What About “Theocratic War Strategy?”
In doing some research on Jehovah’s Witnesses, I recently stumbled over the term of ‘theocratic warfare‘ or ‘theocratic war strategy‘ which you surely have heard about. What information can you provide about this subject?
There isn’t a lot in print about theocratic war strategy, and what there is, dates mostly from the 1950’s. Here is probably the most informative quotation:
*** w57 5/1 pp. 285-286 Use Theocratic War Strategy ***
Use Theocratic War Strategy
A WITNESS of Jehovah was going from house to house in Eastern Germany when she met a violent opposer. Knowing at once what to expect she changed her red blouse for a green one in the very next hallway. No sooner had she appeared on the street than a Communist officer asked her if she had seen a woman with a red blouse. No, she replied, and went on her way. Did she tell a lie? No, she did not. She was not a liar. Rather, she was using theocratic war strategy, hiding the truth by action and word for the sake of the ministry. In this she had good Scriptural precedent. Did not Rahab hide the Israelite spies by both action and word? Did not Abraham, Isaac, David and others likewise hide the truth at times when faced with a hostile enemy? They certainly did, and never do we read a word of censure for their doing so. Rather, we read of their being termed exemplary servants of Jehovah. Their actions were in line with Jesus’ wise counsel: “Look! I am sending you forth as sheep amidst wolves; therefore prove yourselves cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves.”—Matt. 10:16, NW. Perhaps some will wonder as to where the line is to be drawn between use of theocratic war strategy in hiding the truth and the telling of lies. First of all, let it be noted that whenever one takes an oath to tell the truth he is obligated to do so. By dedicating himself to do God’s will each Christian has taken a vow or made an oath to do God’s will and to be faithful to him. To this oath he certainly must be true. Likewise, when a Christian is placed on a witness stand he is obligated to speak the truth if he speaks at all. At times he may prefer to refuse to speak and suffer the consequences rather than betray his brothers or the interests of God’s work. And, of course, there is no occasion for use of war strategy when dealing with our Christian brothers. In dealing with them we tell the truth or tactfully remind them that what they seek to know does not concern them. Lies are untruths told for selfish reasons and which work injury to others. Satan told a lie to Eve that worked great harm to her and all the human race. Ananias and Sapphira told lies for selfish reasons. But hiding the truth, which he is not entitled to know, from an enemy does not harm him, especially when he would use such information to harm others who are innocent. A great work is being done by the witnesses even in lands where their activity is banned. The only way they can fulfill the command to preach the good news of God’s kingdom is by use of theocratic war strategy. By underground methods the literature is brought into the country and distributed. Would it make sense to hide this literature by one’s actions and then reveal its whereabouts by one’s words when queried? Of course not! So in time of spiritual warfare it is proper to misdirect the enemy by hiding the truth. It is done unselfishly; it does not harm anyone; on the contrary, it does much good. Today God’s servants are engaged in a warfare, a spiritual, theocratic warfare, a warfare ordered by God against wicked spirit forces and against false teachings. God’s servants are sent forth as sheep among wolves and therefore need to exercise the extreme caution of serpents so as to protect properly the interests of God’s kingdom committed to them. At all times they must be very careful not to divulge any information to the enemy that he could use to hamper the preaching work. [Footnotes] For details see The Watchtower, February 1, 1956.
Using biblical examples such as Rahab and Abraham, both of whom lied, provides no support for being dishonest in support of the Watchtower organization. Rahab, Abraham, and every other Bible character (except Jesus) were sinners. The fact that they were depicted as lying does not mean that lying is an appropriate act for Christians. Some passages in the Bible are merely narrative; they are descriptive, not prescriptive. That is to say, they describe what happened, not what we should do. We are told in the Bible that Jesus got up early in the morning to pray (Mark 1:35), but that hardly implies that all Christians need to get up early to pray. Praying is commanded; the time at which we do so is not. The passage is not a command, but a narrative. However, there are commands in the Bible to be honest and not to lie. Clearly, Rahab and Abraham violated those commands. While they are never explicitly condemned for doing so, neither are they commended. Rahab is commended later in Scripture for hiding the spies (Hebrews 11:31), not specifically for lying. That God can make good come out of our sin does not mean that He approves the sin.
The way that “theocratic war strategy” usually plays out today in practice is for the JW to try to find ways of wording things – without actually telling a falsehood – that may be technically correct, but give a false impression that makes the organization look better than the absolute truth would. For example, if you ask a Witness at your door whether he believes that anyone who does not belong to their organization will be destroyed at Armageddon, he may well deny it, even though that is exactly what they believe. He will rationalize his answer in his mind by reasoning that many people who are not now part of the organization will come into it before Armageddon comes, and therefore, those people, who are not now part of the organization, will be saved through Armageddon. Or if, for example, you ask them whether they believe that all other Christian religions are actually false religions and that their members are false Christians, some may answer honestly (again, the answer is yes), but others may try to dance a bit and offer a “softer” answer.
There have been more blatant examples of higher-level Witnesses lying outright to protect the organization from accusations of condoning child abuse, letting children die without blood transfusions, shunning ex-members, and so on. But you aren’t as likely to encounter that sort of thing from the rank and file, except when they have heard it from the leadership and swallowed it whole. For example, the February 15, 2011 Watchtower tells of a JW who flirted with apostasy by reading information critical of the Watchtower:
Andre, who had served Jehovah for years, had the bitter experience of being led astray by apostate thinking. He felt that having a quick look at an apostate Web site would not be dangerous. He recalls: “Initially, I was attracted to the so-called truths that the apostates spoke of. The more I examined what they said, the more I came to think that I was justified in leaving Jehovah’s organization. But later, as I did some research on the apostates’ arguments against Jehovah’s Witnesses, I became aware of how crafty the false teachers were. Information taken out of context was their ‘strong evidence’ against us. Thus, I decided to start reading our publications again and to attend the meetings. Soon I realized how much I had missed.” Happily, Andre returned to the congregation.
Notice that no specifics are offered, no attempt is made to refute any of the “apostates’ arguments.” It is simply asserted that their material is taken out of context, without any examples being given. This is an example of well-poisoning, but Jehovah’s Witnesses who read this most likely are unaware of that fallacy, and simply accept – and may well repeat to outsiders who ask – what the Watchtower tells them.
The simplest answer to dealing with the use of theocratic war strategy is probably to think critically and be as informed as you can about the beliefs and practices of the Witnesses. If they say something that seems out of line with what you know about their beliefs, ask for clarification. Don’t be afraid to throw some tough questions at them in order to draw out their real meaning.