Jehovah's witnesses: cult, sect or true Christian believers

Otago Daily Times, New Zealand/January 22, 2009

Who are the Jehovah's Witnesses and why are they resented by mainstream Christians? Reg Ponniah of NZPA reports on the movement in New Zealand.

Jehovah's Witnesses known for their door-to-door thumping evangelism - chances are you might have had a visit from them on Christmas Day.

Jehovah's Witnesses have long been a tightly knit and secretive movement and have been accused of unorthodox teachings, which have often angered mainstream Christians.

They believe their faith teaches the only true interpretation of the Bible, that Jesus is not God and the world will end soon.

The most controversial of their beliefs is their refusal to allow followers blood transfusions even when patients' lives are at stake, claiming God forbids it.

National convenor John Wills said they believed blood was sacred and was to be used in the way that God intended.

"The Christian congregation was required to avoid the taking in of blood even to eat it, drink it or when transfusion was involved, so we hold it sacred and treat it that way," Mr Wills told NZPA.

The Witnesses have been rejecting transfusions of whole blood since 1945. Blood products like red cells, white cells, platelets and plasma have also been forbidden.

However, the United States and Canadian courts have ruled against the Witnesses in cases involving life-threatening situations.

Last year, a judge in Vancouver ruled against a Jehovah's Witnesses couple who opposed blood transfusions for their premature sextuplets, saying children's rights overruled their parents' beliefs when lives were in danger.

In London in November 2007, a young mother died after giving birth to twins because her faith prevented her from accepting a blood transfusion.

Mr Wills said many doctors now acknowledged the dangers of blood transfusions, and more bloodless surgery was being done.

The movement accepted non-blood alternatives, and advances in bloodless surgery in the US had also reduced medical dangers for Witnesses.

Mr Wills said NZ Witnesses refused blood transfusions quite frequently.

"We have a support system in hospital liaison committees throughout NZ who act on behalf of the patient when a difficult situation arises." How different are the Witnesses from mainstream Christians? Their central belief was that "Earth is man's home", Mr Wills said.

"We put a lot of emphasis on the prospect of seeing a new administration under God's government, under God's kingdom which probably is different from the Heaven or Hell alternative generated by Christian churches." Witnesses also believe the world is going to end soon.

"We don't mean the planet Earth, we mean human rule being replaced by God's rule and God's power and kingdom." And they reject the belief that Jesus is God.

"We do not feel that the Bible has support for the Trinity that Jesus is God, and the Holy Spirit makes up the third one." However, Witnesses accept Jesus as God's son which "is clearly stated in the scripture".

They do not believe in a church or its hierarchy.

So, what's with the door knocking exercise to "spread the word"? Mr Wills said the Bible provided "the premise for our preaching work".

"We go out to the people rather than bring them in and by ringing the bell...we get to people on a one-to-one basis and quite often people prefer that informal way." He accepted the door-to-door preaching could annoy ordinary people.

"Most people are not happy with being interrupted in what they are doing and emotions range from keen interest, tolerance, disinterest or suspicion." In 2006, a British woman was ordered by police to take down a sign on her garden gate which read "Our dogs are fed on Jehovah's Witnesses".

The woman, who insisted the sign was a gentle joke, said her late husband put the sign up more than 30 years earlier, when Witnesses called on Christmas Day.

Mr Wills said the movement did not celebrate Christmas because it did not believe Jesus was born on that day.

"There was no record of Jesus' birthdate in the Bible.

"We do commemorate his death at Easter time and we have a specific date according to the Jewish calendar."

Convinced that Satan rules the world, they do not vote, hold public office, serve in the military or salute national flags.

National holiday celebrations promoted nationalism and would affect the worldwide unity of Jehovah's Witnesses, Mr Wills said.

"We remain neutral so that in all countries we maintain the same beliefs."

Voting was, however, a personal decision.

"Each individual must decide as we cannot. And we do not tell anyone not to serve in the military."

Although the movement discouraged drinking, dancing, smoking and card playing, they were not forbidden.

Mr Wills said mainstream Christians criticised Witnesses because "we challenge their doctrinal beliefs, and our zeal could be upsetting to some".

A US study on Christian faiths indicated that among Christians losing their faith, the biggest fall-out rate was among Jehovah's Witnesses. About two-thirds of those raised in the faith left when they reached adulthood.

In New Zealand, the movement began in 1903 with just two individuals and now has 13,000 active Witnesses who form part of the world's 113 branches.

According to Statistics Department census figures, there were 17,826 Witnesses in 2001 and 17,910 in 2006.

A committee looked after the affairs of each branch and meetings were held in about 100 "Kingdom Halls", Mr Wills said.

The Witnesses have had their share of problems.

Nazis persecuted and outlawed them in 1936.

They were declared illegal during 1940 in New Zealand and Australia. The NZ attorney-general said at the time that they were devoting themselves to "vilification of religion, of their fellow-citizens, of the state, and of the Government".

In 2006, the Uzbekistan government outlawed the Witnesses, accusing them of "aggressive" missionary activity and other violations.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.