The Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) often ask Christians why they are involved in the politics of this world. Many times JWs will point this out as “proof” that they are the only true Christians on earth. Of particular interest to the JWs is the fact that at times Catholics on one side of a war have killed Catholics on the opposite side of a war. For example, they write the following in their Watchtower magazine:
"For example, Jesus said of his followers: “They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.” (John 17:14) However, many professed Christians are deeply involved in the political affairs of this world, even being involved in bloody wars. Rather than conform to Bible standards, many people would wish the Bible to conform to their own standards." - December 15, 1996 Watchtower page 7
Does true Christianity require that one refrain from participating in just wars?
The JWs will maintain that the wars of the Israelites are all just wars because God was guiding them. This is consistent with what Christians also believe. What is interesting is a certain civil war that Jehovah Himself approved of even though it resulted in Israelites killing other Israelites. In Judges Chapter 19-21, is the story of a concubine that was raped and murdered by a group of men who belonged to the tribe of Benjamin. The leaders of the tribe of Benjamin would not give these men over to the people of Israel for justice. This resulted in a civil war that almost destroyed the tribe of Benjamin. Each time the people of Israel asked Jehovah if they should fight their Israelite brothers of the tribe of Benjamin, the answer was yes. Obviously the issue of bringing these men to justice was so important to Jehovah that he approved of this civil war where Israelites fought Israelites.
The JWs response to this may be that since the time of Christ, Christians are forbidden from participating in wars. However, the New Testament scriptures are silent on this issue. In fact, John the Baptist states the following to those Roman Soldiers that approached him:
“Also, those in military service would ask him: “What shall we also do?” And he said to them: “Do not harass anybody or accuse anybody falsely, but be satisfied with YOUR provisions.”- Luke 3:14 New World Translation
In addition, the JWs will not allow individuals who are involved in military service from becoming a member of their religious organization. Now, the JWs claim to be the reestablished true Christian organization on earth patterned after the Church of the Apostles. If the JWs are patterned after the Church of the Apostles, the question becomes did the Apostles require soldiers who wanted to become Christians to leave their military assignments before becoming Christian? Here is the answer from the JWs’ own Bible:
“Now in Caes•a•re'a there was a certain man named Cornelius, an army officer of the Italian band, as it was called, a devout man and one fearing God together with all his household, and he made many gifts of mercy to the people and made supplication to God continually. Just about the ninth hour of the day he saw plainly in a vision an angel of God come in to him and say to him: “Cornelius!” The man gazed at him and, becoming frightened, said: “What is it, Lord?” He said to him: “Your prayers and gifts of mercy have ascended as a remembrance before God. So now send men to Jop'pa and summon a certain Simon who is surnamed Peter. This man is being entertained by a certain Simon, a tanner, who has a house by the sea.” As soon as the angel that spoke to him had left, he called two of his house servants and a devout soldier from among those who were in constant attendance upon him, and he related everything to them and dispatched them to Jop'pa.” Acts 10:1-8
Notice that Cornelius is an army officer. When Peter arrives does Peter ever make an issue of Cornelius being in the army? Notice the following:
“On the day after that he entered into Caes•a•re'a. Cornelius, of course, was expecting them and had called together his relatives and intimate friends. As Peter entered, Cornelius met him, fell down at his feet and did obeisance to him. But Peter lifted him up, saying: “Rise; I myself am also a man.” And as he conversed with him he went in and found many people assembled, and he said to them: “YOU well know how unlawful it is for a Jew to join himself to or approach a man of another race; and yet God has shown me I should call no man defiled or unclean. Hence I came, really without objection, when I was sent for. Therefore I inquire the reason that YOU have sent for me.” Accordingly Cornelius said: “Four days ago counting from this hour I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, when, look! a man in bright raiment stood before me and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been favorably heard and your gifts of mercy have been remembered before God. Send, therefore, to Jop'pa and call for Simon, who is surnamed Peter. This man is being entertained in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ Therefore I at once sent to you, and you did well in coming here. And so at this time we are all present before God to hear all the things you have been commanded by Jehovah to say.” At this Peter opened his mouth and said: “For a certainty I perceive that God is not partial, but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him. He sent out the word