Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah’s Witnesses traces its beginnings to the Advent Movement during the 1800s. Jehovah's Witnesses, religious denomination known internationally for tireless door-to-door EVANGELISM, large conventions, and members' refusal to bear arms, salute flags or accept blood transfusions. Witnesses are Millenarians (see MILLENARIANISM who believe that Christ came invisibly in 1914. Until 1995 they taught that through their witnessing they were doing a "harvest work" by which humans would be separated into the saved and the damned. Accordingly the world was to be destroyed at Armageddon, which was to occur before the generation born before 1914 had died out. Now, however, they teach that Christ will do the separating work at Armageddon, and they no longer insist that it will take place during a specific time. Witnesses deny the Trinity and hold to a semi-Arian theology which asserts that the Son of God is not co-eternal with the Father and is "a god" of a lesser degree. They teach that 144 000 will eventually dwell in heaven, but the rest of the saved will live eternally on a restored paradisiacal earth. In 1995 only 8645 proclaimed a heavenly hope out of more than 5.2 million active members worldwide. The Witnesses are mortalists and believe that most humans will be resurrected physically during the millennium. They hold that other religions and the secular state are demonic.

Growth into a Worldwide Movement

Jehovah's Witnesses grew out of the Bible Student movement developed by Charles T. Russell in the 1870s at Pittsburgh, Pa. In 1876 he adopted the "biblical" chronology of Nelson H. Barbour, which has been basic to the date-setting apocalypticism of the Bible Students and Witnesses ever since. Russell founded the Watch Tower Society in 1881 to spread this view. In 1931, Russell's successor, Joseph F. Rutherford, gave the name Jehovah's Witnesses to those Bible students loyal to the Watch Tower Society. He abandoned many of Russell's teachings, rearranged Barbour's chronology and established a "centralized theocratic government" for followers of the movement. It was under Rutherford’s leadership that the first Kingdom Hall was built in Hawaii. Today all structures used by Witness congregations for worship and religious instruction are called Kingdom Halls. Nathan H. Knorr (1905-77) was largely responsible for their growth into a worldwide movement.

Public Criticism

Bible students appeared in Ontario about 1882 and soon spread throughout Canada. During both world wars they suffered persecution because of their evangelical fervour, abhorrence of patriotic exercises and conscientious objection to military service. In 1918 their literature was banned, and they were outlawed 1941-43 under the WAR MEASURES ACT. Their most serious problems occurred in Québec after the SECOND WORLD WAR (see RONCARELLI V DUPLESSIS; SAUMUR V CITY OF QUÉBEC). Some Witnesses were denied the opportunity to do alternative service and were imprisoned for their pacifism. Consequently, to obtain religious freedom they popularized the idea of a Canadian Bill of Rights and established libertarian precedents before Canada's highest courts (see HUMAN RIGHTS).

Jehovah’s Witnesses have come under public criticism for the practice of disfellowshipment (excommunication) and the shunning of dissenters expelled from their congregations. They also continue to come under public scrutiny because of their opposition to the administration of blood transfusions to their children and refusing to stand during the national anthem.

Approximately 168 000 Canadians claimed to be Jehovah's Witnesses in the federal census of 1991 and ten years later Statistics Canada recorded 154 750 Canadians  who described themselves as Witnesses. In 2009, the Jehovah Witness website reported 112 705 “publishers” or evangelists witnesses: the drop in numbers may be partially explained in that the witnesses’ website may only be reporting those people who actively preach at least 188 hours per year.

See also EVANGELISM.