‘Be Cautious as Serpents’
THE Bible has been provided to completely equip the Christian ministers of Jehovah for every good work. It points out to them what they are to do, why they must do it, and how. It shows us our need to study God’s Word in order to have a strong faith and in order to be able to answer all that demand a reason for the hope that is in us. It also points out to us the need of zeal and diligence, of fearlessness and freeness of speech in preaching, all of which is primarily based upon our having perfect love for Jehovah God. It also stresses the need of our living clean lives so that we may have a clear conscience and not stumble any by an inconsistent and hence hypocritical course of action.
There is still another quality that God’s Word shows that we must have to properly fulfill our commission, and that is wisdom. We must use tact, prudence, discretion, caution, sagacity; for are we not ambassadors for God and Christ in an enemy land? Particularly in times of danger and when face to face with threats of violence must we be calm and soberly consider what would be the best thing to do under the circumstances. That is why Jesus counseled: “Look! I am sending you forth as sheep amidst wolves; therefore prove yourselves cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves. Be on your guard against men.”—Matt. 10:16, 17, NW.
The Watchtower, July 15, 1942, in commenting upon Jesus’ instructions, “When they persecute you in one city, flee to another,” pointed out that where the opposition becomes so organized and all-embracing as to make further witnessing impossible the witnesses should leave and go elsewhere to preach. It pointed out that such was not a running away from a mere threat of violence, or to escape persecution, but was a following of Jehovah’s leading by turning from an unworthy city as one would turn from an unworthy house, leaving it to its destiny and going where work can be done.—Pages 217-220.
And more recently, in the issue of February 1, 1951, The Watchtower considered at some length just what Christians should do when threatened with violence. It pointed out that while in personal matters we do turn the other cheek and submit also to what officials ask of us, this “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 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 and the law to come to their help in defense against attack or mob violence.”—Page 75.
While The Watchtower thus made clear that when mobs attacked us on public or other property not our own, it would be well to give way, rather than to force an issue and risk physical harm, it seems that some Christian ministers have failed to appreciate the points made. Thus certain reports have recently come to hand regarding mob action in the Philippines, where the course of our brothers, while very exemplary as regards zeal and fearlessness, seems to have left something to be desired in the way of tact and wisdom.
At Gerona, Tarlac, on Sunday, March 15, 1953, the witnesses of Jehovah were to use the Public Auditorium for their public lecture, having well in advance received written permission therefor. However, some time later permission to use the same building at the same time, from 1 to 6 p.m., was granted to the Executive Committee of the Gerona Town Fiesta for the purpose of presenting a program of folk dances. When on Sunday afternoon it was discovered that the auditorium was being used by the Fiesta committee, attempts were made to get in touch with the mayor. He was out of town at the time but had left word with his secretary that the witnesses were to move their meeting to another place, although they had not been previously notified of such a change. In view of the fact that the brothers had the permit to hold the public meeting they proceeded to the auditorium.
Upon arriving there they found admission was being charged and the folk dance program was in full swing, sound equipment having been set up, etc. The witnesses asked the ones in charge to end their program and remove their equipment, as the time was drawing near for the public meeting, and showed the permit authorizing them to have the use of the building. The chairman of the proceedings stated that he also had a permit to hold his folk dance program, but he was unable to produce it. Upon his refusing to vacate the stage, the ushers for Jehovah’s witnesses were told by the minister who was to give the lecture to remove the equipment and to clear the stage for the lecture, which they did.
At this point the mayor arrived on the scene, very much wrought up at the proceedings. He gave a short talk about his being the father of the town and that therefore all should obey him, and then he told the witnesses to move their meeting to another place. Noting that the witnesses were determined to go ahead with their meeting he pulled out a revolver, fired a shot into the air and faced the witnesses with it and asked, “Who among you dares to challenge me?” However, he was ignored, the speaker was introduced and he began his talk. The captain of the federal police joined in menacing the speaker with a revolver, a machine gun was mounted and pointed toward the speaker, and the city police appeared with rifles loaded ready for use. In spite of all this display of arms the speaker maintained his confidence and poise and proceeded with the lecture. Ushers for the witnesses intercepted the mayor as well as others who advanced to the speaker to force him to stop, for their pains receiving a number of blows from the would-be attackers.
As a final effort the wires for the sound system were disconnected, but the speaker merely raised his voice and kept on talking. At the conclusion of the talk the mayor approached the speaker and apologized for having lost his temper and having struck one of the ushers. He even went so far as to say that he had enjoyed the lecture. After this the witnesses returned to their convention hall for the closing features of their three-day assembly.
For a very similar incident please see the article on page 510, “Philippine Men Shame Bigots.”
Seemingly here were two instances where a good witness was given because of the zeal and fearlessness of the witnesses in the face of very serious threats of bodily harm. However, even though in these particular instances the results were for the best, yet it may be questioned if it was worth taking the risk and insisting on their legal and constitutional rights. How little more would it have taken for violence to break out and bloodshed, and then what? Can dead witnesses preach? And what about legal redress? Would it be wise to unnecessarily involve the Society, the legal arm of Jehovah’s witnesses, in legal actions costly in both time and money?
