Harmonizing Our Employment with ‘Love of Neighbor’
More than eighty years ago the Watchtower magazine (April, 1891) published a letter in which one of its readers told how he had quit the use of tobacco “with the help of the Lord.” Thereafter The Watchtower on a number of occasions encouraged others also to free themselves from this form of slavery—Aug. 1, 1895; Nov. 15, 1905; Feb. 1, 1912; Mar. 1, 1935; July 1, 1942; Feb. 15, 1950; Apr. 1, 1954; Feb. 15, 1969; Nov. 1, 1971.
Over the years the light of truth on this subject grew brighter and brighter, until Jehovah’s witnesses saw clearly where Christians today should stand on this issue. The Watchtower of June 1, 1973, presented the Scriptural reasons why it is wrong to use tobacco personally and showed that baptized Christians who are tobacco users would be removed from the Christian congregation. Baptized persons who were using tobacco were allowed a reasonable period of time in which to free themselves from the addiction.
The Watchtower of July 1, 1973, gave examples of dedicated Christians who, in recognition of the detrimental effects of tobacco on the human family, exercised their conscience in refusing to grow tobacco any longer. It pointed out too how some had quit working for companies that manufacture and distribute cigars, cigarettes and tobacco products.
The Kingdom Ministry of November 1973 also contained an article on how tobacco users should be viewed by the Christian congregation.
Since then a number of questions have been raised concerning the growing, selling and distributing of tobacco and tobacco products in connection with one’s employment. There are some types of employment that are quite clearly in open conflict with the Bible standards. Thus, Jehovah’s witnesses have long refused to recognize as approved members of the congregation persons who make their living at gambling, or by producing idolatrous objects, or who do work that is directly contrary to the ways of peace described at Isaiah 2:4. When one’s work is clearly contrary to Bible standards, it can rightly result in one’s being rejected by the congregation, disfellowshipped. The Bible itself sets the standard or rule that is the basis for such action.
The Watchtower has presented a clear-cut statement showing the damaging effects of tobacco on the body and rightly categorizing it as a harmfully addictive drug. Various governmental authorities have recognized the harmful effects of tobacco but up to now have not outlawed the use of tobacco or its production. The legality of tobacco does not alter the basic wrong involved in producing or selling for gain a product that is harmful to one’s neighbors. To illustrate, a country might declare marijuana legal (even as some states may have legal prostitution), yet the person who made his living from the production or sale of marijuana would still clearly not be a suitable member of God’s congregation.
Therefore, a person who owns a tobacco store, or one who has accepted employment in a factory devoted to producing tobacco products, or a salesman whose business is selling tobacco, or a farmer who controls the raising of crops on his farm and who chooses to raise tobacco should recognize that he has a responsibility for what he is doing. How can his Christian conscience allow him to bring harm to his neighbor when he is in a position to exercise control over what is being done? The brothers should be able to weigh the seriousness of the matter and also weigh the heaviness of the responsibility that individuals have in matters of employment where a wrong practice comes into the picture. There should be no doubt as to the gross wrong on the part of those who gain their principal source of income from promoting the use of tobacco at the expense of the well-being of their fellowman. Such a course is an open contradiction of the basic command to love one’s neighbor as oneself.—Matt. 22:39.
Then there is the person who owns a store and stocks tobacco as a minor item among the many things he sells. He may say he would prefer not to stock it but that his customers demand it, and this may have some basis in fact. He does not feel he is an active promoter of tobacco. Yet, even though his responsibility may be less than that of one whose main means of living is gained from tobacco, what is his reason for acceding to his customers’ demands? Is it not to retain their business and the gain that this brings? Since he is the owner of the store and has control of what is sold there, the responsibility falls directly upon him, and his Christian conscience should move him to dispose of all tobacco stock and not replace it, even though this may result in some financial loss to him. Surely he would be able to adjust his affairs within a reasonable period of time, say three months, and relieve himself of such responsibility, even though suffering some loss, and so be able to continue as a member of the congregation. If a customer inquires why he does not sell tobacco, he can explain that he is being a good neighbor and doing good to others.
By comparison there may be a Christian who is simply an employee in an establishment that sells tobacco incidentally and who has no voice or control in what is sold. For example, an employee in a restaurant may be called upon by a customer to sell him a cigar which the management stocks. Or, one may be working in a food market; groceries and meat are the principal products sold, but the owners stock tobacco as an incidental item. The Christian employee may be expected to collect money for items that are sold, including the tobacco. Personal conscience would have to dictate what he or she in this situation could and should do as to handling tobacco products to this extent. He may prefer to ask the employer to relieve him of any handling of these objectionable materials. Unless a serious issue would arise, such employee would not be restricted from serving as a pioneer, an elder or a ministerial servant in the congregation.
