Practices of Jehovah's Witnesses

From Academic Kids

Practices of Jehovah's Witnesses include activities common to many churches, such as evangelism, gathering for group worship and study, and donating money to support their religious activities, but not by tithing. Donations are voluntary.



As their name implies, Jehovah's Witnesses are well known for their intensive witnessing, or, proselytizing, efforts. Witnesses generally refer to their evangelizing activities by terms which such as: "preaching," "disciple-making", "service," "the ministry," and, more formally, but less frequently, "evangelizing." All members who are healthy enough are strongly encouraged to go from door to door, participating in this activity to the extent his circumstances allow, every week if at all possible. Even children are encouraged to partipate, accompanied by their parents. Witnesses who spend 70 hours per month in witnessing activities are known as pioneers.

Witnesses have in the past used a wide variety of methods to spread their faith, including information marches, where members wore sign boards and handed out leaflets, to sound cars, and syndicated newspaper columns and radio spots devoted to sermons. Between 1924 and 1957, the organization operated a radio station, WBBR, from New York.

Currently, door-to-door evangelizing for the Witnesses involves endeavouring to engage persons in discussion of religious matters and offering literature about their faith, with the goal of starting a Bible study with anyone who shows an interest. The production of literature is supported by donations. No financial or material rewards are offered for conversion.

Kingdom Halls and Assembly Halls

Jehovah's Witnesses call their meeting places "Kingdom Halls" instead of churches, to indicate that the gathering of the congregation is what is important, not the physical location itself. In general, the buildings are functional in character.

In many countries, the Witnesses have "Assembly Halls" where about twenty congregations meet three times a year for one-to three-day assemblies. In countries and areas without such "Assembly Halls" the thrice-annual assemblies are still held but in borrowed or rented facilities suitable for the purpose such as public auditoriums. Once a year Jehovah's Witnesses come together at larger assemblies called "District Conventions" and every fifth year "International Conventions" with visiting delegates from a number of foreign countries usually lasting 3-4 days are held in selected cities. Some "International Conventions" number into the hundreds of thousands with the largest ever gathering held in New York in 1958 at the Yankee Stadium and Polo Grounds with a peak attendance exceeding 250,000.

The great majority of the Kingdom Halls and Assembly Halls as well as the Watchtower Society's headquarters and branch office facilities around the world have been constructed by the Witnesses themselves freely contributing their own time. The needed finances come exclusively from voluntary contributions made by Jehovah's Witness members according to each one's means and inclination.

Congregations do not pass a collection plate around or directly solicit money at meetings. Witnesses have a culture of donating money privately and voluntarily, as each individual sees fit. A report of the congregation's finances is read to the congregation each month. Most Kingdom Halls have one or more contribution boxes for the local congregation's operating expenses and another for the worldwide work of Jehovah's Witnesses (which includes the printing of literature, organization of conventions, supporting missionaries and disaster relief).


Congregation meetings are held three times a week. All meetings are generally synchronous, so that all congregations are studying the same material at the same meeting.

The Theocratic Ministry School

On a weekday evening, the 'Theocratic Ministry School' is held. The School is designed to train Publishers to be more effective in their ministry. The publishers are trained in how to use the Bible. Over the course of a few years the entire Bible is discussed and part of it is read aloud. The publishers are encouraged to read the rest personally. Then practical training is given on how to give a short public talk, doing Bible research, and presenting a material to people one might meet in the public ministry. Enrollment is voluntary and open to all congregation members in good standing. Students in the school receive assignments on a rotating basis. At each meeting, six students give brief speeches on preselected Bible topics, and an instructor comments on the speech and offers suggestions for improvement.

The Service Meeting

This is followed by the 'Service Meeting', a training program for their preaching work. The Theocratic Ministry School is an hour in length, the Service Meeting is forty-five minutes. This meeting gives the publishers practical instructions that will help them to become better qualified ministers and more efficient in carrying on their house-to-house ministry (Luke 10:1-16; Acts 4:23-31). The program provides a variety of methods for instructing and teaching. There are talks, demonstrations, question-and-answer parts, interviews and discussions between two or more persons. Our Kingdom Ministry, a monthly publication of the Jehovah's Witnesses, outlines the material to be covered during the Service Meeting.

