QUESTION: I’ve been watching the development of the story out of Russia where Jehovah’s Witnesses are evidently being accused of extremism by the Russian government, which is surprising since I thought Jehovah’s Witnesses hold to neutrality and have since their beginning, not even taking up arms against others. How is it, then, that they are being accused of extremism, considering most people associate extremism with terrorism? And is this a modern-day parallel to the view that the Romans took against Christians in the first century, which led to their persecution —first at the hands of their Jewish brothers and sisters and then by the world power at the time, the Roman empire?
Jehovah’s Witnesses have a long history of persecution in Russia, going back to the early days of the Bible Students and the Czar. (The 2008 Yearbook recounts the history of of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia.) I was surprised to learn in the yearbook that after the Bolshevik Revolution Vladimir Lenin had actually advocated for complete religious freedom, which probably did not sit well with the Russian Orthodox Church. Unfortunately, though, after Lenin’s death in 1924 Stalin suppressed all religion as the “opiate of the masses.” After WWII the KGB began a relentless campaign against Jehovah’s Witnesses, sending them off to the gulags and exiling them to Siberia. But then in 1991 the USSR was officially dissolved. Jehovah’s Witnesses gained legal recognition and were allowed to openly preach and meet together. Sadly, their newfound freedom is proving to be short-lived. A few years ago Moscow banned the preaching work and blocked jw.org from the Russian Internet.
As for the charge of “extremism,” I think most people realize the accusation that Jehovah’s Witnesses constitute a threat to society is absurd. But, it seems that “extremism” can be redefined to mean a lot of different things. Some ex JW’s are being called as witnesses for the prosecution to testify that the Administrative Center for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia is a cult that brainwashed them. They cite the usual things such as disfellowshipping, the discouragement of higher education, etc. One disgruntled ex JW claimed that they were not permitted to marry or have children, which, of course, is a lie.
Keep in mind Jesus was falsely accused. Some lyingly testified that Jesus taught his followers not to pay taxes to Caesar. Others twisted Jesus’ words claiming that he would rebuild Herod’s temple in three days. Some lyingly accused Jesus of making himself God’s equal. The Jews accused Paul of fomenting an apostasy and of stirring up a sedition. Nero accused Christians of arson, of starting the conflagration that destroyed much of Rome. And on and on it goes. Really, if one were to document all of the false accusations made against Christians from the time of Christ to the present it require a book of many hundreds of pages.
There is another aspect though. The Governing Body is surely aware that the Russian Orthodox Church is behind the move to suppress what it views as competitor religions —Jehovah’s Witnesses being the foremost. But if Jehovah’s Witnesses are banned in Russia that will present a doctrinal challenge for the Watchtower. That is because the Watchtower has boasted that no worldly power —especially false religion, aka Babylon the Great —can have any success against Jehovah’s people.
So, there is much more at stake than the freedom of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. The credibility of the Watchtower is on the line. If the ban is successful it will call into question the entire 1914 doctrine and the notion that Babylon the Great fell in 1919. And perhaps that is God’s will.