Some questions occur when a store is owned by partners, only one of whom is a baptized Christian, or where a Christian is hired as manager of a place of business, or when working under a franchise arrangement and tobacco is being sold there. The basic consideration in these cases would be whether the Christian has control of the business to the extent that he can stop the handling of tobacco products. In a partnership arrangement the partner or partners who are not in the truth may insist that the sale of tobacco continue there and the Christian may not be able to prevent it. In such cases a Christian desiring a good conscience in the matter may inform the partners that they take full responsibility for the tobacco sales and that he does not wish to receive any share in the profits on sales of tobacco products. If a manager is required by the owner of a business to sell tobacco along with other items, then the Christian will have to determine in his own conscience whether he is able to continue his employment under those circumstances or not. Some may choose to disengage themselves from such businesses. Where continuing, the local elders may ask those individuals to show them that their stocking and selling tobacco in the place of business is not a result of their own choice or decision.
A person whose employment or principal work is handling, processing, manufacturing or selling tobacco or tobacco products is contributing to the addiction of other persons. If a dedicated, baptized Christian finds himself working in such an objectionable type of employment, he should arrange within a reasonable time, perhaps three months, to find other employment that would not be out of harmony with the requirements of the Scriptures for Christian living. On the other hand, if after such time period he would decide to remain in the objectionable employment, it would be necessary for the congregation to take action and expel the individual from the congregation.
Growing tobacco also constitutes being a part of the tobacco industry and is as objectionable as using tobacco personally or making a living by selling tobacco products. A dedicated Christian who owns his own farmland has control over what he will plant and must take responsibility for what his farm produces. As The Watchtower of July 1, 1973, indicated, the Christian conscience should move one to do good toward others. Tobacco does not do good for the human family. Therefore, why should the Christian farmer be involved with the production and sale of a tobacco crop?
In the United States the government has arranged for what are described as “tobacco allotments” for the land that is being farmed in the tobacco-growing areas. A percentage of the land may be used for raising tobacco, or a certain number of pounds of tobacco may be produced under the allotment arrangement. Some have asked what a brother should do when he has a tobacco allotment with his land. He does not have to use it but can grow other crops on his farm. Granted, according to letters received, the greatest income from any crops raised may be from the tobacco crop. If the brother refuses to grow tobacco on his land in the future, it may mean financial loss to him, but at the same time it would mean gaining a good conscience toward God and a good standing with the congregation. (1 Tim. 1:5, 19) In these days of increasing food shortages, a Christian farmer can do good for his neighbors by producing foodstuffs instead of doing injury to them by producing tobacco.
There are brothers who are renters of land on which there is a tobacco allotment and the same principles would apply. A Christian farmer would avoid any objectionable employment by producing crops other than tobacco or similar addictive drugs.
If a brother owns land on which there is a tobacco allotment and rents or leases it out, he would not want to become involved in some sharecropping arrangement where he knows beforehand that the renter will produce tobacco on the farm. The same would be true of leasing out one’s tobacco allotment. Surely he would feel a responsibility for knowingly being involved in and gaining money from the production of harmful tobacco. So, to the extent that he has control over the matter, he would want to see that his land which may be rented out for farming would be used for production of crops other than tobacco, if he wishes to continue as a member of the congregation.
Under these circumstances some Christian farmers in tobacco-growing areas may conclude that the only practical course open to them is to go into some other business and to leave farming. They may even decide to sell their land on which the tobacco allotment has been assigned by the government. Would there be any objection to a Christian’s selling his land on which there is a tobacco allotment? There is no reason why the Christian farmer should feel a responsibility for what someone else does with the land after he has sold it. It becomes the responsibility of the new owner and if he chooses to use the tobacco allotment, that would not be the concern of the Christian farmer who sold the land and would not affect his standing with the Christian congregation.
