Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Russia, Public Opinion, And Jehovah's Witnesses

Perhaps you’ve heard about the Russian government’s decision to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist group. What you may not know are all the details around the Kangaroo court sessions that were held that pitted the Ministry of Justice against the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses. (One definition of “Kangaroo Court” is “a court held by a legitimate judicial authority who intentionally disregards the court's legal or ethical obligations.”) That was pretty much the case in Russia. Repeatedly the judge asked the Ministry of Justice to produce evidence of charges. They had none. Nor, from what I’ve heard, were the legal representatives of the religion permitted to submit crucial evidence. The Ministry of Justice was just going through the motions – his mind was made up to exert his power regardless of the court’s decision.

Now a week has gone by and the world seems to have picked up on the news. Some are elated by the news and reacted by taking hate-filled action against the religion. (Obviously, if the participants in these violent actions had a religion, it did nothing to teach them tolerance and kindness.) Others have reservations. One especially surprising cautionary note came from the Catholic Church who wonders which religion would be next.

Then came this article that struck me as a somewhat “knee-jerk” op-ed from Africa (??). It was written by Princewill Nimi, a “creative writer.” I think the title of his article alone was odd. It is true that we believe Jesus’ words that anyone claiming to be Christian should hold the conviction that they “are no part of the world,” but in what sense? We are not like religions that live as hermits or seclusionists. We are the neighbors of your community. We are both professionals in numerous trades and practices, and we are also “unskilled laborers.” For the greater part, we live in the community that we try to reach. (A very small group actually work as foreign missionaries, but that is the exception.) Personally, before qualifying to work in the Information Technology field, I held a number of “unskilled” jobs – everything from a gardener, to a warehouseman, to short-order cook, and more.

But the title of Princewill’s article seemed to take a different path in that it proclaimed we simply do not belong in the world. I don’t think he was taking the viewpoint that the world simply doesn’t deserve us. But it came across that we do not belong here; we are unwelcome here. If so, that is hate speech. The first three paragraphs of his article certainly seem to lend the reader to that conclusion. In those paragraphs, he mentions our public ministry. After doing this for over 40 years, I’m well aware of how some feel about that. However, I have also noted over the decades that some eagerly look forward to our visits and appreciate the kindness we extend. It might also be noted that the early followers of Christ did the same thing – they proactively went out to reach people. But we don’t stop there. We also participate in disaster relief for both members of our faith and those in the community who are not Jehovah’s Witnesses.

In the 5th paragraph, Princewill states “In line with their belief system that indicts the government of this world as being under the control of Satan.” I guess I need to ask how you would interpret the following:

John 8:43-47. Ask yourself, “Why would Jesus say that the Jewish religious leaders of his time had a “father” in the devil?” (Yes, they were murderously inclined, but it went deeper.)

John 14:30. Ask yourself, “If the ruler ‘of this world’ was his Father, God Almighty, why would Jesus state that ‘he has no hold on me.’”?

John 18:36. Here, Jesus was talking to Pilate, the man who would send Jesus to his death. Jesus was just asked if he was a king. Jesus’ response was that his kingdom rulership was not part of “this world.” Ask yourself, “What ‘world’ was Jesus talking about”?

2 Corinthians 4:4. In this passage, we find the answer to the question above. It is Satan that is the ruler of this world. It is that “world,” ruled by Satan, that Jesus is no part of. That is why Jesus stated all the above.

1 John 5:19. Finally, we have the clincher. John spells it out, with no need to “interpret” the meaning. The world is “in the power of the wicked one.” It is this world that we are separate from, want nothing to do with. All the governments belong to Satan. But God has not given up on mankind. In time, just as Princewill stated, God will destroy Satan so that (as so many Christians pray) God’s Kingdom “will come on earth just as it is in heaven.

Princewill covered many other points that I just don’t have room to cover here. There is only one minor point I’d like to reply to. Toward the end of his article, he asked: “Aren’t the Jehovah’s Witnesses extremists of some sort?” I could have developed a very long response but the day following my reading his article, I came across an article stating “When Jesus healed in the synagogue on the Sabbath, the ruler of the synagogue had a very good point: there were six other days of the week Jesus could have healed (Luke 13:14). None of the people he healed had a life-threatening condition that couldn’t have waited until the next day. But Jesus had to violate the propriety of the sacred worship space in order to teach that “the Sabbath is made for humanity not humanity for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27), a principle which is still lost on Christians for whom holiness and respectability are synonymous. He had to destroy respectability in order to give dignity to afflicted people who had been the object of others’ shame because their afflictions were deemed to be God’s judgment against them.” So Jesus himself (both in his days and in our modern times) was/is perceived as illegal. That recalled to my mind how the early disciples were essentially labeled seditionists, and the public witnessing about Jesus as annoying chattering. As far as our not being involved in governmental activities, besides the scriptural proofs mentioned above, history itself testifies that has always been the case of true Christians.

So, rather unwittingly, Princewill classified us among the early true Christians who were also perceived as odd outsiders. Personally, I consider it an honor to be so labeled.

1 comment:

  1. Cannot agree more with your last few sentences, Bart. I think that the reason people view us as "seditionists" is because of fear of the unknown and unfamiliar -- and I will qualify that. I don't think the world had seen a religion completely neutral. Of course, this wasn't always the case. But my point is that we are something unique in that sense, and we aren't some small, obscure cult isolated on a compound in Texas that no know cares about (or knows exists).

    One thing that may perplex thinking people is how we can have so much success, with no seat at the political table? How can we have so much success and have no desire to court friends at that table?

    Perhaps only through God's blessing? No, they are simply not allowed to consider that option.