The Watchtower Society Receives New Light on Alternative Military Service
Rutherford forbade both military service and alternative service for JW’s. This rule, enforced for some sixty years, placed thousands of JWs around the world in prisons and some died as a result. In The Watchtower of May 1 1996 the WTS’s stance on alternative service was reversed. Alternative service is again permitted!
(From: Investigator No. 49 1996 July)
B J Kotwall
Alternative service is civil service offered by many governments in place of actual military service to conscientious objectors.
The first president of the Watchtower Society (WTS) did not consider it wrong for Christians to perform military service or alternative service.
The second WTS president forbade both military service and alternative service for Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs). This rule, enforced for some sixty years, placed thousands of JWs around the world in prisons and some died as a result.
In The Watchtower (WT) of May 1 1996 the WTS’s stance on alternative service was reversed. Alternative service is again permitted!
Raymond Franz, author of Crisis of Conscience (1983), was a member of the JW Governing Body from 1971 to 1980. In this book he says that a proposal for changing the policy on alternative service was dealt with by the Governing Body in 1978. A two-thirds majority vote was not attained and therefore the issue was shelved.
The official position of the Watch Tower Society, developed during the Second, World War, is that if one of Jehovah’s Witnesses accepts such alternative service he has “compromised”, has broken integrity with God. …Since it [alternative service] is offered in place of military service and since military service involves (potentially at least) the shedding of blood, then anyone accepting the substitute becomes “bloodguilty”… In obedience to this policy over the years literally thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses in different countries around the world have gone to prison rather than accept provisions for alternative service. There are Witnesses in prison right now in for this reason. Failure to adhere to the Society’s policy would mean being viewed automatically as “disassociated” and being treated the same as being disfellowshiped…
From…November 1977 until February 1980 the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses had tried on six separate occasions to resolve the issue without success…the inability of the Governing Body to achieve that indispensable two-thirds majority meant that male Jehovah’s Witnesses in any country who acted according to their conscience and accepted alternate service as a proper government requirement, could still do so only at the cost of being viewed as outside the organization, equivalent to expelled persons.
(pp. 101, 102, 131)
The May 1 1996 WT does not mention or admit to any change in policy and makes no reference to the previous stand and its change from the stand previous to that.
It is common practice for the WTS to omit mention of previous doctrine when introducing changes. This hinders newer JWs from knowing what was taught previously and in the present instance means no apology is made to those JWs who went to prison needlessly or to their families.
As shown in my previous articles the WTS has made thousands of changes in doctrines and interpretations in the past 80 years. Yet it also teaches that JWs alone are the “true religion” and says of true religion: “its teachings must all be in full harmony with God’s Word.” (The Truth that leads to Eternal Life 1968 p.130)
It follows that both sides of thousands of doctrinal flip-flops are all, “in full harmony with God’s Word.”
Below is reproduced a set of quotes showing how steadfast and uncompromising the stand on alternative service was.
Alternative Military Service
The Watchtower 1898 July 1 p. 2332
If, therefore we were drafted, and if the government refused to accept our conscientious scruples against warfare … we should request to be assigned … to some other non-combatant place of usefulness…
The Watchtower 1898 August 1 p. 2345
(There is) no command in the Scriptures against military service.
Awake! 1974 December 8 p. 23
On March 26, 1971 three representatives of Jehovah’s Witnesses [in The Netherlands] met with a forum representing the ministries of defence and Justice… One of the points of discussion presented by the forum was this: “That you wish no part in performing military service is clear and needs no further explanation. But what really is your objection to civil, alternative service?”
The Witnesses explained that it is not that they are opposed to civil service as such, but rather, it is a matter of strict neutrality. Therefore any work that is merely a substitute for military service would be unacceptable to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Other questions narrowed the issue down still further. “When a person objects to military service,” the government’s servants declared, “he passes from military jurisdiction on to civilian jurisdiction and from that moment has nothing at all to do with the military. Why, then, is accepting of such civil service still so objectionable?”
Willingly accepting such work is objectionable to the Christian because of what God’s law says about the matter: “you were bought with a price: stop becoming slaves of men.” 1 Cor. 7:23 Civilian servitude as a substitute for military service would be objectionable to the Christian. In effect he would thereby become a part of the world instead of keeping separate as Jesus commanded.
Yearbook 1982 p. 226-7
As the number of Witnesses increased, the issue was continually brought to the attention of he public and the authorities alike. Finally, a law was approved decreeing that those who do not agree to do alternative service shall be sentenced to one single prison term, so that our young brothers are now given from 12 to 15 months’ imprisonment…
From 1978 to 1980 there have been, on an average, 500 young brother’s a year in prison on account of the neutrality issue. It is calculated that up to the present, several thousand Witnesses have kept a clear conscience before Jehovah God in this respect.
