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EMPLOYMENT PROMOTING FALSE RELIGION

By 24. April 2021Apostasy

—REVIEW—

The book for elders “Shepherd The Flock Of God” lists “employment promoting false religion” as a disfellowshipping offense.

The first section of this web article shows the different views of secular work that has been expressed in the Watchtower literature:

1951 and 1954: The leaders of JW refused to give any advice regarding what kind of work is acceptable and not acceptable for Christians. Each Witness must decide based on his or her conscience.

1999: The GB gives detailed instructions regarding what kind of work is acceptable and not acceptable for Christians. Each Witness must decide on the basis of the detailed instructions and his or her conscience.

2019: The GB gives the elders the authority to overrule the conscience of individuals whenever they deem it fit. If the elders decide that the work of a Witness makes him an accomplice with or a promoter of false religion, he will be thrown out of the congregation if he does not change his work within six months.

The second section has a detailed discussion of some of the guidelines regarding secular work that were given by the GB in 1999.

I show how the GB has overruled the consciences of the Witnesses by using the example of nurses who formerly could administer a blood transfusion at the order of a doctor, if their consciences allowed it, but who are now forbidden by the GB from doing so.

The Watchtower of 15 September 1951 showed that selling items used for Christmas was a matter of conscience. I show that this should still be the current view. But the guidelines of the GB have taken away much of the Christian freedom that was cherished in 1951, 1954, and when the elder arrangement was introduced in 1972.

The elders can throw a person out of the congregation if he will not change his work at the dictate of the elders. However, such a decision is beyond the capacity and authority of the elders to make. I give two examples showing just how far out of reach it is for the elders to decide that a brother in “an accomplice in a condemned practice” (promoting false religion).

One of the guidelines of the GB is that Witnesses should not choose secular work that will stumble others. This is a sound principle. But the problem is that all the extra-biblical laws and rules created by the GB have stirred up unnecessary scrutiny on the part of the brothers and sisters to look askance at each other to see if anything is wrong. The result is that situations that would not have stumbled the brothers and sisters in the 1950s could stumble some today.

The disfellowshipping offense “employment promoting false religion” is made up and invented by the GB and has no support in the Bible.

Under the heading “Apostasy,” the book “Shepherd The Flock Of God” 39 (5) says regarding the secular work of a Witness:

Employment Promoting False Religion: Continuing in employment that makes one an accomplice to or a promoter of false worship would subject one to disfellowshipping after being allowed six months to make the needed adjustments. —w99 4/15 pp.28-30: lvs pp. 204-206.

The quotation above is an example of the autocratic nature of the organization. It shows that the elders in the congregation can overrule the consciences of individual Witnesses. If the elders decide that the work of a congregation member “makes him an accomplice of or a promoter of false religion,” he will be thrown out of the congregation if he does not change his work within six months. The problem with such a directive is that no passage in the Christian Greek Scriptures says that work promoting false religion is a disfellowshipping offense. This law is made up and invented by the GB. Moreover, the concept of “promoting false religion” can be interpreted in different ways.

A discussion of the different views of work by the leaders of JW follows.

THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE HARDLINE VIEW OF SECULAR WORK

From 1942 to 1977, when N.H. Knorr was the president of the Watchtower Society, each Witness had the freedom to follow his or her conscience, and there were few extra-biblical rules in the organization. This is seen in The Watchtower of 15 September 1951, page 574, where we read:

What should be the Christian’s position regarding work in defense plants, serving on juries, selling Christmas cards or trees, etc? —Composite question based on many inquiries.

The Watchtower Society is organized for the purpose of preaching the good news of the Kingdom in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all nations, and it encourages and aids all to have a part in that work, freely advising as to the most effective procedures. As to other forms of activity or work the Society has no specific recommendation to make. To draw up rules for all the possible situations relative to secular work would embark us upon the compilation of a voluminous, Talmudlike set of regulations, seeking to make all the fine distinctions as to when and when not certain work becomes objectionable. The Lord has not laid that responsibility upon the Society; it is each individual’s responsibility to decide his own case. To illustrate the problem involved, consider the matter of selling Christmas cards or trees. If that is wrong, then what about the butcher that sells a turkey for a Christmas dinner, or the saleslady that sells a sweater to be used as a Christmas present? Where is the line to be drawn? Or, when does work become defense work? You do not have to be working on a tank assembly line to be making items used in warfare. As for jury duty, would you be acceptable for this service, say, in a divorce case where one might be granted on grounds other than adultery? Your Christian conscience might eliminate you, rendering you unacceptable to one or both sides of the case.

