Jehovah's Witnesses in the Modern World and Ukraine
Keywords:Jehovah’s Witnesses, neutrality, totalitarian regimes, operation ‘North’, state registration
This article highlights the history of Jehovah's Witnesses as a Christian religion in Ukraine from its occurrence on the territory of Ukraine in the early 20th century to the present day. The response of the Witnesses to the massive attempts of the Nazi and Soviet regimes to marginalize and suppress their religious manifestations is described separately. In particular, the biblical nature and confessional content of one of the fundamental teachings of the Witnesses – neutrality – is analyzed and explained. It includes the information about what it means and what it does not mean for believers. This makes it possible to better understand the current display of the neutrality of the denomination members when it comes to compliance with certain requirements of the local government.
The growth statistics of the denomination members throughout history are given, which indicate the failed attempts of the totalitarian governments repressive system to eradicate the faith in the controlled territories.
For the first time, information is published from the memoirs of Witnesses who tried to obtain state registration in 1949 when under the communist regime and the reaction of the government officials to believers’ attempts to be recognized by the state and society.
There is a link between the recognition of the state through state registration and the increase of confessional activity, by which the Witnesses actually disprove the myths and labels produced and imposed on society by totalitarian regimes for decades. Emphasis is placed on the Witnesses’ current activities, which gives an idea of their attitude towards Ukrainian society and their role in strengthening and affirming Christian values among fellow citizens. Their publishing activity, evangelization work, religious and family values, public worship, educational programs, charitable and social work, attitude to representatives of other religions are analyzed.
The view of health care is particularly examined. It describes the principles of a reasonable balance that Witnesses follow between the right to make informed treatment choices (including the refusal to use blood) and the attitude toward life and health as one of the highest human values. The significant contribution of Jehovah's Witnesses to the development of alternative nonblood treatments in world medicine is acknowledged.
Therein are recorded the conclusions from numerous religious studies of Ukrainian and European institutions regarding the social and pedagogical value of materials published and distributed by Jehovah's Witnesses through their periodicals and official online resources.
The involvement of Jehovah's Witnesses in providing charitable assistance to civilians during the conflict in Donbas is highlighted. The activities of Jehovah's Witnesses in the context of their attitude to the culture, history, and traditions of the local people are considered. In particular, the part of the tourist program for fellow believers, who come from abroad to join in the ministry or assemblies, is to get familiar with Ukrainian monuments and the historical heritage. Witnesses publish and distribute Bible publications in 14 languages spoken by small indigenous communities in Ukraine.
The social significance of biblical teaching, which is meant to meet the spiritual needs of Ukrainians with hearing and visual impairments as well as those who currently remain in places of correctional centers is outlined.
For the first time, significant decisions of higher courts in Ukraine and other countries regarding Jehovah's Witnesses are considered. In recent years, the issues of military service and the right for alternative (non-military) service have been considered in higher domestic and foreign courts; denomination’s compliance with the requirements for the provision of state subsidies guaranteed to recognized religions; the right to build and use their places of worship, and proper assessment of religious hate crimes against Jehovah's Witnesses by law enforcement agencies. The decisions of the courts in the above-mentioned cases show that states consider Jehovah's Witnesses to be a recognized religion with the right to exercise freedom of conscience and religion.
ECHR 302/02 Case of Jehovah's Witnesses of Moscow and Others v. Russia (2010).
ECHR 21477/10 Case of Religious Community of Jehovah’s Witnesses of Kryvyi Rih’s Ternivsky District v. Ukraine (2019).
ECHR 60977/14 Case of Zagubnya and Tabachkova v. Ukraine (2020).
ECHR 36046/15 Case of Migoryanu and Religious Community Jehovah’s Witnesses of the City of Izmail v. Ukraine (2020).
ECHR 47283/14 Case of Kornilova v. Ukraine (2020).
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Supreme Court en banc Decision 2016Do10912 [Violation of the Military Service Act] (November 1, 2018). Website of Supreme Court Library of Korea.
The Royal College of Surgeons of England. Code of Practice for the Surgical Management of Jehovah’s Witnesses (2002). London
Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses (1945). Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
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