United in Worship of the Only True God 1983 p. 167
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 non-combatant service or to accept other work assignments as a substitute for military service.
The Watchtower 1986 September 1 p. 20
…when Caesar demanded to have God’s things, they acted in harmony with the principles stated at Acts 4:19 and Acts 5:29. Whether the issue was shedding blood, non-combatant military work, alternative service, or saluting an image such as a national flag, faithful Christians took the position that there was no middle ground. In some cases they were executed because of this stand, Matthew 24:9; Revelation 2:10
Yearbook 1991 p. 166
…attempts have been made (in Sweden) to have us substitute compulsory work for military service. In the early 1970’s, a governmental committee was appointed to review the handling of conscientious objectors. For the sake of uniformity, the authorities wanted Jehovah’s Witnesses to serve on terms similar to those for other religious groups and do compulsory work as a substitute.
Representatives of the branch office appeared before the committee, explaining that the Witnesses could not accept any substitute for military service whatsoever, no matter how praiseworthy the task.
The Watchtower 1996 May 1 p. 20.
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? Here again, Christians must make their own decisions based on an informed conscience… What if the Christian’s honest answers to such questions leads him to conclude that the national civilian service is a “good work” that he can perform in obedience to the authorities? This 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 Society and Alternative Service Part II
(From: Investigator No. 70 2000 January)
B. J. Kotwall
Investigator No. 49 reported the change in the Watchtower Society’s (WTS) stance on alternative service. This service is offered by some governments as a substitute for military service to conscientious objectors. [See Investigator No. 49 for WTS quotations forbidding alternative service.]
The change of allowing JWs to opt for alternative service was published in The Watchtower (WT) of May 1, 1996. The WTS ban on alternative service had been enforced for about 60 years by threat of disfellowshipping [excommunicating] the JWs who disobeyed. The ban caused thousands of JWs to go to prisons and caused the death of some of them. As is the usual practice of the WTS when revising its doctrines and policies, it did not refer to its previous stance or admit to enforcing it.
The WTS has now added insult to injury by placing the blame, of abstaining from alternative service, onto the shoulders of the hapless JWs who had meekly followed the WTS dictate:
Feeling of Having Suffered Needlessly
In the past, some Witnesses have suffered for refusing to share in an activity that their conscience now might permit. For example, this might have been their choice years ago as to certain types of civilian service. A brother might now feel that he could conscientiously perform such without overstepping his Christian neutrality regarding the present system of things.
Was it unrighteous on Jehovah’s part to allow him to suffer for rejecting what he might do without consequences… What reason could anyone have to regret having followed his conscience in taking a firm stand for Jehovah? By loyally upholding Christian principles as they understood them or by responding to prodding of conscience they proved worthy of Jehovah’s friendship. Certainly, it is wise to avoid a course that would disturb one’s conscience…
In modern times, there have been some Witnesses who were very strict in their view of what they would or would not do. For that reason they suffered more than others. Later, increased knowledge helped them to expand their view of matters. But they have no reason to regret having earlier acted in harmony with their conscience even when this possibly brought extra suffering. It truly is commendable that they demonstrated their willingness to suffer in faithfulness to Jehovah…
(The Watchtower 1998 August 15 p. 17 Underlining added)
The above quotation shows the WTS putting the blame solely onto the JWs and also implicating Jehovah in the process! No blame is acknowledged by the WTS for wrongly imposing the restrictions, or for enforcing them with excommunication, or for forbidding the “independent thinking” by which the JWs might have made the right decision independently. The WTS has consistently emphasized unity at all costs amongst JWs and “independent thinking” has always been discouraged. (WT 1983 January 15 pp. 22, 27)
The above quotation repeatedly blames the JWs and their conscience for what happened to them. However, the fact is that the WTS is a totalitarian religious cult where the exercise of conscience is not permitted. Although the WTS often tells JWs that they are “free moral agents” (WT 1993 August 15, p. 26; 1981 May 15, p. 6) the facts show that this is mere lip service.
“… there cannot even be coexistent tendencies or schools of thought within the Christian organization.” (WT 1983 September 15, p.18)
In short, individualism has no place in the WTS’s theology.
Anyone who becomes a JW is shackled to WTS’s beliefs with no room for any variance in thinking:
Approved association with Jehovah’s Witnesses requires accepting the entire range of the true teachings of the Bible, including those Scriptural beliefs that are unique to Jehovah’s Witnesses.
(WT 1986 April 1, p. 31)
The WTS often plays with the lives of JWs by disregarding the basic morality one expects from Christian religious leaders and then insults the followers by blaming them for harmful consequences.