Our View of Authority
Relationship to the State
Following the examples set by Jesus and first-century Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not share in the politics or wars of any nation. Our stand of Christian neutrality is well documented in history. We firmly believe that we must beat our “swords into plowshares” and not “learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4) At the same time, we recognize the authority of nations to raise armies and defend themselves, and we do not interfere with what others choose to do.—John 18:36.
We are neutral in political matters, not favoring one group over another, because we look to God’s Kingdom for the resolution of mankind’s problems. However, we cooperate with whatever lawful government is in power, and we strive to live in peace with our fellowman.
Respect for authority
We believe that it is our Christian responsibility to be model citizens. For this reason, we honor and respect governmental authority. Only on those rare occasions when a government demands what is in direct conflict with what God commands do we decline to comply. Our publications and public ministry encourage everyone to be law-abiding.—Matthew 22:17-21; Acts 5:29; Romans 13:1-7.
We will respectfully refuse to obey any government that requires an action forbidden by God’s higher law. For example, during the Nazi era, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany peacefully refused to support Hitler’s military campaign or his massacre of millions of innocent civilians. Jehovah’s Witnesses “by the hundreds and thousands went into concentration camps and [even] died because they declined service in war and refused to fire on humans,” said theologian Martin Niemöller.
International law recognizes a citizen’s right to freedom of thought and belief and his right to peaceful, conscientious objection. When discussing war crimes and “crimes against humanity,” the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg determined that “individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience imposed by the individual state.”
Responsibility as citizens
The Bible commands Christians to obey the law, pay taxes, show honor to government officials, and be willing to do good work in the community. (Mark 12:17; Romans 13:7; Titus 3:1) The Bible even refers to government authorities as “God’s public servants” because of the beneficial services provided by government agencies. (Romans 13:6) We try to be model citizens, not just to avoid punishment but because it is the right thing to do and is pleasing to God.
Because of our honesty, our neutrality, and our reputation for being hard workers, many Witnesses are valued employees in civil service positions for various governments. We also provide a service to the State through our programs of Bible education, which teach nonviolence and good morals, and through other activities, including literacy classes, disaster relief, and pastoral assistance to families.