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On my reading of a Anton Gill's 1989 book "The journey back from hell", he speaks briefly about JWs in the concentration camps. According to Gill, one of the issues the Nazis had with this group was their unwillingness to do military service.

Videos like this and this by Amnesty International indicates that they still rather suffer the consequences of prison and difficulties in finding employment than do military service, at least in South Korea.

What would the consequences be for a Jehovah's Witness, from their religious organization, if they join a military? Would the person be excommunicated or disfellowshipped if this is found out?

(In case it makes a difference, I am asking about a scenario where the person is unrepentant.)

  • I've been putting off writing an answer for this, because I'm not aware of any precedent for disfellowshipping someone who joined the military and was unrepentant. Joining the military just isn't much of a temptation when your faith is strong enough for you to decide to get baptized. (By the way, unrepentance is always a requirement for disfellowshipping) – 4castle Dec 22 '17 at 23:54
  • @4castle, basically it came to me wondering if joining the military is an offense that qualifies for disfellowshipment from the community? – Ronnie Dec 23 '17 at 14:38
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    @Ronnie I don't think joining the military is a disfellowshipping offence in itself, because it's not a serious sin as described in the Bible (though they may commit a serious sin while in the military, like murder), but as Kris said, joining the military would be more of a resignation from being a Jehovah's Witnesses, since they're no longer giving whole-souled devotion to God's Kingdom. The person would be considered "disassociated" and would be treated as if they were disfellowshipped. – 4castle Dec 23 '17 at 16:25
  • @4castle That's a hard thing for a non JW and a vet to wrap one's head around. Doing what your vocation is well gives glory to God .. but I guess that's a topic for chat. – KorvinStarmast Feb 26 '18 at 16:13
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For one of Jehovah's Witnesses to be disfellowshipped, there must be evidence of two things:

  1. They have committed a serious sin (1 Cor. 6:9, 10; Gal. 5:19-21)
  2. They are unrepentant about it (Acts 26:20; Deut. 21:20, 21)

In the case of joining the military, the person would be putting themselves in a situation where they're much more likely to commit the serious sin of manslaughter or even murder, as well as the serious sins of "hostility," "brazen conduct," or "strife."

However, there's a much bigger issue with joining the military. It's a direct violation of the vow which all Jehovah's Witnesses make before baptism to give exclusive devotion to God's Kingdom (Deut. 6:15), not any of mankind's kingdoms. (Luke 4:5-8)

A person who chooses to join the military would be betraying God's Kingdom, and therefore it would be a resignation as one of Jehovah's Witnesses. This person would be considered "disassociated" rather than disfellowshipped, and at this point must be shunned by the congregation for the benefit of everyone. (1 Cor. 5:11; 1 John 2:19)

The reason that joining the military is such a big issue is because the military has objectives that are contrary to Bible teachings. These are the Bible teachings which apply most:

John 17:16 (NWT)

They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.

Isaiah 2:4 (NWT)

4 He will render judgment among the nations
And set matters straight respecting many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
And their spears into pruning shears.
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
Nor will they learn war anymore.

Revelation 19:17-21 (NWT)

17 I saw also an angel standing in the sun, and he cried out with a loud voice and said to all the birds that fly in midheaven: “Come here, be gathered together to the great evening meal of God, 18 so that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of military commanders and the flesh of strong men and the flesh of horses and of those seated on them, and the flesh of all, of freemen as well as of slaves and of small ones and great.”

19 And I saw the wild beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the one seated on the horse and against his army. 20 And the wild beast was caught, and along with it the false prophet that performed in front of it the signs with which he misled those who received the mark of the wild beast and those who worship its image. While still alive, they both were hurled into the fiery lake that burns with sulfur. 21 But the rest were killed off with the long sword that proceeded out of the mouth of the one seated on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh.

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    Not a JW, but just wondering what would be the JW position on a medic or a doctor who maybe joined the military to save lives, while refusing to take one? – David P Dec 23 '17 at 21:08
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    @DavidP Some JWs did that during WW1, but it has since then been clarified that it isn't permissible, since it isn't showing neutrality. Of course, many Witnesses work in the medical field for their secular jobs, but they wouldn't get involved in warfare. – 4castle Dec 23 '17 at 21:14
  • How can a JW associate with the Watchtower organization? – Ben Mordecai Feb 26 '18 at 16:54
  • @BenMordecai I'm not sure I understand your question, but the Watchtower organization is run by Jehovah's Witnesses. (Perhaps you would like to ask a new question?) – 4castle Feb 26 '18 at 18:23
  • If exclusive loyalty belongs to the kingdom how can the watchtower demand loyalty? – Ben Mordecai Feb 26 '18 at 18:25
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This obviously doesn't get into the difficulty for a service member to actually get out of the service in any rapid way, even for the repentant JW. However, through my studies and conversations with JWs, I believe a JW would be kicked out and shunned for joining the military, repentant or not. Since WT doctrine says politics, and any association to it including military service, is against Jehovah's will, the JW would be disfellowshipped.

