Questions From Readers
● Is it true that for religious reasons Jehovah’s Witnesses may not become members of the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association)?
Yes, that is so. We have long recognized that the YMCA, though not being a church as such, is definitely aligned with the religious organizations of Christendom in efforts to promote interfaith.
In September 1885 the Watch Tower took this position:
“Alas for the Bible-rearing practiced in the Y. M. C. Associations! They are completely under the control of the sectarians, by whom they are supported. Though professedly non-sectarian, professedly controlled by no creed but the Bible, they are more creed-bound than others, since they are bound by all the popular creeds.”—P. 6.
Later the underlying religious purpose and interfaith efforts of the YMCA were mentioned in the September 1964 issue of Kingdom Ministry, used by Jehovah’s Witnesses in one of their meetings.
Many persons think of the “Y” simply as a social organization that offers various services, such as a swimming pool, facilities for athletic training and a place for clubs to meet. Commendable as some of these provisions may be, it is important to bear in mind that the YMCA was founded with a distinctly religious basis. This was set out at a World Alliance in Paris in 1855. The main part of that official statement (called the Paris Basis) reads:
“The Young Men’s Christian Associations seek to unite those young men, who, regarding Jesus Christ as their God and Saviour, according to the Holy Scriptures, desire to be His disciples in their faith and in their life, and to associate their efforts for the extension of His Kingdom amongst young men.” (Italics added)
While in some countries churches may not be the YMCA’s main source of revenue and while membership is open to persons of all races, nationalities and religions, the fundamental religious objectives of the “Y” cannot be ignored.
‘But,’ some may sincerely wonder, ‘is religion or interfaith really an aspect of the YMCA?’ The answer must be “Yes.” Though religious features may be de-emphasized in some branches of the YMCA, all local “Ys” are still expected to comply with the Paris Basis. Further, note comments from the 1975 YMCA publication Christian and Open:
Anza A. Lema, associate of the executive committee of the World Alliance of YMCAs, wrote:
“From its very foundation, it has always looked to the Bible for inspiration and guidance. In many ways its role in the world has tended to complement that of the church without claiming to be a congregation itself. . . .
“But it is more than just an instrument through which Christians put their moral ideals and teachings into practice as they serve society. Most supporters of the YMCA look at it as a place where real fellowship with one another through Jesus Christ is experienced. . . .
“In humbling itself and trying to relate its structures and services more directly to the community, it will be carrying out more effectively its role of service and priesthood for its neighbours. . . .”
Matthias Dannenmann, general secretary, National Council of YMCAs of Germany, said:
“From its very beginning the YMCA was no doubt meant to have only Christians as members and on the other hand there was the missionary obligation towards those members who could not yet profess Jesus Christ. . . .
“The YMCA is a big offer, but only in as far as Jesus Christ is working in it as Living Saviour. We should do our very best not to drive out this Lord but as we carry him in our name we should personally use every chance of meeting him in the YMCA and of continuously extending this possibility to other people.”
Officials of the organization have pointed out that they feel that more attention needs to be given to the religious orientation of the YMCA. Dr. Paul M. Limbert, from 1952-1962 secretary-general of the YMCA’s World Alliance in Geneva, Switzerland, wrote:
“It may readily be granted that too few Y.M.C.A.s take full advantage of the opportunity for ecumenical education inherent in these informal contacts among Christians . . .
“When questions about different forms and beliefs arise among young people and adults, the wise leader takes advantage of the occasion to guide discussion from superficial argument to deeper dialogue. . . .
Leaders in both churches and Y.M.C.A.s need to recognize more clearly the essential nature of a lay ecumenical Christian movement. A Young Men’s Christian Association is not a church nor a substitute for a church. . . . Yet the Faith and Order commission of the British Council of Churches declared in a carefully worded statement in 1959 that the Christian Associations are ‘valuable auxiliaries’ of the churches, organs of their own missionary activity.”—The Christian Century, June 10, 1964.