to the sons of Israel to declare to them the good news of peace through Jesus Christ: this One is Lord of all [others]. YOU know the subject that was talked about throughout the whole of Ju•de'a, starting from Gal'i•lee after the baptism that John preached, namely, Jesus who was from Naz'a•reth, how God anointed him with holy spirit and power, and he went through the land doing good and healing all those oppressed by the Devil; because God was with him. And we are witnesses of all the things he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem; but they also did away with him by hanging him on a stake. God raised this One up on the third day and granted him to become manifest, not to all the people, but to witnesses appointed beforehand by God, to us, who ate and drank with him after his rising from the dead. Also, he ordered us to preach to the people and to give a thorough witness that this is the One decreed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone putting faith in him gets forgiveness of sins through his name.” While Peter was yet speaking about these matters the holy spirit fell upon all those hearing the word. And the faithful ones that had come with Peter who were of those circumcised were amazed, because the free gift of the holy spirit was being poured out also upon people of the nations. For they heard them speaking with tongues and magnifying God. Then Peter responded: “Can anyone forbid water so that these might not be baptized who have received the holy spirit even as we have?” With that he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they requested him to remain for some days.- Acts 10:24-48
Notice that Peter NEVER makes an issue of Cornelius being an army officer. In fact, Cornelius receives the gift of the Holy Spirit and is even baptized into the Christian faith while being an army officer.
How the Early Christians Viewed the Human Governing Authorities
St. Paul makes it clear that the human governing authorities receive their position from God and that Christians should be obedient to such authority. The JWs agree with this position while also believing that the human governing authorities are agents of the devil.
Notice how St. Paul describes the situation:
“Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities, for there is no authority except by God; the existing authorities stand placed in their relative positions by God. 2 Therefore he who opposes the authority has taken a stand against the arrangement of God; those who have taken a stand against it will receive judgment to themselves. 3 For those ruling are an object of fear, not to the good deed, but to the bad. Do you, then, want to have no fear of the authority? Keep doing good, and you will have praise from it; 4 for it is God’s minister to you for your good. But if you are doing what is bad, be in fear: for it is not without purpose that it bears the sword; for it is God’s minister, an avenger to express wrath upon the one practicing what is bad. 5 There is therefore compelling reason for YOU people to be in subjection, not only on account of that wrath but also on account of [YOUR] conscience. 6 For that is why YOU are also paying taxes; for they are God’s public servants constantly serving this very purpose. 7 Render to all their dues, to him who [calls for] the tax, the tax; to him who [calls for] the tribute, the tribute; to him who [calls for] fear, such fear; to him who [calls for] honor, such honor.” Romans 13:1-7 New World Translation
Notice that St. Paul refers to the human governing authorities as God’s minister and servants who have the right to express their wrath on the one practicing what is bad. You might ask your JW friend if they would call a police officer to assist them in a situation with a criminal and if they would be grateful to a police officer that may have used force to free them from this situation. The answer will probably be yes. If this is the case, then the JW has just said that they approve of force for the protection of the innocent and this is a just reason for entire nations to go to war.
Love Others as Christ Loved Us
The number one commandment of the Christian message is to love others as Christ has loved us. A particularly powerful scripture is the admonition that St. Paul gives to Christian husbands:
“Husbands, continue loving YOUR wives, just as the Christ also loved the congregation and delivered up himself for it,”-Ephesians 5:25 New World Translation
Notice that a Christian husband is called upon by the Lord, following the example of Christ, to give up his life in service to his wife. This means that there could be a time when a husband may have to put his life in danger to physically defend his wife from some assailant. In other words, a husband is morally obligated to do all he can to defend his wife from harm. Of course using physical force would be a last resort for a Christian but if there is no other way to save one’s wife, then lethal force would not only be appropriate, an argument could be made that it is an obligation to do so if one wanted to truly fulfill their Christian role as a Husband.
Likewise, Christians are called by God to love our neighbors as ourselves. This means that Christians are obligated to do what they can to protect the innocent from harm. (See Matthew Chapter 25) Sometimes this can mean having to use physical force even lethal force to protect the innocent.
