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The Watchtower Society Receives New Light on Alternative Military Service

January 20th, 2000 Leave a comment Go to comments

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.

Franz wrote:

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.

WTS says:

“… 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.

Categories: Doctrine & Changes
  1. manfred
    January 5th, 2007 at 23:43 | #1

    Hi again,

    I agree with you that if you start with the assumption that the bible is somehow like God’s dictated, or otherwise directly caused, word, then you would get to realise that there are indeed some very odd things in the bible.

    There are some Christians who see the bible that way, but most do not.

    In fact, the bible is a collection of very ancient texts by a large number of authors (Even the Genesis story is the same story told by at least two authors, simply put together into one.)

    They represent a cross-section of how monotheistic and later Christian beliefs developed. As such they are simply part of a wider tradition. Think of it as a journey from primitive beginnings in religious beliefs and experience to a more mature form, and if the books were put into date order, which they are not, this would be quite obvious. To most Christians, that growth in understanding has not stopped with the finalisation of the books included in the bible, but it still continues today.

    In an earlier age, people did believe that God took sides in wars, for example, and there is plenty of evidence for that in the Old Testament. Today, for most of us, this idea is quite ugly; reading George Bush quoting the bible in support of his Iraq policy certainly made me cringe and gave me an upset stomach.

    There are also passages apparently supporting slavery, but later Paul speaks out, at least at times, against this. In a society where slavery was naively accepted, we cannot suddenly expect that writings from that period suddenly take an opposite view.

    So, reading the bible with a modern mind and with the concept that this somehow represents God’s spoken word, exactly, leads automatically to a complete misunderstanding of the scriptures and can even lead to dangerous conclusions. There are only two ways around that problem: one is to use a trustworthy source to help you guide through it. This is a good idea if you don’t have the time to research everything by yourself, but of course you need to be sure that you can really trust that source.

    The other is to do the work yourself and to study the bible first as a historical document, and form your own conclusions. The bible cannot be for us today provide an answer for every question, and of course you can find many contradictory views. There are, however some persisting themes and ideas which can help us and guide us in the right direction. One overwhelmingly strong such theme is that God is GOOD. If this is so, then this has implications about some ideas expressed in the bible where God appears different. If the bible is written by humans, they are people of their time, and they may at times misinterpret things. This is where the real work of the reader begins.

    Then there is that other language problem: When talking about God we are talking about something that transcends our everyday life. This is essentially impossible to do adequately. So, we use a lot of imagery, to explain something. Both heaven and hell are such images. Nobody can adequately explain what it is, because there is nothing like it in our world. Another problem that fundamentalists have is that they are not always able to spot the difference between an image and a description.

    Ok, all the best for now


  2. Markus
    January 5th, 2007 at 01:51 | #2

    Hi Manfred,

    Thanks for the reply.
    You ask why I can’t just let people be, if they want to support God let them, just like the football fan supporting his/her favourite team.
    My simple answer is: seeing as Christianity is based solely and squarely on what the Bible says, good people are prejudicing themselves and other people, because of this book written by men and which is not inspired by Biblegod or Jesus as so many unwitting people believe, because the Bible itself claims so.
    I have heard of only one instance where a crazed soccer fan shot and killed one of his own players for missing a penalty in a recent world cup, if I remember correctly it was Columbia. I have on the other hand heard of countless folk being killed because of The Bible, and no other reason. So the score at half time is Soccer-1 : Bible-( ) place your estimate in the space, it could range between 100 000 and if you believe the atrocities of the Bible the figure could reach the Billion mark.
    You say I am angry, I am not really angry but just fed up. I wasted a lot of years as a faithful JW, and when I finally came to my senses I felt robbed. Just as when I spent 2 years fighting a war only to realize a few years later I was on the wrong side. (Before lewdmouth Harry
    says ‘you liar, JW’s don’t go to war’, this was before I became indocrinated ok).

    The most ironic part of me being what I am and what I believe is based on what I found in none other than the Holy Bible. In fact the best cure for Christianity is for Christians to open their beloved book and READ what it says. I have come to my conclusions with an open mind, in fact it was somewhat biased to the contrary of the perspective I now hold.