The Society’s silence on these matters is not to be viewed as giving consent, nor is it to be viewed as a condemnation we do not wish to openly express. It means that we think it is the individual’s responsibility to choose, not ours. It is his conscience that must be at ease for his course, not ours. He knows all of the circumstances, not we. Jehovah’s witnesses have read their Bibles and studied the Watchtower publications that have endeavored to make plain the righteous principles and requirements of Jehovah for the guidance of Christians. Each one should now be able to determine for himself what he can conscientiously do in the way of secular work. We must remember that, while no part of the world or its schemes and hopes for continuance, we are in it and cannot separate completely from its activities. So let each one accept his own responsibility and answer to his own conscience, not criticizing others or being criticized by them, when individual consciences allow different decisions on the same matter. We should not be “judged by another person’s conscience”. “Who are you to judge the house servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls.”—Rom. 14:4; 1 Cor. 10:29, NW. (Italics mine)

The freedom of each one to make decisions based on his or her conscience is also seen in The Watchtower of 1 February 1954, page 94, where the following question is discussed: “Is gambling a violation of Bible principles? Is it wrong for a Christian to have secular employment in connection with gambling, such as a legalized lottery or gambling project?

Gambling appeals to selfishness and weakens moral fiber; it tempts many into habits of cheating and crookedness… Can a Christian be employed in a gambling enterprise that is legally recognized and allowed? He may think that he can do so if he refrains from gambling himself or allowing his spiritual brothers to gamble through his services. One may be able to conscientiously do this, while another would not be able to do so in good conscience. Each one will have to decide individually whether he can or cannot do so conscientiously. It is doubtless preferable to be separate from the atmosphere surrounding such activities, and the Christian may wisely arrange to make a change in his occupation. It is a matter each one must decide for himself and in accord with his circumstances and conscience. The Watch Tower Society does not decide as to an individual’s employment, as we previously stated in the September 15, 1951, Watchtower, page 574 (Italics mine)

The elder arrangement was introduced in 1972, and still, each Witness had great freedom to make decisions on the basis of his or her conscience in different areas, including what kind of secular work he or she would choose. However, The Watchtower of 15 April 1999, pages 28-30, has detailed instructions in connection with the choice of secular work. I quote the whole “Questions From Readers” article below:

Some of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been offered employment involving religious buildings or property. What is the Scriptural view of such work?

This issue may face Christians who sincerely want to apply 1 Timothy 5:8, which emphasizes the importance of providing materially for one’s household. While Christians certainly should apply that counsel, it does not justify their accepting any and all kinds of secular work, no matter what its nature. Christians appreciate the need to be sensitive to other indications of God’s will. For example, a man’s desire to support his family would not justify his violating what the Bible says about immorality or murder. (Compare Genesis 39:4-9; Isaiah 2:4; John 17:14, 16.) It is also vital that Christians act in harmony with the command to get out of Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion. —Revelation 18:4, 5

Around the globe, God’s servants face many employment situations. It would be pointless and beyond our authority to attempt to list all the possibilities and to make categorical rules. (2 Corinthians 1:24) Let us, though, mention some factors that Christians should consider in making personal employment decisions. These factors were set out briefly in The Watchtower of July 15, 1982, in an article about benefiting from our God-given conscience. A box raised two key questions and then listed other helpful factors.

The first key question is this: Is the secular work itself condemned in the Bible? Commenting on this, The Watchtower noted that the Bible condemns stealing, misuse of blood, and idolatry. A Christian should avoid secular work that directly promotes activities that God disapproves of, such as those just mentioned.

The second question is: Would doing this work make one an accomplice in a condemned practice? Clearly, a person employed in a gambling den, an abortion clinic, or a house of prostitution would be an accomplice in an unscriptural practice. Even if his daily work there was merely sweeping floors or answering the telephone, he would be contributing to a practice that God’s Word condemns.

Many Christians faced with employment decisions have found that analyzing just those questions helps them reach a personal decision. For instance, from those two questions, one can see why a true worshiper would not be a direct employee of a false religious organization, working for and in a church. Revelation 18:4 sets out the command: “Get out of her, my people, if you do not want to share with her in her sins.” A person would be sharing in the works and sins of Babylon the Great if he was a regular employee of a religion that was teaching false worship. Whether the employee was a gardener, a janitor, a repairman, or an accountant, his work would serve to promote worship that conflicts with true religion. Moreover, people who would see this employee working to beautify the church, keep it in repair, or carry out its religious pursuits would reasonably link him with that religion.

What, though, about someone who is not a regular employee of a church or religious organization? Perhaps he is called upon just to do emergency repair work on a broken water pipe in the church basement. Would that not be different from his offering a bid on a contract, such as for shingling or insulating the church roof?

