.” Then Jesus told Pilate why he had not engaged in any military effort to liberate the Jews from Caesar’s domination, saying: “For this purpose I have been born and for this purpose I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.” He came to be Jehovah’s witness and to take followers out from this world, and make them Jehovah’s witnesses like himself. So he told his apostles: “Because you are no part of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, on this account the world hates you.” And when he prayed to God for them he said: “They are no part of the world just as I am no part of the world.” (John 18:36, 37; 15:19; 17:14, 16, NW) Concerning Jehovah’s witnesses whom the world hated and mistreated Hebrews 11:38 (NW) says: “The world was not worthy of them.” So because they are no part of this world, they are forbidden to meddle and take part in its affairs and controversies. Spiritual Israelites are just as much separated from the nations and their armies as the natural Israelites were.
14 If their form of worship is to be “clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father”, then they must each one endeavor to “keep oneself without spot from the world”. (Jas. 1:27, NW) They tell the officials that they are absolutely neutral toward the political disputes and the international controversies and combats of this world. They take no active or violent part for either side, but pay their vows to God and always advocate his kingdom and way of salvation.
15. Why do they not fight for territories or resist political changes?
15 Like the priests and Levites of Israel who were specially dedicated to Jehovah’s service at his temple, they have no inheritance in this world. So they do not fight for territories; and if they suffer loss of property through persecutions by their home government or through invasion of the land by armed aggressors, they trust in God to provide them with life’s necessities. As Paul in prison wrote to his fellow witnesses: “You both expressed sympathy for those in prison and joyfully took the plundering of your belongings, knowing you yourselves have a better and an abiding possession.” (Heb. 10:34, NW) Rather than be killed in the violent endeavor to protect material properties of this world, they preferred to live in a despoiled condition that they might keep on witnessing for God’s kingdom and “preach the word” and “be at it urgently in favorable season, in troublesome season”. No matter what political or governmental changes may take place over their heads, they in their neutral position are obliged to submit to them and to carry on with God’s work the best they can under the altered conditions. They know that God’s kingdom, which the sermon on the mount teaches them to pray for and which they preach, will take full charge of all the earth after Armageddon.—2 Tim. 4:2, NW.
GOSPEL MINISTERS AND AMBASSADORS EXEMPT
16. From what does God now exempt them? So what should officials do?
16 The consecrated priests and Levites were exempted from conscription for military service in Israel. (Num. 1:45-54; 2:32, 33) Since Jehovah’s witnesses are consecrated to God as followers of Jesus Christ, they should likewise be exempted from military duties with carnal weapons. God now exempts them, not requiring them to fight as did Joshua, Gideon, Samson, Jephthah, Barak and David of ancient times. Jehovah God has made these Christian witnesses his ministers of the Kingdom gospel. In the United States of America the Selective Service Act of 1948 exempts ordained and regular ministers of the gospel from military obligations. But the officers charged with applying that Act allow the exemption only to those who are full-time ministers, and not to all the rest. But each one of Jehovah’s witnesses has as his vocation the ministry and is a minister of the gospel, whether able to render full time or only part time. Not merely the full-time servants among them, but each and every one of Jehovah’s witnesses is under a vow of dedication, which involves “duties superior to those arising from any human relation”. God’s Word therefore appoints each and every one of them a minister of God and preacher of the Kingdom gospel; and officers of the law of the land, while having a legal right to do so, have no Scriptural right to discriminate and limit military exemption only to some, while excluding others. In doing so they must take responsibility before God for ‘framing mischief by law’.
17. Why, according to Jesus’ prophecy on the consummation of this system of things, may they not abandon their neutrality?
17 Being such ministers and preachers, they have not abandoned their neutrality as conscientious objectors and turned aside to engage in military support of this or that side of any worldly conflict. Jesus predicted their neutrality and their preaching activities at this militant time. When he prophesied, “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom,” he did not say his true followers would engage in such armed rising. Instead, he foretold they would be roughly treated and be “hated by all the nations”, not just enemy nations, but all. Then giving Jehovah’s witnesses a commission for this day as well as foretelling what type of work they would do, he said: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for the purpose of a witness to all the nations, and then the accomplished end will come.” (Matt. 24:14, NW) So now each and every witness who is under vow to Jehovah God through Christ must obey that prophetic command and fulfill his commission as an ordained minister of the good news of the Kingdom. There is no exemption to any consecrated minister. Those taking the lead among them must set the example, and the others must imitate them. (1 Pet. 5:1-3) These leading ministers do not engage in carnal warfare, but preach. The rank and file of Jehovah’s witnesses, being also ministers of God, copy their faithful example and peacefully preach.
18, 19. How as God’s ambassadors do they have conscientious objection?
18 To these Christian witnesses the apostle Paul wrote: “He committed the message of the reconciliation to us. We are therefore ambassadors substituting for Christ, as though God were making entreaty through us. As substitutes for Christ we beg: ‘Become reconciled to God.’” (2 Cor. 5:19, 20, NW) As “ambassadors substituting for Christ” Jehovah’s witnesses have conscientious objection to serving in the military and related establishments of the nations.
