In what year did Rutherford forbid military service?

by jwfacts 14 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • jwfacts

    I am trying to find out when military service was forbidden.

    Russell allowed participation in war and military service.

      "There is no command in the Scriptures against military service. ? It would be quite right to shoot, not to kill." Zion's Watch Tower 1898 Aug. 1 p.231 (see also jv p.191)

      "There could be nothing against our conscience in going into the army. Wherever we would go we could take the Lord with us, the Captain of our salvation, and wherever we would go we could find opportunities to serve him and his cause." Zion's Watch Tower 1903 Apr. 15 p.120
    Since 1996 military service has been allowed again.
      "What, though, if the Christian lives in a land where exemption [from military service] is not granted to ministers of religion? Then he will have to make a personal decision following his Bible-trained conscience. ? What, though, if the State requires a Christian for a period of time to perform civilian service that is a part of national service under a civilian administration? ? That is his decision before Jehovah." Watchtower 1996 May 1 pp.19,20
  • cabasilas

    I believe the post-96 view is that civilian service might be acceptable, but not military.

    As to Russell...I believe there are quotes where he said a Bible Student in the army would only "terrify the enemy" instead of kill them. So, his acceptance of warfare was quite limited.

    The 1918 fiasco (imprisionment of JFR and the members of the board of directors) revolved around this issue too. They had been accused of discouraging support for the War and the military. So, I really think this pre-dates Rutherford.


    As Leavingwt said in another thread..."Ignore what they say and watch what they do." If you join the military you will get the boot no matter what they say about conscience matters..I believe it's all legal terms to protect the hive.

  • jwfacts

    You are correct Cabasilas, it only applies to civilian service where it is allowed as a substitute for military service.

    The reason that I ask is because the 1943 Swiss Declaration of Facts regarding Germans in the concentration camps makes the statement:

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    We have at no time presumed and at no time shall do so, to view the performance of military duty, as laid down by your statutes, as an offence against the principles and aspirations of the association of Jehovah's Witnesses.

    This seems to be quite dishonest, so I was looking for information written prior to that date stating that military duty is an offence.

  • cabasilas

    That may take some searching to find. I think after the 1918 imprisionment they were extremely cautious in what they said in public, and even in private. But, perhaps others have some info?

    Still, the 1934 statement is quite dishonest.

  • Leolaia

    Well, this is from the correspondence from Bethel to conscripts drafted for military service in 1917 and 1918:

    "There is only one of two things you can do -- go to war, or refuse to take a part in the conflict in any way and receive the consequences.... If you feel you cannot have anything to do with the present war, you will refuse and let the officials take their course. You probably will be confined or shot....Probably the Lord wants some of His saints in prison for a while to tell the element they meet there that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand and soon all their sufferings will cease ... If you are shot because of the stand you take for the Lord, that will be a quick method of entering His glorious presence". -- JF Rutherford

    "We can serve only one Master. If we obey the earthly captain we must disobey our Heavenly captain. If we obey our Heavenly captain, we must disobey our earthly captain, one of the two, which shall we obey?....If we believe that this war is the last one, and that all the kingdom must go down, so the kingdom of Christ be established, should we have any part in the military service?....If the General or anyone else should say to me, 'Well, we understand your position, we know that you conscience will not permit you to do wrong, to do to fight, etc. but we will give you some work that would not be war.' I would answer, 'That there was nothing that it was not war! To me was all War!' And if he should say, 'I will give you a hospital work, would you like to do that?' I would answer 'No'! And if he say to me, 'Why you would not work in the hospital!' I would answer thus: 'Because to me is all WAR!' " -- John DeCecca

  • Leolaia

    Previously alternative service was an option:

    "If, therefore, we were drafted, and if the government refused to accept our conscientious scruples against warfare (as they have heretofore done with 'Friends,' called Quakers); we should request to be assigned to the hospital service or to the Commissary department or to some other non-combatant place of usefulness; and such requests would no doubt be granted. If not, and we ever got into battle, we might help to terrify the enemy, but need not shoot anybody" (Zion's Watch Tower, 1 July 1898, p. 204).
    "Obedience to the laws of the land might at some time oblige us to bear arms, and in such event it would be our duty to go into the army, if unable in any legal and proper manner to obtain exemption, but it would not be our duty to volunteer. We are soldiers in another army, which battles not with carnal weapons, and whose contests are from an entirely different standpoint and in an entirely different spirit. There could be nothing against our consciences in going into the army. Wherever we would go we could take the Lord with us, the Captain of our salvation, and wherever we would go we could find opportunities to serve him and his cause. If it came to the point of battling we above all would be obliged to draw the line when commanded to fire, and we could not, in harmony with the divine program, fire upon a fellow-creature with the intention of taking his life. If we fired we should be obliged to fire either into the air or into the ground....The governor of the state has the right, under the laws, to call for and to conscript, if necessary, soldiers for the defense of the state and of the nation; and if such requisition be enforced upon us we must render our dues and take our share in the trials and difficulties of the service, whatever they may be" (Zion's Watch Tower, 15 April 1903, p. 120)

