Persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses
Bible passages say that Jesus’ followers would be hated and persecuted. Watchtower regularly presents examples of Jehovah’s Witnesses experiencing persecution as proof that they are Jesus’ true followers. It also warns Jehovah’s Witnesses to prepare for persecution. This article examines whether Jehovah’s Witnesses suffer persecution in fulfilment of Scripture.
Matthew 10:22 “YOU will be objects of hatred by all people on account of my (Jesus) name.”
2 Timothy 3:12 “In fact, all those desiring to live with godly devotion in association with Christ Jesus will also be persecuted.”
Watchtower applies these Scriptures to Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“SINCE the days of Abel, many of Jehovah’s servants have endured religious persecution. (Luke 11:49-51) And no wonder, for the Bible warns that “all those desiring to live with godly devotion in association with Christ Jesus will also be persecuted”! (2 Timothy 3:12) Accordingly, today in more than 25 countries, Jehovah’s Witnesses are under ban and endure persecution.” Watchtower 1995 Sep 1 p.31
“He [Satan] attempts to intimidate us through peer pressure or persecution so that we will stop preaching.” Examining the Scriptures Daily—2022 Wed Jun 29
When discussing persecution, the image that comes to mind is the thousands of Christians in the first century who were beaten, thrown to the lions or killed for their belief.
“It is said that in the year 95 alone some 40,000 suffered martyrdom. ... Diocletian assumed the crown A.D. 284. At first he seemed friendly to the Christians, but in the year 303 he gave in to persuasion and opened the tenth persecution, probably the most ferocious of all. Suffocation by smoke, forcible drinking of melted lead, mass drownings and burnings, breaking on the rack of men and women alike ran the empire with blood. In a single month 17,000 were slain. In the province of Egypt alone, 144,000 such professed Christians died by violence in the course of this persecution, in addition to another 700,000 who died as a result of fatigues encountered in banishment or under enforced public works.” Watchtower 1951 Sep 1 pp.516-518
Watchtower likens the hatred of Jehovah’s Witnesses to these early Christians.
“Basically, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been unjustly hated for the same reasons that the early Christians were persecuted.” Watchtower 1998 Dec 1 p.14
The December 2022 Watchtower used bold and italics to drive home the point that "All" living in "godly devotion" will be persecuted.
Comparing how Watchtower presents the topic of persecution with what Jehovah’s Witnesses experience leads to surprising conclusions.
Persecution is defined as treatment that is cruel and unfair due to race, religion or political belief.
"unfair or cruel treatment over a long period of time because of race, religion, or political beliefs:" Cambridge Dictionary 1 Jan 2023
Jehovah’s Witnesses have been subjected to cruel and unfair treatment – persecution - due to their religious beliefs.
This needs to be distinguished from punishment for unethical behaviour, which is not persecution. It is not necessarily persecution when a government bans a religion or sanctions a religious practice that is considered illegal or dangerous to the community. A religious group cannot claim they are being persecuted if they are being prosecuted for unjustifiably illegal, immoral, or unethical behaviour. Prosecution is not persecution.
Watchtower highlights being banned or imprisonment as forms of persecution. “Jehovah’s Witnesses Imprisoned for Their Faith—By Location” rightfully presents that;
“The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” is a fundamental human right, according to Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
The article identifies the imprisonment of Jehovah’s Witnesses as persecution and a violation of that right. Restricting or banning the religion is also considered persecution.
“IN 2018, more than 223,000 publishers of the good news lived in lands where our spiritual activities were banned or severely restricted. … If a government bans our worship, we might wrongly conclude that we do not have God’s blessing. But remember, persecution does not mean that Jehovah is unhappy with us.” Watchtower Study Ed Jul 2019 p.8
It is important to note that countries that impose bans and restrictions on Jehovah’s Witnesses do so for a range of other groups as well. If Jehovah’s Witnesses were the only religion banned in multiple countries, they could claim they are being uniquely targeted or persecuted, but this is not the case. Jehovah’s Witnesses are just one of many religions that have these restrictions imposed.
For example, Watchtower’s newsroom released a report in 2016 that the most intense persecution of Jehovah’s witnesses was happening in Eritrea.
"Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Eritrea Receives Unprecedented International Attention It is in Eritrea, more than anywhere else in the world, that Jehovah’s Witnesses experience the most intense persecution. Since Eritrea gained independence in 1993, the Witnesses have been consistently imprisoned, tortured, and marginalized. They are persecuted because they remain politically neutral and refuse to take up arms against their fellow man. Fifty-four of Jehovah’s Witnesses are currently imprisoned in Eritrea. Over the past 22 years, all except one have been held without formal charges or a hearing. Three have been in prison since 1994 for their conscientious objection to military service." ...
Since the persecution began, human rights organizations and government agencies have condemned the suffering experienced by Jehovah’s Witnesses in Eritrea. More recently, however, the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea (COIE), a UN mandated body, has brought unprecedented international attention to the plight of the Witnesses.” “Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Eritrea Receives Unprecedented International Attention” Oct 19, 2016
Whilst the OHCHR report mentioned Jehovah’s Witnesses, it included other religious groups, along with a broad range of human rights violations. The OHCHR report said:
“Put an end to the practice of arbitrary arrest and detention of individuals based on their religious beliefs, in particular followers of specific religious groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals and other non-authorized religious groups, and release immediately and unconditionally all those unlawfully and arbitrarily detained;” OHCHR Report sighted 1 Jan 2023
Jehovah’s Witnesses are not being singled out for persecution, they are one of many groups that experience bans, restrictions, and imprisonment.
On the other hand, Jehovah’s Witnesses are being assisted by prominent human rights groups. Amnesty International is devoted to human rights, regardless of religious or ethnic background, and has received recognition for the work they do in the Watchtower.
“We investigate and expose abuses, educate and mobilise the public, and help transform societies to create a safer, more just world. We received the Nobel Peace Prize for our life-saving work." amnesty.org.uk sighted 1 Jan 2023
“In addition to the United Nations, other international organizations—such as Amnesty International—work to encourage the observance of human rights around the world. The European Commission on Human Rights has been established to handle allegations of violations.” Awake! 1979 Sep 8 p.9
Amnesty has actively worked to assist Jehovah’s Witnesses that are unjustly imprisoned or persecuted. The Awake! 1976 Aug 8 p.3 quoted an Amnesty International report that outlined the unjust suffering of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi. In more recent times, Amnesty has discussed the mistreatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and outlined ways people can take action to try and help free Jehovah’s Witness prisoners. amnesty.org.uk sighted 1 Jan 2023.
Whilst Jehovah’s Witnesses suffer persecution from despotic regimes, they also receive assistance from international groups advocating for their freedom.
Let’s consider whether current events affecting Jehovah’s Witnesses can be considered persecution to an extent that uniquely identifies them as Jesus disciples.
As of December 2022, 175 Jehovah’s Witnesses were in prison globally as a result of their religious belief.
Whilst it is terrible that Jehovah’s Witnesses are suffering for their faith, 175 is a tiny percentage of the 8 million Jehovah’s Witnesses, and insignificant in comparison to the total number of people imprisoned globally for their religious beliefs.
On 25 October 2022 Norway issued notice of possible loss of registration of Jehovah’s Witnesses as a religious community. Watchtower was subsequently granted an injunction.
“Norwegian Court Suspends Attempt to Deregister Jehovah’s Witnesses We are pleased to inform you that on December 30, 2022, the Oslo District Court granted a temporary injunction to stop the government from taking away our registration as a religious community. Please continue to keep this matter in your prayers.” JW News landing page on 1 Jan 2023
A Watchtower press release explained that the reason for the de-registration was related to the practice of disfellowshipping. The consequence is that Watchtower will no longer collect money from the government, as well as lose the authority to appoint marriage celebrants.
“In Norway, the government only appoints religious wedding officiants from registered religious communities. When the government announced that it would be deregistering Jehovah’s Witnesses, it meant that Witness officiants would lose their appointment and authorization. … the government denied us the right to State grants, which we had received for more than 30 years. These grants offer financial assistance that the government distributes to over 700 registered religious denominations in the country. … The government of Norway objects to our Scriptural beliefs and practices regarding disfellowshipping. The governor went so far as to require that Jehovah’s Witnesses change their disfellowshipping arrangement in order to keep their registration.” Norwegian Court Grants Jehovahs Witnesses Request to Suspend Deregistration 11 Jan 2023
It is important to understand that Jehovah’s Witnesses are “still free to practice its religion and its activities…” For more information see Oslo Decision to De Register
In a JW broadcast discussing the situation, the removal of "government grants" was described as "unconstitutional." Tony Morris confirmed that the Norwegian government decided to "remove legal registration because of our Scriptural beliefs and practices regarding disfellowshipping." However, he concluded by saying that governments "may pressure us to change our Scriptural beliefs, but we certainly are not going to do that."
