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Jehovah's Witnesses are known to be politically neutral and for refusing to vote. They have suffered imprisonment and even death (such as Malawi) for abstaining from involvement in political affairs. However, the requirement not to vote has varied over time. Although few Witnesses vote, since 1999 it is technically a conscience matter. The latest elders manual - Shepherd the Flock of God - does not mention voting at all.

Conscience Matter

Watchtower 1999 11/1 pp.28-29

Questions From Readers - How do Jehovah’s Witnesses view voting?

There are clear principles set out in the Bible that enable servants of God to take a proper view of this matter. However, there appears to be no principle against the practice of voting itself. For example, there is no reason why a board of directors should not take a vote in order to arrive at decisions affecting their corporation. Congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses often make decisions about meeting times and the use of congregation funds by voting with a show of hands.

What, though, of voting in political elections? Of course, in some democratic lands, as many as 50 percent of the population do not turn out to vote on election day. As for Jehovah’s Witnesses, they do not interfere with the right of others to vote; neither do they in any way campaign against political elections. They respect and cooperate with the authorities who are duly elected in such elections. (Romans 13:1-7) As to whether they will personally vote for someone running in an election, each one of Jehovah’s Witnesses makes a decision based on his Bible-trained conscience and an understanding of his responsibility to God and to the State. (Matthew 22:21; 1 Peter 3:16) In making this personal decision, the Witnesses consider a number of factors.

First, Jesus Christ said of his followers: "They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world." (John 17:14) Jehovah’s Witnesses take this principle seriously. Being "no part of the world," they are neutral in the political affairs of the world.—John 18:36.

Second, the apostle Paul referred to himself as an "ambassador" representing Christ to the people of his day. (Ephesians 6:20; 2 Corinthians 5:20) Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Christ Jesus is now the enthroned King of God’s heavenly Kingdom, and they, like ambassadors, must announce this to the nations. (Matthew 24:14; Revelation 11:15) Ambassadors are expected to be neutral and not to interfere in the internal affairs of the countries to which they are sent. As representatives of God’s heavenly Kingdom, Jehovah’s Witnesses feel a similar obligation not to interfere in the politics of the countries where they reside.

A third factor to consider is that those who have a part in voting a person into office may become responsible for what he does. (Compare 1 Timothy 5:22, The New English Bible.) Christians have to consider carefully whether they want to shoulder that responsibility.

Fourth, Jehovah’s Witnesses greatly value their Christian unity. (Colossians 3:14) When religions get involved in politics, the result is often division among their members. In imitation of Jesus Christ, Jehovah’s Witnesses avoid becoming involved in politics and thus maintain their Christian unity.—Matthew 12:25; John 6:15; 18:36, 37.

Fifth and finally, their keeping out of politics gives Jehovah’s Witnesses freeness of speech to approach people of all political persuasions with the important message of the Kingdom.—Hebrews 10:35.

In view of the Scriptural principles outlined above, in many lands Jehovah’s Witnesses make a personal decision not to vote in political elections, and their freedom to make that decision is supported by the law of the land. What, though, if the law requires citizens to vote? In such a case, each Witness is responsible to make a conscientious, Bible-based decision about how to handle the situation. If someone decides to go to the polling booth, that is his decision. What he does in the polling booth is between him and his Creator.

The November 15, 1950, issue of The Watchtower, on pages 445 and 446, said: "Where Caesar makes it compulsory for citizens to vote . . . [Witnesses] can go to the polls and enter the voting booths. It is here that they are called upon to mark the ballot or write in what they stand for. The voters do what they will with their ballots. So here in the presence of God is where his witnesses must act in harmony with his commandments and in accordance with their faith. It is not our responsibility to instruct them what to do with the ballot."

What if a Christian woman’s unbelieving husband insists that she present herself to vote? Well, she is subject to her husband, just as Christians are subject to the superior authorities. (Ephesians 5:22; 1 Peter 2:13-17) If she obeys her husband and goes to the polling booth, that is her personal decision. No one should criticize her.—Compare Romans 14:4.