Again, a vast variety of situations could be imagined. So let us review five additional factors that The Watchtower set out:

  1. Is the work simply a human service that of itself is not Scripturally objectionable? Take the example of a postman. His delivering mail would hardly mean that he was promoting a condemned practice if one building in the area he served was a church or an abortion clinic. God provides the sunlight that shines through the windows of all buildings, including a church or such a clinic. (Acts 14:16, 17) A Christian who is a postman might conclude that he is performing a human service to all, day after day. It could be similar with a Christian who responds to an emergency—a plumber called to stop flooding in a church or an ambulance attendant called upon to treat someone who collapsed during church services. He might consider this simply an incidental rendering of human aid.
  2. To what extent does the person have authority over what is done? A Christian store owner would hardly agree to order and sell idols, spiritistic amulets, cigarettes, or sausages made from blood. As owner he is in control. People might urge him to sell cigarettes or idols and make a profit, but he would act consistent with his Scriptural beliefs. On the other hand, a Christian employee at a large food store may be assigned to run the cash register, polish floors, or do bookkeeping. He does not control what products are ordered and sold, even if a few of these are objectionable, such as cigarettes or items for religious holidays.* (Compare Luke 7:8; 17:7, 8.) This is related to the next point.
  3. To what degree is the person involved? Let us return to the example of a store. Probably an employee assigned to run the cash register or to fill the shelves only occasionally handles cigarettes or religious items; that is a small part of his overall work. What a contrast, though, with an employee in the same store who works at the tobacco counter! All his work, day in and day out, focuses on something contrary to Christian beliefs. (2 Corinthians 7:1) This illustrates why the degree of involvement or contact must be evaluated in deciding employment questions.
  4. What is the source of the pay or the location where the work is done? Consider two situations. To improve its public image, an abortion clinic decides to pay a man to clean neighborhood streets. His pay comes from the abortion clinic, but he does not work there, and no one sees him in the clinic all day. Rather, they observe him doing a public work that of itself is not in conflict with the Scriptures, no matter who pays him. Now a contrast. In a nation where prostitution is legalized, the public health service pays a nurse to work at brothels, running health checks intended to reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Though she is paid by the public health service, her work is entirely at houses of prostitution, making the immorality safer, more acceptable. These examples illustrate why the source of one’s pay and the location of the work are aspects to consider.

* Some Christians working in hospitals have had to consider this factor of authority. A physician might have authority to order medications for or medical procedures on a patient. Even if a patient did not mind, how could a Christian doctor in authority order a blood transfusion or perform an abortion, knowing what the Bible says on such matters? In contrast, a nurse employed at the hospital might not have such authority. As she performs routine services, a doctor might direct her to perform a blood test for some purpose or to care for a patient who came for an abortion. In line with the example recorded at 2 Kings 5:17-19, she might conclude that since she is not the one with authority who orders a transfusion or performs an abortion, she could carry out human services for a patient. Of course, she still would have to consider her conscience, so as ‘to behave before God with a clear conscience.’— Acts 23:1.

  1. What is the effect of doing the work; will it hurt one’s own conscience or stumble others? Conscience should be considered, both our own and that of others. Even if a certain work (including its location and source of pay) seems acceptable to most Christians, an individual may sense that it would trouble his personal conscience. The apostle Paul, who set a fine example, stated: “We trust we have an honest conscience, as we wish to conduct ourselves honestly in all things.” (Hebrews 13:18) We ought to avoid doing work that would leave us disturbed; yet, we also should not be critical of others whose consciences differ. Conversely, a Christian might see no conflict with the Bible in his doing a certain work, but he realizes that it would be very disturbing to many in the congregation and in the community. Paul reflected the right attitude in his words: “In no way are we giving any cause for stumbling, that our ministry might not be found fault with; but in every way we recommend ourselves as God’s ministers.”— 2 Corinthians 6:3, 4.

Now let us go back to the main question of working on a church building, such as installing new windows, cleaning the carpets, or servicing the furnace. How might the above factors be involved?

Recall the aspect of authority. Is the Christian the owner or manager who can decide whether to take on such work on a church? Would a Christian having that authority want to share with Babylon the Great by bidding on a job or contracting to help some religion promote false worship? Would that not be comparable to deciding to sell cigarettes or idols in one’s own store?— 2 Corinthians 6:14-16.

If the Christian is an employee without the deciding voice over what jobs are accepted, other factors ought to be considered, such as the location and the extent of involvement. Is the employee asked simply to deliver or put in place new chairs on an occasion or to render human service, such as a fireman’s putting out a fire in a church before it spreads? Many would see this as different from an employee of a business spending a long time painting the church or regularly doing gardening to make it attractive. Such regular or extended contact would increase the likelihood that many would link the Christian with a religion that he claims he does not endorse, potentially stumbling them.—Matthew 13:41; 18:6, 7.

We have brought up a number of important considerations as to employment. These were presented in the context of a specific question involving false religion. Yet, they can equally be considered in connection with other types of employment. In each case, a prayerful analysis should be made, taking into consideration the specific— and probably unique— aspects of the situation at hand. The factors presented above have already helped many sincere Christians to make conscientious decisions that reflect their desire to walk straight and upright before Jehovah. — Proverbs 3:5, 6; Isaiah 2:3; Hebrews 12:12-14.

