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Dr. Sergey Igorevich Ivanenko, religious scholar and state advisor to the Russian Federation

OCTOBER 18, 2019
RUSSIA

Prominent Russian Religious Scholar Testifies on Behalf of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Saratov

On September 4, 2019, during the trial of six Jehovah’s Witnesses in Saratov, a well-known religious scholar and state advisor to the Russian Federation, Sergey Igorevich Ivanenko, was invited to testify under oath on behalf of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Dr. Ivanenko is the author of two scholarly works on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. The following excerpts were taken from the testimony he gave under oath:

The religious life and practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “One thing makes Jehovah’s Witnesses unique: They do not rely on strict rules or the authority of any particular leader, instead, they try to help adherents develop a Bible-trained conscience so that each individual can personally and voluntarily make decisions guided by the Bible.

“Jehovah’s Witnesses try to follow what is written in the Bible, in harmony with the principles set out by Jesus Christ and his disciples back in the first century of the Common Era.

“With respect to the joint profession of their faith as manifested in studying the Bible, answering questions on Bible topics and singing songs that are also based on Bible texts, it is clear that Jehovah’s Witnesses make a concerted effort to base everything on the Bible.

“They also believe that a Christian’s religious life must include a congregation. Here too, Jehovah’s Witnesses analyze the New Testament, what is said about Jesus Christ and his disciples, his followers, and the early stages of the development of the Christian church. . . . Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that their religious life must take place as part of a religious congregation.

“They emphasize that disciples of Jesus Christ would be identified by the love they have among themselves.”

The preaching activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “Jehovah’s Witnesses are distinguished by their active preaching. I would put Jehovah’s Witnesses in first place when it comes to their preaching activity and zeal. Every believer must preach and spend some time preaching.

“They generally say, ‘Here is what the Bible says.’ A person can take the Bible and check for himself. If he agrees, he will join them. If he disagrees, he will not join them. There is no coercion.”

The accusation that Jehovah’s Witnesses are extremists. “Initially, certain publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses were declared extremist because experts claimed that these publications asserted that the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses is the only true religion and all others are false. Other denominations make similar claims, but in this case the accusations were made against Jehovah’s Witnesses. The assertions that their religion is the only true one and all others are false were interpreted as propaganda of religious superiority.

“From my standpoint as a religious scholar, a weakness of [the court decision] is that a person, if so inclined, could find assertions by any religious denomination that its religion is the only true religion and that all others are false or have been misled.

“To say that believers consider their religion to be the absolute truth and to consider other religions to be either absolutely false or mostly false certainly describes any religious person. It must be the case or one would be considered a hypocrite.

“However, to the extent that God’s laws do not conflict with secular laws, Jehovah’s Witnesses diligently and consistently strive to obey secular laws. There is a reason why there are so many reports of Jehovah’s Witnesses returning lost wallets and paying fines or taxes that they could evade. This is a conscious decision and I would not accuse them of any extremist pretense.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Bible. “Something unique about Jehovah’s Witnesses is that they use various Bible translations for study and in the ministry. They take great interest in distributing the Bible in different languages. In this respect, they are uniquely Bible-centric. Their Bible translation was actually declared extremist here . . . Perhaps those behind that decision thought that Jehovah’s Witnesses were exclusively attached to that translation and that Jehovah’s Witnesses would give up if it was eliminated from the game. That was a wrong assumption. Jehovah’s Witnesses see the value in each translation of the Bible.”

The use of legal entities for practicing faith. “The decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation shows that . . . the majority of congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses did not have a legal entity . . . Therefore, it is not accurate to say that every one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in a certain area is automatically a member of a legal entity.

“As for the legal entities . . . , I carefully studied their charters, in which there is no mention of overseers, elders, pioneers; such terms are not found therein. The charters usually refer to founders, a limited group of approximately ten persons. When it comes to purely canonical activity, they represent not the legal, but the canonical aspect of the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses. . . . Their activity remains the same regardless of country or region.

“Jehovah’s Witnesses took note of the [Supreme Court decision that liquidated their legal entities only] by trying not to violate this Supreme Court decision outright. At the same time, they continue their activity as a religious denomination that has not been banned by the authorities. They continue their activity as private individuals who are practicing their religion. From their perspective and from the standpoint of religious studies, their activity does not violate the Supreme Court decision.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses and blood transfusions. “The Bible says that ‘life is in the blood’; therefore, blood should never be used. The context is a dietary prohibition, but they interpret it more broadly. They believe that blood should not be used in any form, not in food (they do not eat blood sausage) nor as a blood transfusion. They do, however, accept minor blood fractions. It is up to each believer . . . By refusing a blood transfusion they are not choosing to die, instead, they want quality treatment and first-rate medical assistance. Blood transfusions, in their view and from various medical standpoints, come with a risk because a person can contract AIDS or something else. Bloodless surgeries provide a higher guarantee, and I see from examining the statistics that wealthy people often prefer to forgo blood transfusions because this guarantees better protection from infections and complications.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses and donations. “A person can choose not to make any donations. Theoretically speaking, one can actually attend meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses his whole life and never contribute a single ruble or dollar. It is up to each individual whether to contribute or not.”

Although Dr. Ivanenko authoritatively testified that Jehovah’s Witnesses are conscientious, law-abiding Christians, the court ignored his arguments and sentenced all six brothers to various terms of imprisonment.

As Russia continues to accuse our brothers falsely and imprison them unjustly, it remains our prayer that Jehovah bless our courageous and faithful fellow worshippers with the joy of his approval.—Psalm 109:2-4, 28.