Some of the correspondence indicates that brothers have already signed contracts and given their word that they will be farming certain land and producing tobacco. Some may have already rented their land to someone for the next year or longer. Whether these brothers will be able to cancel or relieve themselves of such contracts in some way is not known, but it will be commendable for them to seek ways to avoid being involved in growing any more tobacco. In some cases it may not be possible for the Christian farmer to terminate a contract on which he has given his word and made a legal agreement. He may have made the arrangement in good faith and without appreciating that what he was doing was really improper for a Christian. In such cases it would seem to be reasonable that the Christian farmer explain his situation to the judicial committee of the congregation, pointing out what he has done to try to relieve himself of the obligation to produce tobacco and showing the committee the signed contract or evidence of the agreement. In such instances the local elders can give consideration to the individual case and do not have to expel the Christian farmer from the congregation if he complies with his word previously given in the contract and fulfills that contract. However, during the time when a contract directly involves a person with tobacco production, it would be inappropriate to use him as a pioneer, an elder or a ministerial servant in the congregation. In his present situation he is not “irreprehensible” or “free from accusation.” (1 Tim. 3:2, 10) But as soon as the contract is finished, if the Christian farmer enters into another contract for growing tobacco, he would be subject to expulsion from the Christian congregation.
Inquiries have been received about employment on farms owned by someone else on which tobacco is produced. Here the position would be similar to employment in a worldly company where the Christian employee asks his employer if he may work with things that do not offend his Christian conscience, in this case with other crops that may be grown (grain, fruits and vegetables). On farms there may be livestock to handle or work in taking care of buildings not used for tobacco products. A Christian’s conscience and understanding of Bible principles will cause him to avoid sharing in tobacco production. For some hired farm workers it may mean seeking employment elsewhere, just as some have done who did not want to become involved with gambling, producing Christmas products, working for and being paid by Babylon the Great, etc., and be subject to removal from the congregation. A Christian woman married to a worldly man who farms tobacco can take care of housekeeping and cooking and other domestic duties and share in farm activities not directly involved with tobacco growing.
As is true in the case of tobacco users, if there is a grower or seller of tobacco who was once a baptized member of the congregation but who left the organization a long time ago and does not now claim to be and does not have local recognition as being one of Jehovah’s witnesses, and his activity causes no community reproach or disturbance in the congregation, it would not be necessary for the elders to search him out and inquire whether he is working with tobacco, and neither is it necessary that they take action against such a worker who no longer associates with the organization. But if public reproach is caused by one who occasionally associates with the congregation or is identified as one of Jehovah’s witnesses, the elders do have responsibility to maintain the congregation’s name for cleanness and to safeguard its right standing with God.
All Christians recognize that the light of truth is shining brighter, and as the years have passed many things have become clearer to us. (Prov. 4:18) True, years ago some may not have understood the import of scriptures such as John 17:16, Isaiah 2:2-4, Isaiah 65:11, Acts 15:29, Revelation 18:4 and others, and had employment that those scriptures show to be wrong. Yet, as the understanding has become clear and the light brighter, dedicated Christians have always been ready to come in line with the Scriptures and divest themselves of any business or employment found to be out of harmony with Scriptural instructions, even though it may have meant some personal financial loss. (You may have observed how some brothers have lost their employment because of insisting on taking time to attend a convention against the employers’ wishes. Some overseers have lost their employment because of going to the Kingdom Ministry School where they could equip themselves to serve the brothers better in their congregation. However, we have always seen that, by putting faith in Jehovah and trusting in him, they have been able to work out their problems, secure other work and continue to provide the necessities of life for their families, just as Hebrews 13:5 points out.) More recently we have come to see the issue clearly with regard to use and handling of tobacco and tobacco products, coca leaves, betel nut and other such harmfully addictive drugs. With full faith in Jehovah God, who is the great Provider of all good things, we are confident that Jehovah will take care of the necessities of his servants who in good conscience keep serving him faithfully. Those who put the Kingdom interests first and keep seeking the Kingdom will not be destitute of the material necessities.—Matt. 6:33; see also Philippians 3:7-9; 4:11-13.
Some have inquired if the principle involved at Deuteronomy 14:21 would apply with respect to selling cigarettes or tobacco products to people of the world. In that law God acknowledged that unbled animals sold to the foreigners would be used by them for food. There is no known physical harm that would necessarily result therefrom, and such foreigners were already spiritually unclean before Jehovah. The eating of such meat did not change matters for them physically or spiritually. On the other hand, as regards tobacco products, we know that these are not a food, are in no way beneficial to one’s body, but are definitely harmful. How, then, can we appeal to the consciences of others if we ignore this and allow personal gain to outweigh love for neighbor?
With full confidence in Jehovah God each one should seek to do the will of Jehovah and gain His favor. Jehovah will not abandon his faithful ones. It is sincerely hoped that all those who are involved with tobacco or similar products will have good success in working out matters so as to have a good conscience before Jehovah God and, as a result, continue to have a happy share in spreading the good news.—Ps. 37:25-29.