The quotation above does not lay down strict rules in connection with the choice of work. But it contains several guidelines as to how and when a Witness becomes an accomplice of false worship. Are these guidelines warranted?

From the point of view of Christian freedom, the answer is No. There are two basic differences between the article above and the articles from 1951 and 1954. First, the articles from the 1950s show that the leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses have no right and no will to make rules regarding the secular work of individual Witnesses. Each Witness must make his or her choice of work based on his or her conscience. And other Witnesses should not criticize the choices that are made.

This means that the two articles from the 1950s show that the conscience of each Witness exclusively is the basis for decisions regarding which work to choose, and there should be no interference in these decisions by the Watchtower Society or anyone else. The article from 1999, in contrast, draws up some red lines that should not be crossed, but between these red lines, the conscience of each Witness must make decisions. Thus, the interference by the Watchtower Society in the decisions of the Witnesses since 1999 is great, and the role of the consciences of the Witnesses is restricted.

Second, the articles indicate that even if a Witness works for an organization that violates God’s laws, he or she is not “an accomplice of a condemned practice” just by working for the organization. First, when a Witness directly violates God’s laws with his work, is he doing something that is wrong.

The very concept of “being an accomplice of” is indirectly questioned by the articles. For example, a Witness who works as a clerk for a gambling enterprise is not an accomplice of a condemned practice just by working for this enterprise. First, when the Witness breaks the law of God or the law of the country or does harm to others, can he be accused of wrongdoing. And a Witness who is an artisan and who for a long time is working on a church building is not an accomplice of false religion. First, when he spreads false teachings or takes part in unbiblical ceremonies, can he be accused of wrongdoing.

There is no doubt that the views expressed by the articles from the 1950s are views that accord both with the letter and the spirit of the Scriptures. And there is no doubt that the article from 1999 that is quoted above and the extreme stress of the idea of “being an accomplice of” are human ideas that accord with an autocratic organization and violate the right of each Christian to make his or her own decisions.

While I reject the extreme stress on “being and accomplish of” and view the articles of the 1950s as the right guidance, in the next section, I will discuss the article of 1999 and its application.

THE CHRISTIAN CONSCIENCE AND THE RULES OF THE GB IN CONNECTION WITH THE CHOICE OF WORK

All Christians need guidance, and the elders in the congregation are supposed to help each Witness to understand the principles of the Bible and apply them in their lives. It is also an advantage to have Christian publications, such as The Watchtower, to discuss issues that can be of help for the Witnesses. But caution is needed when articles are written. There is a difference between outlining and discussing the principles of the Bible, leaving it to each Witness to apply them, versus interpreting the principles from the human point of view of the GB. The problem is that in many cases, the members of the GB have forced their viewpoints on the Witnesses. I will now discuss the guidelines related to the choice of secular work.

How the GB has overruled the conscience of individual Witnesses

If the secular work itself is condemned in the Bible, such as producing carved images used for idolatry, a Christian would not engage in this work. This is a sound guideline. The next question is: Would doing this particular work make one an accomplice in a condemned practice? The question itself is sound, but the interpretation of different sides connected with it may create problems. This is seen in the different interpretations of the question in the Watchtower literature.

We start with situations over which a person has authority. Can a Christian sell items that are used for Christmas? The Watchtower of 15 September 1951, page 574, says:

As to other forms of activity or work the Society has no specific recommendation to make. To draw up rules for all the possible situations relative to secular work would embark us upon the compilation of a voluminous, Talmudlike set of regulations, seeking to make all the fine distinctions as to when and when not certain work becomes objectionable. The Lord has not laid that responsibility upon the Society; it is each individual’s responsibility to decide his own case. To illustrate the problem involved, consider the matter of selling Christmas cards or trees. If that is wrong, then what about the butcher that sells a turkey for a Christmas dinner, or the saleslady that sells a sweater to be used as a Christmas present? Where is the line to be drawn?…

The Society’s silence on these matters is not to be viewed as giving consent, nor is it to be viewed as a condemnation we do not wish to openly express. It means that we think it is the individual’s responsibility to choose, not ours. It is his conscience that must be at ease for his course, not ours.

If a brother or sister today sold Christmas cards, Christmas trees, or Christmas gifts and refused to stop with that, he or she would be thrown out of the congregation. I will apply four questions in the guidelines from 1999 to this situation:

  1. Is the secular work itself condemned in the Bible?
  2. To what extent does the person have authority over what is done?
  3. To what degree is the person involved?
  4. Will the work stumble other Christians?