The Book Study

On a separate weekday evening, the 'Congregation Book Study' is held, for which Witnesses meet in small groups of about 10 to 15, usually in the private homes of members. They discuss a single Bible topic in depth. One of the books or brochures published by Jehovah's Witnesses is used to direct the question-and-answer Bible discussion. The Congregation Book Study has a typical duration of 60 minutes. Most foreign-language groups usually begin within this format. Later, the body of congregation elders may approve of adding other meetings gradually. The Bible with the aid of a study book or a brochure prepared by Jehovah's Witnesses is used. The material usually has some questions prepared, and a discussion is encouraged starting with these questions.

The Public Meeting

A qualified elder or ministerial servant delivers a discourse on a Bible based subject. The speaker may be from the local congregation or from another congregation, usually nearby. This Public Meeting is generally held on Sundays, but can be on another day if that is more convenient for the congregation. This talk is particularly directed toward interested members of the public that are not Jehovah's Witnesses.

The Watchtower Study

The Bible is studied with the aid of articles in the Watchtower magazine, a publication prepared by Jehovah's Witnesses. Each publisher is encouraged to answer in line with the Society's thoughts. This is followed by a discussion of an article from 'The Watchtower' magazine. These meetings usually last 2 hours from opening prayer to closing prayer.

Meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses open and close with prayer. Hymns, known to the Witnesses as 'Kingdom Songs' are usually sung at meetings held in the Kingdom Hall, as well as at assemblies and conventions.

Memorial of Christ's Death

The Witnesses attend the celebration of The Lord's Evening Meal, or Memorial, only once a year. This is the only celebration commanded for Christians in the Bible. Jesus said: "'Keep doing this ... in remembrance of me.' For as often as (Greek, hosakis meaning "every time that" or "whenever") YOU eat this loaf and drink this cup, YOU keep proclaiming the death of the Lord, until he arrives." (1 Corinthians 11:25, 26) Of those who attended the Memorial in 2004, 8,570 persons partook of the eating of the unleavened bread and the drinking of the wine that Jesus commanded his disciples to do in rememberance of his death.

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that those 8,570 are the remaining remnant of Christians anointed by God. (See also Kingdom of God) They believe these are the same as the literal 144,000 referenced at Revelation 14:1 that are going to heaven to serve with Jesus as co-rulers and priests in his Kingdom (Revelation 5:9, 10). The distinction of being a member of this group is not conferred upon one of Jehovah's Witnesses by any human. They believe that an individual who feels he or she has received this calling would unmistakably be made aware of this by being anointed with the Holy Spirit. This "anointing" does not make one subject to a higher standard or qualify one for greater privileges; it reflects a different reward awaiting these Christians after death.

The celebration of the Memorial of Christ's Death proceeds as follows: In advance of the Memorial, Jehovah's Witnesses invite anyone that may be interested to attend this special night. The week of the Memorial is generally filled with special activity in the ministry. A suitable hall, for example a Kingdom Hall, is prepared for the occasion. The Memorial begins with a song and a prayer. The prayer is followed by a discourse on the importance of the evening. A table is set with wine and unleavened bread. Jehovah's Witnesses believe the bread stands for Jesus Christ's body which he gave on behalf of mankind. The wine stands for his blood which redeems from sin. They do not believe in transubstantiation or consubstantiation. Hence, the wine and the bread are merely symbols, but they have a very deep and profound meaning for Jehovah's Witnesses. A prayer is offered and the bread is circulated among the audience. Only those who are "anointed" partake. Then another prayer is offered, and the wine is circulated in the same manner. After that, the evening concludes with a final song and prayer.