And The Christian Century of August 29, 1969, in its article “Happy Birthday, Y.M.C.A.!”, stated:
“Realizing that the Christian identity of the ‘Y’ has often been drowned in swimming pools, its leaders are engaged in recovery of theological awareness and ecumenical vigor. . . . It may be that the greatest challenge to the Y.M.C.A. is to reclaim its religious heritage for the robust assertion of a new ecumenism among laymen in local communities. The Y.M.C.A. just might be able to do things for the Christian churches which, in their parochial rigidities, they seem unable to do for themselves.”
Consequently, there is ample evidence that the YMCA originated with religious objectives and continues to have such to this day.
In joining the YMCA as a member a person accepts or endorses the general objectives and principles of the organization. He is not simply paying for something he receives, such as when buying things being sold to the public at a store. (Compare 1 Corinthians 8:10; 10:25.) Nor is his membership merely an entry pass, as when a person buys a theater ticket. Membership means that one has become an integral part of this organization founded with definite religious objectives, including the promotion of interfaith. Hence, for one of Jehovah’s Witnesses to become a member of such a so-called “Christian” association would amount to apostasy.
Some individuals have on occasion not become members but have paid a onetime admission fee, viewing this as simply paying for a commercial service available. Even in this regard it is wise to consider whether this course will adversely affect the consciences of others.—1 Cor. 8:11-13.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, of course, appreciate a balanced amount of healthful exercise. The Bible says that “bodily training is beneficial for a little.” Yet it adds that “godly devotion is beneficial for all things.” (1 Tim. 4:8) That does not mean devotion to a triune God. The Bible does not teach that Jesus is “God” in a trinity, as is taught in many of Christendom’s churches and as is still included in the “Paris Basis” of the YMCA.—1 Cor. 11:3; John 17:3.
While interfaith efforts and ecumenism are popular today, they are not upheld by the true God, who told his servants: “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers. . . . ‘Therefore get out from among them, and separate yourselves.’” (2 Cor. 6:14-17) Also, Jesus plainly said that the Almighty must be worshiped “with spirit and truth.” (John 4:24) Most definitely that does not mean joining in a religious cause with persons holding beliefs contrary to what the Scriptures teach. (Rev. 18:4, 5) Thus, it is because of their understanding of what God expects of true worshipers, and of what the purposes and direction of the YMCA are, that Jehovah’s Witnesses may not become members of that organization.
Further, it is well to give thought to the fact that in virtually all the years of the YMCA’s existence, it has not acted in harmony with the spirit of Isaiah 2:2-4, as can be noted from the following historical facts:
“YMCA services to the armed forces began, in the United States, with the Civil War, and it continued giving service through all wars thereafter.”—Encyclopædia Britannica, Micropædia, Vol. X, p. 835, 1976 ed.
“In the Civil War, only ten years after its beginning in Boston, and before there were buildings or secretaries or financial resources, a total of 4,859 ‘delegates’ were recruited and deployed and over six millions of donated funds used for the temporal and spiritual needs of soldiers. . . . In World War I, the American Y.M.C.A. assumed an enormous responsibility for service at home and abroad for which a staff of 25,926 was required with expenditures of more than 167 million dollars. In World War II, the Y.M.C.A. became one of the organizations that founded the United Service Organizations [USO], joining as a group of private religious organizations from Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish faiths in an agreement with the Federal government to provide civilian recreational, welfare, and religious services to men in uniform and to war-production workers in communities adjacent to military establishments.”—The New Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia, Vol. 36, pp. 13,467, 13,468, 1952 ed.
“YMCA activities for members of the armed forces began during the Civil War (1861-1865). These services increased with each later war and reached their fullest development during World War II (1939-1945). The YMCA maintained more than 450 clubs for the Allied armed forces.”—The World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 21, p. 477, 1978 ed.
This kind of service under the name “Christian” was certainly not in fulfillment of Micah 4:3.