Being denied monetary grants from the government is not persecution. Since Watchtower claims to be no part of the world and condemns governments as part of Satan’s system, it is hypocritical to demand it has a right to monetary grants from the government.
More importantly, the reason Norway issued an intention to deregister Watchtower is due to the practice of disfellowshipping and shunning, which is considered a violation of human rights. See Disfellowshipping and Shunning for information on why the Bible does not support disfellowshipping.
When being sanctioned for wrongdoing is deserved, it is not persecution.
Australian Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse
In July 2015, the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse examined the handling of child abuse amongst Jehovah's Witnesses. Through several days of interviews with victims, elders, Branch members and former Jehovah's witnesses, the inadequacies of Watchtower policy were highlighted. The findings - Submissions of Senior Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission - are scathing of Watchtower policy, the unwillingness to change and the lack of honesty displayed at the hearing.
I attended some of the sessions in person and was shocked and disappointed at how evasive and dishonest the elders and branch committee members were when questioned. When one of the branch committee members walked from the witness box, I overheard him say to his wife, “Jesus told us we would be persecuted.”
I found this comment abhorrent because the Royal Commission did not target or single out Jehovah’s Witnesses, and there was no persecution. The Royal Commission examined over 50 different organizations. The end goal was not to penalise the organizations that attended, but to establish guidelines that protect Australian children going forward.
When speaking to one of the court officials, I was told that the Chief Justice had been most disappointed by the response of the Catholic Church and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Whereas most groups were willing to admit having inadequate procedures to protect children, and grateful for advice on how to improve, Watchtower was adamant that their policies were based on Jehovah’s requirements, despite evidence to the contrary, and expressed unwillingness to change to any significant degree.
Watchtower has never specifically mentioned the Royal Commission or its findings that Watchtower’s policies regarding child abuse are inadequate and harmful. Instead, it claims it is being lied about and hated, proving Jehovah’s approval.
“One challenge that Kingdom preachers face is opposition. Apostates, religious leaders, and politicians have given many the wrong impression about our work. … The very fact that we are experiencing such hatred is proof that we have Jehovah’s approval. (Matt. 5:11, 12) The Devil is behind this opposition. But he is no match for Jesus!” Watchtower Study Ed Jul 2022 p.9
It is noteworthy that “Satan’s world” has been forced to teach “God’s organization” how to take care of vulnerable ones. The reason governments, “apostates” and the media have been vocal about this matter is due to the harm suffered by countless children. Highlighting serious wrongdoing, and presenting solutions to minimise such harm, is not persecution.
The former Soviet Union was based on state atheism and during this period Jehovah’s Witnesses were oppressed as part of an attack against religion in general. This changed with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. For the following two decades, Jehovah’s Witnesses experienced religious freedom, and grew to 170,000 publishers.
This freedom started to tighten in 2009, and then in 2017 the Russian Supreme Court banned the worship of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This led to:
“relentless persecution and imprisonment. Authorities have also progressively seized 131 of the properties owned by Jehovah’s Witnesses, with an additional 60 properties subject to confiscation. The total value of the properties is estimated to be over $57 million.” jw.org Russia Continues to Seize Properties JULY 4, 2019
The media printed articles about the plight of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who were referring to it as genocide.
"We had to escape Russia. This is religious genocide" - The Times (UK), Thu Jan 3, 2019 p.31
"Terrorised by Moscow, Jehovah's Witnesses are seeking refuge across Europe, writes Tom Parfitt in Konnunsuo." - thetimes.co.uk - Russia's Persecuted Jehovah's Witnesses.
Claims of genocide are sensationalism, as there is no campaign to kill or exterminate Jehovah’s Witnesses. A small number of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been jailed for breaking the law regarding spreading their religious beliefs. In 2022, around only 100 Russian Jehovah's Witnesses were in prison out of over 150,000 members.