In contrast to the practice of Communion common to other Christian denominations in which all believers partake, not all partake at a Witness Memorial. Jehovah's Witnesses believe there are two distinct classes of believers. The "anointed" and the "other sheep". Jehovah's Witnesses believe that only those who are the "anointed" are commanded by Jesus Christ to partake of the bread and wine. Typically a Memorial Celebration is attended almost entirely by the "other sheep" given the small number of "anointed" remaining (remnant). It is not uncommon for the bread and wine to be passed and have no partakers.


Although in general respecting the law of the land, Jehovah's Witnesses do not salute flags, sing national anthems, or pledge allegiance to states or nations. This is not intended as disrespect for any particular nation or for governments; Witnesses recognize the legitimacy of political leaders, believing that they are the 'superior authorities' referred to by the Apostle Paul in Romans 13:1, and are therefore to be respected. Indeed, in many places, the Witnesses have been commended for their law-abiding stance. They make a distinction, however, between a show of respect and what they consider to be a manifestation of worship. Jehovah's Witnesses feel that saluting a flag or singing a national anthem crosses the dividing line between the two. This is because they believe they owe allegiance solely to Jehovah (God); that he alone may be worshipped.

There are many scriptures that have had a bearing on the attitude of Jehovah's Witnesses toward involvement in political issues and activities. One key scripture is Jesus' statement:

  • John 17:16: "They are no part of the world, just as I [Jesus] am no part of the world."

Neutrality is defined as:

"The position of those who do not take sides with or give support to either of two or more contending parties. It is a fact of ancient and modern-day history that in every nation and under all circumstances true Christians have endeavored to maintain complete neutrality as to conflicts between factions of the world. They do not interfere with what others do about sharing in patriotic ceremonies, serving in the armed forces, joining a political party, running for a political office, or voting." - (Reasoning from the Scriptures, pages 269-270)

In this regard, Jehovah's Witnesses feel that their position is similar to that of the early Christians, who refused to sacrifice a few drops of wine or a few grains of incense to the Roman emperors, and were therefore executed.

Saluting Flags

Among the results of this belief in the United States are several cases of Constitutional law regarding the Pledge of Allegiance. The early cases establishing that government schools cannot mandate the Pledge, or the salute to the flag, all involved Witness students punished or threatened for their refusal.

Some courts in other countries have also protected the Witnesses' right to abstain from patriotic ceremonies. For example, in 1986, the Supreme Court of India held that no one can be forced to join in the singing of the national anthem, if the person has a genuine, conscientious religious objection.

In a decision handed down on 1 March 1993, the Philippine Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of Jehovah's Witnesses in a case involving Witness youths who were expelled from school because they respectfully declined to salute the flag.

Military Service

Additionally, Jehovah's Witnesses refuse to serve in military organizations, citing the principle they call Christian Neutrality. They understand Jesus' words in John 17:14, "They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world," to mean that they should take a neutral stand concerning political and military controversies. They further cite Jesus' words that "all those who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Matthew 26:52) and the prophecy of Isaiah (chapter 2, verse 4): "Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war any more."

Historically, this refusal to join the military has created serious difficulties for Jehovah's Witnesses, particularly in war time. During World War II, young Witnesses in a number of countries were executed for their conscientious objection to war; even in more democratic countries they were generally refused exemption from conscription and have often been imprisoned.

Currently, there is less conflict between Witnesses and governments over this matter, as many countries have abolished conscription, whereas others have recognized the views of conscientious objectors and thus instituted the right to alternative civilian service, which Witnesses generally accept. In certain republics of the former Soviet Union, however, as well as in Singapore, young Witness males continue to serve prison terms in connection with this issue.

During World War II Jehovah's Witnesses were persecuted by the Allies and the Axis powers for refusing to participate in these powers' respective war efforts. (See Jehovah's Witnesses and the Holocaust).

Jehovah's Witnesses are not pacifists, that is to say, they are not opposed to the use of violence in all circumstances. They recognize, for instance, the legitimacy of the wars between the ancient nation of Israel and surrounding nations, and point out that passages in both the Old and New Testaments refer to God using warlike methods at times.

