Maintain Your Neutrality in a Divided World
“Pay back . . . God’s things to God.”—MATT. 22:21.
1. How can we obey both God and human governments?
GOD’S WORD tells us to be obedient to human governments, yet it also teaches that we must obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:29; Titus 3:1) Is this a contradiction? Not at all! The principle of relative subjection helps us to understand and obey these commands. Jesus summarized this principle when he said: “Pay back, therefore, Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.” (Matt. 22:21) How do we follow Jesus’ direction? We submit to the authority of the government under which we live by obeying its laws, respecting its officials, and paying the taxes it levies. (Rom. 13:7) However, if government authorities tell us to disobey God, we respectfully refuse to comply.
2. How do we show that we do not take sides in the world’s politics?
2 We pay back to God what is rightfully his, in part, by remaining neutral in the world’s political affairs. (Isa. 2:4) Thus, we do not oppose human governments that Jehovah allows to function; nor do we promote patriotic or nationalistic activity. (Rom. 13:1, 2) We do not lobby, vote in political elections, run for government office, or try to change governments.
3. Why must we remain neutral?
3 The Bible gives several reasons why God requires that we remain neutral. For example, we follow the teachings and example of his Son, Jesus Christ, by being “no part of the world,” avoiding its politics and wars. (John 6:15; 17:16) We must remain neutral in order to be loyal subjects of God’s Kingdom. Otherwise, how could we have a clean conscience when we preach the good news that only God’s Kingdom can solve mankind’s problems? Additionally, unlike false religions that divide their members by meddling in politics, true worship preserves our international brotherhood by helping us to remain neutral.—1 Pet. 2:17.
4. (a) How do we know that it will become more difficult to remain neutral? (b) Why should we prepare now to remain neutral?
4 Where we live, the political environment may be calm, seemingly tolerant of true worship. Yet, as Satan’s system nears its end, we can expect the issue of neutrality to become more prominent. The world is filled with people who are “not open to any agreement” and “headstrong,” so it will only become more divided and polarized. (2 Tim. 3:3, 4) In some countries, our brothers have already faced unexpected challenges to their neutrality because of a rapidly changing political environment. Do you see why we need to strengthen our resolve now to remain neutral? If we wait until we face a challenging situation, we might compromise and violate our neutral stand. So how can we prepare to maintain our neutrality in a divided world? Let us consider four keys that will help us to succeed.
VIEW HUMAN GOVERNMENTS AS JEHOVAH DOES
5. What does Jehovah think about human governments?
5 A first key to remaining neutral is to share Jehovah’s view of political systems. Although some governments might appear to be just, the very concept of humans ruling over other humans was never Jehovah’s purpose. (Jer. 10:23) Man-made governments promote nationalism, which divides the human family. Even the best human leaders are unable to solve all problems. In addition, since 1914, human governments have become rivals to God’s Kingdom, which will soon execute judgment on the nations by destroying them.—Read Psalm 2:2, 7-9.
6. How should we treat those who have authority in the government?
6 God lets the world’s political structure remain because it provides a measure of stability that, in turn, helps us to preach the good news of the Kingdom. (Rom. 13:3, 4) God even directs us to pray concerning those in authority, especially when their decisions might affect our worship. (1 Tim. 2:1, 2) We appeal to government authorities for fair treatment, as the apostle Paul did. (Acts 25:11) Although the Bible teaches that God’s adversary, Satan, has authority over political systems, it does not say that he directly controls each leader or official. (Luke 4:5, 6) We should therefore avoid implying that a particular official is controlled by the Devil. Instead, when dealing with “governments and authorities,” we “speak injuriously of no one.”—Titus 3:1, 2.
7. What thinking must we avoid?
7 We obey God by never favoring any candidate or political party over another, regardless of whether they seem to support or oppose our interests. How might our neutrality be tested in this regard? Suppose that a popular uprising tries to oust an oppressive regime, one under which God’s people have also suffered. Although we would not march with the protesters, might we be with them in spirit? (Eph. 2:2) We must remain neutral not only in our words and actions but also in our heart.
BE “CAUTIOUS” YET “INNOCENT”
8. When it is difficult to remain neutral, how can we be “cautious” yet “innocent”?
8 A second key to maintaining our neutrality is to be “cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves” when facing challenges. (Read Matthew 10:16, 17.) We show caution by recognizing dangers early, and we remain innocent by not letting them lead us into compromise. Consider some potential challenges and how we can deal with them.
9. What must we be careful of when talking to others?
9 Conversations. We must exercise caution when political issues are brought up. For example, when presenting the Kingdom message, avoid either praising or criticizing the policies of a political party or leader. Try to establish common ground with the householder by focusing on the underlying problem rather than on any proposed political solution. Then, show from the Bible how God’s government will solve the problem completely and permanently. If such volatile issues as same-sex marriage or abortion come up, defend God’s standards and explain how we follow these in our own lives. During the discussion, remain strictly neutral on the political aspects of these topics. We take no position regarding what laws should be enacted, repealed, or changed, and we do not pressure others to agree with our view.