“Number of Witnesses Currently in Prison in Russia and Crimea Surpasses 100.” - jw.org Surpasses 100 Oct 28 2022
Jehovah’s Witnesses are not being singled out; they are one of many groups that Russia has imposed bans on.
2021 Report on International Religious Freedom: Russia OFFICE OF INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM JUNE 2, 2022 “Religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported authorities continued to investigate, detain, imprison, torture, physically abuse persons, and/or seize their property because of their religious belief or affiliation or membership in groups designated “extremist,” “terrorist,” or “undesirable,” including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars, Hizb ut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jamaat, followers of Muslim theologian Said Nursi, Church of Scientology, Falun Gong, and multiple evangelical Protestant groups.”
Russia banned Jehovah’s Witnesses under its’ anti-extremism laws.
“Anti-extremism laws stipulate that speech or actions aimed at “inciting hatred or enmity” based on group affiliation (including religion) are punishable by administrative penalties for first-time offenses if the actions do not contain a criminal offense.” state.gov 2021 report on international religious freedom
The Russian government classified Jehovah’s Witness as extremist for what they identified as hate speech in the Watchtower.
"In 2009, the city of Taganrog banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses denomination for propagating the exclusivity and supremacy of its religion. This denomination now shares the same legal status as the Islamic State and the National Socialist Society.
In 2002, Russia enacted an extremism law with a provision defining religious extremism as “incitement of religious discord” in connection with acts or threats of violence. Five years later, the law was amended to allow prosecution for inciting religious discord even in the absence of any threat or act of violence. Mormons, Scientologists and even Pentecostals are now coming under increasing government pressure." thetrumpet.com Kremlin cracks down on religious liberty Apr 7 2016
Watchtower has extensively highlighted the situation in Russia as prophetic persecution, and a Jan 2023 jw.org search on the words “Russia persecution” gave 5,167 results. I am in no way justifying the ban or treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and many countries and organizations have spoken out against Russia’s treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, the persecution they have experienced is not unique, and the reasons given for labelling Jehovah’s Witnesses as extremist hold merit.
Children at School
School can be difficult for children of Jehovah’s Witnesses because they stand out as different, which can lead to teasing or even bullying. Sadly, teasing and bullying is not reserved for Jehovah’s Witnesses, but experienced by many students.
I felt uncomfortable at times at school, such as when having to remove myself from class during Christmas celebrations. One Monday morning, I was teased by a boy for knocking on his door when witnessing on Saturday morning, but gladly the rest of the class told him to shut up.
Some Jehovah's Witnesses in my congregation suffered more at school, but that seemed to relate more to their unusual behaviour. One girl upset other children by telling them they would die at Armageddon, and the school had to get her parents involved. It raises the question of who was doing the persecuting, who was the bully.
Watchtower sets children up to be bullied. One way is through senseless rules that isolate children and set them apart as different, such as forbidding participating in birthdays. See Birthdays and Jehovah's Witnesses.
The other is encouraging children to preach about their beliefs at school.
“Look for opportunities to share your faith in school. … You are in the very best position to help your classmates to hear. A youth named Iraida observes: “School is a preaching territory that only we can reach.”” Awake! 2002 Mar 22 p.12
It is inappropriate for Jehovah’s Witnesses to preach to other children, as much as Jehovah’s Witness parents would not appreciate individuals targeting their child with religious propaganda.
An example is from the children’s cartoon One Man One Woman, released in May 2016. Sophia tells her mother that her classmate Carrie has two mothers. Sophia's mother explains that God intended for human marriage to be between a man and a woman, and any alternative lifestyle bars a person from Paradise. She sets up a practice session to teach Sophia what to tell Carrie about paradise. It is entirely inappropriate for Sophia to discuss her religious belief about Armageddon at school, and particularly regarding same sex marriage. Carrie is put in the impossible situation of knowing that Sophia is critical of her family arrangement and thinks she will die at Armageddon if she does not reject her parents' lifestyle, particularly since Carrie has no option but to live with them. The video can be viewed at jw.org Lesson 22: One Man, One Woman as of 1 Jan 2023
Killed Whilst at the Kingdom Hall
There have been tragic situations where Jehovah's Witnesses have been killed whilst attending Kingdom Hall meetings. It is abhorrent that anyone would kill Jehovah's Witnesses for their beliefs and there is no justification for murdering people attending their place of worship.