What of a country where voting is not mandated by law but feelings run high against those who do not go to the voting booth—perhaps they are exposed to physical danger? Or what if individuals, while not legally obliged to vote, are severely penalized in some way if they do not go to the polling booth? In these and similar situations, a Christian has to make his own decision. "Each one will carry his own load."—Galatians 6:5.

There may be people who are stumbled when they observe that during an election in their country, some Witnesses of Jehovah go to the polling booth and others do not. They may say, ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses are not consistent.’ People should recognize, though, that in matters of individual conscience such as this, each Christian has to make his own decision before Jehovah God.—Romans 14:12.

Whatever personal decisions Jehovah’s Witnesses make in the face of different situations, they take care to preserve their Christian neutrality and freeness of speech. In all things, they rely on Jehovah God to strengthen them, give them wisdom, and help them avoid compromising their faith in any way. Thus they show confidence in the words of the psalmist: "You are my crag and my stronghold; and for the sake of your name you will lead me and conduct me."—Psalm 31:3.

Not Allowed

"Pay Attention to Yourselves and to All the Flock" (1991) pp.139,140
Jehovah's Witnesses maintain neutrality with regard to the political and military affairs of the nations. (John 17:16; rs pp. 269-76)

They do not interfere with what others do as to voting in political elections, running for or campaigning for political offices, joining non-neutral organizations, shouting political slogans, and so forth. (w86 9/1 pp. 19- 20; w68 6/1 pp. 351-2) [See also w99 11/1 pp28-9 Q from R]

Since true dedicated Christians are "no part of the world," if a member of the congregation unrepentantly pursues a course in violation of his Christian neutrality, he thereby disassociates himself from the neutral Christian congregation. (John 15:19; 17:14-16; w82 1/15 p. 31)

Elders should talk to one known to be contemplating taking such a course, since he may be doing so in ignorance. (Ps. 119:67; Gal. 6:1; 1 Tim. 1:13)

If he disregards the help proffered and pursues a course in violation of Christian neutrality, a committee should send the facts substantiating the disassociation to the branch office on the S-77 and S-79 forms. [See also ks91 p143]

What Does the Bible Really Teach? Chapter 15 paragraph 12
as shown at http://www.watchtower.org/e/bh/article_15.htm April 3rd 2010

True worshipers are no part of the world. When on trial before the Roman ruler Pilate, Jesus said: “My kingdom is no part of this world.” (John 18:36) No matter what country they live in, Jesus’ true followers are subjects of his heavenly Kingdom and thus maintain strict neutrality in the world’s political affairs. They take no part in its conflicts. However, Jehovah’s worshipers do not interfere with what others choose to do about joining a political party, running for office, or voting.

jv p.673
In some lands, voting in political elections is viewed as an obligation. Failure to vote is punished by fine, imprisonment, or worse. But Jehovah’s Witnesses support the Messianic Kingdom of God, which, as Jesus said, "is no part of this world." Therefore, they do not participate in the political affairs of the nations of this world.

uw p.166
However, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not meddle in politics, no matter what the country in which they live. They do not interfere with what others do as to joining a political party, running for office or voting in elections. But, since Jesus said that his disciples would be "no part of the world," Jehovah’s Witnesses take no part whatsoever in political activities.

sj p.16
In many schools, students are voted into an office or a position, such as class president. Some schools have small-scale political campaigns, including campaign buttons and posters advertising candidates. The purpose is to familiarize young people with the machinery of politics. However, Witness youths do not mix in school politics, either by accepting an elective office or by voting others into office. So if either nominated for or elected to an office, they tactfully decline. In this way they follow the example of Jesus who withdrew when the people wanted to make him king

Watchtower 1964 5/15 p.308
To mature Christians, the question of what attitude should be taken in the matter of political elections presents no issue. In totalitarian countries oftentimes people are forced by law to go to the election polls and sometimes persons are even picked up at home and brought to the polls. Even in certain democracies the law makes it compulsory for the citizens to go to the election places. In no country do Jehovah’s witnesses take part in politics. They are not of this world. (John 17:14) Therefore they do not take part in voting at elections. They do not compromise their neutral standing in matters of politics, however, if they go to the polls and make the ballot void in some manner, either by crossing it out or by putting down, for example, the words "For God’s Kingdom." That is telling what he is for. By doing this their ballot will become void; it will not count in the election of a man. They have complied with the law and gone to the polls and likely avoided punishment. Remember Jesus’ counsel: "Look! I am sending you forth as sheep amidst wolves; therefore prove yourselves cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves." (Matt. 10:16) No one should be condemned for acting so. "But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you also look down on your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God."—Rom. 14:10.