Political Activity

In harmony with the principle of Christian neutrality, referred to above, Jehovah's Witnesses are discouraged from voting in elections, but not prohibited from voting. (Watchtower 1 Nov 1999. p.28) They do not however run for any political office. On the other hand, they do not seek to prevent or discourage others (non-Witnesses) from doing so, if they so desire.


Jehovah's Witnesses are a close-knit community and as such many are not inclined to socialize with non-members, particularly in localities where they are treated with hostility.

Since a Witness has social interactions while on the job or at school, he is encouraged to use these times for witnessing to non-members. Such contacts are often used as opportunities for starting conversations about their beliefs, "informal witnessing," as they call it. Some of the training and study that goes on during the three weekly meetings involves the proper way to witness to a non-member. It must be noted, though, that even though Witnesses are looking for opportunities to speak about their faith, they are ordinary people who can live without always talking religion. But it must be understood that their religion is the most important thing in their life.

Each congregation operates under the oversight of a body of elders. Social events deemed to be wholesome are encouraged, since they strengthen the bonds of the congregation. However, if elders deem a social event to be inappropriate then it is likely that some action would be taken to preserve the group's identity and values, likely bringing a scripture or elsewhere published spiritual information to the attention of those in need of it.

It is not, however, the role of elders to make decisions for the congregation's members. In 1995, The Watchtower gave the following direction to elders: "In matters of conscience, therefore, elders do not make decisions for those under their care. They explain the Bible principles involved in a matter and then allow the individuals involved to use their own powers of reason to make a decision. This is a serious responsibility, yet it is one that the individual himself must bear." (6/15, page 22.)

Coming from different backgrounds and living different lives, Christians highlight different things. Things that are not directly regulated in the Bible are matters that each person himself must decide on. Some have a very hard view with a conscience that can allow for almost nothing, while some have a more forgiving attitude.

Paul brought up this discussion in Romans 14:1-9: "Welcome the man having weaknesses in his faith, but not to make decisions on inward questionings. One man has faith to eat everything, but the man who is weak eats vegetables. Let the one eating not look down on the one not eating, and let the one not eating not judge the one eating, for God has welcomed that one. Who are you to judge the house servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for Jehovah can make him stand. One man judges one day as above another; another man judges one day as all others; let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day observes it to Jehovah. Also, he who eats, eats to Jehovah, for he gives thanks to God; and he who does not eat does not eat to Jehovah, and yet gives thanks to God. None of us, in fact, lives with regard to himself only, and no one dies with regard to himself only; for both if we live, we live to Jehovah, and if we die, we die to Jehovah. Therefore both if we live and if we die, we belong to Jehovah. For to this end Christ died and came to life again, that he might be Lord over both the dead and the living."

Sociologist Rodney Stark notes: "Jehovah's Witnesses are expected to conform to rather strict standards, [but] enforcement tends to be very informal, sustained by the close bonds of friendship within the group. That is, while Witness elders can impose rather severe sanctions (such as expulsion and shunning) on deviant members, they seldom need to do so -- and when they do, the reasons for their actions will be widely-known and understood within the group. Moreover, even if leaders are not always very democratic, the path to leadership is. As a result, Witnesses tend to see themselves as part of the power structure, rather than subjected to it. It is this, not 'blind fanaticism' (as is so often claimed by outsiders and defectors), that is the real basis of authority among Witnesses." (Journal of Contemporary Religion) (

(A note on Jehovah's Witnesses and democracy: As of 1932, Jehovah's Witnesses are not a democratic, but a theocratic organization. Appointment of elders and overseers in the congregation is a decision made by the elders already serving there, in conjunction with regional overseers and the national branch office, there is no election process and no vote of members is taken. However, in some situations, where local law requires the congregation to be an incorporated society or similar legal entity, congregation members may be asked to confirm their approval of a decision, often involving the spending of (donated) congregation funds.)