    Why do I not just shut up and allow people to believe what they wish? Sorry no can do. When I see good folk working hard for a living and giving 10% of their hard earned money so that their good pastor can drive a fancy car in return for him spewing forth the biggest lot of crap from the pulpit, or when I see individuals shunned from their own families, I get fed up, when I see the carnage around today because of religion I feel sick.
    I do not need 10 commandments from the Bible for me to establish what is right or wrong.

    Seeing as you are indeed a Bible scholar and are so well educated, will you please explain to me how come Biblegod commanded the killing of infants and raping of virgins? How come Jesus turned out to be a fraud?

    If I was to lead my life according to Bible standards I would not be a very nice guy. For example my wife would be a non-person, I would be allowed to sell my daughter as a slave, I would be justified to flog my servant, (yep folks) as Jesus stated in the NEW Testament, and to top it all I would expect most of my colleagues and friends to spend eternal life in the lake of fire, where no fishing can take place, for is this not what the Bible teaches? And most folk think I am the crazy one!


  3. Manfred
    January 4th, 2007 at 23:17 | #3

    Hi again Markus,

    You say the common factor is religion. I think it has more to do with the abuse of religion. Fundamentalism is one of the types of abuse, though in not always very harmful. Cults or cult-like religious organisations are much more dangerous and harmful. There have always been men who used the fairly universal religious experience of mankind to cash in on or to manipulate people. Saying this is the fault of religion itself, is a rather like saying knives are bad because they kill people. Knives don’t kill people, people kill people.

    One, but by no means the only, positive contibution religions have made to mankind is to provide a basic moral code, like the 10 commandments, for example. The basis of this code is essentially faith.

    If you do not accept a moral code based on faith, you must find a rational reason for it. This can lead to some very odd situations:

    A Utalitarian philospher would argue that rules like “You shall not kill” can be justified on the basis that they are useful to society. Well, parking regulations are useful, but people often don’t follow them. So, why not have the death penalty for parking offences? That would a stop to people ignoring parking rules, wouldn’t it? You, see, basing ethics just on reason has it’s problems, too. (Please don’t ask me if I want the death penalty for parking offences next, I am sure you know the answer to that is clearely no.)

    I have no doubt at all that you are a good and honest person, kind even, but you seem to have a great deal of understandable anger in you about religion and religious organsiations in particular. Anger is never a good emotion to hang on to for too long, it’s a waste of energy. If people with religious beliefs bother you, try to think of them as rather the same as people who are mad about football, or some other thing. Just let them be, you don’t have to be like them but you don’t have to hate them, either.

    You implied that you think that all religious people are stupid. I have been called many things and I have many faults, but I don’t think stupidity is one of them. Because of my life style I have had a lot of time to study, so I have learnt four languages fluently, know three more “dead” languages and have accumulated four university degrees in a variety of subjects, one being mathematics, and also a doctorate. So, I can’t be altogether thick.

    Perhaps we are just different?

    One last thought: As this site is for Ex-JW, there will be a whole range of people looking here. Some will be glad to hear your views and find then useful in re-building their lives after JW. But there will be also some who have abandoned JW and not their belief in God, so they want to find a way to rebuild their lives in a way where God has still His place. Hopefully they find here that there are many different ways to do just that, both within and without any formal organisation. It is for this reason I like this site: in a very simple way it gives hope to many people, in many different ways.

    Now, as to Fundamentalist Fred’s assertion that you will go to hell: utter rubbish.

    There only two possiblities: if there is no God, it does not matter what our mate Fred says.

    If there is a God, how could you possibly go to hell? Remember the definition of sin you ageed with. You have made an honorable choice about faith and you have reached the best possible conclusion you were capable of, and put more effort into this than most people. So, if there is a God, then He could not possibly hold you responsible forf lack of faith, as you have acted in good conscience. You would then be proved wrong in your decision to abandon faith, but not culpable. So, at most you should get a pleasant surprise after death.