On July 21, 1985, a bomb exploded in the Casula Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, in Sydney, Australia. One person was killed, and 46 hospitalised. (See g85 11/22 pp.9-13).
On March 9, 2023, 6 people and an unborn child were killed at a Kingdom Hall in Hamburg, Germany by a gunman who was a former Jehovah's Witness suffering from mental illness. Further killings were prevented by police who arrived within minutes and chased the gunman, who then shot himself. A news article on the Watchtower website praised the efforts of the police and emergency services.
This was reported on around the world, such as at apnews.com, svt.se and theguardian.com. The local Christian Churches held a memorial as a show of support to commemorate the Jehovah's Witness victims, as reported at spiegle.de 17 March 2023.
Whilst this is a form of persecution, it is not isolated to Jehovah's Witnesses. Innocent people are regularly murdered at their places of worship by deranged people. For instance, a lone gunman killed 51 people after attacking 2 mosques in New Zealand in 2019. nbcnews.com 3 May 2019. Although New Zealand is a Christian country, the gunman's actions were strongly condemned, as people do not support the murder of people for their religious beliefs.
Jehovah's Witnesses are not being singled out for persecution when violently attacked at the Kingdom Hall by deranged individuals. These people and their actions are condemned, and local communities offer support and assistance to Jehovah's Witnesses for the suffering they have unjustly experienced.
Examples of Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses
There are examples of Jehovah’s Witnesses suffering horrific treatment and even death. It is heartbreaking to read these experiences, and there is no justification for the torture and death some Jehovah’s Witnesses have endured. The following three examples can truly be described as persecution.
Examining the circumstances surrounding these three examples, it is extremely disturbing that in each case the mistreatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses could have been avoided and the persecution experienced was the result of unnecessary rules imposed by Watchtower leaders.
Some of the most horrific persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses occurred in Malawi from 1967 to 1993. The reason for the treatment they received was because they would not buy the Malawi Congress Party card. Watchtower decreed that to do so would make them “part of the world.” However, at the very same time, Watchtower allowed Jehovah’s Witnesses in Mexico to hold a Cartilla card to exempt them from military service. Watchtower could have used the same reasoning applied in Mexico to Jehovah’s Witnesses in Malawi, and prevented the persecution they received.
Jesus commanded that we “pay back Caesars things to Caesar”, and at Romans 13, Paul advised to obey political rulers. Mexico and Malawi goes into detail of what Jehovah’s Witnesses suffered in Malawi, how it was entirely unnecessary, and directly related to hypocritical direction from Watchtower.
One of the most significant examples of persecution in history was the murder of 6 million Jews during World War Two at the hands of Nazi Germany. Other groups were targeted, with up to 500,000 Gypsies killed.
Watchtower has made the sensationalist claim that Hitler’s worst persecution was reserved for Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“The terrible persecution of Jehovah’s witnesses by Hitler, worse than that he inflicted on the Jews, took place. Then came World War II, which proved to be many times more destructive than World War I.” Watchtower 1966 Oct 15 p.635
Watchtower continues to regularly reference the Nazi abuse of Jehovah’s Witnesses as being of special importance.
“German State Parliament Commemorates Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Courageous Stand Against Nazi Abuse On January 27, 2021, the State Parliament of Baden-Württemberg, Germany, focused on Jehovah’s Witnesses during their annual commemoration of victims of the Nazi regime during World War II.” - jw.org German State Parliament Commemorates Jehovahs Witnesses Courageous Stand Against Nazi Abuse, Feb 22 2021.
Around 1,500 Jehovah’s Witnesses died in the Holocaust.
“About 1,500 of Jehovah’s Witnesses died during the time of the Holocaust, out of some 35,000 Witnesses living in Germany and Nazi-occupied countries.” jw.org FAQ What Happened to Jehovah’s Witnesses During the Time of the Holocaust? sighted 11 Feb 2023
Can Watchtower rightfully claim to have suffered worse persecution than the Jews, when 1,500 Jehovah’s Witnesses died – 4% of German Jehovah’s Witnesses - whilst 6 million Jews died, 60% of the Jewish population.
There is an even more shocking point to be aware of - Jehovah’s Witnesses could have avoided Hitler’s wrath. The persecution they suffered was due to the arrogance of Watchtower’s leader, Rutherford. Jehovah’s Witnesses came to the attention of Hitler due to the venomous hate speech Rutherford was publishing in the Watchtower at the time against government and religion.
