It could be said that there is not a lot of common ground between the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Catholic Church. The Watchtower, the JW’s publication, is seldom complimentary about Catholic doctrine, and telling the Jehovah’s Witness person who knocks at your door “I’m a Roman Catholic” is often enough to put them right off their spiel. There seems to be a silent compact that “RCs” are too difficult to convert, so it’s a fool’s errand to persist. I am told they also immediately depart if told “I used to be a JW, but I apostatised.”
The population at large often considers Jehovah’s Witness people a bore and a nuisance. Many are the comedians’ jokes about the ordeal of finding a JW on the doorstep. Even during World War II, the researchers at Mass Observation (the “listening post” which investigated and reported on the topics that preoccupied the general population) found many people regarded these religious evangelists as absolute pests.
Nevertheless, they deserve respect for their commitment and, indeed, their bravery. They were persecuted by the Nazis, made to wear purple and consigned to concentration camps. When told they could walk free if they recanted their faith, most of them did not do so. When sentenced to death, they would call out: “Thou shalt not kill.” To adhere to total pacifism in the face of terror is surely admirable.
And now the Jehovah’s Witnesses are being subjected to what amounts to repression in Russia, after the Supreme Court in Moscow branded them “extremists” and ruled that their 395 local organisations must be “liquidated”.
The British Government, represented by Baroness Anelay of the Foreign Office, has expressed “alarm” at this step, which, as she says, “effectively criminalises the peaceful worship of 175,000 Russian citizens”. Britain has called on the Russian government to “uphold its international commitment to freedom of religion”.
Bravo, too, to the Rev Giles Fraser, the Anglican priest who often broadcasts on BBC Radio 4, for defending the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but they are peaceful people who are entitled to practise their faith. We should all uphold that.
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