Even though they don't actually mention military service, the only articles i can find sort of relating to this are Why Don’t Jehovah’s Witnesses Go to War? and Why Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Maintain Political Neutrality?

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    Being repentant but still being contractually obligated to the military is an interesting situation. The person couldn't possibly be reinstated until they've left the military, but they would still have the ability to exercise repentance by doing their best to obey God's commandments to the extent possible until their release from duty. The reader of hearts would always give forgiveness if their repentance is genuine. – 4castle Dec 26 '17 at 18:22
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Here is a brief summary of the official view of Jehovah’s Witnesses and joining the military:

”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.” (Frequently Asked Questions)
https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/why-dont-you-go-to-war/ https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/political-neutrality/

”Christians chose to remain politically neutral. No injustice or threat to them or the country in which they lived justified taking part in military action.” (Watchtower October 2009) https://www.jw.org/en/publications/magazines/wp20091001/Is-War-Compatible-With-Christianity/

Would a baptised Jehovah’s Witness who joined the military and who was unrepentant be expelled from the congregation? This is the only guidance to be found in literature available to the public:

”Two factors—which must coincide—result in the disfellowshipping of one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. First, a baptized Witness commits a serious sin. Second, he does not repent of his sin." Source: 15 April 2015 Watchtower article on disfellowshipping baptized members

”If, however, a baptized Witness makes a practice of breaking the Bible’s moral code and does not repent, he or she will be shunned or disfellowshipped. The Bible clearly states: “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”—1 Corinthians 5:13.” https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/shunning/

Although the official line is that they

”do not interfere with those who choose to serve in the armed forces”

that does not apply to baptized Witnesses. Taking up arms, going to war and taking life would be considered a serious sin.

Baptized Witnesses can be disfellowshipped for failing to repent from any serious sin that involves disobeying the Governing Body and the elders – even for speaking out against or challenging or questioning the authority of their leaders. Because the organization literature does not specifically state that joining the military is a serious sin does not mean to say it would result in being expelled (and then shunned). Another example would be if a baptized Witness accepted a blood transfusion and was unrepentant. Nowhere in the literature does it say that person would be disfellowshipped. All that is now said is that it is a matter of personal conscience. The reality, however, is different.

https://www.jw.org/en/search/?q=grounds+for+disfellowshipping https://www.jw.org/en/publications/magazines/w20150415/disfellowshipping-a-loving-provision/ https://www.jw.org/en/publications/magazines/w20061115/accept-jehovahs-discipline/

Additional information: Shepherd the Flock of God (2011) Elder’s Manual - Disfellowship Offences include:

No 2 – Apostasy which includes rebellion against Jehovah’s organization – Watchtower 63 7/1

No 19 – Non-neutral activities (involvement in politics and the military) – Pay Attention to Yourselves and to All the Flock (ks91-E) p.96

No 20 – Military service and non-military service including working casual work (certain civilian work has recently been made a conscience matter Watchtower 96 5/1 p.20) – Pay Attention to Yourselves and to All the Flock (ks91-E) p.96

No 17 – Loose conduct which includes disrespect to elders or contempt in a judicial meeting - ks91-E pp.93, 96, w83 3/15 p.31, w73 9/15 p.574, it-2 p.264, ks91-E p.93, w83 3/15 p.31, w73 9/15 pp.574-6, w97 9/1 p.14, it-2 p.246.

  • that's interesting...do you have a reference for where in JW literature it says that baptized witnesses can be disfellowshipped "for speaking out against or challenging or questioning the authority of their leaders"? – coderworks Feb 25 '18 at 13:51
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    @coderworks Galatians 5:19-21 describes "hostility, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, dissensions, divisions, sects" as sins that can be serious enough to remove a person from God's Kingdom. Brotherly love would cause a person to resolve a disagreement with an elder by discussing it with the elder(s) privately, not by spreading harmful gossip. The most relevant citation would be Chapter 14 of the "Organized to Do Jehovah's Will" book (which is not available online). – 4castle Feb 25 '18 at 15:47
  • @ coderworks: From ‘Shepherd the Flock of God’ (2011) Elder’s Manual - Disfellowship Offences include: No 2 - Apostasy which includes rebellion against Jehovah’s organization – Watchtower 63 7/1 No 17 - Loose conduct which includes disrespect to elders or contempt in a judicial meeting - ks91-E pp.93, 96, w83 3/15 p.31, w73 9/15 p.574, it-2 p.264, ks91-E p.93, w83 3/15 p.31, w73 9/15 pp.574-6, w97 9/1 p.14, it-2 p.246. – Lesley Feb 26 '18 at 15:26

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