19 Ambassadors are exempt from military service in the nation to which their government sends them, especially in a hostile nation. Remember, in Bible times ambassadors were sent, not to friendly nations, but to nations at war or threatening war. God’s ambassadors substituting for Christ are not sent to friendly nations, but to hostile nations. All nations of this world of Satan are hostile to God. The message given these ambassadors to deliver is, “Become reconciled to God.” This shows that the nations are not friendly. How, then, could these ambassadors Scripturally serve in the military forces of such nations or Scripturally consent to do so when required by national law? To desert the ranks of His ministers and thus quit preaching would mean to fight against God, who sent his ambassadors that they might call on the nations to become reconciled to God, not fight him. Jehovah’s witnesses are God’s ambassadors sent to ALL the nations, with the same message for all. Consequently they have not enlisted in the fighting forces of any of the nations. They maintain strict neutrality toward such nations in their mortal combats. They keep true to the divine government, which sends them as ambassadors, even though this neutrality and this Kingdom-preaching cause them to be “hated by all the nations”. They have not fought for the unreconciled systems which God will destroy at Armageddon. Hence their conscientious objection!
20. What terms applied to them in their conflict show they are no pacifists?
20 Concerning these ambassadors the apostle says in this same letter: “Though we walk in the flesh, we do not wage warfare according to what we are in the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but powerful by God for overturning strongly entrenched things. For we are overturning reasonings and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are bringing every thought into captivity to make it obedient to the Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:3-5, NW) For this spiritual warfare you are ordered: “Take up the complete suit of armor from God”; and such spiritual armor you must take up “that you may be able to stand firm against the machinations of the Devil; because we have a fight, not against blood and flesh, but against the [spiritual] governments, against the authorities, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the wicked spirit forces in the heavenly places.” Satan the Devil is the “ruler of this world” and the “god of this system of things”. (Eph. 6:11-13 and John 12:31 and; 2 Cor. 4:4, NW) The very application of such military terms in a spiritual way to God’s ambassadors shows they are not pacifists.
21. In what warfare and in whose army are they? So why keep neutral?
21 Their warfare is not against blood and flesh. Their real foes cannot be touched by carnal weapons, and hence they take up God’s spiritual armor. They turn their fighting qualities and energies into the spiritual warfare in order to liberate people from the bondage of the wicked spirit forces dominating this world. They are in God’s spiritual army under Jesus Christ. For them to desert it and join this world in its fights would be disloyalty to God and Christ. It would deserve to be punished with destruction without hope of any life in the righteous new world. They must keep their agreement with God and pay their vow to him, for those who are “false to agreements” are by God’s law “deserving of death”. (Rom. 1:31, 32, NW) So Jehovah’s witnesses keep neutral toward worldly conflicts and obey these strict orders from on high: “As a right kind of soldier of Christ Jesus take your part in suffering evil. No man serving as a soldier involves himself in the commercial businesses of life, in order that he may meet the approval of the one who enrolled him as a soldier.” (2 Tim. 2:3, 4, NW) By this neutral stand toward worldly conflicts and by loyal endurance in the spiritual warfare these soldiers enrolled by Christ meet his approval.
AN EARTH-WIDE BROTHERHOOD
22, 23. Because of being what kind of association may they not engage in international strife? Under what instructions are they?
22 Since God’s ambassadors are sent to all nations with the one message of reconciliation, then all those who become reconciled to him become one earth-wide association of brothers. In just that way Jehovah’s witnesses are an international congregation of Christian brothers. God’s Word forbids them to split up over selfish interests and start fighting one another; it commands them to keep united and preserve peace among themselves. To emphasize this, the question was asked: “Does Christ exist divided? . . . For whereas there are jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly and are you not walking as men do?” (1 Cor. 1:13; 3:3, NW) On this account they have not abandoned their neutrality toward this world and joined the armies of this divided world under their enemy Satan the Devil. To do so would have meant to become pitted against their spiritual brothers, the children of God, just as in war Protestant becomes pitted against Protestant, Catholic against Catholic, Jew against Jew. This would have resulted in fratricidal warfare for which they would be held strictly accountable by their heavenly Father. Contrary to taking or seeking to take the life of their brothers, the sons of God, they are exhorted to lay down their lives for their brothers, in imitation of Jesus Christ and not of Cain who slaughtered his brother Abel. Hence the apostle John writes:
23 “Do not marvel, brothers, that the world hates you. We know we have passed over from death to life, because we love the brothers. He who does not love remains in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a manslayer, and you know that no manslayer has everlasting life remaining in him. By this we have come to know love, because that one surrendered his soul [or, life] for us; and we are under obligation to surrender our souls [or, lives] for our brothers.”—1 John 3:11-16, NW, margin.
24. Instead of breaking hearts and wounding, what must they now do?
24 The spirit of Jehovah God is upon his witnesses for them to “preach good tidings unto the meek” and to “bind up the brokenhearted”, rather than to break hearts by carnal combat. Now when the river of life-saving truth is flowing forth from the throne of God’s established kingdom, his witnesses must be like trees whose leaves are “for the healing of the nations” and “for medicine”, rather than wounding the nations. (Isa. 61:1; Luke 4:18; Rev. 22:2; Ezek. 47:12) This is the “surpassing way” of love, the love of God with all that a person has and the love of one’s neighbor as oneself.—1 Cor. 12:31–13:7, NW.
25. In what respects, then, are Jehovah’s witnesses proved consistent?
25 All the foregoing is only a partial statement of the case of Jehovah’s witnesses, which they have made to boards, officials and courts having the responsibility under the law of the land to determine whether they shall be granted the rights given to conscientious objectors and ministers. But enough has been said to prove to such boards and officials and all others that Jehovah’s witnesses are consistent in their claim. They are not pacifists, but are ministers and conscientious objectors on Scriptural grounds. In taking this stand the boards have been enabled to see that Jehovah’s witnesses stay neutral toward this world and that they remain God’s ministers and ordained preachers of the good news of his kingdom under Christ, with Scriptural and conscientious objection to their participation in worldly war in any form.