Although many young witnesses do engage in casual recreational sports, the association discourages its members from extensively participating in athletic activities to avoid giving undue importance to sports or recreation. Members are discouraged (but not prohibited) from watching or participating in violent sports.

Minor members are strongly discouraged from courting, which, the Witnesses believe, is for those considering marriage only and should be avoided until both members are prepared for marriage. Little research has been done on the average age at which Witnesses marry, but former and current members agree that witnesses are more likely to marry at an early age - often between their late teens and early twenties. A 1994 survey in which all Jehovah's Witnesses in the Federal Republic of Germany were invited to participate, revealed that only 4.9% of them are divorced or separated, and many of these were already in this state before becoming Witnesses.

Disfellowshipping (Excommunication)

A person might be disfellowshipped (similar to, but not the same as excommunication) from the congregation of Jehovah's Witness for serious violations of their Bible-based moral standards, including:

The congregation Elders try to help erring ones be restored to spiritual health. They recognize that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23). Repentant wrongdoers can often remain in the congregation and benefit from God's forgiveness. Elders also believe they have a scriptural obligation to uphold Jehovah's reputation and keep the congregation clean of wrong conduct. Individuals that continue to practice such things show by their conduct that they do not really want to be a part of the Christian congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses.

Disfellowshipping is not automatic, even when a person is accused of one of the above transgressions. Allegations must be substantiated by at least two witnesses (unless the person confesses voluntarily). In these cases, a committee of elders examines the evidence and seeks to determine whether the person has ceased the questionable activity and repented. If they find that this is not the case, the person is likely to be disfellowshipped.

Sometimes Jehovah's Witnesses will class someone as "disassociated" if they have practiced the conduct mentioned and a judicial hearing is not possible.


Jehovah's Witnesses practice shunning (ignoring) after disfellowshipping and disassociation for several reasons:

  • They feel that to tolerate violations of the Bible's standards in their ranks would bring reproach on God’s name and organization.
  • Shunning keeps the congregation free of possible corrosive influences (leaven, as the Apostle Paul calls it in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8)
  • They hope that such a serious measure will motivate the person in question to re-evaluate his course of action, repent and rejoin the organisation. (2 Corinthians 2:6,7)

Shunning is also practiced when written letters of disassociation have been submitted by an individual, thus Jehovah's Witnesses refer to these ones as "disassociated".

Shunning, as practiced by the Witnesses, takes a less extreme form than that of the Old Order Amish. Because Witnesses' social life generally revolves around association with fellow believers, being shunned can isolate a member in a very powerful way. Being disfellowshipped can be devastating if everyone in a member's social circle participates in the shunning. Witnesses are not, however, expected to shun family members living in the same household. In these cases, social contact and normal family ties continue as before, with the exception that the remaining Witness members of the family will not share in Bible study, prayer, or discussions of faith-related matters with the disfellowshipped member.

The organization discourages association with disfellowshipped family members living outside the home, but recognizes the need for a certain degree of contact, for instance, to discuss necessary family business, or to provide care for aged parents who are disfellowshipped. In practice, most disfellowshipped persons continue to have a limited degree of association with family members who remain in the organization.

As for disfellowshipped workmates or more distant relatives, a cordial relationship held at the minimum when religion is not discussed will be maintained. Parents, though, are encouraged to continue to study the Bible with their minor children who have been disfellowshipped.

Readmittance after Disfellowshipping

Disfellowshipping is not necessarily permanent. If a disfellowshipped person repents of his former conduct, he may be received back into the congregation. No specific period of time is prescribed before this can happen; in most cases, at least six months pass, in many cases, considerably longer. Statistics would appear to show that about one third of those disfellowshipped eventually return to the group.

Note that if Witness policy changes result in previously forbidden acts no longer being cause for disfellowshipping, those individuals disfellowshipped for the act are not automatically reinstated. An individual is disfellowshipped because his or her actions and/or attitude demonstrate that he or she is unrepentant, not simply because the individual has been found by the congregation to have committed a serious sin. Their repentance (or the lack thereof) is the real issue, not a change in policy.

