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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Why Don't Jehovah's Witnesses Formally Celebrate Thanksgiving Day?

There are many wholesome occasions that Jehovah's Witnesses celebrate such as marriage anniversaries  and weddings which are referred to favorably in the Scriptures. But when it comes to the observance of certain religious events (Holidays or "Holy Days"), there is only one occasion that Jesus actually commanded his followers to observe. He required his followers to memorialize his death. (Luke 22:19, 20) Therefore, Jehovah's Witnesses only formally celebrate the one event that Jesus commanded his followers. The memorial of his death (1 Cor.11:23- 26). For more, see: The Lord’s Evening Meal—An Observance That Honors God (Watchtower Bible and Tract Society).

Jehovah's Witnesses and Thanksgiving

To help understand Jehovah's Witnesses' position regarding the national holiday of Thanksgiving, this article will consider the following three aspects:

1.) How Christians are to be thankful every day - not simply being satisfied with allowing political governments to formally set aside one day out of the year to be thankful.

2.) Thanksgiving and its Origins

3.) Thanksgiving, Patriotism and Christian Neutrality

Be Thankful Every Day

Do true Christians need to set one day aside for Thanksgiving? Should the political governments tell us what day we should give thanks?

Jehovah's Witnesses give thanks every day and allow no one to tell them on which day they can thank God.

Also consider that genuine thanks should be accompanied by a deep desire to demonstrate gratitude in action. In contrast, how many observers of the national Thanksgiving holiday actually offer thanks to God? Are not their thoughts more on feasting and having a merry time than on the many gifts God has given? Can it be said that thanksgiving is offered to God by indulging in an extra-big meal? Thanksgiving to God does not come from the stomach but from the mind. It is verbally expressed. “I will praise the name of God with song, and I will magnify him with thanksgiving.” (Ps. 69:30) “In everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving let your petitions be made known to God.”—Phil. 4:6.

Thanksgiving and its Origins

It is relatively easy to discover that holidays such as EasterChristmas or Halloween have been directly adopted from pagan celebrations. (For more, see the Holidays category.) But what about Thanksgiving?

Note what the publication Holidays Around the World, by Joseph Gaer says about Thanksgiving:

"Thanksgiving for the annual harvest is one of the oldest holidays known to mankind ... 'The Romans celebrated their Thanksgiving early in October. The holiday was dedicated to the goddess of harvest, Ceres, and the holiday was called Cerelia. 'The Christians took over the Roman holiday and it became well established in England, where some of the Roman customs and rituals for this day were observed ... "

Also note the following:

"Throughout the world harvest has always been the occasion for many queer customs which all have their origin in the animistic belief in the corn [grain]-spirit or corn [grain]-mother. This personification of the crops has left its impress upon the harvest customs of modern Europe. .... Throughout the world, as Sir J. G. Frazer shows, the semi-worship of the last sheaf is or has been the great feature of the harvest-home. Among harvest customs none is more interesting than harvest cries; the Devonshire reapers go through a ceremony which in its main features is a counterpart of pagan worship." - pp. 231-232, Encyclopedia Britannica, volume 11, 14th edition.

"The Pilgrims, who in 1621 observed our initial Thanksgiving holiday, were not a people especially enthusiastic about the celebration of festivals. In fact these austere and religious settlers of America would have been dismayed had they known of the long and popular history of harvest festivals, of which their Thanksgiving was only the latest. .... The harvest festival, with its attendant rites, seems to have spread out from ... Egypt and Syria and Mesopotamia. The first or the last sheaf of wheat was offered to the `Great Mother' .... Astarte [equivalent to Ishtar and Eastre] was the Earth Mother of the ancient Semites; to the Phrygians she was Semele; under the name of Demeter she was worshiped by the Greeks at the famous Eleusinian Mysteries..." - pp. 271-272, Celebrations - The Complete Book of American Holidays, Robert J. Myers, Doubleday & Co., 1972. For more, see: THANKSGIVING - Does It Have Any Known Pagan Religious Association?.

It would be wrong to incorporate anything originally used for pagan worship into our worship or related activities. Holidays, for example, are "Holy Days" and are a part of "worship" by their very name. While we today have no practical option but to use things like the Gregorian calendar (which uses the names of pagan Roman gods), we do have a choice whether or not to participate in customs which were originally devoted to honoring these gods. And according to Scripture, we should take advantage of that choice. Because if pagan ceremonies, customs, etc. are really mixed in with ceremonies, customs, etc. that we use today in worship to God, they are not merely unacceptable - - - they are detestable to God. We must completely get away from these unclean things and not even "touch" them. (2 Cor. 6:17) Notice how exclusive the worship of God must be: "Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips." - Exodus 23:13, NIVSB. For more, see: Why Do Jehovah's Witnesses Avoid Pagan Customs?

