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One of the things I've heard about Jehovah's Witnesses is that they've been persecuted by governments for their pacifism:

They do not work in industries associated with the military, do not serve in the armed services, and refuse national military service, which in some countries may result in their arrest and imprisonment. They do not salute or pledge allegiance to flags or sing national anthems or patriotic songs. Jehovah's Witnesses see themselves as a worldwide brotherhood that transcends national boundaries and ethnic loyalties. Sociologist Ronald Lawson has suggested the religion's intellectual and organizational isolation, coupled with the intense indoctrination of adherents, rigid internal discipline and considerable persecution, has contributed to the consistency of its sense of urgency in its apocalyptic message.

And from Persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in the United States

Throughout the history of Jehovah's Witnesses, their beliefs, doctrines and practices have engendered controversy and opposition from governments, communities, and religious groups. Many Christian denominations consider their doctrines to be heretical, and some religious leaders have labeled Jehovah's Witnesses a cult. Members of the religion have also met with objection from governments for refusing to serve in the military, particularly in times of war. Many individuals consider their door-to-door preaching to be intrusive. These issues have at times led to persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in various countries, including the United States.

Is their pacifism based on a rejection of all violence, or is it more a reflection of their beliefs about, and behaviour regarding governments?

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Both. The article Why Don’t Jehovah’s Witnesses Go to War? on JW.org addresses this well.

On the one hand, they are "neutral" toward governments:

Jesus’ disciples obey his command to be “no part of the world” by remaining strictly neutral in political matters. (John 17:16) They do not protest against military actions or interfere with those who choose to serve in the armed forces.

From chapter 7 of their booklet Keep Yourselves in God's Love, entitled Value Life and Blood as God Does, they say:

Because Jesus’ followers are “no part of the world” but remain strictly neutral toward its politics and wars, they avoid personal and community bloodguilt. * (John 15:19; 17:16) And in imitation of Christ, they do not respond violently when others persecute them. Rather, they show love for their enemies, even praying for them.

You can read more about their rationale for political neutrality here.

And on the other hand, they abstain from violence out of a devotion to "the love ethic of Jesus" (quoting again from Why Don’t Jehovah’s Witnesses Go to War?):

Jesus commanded his disciples to “love one another.” (John 13:34, 35) They would thus form an international brotherhood in which no member would ever wage war against his brother or sister. ...

The Encyclopedia of Religion and War states: “The earliest followers of Jesus rejected war and military service,” recognizing those practices as “incompatible with the love ethic of Jesus and the injunction to love one’s enemies.” Likewise, German theologian Peter Meinhold said of those early disciples of Jesus: “Being a Christian and a soldier was considered irreconcilable.”

Similarly, in the Watchtower article "Is War Compatible with Christianity?" they say, "Is it reasonable to think that a Christian could love and pray for his enemies while waging war against them?" And it says in Value Life and Blood:

Those who value life as Jehovah does and who want to keep themselves in his love also avoid violence in all its forms. Says Psalm 11:5: “He hates anyone who loves violence.” That text is more than a statement about God’s personality; it is a guiding principle for life.

There are exceptions to their generally anti-violence stance. They believe that it is just for governments to administer capital punishment to murderers. They permit violent self-defense in the case of your life (or loved ones' lives) being threatened, though they oppose it if it's merely in defense of property.

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Jehovah's Witnesses' pacifism is not predicated on their beliefs about government.

In other words, human violence of all kinds, whether government sponsored or not, are evil.

Jehovah's Witness believe literally

However, I say to you: Continue to love your enemies and to pray for those who persecute you,

Matthew 5:44

and

Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but yield place to the wrath; for it is written: "'Vengeance is mine; I will repay,' says Jehovah."

Romans 12:19

This is related to their views on government, in that human government cannot bring peace, and human violence cannot bring peace. In both cases, only the Kingdom of God is able to establish lasting peace, and we should not try to do it ourselves.

Peace on earth will come, not by human efforts, but by means of God’s Kingdom, a heavenly government ruled by Christ Jesus.

source

  • On top of that, they believe the world and all things in it are passing, so they do not become "part of the world" - or in other words, aside the obligation to work to sustain themselves wherever they live, they do not participate in the politics of mankind. One of those things being military positions. It would be interesting to know if any government position would be out of the question - like a forest ranger, for example. – Bubbles Sep 16 '14 at 1:29

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