Questions 2) and 3) are easy to answer. In connection with selling Christmas cards, Christmas trees, and Christmas presents, the person has full authority over the situation, and he will be completely involved. He or she can decide to sell the items or not to sell the items. Then we come to question 1), and in connection with this question, the situation, and thus, the answer has changed completely since the article was written in The Watchtower in 1951. The change is that at that time, the view of the leaders of JW was that each Christian had to decide whether a secular work was condemned in the Bible or not. But today the GB and the elders to a great extent, make this decision over the heads of the Witnesses. And a Witness is thrown out of the congregation if he or she does not agree with the decisions of the GB or of the elders. The excursus illustrates the situation.

EXCURSUS: SHOWING HOW THE GB OVERRULES THE CONSCIENCES OF THE INDIVIDUAL WITNESSES

Both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Greek Scriptures show that blood is holy and that blood, even the smallest amount, cannot be used for anything. I will use this to illustrate the situation with secular work that may promote false religion.

A footnote of the article in the Watchtower of 15 April 1999 says:

Some Christians working in hospitals have had to consider this factor of authority. A physician might have authority to order medications for or medical procedures on a patient. Even if a patient did not mind, how could a Christian doctor in authority order a blood transfusion or perform an abortion, knowing what the Bible says on such matters? In contrast, a nurse employed at the hospital might not have such authority. As she performs routine services, a doctor might direct her to perform a blood test for some purpose or to care for a patient who came for an abortion. In line with the example recorded at 2 Kings 5:17-19, she might conclude that since she is not the one with authority who orders a transfusion or performs an abortion, she could carry out human services for a patient. Of course, she still would have to consider her conscience, so as ‘to behave before God with a clear conscience.’— Acts 23:1. (Italics mine)

This is good advice because it is the nurse who must decide on the basis of her conscience. A blood test is mentioned in the quotation, but performing a blood transfusion has been viewed as a matter of conscience as well. However, the GB has now overruled the consciences of Witness nurses. This is seen in a letter to the Hospital Liaison Committees of 15 June 2018:

We would like to inform you of an updated policy with regard to whether a Christian may administer a blood transfusion if he is directed to do so by a superior. The previous policy was that it would be a matter for a personal, conscientious decision whether to obey such an order. However, after carefully reviewing the matter, the Governing Body has determined that administering such a transfusion is so closely linked with an unscriptural practice that one unquestionably becomes an accomplice in a wrong practice. Therefore, it would not be appropriate for a Christian to administer a blood transfusion under any circumstance.—Gen. 9:4; Acts 15:28, 29.[1] (italics mine)

In the article of 1951, where selling items that can be used for Christmas is discussed, one argument for refusing to make a detailed list of what is allowed and what is not allowed, the article says: Where is the line to be drawn?” I will use the following example to show the importance of this question and that the decisions of the GB often are inconsistent:

Any use of blood is forbidden in the Bible. However, whether different fragments of the blood is blood or is not blood in the biblical sense of the word is an open question. Most Witnesses take the standpoint that the use of albumin does not violate the law that blood cannot be used for any purpose.

However, there is another issue related to albumin that is more pressing, namely, how albumin is extracted from blood. For example, to produce the amount of albumin needed for severe burns, between 15 and 20 liters of full blood must be gathered. This blood must be stored, and albumin must be extracted from this blood. The whole process of extracting albumin, with the collecting and storing of blood, is a violation of God’s law. This violation is not done by the Witness. But it is done to give medical help to the Witness.

Example 1: We may compare the use of albumin, which is a matter of conscience, with administering a blood transfusion of a nurse, which is forbidden. Using blood as a transfusion is a violation of God’s law. Administering a blood transfusion is a small part of the work of a nurse, and she obtains no personally gain by doing this—she is just doing her job. The GB’s view: The nurse is an accomplice in a condemned practice.

Example 2: Collecting several liters of blood, storing this blood, and extracting albumin from it is a violation of God’s law, and in contrast with the nurse, the person who receives the albumin, namely, the Witness patient, has personally gained from this violation of God’s law on the part of those who extract the albumin. The GB’s view: The one accepting albumin is not an accomplice in a condemned practice.

Example 3: In most countries, acquiring pornographic pictures of children is a crime, and it can lead to several years in jail. The reason is that by acquiring the pictures, one is viewed as an accomplice of those who abuse children in connection with making the pictures. If no one acquired these pictures, this abuse of children would not occur. The GB’s view: The person who acquires pornographic pictures is an accomplice in a condemned practice.

I do not say that by accepting albumin, one is an accomplice in a condemned practice. On the contrary, even though other persons violate God’s laws in the extraction of albumin, as doctors and medical scientists also do in many other situations, to accept the final product of these procedures is a matter of conscience. However, my point is that administering a blood transfusion from which the nurse obtains no gain is much further away from being an accomplice in a condemned practice than accepting the misuse of blood by others to produce albumin, and from which a person does personally gain. By forbidding the work of the nurse but allowing the use of albumin, the members of the GB show their inconsistent and arbitrary judgments.