Thanksgiving, Patriotism and Christian Neutrality

It was not until 1789 that the first national Thanksgiving Day was proclaimed by George Washington. And, even after that precedent, this practice was not carried on by succeeding presidents. In addition to Presidents Jackson and Taylor, it is claimed that Thomas Jefferson refused to issue Thanksgiving proclamations, condemning it during his two terms. In a letter to the Rev. Mr. Miller, he gave his reasons for refusing:

"I consider the Government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution of the United States from meddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises.... But it is only proposed that I should recommend, not prescribe, a day of fasting and praying. That is, I should indirectly assume to the United States an authority over religious exercises, which the Constitution has directly precluded them from.... Every one must act according to the dictates of his own reason and mine tells me that civil powers alone have been given to the President of the United States, and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents."

Finally, it was Sarah J. Hale that influenced President Abraham Lincoln to issue his Thanksgiving Proclamation on October 3, 1863 in which Lincoln established a yearly national festival, which ensuing presidents have honored.

Many governors opposed the idea because they felt that it was an example of state interference with religion. Actually, in time the celebration itself became more political.

For example, Mrs. Hale and her supporters intended it to be both a day of patriotism and religion. She wrote in one article: “Then in every quarter of the globe our nationality would be recognized . . . every American . . . would thrill his soul with the purest feelings of patriotism and the deepest emotions of thankfulness for his religious enjoyments.” That this idea was held by others is noted in The American Book of Days: “It has frequently been the custom for clergymen to preach political sermons on Thanksgiving Day. In the early years of the nineteenth century their sermons were extremely partisan.”

So with all of the above in mind, what should be the attitude of Christians regarding patriotic ceremonies? Notice how the early Christians regarded patriotic or state ceremonies:

"First-century Christianity had no temples, built no altars, used no crucifixes, and sponsored no garbed and betitled ecclesiastics. Early Christians celebrated no state holidays..."—The Rise of Christianity, by E. Barnes, 1947, p. 333.

Concerning this, notice what the book On the Road to Civilization—A World History says of the early Christians:

“Christians refused to share certain duties of Roman citizens. The Christians . . . felt it a violation of their faith to enter military service. They would not hold political office. They would not worship the emperor.” When the Jewish high court “positively ordered” the disciples to stop preaching, they answered: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.” (Acts 5:27-29)

It is a fact of ancient and modern-day history that in every nation and under all circumstances true Christians have endeavored to maintain complete neutrality concerning factions of the world. (Luke 4:8; John 17:15, 16; John 18:36)

Jehovah’s Witnesses do not try to prevent others from taking part in patriotic ceremonies, for that is up to each individual as to whom or what he will serve, worship, or pledge his allegiance, but Jehovah’s Witnesses wish to remain neutral toward all national flags, symbols, or emblems and their patriotic ceremonies. For more, see: Christian Neutrality (Jehovah's Witnesses United) and "Religious Persecution - Why?" (Watchtower Bible and Tract Society).

For more information concerning Jehovah's Witnesses and Thanksgiving, see the following references and/or click on the following links:

"A National “Day of Thanks”—The Dream and the Reality" - Article from the 11/22/76 Awake!

12/1/59 Watchtower; par. 7

Link: THANKSGIVING - Does It Have Any Known Pagan Religious Association? (Search For Bible Truths)

Link: Is there anything wrong with buying a turkey, which is on sale, and making a dinner on Thanksgiving? Is Thanksgiving pagan? (Jehovah's Witnesses Questions and Answers)



Defend Jehovah's Witnesses



Friday, November 2, 2012

How do Jehovah’s Witnesses View Voting?

How do Jehovah’s Witnesses View Voting?

There are clear principles set out in the Bible that enable servants of God to take a proper view of this matter. However, there appears to be no principle against the practice of voting itself. For example, there is no reason why a board of directors should not take a vote in order to arrive at decisions affecting their corporation. Congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses often make decisions about meeting times and the use of congregation funds by voting with a show of hands.

