Watchtower's Political Involvement
This article discusses the Watchtower Society's involvement with:
- Political Lobbying, such as the UN, ECHR, OSCE, Hansard Committee and WHO
- Government Assistance
The Watchtower Society strongly condemns the world and its commercial, political and religious systems. Described as part of Satan's system, these are said to be shortly devoted to destruction.
"False religion’s involvement in the affairs of the political nations will lead ultimately to her own devastation." Watchtower 1985 Mar 1 p.13
"Indeed, consider what the situation will be the day after God brings this system of things to its end. Satan, his demons, and his political, commercial, and religious systems will be gone - every one of them! Satan's entire propaganda apparatus will be gone too. Thus, after the great tribulation, there will never again be printed a single newspaper, magazine, book, booklet, or leaflet that supports this wicked world. There will be no corrupting influences broadcast from worldly television or radio stations. The entire poisonous environment of Satan's world will be cleared away in one mighty stroke!"" Watchtower 1993 Apr 1 pp.17-18
Witnesses are warned away from involvement in these systems. Voting, jury duty, working in the military or religious institutions or joining related clubs are either warned against as conscience matters or forbidden and reasons to be disfellowshipped. Something as simple as painting a Church roof as a contractor can be grounds for being disfellowshipped. In Malawi, thousands of Jehovah's Witnesses were tortured and killed because the Watchtower told them it was unchristian to hold a political card as required by the Malawian government. (Yearbook 1999 pp.149-223)
Despite its scathing attacks on other Religions for political involvement and the censoring of its followers, the Watchtower Society as an organization, has not held back from political involvement and lobbying when considered beneficial for its own means. This double standard has been a major source of stumbling for many followers. Since 2001, a number of people have left the Watchtower Society on learning of its application and involvement as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Associate Member of the United Nations Department of Public Information, as detailed at United Nations NGO.
The Watchtower is vague as to its definition of politics and where it draws the line between what involvement is or is not acceptable. In democratic countries there are three main political aspects:
- Executive - General administration of state bureaucracy
- Legislative - Create and maintain laws
- Judiciary - Court system for interpretation and application of the law
Whilst all three tiers are critical to the governing of a country, the Watchtower appears to be against the Executive aspect more-so than the Judiciary and Legislative functions. However, whilst against influencing the Executive function through the election of representatives, they have not shied away from political lobbying as a form of influence. The following information shows how the Watchtower Society is actively involved in political affairs, such as through lobbying and use of the Judiciary.
Judiciary Court Systems
The Watchtower Society is proud of its extensive use of the world's court systems, claiming it has benefited the preaching work and freedom of speech for people in general.
"Legal cases involving the Witnesses have numbered many thousands, and hundreds of these have been appealed to higher courts. This has had a profound effect on the law itself and has often fortified legal guarantees of basic freedoms for people in general. But this has not been the main objective of Jehovah's Witnesses. Their principal desire is to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God. Legal action that they take is not because they are social agitators or legal reformers. Their objective is to 'defend and legally establish the good news,' even as was true of the apostle Paul." Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers of God's Kingdom p. 678
Ironically, while using the world's courts to gain freedom of speech for the organization, the same cannot be said for its own members. Open disagreement with any doctrine of the Governing Body is grounds for removal from the Organization, with members strictly forbidden from speaking to such members.
It is interesting to examine the lengths Watchtower lawyers are prepared to go when using the Judiciary system for rights pertaining to the "Organization".
In 1988, Jimmy Swaggart was taken to court in the case Swaggart Ministries v. California Board of Equalization. This regarded paying tax on profit derived from sales of religious material. See www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1989/1989_88_1374/argument/ (6 Apr 2007)
Realising a ruling against Swaggart could result in the sale of Watchtower publications being taxed, Watchtower filed a Brief of Amicus Curiae (friend of the court) for United States Supreme Court Docket # 88-1374. This was to show support for Jimmy Swaggart Ministries retaining tax exempt status. Click Here to view a copy of the Amicus Curiae that the Watchtower submitted for the Jimmy Swaggart case. Other groups to similarly do so included International Society for Krishna Consciousness of California, Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability and the Prison Fellowship. The Supreme Court ruled against Swaggart on January 17th, 1990, ordering him to pay back taxes.