10. How can we make sure that we remain neutral when we watch or read anything in the media?
10 The media. Information broadcast as “news” is often presented in a biased and opinionated way. The media sometimes functions as a tool of the political system. News reports might be blatantly slanted in lands with State-controlled media, yet even Christians living in so-called free countries must be careful not to adopt the bias of a commentator. Ask yourself, ‘Do I enjoy listening to someone in the media because I agree with his political leaning?’ If so, you might look for a more objective source of information. In any case, it is wise to limit your intake from media sources that promote a political agenda and to test what you hear against “the standard of wholesome words” found in the Bible.—2 Tim. 1:13.
11. How might it be hard for us to remain neutral when the things we own are very important to us?
11 Materialism. If we are attached to our possessions, we risk compromising our neutrality when we are under test. Ruth, in Malawi, saw several Witnesses do so when they were persecuted in the 1970’s. She recalls: “They could not give up their comfortable life. Some went into exile with us but later joined the political party and returned home because they did not want to put up with the discomforts of life in the refugee camp.” In contrast, the vast majority of God’s people have remained neutral despite economic pressures or even the loss of everything they own.—Heb. 10:34.
12, 13. (a) What does Jehovah think about humans? (b) How can we tell if we are becoming too proud of our country?
12 Undue pride. People often tout the merits of their race, tribe, culture, city, or nation. However, we know that taking undue pride in tribe, culture, or nation puts us at odds with Jehovah’s view of human rule and the human family. Of course, God does not expect us to renounce our culture. In fact, cultural differences illustrate the marvelous diversity of the human family. Still, we must remember that in God’s sight, all people are equal.—Rom. 10:12.
13 Taking undue pride in our place of origin is at the heart of nationalism and could be the first step on a path to compromise. Christians are not immune to such pride, for even some in the first-century congregation discriminated against their brothers because of their nationality. (Acts 6:1) How can we tell if undue pride is taking root in us? Suppose a brother or sister from another land offered you a suggestion. Would you reject it, immediately thinking, ‘We do things better around here’? Instead, we should all apply the inspired counsel: “With humility consider others superior to you.”—Phil. 2:3.
GAIN STRENGTH FROM JEHOVAH
14. How can prayer help us, and what Bible example proves this?
14 A third key to maintaining our neutrality is to gain strength from Jehovah. Pray for holy spirit, which can give you patience and self-control, qualities needed to cope with a government that may be corrupt or unjust. You can also ask Jehovah for the wisdom to recognize and deal with situations that could cause you to violate your Christian neutrality. (Jas. 1:5) If you are imprisoned or otherwise punished because of your resolute stand for true worship, pray for the strength to defend your faith with boldness and to endure whatever persecution may come.—Read Acts 4:27-31.
15. How can the Bible help us to remain neutral? (See also the box “God’s Word Strengthened Their Conviction.”)
15 Jehovah can strengthen you by means of his Word. Meditate on verses that will help you maintain your neutrality under test. Commit them to memory now, so that they can sustain you if you do not have access to a Bible later. God’s Word can also reinforce your hope in future Kingdom blessings. This hope is essential if we are to endure persecution. (Rom. 8:25) Select passages that describe blessings that you especially hope to enjoy, and visualize yourself experiencing those blessings in Paradise.
BENEFIT FROM OTHER INTEGRITY-KEEPERS
16, 17. What can we learn from the examples of God’s faithful servants who remained neutral? (See opening picture.)
16 Faithful servants of Jehovah provide the fourth key to maintaining neutrality. Their examples can give us the wisdom and strength we need to endure. For instance, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to worship an image representing the Babylonian State. (Read Daniel 3:16-18.) Reading about their determination has given Witnesses today the courage to refuse to worship the flag of the nation in which they live. Also, Jesus stayed completely separate from the political and social conflicts of the world. Noting the effect that his example would have on others, he urged his disciples: “Take courage! I have conquered the world.”—John 16:33.
17 Many Witnesses in modern times have maintained their neutrality. Some have suffered physical abuse and imprisonment and have even died for their faith. Their examples can help you as they did Barış, from Turkey, who said: “Franz Reiter was a young brother who was executed because he refused to join Hitler’s army. The letter he wrote to his mother the night before he died showed tremendous faith and confidence in Jehovah, and I wanted to follow his example if I faced such a trial.”
18, 19. (a) How can the members of your congregation help you to remain neutral? (b) What are you determined to do?
18 Support also comes from the brothers and sisters in your congregation. Let the elders know about the tests of neutrality that you may be facing, and ask for their mature, Bible-based counsel. Members of the congregation will encourage you if they are aware of the challenges you are facing. Ask them to pray in your behalf. Of course, if we want our brothers to support us and pray for us, we should do the same for them. (Matt. 7:12) The jw.org article “Jehovah’s Witnesses Imprisoned for Their Faith—By Location” posted under NEWSROOM > LEGAL DEVELOPMENTS can help you to be specific in your prayers. It includes links to lists of Witnesses currently imprisoned for their faith. Pick some names, and pray that such ones courageously maintain their integrity.—Eph. 6:19, 20.
19 As human governments near their end, we will not be surprised if they become less and less tolerant of our loyalty to Jehovah and his Kingdom. Thus, may we now strengthen our resolve to maintain our neutrality in a divided world.
^  (paragraph 1) Jesus here used Caesar, the highest-ranking human ruler at the time, as a symbol of the civil authority, or State.
^  (paragraph 17) See Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, p. 662, and the box “He Died for God’s Honor” in chapter 14 of the book God’s Kingdom Rules!