What, though, of voting in political elections? Of course, in some democratic lands, as many as 50 percent of the population do not turn out to vote on election day. As for Jehovah’s Witnesses, they do not interfere with the right of others to vote; neither do they in any way campaign against political elections. They respect and cooperate with the authorities who are duly elected in such elections. (Romans 13:1-7) As to whether they will personally vote for someone running in an election, each one of Jehovah’s Witnesses makes a decision based on his Bible-trained conscience and an understanding of his responsibility to God and to the State. (Matthew 22:21; 1 Peter 3:16) In making this personal decision, the Witnesses consider a number of factors.

First, Jesus Christ said of his followers: “They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.” (John 17:14) Jehovah’s Witnesses take this principle seriously. Being “no part of the world,” they are neutral in the political affairs of the world.—John 18:36.

Second, the apostle Paul referred to himself as an “ambassador” representing Christ to the people of his day. (Ephesians 6:20; 2 Corinthians 5:20) Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Christ Jesus is now the enthroned King of God’s heavenly Kingdom, and they, like ambassadors, must announce this to the nations. (Matthew 24:14; Revelation 11:15) Ambassadors are expected to be neutral and not to interfere in the internal affairs of the countries to which they are sent. As representatives of God’s heavenly Kingdom, Jehovah’s Witnesses feel a similar obligation not to interfere in the politics of the countries where they reside.

A third factor to consider is that those who have a part in voting a person into office may become responsible for what he does. (Compare 1 Timothy 5:22, The New English Bible.) Christians have to consider carefully whether they want to shoulder that responsibility.

Fourth, Jehovah’s Witnesses greatly value their Christian unity. (Colossians 3:14) When religions get involved in politics, the result is often division among their members. In imitation of Jesus Christ, Jehovah’s Witnesses avoid becoming involved in politics and thus maintain their Christian unity.—Matthew 12:25; John 6:15; 18:36, 37.

Fifth and finally, their keeping out of politics gives Jehovah’s Witnesses freeness of speech to approach people of all political persuasions with the important message of the Kingdom.—Hebrews 10:35.

In view of the Scriptural principles outlined above, in many lands Jehovah’s Witnesses make a personal decision not to vote in political elections, and their freedom to make that decision is supported by the law of the land. What, though, if the law requires citizens to vote? In such a case, each Witness is responsible to make a conscientious, Bible-based decision about how to handle the situation. If someone decides to go to the polling booth, that is his decision. What he does in the polling booth is between him and his Creator.

The November 15, 1950, issue of The Watchtower, on pages 445 and 446, said: “Where Caesar makes it compulsory for citizens to vote . . . [Witnesses] can go to the polls and enter the voting booths. It is here that they are called upon to mark the ballot or write in what they stand for. The voters do what they will with their ballots. So here in the presence of God is where his witnesses must act in harmony with his commandments and in accordance with their faith. It is not our responsibility to instruct them what to do with the ballot.”

What if a Christian woman’s unbelieving husband insists that she present herself to vote? Well, she is subject to her husband, just as Christians are subject to the superior authorities. (Ephesians 5:22; 1 Peter 2:13-17) If she obeys her husband and goes to the polling booth, that is her personal decision. No one should criticize her.—Compare Romans 14:4.

What of a country where voting is not mandated by law but feelings run high against those who do not go to the voting booth—perhaps they are exposed to physical danger? Or what if individuals, while not legally obliged to vote, are severely penalized in some way if they do not go to the polling booth? In these and similar situations, a Christian has to make his own decision. “Each one will carry his own load.”—Galatians 6:5.

There may be people who are stumbled when they observe that during an election in their country, some Witnesses of Jehovah go to the polling booth and others do not. They may say, ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses are not consistent.’ People should recognize, though, that in matters of individual conscience such as this, each Christian has to make his own decision before Jehovah God.—Romans 14:12.

Whatever personal decisions Jehovah’s Witnesses make in the face of different situations, they take care to preserve their Christian neutrality and freeness of speech. In all things, they rely on Jehovah God to strengthen them, give them wisdom, and help them avoid compromising their faith in any way. Thus they show confidence in the words of the psalmist: “You are my crag and my stronghold; and for the sake of your name you will lead me and conduct me.”—Psalm 31:3. 11/1/99 Watchtower; Questions From Readers

Also see:

Voting in Political Elections (lv pp. 212-215; Watchtower Online Library)

Why Don't Jehovah's Witnesses Vote? (Slate Article)

Why Don't Jehovah's Witnesses Vote, Pledge Allegiance Or Support The Military? (Defend Jehovah's Witnesses)

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