When did the Jehovah's Witnesses officially become a "religion"?

by Wild_Thing 14 Replies latest jw friends

  • Wild_Thing
    Wild_Thing

    Most people know that Jehovah's Witnesses began as a publishing company promoting a restorationist type Christianity. People who were followers were called Bible Students.

    But when, exactly, did it change from a "movement" to a "religion"?

    And when did they start actually admitting they were a religion? I am guessing it is when they figured out claiming to be a religion would help them in the courts and in the pocketbook (no taxes).

    It seems like here in America, religions have a lot of leeway to get away with just about anything. Even John Oliver created an official religion/church, just to prove how easy it can be done. I have often wondered if it is as easy to start a religion in other countries. Something else to ponder on my day home sick from work.

  • sir82
    sir82

    There was a questions from readers in the early 50's which gave the green light to JWs calling themselves a "religion".

    Prior to that it was an important distinction, at least in the minds of JWs, to not call themselves a "religion". This was, for example, the basis for the old message "Religion is a snare and a racket", as in, "All those other groups are 'religions', and thus crooked, but we aren't a religion, so you should join us."

    "Jehovah's Witnesses" (capital W) used to be, officially, "Jehovah's witnesses" (small w). They didn't want people to construe a capital W as implying "the name of a religion". The change from "w" to "W" occurred on or about the same time as that early 50's QFR.

    The QFR gives lots of rigamarole and hand-waving - a true Fred Franz classic. But probably the real reason was as you suspect - some change in the US tax laws which made it more advantageous to officially name themselves as a "religion".

  • St George of England
    St George of England

    In the UK it was the Douglas Walsh trial and subsequent appeals. They lost these but were acknowledged as a religion from that point. 1954 I think. See "JW's in the Divine Purpose" book.

    George

  • pixel
    pixel

    What a mess of group-religion-organizazion-cult-sect!

  • Finkelstein
    Finkelstein

    It could be conceivable say it was when Rutherford took over the WTS 1916 from that point forward continuing established doctrines were drawn up, perhaps as a means to distinguished the organization separate and unique from the rest of Christendom.

    When Rutherford handed over the main bible scholarly work to F Franz (1941) this was another significant time for the JWS for he eventually added to those already set doctrines.

    The establishment of the DFing policy was another poignant milestone. (1950's)

    Perhaps when the WTS got so big and so many people were living off of the WTS and its operations that it became a signalling point that they cant let the organization collapse but they were also aware their doctrines which they professed were in fact weakly devised (1914) and not really biblicaly supported.

  • Finkelstein
    Finkelstein

    good point sir82

    The WTS needed a religious identity to uphold its tax free status.

    From then on in all Kingdom Halls built were given Tax free Religious buildings status.

    Even Rutherford made his lavish home (Beth Sarim) a tax free haven by giving the home and land title to the WTS.

    a relgoius compound similar to the way other religious institutions do to this day.

  • steve2
    steve2

    It could be conceivable say it was when Rutherford took over the WTS 1916 from that point forward continuing established doctrines were drawn up, perhaps as a means to distinguished the organization separate and unique from the rest of Christendom.

    Rutherford strenuously condemned ALL religions as false. He had no time for distinctions. To him, the word religion was tainted by Christendom. It was he who coined the infamous slogan, "Religion is a snare and a racket" and the early JWs (1930s) were instructed to deny theirs was a religion.

    Of course once this loathsome man passed, and tax exemptions were explicitly accorded to officially registered religious groups, the organization deftly adjusted its stand and it became "the true religion" in contrast to every other false religion.

    Money talks.

  • Finkelstein
    Finkelstein

    Good point Steve2

  • OrphanCrow
    OrphanCrow
    sir82: There was a questions from readers in the early 50's which gave the green light to JWs calling themselves a "religion".
    Prior to that it was an important distinction, at least in the minds of JWs, to not call themselves a "religion". This was, for example, the basis for the old message "Religion is a snare and a racket", as in, "All those other groups are 'religions', and thus crooked, but we aren't a religion, so you should join us."
    "Jehovah's Witnesses" (capital W) used to be, officially, "Jehovah's witnesses" (small w). They didn't want people to construe a capital W as implying "the name of a religion". The change from "w" to "W" occurred on or about the same time as that early 50's QFR.

    Yes. Funny how that happened.

    And not only did the JWs become a "religion" rather than a "corporation that prints books for like-minded people to study the bible"...but the disfellowshipping doctrine tightened up and came down hard at the very same time.

    (the following is a copy and paste from a post I made a few years ago)

    ...the boast of JWs everywhere, for many years, was that "We are not a religion". They were so proud that they could state that - it made them separate from the evil "Christendom". And they would proudly trot out a mantra that would claim that "The Watchtower Society is only a corporation that provides us with literature"...and "we are a group of like-minded people who study the Bible" or something along those lines. But the statement "We are not a religion" was still in use when I was JW kid in the 60s. (which was pretty confusing for a little kid to deal with) Along with the phrases - 'we don't have clergy" "we don't have churches" and the classic - that all important phrase that has so much legal meaning - "we are ALL each and every one of us - an 'ordained' minister". (that 'ordained' minister phrase, by the way, has everything to do with why they have 'kingdom ministry' schools that all the publishers have to attend - they have to maintain schools to train ordained ministers in order to be a 'religion' under tax laws)

    After the Second World War, The United States, like countries everywhere, had a huge war debt to deal with. So they made some changes in the tax laws. In 1950, the tax laws were changed and corporations lost their "tax bubble" and they saw increases in corporate tax.
    http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/legislation/1950.cfm

    All of a sudden it became far more advantageous to claim a tax status as a 'religion' rather than a corporation.
    The Watchtower had a problem. The Jehovah's Witnesses weren't established as a 'religion' and were usually viewed simply as a 'sect' or a 'cult'. But the IRS had come up with a brilliant idea as to how to evaluate 'religions' - they based it upon the notion of 'genuine belief'. ALL of the members who followed the beliefs of the Watchtower Society had to be proven that they held 'genuine belief' in the Watchtower Society's teachings in order for the Society to qualify as a religion so they could take advantage of the tax breaks afforded religions. And that was a big problem for the Society - how on earth could they do that with every single member of their following?

    In 1952 Nathan Knorr announced the official 'biblical' doctrine/policy of disfellowhipping. At that point the Society was able to establish 'genuine belief' in its followers.

    In the years to follow the rank and file gradually learned to call themselves a 'religion'. And the Watchtower got their tax exemptions as a religion. And the disfellowshipping practice still stands.


    The disfellowshipping policy/doctrine was largely put in place to satisfy the terms of the IRS in determining whether or not the Watchtower Society would qualify for a tax break and had little to do with genuine biblical doctrine.

  • Finkelstein
    Finkelstein

    The disfellowshipping policy/doctrine was only put in place to satisfy the terms of the IRS in determining whether or not the Watchtower Society would qualify for a tax break

    Interesting theory OrphanCrow but there were already a set of doctrines previously established before the 1950's and there were Kingdom Halls built before that time too.

    Its an interesting transition in how the WTS just became a religious publishing house to be eventually morphed into a fully recognized tax free religion.

    What can been seen too is that the more the WTS expanded itself, the more hard lined it became concerning its doctrines, ie. the DFing policy .

    A ruling head Kingdom was being established with all of its controlling power and leadership.

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