Who are JWs?

Thanks to the Internet the once closed society of Jehovah’s Witnesses has been opened up for closer scrutiny by the public, government agencies, and its critics. Before the “world-wide-web” became part of modern society in the late 1990s, the primary source of information about Jehovah’s Witnesses was the Witnesses themselves and the free literature they distributed published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.

Now there are literally hundreds of blogs, websites, online archives, YouTube videos, and books in most languages that clearly describe the lifestyle, beliefs and foibles of Jehovah’s Witnesses and their leaders. This website is proud to be one of those resources.

Who are Jehovah’s Witnesses? Why are they important? Why would this website or the dozens of others focus on them and their beliefs? Why should you care? Why should anyone care? Why not leave them alone and let them fade into oblivion like so many other religious sects and cults have done over the past 400 years?

The following is a general description of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, much of it freely borrowed and adapted from Wikipedia. We’ve chosen to use that as our general source because both Witnesses and former JWs have contributed to that reference – so it is less one-sided than other available documentation. We’ve made some minor edits and updates to try to bring it current. Like Wikipedia, this page will continue to be updated as the Watchtower’s own changing policies and current events require.

Who Are Jehovah’s Witnesses?
Jehovah’s Witnesses is a millenarian restorationist Christian denomination with nontrinitarian beliefs distinct from mainstream Christianity. The religion reports worldwide membership of over 7.65 million adherents involved in evangelism, convention attendance of over 12 million, and annual Memorial attendance of over 19.3 million.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are directed by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a group of elders based in Brooklyn (and other locations in the state), New York that establish and authorize all doctrines. Jehovah’s Witnesses’ beliefs are based on their interpretations of the Bible and they prefer to use their own Bible translation, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.

They believe that the destruction of the present world system at Armageddon is imminent, and that the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth is the only solution for all problems faced by humankind.

The group emerged from the Bible Student movement—founded in the late 1870s by Charles Taze Russell with the formation of Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society—with significant organizational and doctrinal changes under the leadership of Joseph Franklin Rutherford.

The name Jehovah’s Witnesses, based on Isaiah 43:10–12, was adopted in 1931 to clearly distinguish themselves from other Bible Student groups that still followed the teachings of Charles Taze Russell but left after Joseph Rutherford took over the Watchtower’s publishing corporation and assets.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are best known for their door-to-door preaching, distributing literature such as The Watchtower and Awake!  They are also noted for refusing military service, not voting or running for political office, and not saluting their country’s flag. They also refuse blood transfusions even in cases of imminent death.

They consider use of the name “Jehovah” (Almighty God) as vital for “proper” worship. They reject Trinitarianism, inherent immortality of the soul, and hellfire, which they consider to be unscriptural doctrines based on “pagan teachings.”

They do not observe Christmas, Easter, birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Halloween or other holidays and customs they consider to have pagan origins incompatible with Christianity.

Adherents commonly refer to their body of beliefs and their organization as “the Truth” and consider themselves to be “in the truth.” Jehovah’s Witnesses consider secular society to be morally corrupt and under the influence of Satan, and limit their social interaction with non-Witnesses.

Congregational disciplinary actions include “disfellowshipping,” their term for formal expulsion and shunning. Members who formally leave on their own volition are considered “disassociated” and are also shunned. Disfellowshipped and disassociated members may eventually be reinstated if they request it and promise to abide by all Jehovah’s Witnesses teachings and policies.

The religion’s position regarding conscientious objection to military service and refusal to salute national flags has brought it into conflict with some governments, especially during wartime. With some exceptions, they will not even perform community service or accept other non-combat options made available to them. Consequently, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been persecuted and their activities are banned or restricted in some countries. Persistent legal challenges by Jehovah’s Witnesses have influenced legislation related to civil rights in various countries.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are organized under a hierarchical arrangement, which their leadership claims is an extension of a heavenly “theocratic government”, reflecting their belief that the Watchtower Society and its Governing Body represents God’s “visible organization” on earth. The organization is headed by the Governing Body—an all-male group that varies in size, but since September 2012 has comprised eight members, all of whom profess to be of the “anointed” class with a hope of heavenly life—based in the Watch Tower Society’s Brooklyn headquarters. There is no election for membership; new members are selected by the existing body.

For decades the Governing Body was described as the “spokesman” for God’s “faithful and discreet slave class” (approximately 10,000 self-professed “anointed” Jehovah’s Witnesses destined to rule the earth from heaven). In 2012 during a annual business meeting with the Watch Tower Society’s stockholders, it was announced that the Governing Body was, in fact, the “Faithful and Discreet Slave” – taking on that distinction for themselves. This change was met with little or no objection from Jehovah’s Witnesses and the “anointed class” lost its special relationship with Jehovah and Jesus that it had enjoyed since the death of Charles Taze Russell.

The Governing Body directs several committees that are responsible for administrative functions, including publishing, assembly programs and evangelizing activities. It directly appoints all branch committee members and traveling overseers after they have been recommended by local branches, with traveling overseers supervising districts or circuits of congregations within their jurisdictions. Branch offices appoint local elders and ministerial servants, and may appoint regional committees for matters such as Kingdom Hall construction or disaster relief.

Each congregation has a body of appointed unpaid male elders and ministerial servants. Elders maintain general responsibility for congregational governance, setting meeting times, selecting speakers and conducting meetings, directing the public preaching work, and creating “judicial committees” to investigate and decide disciplinary action for cases that are seen as breaching their doctrines. New elders are appointed by branch offices after recommendation by the existing body of elders. Ministerial servants—appointed in a similar manner to elders—fulfill clerical and attendant duties, but may also teach and conduct meetings. In the past, Jehovah’s Witnesses claimed that they did not use “elder” as a title to signify a formal clergy-laity division. However, in 2012, when pressed to describe how the Watchtower organization functioned, they admitted that they were “a hierarchy, just like the Catholic Church.” Elders may employ ecclesiastical privilege and their appointments a credited to selection by the influence of holy spirit.

Individuals undergoing baptism must affirm publicly that dedication and baptism identify them “as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in association with God’s spirit-directed organization,” though Witness publications say baptism symbolizes personal dedication to God and not “to a man, work or organization.” Watch Tower Society publications emphasize the need for members to be obedient and loyal to Jehovah and to “his organization,” stating that individuals must remain part of it in order to receive God’s favor and to survive Armageddon.

Witness publications state that acceptable service to God can be rendered only through that organization and that members should remain submissive to the religion’s leaders and to local congregational elders. There is no tithing or collection; funding for all activities of the organization is provided by voluntary contributions, primarily from members.

In recent years the Watchtower Society and Jehovah’s Witnesses have faced intense opposition and intense criticism for its policies of shunning, protection of pedophiles and criminals, and unfair treatment of women members. It has also been charged with causing injury and death to its members due to often confusing blood transfusion policies, rejection of higher education for its younger members, and changing doctrines due to so-called “new light.”

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