Since the Russian Supreme Court on April 20 declared the Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist group, its members have faced increasing harassment from both authorities and suspicious neighbors.
And last week, for the first time since the decision, a Jehovah’s Witness has been not only detained by police, but jailed by a judge.
Since the Russian Supreme Court labeled Jehovah’s Witnesses an “extremist” group, vandals have targeted followers and their banks accounts have been frozen. Stones were thrown at a St. Petersburg assembly hall, and someone tried to burn the Moscow home of a Jehovah’s Witness to the ground, a church spokesman said.
On July 4th I will be attending the annual party at my son and daughter-in-law’s home. They will be serving up smoked chicken and spare ribs while fireworks from neighboring towns inscribe a nearly 360° circle around their backyard. While we are waving our flags with differing degrees of enthusiasm, one member of my family will not be with us: my sister the Jehovah’s Witness. As much as we’ve tried to persuade her that the holiday is just an excuse for the family to get together, she will not give succor to patriotic fervor. By partaking of our celebration she feels that she risks having her attendance misinterpreted as an endorsement. For Jehovah’s Witnesses, the trouble with patriotism is twofold: 1) it tempts us to equate God and nation, and 2) it provides a sacred cover for violence.
God and nation are not the same, my sister believes. When a government’s demands come into conflict with God’s, Witnesses obey God. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus emphasized love of neighbor and service to others and that the early Christians refused to become soldiers and fight in wars. In emulation of that dedication to serve God and not governments, Witnesses not only refuse to celebrate national holidays but they are conscientious objectors to military service.
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — When it comes time for family study hour at Chad and Charlotte Tate's home in Huntsville, Ala., Evan, 18 months, is quick to grab her Bible and climb onto her seat at the table.
As Jehovah's Witnesses, the Tates believe it's never too early to help children begin learning the Bible.
"That's one of the things we really like about Jehovah's Witnesses," said Chad Tate, smiling as he watched his son, Tucker, 12, help boost his sister onto the table's bench. "We worship together and we study together as a family."
The small size of Kingdom Hall congregations, which are kept to around 100 members, emphasis on witnessing, and lack of paid clergy have helped Jehovah's Witnesses become one of the fastest growing faiths in the world.
Jehovah's Witnesses now have more than 1.1 million U.S. members and are one of the country's fastest-growing denominations, with personal evangelism required of all members.