1, 2. (a) What principle has guided Jesus’ followers down to our day? (b) How have enemies tried to conquer us, and with what result?
JESUS stood before Pilate, the Jewish nation’s most powerful secular judge, and stated a principle that has guided His genuine followers down to our day. “My Kingdom is no part of this world,” he said. “If my Kingdom were part of this world, my attendants would have fought that I should not be handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my Kingdom is not from this source.” (John 18:36) Pilate had Jesus executed, but the victory was short-lived. Jesus was resurrected. Emperors of the mighty Roman Empire tried to crush Christ’s followers, but their efforts were futile. Christians spread the Kingdom message throughout the ancient world.—Col. 1:23.
2 After the Kingdom was established in 1914, some of the strongest military powers in history tried to wipe out God’s people. But none have conquered us. Many governments and political factions tried to force us to take sides in their conflicts. They did not succeed in dividing us. Today, subjects of the Kingdom live in virtually every nation on earth. Even so, we are united in a genuine global brotherhood, remaining strictly neutral as to the world’s political affairs. Our unity provides compelling evidence that God’s Kingdom rules and that the King Jesus Christ continues to direct, refine, and protect his subjects. Consider how he has done so, and note just some of the faith-strengthening legal victories he has given us as we continue to remain “no part of the world.”—John 17:14.
An Issue Thrust to the Fore
3, 4. (a) What events took place at the time of the Kingdom’s birth? (b) Have God’s people always fully understood the issue of neutrality? Explain.
3 Following the Kingdom’s birth, war raged in heaven, and then Satan was cast down to the earth. (Read Revelation 12:7-10, 12.) A war also raged on earth, one that tested the resolve of God’s people. They were determined to follow Jesus’ example and be no part of the world. But at first they did not fully understand how much it would require of them to keep out of all political matters.
4 For example, Volume VI of the Millennial Dawn series, * which was published in 1904, encouraged Christians to avoid participation in war. However, it reasoned that if a Christian was conscripted, he should strive to obtain some form of noncombatant service. If that failed and he was sent into combat, he should ensure that he did not commit murder. Commenting on the situation at that time, Herbert Senior, who lived in Britain and was baptized in 1905, said: “There was a lot of confusion among the brothers and no clear advice as to whether it would be right to join the army as a soldier but only for noncombatant work.”
5. How did The Watch Tower of September 1, 1915, begin to refine our understanding?
5 However, The Watch Tower of September 1, 1915, began to refine our understanding of this issue. Regarding the recommendations made in Studies in the Scriptures, it said: “We wonder if such a course would not mean compromise.” But what if a Christian were threatened with being shot for refusing a uniform and military service? The article reasoned: “Would it be any worse to be shot because of loyalty to the Prince of Peace and refusal to disobey His order than to be shot while under the banner of these earthly kings and apparently giving them support and, in appearance at least, compromising the teachings of our Heavenly King? Of the two deaths we would prefer the former—prefer to die because of faithfulness to our Heavenly King.” Despite that forceful statement, the article concluded: “We are not urging this course. We are merely suggesting it.”
6. What have you learned from the example of Brother Herbert Senior?
6 Some brothers saw the issue clearly and met it head-on. Herbert Senior, quoted earlier, said: “To me, there was no difference in principle between unloading shells from a ship [noncombatant service] and putting those shells into a gun to be fired.” (Luke 16:10) As a result of his conscientious objection to military service, Brother Senior was sent to prison. He and 4 other brothers were among a group of 16 conscientious objectors, including men from other religious denominations, who served some of their time at Richmond prison in Britain and later became known as the Richmond 16. At one point, Herbert and others like him were secretly shipped to the front lines in France. There, they were sentenced to be shot. He and a number of others were lined up in front of a firing squad, but they were not killed. Instead, their sentence was commuted to ten years in prison.
7. By the start of World War II, what had God’s people come to see?
7 By the time World War II broke out, Jehovah’s people as a whole had come to see more clearly what it meant to be neutral and what was required if they were to follow Jesus’ example. (Matt. 26:51-53; John 17:14-16; 1 Pet. 2:21) For instance, the November 1, 1939, issue of The Watchtower carried the landmark article entitled “Neutrality,” which stated: “The rule by which Jehovah’s covenant people must now be governed is that of strict neutrality between the nations at war.” Regarding that article, Simon Kraker, who later served at headquarters, in Brooklyn, New York, said: “I learned to appreciate that God’s people were to be at peace with everyone, even amid threats of war.” That spiritual food was provided at the proper time and helped to brace God’s people for an unprecedented assault on their loyalty to the Kingdom.
Threatened by a “River” of Opposition
8, 9. How was the apostle John’s prophecy fulfilled?
8 The apostle John prophesied that after the Kingdom’s birth in 1914, the dragon, Satan the Devil, would attempt to wipe out the supporters of God’s Kingdom by spewing out a symbolic river from its mouth. * (Read Revelation 12:9, 15.) How was John’s prophecy fulfilled? From the 1920’s onward, there was a surge of opposition against God’s people. Like many other brothers who lived in North America during the second world war, Brother Kraker was thrown into prison for his loyalty to God’s Kingdom. In fact, during the war, Jehovah’s Witnesses made up more than two thirds of all inmates who because of religious objections to the war were being held in federal prisons in the United States.