When Hitler turned on Watchtower, Rutherford shamefully back pedalled. He sent a letter to Hitler condemning Jews and claiming to support Hitler’s vision. When Hitler refused to change his opinion regarding Watchtower, Rutherford changed his message again, making a vicious onslaught against Hitler. Rutherford riled Hitler from the safety of America, and innocent Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany paid with their lives.
Letter to Hitler discusses this in detail and contains copies of the letters that Rutherford sent Hitler and Watchtower articles that followed.
Conscientious Objection to Military Service
jw.org/en/news/legal is filled with stories of young brothers imprisoned for refusing military service as conscientious objectors, which is the reason for most Jehovah’s Witness incarcerations. Even when allowed the option of peaceful activities as a substitution for military service, Jehovah’s Witnesses were to decline.
"An examination of the historical facts shows that not only have Jehovah's Witnesses refused to put on military uniforms and take up arms but, during the past half century and more, they have also declined to do noncombatant service or to accept other work assignments as a substitute for military service. … Many of Jehovah's Witnesses have been imprisoned because they would not violate their Christian neutrality." United in Worship of the Only True God p.167
It is sad to imagine innocent young men living their youth in the harshness of prison.
In 1996, Watchtower changed its stance regarding military service, making participation a conscience matter; that is, a choice each individual Jehovah's Witness could decide without recompense. (The reason for this change was in order to be granted legal recognition in Bulgaria, as discussed at Bulgaria and Blood Transfusions.)
"What, though, if the State requires a Christian for a period of time to perform civilian service that is a part of national service under a civilian administration? … That is his decision before Jehovah. Appointed elders and others should fully respect the conscience of the brother and continue to regard him as a Christian in good standing." Watchtower 1996 May 1 pp.20,21
Over a period of decades, thousands of Witnesses went to jail for a rule that was done away with through the flick of a pen. In other words, the persecution suffered was unnecessary, the result of the changing whims of the Governing Body.
Persecution or Criticism
It is common to hold a viewpoint that is disagreed with, but a different matter to be hated and persecuted for that viewpoint. Jehovah’s Witnesses often label criticism as persecution, including negative comments online, criticism in the media or confrontation when witnessing.
I labelled witnessing experiences as persecution. One Saturday morning when I was 20, I was preaching to a woman at her front door. Her husband ran out shouting at me to leave, grabbed his garden hose, turned it on and chased me off his property. Whilst extreme, that was not persecution. A homeowner has every right to be angry at the invasion of his privacy when a person arrives uninvited and tells his wife that their viewpoint on religion is wrong and unacceptable to Jehovah.
An elder was witnessing and the householder angrily shouted at him to leave his property and pushed him away, knocking his reading glasses off his head. The elder never forgot that as an example of persecution. Whilst the householders’ actions were unjustifiably excessive, such an experience is no comparison to persecution suffered by early Christians. Arriving uninvited at a person’s door on a weekend morning to tell them they are part of the wrong religion is rude and bound to get some people riled up.
Politics provides a fitting example of how disagreement differs to hatred and persecution. Political viewpoints incite extreme emotions in people, hence the rule of etiquette to never talk about religion or politics. It is common for people to hold widely different political views, often leading to angry debate, but it is not considered persecution when a person writes critically of another political viewpoint.
Watchtower tries to play the victim card for behaviour that is self-imposed when it warns newly converted Jehovah’s Witnesses that they may be treated like an enemy by family.
"People view us differently because our values have changed. We live by the standards of Bible truth. Though we do not want to cause division, some friends and close family members may distance themselves from us or even oppose our newfound faith. This does not surprise us. Jesus acknowledged: “Indeed, a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.” (Matt. 10:36) He also gave assurance that the rewards for buying truth far exceed any price we may pay.” Watchtower Study Ed Nov 2018
In reality, it is usually the newly converted Jehovah’s Witness that distances themselves from their “worldly” family and friends. On the other hand, if a person chooses to stop identifying as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, they are routinely shunned. Few groups isolate themselves from others to the extent of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Control Through Fear
Fear is commonly used by religion, government and in domestic relationships as a means of control. Watchtower claims Satan uses fear of persecution against Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“Prepare Now for Persecution … How can we prepare ourselves now to face persecution? We do not need to imagine all the things that could happen to us. If we did, we could be overwhelmed with fear and anxiety. We could allow imagined threats to defeat us even before any real test comes. (Prov. 12:25; 17:22) Fear is a powerful weapon that our “adversary, the Devil,” tries to use against us.” Watchtower Study Ed Jul 2019
“When we understand that we are hated for doing what is right, we will never allow the hatred of men to paralyze us with fear.” Watchtower Study Ed Jul 2019
Watchtower says not to fear being hated and persecuted, yet it is Watchtower that keeps publishing graphic images and articles about persecution. They understand the power of fear, and their devotion to this topic keeps fear at front of mind.