In Defense of the Practice

Jehovah's Witnesses point to a number of Bible passages to defend their practice of disfellowshipping, most notably 1 Corinthians 5:10-13, which reads: "I am writing you to quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man. ... "Remove the wicked [man] from among yourselves." and 2 John 10, 11: "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, never receive him into your homes or say a greeting to him. For he that says a greeting to him is a sharer in his wicked works."

In February 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Witnesses' right to disfellowship those who fail to live by the group's standards and doctrines. In so deciding, it upheld the ruling of a lower court that: "Shunning is a practice engaged in by Jehovah’s Witnesses pursuant to their interpretation of canonical text, and we are not free to reinterpret that text . . . The defendants are entitled to the free exercise of their religious beliefs . . . The members of the Church [she] decided to abandon have concluded that they no longer want to associate with her. We hold that they are free to make that choice."

For a detailed explanation of the practise from a Witness viewpoint, see the Official Watchtower Website. (

Medicine and Health

The Witnesses' teachings in general promote a healthy lifestyle. They believe that smoking and recreational use of drugs is incompatible with Christian principles. (2 Corinthians 7:1) Drinking alcohol is viewed as permissible, and most Witnesses do drink a little. (Psalm 104:15; 1 Timothy 5:23) Drunkenness, however, is not permitted. (1 Corinthians 6:9,10; Ephesians 5:18)

Abortions are forbidden by their faith, on the basis that human life starts at conception. (Exodus 21:22,23; Psalms 139:1,16) "There might be a situation in which, at the time of childbirth, a choice has to be made between the life of the mother and that of the child. It would be up to the individuals concerned to make that choice. In many lands, however, advances in medical procedures have made this situation very rare." (Awake! 1987, 9/8, page 28.) They are not against contraception, as long as the contraceptive method works by preventing conception, as opposed to being an early abortifacient abortion.

Moral, Legal and Philosophical Considerations

Jehovah's Witnesses view life as God's gift represented by blood and accordingly want the best medical care possible. But they also believe that their eternal life prospects rest with Jehovah God and they would not want to compromise that by violating what they understand to be God's laws respecting blood.

Witnesses do not reject sound medical treatment and in general avail themselves of the full range of medical care. Since 1945, however, Jehovah's Witnesses have refused to receive homologous or autologous blood transfusions. This is because they consider blood to be sacred, representing life. They point to Bible texts such as Acts 15:29, which enjoins Christians to "abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity."

How Can Blood Save Your Life? (

Regardless of the medical considerations, Jehovah Witnesses advocate that physicians should uphold the right of a patient to choose what treatments they accept or do not accept.[1] ( Accordingly, US courts tend not to hold physicians responsible for adverse health effects that a patient incurred out of his or her own requests.[2] ( However, the point of view that physicians must, in all circumstances, abide by the religious wishes of the patients is not acknowledged by all jurisdictions (for one example, see France).

The problems are clearly very serious, particularly in the case of minor children. In the United States, many physicians will agree to explore and exhaust all non-blood alternatives in the treatment of children at the request of their legal guardians. However some state laws require physicians to administer blood transfusions to minors if the transfusion is judged (in their opinion) necessary to prevent immediate death or loss of function of a major organ.