With the decision going against Swaggart, Watchtower initiated the 'voluntary donation' arrangement. A letter to elders in the United States was sent on February 21st 1990, changing the distribution of magazines to a donation arrangement, effective from March 1st 1990. This was rolled out to other countries over ten year period. Information explaining the arrangement to congregations was provided in the Our Kingdom Ministry,1991 March pp.3,4 titled "Our Simplified Literature Distribution Arrangement". To ensure that the Watchtower would not be disadvantaged by the new arrangement, Witnesses were told to donate for the literature they pick up at the kingdom hall, and then also donate any money received from householders, something akin to double-dipping. A further letter to congregations followed January 24th 1991, with the following explanation for why the double donation was not to be considered donating twice.
In representative democratic politics, the legislative process can be influenced through voting in elections or lobbying. Lobbying by pressuring decision-makers is considered least democratic, carrying ethical issues and concerns about corruption, yet is taken advantage of by Watchtower. Most Witnesses are unaware of the lobbying being instigated out by Watchtower leaders. Direct examples are its involvement with organisations such as the OSCE.
Watchtower was a United Nations associated NGO between 1992 and 2001, likely for political influence. Even after public knowledge of this led to rescinding their membership, Watchtower has continued to petition the United Nations, such as the 2009 submission regarding Human Rights in Egypt.
New York City Lobbying
Watchtower hires lobbyists to influence building applications. A search of nyc.gov/lobbyistsearch (as of Aug 2014) shows an extensive list of New York properties Watchtower has used lobbyists for. In one example from 2004, Watchtower paid Fred, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, LLP(04) $59,880 to lobby for a zone change and development permit for 85 Jay St.
U.S. Department of State
The U.S. Department of State website describes Watchtower International as an affiliated NGO. The REPUBLIC OF KOREA 2016 INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM REPORT (1 Aug 2018) notes "Watchtower International, a Jehovah’s Witnesses-affiliated nongovernmental organization (NGO), reported there were 495 Jehovah’s Witnesses in prison for conscientious objection to military service..." (Back up PDF copy.)
On March 9th 1998, the Watchtower Society and the European Commission of Human Rights brokered an agreement with the government of Bulgaria. For Jehovah's Witnesses to be recognized as a religious organization in Bulgaria, the Watchtower Society had to ensure that "members should have free choice in the matter [of blood transfusions] for themselves and their children, without any control or sanction on the part of the association." The Watchtower Society guaranteed that Witnesses are free to make their own choice on the use of blood, with blood transfusions removed from being a disfellowshipping offence. This was quite deceptive, as taking blood became an offence to be disassociated instead, making any freedom of choice quite meaningless. A full discussion of this is found at Bulgaria & Blood.
The Watchtower regularly sends representatives to annual conferences of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). A person repeatedly attending these political events is Mr. Marcel Gillet. A search on the Watchtower’s media web site in 2011 showed his prominent status within the Organization, working on Public Relations in Europe.
The goals of the OSCE are political, running contrary to principles the Watchtower prints in its magazines. These include:
- Legislative reviews for governments, on request, to help them bring their legislation into line with international standards;
- Publishing Guidelines for Review of Legislation Pertaining to Religion or Belief, which were drafted by members of the Panel of Experts in association with the Council of Europe's Venice Commission;
- Development of new legislation intended to foster improved relations among religious groups, including in post-conflict societies;
- Promoting dialogue between governments and religious groups, as called for in OSCE commitments. (osce.org/odihr/20056.html 25th Apr 2010)
“With 56 States from Europe, Central Asia and North America, the OSCE is the world's largest regional security organization. It offers a forum for political negotiations and decision-making in the fields of early warning, conflict prevention, crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation, and puts the political will of its participating States into practice through its unique network of field missions.
“The OSCE has a comprehensive approach to security that encompasses politico-military, economic and environmental, and human aspects.” (osce.org/who 6th Oct 2012)
The OSCE is closely aligned with the United Nations.
"The OSCE recognizes that the United Nations Security Council bears primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. Thus, the United Nations is the OSCE's primary partner organization." (osce.org/ec/43240)
Sending Watchtower representatives for attendance at these events, and letters for consideration, show a different set of standards apply to the leaders as opposed to Watchtower followers.
To find Watchtower's OSCE participation, a google.com search on the year and term "osce final list of participants" will usually return the list as the top result. For example the search "2015 osce final list of participants" links to www.osce.org/odihr/190676?download=true, which shows that four different countries sent delegates of Jehovah's Witnesses in 2015.
Following are links to documents Watchtower corporations have submitted to OSCE and screenshots of attendees.
In 2019, the European Association of Jeohvah's Christian Witnesses submitted the linked statement regarding Kyrgyzstan Religious Freedom issues.
In 2018, several Jehovah's Witness related corporations attended, as shown in the OSCE 2018 Participant's List and the document Religious Freedom Concerns Statement by the European Association of Jehovah's Witnesses was submitted.