The leaders of JW in the 1950s advocated Christian freedom and let the individual Witnesses make decisions based on their consciences. The present GB has to a great degree restricted Christian freedom, and in many situations, they overrule the consciences of individual Witnesses.

With the Excursus in mind, we can return to the issue raised by The Watchtower of 15 September 1951 regarding selling items that can be used for Christmas. The question raised in the follow-up 1999 Watchtower, which presented detailed guidelines in connection with a Christian’s choice of secular work, is whether selling Christmas cards, Christmas trees, and Christmas presents is a “secular work that itself is condemned in the Bible.”

According to the Shepherd book 39 (2), interfaith activities include “bowing before altars and images and sharing in false religious songs and prayers.” In view of this, let us take a look at the Christmas celebration, and I start with Japan:

Christmas has only been widely celebrated in Japan for the last few decades. It’s still not seen as a religious holiday or celebration as there aren’t many Christians in Japan. Now several customs that came to Japan from the USA such as sending and receiving Christmas Cards and Presents are popular.

In Japan, Christmas is known as more of a time to spread happiness rather than a religious celebration. Christmas Eve is often celebrated more than Christmas Day. Christmas Eve is thought of as a romantic day, in which couples spend together and exchange presents. In many ways, it resembles Valentine’s Day celebrations in the UK and the USA. Young couples like to go for walks to look at the Christmas lights and have a romantic meal in a restaurant – booking a table on Christmas Eve can be very difficult as it’s so popular![2]

Norway is viewed as a Christian country with a Lutheran State Church and many Christian denominations. However, most Norwegians do not celebrate Christmas in a Christian setting. They take Christmas as a vacation when they can be together with family and friends and have a good time. So, what is defined in the Shepherd book as “interfaith activities” are only practiced by a small minority of Norwegians.

This means that Christmas Cards and Christmas gifts cannot necessarily be associated with false religious customs, and this is even the case with the Christmas tree. A decorated tree in the house is not by itself an idol. But when the family walks around the tree singing songs in praise to it, such as the carol “Thou Green and Glittering tree, Good Day!,” the tree can be viewed as an idol.[3]

On the background of what Christmas is today, in different countries, we must conclude that selling Christmas cards, Christmas trees, or Christmas presents in Norway or in Japan does not make a person “an accomplice in a condemned practice.” And the balanced advice in The Watchtower of 15 September 1951 is clearly applicable here. To sell such items or not is a matter of conscience.

For several years after the 1951 Watchtower, the leaders of the JW continued to follow their line of Christian freedom, allowing the conscience of each Witness to make decisions. This is seen in the answer to the question to whether a Christians could be employed in a gambling enterprise in The Watchtower of 1 February 1954, pages 94.

Can a Christian be employed in a gambling enterprise that is legally recognized and allowed? He may think that he can do so if he refrains from gambling himself or allowing his spiritual brothers to gamble through his services. One may be able to conscientiously do this, while another would not be able to do so in good conscience.

The quotations from The Watchtower of 1951 and 1954 show that the leaders of JW in the 1950s refused to make any rigid guidelines regarding which kind of secular work was acceptable or not acceptable. Today, a Witness who has a shop where Christmas cards or presents are sold would be thrown out of the congregation. And the same would be the case with one who was employed in a gambling enterprise.

The reason the view of the GB today is the diametrical opposite of the view the leaders of JW had in the 1950s cannot be ascribed to scriptural ‘light that has gotten brighter,’ because none of these adjustments stem from a better understanding of any Bible passage. But these changes reflect the new and hardline relationship between the leaders[4] of the organization and the individual Witnesses.

And the fact that the GB has given the elders the authority to decide that a brother’s secular work “makes him an accomplice in a condemned practice” and to throw him out of the congregation if he does not change his work, betrays the fist of iron wielded by the GB underneath their genteel Christian glove.

Even though the selling of items connected with Christmas is a matter of conscience because Christmas today has become a secular holiday, I assume that almost all Witnesses would feel uncomfortable selling such items and so would not do it.

My points above are not meant to be arguments in favor of selling Christmas items. But I have used this example in order to show how the Christian freedom that existed in 1972 when the elder arrangement was introduced has all but disappeared today. The example is also used to illustrate that other kinds of secular work that the GB suggests would make a person “an accomplice in a condemned practice” may, in fact, not be wrong for Christians.

EXCURSUS: THE DECISIONS OF THE GB REGARDING CELEBRATING HOLIDAYS OVERRULES THE CONSCIENCES OF INDIVIDUAL WITNESSES

On jw.org the following issue is discussed:

How do Jehovah’s Witnesses determine whether a holiday is acceptable?[5]

Before deciding whether to celebrate a particular holiday, Jehovah’s Witnesses consult the Bible. Some holidays and celebrations clearly violate Bible principles. When that is the case, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not participate. Regarding other holidays, each Witness makes his or her own choice, striving “to maintain a clear conscience before God and men.”​—Acts 24:16.