That such incidents do not always work out so favorably is apparent from still another report recently received from the Philippine Republic. In Barrio San Jose, Dumalag, Capiz, brothers had met on November 12, 1952, for a public meeting in connection with a three-day assembly, when a mob, greatly outnumbering the witnesses, approached and demanded that the meeting disperse. No police were on hand. The mob was led by the brother of the mayor who had given permission to hold the meeting and in the mob was a person who had previously arranged with the witnesses for them to use some of his property.
Failing to persuade the leader of the mob that Jehovah’s witnesses should not be molested, the one who was to give the lecture nevertheless insisted on his constitutional rights, and proceeded with his talk. Finding the witnesses unwilling to yield, the mob went wild, stormed the place and drove them, not only out of the meeting place, but also out of town and far into the surrounding hills. There the witnesses wandered for two days until they finally reached the next town, Kalibo. The mob destroyed all the literature and even invaded the homes of the local witnesses and smashed their furniture.
A TIME FOR EVERYTHING
The Devil’s purpose in bringing persecution to bear upon Jehovah’s servants is to cause them to compromise and so lose their integrity. By taking our stand boldly and fearlessly we can defeat this purpose of the Devil in spite of what may happen to us. But it also is his purpose to stop the witness work, and when we fail to use good judgment the work is unnecessarily interfered with. In the foregoing instances can we say that Jehovah furnished protection in two cases and not in the third? Or should we conclude that Jehovah expects us to use the spirit of a sound mind and to be cautious as serpents, and that if we fail in these respects we can expect trouble? Not that we can avoid all trouble, all persecution. Not at all, for as we have already noted we are to expect it. But by using wisdom, tact, discretion we can keep it at a minimum, not merely to avoid suffering, but primarily so that the work is not interfered with any more than need be. Witnesses dead or in hospitals cannot go about preaching. That is why Jesus commanded, “When they persecute you in one city, flee to another.”—Matt. 10:16, 23, NW.
In his own home town of Nazareth Jesus was attacked by a mob that “hurried him outside the city, and they led him to the brow of the mountain upon which their city had been built, in order to throw him down headlong. But he went through the midst of them and continued on his way”. No doubt by some quick moves he escaped their clutches. And when opposition got too severe in Judea Jesus stayed away from there, till obliged to go there, “because the Jews were seeking to kill him.” He knew his hour had not yet come.—Luke 4:28-31; John 7:1, 8-10, NW.
While on his missionary tours Paul left one city after another when persecution made further preaching impossible, in one place escaping by being let down from a window in a wicker basket. Under such conditions nothing would have been gained by insisting that he was a Roman citizen. But when arrested, and about to be beaten, he did protest his citizenship as he also did later when on trial. (Acts 13:50, 51; 14:5-7, 19, 20; 22:25; 25:10-12; 2 Cor. 11:32, 33, NW) When persecution became so severe in Jerusalem, the early Christians did not court martyrdom by remaining there, but scattered everywhere, except the apostles, and by this means the preaching of the good news spread far and wide.—Acts 8:1.
So there is a time for everything, a time to stand our ground and a time to yield. (Eccl. 3:1-8) If we are attacked at our homes or Kingdom Halls, then is the time to stand our ground and ‘fight for our brothers’. (Neh. 4:14) But even in such instances we should not anticipate trouble by equipping ourselves with carnal weapons, guns, etc., but if attacked should seek to ward off the blows the best we can with what happens to be convenient. We cannot assume the responsibility of shooting and killing an attacker. Jesus emphasized this point on the night of his betrayal.—Matt. 26:52.
However, when we meet at other places, in plazas, parks, public auditoriums, or are engaged in witnessing on the streets, then if a mob threatens and efforts to reason with it fail, it is the time to give way and go elsewhere rather than insist on our constitutional rights when it is apparent that the mobbers are not amenable to reason. Of course, if attacked, we seek to ward off the blows, and it is always proper to seek protection by the custodians of public order, the police. “A sensible man foresees danger, and hides from it; but the simple pass on, and are punished.”—Prov. 22:3, AT.
We must distinguish between discretion and caution and compromise. Under no circumstances will we heil men; we will not bow down to creatures or representations of any kind. If we are commanded to stop preaching we will obey God rather than men, and so long as we are able to come in contact with others we will be alert to opportunities to give the witness to hearing ears. When forbidden to go from house to house the cautious witnesses of Jehovah go from one house on one block to another house in another block; where forbidden to witness on the streets they strike up seemingly casual conversations with the people while ostensibly window-shopping; where public advertising of meetings is not permitted invitations are given privately. Thus caution indicates that certain more public forms of preaching be not used in such Roman Catholic lands as Ireland, Quebec, Italy, Spain and Argentina. And by using extreme caution Jehovah’s witnesses are able to carry on the preaching work even in Iron Curtain countries.
So let all Christian ministers of Jehovah thoroughly equip themselves for their commission and show zeal and fearlessness in fulfilling it to the best of their ability. But let them also remember that when faced with violent opposition such as mobs we must prove ourselves cautious as serpents so as to avoid unnecessary trouble. Failure to do so would amount to tempting God, and that we may not do. (Matt. 4:7, NW) Particularly at such times, “Let your reasonableness become known to all men.”—Phil. 4:5, NW.