    It looks like the first move to the later policy was in the 1 September 1915 Watch Tower, where Russell began to wonder aloud whether this suggested course is the right one, and whether it amounts to a compromise of Christian principles.

  • jwfacts

    Thanks Leolaia. Rutherford's letter seems to indicate it was still a conscience matter, DeCecca's is starting to be more adamant that civilian duty was wrong. Was John DeCecca in Bethel advising JW conscripts? Do you know of any official Watchtower articles on the subject around that time.

  • jwfacts

    I just found this in The New Creation (1904) pp.594-595, allowing military service. The same text was still included in the 1916 edition.

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    True, government may not always exempt those opposed to war from participating in it, although a very gracious provision of this kind has in the past been made for some who, like ourselves, believe war to be unrighteous; viz., the Friends or Quakers, exempted from military duty under specially generous laws. We may be required to do military service whether we vote or not, however; and if required we would be obliged to obey the powers that be, and should consider that the Lord's providence had permitted the conscription and that he was able to overrule it to the good of

    ourselves or others. In such event we would consider it not amiss to make a partial explanation to the proper officers, and to request a transference to the medical or hospital department, where our services could be used with the full consent of our consciences--but even if compelled to serve in the ranks and to fire our guns we need not feel compelled to shoot a fellow-creature.

  • MrMonroe

    Tony Wills, in A People For His Name (pg 100) says:

    Volume Seven (of the Studies in the Scriptures) opposed the war. It termed patriotism "a certain delusion" and "in reality murder, the spirit of the very Devil", and "a narrow-minded hatred of other people". It also quoted a great deal from Reverend John Haynes Holmes who was viciously persecuted at about the same time for advocating pacifism. At about the same time General Bell of Long Island visited Rutherford to get his followers to submit to military service. Rutherford refused to do so. He wrote letters of advice to Bible students in the camps advising them not to don a uniform nor do anything even closely connected to the military. These letters were intercepted by the censors. All these factors added up to considerable opposition to the Bible students by the authorities.

    Wills doesn't cite his source for the letters, but they may be the same as those quoted by Leolaia.

    Also see WT March 1918, page 6221-2 reprints:

    We are not against the Government in any sense of the word. We recognize the Government of the United States as the best government on earth. We recognize that the governments, being political and economic institutions, have the power and authority, under the fundamental law, to declare war and draft their citizens into military service. We have not the slightest disposition to interfere with this, nor to speak against it so far as the governments’ power or authority is concerned. We recognize that it is the duty of every citizen to obey the laws of the land, and the duty of every citizen, who can conscientiously do so, to participate in the defense of the country. All should be respectful to officers of the law. (Acts 23:5) The law the land recognizes that there are Christian people who cannot engage in military service without doing violence to their conscience. Hence the Congress of the United States, in passing the Selective Draft Act of May 18, 1917, inserted a clause providing that certain ones, under certain conditions, should not be compelled to engage in combatant military service. We hold that the members of our SOCIETY come within the purvue of this section of the law and are entitled to its protection. And none of our members, so far as we know, have done more than to claim the benefit of the provisions of this Act of Congress.

    On May 15, 1918, (WT 6261R) an article "Non-Combatant Service Defined" explained how Bible students could claim exemption from the draft. The article concluded:

    It is not the province of THE WATCH TOWER to tell any one what he should or should not do; but we can and do say that every Christian should be obedient to the law. The order of the President is a part of the Selective Draft Law. Where one in good faith has applied to the Local Board for classification and the Board has not issued to him a certificate granting non-combatant service, then when called he should readily respond to the call by going to the cantonment and presenting himself to the commanding officer, who, under the President’s order, has the power and authority to issue to him a certificate assigning him to non-combatant service. The President further provides that it is the privilege of such conscientious objectors to request assignment to some branch of non-combatant service aside from the Medical Department.

    Rutherford may have written letters to Bible Students advising them against going to war, but in official publications, certainly at that time, he was much more circumspect, advising them only to take advantage of the legal avenue of claiming to be a conscientious objector.

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