In 1966, the word persecution appeared on 50 of the 768 Watchtower pages - 6.5% of all pages printed. The article “Christians Must Expect Persecution” gave a detailed list of the types of persecution to expect.
“This persecution has taken the form of verbal abuse, imprisonment, beating and even death…. Since persecution is clearly something that Jehovah allows to come upon his servants as a test of their integrity, we should not be surprised when persecution of one kind or another arises. … To be able to withstand bitter persecution over a long period of time we must understand why it is permitted. … Jehovah has told us he will permit Satan to bring persecution upon us for this purpose and our faithful endurance will prove to be a vindication of his great Name. Knowing this, we can even rejoice under persecution as the apostles did. … If we fail to endure under persecution, we just give Satan a further reason for taunting God. ” Watchtower 1966 Oct 1 pp. 593-594
A search on the word persecution at jw.org on 1st Jan 2023 provided 4,259 results, showing this topic continues to be popular with the Governing Body. (For comparison, this is a similar amount to that of the primary teaching Paradise, which returned 4,611 results.) The first three video results position persecution as likely to be experienced.
Graphic images continue to be published that warn Jehovah’s Witnesses to expect to be attacked shortly at Armageddon.
Image source: Watchtower 2017 Jul p.31
It is shocking that Jehovah’s Witness children are subjected to this inappropriate imagery.
Due to being constantly subjected to such information, the prospect of being tortured terrified me as a child. I had a morbid fear of being tickled and had visions of being tickled till I could no longer breathe. I also expected to have needles inserted under my fingernails, as I had heard this results in excruciating pain. I would not speak about what I feared the most, so Satan wouldn’t know, but was worried that Satan may be able to read my mind and know to use them against me anyway. It is painful looking back on my child self being subject to such religious abuse, and to see that decades later Jehovah’s Witness children continue to be subjected to such cruelty.
Watchtower publishes egocentric articles bemoaning persecution in order to elicit sympathy and create a semblance of representing Bible verses predicting persecution of Christians.
“The Bible prophesied that Satan would persecute us in an attempt to hinder our ministry. (Joh 15:20; Re 12:17) How can we help fellow Christians who are suffering persecution in other lands? We can pray for them.” Life and Ministry Meeting Workbook Jan 2017
“For example, many of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Europe and other parts of the world were frequently robbed of their rights and cruelly mistreated throughout the 20th century. During that time, Jehovah’s Witnesses suffered brutal, systematic, and prolonged persecution under both of the major totalitarian regimes in Europe.” Watchtower Study Ed Mar 1 2003
However, the sharp focus on persecution has more to do with inciting fear. Whilst very few Jehovah’s Witnesses have experienced or will ever experience true persecution, the devotion Watchtower has to the topic makes it appear common and inevitable.
Watchtower exaggerates persecution to keep followers in constant fear, using such fear as a means of control and solidarity - a common theme amongst controlling religious groups.
“Elitism and Persecution - abusive churches depict themselves as unique in God's plans and have a strong organizational tendency to be separate from other church bodies and institutions. The social dynamism of the group involves being independent or separate, with diminishing possibilities for internal correction and reflection. Outside criticism and evaluation is dismissed as the disruptive efforts of evil people seeking to hinder or thwart God's plans.” Ronald Enroth “Churches That Abuse” (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1992)
Persecution of Christians
Throughout history, people from a vast range of faiths have suffered persecution, and even today hundreds of millions of Christians around the world suffer abuse for their beliefs.
The following quotes show the extent of hatred and persecution Christians currently face.