Bloodless Surgery: Advances in Modern Medicine

While Jehovah's Witnesses refuse blood for religious reasons, more and more non-Witness patients are choosing to avoid blood because of risks such as AIDS, non-A non-B hepatitis, and immunologic reactions. As a result, bloodless surgery and transfusion alternatives are becoming more commonplace. For example, the Pennsylvania Hospital has researched and developed a medically sound and religiously sensitive program. See PennHealth - Bloodless Medicine ( Worldwide there are 106 medical centers to date that provide a bloodless medicine program, with 99 in the United States alone [3] (

Thousands of physicians around the world are now successfully treating patients without using blood transfusions. Many medical facilities offer bloodless medicine and surgery as a special service for adult and pediatric patients who wish to avoid blood transfusions, whatever the reasons for their choice, even in such invasive operations such as open-heart surgery and total hip replacements [4] (, , [5] (, [6] (, [7] (

For example, a major study published in both the Journal of the American Medical Association and the British Medical Journal The Lancet showed that in many cases transfusions were actually not as necessary as healthcare providers often believe. A summary of the study states:

[E]xamining the case records of nearly 2,000 adult Jehovah's Witnesses who underwent surgery without transfusions at 12 hospitals, including Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (, Dr. Carson reported that most patients did very well. In another study comparing patients who did and did not receive blood across a data base of 8,787 hip surgery patients, Dr. Carson and his colleagues reported that transfusions increased the rate of complications, but did not improve survival rates. [Emphasis added]

Jehovah's Witnesses have produced several video documentaries showing the benefits of nonblood techniques. These feature interviews with many leading surgeons and prominent physicians in this field of medicine from around the globe. [8] (

However, in cases of certain medical emergencies when bloodless medicine is not available, blood transfusions may seem to be the only available way to save a life. Such situations are obviously very serious. In those instances, Witnesses ask conscientious doctors to provide the best alternative care possible under the circumstances, respecting the beliefs and consciences of their Witness patients.

Although Witnesses refuse transfusions of stored autologous blood, the use of minor blood fractions, such as Factor VIII, is considered to be a matter for personal choice, as is the use of dialysis machines and cell salvage, a procedure which recycles blood during operations.

Although they believe their stance regarding blood transfusion to be based on the Bible, rather than on medical concerns, many Witnesses are highly critical of those who attempt to paint a picture of "life-giving blood transfusions" versus "death due to refusing a transfusion." They emphasize that no surgeon gives guarantees and point out that 'dying after refusing blood' is not necessarily the same as 'dying because of refusing blood'; in many situations no-one can state with certainty whether the patient would have survived if he had received blood. Such 'either-or' reasoning, they argue, ignores other possibilities, such as the use of blood substitutes, meticulous surgical techniques, as well as the many dangers of blood transfusion, including mismatch of blood types, blood-borne diseases such as AIDS and Hepatitis, and the more frequent recurrence of cancer in patients who have been transfused during operations.

To facilitate surgery without violating their belief against transfusions, the Governing Body has set up "Hospital Liaison Committees" to enroll doctors and surgeons who will practice "bloodless surgery" for Witness patients. Currently there are some 1600 such committees in 200 different countries of the world, and over 110,000 doctors and surgeons who have agreed to treat Jehovah's Witnesses without making an issue of blood transfusions.

"Hospital Information Services", a department of the World Headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses researches medical literature on the subject and translates medical-journal articles into dozens of languages. These may be sent by fax to any Hospital Liaison Committee. The provision of the most up-to-date information about a certain condition has often obviated the need for a blood transfusion. Recently, the Hospital Information Services received an award from the Society for the Advancement of Blood Management (

The Watch Tower Society has published extensive information about the medical matters in general and blood transfusion in particular.

Their magazine Awake! frequently carries articles about disease and health-related matters. Although various treatments are discussed for information purposes, such articles invariably include a statement to the effect that they are not endorsing or recommending one type of medical treatment or therapy above another.

Many Witnesses carry a "Hospital Care Card" or an "Advance Medical Directive/Release card" ("No Blood" card) and, in some countries, a health-care durable power of attorney (DPA) form, outlining their wishes in case of emergencies. They also give this information to medical personnel prior to surgeries or other medical procedures that might involve the blood issue, organ transplants, or a decision whether or not to sustain their lives under any circumstances.

Minor children have an "Identity Card" outlining the wishes of the parents or guardians, and including information on how to contact a parent, relative, or somebody responsible for the child.


The Witnesses' position on vaccination has changed over the recent decades.