Watchtower 1959 7/1 p.398
Jesus Christ was not subversive though he was so accused by his religious opposers. (Luke 23:2) He refused to become politically active in this world’s affairs because, as he said: "No one can be a slave to two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will stick to the one and despise the other." (Matt. 6:24) It is because of such admonition by Jesus that Jehovah’s witnesses have refused to mix these interests in government. But this does not make them subversive. The refusal of Jehovah’s witnesses in the past to fulfill such patriotic duties as voting, saluting a flag or participation in the armed forces, is an insurance to every country that Jehovah’s witnesses will not endanger the security of that nation, because they have been refraining from the same activities in all other countries at the same time.

Watchtower 1952 6/1 p.346
If he made improper appointments he would become responsible for the sins of such appointees, since he put them in position to commit their sins that hurt the congregation in God’s sight. So the people who either vote wicked rulers into office or allow them to remain in power must accept responsibility for such rulers’ official acts and sins against God and man.

Watchtower 1952 9/1 p.526
"Voting is compulsory, and because the brothers have refused to vote they have been frequently beaten and imprisoned.

Conscience Matter

Watchtower 1950 11/15 pp.445-446 Subjection to the Higher Powers
21 In view of not recognizing worldly political powers as the “superior authorities” ordained by God, but recognizing only God and Jesus Christ to be such now, the Christian witnesses conscientiously refrain from taking part in the politics of this world, yes, even from voting. This has been true of them from the first century on. Testifying to this fact, Ancient Times—A History of the Early World, by Jas. H. Breasted, Ph.D., LL.D., says, under the heading, “1070. Rome persecutes the early Christians,” the following: “The officers of government often found these early converts not only refusing to sacrifice to the emperor as a god but also openly prophesying the downfall of the Roman State. The early Christians were therefore more than once called upon to endure cruel persecution. Their religion seemed incompatible with good citizenship, since it forbade them to show the usual respect for the emperor and the government.”—Page 663, edition of 1916.

22 In some countries today the legislature wants to make all the adult citizens responsible for the government. To enforce the democratic way upon them they are required by law to vote in the national elections. Under such circumstances what are Christians to do, since they are under divine command to keep themselves unspotted from this world? By dedicating themselves wholly to God through Christ they have vowed their unswerving allegiance to the kingdom of God, and they cannot divide their allegiance. So how are they now to proceed? Can they register as qualified voters? Yes. The apostle Paul held onto his Roman citizenship and fought for its rights, even appealing to Caesar in defending his right to preach the gospel. In lands where military conscription is in force Jehovah’s witnesses register the same as all others within the age limits, and they write down their relationship to the matter. They remember how Joseph and Mary complied with Caesar’s decree and traveled to Bethlehem-Judah in order to be registered at their home town. (Luke 2:1-5, NW) But it is when these ministers of Jehovah’s Word are called up for induction into the army that then they present themselves and take their stand according to God’s Word and pay to him what belongs to him. Likewise where Caesar makes it compulsory for citizens to vote. After they have registered and when election day comes, they can go to the polls and enter the voting booths. It is here that they are called upon to mark the ballot or write in what they stand for. The voters do what they will with their ballots. So here in the presence of God is where his witnesses must act in harmony with his commandments and in accordance with their faith.

23 It is not our responsibility to instruct them what to do with the ballot. They must act in accord with their conscience as enlightened by the study of God’s Word. In lands where voting is not compulsory, the ministers of Jehovah’s Word remember that his people are theocratically organized. According to the divine law under which they are organized the popular vote of the majority does not put servants in office, but all appointments in the theocratic organization are from God and through those whom he puts in authority in his organization.