Furthermore, as Romans 13 demonstrates those who receive governing authority by God are obligated by God to provide security to their subjects and using force is one of the tools God has given them to use in providing this force.
The Christian Tradition of a Just War
Since the time of St. Augustine the “just war doctrine” has been a part of Christian thought as Christians have become more of a majority religion. (Link to Just War Doctrine) The Catechism of the Catholic Church emphasizes that resorting to war must be a last resort and that all other avenues to resolve the conflict should be exhausted. Notice the following from the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs 2307-2317:
2307 The fifth commandment forbids the intentional destruction of human life. Because of the evils and injustices that accompany all war, the Church insistently urges everyone to prayer and to action so that the divine Goodness may free us from the ancient bondage of war.
2308 All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war. However, "as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self- defense, once all peace efforts have failed."105 2309 The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. the gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time: - the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain; - all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; - there must be serious prospects of success; - the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. the power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition. These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the "just war" doctrine. The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good. 2310 Public authorities, in this case, have the right and duty to impose on citizens the obligations necessary for national defense. Those who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace. 2311 Public authorities should make equitable provision for those who for reasons of conscience refuse to bear arms; these are nonetheless obliged to serve the human community in some other way. 2312 The Church and human reason both assert the permanent validity of the moral law during armed conflict. "The mere fact that war has regrettably broken out does not mean that everything becomes licit between the warring parties." 2313 Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely. Actions deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes, as are the orders that command such actions. Blind obedience does not suffice to excuse those who carry them out. Thus the extermination of a people, nation, or ethnic minority must be condemned as a mortal sin. One is morally bound to resist orders that command genocide. 2314 "Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation." A danger of modern warfare is that it provides the opportunity to those who possess modern scientific weapons especially atomic, biological, or chemical weapons - to commit such crimes. 2315 The accumulation of arms strikes many as a paradoxically suitable way of deterring potential adversaries from war. They see it as the most effective means of ensuring peace among nations. This method of deterrence gives rise to strong moral reservations. the arms race does not ensure peace. Far from eliminating the causes of war, it risks aggravating them. Spending enormous sums to produce ever new types of weapons impedes efforts to aid needy populations; it thwarts the development of peoples. Over-armament multiplies reasons for conflict and increases the danger of escalation. 2316 The production and the sale of arms affect the common good of nations and of the international community. Hence public authorities have the right and duty to regulate them. the short-term pursuit of private or collective interests cannot legitimate undertakings that promote violence and conflict among nations and compromise the international juridical order. 2317 Injustice, excessive economic or social inequalities, envy, distrust, and pride raging among men and nations constantly threaten peace and cause wars. Everything done to overcome these disorders contributes to building up peace and avoiding war: Insofar as men are sinners, the threat of war hangs over them and will so continue until Christ comes again; but insofar as they can vanquish sin by coming together in charity, violence itself will be vanquished and these words will be fulfilled: "they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."
Have the JWs Always Been Neutral?
Interestingly, while the JWs claim that they are the only true Christians on earth and use their neutrality in politics and non-participation in wars as proof, the fact of the matter is that JWs have not always been neutral.
For example, the Bible Students (what the JWs were known as prior to 1931), actually taught that there was no scriptural prohibition against military service. Here is what was published in the Watchtower:
“Notice there is no command in the Scriptures against military service. Obedience to a draft would remind us of our Lord’s words, “If any man compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.” The government may compel marching or drilling, but cannot compel you to kill the foe. You need not be a good marksman.” August 1st 1898 Watchtower page 231
Responding to the JWs’ Criticisms of Just Wars
When responding to the JWs always do so in a spirit of mildness. Never get angry even when the JWs’ responses might be rather offensive. Emphasize that war is a terrible thing and that it should only be used as a last resort but that there are some situations where the decision to go to war is just.
Also tell your JW friends that you look forward to the time when Jesus returns and war will be done away with in the new heavens and new earth. (See Revelation 21:1-4)
Jehovah's Witnesses and Just Wars By Jeffery Schwehm