Witness literature first mentions vaccination in 1921, and stated in 1923: "Vaccination, summed up, is the most unnatural, unhygienic, barbaric, filthy, abhorrent, and most dangerous system of infection known. Its vile poison taints, corrupts, and pollutes the blood of the healthy, resulting in ulcers, syphilis, scrofula, erysipelas, tuberculosis, cancer, tetanus, insanity, and death."—The Golden Age magazine, 3 January 1923 p.214.

Later, the Watchtower Society's position changed. In 1952, it stated: "The matter of vaccination is one for the individual that has to face it to decide for himself. Each individual has to take the consequences for whatever position and action he takes toward a case of compulsory vaccination, doing so according to his own conscience and his appreciation of what is for good health and the interests of advancing God's work. And our Society cannot afford to be drawn into the affair legally or take the responsibility for the way the case turns out."—Watchtower magazine, 15 December 1952 p.764

Organ Transplants

The Witnesses' position on organ transplants has also changed over the recent decades.

Concerning organ transplants and autopsies, The Watchtower of 15 November 1967, page 702, stated: "Is there any Scriptural objection to . . . accepting organs for transplant from such a source? Humans were allowed by God to eat animal flesh and to sustain their human lives by taking the lives of animals, though they were not permitted to eat blood. Did this include eating human flesh, sustaining one's life by means of the body or part of the body of another human, alive or dead? No! That would be cannibalism, a practice abhorrent to all civilized people. . . Those who submit to such operations are thus living off the flesh of another human. That is cannibalistic. However, in allowing man to eat animal flesh Jehovah God did not grant permission for humans to try to perpetuate their lives by cannibalistically taking into their bodies human flesh, whether chewed or in the form of whole organs or body parts taken from others."

In 1980, the same magazine wrote that some "sincere Christians" felt that the Bible did not rule out medical transplants of human organs. It said: "Clearly, personal views and conscientious feelings vary on this issue of transplantation. It is well known that the use of human materials for human consumption varies all the way from minor items, such as hormones and corneas, to major organs, such as kidneys and hearts. While the Bible specifically forbids consuming blood, there is no Biblical command pointedly forbidding the taking in of other human tissue. For this reason, each individual faced with making a decision on this matter should carefully and prayerfully weigh matters and then decide conscientiously what he or she could or could not do before God. It is a matter for personal decision. (Gal. 6:5) The congregation judicial committee would not take disciplinary action if someone accepted an organ transplant." (15 March 1980, page 31.)

It is interesting to note how this and similar changes affect individuals. Some are upset by the changes, while others see it as evidence of a progressive organization.

Disaster Relief

Disaster relief is an important part of being a Witness. The organization of such relief is taken care of by the president of the governing body in collaboration with a committee headed by him. (James 2:15-17) One of the Society's branch offices may be asked to take care of the need. The prime focus is on helping fellow believers, although others also receive assistance. Hebrews 13:16 says: "Moreover, do not forget the doing of good and the sharing of things with others, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased."

The French Branch Office of Jehovah's Witnesses operates a non-governmental organization known as AidAfrique, which provides material help to Witnesses in Africa after disasters. During the war in the former Yugoslavia, Witnesses from Austria and Germany provided material assistance to fellow believers in Sarajevo, as well as other localities, some risking their lives to drive the aid truck through the war zone. Until not long ago, the Swedish branch specifically provided assistance to Congo-Kinshasa. Witness literature occasionally publishes reports on the progress of such efforts.

Literacy Programs

Jehovah's Witnesses offer literacy programs in countries where there is a need. For example, Witness literacy classes in Nigeria between 1962 and 1994 were attended by upwards of 25,000 persons. In the same country, the literacy rate among Witnesses is over 90%, in contrast to the average of 68% for the population in general.

For this purpose, two booklets have been produced: Learn to Read and Write (1958 in Spanish) and Apply Yourself to Reading and Writing (1983 in French; 1997 in English).

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