Jehovah's Witness Issue

Attention to religious world trends.


It is significant that some of the leading Modernist preachers of America have become the most conspicuous champions of civil and religious liberty in such issues as that of an ambassador to the Vatican and that of the inviolable rights of religious sects, including Jehovah's Witnesses. Religious intolerance seems to adhere to much so-called Fundamen­talism. John Haynes Holmes, minister of the Community Church, New York City, takes up "The Case of Jehovah's Witnesses," in an article which appears in the Christian Century of July 17. He asks the question, "Why, all of a sudden, so to speak, should the American people be aroused against a religious sect which is so small in numbers and so trivial in importance?" The answer is threefold:

"First of all, Jehovah's Witnesses have a religion, and they take it seriously. Now, there is nothing more inconvenient, irritating, outrageous, than to have in the community a group of people who ac­tually believe their religion, and propose that other people shall believe it as well. Jehovah's Witnesses are New Testament Christians in the sense that they believe what they read in the New Testament."The only way to understand why Jehovah's Wit­nesses are so unpopular is to go back in history and remind ourselves why the early Christians were so unpopular. If I want to bring clearly before my eyes just how these early Christians must have appeared to the highly respectable and patriotic Romans of their day, I have only to look at Jehovah's Witnesses today. The Witnesses preach exactly what the early Christians preached eighteen hundred years ago to a society which had no more belief in religion, least of all the Christian religion, than our society has in our time. As these early Christians were regarded as dangerous, more particularly to the state and its government, so Jehovah's Witnesses are regarded as dan­gerous today in the same way."

The second reason why the sect Jehovah's Witnesses is so unpopular today is given as follows:

"Second, and inevitably, since the Witnesses be­lieve their religion, and this religion is a religion of crisis—none other than the imminent end of the world—they are a peculiarly aggressive, even obnox­ious set of people, at least as judged by ordinary standards of polite, conventional life. Thus, they are not satisfied to enter a toWn and hold a set of re­spectable public meetings and services. They do not stop with organizing a church, and opening their doors for those to enter who would come in. No, the time is too short for any such routine work as this. The hour is at hand, Christ may appear on the clouds of heaven tomorrow, even this very night, and they must arouse the community. . ."So, the Witnesses go out on the highways and byways and proclaim their gospel of a world called suddenly to judgment. They ring doorbells and speak personally to the residents of the houses. They carry tracts and circulars and thrust them into the reluctant, even unwilling, hands of the passer-by. They even take along talking-machine records, with the machine to operate them. . . . All this, to conven­tional folk, is disquieting, upsetting, alarming."The third and last reason, Mr. Holmes says, is the "irritating question of the flag salute," which is to them a question of religious fidelity. They will not salute the flag, or allow their children to salute it in the public schools. This may seem to be defiance of a nation, but they feel that they can give homage to God alone, and anything made of hands is unworthy of reverence. To worship it would be idolatry. The article continues as follows, on this third point:"God is to them not only supreme, but unique—He is alone, and there is none other. Therefore there cannot only be nothing before Him, but nothing even beside Him—no object, no symbol, no altar, which can divide the loyalty of the soul. . . . To God alone, as the Ruler of this kingdom, must the Christian testify to his allegiance."It is amazing, when you come to think of it, that this attitude of Jehovah's Witnesses should be ques­tioned or misunderstood, most of all derided and denied. Are not the Witnesses in the best tradition of the Christian spirit in refusing this salutation to the flag? What were the early Christians doing but this very thing when they refused to put their pinch of salt upon the altars of the Roman emperor? ... The Christians insisted that the pinch of salt was a matter not of patriotism, but of religion. If they made this gesture, they would be denying their sole allegiance, on earth as in heaven, to God and to His Christ. And so they refused—and died!"In the same way, what were the Quakers doing when, in their early days in England, they refused to doff their hats in the presence of royalty? These Quakers contended that their hats could be removed only in the presence of God, their one and only sov­ereign. And on this very point of a salute they were punished and persecuted on the charge of disloyalty to the state. To understand the early Christians and the early Quakers is to understand Jehovah's Wit­nesses today in this matter of the flag. But most people, even Christian people, do not understand, and thus take this refusal of a salute to the flag as a kind of final evidence of treason."It is no accident that this long and violent suc­cession of outrages against the Witnesses in recent weeks was coincident with the unfortunate decision of the Supreme Court, refusing to interfere with the action of school authorities in demanding the salute."

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October 1940

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