The following are some questions that Jehovah’s Witnesses ask themselves when deciding whether to celebrate a holiday.

The spirit of these comments gives the appearance of upholding the freedom of each Christian to make his or her personal decisions. However, the footnote says:

This article does not list all holidays that Jehovah’s Witnesses refrain from celebrating, nor does it mention all Bible principles that may apply.

In reality, the footnote nullifies the comments above. The impression the reader gets is that the Witnesses should ask the questions mentioned in the article in order to decide whether they will celebrate one or more of the 33 holidays that are mentioned. But the footnote amounts to a subtle disclaimer showing that this is not the case because it has already been decided that the Witnesses will not (read: are not allowed to) celebrate or participate in any of the festivities. And who has decided that? The members of the Governing Body. Thus, the members of the GB have overruled the consciences of individual Witnesses in connection with the celebration of holidays.[6]

The history is as follows:

1951 and 1954: The leaders of JW refuse to give any advice regarding which occupation to choose. Each Witness must make the decision.

1999: The GB gives detailed guidelines regarding which kind of secular work is acceptable and which is not acceptable. Each Witness must use these instructions to make a decision.

2019: The GB gives themselves and the elders the right to overrule the consciences of the Witnesses regarding which work to choose. In some instances, a Witness will be thrown out of the congregation if he does not change his work within six months.

Becoming an accomplice in false worship?

The discussion above has shown how the Witnesses had their Christian freedom in the 1950s, and I have used examples from selling Christmas items and from employment in a gambling enterprise. I have also shown in connection with nurses and blood transfusions that Christian freedom has all but disappeared inasmuch as the members of the GB believe they have the right to overrule the consciences of individual Witnesses. I will now use two examples dealing with employment and false religion, which is the subject of this article.

Example 1

Several Christian organizations are giving humanitarian aid in different countries. One of them is the Norwegian Church Aid (Kirkens Nødhjelp). Suppose now that a person in a country in Africa who is a Witness starts to work for Norwegian Church Aid in order to give humanitarian aid to persons in need.  For a Witness to choose to work for a religious or semi-religious organization would be exceptional indeed. But it could be that special circumstances are behind his choice. Moreover, the Norwegian Church Aid is not a Church with a creed but an aid organization where the board consists of representatives from different Christian denominations.

The Witness does not share the beliefs of the Norwegian Lutheran State Church or any of the other denominations that are behind the Norwegian Church Aid. But he gets his salary from this organization, and he does his work in the name of this organization. Is this brother an accomplice in a condemned practice (promoting an organization involved in false worship). I think that the GB and most bodies of elders would say that he is an accomplice to a false religious organization. But I cannot agree with that because the brother is not spreading false teachings, and he does not participate in the worship that occurs in the churches.

The situation can be likened to some hospitals that are connected with a particular religious organization. For example, in some Catholic hospitals, it is not unusual to see nuns walking the corridors along with the nurses, and some nuns have double duties as nurses. Also, the names of some medical institutions may reflect their close ties to a certain religion. Suppose that a Witness chose to be treated at a hospital with a name like ‘Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception’. Would the GB or the elders object to a Witness financially supporting a hospital with such strong religious connections by opting to be treated there? Probably not, especially if that hospital agreed to treat Witnesses without blood transfusions. And what about working for the hospital? No doubt the argument would be made by the GB that such a hospital is not strictly a religious organization. I agree. However, if one were to conduct a thorough investigation into the history and affiliations of the medical facility, what might one uncover that could be used to make a case that the hospital’s affiliations with religion are quite similar to the aforementioned humanitarian aid organization known as Norwegian Church Aid.

The purpose of my comparison is not to establish that hospitals with deep religious ties are the same as other organizations that are religiously based. I am merely illustrating that conceptually, such organizations, like the mentioned hospitals, may have as their objective the administering of physical aid to needy persons more than trying to spread their religious creeds. And, therefore, each Christian (not the GB or the elders) has to decide to what extent he or she will be connected with such organizations.

Example 2

In and around Oslo, there are several universities and colleges. The University of Oslo has one theological faculty, and there is also an independent theological faculty outside this university that is affiliated with the Norwegian Lutheran State Church.

In connection with exams, two teachers must evaluate the works of the students and decide their grades. The person who taught the students is one of the two teachers, and the other comes from another university. Biblical Hebrew is taught at the two theological faculties as well as in the linguistic department of the University of Oslo.

Suppose now that the Hebrew teacher at the linguistic department is a Witness, and when there are Hebrew exams at the two theological faculties, he is one of the two teachers called upon to evaluate the works of the students and decide their grades. Many of these students will become priests in the Norwegian Lutheran State Church, and some of the students will become teachers in schools and colleges.