9 The Devil and his agents were intent on breaking the integrity of Kingdom subjects no matter where they lived. Throughout Africa, Europe, and the United States, they were brought before courts and parole boards. Because of their unwavering determination to remain neutral, they were imprisoned, beaten, and maimed. In Germany, God’s people faced enormous pressure because they refused to heil Hitler or join the war effort. An estimated 6,000 were detained in prison camps during the Nazi era, and more than 1,600 German and non-German Witnesses died at the hands of their tormentors. Even so, the Devil was unable to inflict any permanent harm on God’s people.—Mark 8:34, 35.
“The Earth” Swallows “the River”
10. What does “the earth” symbolize, and how has it intervened in behalf of God’s people?
10 The prophecy recorded by the apostle John revealed that “the earth”—elements of this system that are more reasonable—would swallow “the river” of persecution, thus coming to the aid of God’s people. How has that part of the prophecy been fulfilled? In the decades following World War II, “the earth” has often intervened in behalf of the faithful supporters of the Messianic Kingdom. (Read Revelation 12:16.) For example, various influential courts have protected the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses to refuse military service and to decline when asked to participate in nationalistic ceremonies. First, consider just some of the major victories that Jehovah has given his people regarding the issue of performing military service.—Ps. 68:20.
11, 12. What issues did Brothers Sicurella and Thlimmenos face, and what was the outcome?
11 United States. Anthony Sicurella was one of six children raised by Witness parents. At age 15, he was baptized. When he turned 21, he registered with the draft board as a minister of religion. Two years later, in 1950, he applied for a reclassification as a conscientious objector. Although the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s report found nothing unfavorable, the Department of Justice denied his claim. After several court proceedings, the U.S. Supreme Court heard Brother Sicurella’s case and reversed the lower court’s decision by ruling in favor of Brother Sicurella. This ruling helped to set a precedent for other citizens of the United States who were conscientious objectors to military service.
12 Greece. In 1983, Iakovos Thlimmenos was convicted of insubordination for refusing to wear a military uniform and was sentenced to prison. After his release, he applied to become an accountant, but his application was rejected because he had a criminal record. He took the matter to court, but after losing his case in the Greek courts, he applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). In 2000, the Grand Chamber of the ECHR, a panel consisting of 17 judges, ruled in his favor, setting a precedent against discrimination. Before this ruling, over 3,500 brothers in Greece had criminal records because of being imprisoned for their neutral stand. After this favorable decision, Greece passed a law to clear those brothers of any criminal charges. Also, a law giving all Greek citizens the right to perform alternative civilian service, which had been passed just a few years before, was reaffirmed when the Constitution of Greece was revised.
13, 14. What lessons do you feel we can learn from the cases involving Ivailo Stefanov and Vahan Bayatyan?
13 Bulgaria. In 1994, Ivailo Stefanov was 19 when he was drafted into the army. He refused to join the army or to perform noncombatant duties directed by the military. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison but appealed the decision, based on his right as a conscientious objector. His case was eventually referred to the ECHR. In 2001, before the case could be heard, a friendly settlement was reached with Brother Stefanov. The Bulgarian government not only granted amnesty to Brother Stefanov but also to all Bulgarian citizens who were willing to perform alternative civilian service. *
14 Armenia. Vahan Bayatyan became eligible for compulsory military service in 2001. * He conscientiously objected to serving in the military but lost every appeal in the domestic courts. In September 2002, he began serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence but was released after serving ten and a half months. During that time, he appealed to the ECHR, which heard his case. However, on October 27, 2009, that Court also ruled against him. The verdict seemed to be a crushing blow to the brothers in Armenia who faced this issue. However, the Grand Chamber of the ECHR reviewed the ruling. On July 7, 2011, the Court ruled in favor of Vahan Bayatyan. This was the first time that the ECHR recognized that conscientious objection to military service based on one’s religious beliefs should be protected under the right of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. That ruling protects the rights not only of Jehovah’s Witnesses but of hundreds of millions of people in countries that are members of the Council of Europe. *
The Issue of Nationalistic Ceremonies
15. Why do Jehovah’s people refuse to join in nationalistic ceremonies?
15 Jehovah’s people remain loyal to the Messianic Kingdom not only by refusing military service but also by respectfully declining to join in nationalistic ceremonies. Especially since the outbreak of World War II, a wave of nationalistic fervor has swept the globe. Citizens of many countries have been required to vow allegiance to their homeland by reciting a pledge, singing a national anthem, or saluting a country’s flag. However, we give our exclusive devotion to Jehovah. (Ex. 20:4, 5) As a result, we have experienced a flood of persecution. Even so, Jehovah has again used “the earth” to swallow up some of this opposition. Note just a few of the remarkable victories that Jehovah through Christ has granted us in this matter.—Ps. 3:8.