In 2016, the Administrative Centre of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia submitted the linked statement regarding Jehovahs Witnesses in Russia Religious Freedom Concerns, (as sighted at https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/6/4/268401.pdf 14 Sep 2020).
In 2015, the European Association of Jehovah's Christian Witnesses submitted the linked statement regarding Jehovah's Witnesses in Bulgaria Religious Freedom Concerns, (as sighted at https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/a/9/187421.pdf 14 Sep 2020).
The 2012 list of attendees appeared at OCSE.org.
In 2012, the European Association of Jehovah's Christian Witnesses submitted the linked statement regarding Religious Freedom Concerns in Russia, (as sighted at https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/2/c/94547.pdf 14 Sep 2020).
In 2011, the European Association of Jehovah's Christian Witnesses submitted the linked statement regarding Religious Freedom Concerns in France and Religious Freedom Concerns in Kyrgyzstan, (as sighted at https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/2/a/82934.pdf 14 Sep 2020).
In 2010, the European Association of Jehovah's Christian Witnesses submitted the linked statement regarding Religious Freedom Concerns in Uzbekistan, (as sighted at https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/a/2/68867.pdf 14 Sep 2020).
2007 included Watchtower representatives alongside religious and political organisations.
For the full 2007 participant list see 2007 participants
A letter was lodged in 2007 by the European Association of Jehovah's Christian Witnesses regarding religious freedom concerns in several European countries.
The main goals for the US at the 2006 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting were clearly at odds with Watchtower doctrine, promoting democracy and political will.
U.S. goals for this conference include:
- "To demonstrate U.S. commitment to human rights and democracy, and to show support for NGOs working in these fields."
- "To generate political will among OSCE participating States for implementing OSCE commitments in the Human Dimension."
www.usosce.rpo.at/HDIM/hdim2006.html (as of April 25, 2010)
The 2006 participants yet again include Mr. Marcel Gillet representing the European Association of Jehovah's Christian Witnesses.
For the full 2006 participant list see 2006 participants
In 2006, the European Association of Jehovah's Christian Witnesses submitted the linked statement regarding Religious Freedom Concerns in Uzbekistan, (as sighted at https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/b/9/21491.pdf 14 Sep 2020).
A photo from the 2005 OSCE Human Dimension event shows the truly political nature of these conferences with a medley of political flags framing the attendees.
A list of registered NGO's for the OSCE's 2005 conference on Anti-Semitism and intolerance appeared at http://osce.usmission.gov/Cordoba/Cordoba_NGOs.pdf (April 6th 2007 - no longer active). Page 3 listed as a registrant The European Association of Jehovah's Christian Witnesses as registrars and page 7 listed the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of Pennsylvania. On the registration document Watch Tower appeared alongside similar controversial groups, such as Scientology.
It appears however from the list of participants that the Watchtower representatives did not show up.
In 2004, Jehovah’s Witnesses attended the OSCE conference alongside a colourful group of other attendees including the Sudanese Solidarity Group, Baha’is and American Jewish Committee.
For the full list of participants see osce-participants-2004.pdf
ECHR - European Convention on Human Rights
A letter to the ECHR was lodged in 2013 from The European Association of Jehova's Christian Witnesses regarding the Bayatyan group of cases against Armenia, relating to Alternative Military Service.
In 1999, the Australian Bethel sent their legal representative, Vincent Toole and branch committee member Don Maclean to the Hansard Committee for religious tolerance. Toole and Maclean both contributed to the conversation, requesting tolerance towards Witnesses, particularly in regards to the issue of blood transfusions, with little effect. The result may have been far more significant if the political parties knew 80,000 Witnesses would be voting to supporting their requests.
World Health Organization
Each year on the 7th April World Health Day is celebrated by representatives of the World Health Organization, NGOs, and high ranking government officials. Jehovah's Witnesses participated in this celebration in 2000.
whqlibdoc.who.int (6 Apr 2007) contained a 140 page souvenir brochure of the event. Page 7 shows the theme for the year 2000 was regarding blood.
"This is why blood safety was the theme of World Health Day 2000, but also one of WHO's priorities for the future, with the launch of a long-term programme aimed to assist national health authorities, especially those in greatest need, to establish and maintain well-organised blood transfusion services with appropriate infrastructure and trained personnel."
Page 53 says "Of note was the presence of Jehovah Witnesses at the Congress."
Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Response to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada 2013 details the suffering of Jehovah's Witnesses in Syria, outlining information provided by the "Associate Director of Legal Affairs at the Jehovah's Witnesses Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Canada." Once more, I have to emphasis how reprensible it is for any goverment to mistreat people purely on the basis of their beliefs, and commendable that Watchtower offer legal and political support. But stop the hypocrisy of claiming not to be involved in politics, and that Jehovah's Witnesses are uniquely separate from the world and politics.
Jehovah's Witnesses follow Jesus advice at Luke 20:25 to "pay back Caesar's things to Caesar ..." and pay tax. I worked for a number of years in taxation, and can say that most of my Jehovah's Witness clients tried to be honest in paying what they legally owed. They therefore are legitimately entitled to government assistance with regards to unemployment benefits, medical assistance and pensions.
However, it is offensive when Watchtower denigrates the government, and in the same breathe tries to maximise the assistance they receive from the government, to the point of arranging the elders to ensure each member of the congregation get their full entitlement. This is exactly what happened regarding government assistance during Covid-19 restrictions. A letter from JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES / DISASTER RELIEF COMMITTEE 8/25/2020 TO SELECTED BODIES OF ELDERS ASSIGNED TO THE COVID-19 - TSM DRC Re: Food Distribution Program stated:
As we move ever closer to the end of this system of things, we know that the structure of this world will continue to crumble. However, it is with confidence that we echo the apostle Paul's feelings, Who will separate us from the love of the Christ? Will tribulation or distress or persecution or hunger..? On the contrary, in all these things we are coming off completely victorious..." (Romans 8:35,37) To date, your vigilant efforts to assist your brothers and sisters with practical aid has served as visible evidence of Jehovah's love for his people."
After describing the world as crumbling, and how hunger would never seperate followers from Jesus love, the letter goes on to explain that The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides food boxes for people in financial hardship, and for the elders to promplty submit an intake form to ensure all eligible Jehovah's Witnesses get their free box, despite any government information that may be packaged with the free food.
What a perfect fit for the saying, "don't bite the hand that feeds you."
Is Political Involvement Acceptable?
It is acceptable and beneficial for people to be actively involved in politics. The Bible is filled with examples of faithful servants of God that were exceptionally rich or involved in politics. Mordecai and Joseph were influential, high-ranking politicians in worldly governments.
Jesus said to render leaders their due. At Matthew 17 there is the example of Jesus paying tax and at Matthew 5:41 he recommended, "if someone under authority impresses you into service for a mile, go with him two miles." Paul said to be subject to superior authorities at Romans 13:7 and to pray for earthly governments.
1 Timothy 2:1-2 "I therefore exhort, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, offerings of thanks, be made concerning all sorts of men, concerning kings and all those who are in high station; in order that we may go on leading a calm and quiet life with full godly devotion and seriousness."
Watchtower claims followers must be neutral, in order to demonstrate their belief that only God's kingdom can solve man's problems.
"Actually, I am neutral when it comes to politics. I support God's government." Our Meetings and Ministry Sample Conversations Initial Call: Kingdom-Mt 6:9, 10 Mwbv.202011-1.v
"We must remain neutral in order to be loyal subjects of God's Kingdom. Otherwise how could we have a clear conscience when we preach the good news that only God's Kingdom can solve man's problems." Apply Bible Principles Neutrality in Thought and Action jwb.201903-4.v
This line of reasoning is astonishingly flawed. Voting for a political party does not undermine Jehovah's Witnesses claim that only God's goverment can solve man's problems. People vote for "the lesser of two evils," not the expectation that any goverment party can solve every problem.
Voting is important to ensure that the government party most beneficial to the people, and organisations such as Watchtower, is selected.
The purpose of this section is less a criticism of Watchtower's involvement in politics and more a highlight of the hypocrisy of an organization that has different standards for the leaders and layperson.
Jehovah's Witness school children endure embarrassment and humiliation, sitting whilst other students stand during remembrance days, anthems and flag salutes, due to the political nature of such occasions. Yet at the same time, the leaders actively attend and lobby political events.
Watchtower corporations hold associated NGO status with political organisations and send representatives to political enquiries. If Watchtower can send attendees to influence government on matters of religious tolerance why are individual Witnesses forbidden from voting or holding political cards, at the risk of torture and death? (See Mexico vs Malawi.)
This is yet another area where illogical Watchtower doctrine has created unnecessary suffering for members, and shown the hypocrisy of the leadership. Political neutrality is at odds with the long-term prosperity of the Watchtower organisation and will no doubt be another area in which the rules loosen over coming decades.
Written 2009. Latest update April 2021.
Paul Grundy 2005 - 2021