Therefore, is the brother who is grading the exams, and thus facilitating the graduation of these soon-to-be priests, an accomplice in a condemned practice (promoting an organization engaged in false worship)? I think that the GB and most bodies of elders would say that he is an accomplice to a false religious organization. But I cannot agree with that because the brother is not spreading false teachings, and he does not participate in the worship that occurs in the churches.

The point with the two examples is that there are many situations, which are in what we would call a grey area. When the elders assume the right to decide that the secular work of a brother makes him “an accomplice of a condemned practice” (promoting false religion), this overrules the conscience of the brother and takes away his Christian freedom. Adding insult to injury, the brother may also be thrown out of the congregation against his will.

Secular work that may stumble others

Regarding stumbling others, the article in The Watchtower from 15 April 1999 says:

We ought to avoid doing work that would leave us disturbed; yet, we also should not be critical of others whose consciences differ. Conversely, a Christian might see no conflict with the Bible in his doing a certain work, but he realizes that it would be very disturbing to many in the congregation and in the community. Paul reflected the right attitude in his words: “In no way are we giving any cause for stumbling, that our ministry might not be found fault with; but in every way we recommend ourselves as God’s ministers.”— 2 Corinthians 6:3, 4.

Because of the words of Paul, we must consider how the members of the congregation will view our secular work. We do not want to be a cause for stumbling to anyone.

If we look at the two examples above, could we imagine that members of the congregation would stumble because of these situations? It is possible that some Witnesses would have a negative view of example 1), giving humanitarian aid and being paid by the Norwegian Church Aid, and may also have an equally negative view of example 2), evaluating the exam works of some who would become priests.

If we go back to 1951 and 1954 and ask if the members of the congregation would stumble if a brother sold Christmas cards or Christmas presents or if a brother was employed in a gambling enterprise, the answer would be negative. Today, those same brothers would have been disfellowshipped for both of these actions. Why would the brothers not have stumbled by these actions back in the 1950s? Because the leaders of the organization at that time said that such actions were a matter of conscience and that the Witnesses should not judge others who made decisions that were different from decisions that they themselves would have made.

What is the reason that Christian freedom regarding certain choices of secular work did not cause stumbling in the 1950s, but could be a major cause of stumbling today? As it turns out, the GB is the inadvertent creator of the causes for stumbling when it introduced so many extra-biblical laws and rules. These have stirred up the brothers and sisters, particularly the elders, to become critical and to raise questions regarding secular work that would otherwise have never been asked. Indeed, all the detailed human guidelines introduced in 1999 needlessly generate such questions, as follows: “Is he or she following the right course?” “Can this procedure or secular work be viewed as a compromise?” And if a Witness is deviating somewhat from the traditional course, that will attract further attention, prompting even more questions. So, the sensitivity of many brothers and sisters that could lead to their being stumbled in connection with another Christian’s unorthodox secular work, to a great extent, is created by the GB. Therefore, in a bit of weapons-grade irony, the members of the GB are the Creators of the very causes for stumbling that they, in turn, use as an argument to dissuade brothers from taking on such secular work, lest they become a stumbling-block to their newly sensitized fellow brothers and sisters.

And we must not forget that the elders are the ones that have the right to decide whether the secular work of a brother makes him an accomplice of false religion. And they have the right to throw him out of the congregation if he disagrees with their decision. But the disfellowshipping offense “Employment promoting false religion” is made up and invented by the GB, and it has no basis in the Bible.

[1]. This new policy was also communicated to the congregation members.

[2]. https://www.whychristmas.com/cultures/japan.shtml.

[3]. https://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/Hymns_and_Carols/thou_green_and_glittering_tree.htm.

[4]. I use the term “leaders of the organization” and not “the Governing Body,” because there was no Governing Body in the 1950s; the Governing Body was created in 1971.

[5]. https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/jw-celebrate-holidays/.

[6]. A detailed discussion of this issue, including a list of 33 of the holidays that JW are not allowed to celebrate, is found in the article “Celebration of false religious holidays in the category “Apostasy.”

CONCLUSION

In the 1950s,  Christian freedom was cherished, and the leaders of JW would not give any advice as to which secular work was acceptable and which was not acceptable. In 1999, the GB gave detailed instructions regarding secular work. The Shepherd book from 2019 shows that the GB has given the elders the right to decide that the secular work of a Witness makes him an accomplice in a condemned practice. This means that the GB and the elders can overrule the consciences of individual Witnesses.

The disfellowshipping offense “employment promoting false religion” is made up and introduced by the GB and has no basis in the Bible. When elders throw a Witness out of the congregation because he disagrees with the elders and refuses to change his secular work, the elders violate basic Christian principles.

Rolf Furuli

Author Rolf Furuli

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