16, 17. What issue did Lillian and William Gobitas face, and what have you learned from their case?
16 United States. In 1940, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 against Jehovah’s Witnesses in the case known as Minersville School District v. Gobitis. Lillian Gobitas, * aged 12, and her brother William, aged 10, wanted to remain loyal to Jehovah, so they refused to salute the flag or recite the pledge. As a result, they were expelled from school. Their case came before the Supreme Court, and the Court concluded that the school’s actions were constitutional because they were in the interest of “national unity.” That ruling ignited a firestorm of persecution. More Witness children were expelled from school, adult Witnesses lost their jobs, and a number of Witnesses suffered vicious attacks from mobs. The book The Lustre of Our Country states that the “persecution of Witnesses from 1941 to 1943 was the greatest outbreak of religious intolerance in twentieth-century America.”
17 The victory for God’s enemies was short-lived. In 1943, the Supreme Court considered another case similar to the Gobitis case. It is known as West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. This time, the Supreme Court granted victory to Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was the first time in U.S. history that the Supreme Court had reversed itself in such a short period of time. After that ruling, the overt persecution of Jehovah’s people in the United States drastically decreased. In the process, the rights of all citizens of the United States were strengthened.
18, 19. What did Pablo Barros say helped him to remain strong, and how can other servants of Jehovah imitate his example?
18 Argentina. Pablo and Hugo Barros, ages eight and seven respectively, were expelled from school in 1976 for not participating in a flag-raising ceremony. On one occasion, the headmistress shoved Pablo and hit him on the head. She made both boys stay after school for an hour, trying to force them to participate in patriotic ceremonies. Recalling the ordeal, Pablo said: “Without Jehovah’s help, I would not have been able to withstand the pressure to break my integrity.”
19 When the case came to court, the judge upheld the school’s decision to expel Pablo and Hugo. However, their case was appealed to the Supreme Court of Argentina. In 1979, that Court reversed the lower court’s decision, stating: “Said punishment [expulsion] contradicts the constitutional right to learn (Article 14) and the duty of the State to ensure primary education (Article 5).” That victory benefited approximately 1,000 Witness children. Some had their expulsions stopped and others, like young Pablo and Hugo, were readmitted to public schools.
20, 21. How does the case involving Roel and Emily Embralinag strengthen your faith?
20 Philippines. In 1990, Roel Embralinag, * aged 9, and his sister Emily, aged 10, along with approximately 66 other Witness students, were expelled from school for not saluting the flag. Roel and Emily’s father, Leonardo, tried to reason with the school authorities, but to no avail. As matters intensified, Leonardo filed a petition to the Supreme Court. Leonardo had no money and no lawyer to represent him. The family prayed fervently to Jehovah for direction. All the while, the children were being ridiculed and taunted. Leonardo felt he had no chance of winning the case because he had no legal training.
21 As events turned out, the family was represented by Felino Ganal, an attorney who had previously been employed by one of the most reputable law firms in the country. At the time of the case, Brother Ganal had left his corporate work and become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. When the case came before the Supreme Court, the Court unanimously decided in favor of the Witnesses and annulled the expulsion orders. Again, those who tried to break the integrity of God’s people failed.
Neutrality Leads to Unity
22, 23. (a) Why have we won so many landmark legal victories? (b) Our global, peaceful brotherhood is evidence of what?
22 Why have Jehovah’s people won so many landmark legal victories? We have no political influence. Yet, in country after country and court after court, fair-minded judges have protected us from the onslaught of tenacious opposers and, in the process, have set precedents in constitutional law. Without a doubt, Christ has backed our efforts to gain those victories. (Read Revelation 6:2.) Why do we fight such legal battles? Our intent is not to reform the legal system. Rather, our goal is to ensure that we can continue to serve our King, Jesus Christ, without hindrance.—Acts 4:29.
23 Amid a world divided by political strife and warped by ingrained hatred, our reigning King, Jesus Christ, has blessed the efforts of his followers worldwide to maintain their neutral stand. Satan has failed in his efforts to divide and conquer us. The Kingdom has gathered millions who refuse to “learn war anymore.” The very existence of our global, peaceful brotherhood is a miracle—it provides irrefutable proof that God’s Kingdom rules!—Isa. 2:4.
^ par. 4 This volume is also known by the title The New Creation. Later, the Millennial Dawn volumes were called Studies in the Scriptures.
^ par. 8 For a discussion of this prophecy, see the publication Revelation—Its Grand Climax At Hand!, chapter 27, pages 184-186.
^ par. 13 The settlement also required the Bulgarian government to offer alternative civilian service under civilian administration to all conscientious objectors.
^ par. 14 For a more complete account, see the article, “European Court Upholds the Right to Conscientious Objection,” in the November 1, 2012, issue of The Watchtower.
^ par. 14 Over a 20-year span, the government of Armenia had imprisoned more than 450 young Witnesses. In November 2013, the last of these men were released from prison.
^ par. 16 The family name was misspelled in the court records.
^ par. 20 The family name was misspelled as Ebralinag in the court records.