    All the best


  4. Markus
    January 4th, 2007 at 01:17 | #4


    Thanks for the response. The answers you gave to my previous comment were exemplary and cannot be faulted. The two examples I gave were not exactly hypothetical, in fact the latter i.e. the crazed women who drowned her children is true. There are far more macabre examples, please take the time to look at: http://www.jcnot4me.com/Items/cults/victims_of_religion.htm
    The earnest JW has no problem allowing their beloved child to die for refusing a blood transfusion. Are they to blame? I think not, similarly neither is the young radical Muslim who blows himself to dust, but rather the ones who indoctrinated him, as you correctly pointed out.
    The common factor here is religion, in whatever form. If Biblegod was to give us a message to enable us to save ourselves how come he sent it in such a garbled manner that none of us can agree on what the message is?
    Fundamentalist Freddie will tell me I will be deep fried for the rest of eternity because I have not accepted Jesus as my savior. I will retaliate by saying I have read his Bible many times and know it far better than he does, and have concluded his savior is both a liar and fraud.
    I consider myself an average person, I do not steal I do not murder, I go to work everyday earn my wages and do the best I can for my family.
    If anybody says I cannot enter the kingdom of heaven because I was born with a brain and choose to use it, rather than use what I term the ridiculous notion of ‘faith’, then they are even more crazy than any of the incurably sick people mentioned in the above site I referenced.
    In my opinion anyone who wastes their lives fantasizing on what the Bible, Quoran or any other holy book is trying to say are running around in circles and have been for a very long time.
    As I always say there a cure for a lot of things but unfortunately there is none for stupidity.


  5. Manfred
    January 2nd, 2007 at 23:19 | #5

    Hi again,

    you raised such a lot of points, I haven’t got time to go through them all at the moment. So I answer the remaining questions later.

    Ok, let’s start with my explanation of sin, which you seem to misunderstand (sorry, my fault):
    Your gave this example: Sally drowns her children in the bath because she believes God told her so.

    Her ACT is sinful, no question there. But suppose she really, truthfully in her own mind she felt justified to do what she did, then her STATE OF MIND is such that she cannot sin at that moment, simply because she is quite mad. Even our own secular law has this requirement: She would most likely be confined to a mental institution, rather than a prison, because the “mens rea” (the “guilty mind”, as lawyers call it) cannot be proved.

    With the terrorist, things are more complicated: assuming they were not mad, they would know that their action is both unlawful and sinful, even in Islam. They have constructed a mental defence against this very knowledge, allowing them to carry out their act. To allow this state of confusion, where the lines between your real knowledge of right and wrong become blurred, is sinful, in fact this is a characteristic of most sins. Isn’t that is fact what most people to before they sin? I know it is wrong to lie but behave I need to make an exception in this case because of this, that or the other. I know adultery is bad, but if my wife never finds out, nobody gets hurt.

    So a sin is still a sin, if we simply rationalise it, or try to explain it away. A sin is not “culpable” only if, having used our best efforts, we have drawn the conflusion with an honest conscience that this act is aceptable, even if we are wrong about that.

    By best effort I would mean an HONEST check, involving non-biased others, (i.e. not your best mates), and the use of ALL your mental factulties and judgement. I agree, the line is fine. Sometimes we cannot tell the difference because we cannot look into people’s minds. Sometime we get so tangled up, that we get it completely wrong.

    In my view, your example terrorist may have been like that. The question remaining is if they could have avoided this confused state of mind, and in my view it is exactly that which in the end saves of condemns them.

    A man subjected to cult-type indoctrination who then blows himself up is less culpable than the one who carried out that indoctrination. To what extent he was culpable depend on whether he really understood what he was doing, after all the indoctrination has been stripped away.

    Ok, talk later, I enjoy your letters!


  6. Manfred
    January 2nd, 2007 at 12:27 | #6

    This chaos is an example if some people try to be religious leaders and lack the basic human quality of humility in their leadership.

    Unable to accept uncertainty, a particular stance is taken, from which it is then almost impossible to retreat if it later proves untenable.

    Is it not better to freely admit that even as a leader you do not have the answer to each and every question? What is wrong with allowing some freedom of conscience? Humility is an essential quality for religious leadership.

    After all, any sin must be a KNOWING, DELIBERATE act. This means if we in our conscience in all honesty cannot determine that something is wrong, we are not being held accountable by God for this action, wrong or not. This is good news for those struggling with issues like this; provided we make our decision to the best of our ability and truthfully, without kidding ourselves, and have reached a decision to do military service or the alternative, then this is accepted even by God, so why not by WTS? I would have great difficulty in believing that ALL military personnel are dishonourable; like everywhere else you find people of every kind in the military.

    Why is it so hard for the WTS to say “We don’t know, you must decide this.”?

    Would it not be better to say, if a majority for or against a decision cannot be found, to declare this matter as open?

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