Jehovah's Witnesses risk exclusion if voting in elections

As a member of Jehovah´s Witnesses you can risk becoming an outcast if you vote in public elections.

– We have already voted for God, a Witness says to the Norwegian newspaper Vårt Land.

If you by choice decide to cast a vote in an official election, you have to leave Jehovah's Witnesses. Members of the religious society are not allowed to have political opinions, and if you show political engagement, the elders can sentence you to exclusion.

According to the handbook «Shepherd the Flock of God» – 1 Peter 5:2, it is strictly forbidden to vote in a political election. The handbook is an internal scripture distributed to the elders only.

Leads to disfellowshipping

Vårt Land has been in touch with a source who wants to stay anonymous to protect personal relations. He was born into the denomination, but today he is an inactive member. He does not attend meetings and is not in touch with the community. He stopped being active in his thirties.

– If it is discovered that someone has casted a vote in an election, the elders can either induct the person to a judicial council, or the elders themselves can define the person as «one who has withdrawn», the source says.

Labeled as a sinner

According to the anonymous source, «withdrawing» will lead to the exact same as being disfellowshipped.

– If an active witness says that the prohibition of voting is wrong, and expresses this amongst others, he will be disfellowshipped. If you express disagreement to parts of the doctrine, you will be disfellowshipped. The consequences are losing the contact with family and friends and being labeled as «a sinner who does not repent».

During his adolescence in the religious society, he experienced that not even in primary school children were allowed to vote or run for student council. If a country has compulsory voting, it is expected that you cast a blank vote, the source says.

Several countries have such a compulsory voting – like Greece, Belgium and Australia.

– To vote in a public election was on my to do list when I left Jehovah's Witnesses. Last parliamentary election in Norway was my first time voting. It made me feel good. I sneaked into the council house and voted. Since it was my very first time, it was a bit confusing. No one told me how it was supposed to be done, but I figured it out in the end.

«Another world»

Jehovah's Witnesses expert Hege Kristin Ringnes, says that if you are an active member of the denomination and follow the doctrines, you do not vote at all.

– Some may say it is voluntarily whether you choose to vote or not, but you cannot be true to the doctrine and at the same time vote in a public election. Such an action can lead to exclusion, Ringnes says.

She is a PhD student in Psychology of Religion at MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and Society.

– It is an elementary doctrine that Jehovah's Witnesses are not a part of this world. They separate between being on the outside and the inside. They belong to a different system, and a different approach to the world. They think that they can offer a better solution than the political parties.

Ringnes says that if a witness wishes to cast a vote, it has to be done secretly, but it is doubtful that this occurs among active Witnesses. A Witness can neither say that he or she has taken a political stand.

– Even though Jehovah's Witnesses think of their religious message as an alternative to the political system, it is important for them to abide the laws. It is important for them to pay taxes and abide the laws, but they do not want to be a part of determining them.

– In a democratic society there must be room for minorities who have taken this stand, Rignes says.

Confirms the rule

On the community's website the Jehovah's Witnesses refer to their bible when explaining why they do not allow political engagement.

«We follow the example of Jesus, who refused to accept political office. (John 6:​15) He taught his disciples to be no part of the world and made it clear that they should not take sides in political issues.​ – John 17:14, 16; 18:36; Mark 12:13-​17».

In an e-mail the spokesperson for Jehovah's Witnesses in Scandinavia, Dag-Erik Kristoffersen, writes that the reason for Jehovah's Witnesses not voting, is «because they do not want to mimic Jesus Christ and his teachings».

– Jesus himself declined a political position and taking a stand in political questions. He said to his disciples to be no part of the world as he was no part of the world, he writes.

In several countries voting is an important symbol of democracy and rights. Why doesn't Jehovah's Witnesses want to be a part of the democratic society?

– Yes, it Is a right to vote, but it is not a duty. We respect that others want to use their right to vote, and we leave that to them.

If you want to be politically neutral, why can't you just cast a blank vote?

We stand for not voting, and for that reason we feel it would be hypocritical to try to imagine doing something else.

What happens if a member votes in an election?

If a Witness by choice decides to vote in a public election and stands for it, that member has chosen to no longer be one of Jehovah's Witnesses.

– You pay taxes and wish to abide the laws – don't you, as a community, want to influence the politics you are a subject of in this society?

No, but we submit to the authorities and the applying laws. We want to cooperate to be a part of creating good circumstances for everyone, he writes.

Vårt Land gave Kristoffersen the opportunity to comment the claims of the anonymous source, but he did not wish to comment statements of earlier members.

May get consquences

Jehovah's Witnesses' policy may lead to the Norwegian government denying the religious society official economic funding in the future.

Yearly Jehovah's Witnesses recieve the equivalent of 800.000 US dollars for approximately 12.800 Norwegian members.

Norway's Minister of Faith Kjell Ingolf Ropstad has challenged the organization to change their practices.

Translated by Anne Marit Raaberg, Vårt Land

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