“Imagine looking over your shoulder because you are studying a Bible, or worshipping in church. Imagine that if you are caught, you could be jailed, beaten, or even killed. To millions of Christians around the world, this is the stark reality.” bibleleague.gospelcom.net/persecuted/index.php 24 Oct 2006
“More than 200 million Christians in 60 countries are hunted, imprisoned, banished, fined, denied jobs, physically tortured or brutally killed — just because they are Christians.” bibleleague.com.au/getinvolved/bpcprogram.shtml 14 Feb 2007
“Today more than 200 million Christians around the world suffer imprisonment, abuse and even death because of their faith. Yet most Americans never hear their stories.” Their Blood Cries Out - Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert
“Christians today are the most persecuted religious group in the world, and persecution has intensified during the past few years. Torture, enslavement, rape, imprisonment, killings ... even crucifixions are among the atrocities perpetrated upon believers around the world, much of them stemming from two ideologies that prevail internationally: communism and militant, politicized Islam.” International Persecution of Christians -- Report by Perry L. Glanzer of James Dobson's Focus on the Family (3/1/98)
1. "Fulani herdsmen have killed more than 6,000 Christians in Nigeria so far this year." 2. "A.C.N. reports that as many as 600,000 Christians suffered some form of religious persecution in 2016." 3. "..group reports that more than 50,000 Christians in North Korea are held in prisons or labor camps." Religious freedom around the world 2018 americamagazine.org/faith/2018/08/24/religious-freedom-around-world-under-siege-christian-persecution-especially-acute
For more examples see persecution.com 1 Jan 2023 which is dedicated to people being persecuted for their allegiance to Jesus.
2 Timothy 3:12 says that “all those desiring to live with godly devotion ... will also be persecuted." Watchtower is put in the predicament of wanting to claim all Jehovah's Witnesses are persecuted, but the facts show otherwise.
There are three major takeaways from this article.
- Many examples Watchtower points to as persecution are not.
- The most extreme examples of persecution faced by Jehovah’s Witnesses were unnecessary and directly caused by Watchtower leaders.
- The number of Jehovah’s Witnesses facing persecution is insignificant in comparison to the total number of Christians suffering persecution.
Jehovah's Witnesses refer to a range of things as persecution, such as a negative news report, or "apostates" holding signs outside a convention. It is a long stretch to regard these as such. People have a right to express differences of opinion, provided it is done peacefully and legally, and do so in regards to endless topics and towards numerous religions. It isn't even the case that Jehovah's Witnesses can claim to be hated by former members, who are usually motivated out of a desire to help Jehovah's Witnesses leave what they feel is a damaging religion.
Examine the Scriptures about persecution.
Matthew 10:22 says “YOU will be objects of hatred by all people on account of my (Jesus) name.”
Matthew 24:9 “Then people will deliver YOU up to tribulation and will kill YOU, and YOU will be objects of hatred by all the nations on account of my name.”
John 15:20 “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have observed my word, they will also observe yours.”
2 Timothy 3:12 “In fact, all those desiring to live with godly devotion in association with Christ Jesus will also be persecuted.”
In each case, persecution is on account of Jesus’s name. Jehovah’s Witnesses are not well known on account of Jesus’ name, they pride themselves foremost on being known for witnessing about their namesake, Jehovah.
“Prosecution is not Persecution”
Jehovah’s Witnesses do well to consider whether any apparent persecution or hatred is a result of following Jesus, or if it is self-inflicted and justifiable due to the way they portray or treat others. Most sanctions imposed on Jehovah’s Witnesses are due to what is considered hate speech in Watchtower publications. Other practices highlighted are shunning former members and prohibiting blood transfusions.
It is tragic that some Jehovah’s Witnesses have suffered abuse, torture and death. However, Jehovah's Witnesses have no right to make any special claims about being persecuted, as the numbers are insignificant compared to the total number of people that have been persecuted for their religious beliefs. Millions of people are persecuted each year throughout the world.
Watchtower ensures Jehovah’s Witnesses have a persecution complex by regularly including experiences of the persecution and saying to expect it in the future. The fear this creates is a classic means to ensure control and solidarity.
Significantly, persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses has often been the direct result of hypocritical leaders, sitting safely in their headquarters, whilst affecting the lives of followers in countries far out of reach.
Written February 2023, latest update March 2023.
Paul Grundy 2005 - 2023